Saturday, December 10, 2011

BRUCE LANGHORNE: Tambourine Man - VERY FIRST solo album release from Gerde's original one man house band



A cursory look at Bruce Langhorne's bio and musical credits, one may think that somewhere along the line he would've had at least ONE album of his own mixed in. Not so...until now.

Released in November, the aptly titled TAMBOURINE MAN is a collection of tracks (a few waiting in the can for some 20 years!) that capture several facets of the man himself. Not an easy task considering his resume and cast of friends and associates.

While a young man, native New Yorker Bruce Langhorne took his chops to Greenwich Village in the early '60s where he had the opportunity to befriend and perform with a who's who list of Folk Revival up and comers.

One of those friends was an established recording artist named Brother John Sellers. Although Bruce and Gospel Singer Brother John never recorded anything formal, it was their association forged at Folk City that effectively was a showcase for Langhorne's ability to play strings behind a wide variety of acts. He made a career of recording BEHIND a diverse crowd, but at Folk City, he played LIVE along side them. It became evident to all that he knew his way around a guitar.

Langhorne and Sellers became the Gerde's Folk City house band in the early days as Brother John MC'd quite often and would normally have Bruce accompany his Gospel singing. Bruce met a host of other musicians there and began his recording career playing with another set of Gerde's alumni, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He was hired by Texas Songbird Carolyn Hester to play guitar on her 1961 Vanguard release and that was where he first recorded with harmonica player, Bob Dylan. Both Ms. Hester and Mr. Dylan are just a couple in a long line of Folks won over by Bruce's personality.

Bruce made friends easily in the Village and proved himself in the studio by making other songwriter's recordings better.

From his website www.brucelanghorne.com:

Bruce Langhorne was one of the most important session guitarists of the 1960s, particularly in the early years of folk-rock. He is most famous for playing on some of Bob Dylan’s records, particularly 1965′s Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan’s transitional release from folk to folk-rock. However, he actually played with numerous musicians making the change from folk to folk-rock in the second half of the 1960s, including Tom Rush, Richard & Mimi Fariña, Richie Havens, Gordon Lightfoot, Eric Andersen, Fred Neil, Joan Baez, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. He also played on some other instruments; performed live with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, the Fariñas, and others; and produced Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. He has also done soundtrack work, including scoring Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand.
~ Ritchie Unterberger

When new Gerde's sensation Dylan got his own recording contract, the two reunited in the studio for the Freewheelin' sessions and, more predominantly, on the BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME album. It was Bruce who inspired Bob's song, Mr. Tambourine Man, hence the name of his debut album.

"We thought of other titles," Bruce says deadpan, "but that was the only one that seemed to make any sense." To all who know Bruce, he is more a force of nature than man. Thirteen songs can hardly explain his true nature, but they provide a glimpse into the kind of person he is and the character he possesses.

If you're looking for finger-pickin' Folk Rock and Roots, look elsewhere. What you'll hear is a one-of-a-kind blend of Latin, Spiritual, Jazz, African and Funk atmospheres succinctly wrapped around impassioned stories and sentiment only Bruce weave.

Songs like 'Hard headed woman,' 'Subaru,' 'Chihuahua' and 'Perfect love' give the listener a sampling of Mr. Langorne's wit. Sprinkled in with such entertaining tales are even more musically intricate World beats. 'Samedi' ends in a near-rap and the bluesy 'Bottom of the sea' has a serious tone but 'Aunt Sally' and 'Mary' balance out any heavy thoughts. 'Mary' is a take on 'Mary had a little lamb that both Jim Henson and Paul Simon would approve of. (You'll just have to listen for yourself to understand!)

The layered sounds on 'The wind' and 'Angels' seem to capture Bruce's spiritual nature. 'The Wind,' with Bruce's famed Turkish drum in the forefront, has a tribal quality where 'Angels' has the ethereal sound of an ascenscion towards heaven. As the whimsical wrap up to the disc, it seems like the perfect music to play for someone floating to a better place wearing smiles and rainbows and a big white loincloth:)

I've only spent a few hours with the man on two separate occasions but I can honestly say that his positive nature is contagious and palpable. Where his memory fails him, his charm and sense of compassion take over.

Unabashedly, part of the marketing material for TAMBOURINE MAN state that "All proceeds go directly to Bruce." Well shouldn't they? It's only been 50 years in the making. He's seen the ugly side of the music business. He shouldn't have to be shy about being honest. If the executives at Starbucks heard the sounds on this record, it would sell a million copies!!

I had the rare opportunity to purchase my copies of the disc directly from Bruce at his home in Venice, CA. As we made the exchange, I had the bright idea to write a review of the CD for this blog. As I mentioned it to Bruce, with impeccable timing, he says, "If sales slump, I can say it was because your review was shit and that Bob Porco is a fucking liar."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Living on his property is a visual artist and his budding family. Bruce gushes about the infant saying that the baby already knows what it's taken him a lifetime to learn. I ask what he means and to give an example, he recites a message he once received in a fortune cookie: A place is reserved in paradise for those who make their companions laugh.

'Nuff said.

[step one: log on to brucelanghorne.com]
[step two: Buy the disc...and get some hot sauce while you're there]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

GEORGE HARRISON- Gerde's barfly?


It's been a decade since my personal favorite Beatle has left us. The anniversary of his passing reminded me of a story my father, Bob Sr., passed on to me.

Long ago, long before there was a Nelson or Lucky Wilbury, there were two buddies named George and Bob. They had met in the early Sixties and had remained friends as their respective careers took shape in their own due course.

Well, one day, in the early 1970s, Bob Sr. popped in to Folk City to say hi to his father, Mike Porco. Bob said, "How's business, Dad?" Mike said, "Not-a so good, Robert. It's-a been a little slow."

Bob Sr. looked at the bar and only two guys were there having an afternoon beer. Business may have been slow at times at Gerde's but it was never dull. The two daytime drinkers?...George and Bob

Friday, November 11, 2011

11.11.11 SMALLER CROWD, BIGGER STAKES Joan Baez performs at OWS


I've had the great honor to meet many of Gerde's graduates in recent weeks. Not long ago, there were first time meetings with Bruce Langhorne and George Gerdes. That same weekend, I had a reunion of sorts and a casual drink with Lucinda Williams. On September 25th, it was another reunion with Roger Sprung, Peter Stampfel, Terri Thal, Eric Weissberg and Barry Kornfeld. That same day, I met Paul Prestopino. On October 21st, a backstage invasion at a Clearwater event reunited me with Pete Seeger, David Amram, Guy Davis and Lucy Kaplansky. My hijinx were rewarded with first time meetings that evening with Suzanne Vega, Louden Wainwright, Tom Chapin and Arlo Guthrie. An historic march insued after that show as Seeger and Amram led the charge to "Occupy Columbus Circle" with music. Guthrie was there waiting for 400 protestors, myself included. (Gainfully employed, well heeled protestors...not only the unemployed and unwashed as the media may portray)    

If it sounds like I'm patting my own back...well, maybe I am. Perhaps I should add to that by saying that I think I've done a fabulous job of not mentioning anything political on this blog. Quite a task, indeed, considering that world events have forever been topic matter for Folk Music artists. Folk artists, in turn, have always lent a helping hand to the movements themselves. Sometimes they merely foster awareness by lending their names and star power to civic causes they believe in. In other situations, they may find themselves at or near the tip of the spear, connecting leaders and their message to the rest of the world through the power of song. Few occasions in our history can we point to peaceful and pivital change having a soundtrack. America in the 1960s was such an age. The music, predominantly Folk, was being created for the times as they were happening. Those people creating it also brought it to the masses themselves. 

Of course, most notably was the reluctant voice of his generation, Bob Dylan. His anthems of "Blowin in the wind" and "The Times they are a-changin" helped define the civil rights and anti war Movement of the mid twentieth century. The facilitator of that change was Dr. Martin Luther King. One of the most pivotal moments in time was his "I have a dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Sending their musical message to the global crowd from those very steps moments before were Bob Dylan, Len Chandler and Joan Baez. 

Ms. Baez was back in front of a crowd today using her siren's call once again in opposing the modern version of social inequality. The crowd was smaller but the stakes couldn't be any larger. Why do I say that? Well, it might be that, at this writing, the world economy is imploding on itself and the destructors who exacted the damage are in damage control as they desprately attempt to save the system the same way they always have: Putting the tax payers of the world on the hook in order to bail out failed banks, corporations and even entire nations. The people have finally had enough. Millions of jobs have been lost. Purchasing power has been erroded. Lies had been told by our leaders. And now thousands of like-minded citizens are finally off the couch and on the streets rising up, as it were.      

