Monday, August 14, 2006

Dave Van Ronk: The Mayor of MacDougle Street

It is incredable how so many people can speak of the 60s folk revival, and drop names like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, etc and not mention one of the cornerstones of the whole thing, Dave Van Ronk.

It's one of the tragedies of my life that I found his music literally months after he died. It only compounded the tragedy to find out he not only toured his whole life, but was in Montreal (my home town) pretty much every year for the Jazz Festival. I now have most of his works, and still, every now and then I run accross something that makes me look at the man in a different light. Lets see, theres Inside Dave Van Ronk, and Dave Van Ronk: The Folkways Years that show an absolutely incredable folk artist. His rendition of Samson and Delilah is beyond stellar, and he has hands down the best Cocaine Blues I have ever heard. Theres Dave Van Ronk and the Ragtime Jug Stompers, which is (go figure) him with a ragtime jug band (for those who don't know, ragtime is this wonderful happy-go-lucky offshoot of the blues that was quite popular for a time in the 20s and 30s). Then theres In The Tradition, which is Dave with the Red Onion Jazz Band. Then you have Dave Van Ronk and the Hudson Dusters which is Dave with a rock band. And last but not least, the absolute bevy of albums with Dave, solo on his guitar, doing fingerstyle arrangements of Jazz songs. In each of these variations and permutations he brings his distinctive and powerful voice, not to mention unique enthusiasm, to create some of my favorite music. If I had to choose my five favorite artists, he would be one I wouldnt think twice about naming.

While his voice is certainly enough to make the man worth checking out, it is his guitar technique which will keep you comming back for more. For those who don't know, fingerstyle means picking out leads with your fingers, while your thumb backs you up on the bass strings. Its an absolutely wonderful way of playing, simply because it is so versitile. Jazz is quite a complex form of music, many instraments doing quite a bit, but Dave was able to successfully arrange songs so that it sounds just wonderful, even though he's just one guy. This is also the way one plays classical on the guitar, if you can arrange mozart on a single guitar, you can do pretty much anything. Dave however has more a backwoods style, using only three fingers instead of four, which is closer to banjo style then classical guitar. However, he was so damn good, three fingers is more then enough. As someone just learning, listening to something like The Entertainer on this album is enough to make you cry.

It would be an injustice to talk about Dave without mentioning his profound impact on music. Bob Dylan is probably the most influential musician of our time, and while he comes directly from Woody, Dave was his first mentor in new york, getting him his first gigs at the Gaslight Cafe, which was one of the more prestigious venues of the New York folk scene. Joni Mitchell was another one of his proteges, as was Phil Ochs, the real king of protest music (Dylan never was, and never wanted to be, but thats a topic for another blog... or two).

Somebody Else, Not Me is one of my favorite albums. Michigan Water Blues is absolutely hilarious. Somebody Else, Not Me is Dave at his finest, the man's delivery is beyond reproach. The Entertainer is one of the best arrangements I've heard of the song. Theres a decent cover of Pastures of Plenty by Woody Guthrie near the end of the album, and the last track is a quite good cover of Song to Woody by Dylan. If you like this album, I highly recommend his last show (released as ...and the Tin Pan bended, and the story ended... published by Smithsonian/Folkways), and theres a wonderful Stephen Grossman DVD called Dave Van Ronk, In Concert at the Bottom Line.



Vlasdance said...

how are u?
Good blog..
Maybe you could post again the Van Ronk album, the link isnt working...i have a blog too, i posted some van ronks stuff..but looking for other records of him too..
they asked me for these 2 records:
Dave Van Ronk - Folksinger (on Prestige)

Dave Van Ronk - Just Dave Van Ronk (on Mercury)

Do u have them?
Maybe you could post them for us!!
Keep up the good work!

google_ninja said...

DVR is one of my all-time favorites :D

I have:

...And The Tin Pan Bended, And The Story Ended... (a recording of his last show)
Dave Van Ronk & The Hudson Dusters (his rock album, he ended up leaving his own band cause he got bored with playing rock every night)
Going Back To Brooklyn
Inside Dave Van Ronk
Just Dave Van Ronk (not positive if its mercury, but i think so)
Live at Sir Georges University (live show from 60something)
Peter And The Wolf
Ragtime Jug Stompers (thats right, DVR with a ragtime jug band :D)
Somebody Else, Not Me
Sunday Street
Sweet & Lowdown (DVR later in life with a full Jazz band)
The Mayor of Macdougal Street (rare and unreleased, pretty sure this is another one that was released post-mortum)
Van Ronk
Van Ronk Sings Earthy Blues and Ballads

gotta love soulseek ;-)

I was actually thinking of this blog just the other day, I stopped posting because I was getting no response. I'll repost the album sometime in the next week, and I would appreciate any advice you may have on finding an audience. I have a ton of pretty rare stuff, but I'm not going to go through the work of a blog if I get no responses.

Vlasdance said...

oh my friend you have a lot dave van ronk!! and there is a lot of people interested in that!!
Believe me!!
do u have his album folksinger also??
it is a rare one..we are looking for it..
First of all...go to and tell about your blog...
i can link you in my blog also..and you can go to other blogs..for example and tell them about you..check time's links also!!
thanks for all...
if you have folksinger..i will be pleased if you can post it for me!!
Keep up the good work!!

Vlasdance said...

HELLO u also have:
David Blue-Me david cohen, or nice baby and the angel??
Derroll Adams-Portland Town 1967
Dave Evans-elephantasia
Eric Andersen-first album

if ou have any of these..please tell me!!
waiting for your answer!!

wottalot said...

Thanks for this posting - please tell me the unzipping password ... or have I missed it somewhere? Cheers -- keep up the blogs .. you've inspired me to sign up.

google_ninja said...

the password to everything should be
i had that up on the side thingie, but it seems to have disappeared somehow. anyways, thanks for the comment, i promise, there will be more posts very soon. my life has been insanely busy recently, but i should be posting a few albums in the next few days.

Rod... said...

... thanks for the van ronk... great stuff...

The Irate Pirate said...

Thanks for this and the Brozman album! Sounds great. Let me know if you'd like any other Brozman.

The Irate Pirate said...

Just posted Dave Van Ronk - Sunday Street at my blog, Wrath of the Grapevine.

See the post here.

John Buck said...

The street he's the unofficially mayor of is MacDougal

In case anyone's interested, a section of Sheridan Square was renamed "Dave Van Ronk Srreet" in 2004: