Pat Conte

The venerated Long Island country blues & roots musician Pat Conte is a New York cultural institution, a virtual powerhouse of the oldtime American string music. Every city in America has or used to have someone like him, the obsessive 78 rpm record collector, the passionate preservationist or the record-store musicologist with an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Whatever his day job, he (it was almost always guys) lived and breathed obscure trivia, seemingly knowing every detail about every musician’s life and times. These are the folks who can tell you exactly who played on each record and will argue with fellow musicologists for hours over just about any topic they can find to debate about. That’s the fun of it. It’s not just music, it’s a way of life.

Pat Conte, folklorist, promoter of traditional music and muscianer, may not be well known outside of the local sphere, but in New York he is the most important blues musicologist. There are not many folks left like Pat Conte. Larger than life. Passionate, almost manic about their music. These folks were the teachers who made it their mission to turn as many people on to the oldtime music as they could. You used to find folks like Conte in record stores, the great “record store musicologists” who seemingly had an infinite knowledge base, the people of whom you could ask anything and they would know…

Today, sadly, there are fewer and fewer dwelling places for these great minds. You can find Pat Conte playing regionally around New York, most likely in the Jalopy Theater.

Pat Conte collects records, with a vast library of 78s. He performs it and acts as a self-appointed preservationists of old time blues and roots music. These are the folks who truly celebrate the legacy of the golden era of the blues, the great country blues artists of the 1920s and Depression era music of the ‘30s. Pat Conte and the other devotees have made it their single-handed mission to preserve, promote and play this music.

Together with his former musical partner, the late, great Bob Guida, he was part of the amazing duo “The Otis Brothers” a blues & roots duo who specialized in truehearted preservation and performance of obscure and esoteric country blues, which they performed so close to the original 78 rpm recordings that if you listened with your eyes closed you would think you just time traveled back a half a Century or more. They were immortalized by fellow collector and musical preservationist Robert Crumb in his famed record cover collection. 

Conte has produced “The Secret Museum of Mankind” series for Yazoo Records and released five wonderfully eclectic compilations. He is active in Brooklyn’s famed Jalopy Theater, a venue and music school that features the commercially unappealing, obscure roots music that we all love.

In addition to being a walking cultural treasure as historian and musicologist, Pat Conte is a superb musician with a vast repertoire of roots & blues. He plays and sings it in the authentic fashion, tightly close to the original and always focused on keeping songs alive that may otherwise be lost in the annals of folk music, never to be played again.

Here is a great example, with his old duo partner, Bob Guida, doing a song by William “Do Boy” Diamond, whose records are hard to find. (Diamond’s name was erroneously misspelled and was actually DuBois. Somebody turned it into “Do’Boy” based on phonetics, and it stuck ever since. Two of his songs are found on the George Mitchell Collection).

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Publisher’s Note: This article was written without the benefit of an interview with Pat Conte and is as such incomplete. If and when we are able to get ahold of the artist, the article will be expanded.