Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Sun 21 Sep 03 13:08
'Open Road' is my favorite Donovan LP. By then Donovan had trimmed down the eclecticism of previous lps, and had worked out a consistent set that could be performed by a small ensemble. It seemed a fine & elegant synthesis of Donovan's take on Folk-Rock, with all the Celtic and mystical alliterations intact. It seems like the LP and the band he did it with could of been a bigger splash. Ritchie, do you have any idea why this LP did not become more popular?
John Ross (johnross) Sun 21 Sep 03 13:36
Where does John Hammond Jr. fit into that discussion of blues in folk-rock? It seems as if he stayed as a solo, but I suspect that he was probably the first of the revival performers to play blues on the coffee-house and college circuit, so he probably turned many incipient folk rockers onto blues for the first time.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Sun 21 Sep 03 15:24
I'm not as big on "Open Road" as Darrell is. I actually found Donovan the most interesting when he was at his most eclectic, particularly on the "Sunshine Superman" album. But as to why the album itself wasn't more popular, I think a good part of it comes down to the mundane lack of a catchy hit single, which all of his albums up to that point had. Also Donovan himself seemed to be less intent on pushing and promoting his career than he had over the last five years. I don't know all of the reasons for this, but Donovan's own website does refer to 1970 (the year of "Open Road"'s release) as a year when "During a tour of Japan Donovan decides to break a long tax exile and return to his little cottage in England. This is a major revolt against his success and his advisors are in a panic. Donovan stops the merry-go-round." In Clive Davis's autobiography (going from memory here, the book's back in the public library), he gave the impression that in the early 1970s Donovan wasn't as committed to making the most of his opportunities as he could/should have been, though I wouldn't treat Davis's perspective as gospel. John's quite right to bring John Hammond Jr. into the discussion of blues and folk-rock. In late 1964, Hammond recorded electric blues with Mike Bloomfield and future members of the Band, all of whom would soon make vital contributions to Bob Dylan's folk-rock. Hammond himself played guitar on some of the electric sessions for Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home." Aside from those tangential contributions, he too was, as John says, one of the first folk-revival-era performers to play blues on the coffeehouse and college circuit -- or, at any rate, one of the first young ones, since older rediscovered bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt were also on that circuit, Hurt for instance heavily influencing John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful. In that sense Hammond is somewhat similar to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, though in my view the Butterfield group rocked considerably harder and tougher. Hammond, unlike Butterfield, also recorded entirely acoustically in the studio sometimes, as he did on his 1965 "Country Blues" LP. Hammond (and to a lesser degree Butterfield) have sometimes been denigrated by critics as a watered-down version of the real, African-American blues. I do think that Hammond's (and again to a lesser degree, Butterfield's) early work was more faithful rendering than imaginative, both in the performance and song selection. And yes, ultimately hearing the Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell originals is more interesting, historically and otherwise, than hearing Hammond's covers of them. But Hammond did expose many listeners to the likes of Robert Johnson for the first time, and that was important, whether in helping open up some folk-rockers toward incorporating some blues sensibility into their repertoire and style, or making listeners aware of how much important blues source material was out there to be investigated.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Mon 22 Sep 03 01:01
Sounds like everything pours into Folk-Rock. Coltrane/Shankar via the likes of the Byrds, Blues by way of it's place in the Folk songlists, perhaps even Debussy by way of Jack Nitche (SP)/Niel Young, and country by various threads. Some more questions... Did the English folk-rockers owe as much to the Beatles or were they looking more to North America for cues? What about folk-rock in places like Quebec and France? I know of Malicorne and some of it's spin-offs, but was curious if you looked into Folk-rock as expressed in other language groups, or had any thoughts/comparisons on those scenes? What's your take on how "Psychedelia" doved tailed with such musical/artistic success with Folk Rock. Was there something in the tonal characteristics of folk or was it just something in the punch? Also, commercial drive seemed to be a component in most if not all the artists you mentioned. Seems many artists lost motivation at some point, (Fred Niel, McGuinn, Donovan) was this entirely due to drugs or were they just being forced to work too hard, or what? Any comparisions between the past, present, future of the folk music communities, and where comparable rock scenes are at? Thanks
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 08:02
