Article

Ten Half-Forgotten Folkies from the '60s Greenwich Village Scene

Photo © 2016 Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

Every art form goes through periods of intense transformation as artists discover new avenues and new methods to express themselves through the medium. Television is currently experiencing such a revolution, driven in part by advancements in streaming technology and the emergence of new content providers such as HBO, Netflix and Amazon.     

Folk music experienced this type of renaissance from the late-fifties through the late-sixties. During a time of growing civil unrest, music fans turned away from the exhilarating but inconsequential pop music of the time. Folk music, with its serious subject matter and no-nonsense sound, fit the era. The artistic capital of this revolution was New York City's Greenwich Village, the long-time epicenter of the American art scene.  

Even casual music fans own a couple albums by the most well-known artists of that time and place, such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. However, many other talented artists from that time never reached a mass audience. Below are ten that deserve more attention than they ever got.

 

1. Karen Dalton

Dalton grew up in Oklahoma, married at fifteen, had a son and daughter, divorced, lost custody of the children, remarried the same guy, and then took off for Greenwich Village with the daughter, arriving just in time to join in the great folk boom.

She played in the numerous coffee houses in the Village, often on the same bill as Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, and even Bob Dylan. She made quite an impression on Dylan. From his autobiography, Chronicles:

My favorite singer in the place [the Café Wha?] was Karen Dalton. She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry. I'd actually met her before, run across her the previous summer outside of Denver in a mountain pass town in a folk club. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple times.

Although not a songwriter, Dalton was a unique interpreter of both traditional and contemporary folk music. As Dylan said, her voice was reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s, bluesy and languid, but instead of jazz she sang folk songs, accompanying herself on a 12-string acoustic guitar. 

Dalton was never comfortable on stage, preferring to play for friends or at parties. She also hated recording. According to many sources, she would freeze-up or simply refuse to play during recording sessions. Thankfully, producer Nik Venet, having failed in four previous attempts to record the elusive Dalton, tricked her. While she was attending one of Fred Neil’s sessions, he asked her, as a personal favor and just for his personal collection, to record one of Neil’s songs, A Little Bit of Rain. She agreed, and afterwards Venet pushed her to record several additional songs, all in one session. The result was her best album, It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best. Dalton only recorded one other album during her lifetime, In My Own Time. 

Dalton played music less frequently as the years rolled on, developed a heroin habit, and eventually died of AIDS at 55 years old.

 

2. Fred Neil

Fred Neil is another curious case. Neil was one of the "stars" in the very early days of the folk music heyday that centered in the Village. He was something of an elder statesman, mentoring youngsters like Dalton, Tim Hardin, and many others. He teamed up with Vince Martin for one album, and then recorded a solo album, Bleecker & MacDougal. In 1965 he released his seminal work, the self-titled Fred Neil.

The album contains his most well-known song, "Everybody's Talkin'", a massive hit for Harry Nilsson. Nilsson's version was included in the film Midnight Cowboy, starring Dustin Hoffman and John Voight, which was both a box office and critical success. Luckily for Neil, Bob Dylan, who had been asked to write something for the movie, was late with the delivery of his song, "Lay, Lady, Lay", which forced the producers to use Neil's song instead.

Like Dalton, Neil was not a big fan of touring and recording, and outside of a couple half-hearted efforts, basically bagged his career after Fred Neil.  Instead of following up his most successful album, he head to Florida to work on The Dolphin Project. Perhaps inspired by his own song, "Dolphins"?

 

3. Tim Hardin

Tim Hardin dropped out of high school to join the Marines, and after he got out, made his way to the Village. He then moved to Boston, made an album for Columbia Records which they chose not to release, moved to Los Angeles, and then back to New York, where he was signed by Verve Records. Although uneven, his first album for Verve contains several stellar songs, including "Don't Make Promises", "How Can We Hang on to a Dream", and most notably, "Reason to Believe", which Rod Stewart turned into a hit single, and was subsequently recorded by many artists. The next year he released the best recording of his career, Tim Hardin 2, which contained "The Lady Came from Baltimore" and his most well-known song, "If  I Were a Carpenter", recorded by hundreds of artists and a big hit for both Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin.  

Unfortunately, over the years Hardin's problems with alcohol and heroin grew worse and his artistic output suffered. Later releases mostly consisted of cover versions of other people songs (Bird on the Wire is the best of the lot).  He eventually sold his catalog for a bargain basement price, and a few years later died of a heroin overdose, mostly forgotten.    