The Occupy Wall Street movement is still unfolding. Day 55 as I write this. It's a leaderless revolution with a strong message of disgust and disenchantment of the economic warfare being waged against the free people of this world. Yet the objectives, demands and expected outcomes cannot be universally described by its participants. The "OWS" crowd is a modern day pot pouri of leftists, rightists and everyone in between of all ages. It has the feel of the 1960s except the "victims" appear to be everyone plugged into the rigged system. As my Grandfather Mike was quoted as saying about working through the flailing music business of the 1970s: We're all in this together. 

The Occupy core group has proven to be a resiliant bunch. The exposure they've demanded by the corporate media has only brought more closet dissentors out of the woodwork. Ninety nine percent of the people cannot possibly be on the same page, but they all can see when something is seriously wrong. The current movement has also brought out the very figures who have stood tall against corporate oppression since early in their careers. Graham Nash and David Crosby performed at OWS last week. Peaceful sit-ins have sprung up worldwide. Some not so peaceful responses have also occurred but it has only strengthened the call for more solidarity amongst the People. And with that come the names from the past who have always believed that music has power and magic in it. 

Today was Joanie's turn. And I couldn't pass up the chance to get close. She made her way to NYC and I just had to make my way downtown on the subway. Sure enough, as has been the case so often since I've chased friends of Mike Porco, she appeared right before me as I wandered "backstage" into a 12x12 foot tent where she was warming up. I told her who I was and a look of happiness ran across her face. She leaned her pretty head back as if to almost have a belly laugh only to nod back to the present moment to meet my eyes with a look of understanding. Her past met my future. She had known through her manager that I was on her trail to discuss Gerde's and Mike Porco. Her touring schedule made that difficult. But today was all about making conscious contact..... Shake her hand....show her that my intentions to pass on the Gerde's legacy are real and to make sure that she knows I'd like to see her again. I had no right to spend time with her any more than the other hundreds that were there but I made a point to get close. The Porco name travels well. I can tag along right til the end without her handlers poking a finger in my chest asking "who are you?!" I know that she's working and I ask only for a moment.   

We held hands a few seconds as I asked for a photo with her. I've lived long enough to know when someone is real and when someone is putting you on. She's real. I've met enough of the Folk City performers to know if someone was "just a performer" there or if someone got to know Mike Porco and got to know Gerde's. Joan knows. This blog entry could rattle on for a while denoting the connections between her, Gerde's, Mike Porco and Gerde's favorite son, Bob Dylan. In short, she was there. She was there in the 60s and she came back to celebrate Gerde's 25th anniversary in 1985. Joanie knows Mike. 

I thanked her warmly for the moment. I told her that I hoped I'd see her again. And for some reason, thanked her for coming as if I spoke for the OWS. In a way, she did come for me because, after all, we're all in this together

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ROLLING THUNDER ROLLS THROUGH GERDE'S FOLK CITY 10/23/75


It was an unseasonably warm Thursday in late October of 1975. It was Mike Porco's 61st birthday. It had been sixteen years since he first invited acoustic music performers into his Italian restaurant. They came to Gerde's in droves as the 1960s began and New York's first open mike night was born out of necessity. The term "talent night" was voted down so Greenwich Village's first Folk-only cabaret (read: paying room) borrowed a term from Pete Seeger and dubbed its singer/songwriter amateur night the Hootenanny. One of those amateurs in particular was set to return to Folk City to wish Mike a Happy Birthday in person.  

In 1961, a young man from the Midwest tried to work his way onto the stage at Folk City. Being so young and looking even younger, Mike told the boy to return the following Monday with proof of age before he could allow him to play. In February of 1961, Bobby Dylan, two weeks removed from his Minnesota departure, played his first Hoot and made himself known to the Gerde's crowd. 

Gerde's, meanwhile, became known for showcasing only established and up-and-coming recording artists for their weekly bookings. Back then, a union booking consisted of 12 sets over 5 nights. The Monday night Hoots were taken very seriously by the unknown performers but for the headliners, this gig was their bread and butter. Touring stars like Ed McCurdy, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, Brother John Sellers, Carolyn Hester, Sandy Bull, Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, The Tarriers, John Lee Hooker, The Greenbriar Boys and Rev. Gary Davis were among Gerde's first year's performers. There was no shortage of outstanding talent and entertainment in the Village back then and it only begat more quality singer-songwriters to sign up for the Hoots. 

Throughout the years, thousands of music lovers witnessed music history written on Gerde's stage. By 1975, thousands more musicians had come to New York City to make their own contribution to the Greenwich Village Folk Music Scene. Arguably, none were more successful, more influential or more monumental in reviving the world's interest in Folk than Bob Dylan. During the first decade and a half of his career, he helped define and then RE-define the Folk Rock genre itself. 

Even so, Bob Dylan had had ups and downs on his career path. The 1966 motorcycle accident, the retreat from touring and not-so-well received releases of Planet Waves and Self Portrait had some believing that his best days were behind him. With the '75 release of "Blood on the Tracks," he had re-established his place as the premier songwriter of his generation. The follow up album, "Desire," had silenced critics further and this period has been looked back upon as one of his most productive and best sounding eras of his life. He was ripe for a tour.

Unbenownst to Mike Porco, his place was chosen as the first venue to see and hear the spectacle that became known as the Rolling Thunder Revue.    

Larry "Ratso" Sloman has graced us with the most intimate account of the tour in his book "On The Road With Bob Dylan." From the final studio sessions for the Desire album to the Night of The Hurricane, Ratso takes us backstage, onstage and into the semi-private moments surrounding the music legend making history. How the Rolling Thunder Revue wound up at Folk City is told with spectacular detail. 

In a nutshell, Dylan was recording in NYC. Word had travelled around the Village that Mike Porco was having a small birthday party organized for him by relative newcomer Jack Hardy and other club regulars. Dylan, Jacques Levy, Roger McGuinn and others were known to be socializing after hours at the White Horse Tavern and other back rooms at the time. Mention of Mike's birthday reached Bobby and the impulse to gather at Gerde's for an intimate party took hold. From there, it wasn't long before the rattle of Dylan's unannounced gig was passed on in tight circles around town. 

Folk singer Rod MacDonald retold his story to me about how word got to him. He was waking from a late-day slumber that Thursday afternoon and haappened upon the Mayor of MacDougal Street, Dave Van Ronk. They shared a few blocks walking together when someone came up to Dave to tell him that old friend Bobby would be playing a "secret" engagement that night at Gerde's. Dave, less than thrilled to see Bob's entourage worshiping at his feet, let out a big sigh and said he was only going to pop in to wish Mike a Happy day but he wasn't sticking around. He turned to Rod, however, and said "You should go. You shouldn't miss it."

Rod was in good company. In the growing crowd were such luminaries as Bette Midler, David Blue, Phil Ochs and Allen Ginsberg. People were "hanging from the rafters" and, as Rod recalled, a strange vibe engulfed the club. It seemed that everyone knew that Dylan was in town but Mike. Earlier, a film and camera crew had assembled in the club telling Mike that it was all being set up for a TV special on the local public station, Channel 13. The lighting etc was actually a set up for the filming of "Renaldo and Clara." Several hours of the night were filmed there but only a few seconds were used in the movie. As it turned out, the last known footage of Phil Ochs was taken that night.  

Jack Hardy and the duel act undercard played full sets that night even after Dylan had arrived. He was dropped off at the curb and as my father remembers, the sea of people split down the middle to allow Gerde's Own to sit right at the stage. No announcements were made for some time. Performers just got on the stage and took over where Hardy left off. The illustrious Rosie, the occasional MC, was plucked from the crowd to perform her duties quite unplanned. Eventually Dylan got up and was reunited on stage for the first time in 7 years with old flame, Joan Baez. A scant many pictures exist from that night but one photo shows them on the tiny stage at Folk City with Eric Andersen. The night ended in the wee hours with Buzzy Linhart and Bette Midler perfoming their hit, Friends. 

*********************

Oh, by the way, a cake was presented to my Grandfather and happy birthday was sung by all of his friends and admirers. It was promptly dropped face down onto the floor of Folk City. Very apt indeed. (wink) What mattered most to him, as he was quoted as saying, was that they all had a chance to get together again. Such as the music business was in the mid-seventies, singers could no longer make a living in their own neighborhoods any more. Some had to be on the road constantly. Others were forced to get real jobs. And others, like Judy Collins or Paul Simon, were too large to play a 90 person room anymore. But, for the most part, whenever they had a chance, they'd stop in to see Mike and wish him well. Even Bobby Dylan, at the height of his career, this date all those years ago.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

WASHINGTON SQUARE BLUEGRASS AND OLD TIME MUSIC REUNION


It was a great honor to be a part of the festivities at the 8th annual Washington Square Bluegrass and Old Time Music Reunion. Organizer Jeannie Myers has the routine down to a science and takes no guff from other musicians not part of the open jam session between the legends of Greenwich Village Old Time Music. 

I had first been spoted by a former Gerde's patron. She noticed my name tag and had nothing but fond memories for my grandfather and Folk City. 