Here's a comment I got on everything pouring into folk-rock, from Barry Melton of Country Joe & the Fish: "Rock music is the garbage can of music, or the melting pot, depending on what your attitude is. You can throw anything in the soup, and it becomes a big stew. You can keep throwing things in all day, and it will absorb it, and still be edible. So in a band like Country Joe & the Fish, we could absorb jazz, Japanese music, Middle Eastern music, Indian music, blues music, country music?it all fit in there somewhere. It was okay to do that. And for a lot of folk musicians, particularly guys like me from fairly urban areas, here was a chance to throw in all the stuff that we knew, everything from Pete Seeger and the Weavers to John Coltrane, in one place." As to why and how psychedelia dovetailed with folk-rock, I got a couple of other similar comments, another one from Melton, who characterized psychedelic rock as "a folk-rock idiom borrowing from jazz's ability to incorporate improvisation. Folk musicians improvised anyway. The only thing 'psychedelic' music did was, it jazz-ized folk music. Musicologically speaking, it was logical at a time when Miles Davis and Doc Watson existed on the same plane. You have a time when there's all these elements coming together, because of the power of the media, and the intermixing of people from different backgrounds." In Big Brother & the Holding Company, bassist Peter Albin and singer Janis Joplin had been folk performers before going into rock . Albin told me that Big Brother gave them the chance "to do jazz-type things, but within our frame of reference, blues and folk music and rock and roll. We would take a song like 'Hall of the Mountain King,' which was classical music, and turn it into kind of a jazz thing, with this extended [jam]. We did lots of experimental-type music. We incorporated all sorts of different, weird shit, from Moondog, Coltrane to John Cage to Betty Boop cartoons." Here's what I speculated in the book: "If the square root of why so many folk-rock musicians dove into psychedelia might seem apparent when the entire folk-rock revolution is taken into account, it's rarely been cited. For ultimately, in expanding from folk-rock to psychedelia, the musicians were only continuing to feed the same hunger that had led them into folk music in the first place. The voracious acquisition of Child ballads, contemporary protest tracts from Sing Out! sheet music, traditional American folk songs from Alan Lomax and Harry Smith-assembled collections, and even more exotic recordings and songbooks was the same restless, self-actualizing impulse that had led so many into folk-rock. The subsequent admission of influences from free jazz, Indian music, and drugs was essentially a continuation of the same eclecticism that had been driving the musicians since they were teenagers in the late 1950s. Barry McGuire had seen this coming in Melody Maker in late 1965, where he predicted, "The folk-rock controversial songs are just the beginning. Soon there'll be sounds that people have never dreamed of?the integration of Eastern and Western music. The Eastern scales and quarter tones will integrate well with rock'n'roll music. The Byrds, the Beatles and others are already doing it." Nat Hentoff was one of the critics to pick up on it at the time, presciently writing in The American Folksong Revival book in 1967: "The message of the new folk music can only be fully apprehended through the total medium -- instrumental textures and ways of singing as well as the lyrics themselves. It is, therefore, all the more essential for the new folk performers to construct instrumental colors and rhythms and new singing voices that can be corollaries for the new expanded verbal language. And that construction, still inchoate, has begun. The use of Indian instruments by the Beatles, the Byrds and Donovan. The experimenting with more complex metrical patterns. The increasingly venturesome play with electronic possibilities. The kind of open listening that leads Paul Simon to say: 'I'm learning to play the sitar and I'm fascinated by the singing in intervals of seconds by those Bulgarians. You see, the new pop music can incorporate all those influences, and more.'" A difference between the new folk-rock-psychedelic musicians and many previous folk-based artists was that, having found one style that stoked their simultaneous urges for musical and social stimulation, they didn't feel bound to stay there and both play and defend it to death. That applied not just to acoustic folk, but also to folk-rock. They felt no obligation to either establish or adhere to rigorous party-line boundaries within folk-rock, or even to remain folk-rock artists. And, just as vitally, they had a new, younger audience that wasn't hung up on purist dedication as the folk revivalists were, but was equally anxious to investigate new directions and combinations. Very few folk-rock fans were going to see a folk-rock act's branch into different areas than folk-rock as a betrayal, as long as the music was good. I'll go on to Darrell's other questions in the next posts.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 08:32