 

4. Eric Andersen

Eric Andersen second album, released in 1966, contains his only widely known song, "Thirsty Boots", a  civil rights anthem that has been covered by many artists, most notably Judy Collins. In 1972 Andersen released Blue River, generally recognized as his best. The album generated quite a bit of attention for Andersen, and it seemed he was poised to make a name for himself during the height of the singer/songwriter era. Unbelievably, his follow-up record, now referred to as The Lost Record, was misplaced by his record company. The tapes showed up almost twenty years later and the album was finally released in 1991.  

Andersen continues to release material up to this day. Perhaps freed from any hope of large-scale commercial success, he has recorded some very adventuresome material. In 2002 he released Beat Avenue, a two CD set that contains one song consisting of 26 minutes of Beat-inspired poetry. In 2014 he released Shadow in the Light of Albert Camus, an album dedicated to the works of the existentialist philosopher

 

5. Patrick Sky

Patrick Sky is a weird case. According to Dave Von Ronk, an elder statesman of the Greenwich folk scene, Sky jumped out a window to escape a bad marriage, moved to Florida, changed his name, and then ran into Buffy Sainte-Marie (more about her later), who brought him to the Village. Von Ronk said that Sky nearly derailed Joni Mitchell’s career when he loudly proclaimed that her performance of her song, "Get the Urge for Going",  "really sucked", which caused Mitchell to consider quitting the music business. 

Sky's first two records were recorded for the folk label Vanguard Records. His first album includes his most well-known song, "Many a Mile", a story of lost romance that has been covered by many artists. While his early albums were typical folk/blues fare, well-constructed and competently performed, later albums were more political in nature.

In  1971 Sky recorded Songs That Made America Famous, which purposefully and successfully offended the sensibilities of pretty much everybody, with songs such as "Child Molester's Blues", which sarcastically (I hope) laments the hard life of the pedophile, and "Luang Prabang", about a soldier whose balls were blown-off during the Vietnam War. Vanguard refused to release it. It was finally put out several years later by a small independent label. It was not well-received at the time, but over the years was recognized for its wit and daring. 

Sky has been largely inactive on the music scene since Songs That Made America Famous, instead becoming a builder of uilleann pipes, the national bagpipe of Ireland.

 

6. Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie, born in Canada on the Cree First Nation Reserve, was adopted by a family from Massachusetts. Sainte-Marie taught herself to play guitar and piano. As a young adult she performed extensively in the clubs around Toronto, and eventually migrated to the Village scene.   

She signed a recording contract with Vanguard, which released her first album, It's My Way, in 1964. It includes her most enduring song, "Universal Soldier", recorded by dozens but most notably by Donovan, the British answer to Bob Dylan. "Now That the Buffalo Is Gone", which vividly describes injustices done to American Indians, is another fan favorite. Her 1965 release Many a Mile (the Patrick Sky tune) contains "Until It's Time for You to Go", a hit for Elvis Presley. She also co-wrote Up Where You Belong, a giant hit for Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes that was included on the soundtrack for the popular film, An Officer and a Gentleman. Although the pace has slowed, she continues to record, releasing Power in the Blood in 2015. 

 

7. Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton arrived in the Village after a stint in the Army and already having had some success as a songwriter.

Paxton's material generally consists of political satire and children's songs, as well as romantic topics. Paxton's first album, The Man Who Built the Bridges, includes one of his most popular children's songs, The Marvelous Toy. It also contains Going to the Zoo Tomorrow, well-known to parents whose children are Raffi fans.

His second album, Ramblin' Boy, includes three of his best songs, "The Last Thing on My Mind", "Ramblin' Boy", and "I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I'm Bound", all subsequently recorded by many other artists.

Paxton went on to record many albums, and although none sold particularly well, they contained a plethora of quality material, notably the satirical "What Did You Learn in School Today", "What Lyndon Johnson Told Us", and "One Million Lawyers".

 

8. Richie  Havens

Richie Havens had his fifteen minutes of fame at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Opening the show, he had played every song he knew, but was told to keep going since the next act wasn’t ready. He improvised a song, "Freedom", based on the traditional "Motherless Child", which consisted of furiously strummed chords and an impassioned one word chant – “freedom”. It was the perfect theme song for the festival.

