Hmmm...Whatís my next move... lets check out the 'Blues on Stage' web site...what's this? Dave Van Ronk with Geoff Muldaur at the Cedar Cultural Center. Who are these guys anyway? I keep hearing their names. While reading one of Dylan's biographies, I came across Van Ronkís name and it talked about his influence on the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 60's. I don't know anything about Muldaur except he shares his name with ex wife, Maria...I've never considered my self much of a 'folkie' but I have this feeling, if I miss seeing these guys, it will be to my disadvantage. I like making my pilgrimage to the pioneers...so...enough excuses about my apparent ignorance, lets go see what I've been missing.
First I'll do a little homework...Wow, check this out!! (it appears I should have paid a little more attention over the years). This fifty something Geoff Muldaur does "weave quite a musical tapestry," as stated by another reviewer. If he were to fill out his musical resume it might read: Traditional jazz walking encyclopedia by age 5 / church choir singer / street corner doo-wop harmonizer / a witness, in the first person, to the jazz clubs, via 52nd street, New York city / rock and roll fan taking in Allen Freed's shows at Lowe's State and Paramount Theaters, also in NYC. The folk blues bug bit him, by way of a Leadbelly track, then came the Blind Willie Johnson tune, 'Trouble Will Soon Be Over' and it appears the mold was cast...The '61 folk scene in Boston, a years hitch in the French Quarter-New Orleans, a spell hitch-hiking around our great land, and finally returning to Boston. Next came the professional side, becoming a member of the revolutionary Kweskin Jug Band, then moving to LA. and recording an album, 'Pottery Pie' (producing the classic, Brazil) with then wife, Maria. A move to Woodstock NY produced their second and final album, 'Sweet Potatoes'. A two album gig with the Paul Butterfield band, Better Days, next a move to Martha's Vineyard producing yet another two albums, the eclectic 'Geoff Muldaur's Having a Wonderful Time' and finally the album, 'Motion' that Geoff stated "It was terrible". Geoff then took a leave of absence from performing, but not from music. He involved himself with producing, composing (wining an Emmy), running the Carthage/Hannibal Record Company and "honing his craft". (Not to mention, enjoying success as a computer programmer). Our man decided to return to recording in 1998 with the acclaimed 'Secret Handshake' CD.
What can be written about Dave Van Ronk...how much space do we have here? The sixty four year old Van Ronk started his love of music with jazz, being influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly etc. He states that if he were told he would be a folk guru, via the early 60's Greenwich Village scene, his comment would be...well you figure it out. Dave started out playing tenor banjo, later making the switch to guitar. Around 1957, he became involved with the folk music, working with Odetta (who convinced him to play professionally) His resume might follow something like: Jazz musician / urban blues singer / folk music pioneer, with alumni including Peter, Paul and Mary...Joni Mitchell...John Hammond jr. ..Bob Dylan...Phil Ochs and the Rev. Gary Davis / jug band musician / recording personality, with some twenty releases to his credit, starting with 'Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual' to the current 'To All My Friends in Far Flung Places' and guitar instructor (including a student named Robert Zimmerman). An ex merchant seaman, Dave was originally from Brooklyn. He made the move to Greenwich Village just in time for the 60'sfolk revival / Newport Folk Festivals. Van Ronk still lives in the Village teaching guitar and touring. Very much the cabaret performer, Dave's most comfortable in a setting where he can choose from his three hundred plus song list, following where the mood leads him.
At about 7:45PM, Geoff Muldaur was the first to take the stage (by way of the coin toss). It was a respectable size crowd, but not quite a full house and the audience seemed to range from about 35 yrs to 60 yrs of age. Geoff greeted us with a Ya , tuned his guitar some and moved into a song penned by none other than Tennessee Williams ! Next came more tuning, a little music trivia and...into a blues number, "Tears Came Rolling By." The guitar tuning and delightful stories were pretty much standard fair between his repertoire which drew on : folk / blues / jug band / big band and jazz that covered such musicians as: Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, just to name a few. Two of my favorites were "Gee Baby Ainít I Good To You" by the Cotton Pickers and a moving spiritual titled "The Trouble Soon Be Over" by Blind Willie Johnson. Geoff treated us to a couple of numbers off his 'Secret Hand Shake' and current 'Password' CD's. Muldaur's easy picking and relaxed vocals were at times almost mesmerizing. A great performance with lots of precious root music and interesting folk lore. Next time have Geoff show you his 'secret hand shake'.
The legendary Dave Van Ronk moved in on us at about 9:30PM, sat down, tuned his well oiled guitar and started us off with a blues tune. Well blues fans, what we have here is the Real Deal !! We proceeded to be lead through an hour plus time warp, dealing not only with great music, but some jazz, blues and folk lore that can only be told by a man who has lived it. Stories and songs about Clarence Williams writing 'Good Old Wagon, But You Done Broke Down' for Bessie Smith...Mississippi John Hurt and 'Frankies Blues'.. a Jelly Roll Morton train song that had me closing my eyes and imagining I was on that train ! The Count Basie / Joe Williams 'Jelly, Jelly...and my favorite of the evening, St. James Infirmary (Dave said he learned it from the 'Fireside Book of Folk Songs'). An evening with the likes of Tom Paxton...Brownie Mc Ghee, Josh White and yes, Mr. Dylan...How cool is that? Thanks Mr. Van Ronk!
What better a venue for these two folk / blues troubadours then the Cedar Cultural Center! If you have not witnessed these two legends, do not let the opportunity pass you by again...there is more than just 'folk' music here...these guys are icons, representing some of our own 'roots' music and you deserve to see / hear this! They are both a walking and talking history lesson in music and music personalities in a time that has now passed...I guess I can still learn something after all.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Al Rohweder, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.