As to whether "the English folk-rockers owe as much to the Beatles or were they looking more to North America for cues?," I think the answer is neither. This was covered more in "Turn! Turn! Turn!" than "Eight Miles High," but while the Beatles inspired hundreds if not thousands of young North American folk musicians to go electric, for some reason this definitely did not happen in the UK. Before 1967, Donovan was the only British acoustic folkie of note to make a quick changeover to electric rock. Donovan was definitely influenced by the Beatles, among other things; he himself would come to be a friend of the Beatles and influence them somewhat, in helping Paul McCartney with a lyric of "Yellow Submarine" and teaching John Lennon finger-style guitar picking that's heard on "The White Album." This is what Donovan had to say when I asked him about why others didn't electrify as soon as he did: ""In the States, Roger McGuinn was influenced by the Beatles and his own folk roots. McGuinn did not play the electric as an amplified acoustic. This allowed him to use electric guitar in a powerful way, while the fewer UK folk stars who went electric used the electric guitar as an amplified acoustic. I was the exception as I also heard what the Beatles had done in breaking the pop band mold in 1963, and the Kinks and the Who. I was not shy in developing a power-riff Celtic-rock fusion, while most other UK folk stars were not into raising the level like McGuinn and I would naturally do. "It is also true that to leave behind a tradition is a bold act, and the American folk-rock stars were brave enough to try it out and act the rock star with folk commitment. The radio is our friend, [but] many folk purists still had an aversion to governmental institutions, a kind of class consciousness that prevented them from actually leaving the folk club in their head and storming the establishment citadels to take over the radio media. Americans, with their revolutionary past, could do just this, and I did in Europe. It is a question of boldness and expression." But then, what did British folk-rockers look to (other than Donovan) in the late 1960s? I think the answer's pretty variable. Fairport Convention initially looked wholly to North America, in covering obscure songs by folk singer-songwriters and using a West Coast harmony folk-rock approach, before going in a different direction and looking to rock up (with fiddle too) English folk songs, or original compositions with an English folk flavor. A similar approach was used by some other bands, such as Steeleye Span, who were co-founded by ex-Fairport bassist Ashley Hutchings. Eclection, like early Fairport, sounded almost like California harmony folk-rock, though Eclection were poppier than Fairport; although based in England, they weren't strictly speaking British, with one member from England, two from Australia, one from Canada, and one from Norway. The Incredible String Band looked to some British Isles traditional music as well, but also brought in some American old-time folk music, many varieties of world music, beatnik culture (according to what ISB's Robin Williamson told me), mysticism, and psychedelia. The Pentangle brought in an amazingly wide range of influences from the UK, North America, and elsewhere -- jazz, blues, traditional British folk, a little Indian music, sporadic pop and rock'n'roll. The range of material on their double album "Sweet Child" (half studio, half live) might be wider than on any other notable '60s folk-rock album, with spirituals, blues, Charles Mingus, a children's Christmas song, traditional Scottish folk, traditional British folk, a tribute to New York avant-jazz street musician Moondog, and original compositions drawing from all of this and more. There was also a singer-songwriter sub-category within British folk-rock that wasn't nearly as large or successful as its American counterpart, with Al Stewart, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Roy Harper, and some others. I think they shared some influences with the American singer-songwriters: Dylan certainly, Paul Simon for sure in Stewart's case, Leonard Cohen perhaps in Nick Drake's case. Drake producer Joe Boyd told me that "with Nick, I think I was, as a producer, certainly very influenced by the first Leonard Cohen record. I was very impressed with that, I thought that was a really beautifully produced record. The voices on 'Poor Boy' are definitely a nod, a tip of the hat, in the direction of [Cohen's] 'So Long, Marianne.'" But I think the UK singer-songwriters also drew from some British influences that the Americans rarely did, particularly Bert Jansch (as guitarist, singer, and singer-songwriter) and Davy Graham (as guitarist), both of whom have been mentioned earlier in this discussion. And although I haven't seen it acknowledged much in print, I do think that some of them were influenced by Donovan as well; you can hear what seem to be similarities with Donovan in some of Al Stewart and Nick Drake. Dave Cousins of the Strawbs did specifically cite Donovan as an influence to me, saying, "My early songs are very much pop songs. It was only when Donovan started to rise, I thought, 'Christ, if he can write, so can I.'" Interestingly, he claimed mostly North American influences, and seemed reluctant to be characterized as folk-rock at all, though this seemed to me a reluctance to admit that he had much traditional British folk influence than a reluctance to admit similarities to what many in the US think of as folk-rock. He said, "The only records I maybe listened to were the Mamas and the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Beatles. I'd given up listening to the old folk records. I was listening much more to pop music at that time. So we were much more of a pop group in our early days than we were ever a folk group." As to the first album they recorded (rejected by A&M, though some tracks appear on "Strawberry Music Sampler No. 1," circulated to publishers in 1969, and issued on CD in 2001, "It was a pop album. We were much more interested in the Beatles and the Bee Gees [than folk]."
