Dave Van Ronk is refreshing, even 50 years later. I only feature two songs in a post, but if you have time also check out Stackerlee, (also known as Stagolee and Stagger Lee), the classic blues about the death of Billy Lyons.
The Richmond Hill (Queens, NY) Historical Society has a nice profile of Van Ronk:
Dave Van Ronk was a regular in Greenwich Village throughout the 1960′s and a regular at the Newport Folk Festival as well. His primary notoriety to the mainstream these days is due mainly to his connection to Bob Dylan, but amongst musicians and folk listeners, he is a legend, and deservedly so. It was clear not only in his musical presentation, but in his between-song commentaries, that Van Ronk approached the often obscure, Black composers of the songs he sang with a love and respect that borders on reverence. His often humorous, often poignant personal recollections
This site — I am unsure of the name — has an impressive discography.
This comment from Wikipedia appears to do a good job of summing up Van Ronk:
Robert Shelton described Van Ronk as, “the musical mayor of MacDougal Street, a tall, garrulous hairy man of three quarters, or, more accurately, three fifths Irish descent. Topped by light brownish hair and a leonine beard, which he smoothed down several times a minute, he resembled an unmade bed strewn with books, record jackets, pipes, empty whiskey bottles, lines from obscure poets, finger picks, and broken guitar strings. He was Bob [Dylan]‘s first New York guru. Van Ronk was a walking museum of the blues. Through an early interest in jazz, he had gravitated toward black music – its jazz pole, its jug-band and ragtime center, its blues bedrock… his manner was rough and testy, disguising a warm, sensitive core. Van Ronk retold the blues intimately… for a time, his most dedicated follower was Dylan.”
Above is “Sunday Street” and below is “Green Green Rocky Road,” which is introduced by the story of how the song came into being.
The two best YouTube clips of the influential folk revival group The New Lost City Ramblers are from Pete Seeger’s program Rainbow Quest. It’s no coincidence: The autoharp player, Mike Seeger, is Pete’s half-brother. It’s interesting that Pete just introduces him as his brother on the clip above. Another member of the band, John Cohen, is Pete and Mike’s brother-in-law or, perhaps, half-brother-in-law. Or brother-in-law-and-a-half. It’s a bit confusing, but suffice it to say that the Seeger family was intensely musical.
Here is the most important paragraph of Wikipedia’s entry on The New Lost City Ramblers:
The Ramblers distinguished themselves by focusing on the traditional playing styles they heard on old 78rpm records of musicians recorded during the 1920s and 1930s, many of whom had earlier appeared on the Anthology of American Folk Music. The New Lost City Ramblers refused to “sanitize” these southern sounds as did other folk groups of the time, such as the Weavers or Kingston Trio. Instead, the Ramblers have always strived for an authentic sound. However, the Ramblers did not merely copy the old recordings that inspired them. Rather, they would use the various old-time styles they encountered while at the same time not becoming slaves to imitation.
Man of Constant Sorrow is above and Ragtime Annie is below.
Acoustic Guitar Masters
R&B, Soul and Funk
Odetta was an influential singer in the 1960s folk/protest movement era. Here is how Wikipedia starts its profile:
Odetta Holmes (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to[by whom?] as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she was influential to many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin. Time included her song “Take This Hammer” on its list of the All-Time 100 Songs, stating that “Rosa Parks was her No. 1 fan, and Martin Luther King Jr. called her the queen of American folk music.” (Continue Reading…)
Above is This Little Light of Mine and below is Glory, Hallelujah.
Last.fm has an interesting profile of John Prine:
The son of William Prine and Verna Hamm, his grandfather had played guitar with Merle Travis and he started playing guitar himself at 14 years old. He was a postman for 5 years and spent a couple of years in the army before starting his musical career in the Chicago area. He emerged in 1971 with a highly acclaimed debut album titled John Prine. He and friend Steve Goodman (another folk singer-songwriter) had been minor stars in the Chicago folk scene before being “discovered” by Kris Kristofferson. The album John Prine included his signature songs “Illegal Smile”, “Sam Stone”, and the environmentalist newgrass standard “Paradise”. The album also included “Hello In There”, a song about aging that was later covered by Joan Baez, Bette Midler, and Eddi Reader, and “Angel From Montgomery”, a song now also associated with Bonnie Raitt, who occasionally brings Prine on-stage with her for live performances of the song. The album received many positive reviews, and some hailed Prine as “the next Dylan”. Bob Dylan himself appeared unannounced at one of Prine’s first New York City club appearances, anonymously backing him on harmonica. (Continue Reading…)
Martin Chilton of The Telegraph interviewed Prine last month. Chilton related an earlier piece at Huffington Post:
Dylan told the Huffington Post in 2009 that Prine remains one of his favourite writers, saying: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about Sam Stone the soldier junky daddy and Donald And Lydia, where people make love from 10 miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that.”
Editor’s Note: The folks at Go-DIY Records were kind enough to post a note that TDMB welcomed new music. Several bands have sent me links and samples. My plan is to post the music in the order in which it came in and to present what the band (or its management) wrote — or as much of it as makes sense.
First up is The Adam Ezra Group. Directly below is Miss Hallelujah and at the bottom is Takin’ Off.
The Adam Ezra Group (AEG) is not just a band; they are a force to be reckoned with musically, personally and socially. Selling records and tickets is important to AEG, but they are committed to changing the world with their songs and their actions along the way. Ezra and his band are activists and community leaders as much as they are musicians and songwriters. Ezra has spent time living out of a van, farming in Canada, volunteering for the relief effort in Kosovo, and practicing environmental geography in South Africa. Whether as a kitchen hand or carpenter, teacher, athlete, or traveler, Ezra crams it all into the music, always challenging our perspective and often teetering somewhere between the ballsy rocker and sensitive poet. Through their non profit organization, RallySound, AEG currently contributes 25% of their touring to benefit causes in communities across the country and worldwide.
The group’s live performances, sweaty, passionate affairs that have been compared to those of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, attracted the attention of Royal Avenue Records in 2010. Ezra immediately signed with Royal Avenue and began working on the album that eventually became Ragtop Angel. Royal Avenue paired the group with multiplatinum producer Aaron Johnson (best known for his work with The Fray) who has helped hone Adam’s ramblings into finely tuned songs that still retain the power and conviction developed from Ezra’s years of “do it yourself,” grassroots work ethic.
I believe, but am not certain, that I first heard this great Blaze Foley song at the site Crooks and Liars. In any case, it made a deep impression. I Googled Foley and found out that he was an eccentric who was killed in Austin in 1989.
Here is a bit from the Wikipedia entry:
Foley placed duct tape on the tips of his cowboy boots to mock the “Urban Cowboy” crazed folks with their silver tipped cowboy boots. He later made a suit out of duct tape that he used to walk around in. At his funeral, his casket was coated with duct tape by his friends.Townes Van Zandt was quoted as saying that “he’d have to dig Foley up to get the pawn ticket for his guitar that was in his pocket”.
Like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen has managed to remain relevant as a musician and as a lyricist despite being a superstar. Being a superstar likely leads to an insular life — one that is quite unlike the life that person led before. Maintaining creativity probably is a difficult thing to do.
Like Young, Springsteen has two identities: Folk singer and rocker. Springsteen clearly revels in his links and debts to Leadbelly, Pete Seeger (the clip above is from “The Seeger Sessions”), Dylan, Woody Guthrie and others. He mentions them often.
Perhaps the synergies and tensions between the two overlapping worlds — rock superstar and folk musician with something to say — helps both Springsteen and Young (who recently released an album of folk and traditional songs) remain creative.