Havens was not a songwriter but was a sensitive interpreter of other people's songs. Highlights include his recording of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun", Dylan’s "Just Like a Woman", and the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby". 

Later in his career Havens was a successful commercial jingle singer, recording ads for Amtrak,  among others.

 

9. Carolyn Hester

Although she wasn’t a songwriter or nearly as impressive a singer/guitar player as the artist she most resembles, Joan Baez, Carolyn Hester nevertheless played an important role in the folk revival.

Hester arrived in the Village in the early sixties having already released an album of mostly traditional material. A talented singer and quite beautiful, she quickly developed a following. The legendary John Hammonds signed her to Columbia Records and produced her album, I'll Fly Away.

I'll Fly Away is a good record but is remembered more for the musicians that played on it than the actual recording. Unusual at the time, Hester gathered the  players for the session herself, including two men who would go on to play on many important albums of the period, Bill Lee (film-maker Spike Lee's father) and Bruce Langhorne. She also hired an unknown - Bob Dylan - to play harmonica. Not long afterwards Hammonds signed him to Columbia and the rest is history.

Hester was offered the job as the female singer in what became Peter, Paul and Mary, but turned it down. Probably not a good move. Still, she went on to record many competent albums over many years, and continues to perform today.

 

10. Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs was a supremely talented songwriter, and given his gift for the topical song, in the right place at the right time. Ochs studied journalism in college, developed an intense interest in politics, and happened to meet a fellow student who got him interested in folk music. Later, Ochs would combine those interests in his songs.

Ochs arrived in the Village in 1962, was signed to Elektra Records, where he recorded his finest political songs, including "Power and Glory", "What's That I Hear", "Here's to the State of Mississippi", and "I Ain't Marching Anymore".

Ochs also wrote two non-political songs during this time period that will be long remembered, "There But for Fortune", a hit for Joan Baez, and "Changes". Both appear on his Phil Ochs in Concert album.

Ochs' song-writing slowed as the decade ended, and he eventually succumbed to alcohol and drug addictions. He left behind some powerful political songs that rank with the best of the genre. 

 

  Just the tip of the iceberg.  Add Paul Clayton, Logan English, Luke Faust, Artie Traum, Johnny Herald, Ian Buchanan, John Gibbon, Theo Bikel, Susie Shahn, Roger Abrahams, Erik Darling, Dick Rosmini, Jack Hardy,Gina Glaser, Fred Gerlach, Len Chandler, Billy Faier,---the list goes on--

Absolutely. None of the artists listed was really that obscure, as they mostly recorded for major labels, and in at least one case, appeared at Woodstock. Several are still alive and touring, as a little research would have shown.

I would advocate for Paul Siebel as a top-level artist whose name is rarely heard. Also David Rea. And Koerner, Ray and Glover, though I don't know how much, if any, time they spent in Greenwich Village.

 

How about Jo Mapes?

   Good call!  For that matter Odetta spent considerable time in the Village, also Bruce Langhorne"Mr. Tambourine Man," and Nickie Thatcher, who appears at some length in Erik Darling's autobiography, but nowhere else.   Add Jimmy McDonald, Barry Kornfeld, Bob Brill, Mark Spoelstra, and Niela Miller, who wrote the song Hey Joe was based on. 

 

Odetta and Jo were best freinds. As well as Cass Elliot. (little side bar).

I'm Jo's daughter. : )

Richie Havens used to babysit for my older sister sometimes.

Dick Weissman has it right.  He seems to more about the subject than the author.  Maybe he should write the column.  I would add all the Greenbriar Boys and the New Lost City Ramblers.

 

 

 Still more!  Lee Haring, Fred Hellerman, Susan Reed, Marc Silber.  Izzy Young wasn't a musician but was a major sparkplug with the Folklore Center.  And Alan Lomax. 

That's what is great about this site...some of the folks who really were there (and sometimes the artists) show up too...as someone who was a still in high school during Woodstock, etc., I was behind this era a little...so I know it, but not remotely as well as you, it's obvious you were there and immersed in it...I recognize some of the folks you've listed, but definitely not all...

