New River Blues (Sarah Burke, Book 2)

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It seems to me that we have fewer answers than we once had, but that may be balanced out by our having forgotten some of the questions. I find it rather more difficult, albeit more pertinent, to write about Van Ronk as a musician. Since the first time I heard him sing I have been so unabashedly a fan of his that it is embarrassing.

I have never been in a mood that I did not want to listen to him. There is an enormous temptation for any artist in any medium to give a little less than his best. There is considerable security in so doing; when you fail, you can succor yourself with the knowledge that your talent is greater than your imperfect display of it. Most people never even realize they're doing it. I'm thus very much partial to those artists who always give you the very best they've got, who always put the throttle on the floor.

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There is an unmistakable quality in their performances, to the point where one could list a few who are not enormously talented to begin with, but whose commitment transcends their lack of talent. When they are also talented, and knowledgable, and aware, and sensitive, they really make it all work. Seventeen years. We've been to a few of the same schools since then, for whatever good they did us. We have seen one another in every imaginable condition, occasionally even including sobriety.

I trust it will properly embarrass David to read that I deem him a gentleman and a scholar in every sense of both words.


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I was listening, and when I'm listening, I don't have room for much expression on my face. Dave Paused. And his big face creased up in a laugh that almost drowned the band's front line. Dave Van Ronk goes back almost as long as me on this here folk-blues-rags-and-hollers revival scene, was playing in London when it consisted basically of Alexis Korner, Ewan MacColl, Humphrey Lyttleton and a few acolytes like me, who later turned a hobby into some kind of a nice racket, becoming music critics.


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And when I heard that record company red tape was preventing him from recording during his rare visit to London, I talked the best engineer in town into giving up his midnight hours that very day and we recorded this great album, finishing the last take as the whiskey, his bleeding fingers and the night gave out.

The sixteen bars of 'Don't You Leave Me Here" that he got to sing on the programme might have been all we heard from Dave this time round had it not been for the quick intervention of Karl Dallas. Dave let it be known that he was interested in making a recording for European release while he was here, but the problem was obviously one of time as Dave was only in town for a week. Although certain record companies were interested, the cautious climate that currently prevails in the industry prevented any from making an instant decision.

Not wishing to let such an opportunity slip away, Karl contacted Livingstone Studios to find that the only free period available was after 9 PM on the night before Dave was due to fly back to America. Amazingly, Dave agreed to take the one shot at getting an album down in a single session, a task that would have daunted a man of lesser talents, and so a small congregation gathered on the evening of March 10 at a local public house in preparationfor the night to come.

Nic Kinsey engineered above and way beyond the call of duty and was ably assisted by 'Nicko', who kept the tape rolling and the coffee coming. The Cincinatti Kid, guitarist Danny Adler, and myself, lent moral support while Karl kept a sharp ear attuned to the sounds coming from the studio and generally oversaw the event. Dave Van Ronk just got his head down and played and sang his heart out. Working from a list not necessarily adhered to in his old black notebook, Dave reshaped, remodelled, and redefined a classic collection of his personal favourite songs.

Some Dave had learnt from old records, some from the original singers, and some are his own. All now bear the indelible stamp of the Van Ronk personality.

God Bless the Child The simplicity of the guitar arrangement serves to frame and set off the magnificently expressive vocals. A connection between Dave and Billie Holiday is the way both use the voice as an instrument. The scat chorus could be a Roy Eldridge or a Charlie Shavers taking a solo, and when Dave returns to the words, the nature of his voice has changed so that it sounds as though a band is right there, riffing away in unison.

Sunday Street My favourite of Dave's recent compositions. A logical free-flowing of exploration of word and finger-picking progressions. The song was the title track of the excellent Philo album of the same name. Included here because this really is the basic Dave Van Ronk. In the Midnight Hour Slow, powerful, faultless, Leroy Carr would have been happy to play piano accompaniment to Dave's expansion of his blues classic.

