This, it seems, is the age of the archive. Most every action we make—paying rent, calling friends, posting thoughts to online message boards—suddenly turns into a digital impression that spreads across a vast web of hard drives and backups. Our decisions become data locked into a grid that, we assume, is impregnable and permanent.
So in 2009, maybe it's hard to remember a time when information didn't immediately become institutional memory, or when someone could record a television show for more than a decade and, in the end, leave no trace it existed. But that's just what happened to Pastor Brady Blade of Shreveport, La., and his show, The Hallelujah Train. For about 15 years in the late '70s and well into the '80s, Blade—who had been preaching and baptizing in churches across Louisiana and Texas since 1953, or since he was 14—hosted the 30-minute gospel program every Sunday at 9 a.m. on local CBS affiliate KSLA. Pastor Blade, then 20 years into his tenure at Zion Baptist Church, would preach and sing. Various gospel choirs and local quartets would join. After his nearby concert was canceled, Al Green even stopped by to take a tune or two.
Blade's son, jazz and rock drummer Brian Blade, was not yet 10 years old when the show started, and he didn't remember it as well as he had hoped. So several years ago, he asked the station if he could view its archives of The Hallelujah Train. The station didn't have any.
"We can't find any documents," says Brian from a hotel room in Denver, Colo., where he's on tour with David Binney's jazz quartet. "They used the show basically to train their camera operators, but they never kept any archives."
The oversight disappoints Pastor Blade: "They didn't have a single tape from the past. They didn't maintain not one program. Brian said he was going to seek to correct that."
"It's a tradition and a way of singing that, once they're gone, young folks, we're not going to embrace anything past last week," says Brian. His compulsion to preserve his father's style of preaching extends beyond family pride. "These folks won't always be around. My generation and younger people won't have a clue about what a hymn is."
Brian played on Bob Dylan's 1997 return to greatness, Time Out of Mind. He's drummed with Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Wayne Shorter, Norah Jones and Bill Frisell. His older brother, Brady Jr., has drummed with Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Dave Matthews and recently produced Solomon Burke's Nashville.
The two brothers decided to call some of the Blade family's closest collaborators and friends to ask if they wanted to help preserve a piece of the legacy by re-creating and recording The Hallelujah Train in a concert setting.
This weekend, those who said yes—like Bob Dylan and U2 producer Lanois, pedal steel ace Greg Leisz, singer/ songwriter Buddy Miller, members of The Brian Blade Fellowship—will convene in Durham with nearly 200 parishioners Shreveport's Zion Baptist Church to put Brian's wish and a chunk of Shreveport's history to tape.
"I had to face that: 'One day, he's not going to be around.' [I though about] what we might have missed and what we might not have embraced when he was around," says Brian. "I don't want to be the guy with that regret. Hopefully this recording will last beyond us."
The world premiere of The Hallelujah Train features several performances and workshops: The first show begins at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at Hayti Heritage Center with singing only. Tickets are $5-$26. On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., Pastor Blade will "follow the same procedures we follow here at Zion Baptist" during a full church service, which is free and open to the public. On Sunday night, a 5 p.m. performance will mix sacred and secular songs. Tickets are $5-$26 for the Hayti Heritage Center performance. On Monday and Tuesday, Brian Blade will join various Duke classes for discussions, including a free listening conversation with jazz archivist Melvin Butler at The Pinhook at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12. For the rest of the schedule, see www.dukeperformances.duke.edu. We'll be covering those events and posting more of our talks with the Blade family at our music blog, Scan.