As I approached the Square from the Broadway side, I spoted Hal Wylie. I took off my shades hoping he'd recognize me from our meeting at the Folk City at 50 party. We also met last August. I had driven to Connecticut to see Roger Sprung on his 80th birthday and I had presented Hal with a 5x7 of himself back in the summer of '10. To my great pleasure, Ol' Hal's eyes grew wide from under his everpresent Stud hat as we shook hands. I knew within a moment or two, I'd be running into Sprung. 

But as has been the case for the last 60 years, Roger Sprung was busy pickin'. I made sure to go say hello to Roger later in the day when his hands were resting. It never quite happened. I had to interrupt him when he was about to start another song. At one point, I had even seen him pluck away at the galvinized tub basin.

I was glad to see Roger pose for a picture with former teenager, Eric Weissberg. The mind reels at the thought of Roger and Eric playing in open jam sessions when Eric was only a boy of 14. But here they were again over 50 years later. Their careers behind them. Still playing for keeps. 

And "Deliverance" co-icon Steve Mandel was also there, hanging with Eric most of the time. Steve was the guitar pro who went toe-to-toe with Julliard's banjo playing Weissberg on their landmark soundtrack. 

Along another short stroll to rub elbows, I spoke crap with Terri Thal and Barry Kornfeld. Norman Savitt gawked at the crowd with me as did photog extraordinare and Folk aficianado Frank Beacham. 

Paul Prestopino was a target of mine. I wanted to at least make person-to-person contact with someone who only knew of me through an unsolicited "friend request" (snicker). The  mere concept of how Facebook has connected me to my grandfather's past is still baffling to me. Paul and I had joked that we've all become slaves to communication... Joked how people walk the streets with a 3 inch screen in front of their faces. 

Paul is an interesting story in that he replaced, not one, but TWO well known Greenwich Village alumni. First, he was one of two guitarists to replace Roger (Then Jim) McGuinn as acompanists to the Chad Mitchell Trio. He later replaced Erik Weissberg as the new bangoist for the Greenbriar Boys. 

Sharp dude. Still plays just as sharp. Of note, only he and I were manly enough to wear bandanas on our heads that day. 
 
When I say there was a LOT of jammin' and pickin' going on, I really mean a fucking LOT!! I had my guitar with me and I joined in near the end but I couldn't keep up. I kept trying to chase the chord changes by watching the pros and in the end I wasn't playing loudly enough for myself to hear...I was just making it appear as if  I were playing along. 

No, I couldn't keep up with those old folkies. They were running all afternoon as fast as they could. They sung every song they knew and then played them with a different crew hours later. 

 
It was interesting to note how much space a small group really needs to create a band in the round. One small band can play within spitting distance to a like-sized band and not interfere. One particular time was when we were all posing for the Annual's group photo. The shots took only a moment yet no one really moved. So given the opportunity, Sprung and Wylie, a bow fiddle and a couple of banjo players started to play and music filled the air once more. So within moments, the other random super-group on the other side of the photo op took off into an oldie of their own. And they were all off and running again. 

And this went on and on. If anyone ever wanted to get a good sense of how it used to be, this was quite the magical facsimile....or so I'm told. I can only imagine an earlier time when music in the park rang like this at all hours of the day. It still does. But the performers in the park today are just nobodies to me. Damn near hoodlums. The liklihood that this many RECORDED artists regularly assemble elsewhere in the city all at once to play music is 0%!!

Well done Jeannie Myers!

Not only is a permit secured a year in advance to avoid conflicts, its chosen venue location and what the Square represents to these Folks cannot be understated. And this year, the weather was ideal. Past reuinions have been held in elements unkind at times but on top of everything else, Ms. Myers secures an indoor backup, as well.  

A recurring figure, now known personally as well as via the dreaded Facebook, was Peter Stampfel. What a Gem!! Banjo and fiddle alongside showing his wares with groups, every and all. He gravitated towards the fellow genius Prestopino and they both struck it up when given the chance to. When skies obscurred the warming rays, things heated up music wise. More musicians came out of the woodwork who had had careers of their own in other clubs in other worlds. One thing in common was their love for the power of song and, in addition for many, this was nothing new to them. 

More crowds of musician circles formed. More tourists and observers were standing on benches to get a better look. Music fans happening to stumble upon the reunion found themselves asking around to determine the names of the performers. Others just couldn't resist the level of skill they were witnessing. "Lots of fingers flying," said one amazing attendee.

The Seeger group showed up from the Sloop Club in Beacon. The Sprung group showed up from Connecticut. The Manhattan group was represented. The Woodstock ilk showed. Central Jersey. Long Island. Upstate. Pennsylvania and other states for sure. Some by air travel. Impressive clientele for a bluegrass reunion. 

By the look on everyone's eyes, this get together was something they all look forwward to attending. I missed it last year. Didn't know about it until it's 5th year. But I'm probably never to miss another Washington Square Folk and Old Time Music Reunion again. Always an incredible array of characters. This is one of the greatest reunion ideas imaginable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

BROTHER BruBru AKA MR. TAMBOURINE MAN



"There's a misunderstanding about me...truth is," he says as his eyes widen, "I don't like hanging out with musicians."

The joke goes over well as all in the room have a good laugh at the apparent untruth. "They act as if there is nothing left to learn. They feel that since they have this gift, that they're closer to God. Not me, of course," he adds as a punchline.  

History shows quite the opposite was true in the case of Bruce Langhorne. He has, arguably, made more diverse and profound connections than perhaps anyone of his contemporaries from his heyday in New York's Greenwich Village. John Sebastian may dispute that. And maybe Bob Dylan. Or Mark Dann. But Brother BruBru, as he was later known, has performed and recorded with some of the most talented and outstanding giants of his era. He would later arrange and produce albums for other legends. He wasn't invited into the studio or to play on stage just because he was a "nice Negro." It was because he was a stellar musician and steadfast friend to all he encountered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Langhorne was a musical virtouso since he was a child growing up in Upper Manhattan. His violin career ended at age 12 after an incident with a cherry bomb that he held in his right hand an instant too long. His musical life thereafter was a matter of being at just the right place at just the right instant. 

That place, of course, was Gerde's Folk City. 

When he got older, he spent many days and nights playing along with other musicians in Washington Square. His musical career took shape when he was introduced to Brother John Sellers. Sellers had become the regular Emcee at Gerde's during its infancy. He was primarily playing spirituals, Roots Music and Gospel during his regular sets at Folk City. Bruce eventually would sit in with Brother John as his able accompanist. His name and unique picking style started to become better known from the exposure he gained as a young man at Gerde's. As part of his extensive repertiore, Brother John also liked to play some stripped down contemporary Folk covers and it was at that time when Bruce remembers a surge in demand for his presence on stage.

"People started asking me to join them on stage to play with them 'cause I could play almost anything. Brother John was always there. I was always there and we basically became the house band for Gerde's. I was just a kid. I had the time of my life."

Some of that time was spent holding up the bar at Gerde's. The other side of the bar was usually occupied by my Grandfather. In the early 60s, Folk City was the only place to go to see and hear the legends of the Blues and continually provided crowds with the new voices of Folk.

"Gerde's was where I met almost everybody. Bobby, Joanie, Dennis Fariña, Carolyn Hester. I spent a lot of time off stage with them, too."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   

Soon, Bruce Langhorne was billed as the accompanist with fan favorites Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. Within several months, he would join Texas Songbird Carolyn Hester in the studio for her 1961 release on Vanguard. A newbie guitar player from Minnesota had befriended Hester in Boston just around that time and expressed a desire to play with her. Since she already had Bruce lined up to play guitar on her next record, she asked the boy if he'd be interested in playing harmonica in New York when the time came. The man-child was Bobby Dylan and the bassist on the album was Bill Lee, father of Spike. Ms. Hester thinks this may have been one of the first intergrated Folk recording. It certainly was Dylan's first time on vinyl. Dylan and Bruce would collaborate some years later. But that's another story. 

Bruce remembers the solid vibe at Folk City and attributes it to the Old World feel given to it by its owner, Mike Porco. Bruce still holds a soft spot in his heart for Mike.  

"Mike was a wonderful guy," he gushed. "The rest of the world was dealing with Black and White but there was NONE of that in there. We would sit at the bar and we'd all just talk and it was like a meeting of the minds."

In fact, when Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I have a Dream" speech, it was Bruce, Len Chandler, Dylan, Baez amongst others who have been credited with warming up the crowd on the mall in Washington, DC. 
  
In the mid 60s, Bruce was invited to play in the studio with old friend, and by now, superstar Bob Dylan. Some outtakes that he recorded with Dylan for the "Freewheelin'" album surfaced decades later but he was it was his lead guitar work on 1965's seminal Folk-Rock defining album Bringing it All Back Home that has stood the test of time. And, as has been spelled out in so many words by the man himself, Bruce IS Mr. Tambourine Man. 