Stagolee The rolling guitar work makes this version a close relative of Furry Lewis' classic, 'Billy Lyons and Stack O' Lee', but here the storyline goes further. Stagolee learns the moral, "When you lose your money, learn to lose," only to use it, after his demise at the hands of the law, to turn the tables on the devil.

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Mississippi River Songs

The Furry Lewis record was the first black traditional song that Dave ever heard. There is a sincerity in this performance that tells you the singer has lived every word. Cocaine Blues Pure joy. Philosophical advice spiked with wry humour. Take this song at your own peril. James Infirmery Gambler's Blues Down to old Joe's bar room once more, where Dave is familiar with every speck of sawdust on the floor and has looked into the bottom of every one of the chipped glasses. The request for a jazz band on the hearse wagon has the word "jazz" slurred into a whole phrase -- remarkable.

Blind Willie McTell continually reworked "St.

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Van Ronk carries on the worthy tradition which began, Karl tells me, in Ireland in The power and rasp of Bessie's voice is easier to identify in a full-flight Van Ronk vociferation. It's anybody's guess as to which side of the song Dave sympathises with. Gaslight Rag A personal historical view of a certain Greenwich Village haunt. Candyman Forget all other interpretations of Rev. Gary Davis' rabelaisian hymn: Dave has just redefined it as he has done and as the Reverend did before him through many years of performance. Davis said that the song came out in , so it has stood the test of time exceedingly well.

Dave manages to inflect two separate personalities into his vocalising without being over-emphatic, and the scat has Buddy Bolden heading the street parade. The last note reverberates like no other note you've ever heard. Dave Van Ronk: St. Van Ronk - Losers D.

Van Ronk - Long John trad. Van Ronk - Loving Spoonful Rev. Serafin Dave Van Ronk photo by Andrea Vuocolo It's no small trick to write about your own songs without seeming to brag or complain. Probably the best way to go about it is to avoid any comment that edges on aesthetics and stick to technical and chronological data, and, of course, the inevitable odd anecdote.

The role of singer-songwriter has never much appealed to me. As Leonard Cohen once told me, the critical faculties develop acuity much more quickly than the ability to write. Very discouraging, especially in the beginning. The only thing to do is to keep at it, knowing that you are no Cole Porter or Wille Dixon, but knowing also that you are no judge of your own material, either. Some of this junk you are grinding out might have some value after all. Eventually, things start to fall together Losers Mostly written on a bus trip from Redding to Eureka circa ' If I hate buses so much, why do I always seem to be on one?

I got a verse or two off in this manner and started to giggle I guess serious and scary just isn't my long suite. Head Inspector I'm not sure when I wrote this. The early '60's, I think. Air raid drills, for God's sake. Luang Prabang An imperialist love song, also a protest against wimpy anti-war songs.

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Antelope Rag As a sometimes not at present guitar teacher, I have been trying to get ragtime fingerpickers away from the current heavy emphasis on transcription from piano arrangements, and into composing rags directly on the guitar. This is my most recent attempt to practice what I preach. Tantric Mantra An excuse to use one of the most God-awful puns I've ever come up with. There was an espirit there that I have never seen before or since. To the people who worked there, the Gaslight was a club in every sense of the word. Not to mention the 6th Precinct, who would have loved to beat us over the head with it.

Last Call The result of an all-night shop talk-cum-bull session with Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, assisted by a good deal of wine and a truly loathsome fluid called Byrh. Next morning I awoke with this beside me, in my handwriting. If Leonard or Joni dictated it to me, they have kept mercifully mum. Like Casey Stengel said, 'you could look it up'. Any fuller explanation would be longer than the song, and that's a bad policy. Left Bank Blues A year or so ago I was stuck in Paris for a week, very low on funds, and needing to keep alive until a tour began and money started to come in.

A genuine garret, by God: cold, damp and musty, with a bed that looked like a relief map of the Pyranees and was every bit as comfortable. April in Paris! When you tired of rain, you could wait awhile and go out for a stroll in the sleet. Anyway, I wrote this in the garret to keep my fingers from freezing together. The guy who wrote that other song must have been hanging out in Mazatlan.

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