So thanks for weighing in...it isn't so much that the artists listed in this article weren't well known, but perhaps "not as appreciated as they should have been should have been" would have been a better approach for the article...I've not only heard of all of them, but have records by most of them, and I probably have every release Eric Andersen ever recorded...but I found out about him when he released "Blue River" when I was a senior in high school...so I had to backtrack to catch up, and for the most part only picked up on the best known artists of that era, and got onto some, like Fred Neil, even later...as such, you have mentioned many folks who were part of that scene I don't know, and who more likely fall in the category of "half-forgotten" (or more than half).

 

I'm with you Jim, those first 10 a pretty well-known and I have albums by most of them but most of those listed by Dick Weissman are new to me. I wonder if much, or any, of their recordings (if they recorded even) are available. The only name I can think of that's missing is Eric Von Schmidt. I tried to find Patrick Sky's recordings when I first heard about him and struck out but I failed to check online.

And Mr. Weissman, weren't you a manager or something of some of those musicians mentioned?

 

   No.  I'm a musician who also produced records and played on many sessions.  I never managed anyone, ever.  These are all people who were ahnging out in the Village when I was, from around 1956-1961.

   Eric Von Schmidt was a Boston guy, not a Greenwich Village one.

 

Thanks for your clarification and knowledgable input. I thought Boston musicians also got somewhat involved in the Village scene but even if they did I suppose they would just be considered visitors. You could probably write a book. Perhaps you have.

Funny what Patrick Sky said about Joni Mitchell's singing; he said the same thing about Phil Ochs' guitar playing. Other notables deserving mention: Paul Gerimia, Tom Rush, David Blue and Sandy Bull.

   Roy Berkeley, who worked on the Bosses' Songbook with Dave Van Ronk, Dick Greenhaus, Peter Carboni who had a small string shop on Bleecker Street.   Roger Sprung, one of the first bluegrass banjo players in New York.  Tim Buckley.  Ray Bogaslav.  Pat Foster.  Gil Turner.

Just saw Tom Rush recently...great show.

Ronald Clyde Crosby?  Completely forgotten folkie until he moved to Texas and reinvented himself as Jerry Jeff Walker.

Wow...whenever an article on No Depression can get over 7000 hits these days I'm pretty damn impressed. It took a good deal of time to put this together, so the author deserves some credit. My only major cringe moment is in the title...these folkies might be half-forgotten to kids born in the nineties, but as some of the comments here suggest, those of us of a certain age have yet to forget. 

In September 2012 the old Gaslight reopened for a private party thrown by an NYU teacher who ran a freshman seminar on the Village folk scene. My son was in that class and I got invited to hear a discussion and listen to performances  from Patrick Sky, Carolyn Hester, Tom Paxton and several Celtic musicians whose names escape me. Many of the seriously half-forgotten folkies mentioned here in the comments section were spoken about, and there were some great stories told. There were only about 40-50 of us there to witness the night; Steve Earle, guitar maker Matt Umanov and author David Hadju were with us. I wrote about it here and now I'm going to have to dig in the archives, search it out and post it on my own site. 

Anyway, I always appreciate when someone takes time to do the time warp, even if the details are a bit muddy. 

Always nice to see commentary on one of the great music scenes.  I was a kid thousands of miles away, but it had meaning to me even so, and shaped my taste forever.

A bit of context, though, for Buffy Sainte-Marie, there's a lot still going on there.  Her first big success was as a songwriter in 1963, with "Cod-ine", which reflected her own addiction at the time.  Covered by Donovan, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver, Gram Parsons and many others, it established her as a songwriting force even in advance of "Universal Soldier".  And, at the other end of her career, "Power In The Blood" has been much more than a coda to a long career.  It's a wonderful and powerful recording, more rock than folk, and has won numerous awards, including two Junos (Canadian Grammy equivalent) and the Polaris Prize.  The latter is awarded by a panel of musicians, critics and industry folk on the basis of pure artistic merit, aside from any commercial success, and comes with big cash.  And I should note that there are many "First Nation Reserves", and she was born a Cree on the Piapot Reserve in the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

And all of that is quite aside from her lifelong activism on behalf of aboriginal peoples and progressive principles, which shows no sign of slowing down.

One other note, her "Up Where You Belong" was recorded by Joe Cocker and Jennifer WARNES, not Warner.  Jennifer is one of my favorite all time singers, a wonderful vocalist with many outstanding records to her name.  Her correct name needs to be out there.