But a man can't build a career on inspiring other artist's song titles. He had become one of the most sought after and, subsequently, historically important musicians during the genre's transition from Folk to Folk-Rock. Not only an acclaimed "session" artist, his ability to perform live is what separated Bruce from the thousands of aspiring artists in the Village. From his exposure gained at Folk City, he earned opportunities to play with The Clancy Brothers, Tom Rush, Richard & Mimi Fariña, John Sebastian, Richie Havens, Gordon Lightfoot, Eric Andersen, Peter Yarrow, Fred Neil, Joan Baez, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. He also played on some other instruments during studio sessions and performed live with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, the Fariñas, and others. He produced Ramblin' Jack Elliott's album Young Bringham and has also done soundtrack work, including scoring Peter Fonda's movie The Hired Hand. There is hardly a more star studded resumé.

One of his more outstanding memories was being asked...more like told...by John P Hammond to not sit in with everyone on stage and to just sit down and LISTEN. "And he was right! The show became more enjoyable to me."

He also remembers time spent with another fellow guitar virtuoso. Bruce was at Folk City in 1962 when Bronx kid José Feliciano became a hit sensation at the cabaret. As one would expect, the notoriously gregarious characters became fast friends. He remembers sitting around with José one day when they were both commenting on their respective handicaps. "And José says, 'You play pretty good for a guy with no fingers' and I said, 'You play pretty good for a guy who can't see shit!'"

Bruce was able to make a living playing music, something he thought was astounding. He even worked his way to a nationwide audience with a live appearance on NBC, but that didn't stop him from having a little fun with it.     

"I'm told that there were some people in my building who liked hash," says Mr. Langhorne with a wry smile. A thumb-sized hash chunk somehow made it into his apartment where his mates indulged just before their network television performance. "And one of my friends said, 'hey we're going to be stoned on live TV in front of 6 million people!' I thought that was cool!"

The story, of course, is told a bit out of context and incomplete. Brother BruBru doesn't remember if it was Bobby or someone else he appeared with on Les Crane's show, but the story is funny nonetheless and shows Bruce's real ambition; it wasn't to make it "big" as fast as he could. He just wanted to play good music and have a good time doing so. His skill and zest for life seemed to line up his career opportunities for him.   

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I never had the urge to ask Bruce about Dylan. I really don't need to know "what HE was like" in the studio or at the bar. The stories can be near infinite!  And 50 years later, by law, most have already been embellished over time anyway. If Bruce had outstanding anecdotes to tell, he would have told them. Most folks have all said the same about Dylan: he was funny and fun to be around. His demeanor and studio-style has been discussed and disected endlessly. I thought it would be insulting to ask Bruce about someone else when he's had such an interesting career.  

It wasn't Brother BruBru's link to Bobby that led me to him. He spent much more time with Mike Porco. It's the time he spent with Dennis Fariña and the Grandison Singers and Brother John and Richie Havens that is of as much interest to me as anybody. He helped establish the very fabric of what my grandfather's cabaret became. He brightened the dark corners of that joint with the ambient sound that the headliners required. Five decades later, Bruce still keeps the Porco name aloft in his heart. To be welcomed into his home and experience that living connection with the man himself was worth more than any faded memory.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mike Porco's Cousins and Brethren.

After speaking with Vincent Porco of the Bronx, I learn of the "other" Porcos and offshoot families from the same town. My grandfather Mike Porco was a late bloomer. Many of his known relatives from Calabria had made their way from Italy to New York a generation prior.

My notepad was made from the back of an envelope.

Mike came here in 1933. Vincent's close relatives took a boat in the 1890s. Vinnie's grandfather is Anthony. He's never heard of Mike Porco although he's well aware that there's a paternal link not that far distant. His Porco heroes were the business men of the Bronx who stayed uptown and ran the speakeasies and night clubs up there. Places like the Flame, The Victoria Café on 141st and 7th, and the Palm. Not sure if it's the same Palm in the city now. But the one in the Bronx was run by the Bastones. Probable relative Joe Bastone put up the lion's share of money to open up Gerde's for his cousin Mike in 1952.

Mike's rotating cast of cousins and brothers ran Gerde's on 3rd and Mercer. Youngest brother Luigi was there at the beginning long before John came to America. They converted the fare from German to Italian. NYU forced them to relocate a block north to 4th and Mercer in '57. Music still wasn't introduced there until '59.

Vincent does remember Club 845 which was over on Prospect Ave. That was where Mike took his first real job working 90 hours for $11/week. By the time his kids were born, he was running the service from the entire 90 foot long bar. Fitzgerald, Armstrong and Ellington played there in the 1940's. Mike got to know them too but not as well as he did Dylan, Ochs and Van Ronk.

There were other families related somehow strewn all over the place. The Guara family. Bastone, Puglice (they just pronounced it POLICE) and the Reeda family. Mike's wife was a Reeda and Vincent knew another Vincent Reeda but we've never heard of him.

He also told me that his beloved Uncle Dom lives up by me in Tillson Lake. I got his number and since he spent more of his youth in West Harlem and followed the music, he'd have more to dish.

Vincent remembered the Yankee Tavern that Grandpa bought in 1965 but he never knew a Porco owned it. My Uncle Angelo ran the bar service there and was part owner. It was on 161 and River literally in the shadow of the Stadium. The Tavern, along with and half the block where the Chock-Full-o-Nuts once was, burned down to the ground in the winter after the Yankees '76 World Series loss. They would win the next two but Mike gave up the lease. His only business then was Folk City and some properties that he held with my Uncle John. Vinnie Porco says that every family has more than one John.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW


Anyone who knows about Bobby Zimmerman knows about Gerde's Folk City. It was where he got his first big break. It was where he hung out. It was where he made a name for himself. It was where he met Baez. It was where he hung out with Suze. It was where he played his new original stuff. It was where "Blowin" was first played. It was where many of his contemporaries first met and heard him play. It was where, as John Hammond recently told me, Bobby played his best solo shows. It was his turf. Gerde's, in a way, was the House that Dylan Built. 

I've often wonder'd if Dylan and Gerde's would have been Dylan and Gerde's without Dylan and Gerde's. The answer is pretty obvious to me. Dylan would have become the poet laureate of his generation whether he was discover'd on a street corner on the Square or the Wha? or the Gaslight. Like the biological fact that all female babies are born with all their lifetime's worth of eggs within their ovaries, so to, Uncle Bobby had all his songs with him when he came to New York. They just had to manifest and present themselves in time. Bobby Z was born to become Bob Dylan.

And Gerde's....well....Dylan was one in a long string of Folk singers to launch out of there. Established troubadors and Blues giants were perfoming there way before Dylan crossed the Hudson. It's probable that he knew this fact before he left Hibbing. Since he showed up at Folk City his first possible Monday, it's likely that playing the open mike at Gerde's was part of his plan during the infancy of his New York experience.

In other words, Gerde's already had cemented its name into the foundation of American Music History pre-Bob. When Bob became too large an act to play announced gigs in the Village, Mike Porco and Folk City carried on. Future legends came to Greenwich Village to launch their careers and several more found a home at Porco's place.

The Italian eatery and bar cum New York's Center of Folk Music would have drawn crowds and a new breed of Singer/Songwriter even if Dylan made Boston his HQ. They would have come to New York and they would have coveted the paying gig anyway. They would have had the City, love, life, death, heartache and current events to draw topical inspiration from. They would have had the Blues, Bluegrass, traditional and Rock to build upon. And they would have had Bob's music and legend to aspire towards. Somehow someway and from somewhere. 

But fate didn't have it that way. Bob came to Gerde's. And through the years, hundreds -perhaps thousands- came to Gerde's simply because Bob came to Gerde's. Mike Porco's "legend" was born 50 years ago because he offered his stage and guardianship to the birthday boy. His lasting effect on one little out of the way club is immeasurable.  

The two were destined to be intertwined and only because of that is my opinion worth more than a red cent. Because of that, the Folk City Family had a legendary figure to associate themselves with. Because of the Gerde's connection, Bobby brought it all back home in 1975 to kick off the Rolling Thunder Revue. (Yankee Stadium can't claim that!) Because of that, even more people came to Gerde's to feel the lingering magic still in the air of the late '70s. And because of that, we celebrate the still unfolding life of Uncle Bobby.              

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Talkin' New York"

Rambling out of the wild west
Leaving the towns I love best
Thought I'd seen some ups and down 
'Till I come into New York town
People going down to the ground
Building going up to the sky.

Wintertime in New York town
The wind blowing snow around
Walk around with nowhere to go 
Somebody could freeze right to the bone
I froze right to the bone 
New York Times said it was the coldest winter in seventeen years 
I didn't feel so cold then.

