Remembering Pete Welding

by Raeburn Flerlage

Pete Welding was not only a pleasant, supportive "business associate" but a wonderful friend as well. The news of his death came as a great shock. I was amazed to realize for the first time that he was-had always been-20 years younger than I. That meant that during the Down Beat days [in the early 1960s], when he was my sponsor, mentor, adviser, and de facto art director, the "fatherly" role had been played by a young man in his middle 20s. Yet he had effectively been directing the activities of an old battle-scarred veteran!

Welding kept me abreast of jazz and blues happenings. When we went for a Down Beat interview, I drove the car but he steered the activities. Most of the time Mike Bloomfield tagged along to pick the brains of the bluesmen while Pete asked the probing questions and I tried to capture the action on film. When there were disappointments, it was at Pete's place that I could always "nurse my wounds." If I called him on the phone-day or night-he would take the time to listen. If I was just "crying the blues" he would "straighten me out," but if I was really hurting, there was a deep, understanding, sympathetic response. (Remember, we're talking about a young man still in his 20s at that time).

Pete's manner and appearance were misleading. Quiet, unpretentious. unassuming: there was little outer indication of the confident, powerful drive that existed behind his gentle, cherubic face. Yet, if he was taken advantage of, or taken too lightly, Pete had the power to sting. He had a formidable and sarcastic vocabulary that could destroy a person who understood the words. One of his letters to a "sharp-dealing" Chicago distributor is a minor classic. On the other hand. his outlandish sense of humor-most evident in his letters-lent a hilarious touch to many of his most penetrating analyses.

Pete was one of the most gifted people I've ever known. In addition to his widely recognized achievements as editor, producer, researcher, writer, etc., he was a very capable photographer and also had a superb sense of design. Many times, under the pressure of deadlines, I was forced to submit second or third-rate prints to Pete for Page 60 publication. But after he had handled them with a border or an offset arrangement or a dab of color, they looked great.

One experience will always stick in my memory. I had taken shots of Muddy Waters at a Down Beut concert and cropped one print to produce the best possible design. Pete had just issued his Library of Congress Muddy Waters LP on Testament, with a memorable cover portrait by my old buddy Ted Williams. I showed my print to Pete. "You bastard! I'm gonna have to change the cover!" And he did. (I call that print the Pete Welding Muddy.)

My letters from Pete range from 1962 until the early '70s. After his maniage to Darlene, Pete was too busy being happy-and making four other people happy-to have much time to write letters. Yet I have always thought of Pete Welding with an immense reservoir of gratitude and affection. I have few heroes. Pete was one of them.

-Raeburn Flerlage