 

she is a wonderful singer...the record she did of Cohen songs is amazing...

 

Thanks for the update on Buffy Sainte-Marie as well...

Hi, this is the author. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read the article/leave a comment. Much appreciated and very interesting. Some of the artist mentioned I'm not familar with, I'll check them out.   

Just fyi, I tried to pick artists to focus on that would have a wide appeal, in particular to readers not already very familar with the 60s folk scene. That was the idea anyway. 

Yes, I too think the title is a little off. I liked the way "forgotten folkies" sounded too much i think :-) . 

I fixed Jennifer Warnes name, thanks.

steve

 

 

All in all, nice article I thought...like Ed said, if you got that much traffic you did something right...alas, many of us out here are obsessed with music, so you got all that feedback as well...it was fun I think!

Tiny Tim.  Where the hell is Tiny Tim on this list? 

I thought someone mentioned Herbert Khoury?...like you mentioned Jerry Jeff or Ronald Clyde...

And last but not least...Judy Henske.

certainly not least... "Queen of the Beatniks"...also married to Jerry Yester from Lovin Spoonful and the later Craig Doerge, the great session keyboard player...she did some theater too I believe...there's a Rhino compilation of her stuff that runs from the early 60's all the way to recordings she made with Doerge producing in this century...

One thing I wanted to add about this posting is that although I didn't find the 10 very obscure I did find the biographical information both interesting and often unknown to me so I thank the author for that. Also, the added comments about Buffy St Marie reminded me of her recent release and one that I missed getting and need to rectify.

Greetings,     You have used a Fred W. McDarrah image without permission or payment on top of this post.     Learning who took the iconic image of MacDougal Street  image is simple. You clearly chose not to credit, and/or not make the effort to find out who took it.      You surely understand the importance of protecting valuable, original copyrighted work.      The Estate of Fred W. McDarrah now asks you, in an informal and friendly manner, to please not use copyright protected images of ours without proper permission and possibly payment.      No need to take down the classic  image you posted, if you credit it by close of business today, June 1, 2016, as follows:     Photo © 2016 Estate of Fred W. McDarrah     We are flattered that you used a famous Fred W. McDarrah photograph. In the future, please note that Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com) handles licensing duties for The Estate of Fred W. McDarrah. Or you may contact us directly.        Thank you very much.  

Iconic?! Any half-stoned weekend hippie from Long Island or New Jersey could've snapped this photo. Give me a break!

But you, presumably the Bridge and Tunnel person described, didn't take it. And it was chosen not by accident to illustrate this article. Anyway, thanks for sharing your opinion! You are a delightful example of the old proverb, "Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt." 

Always good to see the perjorative for "commuters" in print...

Read with interest the article on Ten Half Forgotton Folkies.

Took me right back to Greenwich Village where I managed the Bitter End in the mid 1960's and then found Jerry Jeff Walker ( in NYC, not Texas) and Emmy Lou Harris, Paul Siebel, Patrick Sky and Paul Geremia and managed all of them. Adding Tom Paxton and Richie Havens to my management company in the 1970's.

One of the contributors to this string asked Dick Weissman if he managed some of the artists,  I think the DW initials was confusing, probably thinking about me :) -Dick's memory is very accurate.

I also was VP or A&R at Vanguard Records so worked with Buffy as well.

The article is correct when you consider a half century has gone by and most artists are not remembered at all in such a time period. However, as the article mentions, their songs are not forgotten and these songs are what made these artists successful and, in the folk field, financially well off.  Drugs and early death contributed to the fact that some are not as well remembered as they deserve, yet they all contributed so much to the folk music world and, in most of the cases mentioned, to the pop music world as well.

 

Nice summary, and reminder, of all the great voices of that period.  None of them are forgotten, really, but it is nice to see this type of story.  Well done!

Saul: Hopefully, while we remember these contributors to folk music and, as I mentioned, to pop music as well, that we also look forward and support the new writers that are out there. I'm busy managing/booking  a few myself.....the SULTANS OF STRING, HEATHER PIERSON  and KENNY WHITE, but its a completely different ball game. All self promoted, with no support of major or even semi major lables like Vanguard. Sales might be a small percentage of what sold in the '70's,80';s etc. but the big positive part is the artist keeps 100% of the sales, rather than a very small percentage AND venues are increasing like crazy and replacing the retail store as the spot to buy music.