I swung on to my old guitar 
Grabbed hold of a subway car
And after a rocking, reeling, rolling ride
I landed up on the downtown side: 
Greenwich Village.

I walked down there and ended up 
In one of them coffee-houses on the block
Got on the stage to sing and play 
Man there said, Come back some other day
You sound like a hillbilly 
We want folksingers here.

Well, I got a harmonica job begun to play 
Blowing my lungs out for a dollar a day
I blowed inside out and upside down 
The man there said he loved my sound
He was raving about he loved my sound 
Dollar a day's worth.

After weeks and weeks of hanging around 
I finally got a job in New York town
In a bigger place, bigger money too 
Even joined the Union and paid my dues.

Now, a very great man once said 
That some people rob you with a fountain pen
It don't take too long to find out 
Just what he was talking about
A lot of people don't have much food on their table
But they got a lot of forks and knives 
And they gotta cut something.

So one morning when the sun was warm 
I rambled out of New York town
Pulled my cap down over my eyes 
And heated out for the western skies
So long New York 
Howdy, East Orange

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Not Dark Yet"

Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin' what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Well, I've been to London and I been to gay Paris
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of the world full of lies
I ain't lookin' for nothin' in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin' but I'm standin' still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, May 20, 2011

All Blues, all the time


He's been called the white Robert Johnson.

He was known as Jeep by his friends in the Village.

But don't call him "Junior." He's his own man. A Blues man. A Hall of Famer. And it was plain to see why last night.

But at first, I had to shake my head and re-focus my eyes because I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. John P. Hammond, this soft spoken gentleman whom I was fortunate to share conversation and dinner with just an hour prior, was transformed into a man possessed on stage right before my eyes.

The man quietly thanked the crowd for coming and introduced his opening song. He began picking and blew into his harp and from the first howl, everyone in the room knew that this was no vocation for John. Somewhere during his life he had become one with the Blues and this was his way of expressing that obvious fact.     

The way he sang and lamented, I really believed that he was all broken up inside. I really thought he was at the end of his rope. I really thought his heart was achin' and his baby didn't love him no more. I almost felt bad for the guy. He used the harmonica like a breathing apparatus. It was if he was taking oxygen from IT instead of him blowing his soul through it. It screamed and wailed as his head sunk low between his shoulders enabling him to better heave the sound from his insides through it. His eyes closed, his cheeks puffed and collapsed as his fingers and hands acted on instinct transporting the spirits long gone Bluesmen from an earlier time into that café. His words told stories told to him. 

Between songs, the smile and peaceful, sometimes even shy conversation returned. The blues beast was well hidden from view for the moment but we all knew it would rear its head again even more gutteral and more serious than during the last tune. 


I had to remind myself that this was the same guy who was sharing fun tales about his early days at Gerde's in 1962. He talked about the shindigs at the Broadway Central Hotel and at Victoria Spivey's apartment in Brooklyn. He loved playing Folk City. 

"Folk City was THE club in the village. The Blues guys that came through all stayed at the Broadway Hotel for $4 a night and they all played Gerde's." 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

BROOKLYN COWBOY



Somebody had to teach Bobby and Arlo Woody's style. 

There's a transitionary figure between the old guard and the new guard. There's a flatpicker who helped bridge the era of the troubador to the era of the singer/songwriter recording artist. There's a man who toured the road with both Woody and Bob. And tonight, the gleam from his shiny guitar that reflected across the packed house illuminated some and enlightened others.   

There are few men alive who can claim the broad influence on American music as Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Touted by ol' pal Bob Dylan as the "King of the Folk Singers," his six decade-long career has spanned the generations connecting the past to the present in a rolling continuum that expands to this day. 


No other man alive can claim to be the conduit by which some of the most prolific musical storytellers of our time made connections. Pete Seeger may argue that point, but Ol' Pete himself says he was influenced by Ramblin' Jack.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jack's life was never the same since seeing a rodeo at Madison Square Garden at age 9. Albeit, he wasn't "Jack" just yet. He was still Brooklyn raised Elliot Adnopoz at that point. By age 15, decided to run away with the rodeo and experience it on his own. A part-time string musician and full-time rodeo clown taught "Buck" guitar. After being persuaded to come back home 3 months later by his parents, Elliot finished high school and made a couple of false starts at college before the rodeo called him again. This time, the 18 year old "Pancho" would find work as a horse and stable man. He continued to work on his picking and singing and had expanded his repertoire of cowboy songs well enough to entertain crowds. After meeting the legendary troubadour Woody Guthrie in 1950, Jack Elliott left the rodeo to travel and learn at the feet of the master. After about a year living and barnstorming with Woody, he took a ship to Europe where he eventually toured and recorded albums with banjo picker Derroll Adams.

The spawning Folk and Blues revival lured Ramblin' Jack back to NYC in November of 1961. He was first booked at Gerdes in April of 1963. By then, he had become friends with every picker in the Village.  They themselves, had known of Ramblin' Jack from his three albums and his, already, legendary past. Others, like Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, knew Jack from their days on the road. They were in New York making a living, too.    

One of his new younger friends, of course, was the man-child Bob Dylan. He met Bob at the hospital where Woody was living out his final years. It was the desire to meet Woody that brought Dylan east but due to Woody's condition, they would never get the chance to play together. Bob did all of the pickin' during their visits as Woody was unable to show the eager Bob some of his guitar licks himslef. 

But Ramblin' Jack could. And did. He tought them to Uncle Bobby and he tought them to Woody's own son, Arlo, as well. Jack even lived with the Guthrie family again for a spell after his return from England. By the time he sat and picked with Bob Dylan and Arlo, his time spent on the road with Woody, Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger was already a decade gone. 

Jack would later become a great influence and/or friends with the likes of everyone from Joan Baez to Dolly Parton. From Phil Ochs to Flea. From Dave Van Ronk to Beck. The degrees of separation from Ramblin' Jack Elliott to the Folk-Blues-Country-Traditional musicians of the present moment is nothing short of astounding. 

There may not be a more valuable performer alive today able to lay claim to having first hand memories of seeing how the folk process works. Fans of the genre can readily HEAR how songs from the past got reinterpreted for a new crowd, but Jack SAW it take place before his eyes as he practically oversaw the passing of the torch from the Folk legends of the past to the Folk legends of the future.

Today, fifty-five years since he first ran away to follow his calling, Ramblin' Jack Elliott still has the light of a million memories in his eyes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

ON THIS DATE 50 YEARS AGO...


APRIL 11, 1961
A baby-faced, not yet 20 year old Bobby Dylan starts earning his keep in NYC 50 years ago today warming up the Gerde's Folk City crowd for the great John Lee Hooker. Dylan was one of thousands of performers to take the stage for Mike Porco at Folk City. Very few moments have stood the test of time. Mike Porco looked after Bobby like his own son. In fact, he was wearing hand-me-downs from Mike's real sons for this gig. He also gave him two bucks for a haircut. He never got the haircut.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK


Bobby Zimmerman takes Mike Porco with him to get a cabaret card for his first NYC gig. With his folks still in Minnesota, he asks Mike to sign as his legal guardian so he can open for John Lee Hooker at Gerdes Folk City. 

The unbelievable booking line in '61.....
The Weavers
Victoria Spivey
Dave Van Ronk
Odetta
Judy Collins
John Lee Hooker
Hooker and Robert Dylan
McKenzie and Phillips

Then in May...
Peter Yarrow by himself
Danny Kalb
Marshall Brickman
Josh White Jr
Yarrow, Stookey and Travers
Carrie Smith
In sept...
Lonnie Johnson
Tom Pasle
Joan Baez graced the stage
Peter Stampfel
Gil Turner
Jean Redpath
Len Chandler
The year ended with Jean Ritchie.

All at one club in one year...I mean, are you serious?
Mike saw every show.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

JUNEBUG vs. HURRICANE


Jack and Sisters Roche

I was beyond pumped up for this past weekend to roll 'round. I had secured an interview and backstage access with Lucinda Williams while she toured through NYC. We made plans to meet on Thursday night to talk about her Folk City days and on Friday, I was going to the concert where she hooked me up with VIP passes, too.  I had also gotten tickets to see Willie Nile perform up near where I live on Sunday the 13th. Originally, I had plans to take Willie Nile along with me to see Lu since I knew they've been buds for a long time, but it didn't work out that way. In the mix of all this, I decided to set up a guitar lesson with Terre Roche Friday afternoon, as well.

Jack Hardy had told me that the Roches were the best harmonic singers he had ever seen.

Terre and I worked on the basics. And timing.   

Unbeknownst to me, the death of Jack Hardy was also part of the weekend plan. Not mine, of course. But it was in the cards, like it or not. 

It's amazing to me how the highs and lows in life can be experienced at the same time. 