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 08:51
Regarding Darrell's question about folk-rockers losing motivation at one point, that did happen in many cases, but I don't think it was especially more prevalent in folk-rock than it was in other areas of rock. It's a tough business, and a lot of people burn out or at least need to recharge because of the stressful pace, commercial pressures, drug use, personnel/management conflicts, etc. Even some of the figures we think of as among the most durable retreated from the fray at some point. Dylan's a notable example of course, virtually retreating from the public eye for 18 months after his mid-1966 motorcycle accident, though we now know that he did a lot of recording with the Band in 1967 on the Basement Tapes. Later, Dylan didn't release any proper studio albums in 1971-73. Neil Young's career has periodically been less prolific as some points, as when he had some health problems in the early 1970s, and then when he had an infant son with serious health problems in the early 1980s. As to why specific folk-rockers lost motivation at some point, again I think all the cases are variable. Donovan was incredibly busy and prolific (perhaps churning out a bit more than he really should have) between 1965 and 1970. Although McGuinn's never regained the artistic/commercial prominence he had in the 1960s, he did keep the Byrds going, as a bandleader, for about five years after all the other members had split. Fred Neil I think is an unusual case: even at the peak of whatever recognition he got, he was pretty reclusive by any standards applied to entertainers, giving only one interview and not performing much. It seemed that he was genuinely uninterested in doing the things that most musicians accept as necessary to further their career: touring, playing live, doing publicity, recording regularly. The same applied in different degrees to Nick Drake, who gave hardly any interviews and hardly ever played live, and with hindsight many have agreed he was suffering from serious psychological problems. Interestingly, though, apparently he very much wanted commercial success, and was very disappointed when his albums sold poorly (while he was alive; they've sold in good numbers recently, especially after one of his songs was used in a Volkswagen commercial). As touched upon earlier, many folk-rock groups were instable and didn't last long because of volatile personnel conflicts, some of which might arguably be attributable to having just made a transition from solo acoustic (or even group) folk to an electric group situation. In the cases of California groups, I think some of the instability might also have beena result of coming from all over North America to form in California, and not knowing each other well (as, say, groups like the Beatles and Who did) before becoming star groups. Examples would be the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield. The Mamas & the Papas might have known each other *too* well. And other groups, like Love, just seemed like a time-bomb waiting to implode after a short period of brilliance. When we look at folk-rock figures who've had very long careers, like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, constant factors seem to be an extraordinarily diligent work ethic, and also a willingness to change artistically, even when it might be alienating some or many of their long-time followers.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 09:58
Regarding '60s folk-rock from non-English-speaking territories, I haven't come across much that I find impressive. That's not to say that none may exist, particularly since the music's hard to find for someone like myself from the US; it's just that I haven't found much to speak of. I have heard a good amount of '60s rock outside of North America/British Isles/Australasia, and although some of it's clearly influenced by folk-rock, what I've heard has usually been pretty derivative or unremarkable. Malicorne fall outside of the book's scope, as their first album came out in 1974. Some other artists working in different languages that might have been considered as folk-rock-influenced were Alan Stivell (whose first album came out in 1970) and Dan Ar Bras. Stivell seems to me to be somewhat close to spirit to bands like Steeleye Span, in that he reached back to the Breton and Celtic folk music of his region and added some, though not huge, amounts of contemporary rock influence. Clannad did some very cool folk-rock in both Gaelic and English on their debut album, which had a much stronger Pentangle instrumental influence than their previous work. It didn't come out until 1973, so it wasn't covered in my book, though I gave it a passing mention. One French artist I've heard who has a good amount of the mid-1960s folk-rock influence from the likes of Dylan and Donovan (and who sings wholly in French) is Antoine. He's most famous for his mid-'60s Dylanish song "Les Elucubrations d'Antoine," where he replies to a Presidential letter asking what can be done to make the country richer thusly: "Put the pill on sale in the dime stores." Time magazine described his "La Guerre" as "like a medley of 'Eve of Destruction' and 'Blowin' in the Wind.'" Donovan, a Zelig-like figure of '60s rock as he pops up in connection with an astonishing variety of fellow musicians, appears in a photo with Antoine in the gatefold sleeve of Antoine's first album. As for artists from non-English countries doing some interesting folk-rock in English (and in a style pretty close to the American variety), I'd recommend some of the records by the Outsiders (from Holland), who did some nice moody Byrds-Searchers-styled sides, sometimes adding a Continental European flavor.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Mon 22 Sep 03 10:04
