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Eugene "ED" Denson (the capitalization of both letters in his "first name" is his own spelling that evolved from constantly using his initials) is an American music group manager, producer, record label owner, and - later - lawyer, who has made notable contributions to folk, blues, and early San Francisco rock.
ED Denson was born in Washington D.C. in 1940. His parents were civil servants, and they had a succession of homes in the Montgomery County, Maryland, suburbs of Washington, each home being a bit larger, and a bit farther from the city. He has one sister, Helen, who is four years younger. Denson was educated in the public schools, except for one year at Fishburne Military School. While attending the University of Maryland, in College Park, intending to study physics, he became interested in "folk" music and learned much from the record collector, Dick Spottswood. He met John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Max Ochs—all folk guitarists—before leaving for the West Coast with his first wife, the guitarist and singer, Pat Sullivan. There he became a student of English, first at Merritt College, then at the University of California, Berkeley campus. In the late 1960s, Denson and his first wife divorced, and he married Gloria Naramatsu. They remained together for a decade, living in a brown shingle house in the Oakland foothills. They divorced in the late 1970s, and she moved to Washington State when she remarried, and became the Postmaster of the town in which she and her husband live. Pat Sullivan, it is reported, died of a heart attack in the mid-1990s.
Around 1963, in the wake of Fahey's location of Bukka White, Denson and John Fahey set up Takoma Records with Norman Pierce as their first distributor. The label was a pioneer of what was to become the Indie records movement. Denson produced one or two of Fahey's early albums for the label, and by getting Tom Weller to design psychedelic covers for them helped shape John's early image. He brought Robbie Basho to the label. In the early 1960s, he was road manager for the Blues Project, and then Mississippi John Hurt, helped manage Bukka White, and produced recordings by Skip James, after John located Bukka, and Skip James was found by a folklorist in Mississippi. He sold his interest in Takoma records to Fahey in the mid-1960s.
In the mid-1960s, Denson expanded his management activities into rock, and - together with Country Joe McDonald - put out a magazine, Rag Baby. From around 1965-1970 he managed Country Joe & the Fish as well as Joy of Cooking. In 1972 Denson and Stefan Grossman founded and managed Kicking Mule Records, which released acoustic guitar instrumentals with tablature at the onset, and branched out to include artists such as John Renbourn, Michael Bloomfield, and Charlie Musselwhite. Denson has been involved in radio work since the 1960s when he and Michael Sunday produced a late night show on KPFA in Berkeley. Since 1982, he has hosted folk and blues radio shows first on Redway, California Station KERG, then briefly on KHSU at Humboldt State University in Arcata, and, since shortly after it went on-air, KMUD, Garberville. His show is being streamed on kmud.org Saturday mornings 9:30-11:30 am, California time.
During the 1970s, Denson spent several seasons as a volunteer river guide with Bill McGinnis's Whitewater Voyages, primarily working with inflatable kayaks. He guided on the South Fork of the American and Klamath rivers usually, and on one Klamath trip met Mary Alice Sexton, who sometime later became his 3rd wife. In the summer of 1980 they ran the Grand Canyon on a month-long private trip with Bill McGinnis, and two other guides.
He and Mary Alice moved to Humboldt County in 1980 and for 15 years operated Kicking Mule records from the barn on their ranch. After dividing the masters with his partner, Stefan Grossman in 1995, he sold the remaining masters & the label to Fantasy Records so he could devote his time to a new career: lawyering. In the mid-1980s ED became involved in the civil rights movement occasioned by the government's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) and the marijuana eradication raids in Southern Humboldt county. He was president of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project (CLMP) for many years, and became a non-violence preparer for the Citizens Observation Group (COG). In that capacity he travelled extensively in the Southern Humboldt county area, training over 200 people in non-violence techniques to use while monitoring police activity during marijuana raids. In 1990 after extensive litigation by CLMP, the government signed a consent decree to alter their raiding techniques, thanks in large part to the lawyering of Ron Sinoway and Mel Pearlston. It was this which inspired ED to start studying law in 1995.