I met Ms. Williams at the hotel bar where she was staying. She booked an interview with someone else before me and it sounded like I was bringing up the rear. I had visions of chatting with her and being invited to dine with her afterwards. If not, I'd just ask to join in anyway...but that's just me when I'm hungry. 

Well, the conversation was as fun and easygoing as could be expected. People always say, "I don't know if I can add an awful lot" yet it's really their own opinion that I'd like to hear. A perspective gained from experience is worth hearing and she had more than I had expected. Mike Porco introduced her to Dylan at Gerde's for the first time and she called her time at Folk City a very important part of her career. "It was home to me for a good while".....that's all I needed to hear. And, of course, Jack's name came up before I knew of Jack's demise.  

The vision I had held true. I joined in the fun with her gang downstairs in the restaurant as it was way too stormy to step foot outside. 

The next day, I got wind that Jack had died. Piecing the puzzle together, I came to find out that very few people knew he was ill at all. Jack wanted it that way. It was just under a month. Enough time for Jack to line up his cherished goodbyes, I hope. Not enough time for the rest of us in this "tribe" to fully grasp. I'm very thankful that I was included in the phone chain that linked to inform and console, but very few seemed to have a good understanding of how or why so soon.  

But the show must go on! I was to watch Lucinda in concert that night and do the VIP thing afterwards. But I was sincerely melloncholy about a curmudgeon I'd only met last year....the show must go on...

As Jack would say at his Songwriter's meetings every Monday, "Shut up and sing the song."

Jack loved Mike Porco. If anyone helped keep Folk City's doors open near the end of Mike's stewardship, it was Jack Studdebaker Hardy. He dedicated his 1976 album MIRROR OF MY MADNESS to him. He emceed the Folk City Hoots for years. Somewhere along those lines, I felt connected to it all through Jack. 

At one point on Friday, I thought, "should I be the one to tell Lucinda Williams that a mutual friend has died??!" Although she and I had been in contact for a year, I just met her in person yesterday. She's high on life with this new album and she's busy gigging...I shouldn't bring bad news to the table.      

I held my tongue later that night over dinner. (Backstage is a euphemism for a Hot Spot down the street) Lucinda was full of good energy from the warm crowd and the stellar show. As I expected, Jack's name came up again more than once as we talked informally about the old days. 

Tell me about the bar scene back then, I asked. 
"Well. There was an awful lot of Jack."
Jack Daniels??
"No. An awful lot of Jack Hardy!"
We shared a snicker and I left her smiling about Jack. I think that's best. 

She also said that Frank Christian's name flashed in her mind during the show. Another friend who knows Jack. 

Willie's performance was so uplifting. His timing couldn't be any better. Really. In every sense. He plays with such zest and his voice and lyrics are powerful. It was a nice finish to a wild weekend. After the show, I finally got a chance to speak with him face-to-face. He was kind enough to do a phone interview with me last year and we, too, had been in touch since then. I only had a moment to say hi and thanks at the reunion itself, so standing with him in conversation felt like seeing an old friend. 

"You heard about Jack?" he asked. 
Yeah. I'm sorry, I said.  
"Me too."  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To date, I've heard more about Jack's final days. He was as brave and witty as he had come to be known right up until his final hours. In an attempt at dark humor, I told Mr. Massengill that Jack should have died years ago...he would have sold more albums. 

David said, Thats what Jack said in the hospital. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

JACK HARDY


I met Lucinda again
We talked all about a man
Who wrote when he spoke
And wore a cape on the fly

But it doesn't matter as much now
Since the wind had stopped
And the lights of your eyes
No longer anticipate

Morning with dust clouds
Eager to sing
In sun
With the dew and the chirp
Of a million voices

Crying out loud
Since the plates have shifted
The Earth is a cracked egg
Oozing its contents


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I was very fortunate to be able to communicate directly with lot of people from Gerdes' past without much hassle.
On 1.27.10, I interviewed Richie Havens and Carolyn Hester over the phone. (still shocking to me!)
The next day, I met another Mr. H and it was my first sit down interview. Allow me to share my summary in an email to myself:


Jack is a warm guy living in a drafty apartment. Holding steadfast to the artist's lifestyle, he remains in the rent controlled walk up he first leased in 1975 for $125/ month. His rent has changed but the amenities have not. In it, he carries on a monday nite tradition seemingly in his blood; the singer/songwriter get together. A rotating cast of characters swing through the open house every Monday evening prepared to share new material status post a mandatory gorging of pasta and wine.

Only new material is allowed. Any songs over a week old is considered stale and unwelcome.

It's the musical communal spirit that resides in jack and is alive and well .....

....the spirit of free and open musical expression  survives in the village, if only for one nite a week.

Lessons learned at Jack Hardy's were not bestowed solely upon fortunate locals seeking peers' advice on how to become better songwriters. The apartment on Houston and Bedford and sixth was the playhouse for the likes of vega, lovett and colvin.....


"The oportunity to play the open mic at Gerdes on a hoot night had a huge affect on me" jack recalls. "it gave us all a great sense of community knowing that all of us had a place to go to not only hear other performers play new material but mainly for us to go and play our own new stuff. "

It was that level of comfort that the players took to the stage with them knowing that if it didn't come out just right there was support and encouragement from everyone else who was preparing to expose new material of their own.

Jack first came to ny and slept on the roche sisters floor. He traveled around and didn't pay rent for a couple of years moving on gig to gig from Chicago to ny and points between. Eventually it was the draw of the village with it's many potential job oportunities that convinced hardy to hang his hat at a place of his own. He hasn't left.

Mike was one of my favorite people, he

I met jack hardy a couple of days before his 35th aniversary of moving in. He fixed a pot of coffee without hardly looking as if the....like his arms were doing the work on their own.

He still has the oak-topped dining table built by him and mike from scrap wood scrounged from the neighborhood well over 30 years ago. Looking underneath at the craftmanship one could tell it was built to last.

A lime green vinyl chair from the 130 w3rd gerdes' location remains as jacks desk seat while he brouses the Internet.

He had modernized to the times somewhat. He keeps his cell phone on and close by. His apple computer is logged on. And he uses his own web page to sell his own CDs.

But he still functions very much the way he has side he's moved to new York. The noted exception is the distance he must travel to earn his living. "I used to be able to earn a living within 4 blocks of this place. Now I'm going into remote outposts playing to 100 people total after 6 sets. " he says with a laugh. "I'm thinking sometimes 'why am I doing this again?' flying to minnesota in the winter; driving endless miles....


Jack is not only a throwback but a true rarity in the music business. Even more so considering he's been an established artist for over three decades. He has never had a manager or a record producer. He owns all the rights to his published work and owns all his master recordings. He truly is a one man show.

And, whether because of this soloist mentality or in spite of it, his music maintains its timeless quality unfettered by the (commercial) themes encouraged in the corporate world of pop music today.

Still fresh. Still politically charged. Poetic and thought provoking.


The Folk music (revival) ...the folk music from the 1960s was virtually by definition politically charged with artists having carte blanche to say and do what was on their mind. It would be impossible for the songs built in the 60s to not become the expressive tool and the common thread that would come to bind the messengers with the masses.

More....

Jack: I don't think the powers that be in the music industry want something like that to ever happen again. The music that was coming out from EVERYBODY was so very anti establishment. And the ones who made it big became spokespeople for a movement that defined the 60s. We


He jokes that he has recorded 16 albums yet remains virtually unknown. "16 albums no ones ever heard of."


"Mike always looked out for the people behind the music. He used to say that all that fame and fortune wasn't as important as  your health and the people in your life. That always stuck with me and made an impression on me. I've tried to write that philosophy into different songs over the years."

"Mike would mostly be sitting at the bar holding court overseeing the crowd and goings on of the place. You might think that he wasn't listening at all to the music but them he'd surprise you and ask a question about a song someone played or a lyric he heard. He was very conscious of what was going on."

"He worked that bar from open to close and tried to squeeze every penny out of that place.  Most nights he wouldn't walk out until 4 in the morning, unless of course it was the daylight savings time which would make it 5am."

On hoot nights, there would sometimes be such a large line of players waiting their turn to play that the closing acts wouldn't  step foot on stage until 2 or 3 in the morning. The crowd at that point was more than subdued enough to let the artists weave their spell any way they saw fit. The graveyard shift as jack called it.


Mike would keep that place open until the last patron had seen or drank enough whichever came first.

But he was generous to the employees who worked til the last drop offering on countless occasions to drive over to Chinatown where he would pick up the tab for a sit down feast only a Chinese restaurant could serve up.


 The universe will have its way
 Too powerful to master~

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ALSO KNOWN AS LUCINDA


Some sweet wise women have crossed the threshold from Gerde's past into the present moment. 

Lucinda Williams lives in the present moment. Understands it. Swims in it. Shares it. 

Vitality once felt under Mike Porco's roof still resides within her. It was a short period of her career, but Folk City was HOME to her, too. 