Whatever inspired/motivated you to write 2 books on this subject? What's next?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 10:13
Wrapping up Darrell's questions: "Any comparisions between the past, present, future of the folk music communities, and where comparable rock scenes are at?" Well, that's the grist for a whole book or three -- and not, actually, covered by the two '60s folk-rock books I wrote. It's impossible to boil down general comparisons between the scenes into a paragraph or two. In general, though, I'd say both that folk music has never again come near the commercial prominence it had circa 1963 -- which, though it was swept aside by the British Invasion, did a great deal to school the "folk" side of the future folk-rockers. Also, the folk and rock influences in popular music have never again been as close to each other as they were in the mid-to-late 1960s. Like all popular music tidal waves, the folk-rock explosion of the mid-1960s was very much the result of numerous highly combustible elements being in exactly the right place at the right time. It's hard to envision a similarly explosive fusion happening again with rock and folk specifically, although they'll continue to influence each other in smaller, more sub-genric ways in both the mainstream and underground.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 10:35
Darrell slipped in with another question. I was inspired to write the '60s folk-rock books because it fascinated me how two different styles of music -- with different audiences, many of whom abhorred (or thought they abhorred) the other styles and its listeners -- came together to create a different music with a different, bigger audience, taking the music to places neither folk nor rock could have gotten to on their own. This fusion was often written about in rock history books I'd read, but usually in the context of single-artist biographies or general rock histories, never looking at the whole movement and how broad it was. Also, as a writer it interested me to be able to also bring in how the music reacted to and evolved with the social change of the era as well -- the social dissent, the birth of the counterculture, changing demographics, changing attitudes within the entertainment industry, and more. Although I'd written a great deal of rock music journalism before these books, these were usually record reviews and (in my prior books) collections of pieces about different artists or different styles/regions. As a writer, the project appealed to me on several different levels. One was the chance to write a book (well, it turned out to be a two-part book) around a central, evolving story, instead of combining numerous chapters about different groups and singers. Another was the opportunity to relate the musical story to a social one. Also, although it does focus on the style known as folk-rock, within folk-rock there are so many different styles -- sometimes, within folk-rock *albums* there are so many different styles -- that I felt (correctly, as it turned out) that it would sustain my interest and curiosity throughout a mammoth, several-year-long research/writing project. There was also the opportunity for me to learn a great deal I didn't know and was curious about, whether having an excuse to listen to a lot of obscure folk-rock records and hear something new I hadn't come across before, or talk to a lot of the musicians and background figures (about 130 in all) whose work and accomplishments interested me a great deal. I should also mention that even in my prior three music books, I'd often interviewed or written about performers where the combination of folk and rock had been a crucial juncture in starting their career or vaulting them to greater prominence. That in itself piqued my interest in going into the whole folk-rock thing in as much depth as I could. And I can't emphasize enough how much the heterogenous nature of folk-rock appealed to me, knowing that I'd face a few years of work. There are other styles that I love, like '50s electric Chicago blues or Detroit soul or surf music or whatever, where I nonetheless would find it hard to write a complete book on the topic because too much of the music would have been too similar for my tastes, especially if I'd had to listen to and write about it day after day.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 10:43
What's next? Ooh, I was hoping to save that for the end. But since I've been asked -- I am trying to think of/develop a few book proposals; I don't have any ready to go yet. Two of them are single-artist biographies of rock performers. Another is a non-musical, non-fiction book that would, however, cover the growth of a countercultural media phenomenon. There are considerable obstacles to all of those projects so far. In the case of the single-artist biographies, it might prove impossible to get interviews with the principal subjects. For the other book, it's such a large topic that the focus will have to be narrowed to a particular aspect of it, and one that doesn't duplicate other books that have already been published.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Mon 22 Sep 03 11:51
For some reason I always associated you with a slightly younger generation of musical interests. So I'm a little surprised to find you writing 2 books on Folk-Rock. I'll likely buy and read both titles with great interest. Were you drawn into this genre via later artists who were influenced by these people? Or was that you in fact sitting in the 10th row, when others of us here went to see solo acts by people like McGuinn, Donovan, and Country Joe in the early 70's?