Legal and Political Work
In 1992, Denson ran for Humboldt County supervisor, but came in 4th in a field of 8. Nevertheless, the run was important for establishing the political clout of the "new settlers" who lived in the rural sections of Southern Humboldt county, one of whom, Estelle Fennell, was elected to the post in 2012 in what could be seen as a passing of political power from the older establishment. He received an inheritance, following his mother's death in 1994, which allowed him to study law. In 1995 he enrolled in William Howard Taft University, a mail-order law school, graduating in January 1999. He passed the California Bar Exam that month and in August 1999 was sworn in as an attorney. His practice has been focused on defense of people charged with marijuana crimes, or DUI, in addition to quite a bit of pro-bono work for activists arrested during protests of logging practices in the old growth redwoods, and more recently protesting the environmental impacts of the Willits by-pass construction on US 101. He has given a number of public lectures on California's medical marijuana law to patients and their caregivers, and hosts a once-monthly, one-hour, talk show on the topic, on local community radio station, KMUD. In 2006 he went to China as part of a Global Volunteers program, and gave lectures on the American legal system to University students in Xi'an. As of 2014 his practice takes him into California courts in most Northern California counties, and he estimates that he drives over 30,000 miles a year.
As was the custom in his youth, Denson's tonsils were removed before he was 5, and at 7 he had an appendectomy. Things went well until he required a prostate operation in the 1990s, and in the first decade of the 21st century, his gall bladder and its stones were removed. In early 2011, diagnosed with cancer of the tongue, he underwent 8 weeks of chemo and radiation to treat it. His doctors are optimistic and the cancer appears to be gone, but he started on 5 years of "cancer probation," as the legal mind would call it, April 1, 2011. He is now cancer free in his 4th year of recovery, and sees each of his 3 doctor medical team twice a year. Since his recovery began he has published a daily diary of his experiences in treatment and recovery on his Facebook page.
All of his life Denson has travelled, mainly in the lower 48 states of the US until the 21st century, with a couple of brief trips to Europe as manager of Country Joe & the Fish. Around 2004, he and his wife began travelling the world, mainly by ship. He has been to every continent, she to 6, missing Africa due to illness. They have taken 16 cruises, the latest being a cruise in Spring 2013, from Galveston Texas to Southampton, England. He published extensive writings and many photographs on a travel blog, almost all of which is now lost to history as the blog host pulled the plug after several years, and most of the written material was not backed up. Denson's Facebook page contains some of the later travel writings.
An avid and lifelong (with intervals) stamp collector, Denson became interested in the philately of the Falkland Islands when he visited there in 2005. His collecting now focuses primarily on stamps from that area. He has in the past formed collections of German stamps, specialized in the US 1890 issue (Scott 219-229), collected Swedish stamps, and US Plate Number Coils (PNC). He published a catalog of PNC First Day Covers and has written articles on the US 1890 issue, and early US machine cancellations, for several philatelic publications. Denson shared the Luff award for his philatelic writing on US First Day Covers. A nit picker, he has convinced the editors of Scott's Standard Catalog of Postage Stamps, and West's Annotated California Codes to make minor but important corrections to their publications. He is currently working on a project to update the categorization of the registration labels and markings used by the postal system of the Falkland Islands, and to try to determine their periods of use, and relative rarity. Publication of this research can been read at "Falkland Philately" on Blogger. The work was the basis for the illustrated list of label types in the 6th edition (2012) of the Heijtz catalog. His latest publication on-line is "Registration Labels on covers of the Falkland Island's Coronation Issue of 1937" also at "Falkland Philately." He is working on a Monograph on Falkland Islands Registration labels for the Falkland Islands Philatelic Study Group, slowly.
This entry not written by, but revised and checked for accuracy by ED Denson May 2, 2014