Mike was listening. And he heard what I hear.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Happy Birthday Doc Watson

Jean Ritchie and Doc at Gerde's 1963
The Cover of Doc Watson at Gerde's Folk City

Sunday, February 27, 2011

SUZE


I have found one thing to be constant on my path following Mike Porco and the lives he touched along the way: love. 

They loved him. And he loved them back. 

But it's not just that. The most amazing thing to me is that it's still flowing to this day. To my great fortune, and perhaps only because of my bloodline, much of it has been transfered to me. There's a sincere and palpable reverence between all the kindered spirits within this community. Everyone has welcomed me in no questions asked. I like to say that I've been "grandfathered in." Everyone I've contacted with and connected with have made me feel right at home. They've shared their memories and feelings with me as if they've known me for years. And to think that I've only introduced myself to Grandpa's ol' friends a short 16 months ago...I feel like I've been here in some way all along. 

The very first person I contacted one late November evening was Suze Rotolo. I told her I was writing a book on Gerde's and Mike and from right there and then, she became my biggest supporter and cheerleader. She seemed to have that effect on people. She followed my movements as I promoted the anniversary party from afar and offered encouragement through timely emails I could have never expected.

We met for lunch last February and got carried away in conversation so quickly that my note pad, which typically became full of illegible words, was mostly empty. We talked about lots more than Gerdes and had quite a laugh together. She told me to keep contacting people because I had a "magic name." She helped connecting me with Terri Thal, Sylvia Tyson, Alix Dobson, John Cohen and everyone's Godfather, Isreal Young. I assumed that I'd see her again for a follow up of our own one of these days...  

On the task of book writing (something she only needed to do once with A FREEWHEELIN' TIME), she merely shared her thoughts from her own experience in writing her memoirs. It's that advice that I still hear in my head: don't look at the mountain just keep taking steps...find one ear to hear what you're trying to say. To her, that ear was her son, Luca. She wanted him to know her completely. She just happened to let the world find out about her in the process, too. The other thing she told me after the Reunion was, keep your vision and TRUST ADVICE FROM ARTISTS AT ALL TIMES!  

I've had many heartfelt conversations thus far and I've been pleasantly surprised to find men openly bidding me adieu with a sincere "love ya" or just plain ol' "I love you, man." Why? I can only guess that they mean it. I've seen Vince Martin tell David Amram the same. I've heard it from Buzzy Linhart. Why?

Perhaps because, as Sally Spring told me, we're all in this together. The connections are real. The sentiment is honest and unforced. And that's why Suze's loss is a great loss to this whole family, no matter how long you've been a part of it. (And, men, just admit it. You can see why she was born to be Suze) 

And now I have regrets that I didn't get to tell as much to Suze. Personally, I'm not a big fan when people use their Facebook page, or their blog for that matter, to "speak" to Jimi or George Harrison on their birthdays...just not my style. 

But I will say here, to the memory of Suze Rotolo, Thank you, Sweetie. I love you. I'll miss you. Ciao Bella

Saturday, February 26, 2011

BIG JOE WILLIAMS AT FOLK CITY


Big Joe Williams was first booked at Gerde's in the fall of 1961. Ever the crowd pleaser, he entertained in the intimate setting with his rousing style fashioned after 40 years on the road. Born in 1903, he was playing traveling minstrel "tent shows" around Mississippi by 1918. He converted his beat up Supertone into a 9 string and played in open G tuning giving him a one-of-a-kind sound. As if all that wasn't unique enough, he added a kazoo for good measure. A most ecstatic Bobby Dylan befriended Joe and sat in with him for almost the entire two weeks. By the end, they were billed as Big Bill and Little Joe.  
 
Early in 1962, Mike Porco was considering booking him again. By then, Folk City regular Dylan had more than an influential hand in getting Big Joe some work. "He's the greatest old bluesman. You gotta put him in here," he told Mike. 

A three week booking began on 2.20.62 with Zimmy showing up throughout to either jam, listen or, once again, perform onstage during some of Joe's sets. The album BIG JOE WILLIAMS AT FOLK CITY was recorded on 2.26.62.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ian and Sylvia Tyson


February 25, 1963

Ian and Sylvia begin a week's engagement at New York's Center of Folk Music, Gerde's Folk City.


Ian & Sylvia started performing together in Toronto in 1959. By 1962, they were living in New York City where they caught the attention of manager Albert Grossman, who managed Peter, Paul and Mary and would soon become Bob Dylan's manager. Grossman secured them a contract with Vanguard Records and they released their first album late in the year.

Ian & Sylvia's first and self-titled album on Vanguard Records consisted mainly of traditional songs.There were British and Canadian folk songs, spiritual music, and a few blues songs thrown into the mix. The album was moderately successful and they made the list of performers for the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

Four Strong Winds, their second album, was similar to the first, with the exception of the inclusion of the early Dylan composition, "Tomorrow is a Long Time", and the title song "Four Strong Winds", which was written by Ian. "Four Strong Winds" was a major hit in Canada and ensured their stardom.

Ian and Sylvia married in June 1964. They also released their third album, Northern Journey, that year. The album included a blues song written by Sylvia, "You Were On My Mind", which was subsequently recorded by both the California group We Five (a 1965 #1 on the Cashbox chart, #3 on the Billboard Hot 100) and British folk-rock singer Crispian St. Peters (#36 in 1967). A recording of "Four Strong Winds" by Bobby Bare made it to #3 on the country charts around that time.

On the Northern Journey album was the song "Someday Soon", a composition by Ian that would rival "Four Strong Winds" in its popularity. Both songs would eventually be covered by dozens of artists.

In June of 2010, Sylvia Tyson would return to New York to perform "You were on my mind" as one of the supreme highlights of the 50th Anniversary party.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yet another first at Gerdes'


Fifty years ago today: according to Clinton Heylin's book Stolen Moments, February 6th 1961 was the Monday where Bobby Dylan played the Hoot for the first time. Back then, everyone was a complete unknown and had to draw a number from the hat to determine the order of appearance on the famed stage. At some point later on, Folk City employed using a numbered deck of playing cards face down to figure out pecking order. The peformance rule for Hoots....rarely followed to the letter...was 3 songs or 15 minute time limit, whichever came first. With chatty musicians and the potential for relentless story telling through song, it's no wonder the Hoots started early and needed a savvy emcee to herd the cats on and off.

Bobby would end up doing consecutive open mics at Gerdes well into March. By then, he had befriended one Dave Van Ronk and wife and talent promoter Terri Thal who had Mike Porco's ear enough to encourage him to sign the kid up to be billed at least for an opening act. That would come later on April 11th. In the meantime, this Dylan kid's name had been circulating around the square. The applause meter in Mike's head probably told him that he just may have the goods. And if you had the goods, odds were, you drank at Folk City for free after a time. I've been told that well-liked musicians' money was no good at the bar. I'm sure that sat well with Zimmy.

Dylan would later be discover'd here at Gerdes' and it became the ideal place for him to showcase his new material and even rehearse. And did I mention drink for free???

Sunday, January 30, 2011

1.30.61: Dylan shows up at Gerdes to play Hoot- Turned Away


Fifty years ago today, 19 year old Robert Zimmerman strode over to Gerdes' Folk City on 4th and Mercer to partake in the famous and ever-exciting Monday Night Hootennany. Since mid-1960, Gerdes' was the home of Greenwich Village's first open mic. It was a place where "dreamers came to dream," as David Massengill put it; A place known as "headquarters" by Carolyn Hester; A place called "the Mecca" by Richie Havens; A place that a grown up Bob Dylan would call in his autobiography Chronicles "the preeminent Folk Club in America."

But not this night. Young Bobby just looked to damn young to be allowed on stage. 

"Get out of here you punk kid," Mike didn't say to him. 

No. It was probably more like this: "How 'bout you come-a back next week with-a something that proves-a how old you are."

Which he did. And then he played the Hoot again the next Monday. And then several Mondays after that until soon enough, the likes of Dave Van Ronk, his wife Terri Thal, Folk City booking agent Charlie Rothschild and a host of others "sternly suggested" that Mike book the Kid. Which he did....

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bob Dylan plays at the Folklore Center for the first time 1.29.61


Isreal G. Young- Godfather of Folk

here's a bit on his link to Gerdes'

It's been said with much acuracy and historical fact that without Izzy Young, there would be no Folk City. After all, it was his idea to formally hire acts and headline them at Gerdes' Restaurant at 11 west 4th. He and business partner Tom Prendergas approached Grandpa in December of 1959 to encourage him to use his place as a venue to book the up-and-coming acts that were performing elsewhere in the neighborhood. It was a match made in Heaven for the Folk crowd and Porco, but not so for Porco and Young.