Berliner (captward) Mon 22 Sep 03 11:59
Richie, one of the most impressive things about these books is the research. I'm really curious to know how you found some of these people. Melanie, for instance. Where in the world has she been? I gather she's given up performing, right? And Blackburn and Snow, who were obscure enough, must have been made harder with Sheree Snow changing her name.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 12:29
Darrell, I'm 41 so I'm younger than the artists I covered in the two folk-rock books, indeed younger than everyone who heard the music as a listener the first time around. But 1960s rock has always been my strongest interest, though I've written about lots of other styles (some non-rock) as well. I wasn't drawn into folk-rock by people influenced by it (unless you count the Beatles), more by the music itself. I was lucky in that actually I was able to listen to the radio from the age of five onward (holiday gift in late 1967), so although my first-hand memories of 1960s rock are faint and I wasn't able to go to concerts then (or for a long time afterward), I did hear some of it when it was actually happening. I did find out about the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane by hearing the actual records, whether on the radio or on my oldest brother's (nine years older) turntable. By the time I got a little older and was listening to more diverse radio, I again got some first-hand exposure that I guess was kind of unusual for someone my age. I distinctly remember hearing a three-hour special on Buffalo Springfield in 1973 (on AM radio!) that made me directly aware of the band; not just "For What It's Worth," but also things like "Broken Arrow" and "Kind Woman" that were never hits. Hard to imagine "Broken Arrow" being played on AM radio in 1973, but they'd given one DJ a "progressive" Sunday 10am-1pm slot. As an aside, it seems I heard very little Dylan before my teens, besides "Lay Lady Lay"; perhaps the market in Philadelphia, where I grew up, wasn't his strongest. The first time I remember reading his name in print, which was around 1971, I thought his name was pronounced Dye-lann. When I got to the age where I could actually start buying more than a half-dozen records a year in the late 1970s, I went way in-depth to collecting '60s records of all kinds. Not because I'd suddenly become a fan of '60s music, but because I wanted to here more than what I could on the radio and was starting to get the means to do so. I remember buying "Surrealistic Pillow" and "Buffalo Springfield" again (used for $2.45 at Plastic Fantastic, I still have the stickers) my senior year of high school. And so my voracious collecting of the records and reading about the music continued over the next 20 years, which gave me my foundation for writing the folk-rock books.
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Mon 22 Sep 03 12:39
A Philly boy, eh? You were lucky to grow up listening to a radio station (WMMR - I was music director) that played much more British folk rock than the usual "progressive" station - lots of Fairport, etc.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 12:50
One of the disadvantages of doing this sort of book is that in some ways it's hard to research events that took place 30-40 years ago, and hard to find the people to interview if they're not active anymore, or not nearly as active. Yet in an ironic way, just as it's in some ways easier to hear this music now than it was at the time since tons of stuff have been reissued on CD, in some ways it's easier to do this kind of research decades later. First, the Internet has made it much easier to find and communicate with a lot of these figures, particularly the more obscure ones. You wouldn't believe some of the unknowns that have their own websites, some of them very good ones, complete with email addresses. Second, a lot of the secondary figures have been found by other researchers who've talked with the musicians for CD reissue liner notes, fanzine articles, and the like. Here's where my background in indie/alternative music journalism paid off: over 20 years I'd built up a large network of other writers and fans with similar interest who had contact info I didn't. I was even able to help out Ed like this with one of his liner notes recently, when he was trying to find someone in the late-'60s band Autosalvage that I'd interviewed. Melanie was one of the very last interviews I did for the book, I was lucky to be able to fit her in. Here's an example of how the technology and community fostered by the Internet can pay off. I'd submitted interview requests to her through various of her representatives three times, over the period of a year, with not so much as a yes or no response. I'd given up, but then after "Turn! Turn! Turn!" came out, I got an email from a reader in Australia. He wanted to know if I'd be covering Melanie in the sequel. I said, I'm not going to have any first-hand interview material with her, because I've had no luck getting through etc. He said, well, I know someone who might help. And I believe he did know that certain someone who was able to get through somehow and impress upon Melanie and/or her minders that this was actually a project worth her participation. 