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Vintage Music, Old Fingers…

by Richard on July 26, 2017

An old guy’s ear worms…

By 1968, the guitar lessons started when I was thirteen had begun to take hold, but the teacher had been left behind. My family moved a lot. I’d been through two or three department store guitars by then and could finally carry an entire tune. The mid-1060s folk revival had gotten me completely hooked. A big part of it was that I could play the chords called for in those songs… and sing ‘em, too. In those days, songs by now relatively forgotten songwriters like Fred Neil and John Stewart got radio airplay. I heard Buffy Sainte-Marie and Richard & Mimi Farina (Joan Baez’ younger sister) fairly regularly along with Dylan, Phil Ochs, and even Eric Andersen. Those songs swirled inside my brain then… and many of them still do. The music that moves us when we are coming of age, seems to persist as background scores to the events of our lives.

The next year found us in Vancouver, Washington where pursuing live music became one of my main pursuits. My Senior Year of High School, a few of us approached a local church about the possibility of holding a weekly folk music concert series in their basement. A fairly liberal-minded congregation, they surprised us by saying “Yes.” Since they also had a couple of commercial-sized urn coffee makers, Equinox Coffee House was born. The tradition of featuring local and regional musicians doing folk covers and a few of their own songs became a passion, even if organizational skills were not my strong suit. Live performances of the great songs I’d learned from the radio or off a vinyl record had so much more “presence” and “style”. To this day, there are some covers of songs, such as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Code-ine” and Leonard Cohen’s “Stranger Song” that remain still powerful in my memory. Preferable even, to the artists’ own recorded versions, even if the performer I remember is no longer heard of.

Those traveling troubadours that plied the folk circuit on the West Coast, spoke in reverential tones of the “scene” in Greenwich Village and Boston. We’d all gather ‘round after a set to talk about how each song was learned. In some case, they were learned directly from the songwriter. One of my very favorites of these was a folksinger named Jon Adams, from the Fresno, California area who made it up to Washington or Portland Oregon, (across the river) once or twice a year. He covered several songs by Richard & Mimi Farnina, Leonard Cohen and a somewhat obscure songwriter from Boston named Mark Spoelstra, among others. Mr. Adams remains my greatest inspiration towards improving my guitar picking to this day. All these years later, I am still trying to figure out his incredible version of Stag-o-Lee. Almost there.

The following year, I relocated back to Eugene Oregon, for college, leaving The Equinox to get along without me, a crisp, fresh draft card in my hand. I understand The Equinox did continue Friday nights for a few years, but by then my parents had moved again and I had little contact with my old friends in Vancouver. I had gotten more serious about my guitar picking by then and had played an open mic or two after buying a mid-level acoustic guitar with money earned on a variety of jobs. These jobs, including working a cannery, a health food store and planting trees for Weyerhauser Lumber, provided me enough to pay for a basement room near school, a few beers and a really playable Japanese import Aria guitar.  The year after, I left school to engage in music and antiwar protest full-time. I made the mistake of loaning my guitar to a new friend I didn’t know too well, and it hit the road with him, never to return. I still occasionally wonder how things might have turned out had I kept that instrument, but the road called my name.

The best gift I ever got!

I finally made it to Greenwich Village and Boston, eventually, but the “scene” spoken of had dwindled and few of the players of yore still performed, except Dave VanRonk who still held “court” on occasion.  I also got another guitar once I ‘d met my wife and settled down on Long Island. Oddly enough, I became an Ad Man Art Director. Didn’t see that coming at all. There are still songs in my head, circling every day, like Eric Andersen’s “Close the Door Lightly When You Go” that I first heard covered by a local player. Lots of Gordon Lightfoot in the mix, too. These have become what would be the core of my repertoire, IF I played publicly. My wife has to tolerate my ceaseless practice, even if it has no real point beyond my own pleasure. As the years have unfolded, almost everything has changed, but I learned to embrace change when I was a little kid; besides, looking back, it’s all been for the best. I have a family I love, an amazing set of cats, a home in the woods plus, I still have all those songs, too. My vintage fingers still work.

I’ll post videos and music from some of those great songwriters and performers from the mid-60s and early 70s, now mostly forgotten, each Wednesday, on Facebook. You may enjoy rekindling your own memories, or learning some new tunes!

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