Axel Küstner – Friend of Music Maker
inUncategorizedon November 22, 2013
In 1991, I was down in Mississippi visiting my friend David Nelson, who was at the time the editor of Living Blues Magazine. He introduced me to a German postal worker named Axel Küstner. Axel had done the most important blues research out of anyone in the 1970s and 1980s. He had lived with Big Joe Williams at his Mississippi home on Highway 61 for a time, when he was in the U.S. searching out Blues musicians. Axel was the most brilliant documentary photographer I ever met. He went deep; he would spend weeks at an artist’s home, where he captured moments that very few photographers achieve. During his time as an employee of the German postal service they had a phone that had free international calls. On Axel’s night shift, all his fellow workers would get drunk and fall asleep – but Axel would use that phone to call bluesmen all over the U.S. Axel would save up his vacation time and would visit the U.S. for three months or more, driving around in a huge old station wagon that he would store with a bluesman such as Eugene Powell (who actually recorded highly collectible 78s in the 1930s).
Axel introduced me to the work of George Mitchell and many other blues artists across the South. A few times we would do road trips together; it was very frustrating as he would only drive on back roads, and would stop in any antique shop he saw to look for 78 records. If he saw any 78s, he would not leave until he looked at every single record. Then, when it was time to get a hotel, Axel insisted we go around town until we found the cheapest room we could. He bragged about a place in West Virginia that he found for $14 a night; it was a very proud accomplishment for him. Because of Axel’s thrift, we often found rooms for $18 a night; split in two it was a pretty cheap night! The post office in Germany began to move towards fewer workers, and eventually Axel lost his gig and his telephone access, as well as the money to travel to the U.S. We still talk from time to time, and I count Axel as one of the most important and generous friends Music Maker has ever known.