'Cause then I was put in touch with somebody totally different who, after some more teeth-pulling, got the interview set up. After all that, Melanie was pretty talkative and enjoyed the interview very much. Often far more work and time goes into setting up the interview than to doing the interview itself. Melanie's living in Florida, and actually did release a CD a year or so ago. She still tours too, as far as I know. A lot of figures such as herself have not exactly gone underground, but gone into a circuit of oldies/club/low-level concert touring that escapes the commercial media radar, sometimes because the venues are small and marginal, sometimes because they're in small towns away from the main urban centers, sometimes because they're not in the US (she actually has a decent following overseas), and often because they're definitely not written up in the local alternative weeklies and such. And like Melanie, some of them are releasing CDs, but on small or self-distributed labels that don't get much airplay. Sherry Snow (now going by the name Halimah Collingwood) wasn't hard to get in touch with at all. The Blackburn and Snow material has been reissued on CD, and she was interviewed for the liner notes by a local (SF Bay Area) writer. Also, she was interviewed for Jeff Tamarkin's recent Jefferson Airplane biography, "Got a Revolution!" (which I recommend, and which Jeff recently discussed in inkwell.vue topic 189). I actually had more than one convenient option here, but I believe it was Jeff who passed on Sherry's contact info. Sherry/Halimah is living in Northern California, several hours north of San Francisco, and seems to be doing well. Some readers might also remember that as Sherry Snow, she was part of Dan Hicks's Hot Licks in the early days.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 12:53
Yes, I'm from Philadelphia, though I've lived in California for 20 years. Dennis, I listened to WMMR a lot in the years 1973-76 or so, particularly to the DJ Michael Tierson (I might not have that spelling correct), who I think is still there. I even remember how he used the instrumental circus-like section of Buffalo Springfield's "Broken Arrow" as background music when he used to read the musician gig ads of sorts nightly around 10pm. Although I don't remember a whole lot of what British folk-rock I heard MMR play as I was young and not taking notes, I know they certainly played Fairport Convention's "Tam Lin" a lot; I remember hearing Steeleye Span there for the first time too.
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Mon 22 Sep 03 12:59
Yes. I produced a great remote broadcast with Steeleye Span live at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr. Michael Tearson, Philly Daily News writer Jon Takiff - and weekend MMR DJ - and I were all together at Penn. Like longtime Philadelphia (and sometimes WMMR) DJ Gene Shay, we were all big folkies, and regular attendees of the Philadelphia Folk Festival every summer.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 22 Sep 03 13:18
So I'm continuing the staunch tradition of Penn-spawned music journalism, I guess, since I went to the University of Pennsylvania too; I did some shows on the school's community radio station, WXPN. I heard Gene Shay's WMMR folk show on late Sunday nights sometimes. I heard him play his live radio tapes of Joni Mitchell from the late-'60s there several times; I was more familiar with her Gene Shay-live renditions of some of her early songs than the ones she recorded for early official studio albums. And eventually I interviewed him about radio's role in folk-rock for "Eight Miles High." It would be great if some of those Shay radio performances could be released, especially the ones by Joni Mitchell, which I think were about as good as what you hear on her early albums (some of them circulate on bootleg). What year was that Steeleye Span remote, Dennis? With so much archival live stuff coming out on CD these days, I wonder if there'd be any interest in releasing that.
