On this edition of Virginia Currents, we remember a man who spent more than three decades sharing his love of music and people with the community. WCVE’s George Maida passed away unexpectedly in late December. Catherine Komp spoke to listeners and collaborators about his life and legacy.
Learn More: A memorial concert for George Maida is taking place Saturday, January 27th, 1:00-4:30 PM at Cafe Zata on Forest Hill Avenue. Visit The Electric Croude's Facebook page for more memories and find some of George's gourmet meals and other musings on his personal Facebook page. Listen to WCVE’s John Porter share the origin story of Hermie the Wistful Cricket.
Family, friends and fans describe George Maida as talented and thoughtful; brilliant, with a big heart.
Chris Lucas: He was very kind, a kind person.
Sophia Hernandez: Encouraging and uplifting.
Patti Carpenter: Funny.
Matthew Costello: Unique.
Sarah Kane: Eccentric.
John Porter: Passionate is the one that always comes first.
(George Maida, The Electric Croude Archival Material) Good tidings to you and welcome to The Electric Croude on this Labor Day weekend for 2015, I’m George Maida...
George was a constant companion on the local airwaves for more than 30 years. Many listeners grew up with George, who got his first radio gig at WRFK in the ‘80s. Licensed to Union Theological Seminary, the studio was near the Chickahominy Swamp. George liked to reminisce about the day a bright blue lightning strike lit up the air room. When WCVE acquired the station, George came along, bringing his new show The Electric Croude.
(George Maida, The Electric Croude Archival Material) Virginia’s longest running eclectic show, began here in 1985...
Matthew Costello: Listening to George was like listening to somebody who had an insight that it didn’t seem like anybody else did.
Friend and musical collaborator Matthew Costello.
Costello: He was really, really, really deep into a lot of things. It's one of the things I really admired about him, I would always learn something from him.
George had a wide range of musical interests, from Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span to PJ Harvey and Prince. Each week, he wove together unexpected tracks
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material) Where else are you going to hear the GoGos, jazz from Art Farmer and Don Henley in the same concluding set for a holiday weekend?
And, there was of course, Hermie.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material, Conversations with Hermie) [Chirps] Great minds think alike…. [Chirps] No I don’t remember what it’s called (laughing)… So what do we do next? [Chirps] Yeah, we maintain a bit more of folk lyrica...
Hermie joined The Electric Croude after a real cricket got into the studio.
John Porter: George was thrown for a second. He's not known for his improvisational skills, but in this case he rose to the occasion. He said “Oh, and I've been joined by a very special guest, that's Hermie the Wistful Cricket.”
Friend and fellow WCVE host John Porter had an idea. Over several weeks, he’d tell George listeners called in to ask about the cricket, even though they really hadn’t.
John Porter: By the fourth week, he started adding the cricket sound effect that we came to know and love to the show and eventually that grew and grew and became a bigger part of the show. And I think Hermie really softened George. I think Hermie represented us as his listeners. We were asking a question and George would give us a response to that and I really like the way that it became kind of Georgia's Jiminy Cricket. This was Hermie the Cricket who was actually a conscious that was listening in to him and watching over.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material, Conversations with Hermie) [Chirps] Yeah, go ahead and hit the button. [Chirps] No, the other button.
Chris Lucas: He created this theater of the mind on that show.
Chris Lucas was a listener, friend and bandmate.
Lucas: The show amazed me, but also the sort of little universe that he created amazed me as well, because when you listen to that show it's like it’s in some sort of a
During George’s long career in public radio, he guided you through drive-time and hosted Classical Evenings. But The Electric Croude was his pride and joy. He made more than 1600 shows, each one thematic. Some celebrated the onset of a new season, and when the equinox arrived, George would identify the show from a new location.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material) Good tidings to you and welcome to The Electric Croude on the third weekend of March for 2016. I'm George Maida. In our studios of Castle Croude, actually that changes as of tomorrow, Spring arrives and we’ll be in our Cafe Croude motif or so if that matters to anyone out there (laughs, cricket chirps). Yeah, maybe to you...