Isreal Young was the eccentric owner of The Folklore Center located at 110 Macdougal Street. It was known by all the musicians and tourists alike as the place one could go into and buy everything related to Folk Music. He sold everything he thought musicians and music enthusiasts would want. His patrons were the musicians themselves along with everyone else who paraded around the streets of Greenwich Village. His store became a destination for tourists and Musicians since there was enough space to sit and play their music without having to purchase very much. Izzy never treated anyone like a freeloader. He loved the music and he loved the people who played it. They, in turn, loved Izzy. In fact, he became a sort of promoter to some in a happenstance definition of the word. His crowning acheivement was producing Bobby Dylan's Carnegie Hall concert in 1961. Fifty three (or was it 56?) tickets were sold and Dylan was paid duly from Isreal Young's pocket. 

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The village back then had a scant many bars that had a New York State liquors license. Places like Cafe Wha?, the Gaslight and several others relied upon the blend of Beatniks and the growing folk crowd to keep the register open with sales of french fries and coffee while the stages showcased alternating acts of poets and singers. The musicians who needed a place to play would carry their guitar and playlist club to club, night after night. The patrons tended to do the same in search of a newer scene, prettier faces or just better music.

Some joints were known as "baskethouses" since everyone performed for free and passed their own hat, as it were, to collect pay for their performance. Usually this required a trusted friend to act as part accountant and part salesperson. Pretty girls encouraged bigger tips, so said new comer and former portrait artist Richie Havens. 

Baskethouses got the reputation for being the places where beggars who played guitar melded their trades. Many players paid their rent just this way and an exceptional few, like Havens, made quite a living playing as many as a dozen different houses a night. However, it just wasn't the way for big dreamers to get their careers off the ground. They were to be more successful at promoting their musical message at the more "upscale" coffeehouse circuit.

Problem was, there wasn't any real upscale circuit to speak of. The Wha?, The Gaslight, The Bitter End, The Kettle of Fish to name a few, were the more sought after rooms to play since they were almost fully transformed into Music-only venues. The Beat poets were losing ground to the steady stream of singer/songwriters/street performers making their way in to the clubs from out in the Park. Unfortunately for Young, the Folklore Center was ill-suited to showcase acts and house an audience at the same time.

But Gerdes' restaurant seemed ripe for such an adventure. Mike Porco had already been hiring various solo acts to play there on a regular basis to provide background sound for the blue collar eatery. Accordian and guitar players would skulk around during dinner hours. At the time, Porco had a loyal customer base of factory workers and students who would eat there during the day while during the Happy Hours, Gerdes' would be open serving up beer and liquor and exceptional Italian food to the locals. Even so, closing time would still take place around 8PM.

Izzy and Tom saw an opportunity staring them in their faces. Young already knew all the musicians and they could utilize Gerdes' liquor license to service and entertain a steady and thirsty crowd with select acts charging for admission at the door. Their plan was to hire the acts, promote the gig, and pay the musicians while offering Mike all the profit on food and drink sales. It would come to be known as The Fifth Peg at Gerdes'.

The math from the start was fuzzy. Gerdes held under a hundred patrons and were being charged $1.50 for entry. The headliners got $20 and the cost for up front promotion wasn't cheap. They quite literally needed to sell out every night to make their money back. As Izzy later put it, it was a win/lose situation: Izzy and Tom couldn't win and Mike couldn't lose.

(more on the transformation from the Fifth Peg turning into Folk City later...)

Monday, January 24, 2011

It was fifty years ago today.....


When the man named Zimmerman crossed the George Washington Bridge and rolled his way down to Green-witch Village to warm his bones and show his wares. The story has been told a thousand ways, so I won't chatter on too much. After spending early January playing coffeehouses in Chicago, he ventured to the University of Wisconsin and spent time with future Village pioneers Danny Kalb, Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman. Then he grabbed a ride to NYC in a 57 Impala with Dave Berger. First stop: The Wha? where he took the stage for a couple of songs with Fred Underhill. Owner Manny Roth asked the audience for a volunteer to put Little Zimmy up for the night.

The Cafe Wha? will be staging celebration of the occasion this Saturday January 29 to help celebrate the anniversary of his arrival. HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, the official Dylan tribute band, will perform to an excited bunch.

Be there or be rectangular!

http://www.cafewha.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,print,0&cntnt01articleid=1&cntnt01showtemplate=false&cntnt01returnid=85

Zimmy was bent on playing at the feet of his idol Woody Guthrie (which he did) but first he had to get his feet wet and perform around the Village (which he did).

There were a lot of baskethouses to hone his skill in.....And there was a little Italian restaurant on 4th and Mercer that was a paying room. It had been booking all the up-and-comers as well as some blues greats still making their way on the road. It also held an open mic on Mondays. Bobby wasn't the first nor the last fingerpicker to make a point to hoof over to Gerdes and take a number from the hat.

Dylan's first Hootenanny would have to wait a few days, but he seemed to like them considering he frequented and played them for months after. Folk City later would be known as "Dylan's turf." The legend of how Bobby became Dylan lured singer/songwriters from around the country to try their hand at it, too.

Ain't it grand?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune




What a splendid piece. 
The movie. And Phil. 

The buzz for the movie's arrival started some weeks back. Phil's sister Sonny had mentioned it to me in the spring but it had completely slipped my mind until recently when it started to get mention on Facebook. The first thoughts that came to mind when I saw the ads and promos were the words of my grandfather himself saying "I wish-a Phil Ochs lived a hundred years." He said this in 1979 during an interview with Dan Behrman. Dan was generous enough to make me a copy and it remains the only lengthy recording I have of Grandpa's voice. 

The interview was taped in the basement office at 130 W. 3rd and aired on Dan's show on WBAI and in it, one can hear exactly what Mike Porco was like. His speech was even paced and comforting. He had a firm mastery of English even if he might twist a pronunciation or two around. He had a kind laugh and was soft spoken. In fact, the recording caught Mike answering the phone a couple of times to give directions and to take a message for an employee who had not yet arrived at the club. He wasn't pressing for time nor did he seem pressed himself. He was taking his time before work. The night was likely to be long. 

Dan was talking about some of the musicians that had played on Gerdes' stage and Phil Ochs was mentioned. Phil Ochs graduated from passing the hat at baskethouses to working paying rooms in Greenwich Vilage.  "Phil was a very shy type, when I met him," Mike said. "I think he was-a one of the best songwriters around. Where ever he would play, he used to mention 'Folk City' and my name and say 'that was the first paying job I had.'"

 It's been said that Mike treated most of the Fellas like his own son, but everybody knew that Phil was "his boy". Sonny told me that. Jack Hardy told me that. Rod MacDonald told me that. And I'm sure to hear it again. 


In an unguarded moment, Mike's voice softened even further as he seemed to lose his place. "Ive been thinking the world of him and I really miss him today. I wish he lived to 150. I love him."

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I felt a strong pull to see the Phil Ochs bio as soon as I could. It was so fitting that the first theater it was shown was in what was once the Waverly on 6th Ave at the west end of 3rd St; a stone's throw from the old Folk City. It opened Wednesday 1.5.11 and I went yesterday. 

It was a gripping tale of a man every generation should know about. As it was put in the movie, "he had a voice, six strings and conviction." Phil was able to create a career for himself out of nothing if not a passion to express himself through music. While Dylan and many others were writing from personal experience, he was interpreting world events into a language that could be understood on the gritty streets of New York. Like a conduit between the New York Times and the masses, he found a way to mobilize people against the unholy and unjust acts committed at home and abroad. He brought unspoken and heady issues to the forefront like the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Chille, Allende. He helped form the Young Independent Party (Yippies) with Abbie Hoffman. He tirelessly battled the ridiculousness of Vietnam. And he did it through music. With beautiful melodies and a sweet voice. 

No one I've spoken to so far speak ill of Phil Ochs. And when his name has come up, the tone of the conversation changes. His contemporaries and peers loved and miss him. And I'm proud to know that Grandpa cared for him when others shunned him. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The movie is a lesson in creativity and rising up in a crazy and crazed world. 

About the film:
www.philochsthemovie.com

Showtimes:
http://firstrunfeatures.com/philochs_playdates.html

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's all a-Buzz


I rang in the New Year with a long conversation with The One, The Only...Buzzy Linhart
 
Oddly enough, I was thinking of him recently and was taken aback by a phone call from him. I couldn't think of a better way to bring in new years (and my first year's journey into Gerdes' past) than with a guy who was known for doing the Folk City new years show. As fate would have it, my plans to be out of the house changed in the early evening and I was able to return the call and spend a new years with him.....a bit differently from how Mike spent some with him but a Porco/Linhart connection none the less. Lot of love still pouring out of the Folk City legend to this day. It's an honor to be in contact and "In tune" with so many of the people who shared intimate moments with my Grandfather.

Buzzy and I had spoken about a month before the Anniversary party. It was clear to me over the phone that he held Mike in high regard and was happy to have heard from me.

(to be continued)