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Mon 22 Sep 03 13:42
The Steeleye Span show - like my live concert broadcasts with Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen , Taj Mahal, the Persuasions, the Burritos, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, David Bromberg, etc., were 1972-1974 as near as I remember. As to where the tapes are, maybe Michael, or Jon or Gene Shay can help, or our old pal Ed Sciaky, who came to WMMR from Temple University's WRTI. I know my Bonnie Raitt show is out there in the concert-trading vines; her greatest hit from that show is on my site, www.spacebrothers.com
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Tue 23 Sep 03 00:05
Did you begin the process of researching this book, with any perceptions/speculations that were either nullified or radically modified in the process of your research? I enjoyed your observation that the west-coast groups seemed to be more framentary while many of the english groups had a different kind of bond. I suppose CS&N were an attempt to envelope the egos of rugged individualists into a functional musical unit. Here at the well in the P.E.R.R.O. topic their has been considerable reflection on the rarefied west coast moment of communal music making, that bay area groups enjoyed for a year or 2 (circa 1971-72?). Did anything similar happen in L.A.,N.Y.C. or England? It seems California dominates our image or projections of Folk-Rock, then after that there is the British thread. What about Canada, Ireland, Chicago, Atlanta, Texas, Washington, and so on...? Maybe that is a stupid question, invariably it seemed folk rockers drifted to California or the Village like devotees to mecca, still though I'm curious about the dispersion of the form. You mention a curiousity in the analogous social processes, to the music movements in question, can you tell us a little more about that?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 23 Sep 03 07:30
Crosby, Stills & Nash (and later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) were as Darrell suggests "an attempt to envelope the egos of rugged individualists into a functional musical unit." I suggest in "Eight Miles High" that the group was conceived as a means for the members to enjoy the best of both worlds: the camaraderie and stimulus of a working group, but also the freedom to play and even record elesewhere, as a soloist or with others. Often it even meant the freedom to play as a soloist and in different fragmentary combinations onstage during CSNY concerts, where they'd often go acoustic, take a solo spotlight, or play a song using only some of the members. To brush with another topic Darrell just raised, in some ways that could be considered to be a reflection of the era's rising communal values, applied to music-making. On the surface, this seemed to address some of the concerns that had led all of the members to leave their former groups in the first place. David Crosby had felt stilted by the Byrds, not getting some of his controversial songs on their albums (like "Triad"); he seemed to be the most social Byrd and the one most apt to sit in with people, which had led to some friction with the others when he sat in with Buffalo Springfield at the Monterey Pop Festival. Neil Young had left and returned to Buffalo Springfield several times (in fact he was not in the group at the time they played Monterey), and both he and Stills had been frustrated by having to split up the space on Buffalo Springfield albums (eventually with Richie Furay as well). This gave him the freedom to keep a new solo career evolving at the same time as playing as part of CSNY, which he enjoyed (at least at the start), but also gave him a great deal of useful exposure. Graham Nash wanted freedom to do more "serious" songs than he could with the Hollies, the rest of whom wanted to remain more of a pop group. Stephen Stills, most would agree, was the prime musical engine of CSNY, and the most inclined in character to fall into the bandleading role; CSNY was a good way to do this, but in a more relaxed setting than the volatile Buffalo Springfield. The irony is that, after all that, CSNY fell apart after just two albums (only one of them with Neil Young) and less than two years, although they've reunited off and on since. It might be stretching it, but they fell prey to the earthly flaws that a lot of utopian, communal experiments suffer. There were still ego battles, musical conflicts, and interference of solo careers with group goals. An associate of Young's told me that while the other three thought of CSNY as their main project and gave their all to it, Young only did so at the moments he was playing with them; at the same time CSNY were becoming superstars, his own solo career (which had started with a debut album that didn't even make the Billboard Top 200) was finally taking off, and that was more his focus. I need to be away from my computer most of today, but I will try to resume answering the questions posted above (and any other that come in) tonight.
Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Tue 23 Sep 03 15:55
IS THERE A TOPIC THAT ANNOUNCE THESE BOOKS AHEAD OF TIME? I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO READ THE DAMN BOOK SO I COULD BE PART OF THE DISCUSSION. THIS IS A BOOK I'LL BUY, BUT GOSH DARN, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE TO BE PART OF THIS. <off my soapbox>
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 23 Sep 03 17:58
The book/topic was announced in mid-September, a few days before it started, in topic 140, "Coming Up in Inkwell.vue.," which admittedly isn't long before the discussion started. It was also referred to in June in topic 160 (when I discussed the first volume, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"), though that might not have caught the attention of some readers unaware of that prior go-round. Maybe the hosts can add any other comments about where topics might announce these books ahead of time, as I'm not involved in inkwell.vue administration. Back to the questions in post #72...
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