In May, George honored Moms and grandmoms. For 16 years, he made a special show to remember September 11th.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material) Little did I know at the time that people I knew from my own high school Holy Cross in Flushing, New York, in Queens had already perished or on their way to perishing. All in all, 17 people including Father Francis Grogan CSC, who was on one of the flights that crashed into the towers. Many were first responders and also worked in the towers including Carl F. Asaro, Dominic Berardi, Thomas Anthony Casoria....
The owner of nearly 40 guitars, each one named, George always did something special for International Guitar Month. He was thrilled when a mutual friend connected him to someone he deeply admired.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material) If I had one electric guitarist, I'd love to interview, if I was stuck at the North Pole or whatever it would be [cricket chirps] yes, Alex Lifeson. And we began by recounting my first concert memory of Rush.
(Interview) Like this morning, I couldn't find my watch, but I remember the first time I saw Rush. I grew up in New York, and I saw you guys at the Palladium in New York City back in November of 77.
Alex Lifeson: Oh wow.
They talked about the distinct sounds of the Les Paul and “Tele.” If there was new music in the future and what it was like touring now. Their conversation shifted from music to paella to Lifeson’s inventions.
(George Maida, Alex Lifeson interview) There's so much more to you, I tell friends man, this guy is a renaissance man. He’s a licensed pilot, although you never hear about unlicensed pilots, so I don't know what that means (laughter). And you're an inventor, you would invented the Omega stand for guitar right?
George had a saying on The Electric Croude.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material) You don’t need to be famous to be on the show, you just need to be good and that’s what we’re doing tonight...
He was a champion of Richmond-area musicians, often the first to play their new recordings and to invite them to WCVE for extended interviews. He sought out young performers too. In 2012, Sophia Hernandez was in 8th grade when she performed on The Electric Croude.
Sophia Hernandez: He gave me an actual interview and treated me like an adult and that was really cool to be able to do that.
George partnered with his friend Sarah Kane who had an open mic club at Tuckahoe Middle School. He proposed the students write original songs inspired by winter. The winner would perform on The Electric Croude.
(Music, My Winter is Always Cold, Sophia Hernandez)
Sophia’s song is called My Winter is Always Cold. George told her she reminded him of a young Dylan.
(Music, My Winter is Always Cold, Sophia Hernandez) I came into this world, full of hope. I lived in the sunshine, then came the cold. Stormy nights and dark days, ain’t got no money, can’t get no pay…
Hernandez: You know at that age, I had never really done much with my music outside of what we did in the open mike Club. So to me that was like my first big break you could say (laughs). So it was really really exciting and it definitely gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of encouragement to keep pursuing what I was doing.
George’s support didn’t end there. After the contest, he donated a Epiphone Les Paul Junior electric guitar to the Open Mic club. And six years later, he’d be thrilled to know, Sophia is still performing and writing original music.
Patti Carpenter: From the time we were little, our grandfather, my dad's father played mandolin.
Patti Carpenter is George’s sister. She says he was a devoted son, brother and uncle, a friendly and thoughtful neighbor. George was a devout Christian, and years ago he was detained in Russia after trying to sneak in bibles.
Patti Carpenter: They kept him and they interrogated him, and they took away the Bible that he had, he had several and he got one back. And he just told them that you know he was just a Christian and he just wanted to let other people who were interested [know], he wasn't going to try to force anybody or anything like that. But he really was felt that adamant about people knowing God and religion and so they gave him one of the little Bibles back.
Patti says he encouraged others, whether in music or other personal and professional goals.
Patti Carpenter: Just always willing to go the extra mile and do for us, he was just wonderful. And so funny, he would crack us and the same with us likewise, we would crack him up. He just had that laugh, that was just great.
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material, Laughter)
Conversations with George could last hours. He might veer from science fiction and conspiracy theories to Ally McBeal and When Harry Met Sally. George loved to cook. He’d share recipes, some passed down from maternal elders. He’d “eyeball” it when it came to ingredients. And the sometimes blurry photos he’d post to social media showed his advanced cooking techniques: Asian roast pork braised with black grapes and onion in a tea sesame sauce; salmon with fennel, oregano, lemon and capers; four cheese manicotti with local sausage. The creativity he applied in kitchen was just as original as his audio dramas and music.
Sarah Kane: So actually George was one of the very first friends that I met when I moved to Richmond.
George convened local musicians to perform his own songs and theirs in The Electric Croude Bande. Sarah Kane collaborated with him on Fall Into Autumn.
Sarah Kane: George's songs, I remember when he asked me to sing on Fall into Autumn. When I heard the song, it's a beautiful song, but much like George, it doesn't follow the mainstream, you know there's not a specific chorus in a lot of his songs. This one kind of did, we worked on it together a little bit, and I came up with a little piece to help me feel comfortable and because he really pushed me out of my comfort zone with this song. And I remember I'd always say, I hate my voice on this. And he’d say, “Oh no, you’re the only voice that can sing this.” And he’d really make you feel very special.
(Music: George Maida’s Fall Into Autumn)
Matthew Costello: George was always so passionate with the music, but at the same time he heard a different meter than what was normal for most people. He would be playing along and would shift and you weren't quite sure where he was, but you'd catch up.
(Music: George Maida’s Psalm 8)
Matthew Costello: He was always exploring and he was very into effects as well as how the effects worked, but his chord progressions were very adventurous, not to be predictable at all. And as I said his meter was always unpredictable, so it was a delight to play inside of that stuff because we often play the predictable changes.
(Music: George Maida’s The Beggar)
George’s favorite season inspired a three-hour performance in the 1990s at WCVE. The Winter’s Tale is still vivid for those who were there, like Chris Lucas..
Chris Lucas: That was a huge night, a huge success for him because he really stepped out on a limb and that show that was done here at the station. And it was a huge success. I mean it we everybody who is involved in it looks back on it with joy really in how it all came out.
(Music: George Maida’s Star of Bethlehem)
George leaves a lasting impact. He exposed countless people to innovative music, historic and contemporary, world renown and homegrown. He brought people together, at Castle and Cafe Croude, creating a community of listeners. He challenged friends and collaborators to leave their comfort zones. He inspired people to be more open-minded, to see the value in those who are different. He demonstrated how to find joy and meaning in everyday things, when you saw the smile on his face, the sparkle in his eyes. He showed us how to love life.
Matthew Costello: George was very, very, very and inspiring; very, very supportive, of everything that I did. Anything I showed him, he loved and to me that was thrilling.
John Porter: He was a good man… whom I often fought with and still loved dearly.
Chris Lucas: He would not have been able to reach out so consistently in so many different directions if he didn’t have an innate love of people.
Sophia Hernandez: With reaching out to the Open Mic club with that contest, he was definitely giving an opportunity to- a bunch of kids who have dreams.
Sarah Kane: He was just a good-- a good man, and being around him just made you feel comfortable, made you feel like you could be yourself and even when he pushed me out of my comfort zone, you know I still felt safe with George.
George had a lot traditions, one of them came at the end of each Electric Croude his show. It may have come from an 18th Century poet, Thomas H. Bayly who wrote:
'Tis the hour when happy faces smile around the taper's light;
Who will fill our vacant places? who will sing our songs to-night?
Thro' the mist that floats above us faintly sounds the vesper bell,
Like a voice from those who love us, breathing fond fare thee well.
(Montage of Voices: A Fond, Fare Thee Well)
(George Maida, Electric Croude Archival Material) That’s it. A Fond Fare Thee Well.