The late, legendary “Blacklisted Journalist” and longtime Bearsville resident, Al Aronowitz, once told me that the moment of Eric Andersen’s breakthrough came when Judy Collins sandwiched his song “Thirsty Boots” with three fresh Bob Dylan songs on her celebrated Fifth Album before Andersen himself had recorded it. We were discussing the golden singer-songwriter era emerging in the 1960s which still shines a beacon more than four decades later and in which Andersen rose with the cream of Greenwich Village singing songwriters who were dominating the national folk scene at that time.
The tides of American music were shifting from a rock & roll invasion of the popular charts in the previous decade and the hootenanny folk wave of the early ‘60s toward a legacy sparked by cognizant lyric-driven songs of Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and a blend of other performing composers revived in the inspiration of that period’s concerts and festivals. Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Eric Andersen were prominent contributors to the forging of a new singer-songwriter genre and Andersen, who appears at the Rosendale Café at 8 p.m. Saturday, October 6 with his old friend Brian Hollander sitting in on Dobro, has been active in a current renewal of recognition of the lasting quality of the music of that era.
Revisiting songs of that unique period, as Andersen has done in a pair of vibrant CDs in recent years, The Street Was Always There and Waves, with a third part of the trilogy currently in the works, is only a part a stirring public ear which yearns to turn back toward an elegance of melodic form when so much of today’s broadcast music has descended to commercial dreck and drivel and staccato assaults upon the very concept of melody.
Honoring others floating in that 1960s serving of Village cream who were contributing to the community mystique of a distinct and developing statement of musical identity, competitors and compatriots driving each other to excellence as if following an almost mystical guidance toward an involving and meaningful culture, seems a poignant goal for a musician who was, himself, so much a part of the historic scene.
The folk-rock kettle on the stove in the Village, which would write the cookbook for the counterculture of the later 60s and evolve organically through singer-songwriter hit chart presence in the 70s, could not have been more graphically forecast than in Andersen’s reissuing the same titles on his Bout Changes & Things acoustic album in a “plugged-in” version; the tides of the day recaptured in flight without departing the timeless essence of the lyric-driven and melody-anchored message that was the fabric of a socially engaged subculture. It was an instinctive stride after Andersen’s debut album Today Is the Highway and an appearance on a “New Folks” album generated the favorable notice which Judy Collins’ recognition built into keen anticipation for his next release, as observed by Arnowitz who, after all, had introduced the Beatles to Bob Dylan.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised near Buffalo, the young Andersen had hitch-hiked with his muse to the Beat Poetry scene in San Francisco (which he would write about in The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats in 1999 and Naked Lunch @ 50 in 2009) and encountered Tom Paxton, who urged him to check out the Village scene. After some eventful years there, Andersen joined a northward migration to settle in the Woodstock musical community for a decade along with other leading lights of the Bleecker & MacDougal crowd…Fred Neil, John Sebastian, Bob Dylan, John Herald, Patrick Sky, Tim Hardin, a shy lady with a cobweb-in-moonlight voice, Karen Dalton, and a number of others. Even Dave Van Ronk once confided to me that he had “damn near” moved to Saugerties.