[sixties-l] Dave Van Ronk: Musician and mentor to the young Bob Dylan (fwd)

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Date: Fri Feb 22 2002 - 03:26:14 EST

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    Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 22:24:51 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Dave Van Ronk: Musician and mentor to the young Bob Dylan

    Dave Van Ronk: Musician and mentor to the young Bob Dylan

    Tony Russell

    Wednesday February 13, 2002

    The singer and guitarist Dave Van Ronk, who has died
    aged 65, had since the 1960s been one of the most
    distinctive voices in the musical community of New
    York's Greenwich Village, and long associated with the
    early career of Bob Dylan. A bearded bear of a man, he
    was equally at home in blues, jazz, Anglo-American
    folksong and ragtime. A Van Ronk performance was a
    switchback ride through American vernacular music, from
    Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies to Cocaine Blues and
    beyond, taking in Brecht and Weill's Mack The Knife and
    a setting of WB Yeats's poem, Song Of The Wandering
    Angus. His heroes, he liked to say, were Donald Duck,
    Lenin and WC Fields - "because they all did what they

    Van Ronk grew up in Brooklyn, learned guitar at high
    school and began playing with traditional jazz bands.
    His interest in other African-American folk musics was
    not stirred until he encountered the singers Odetta and
    Josh White in the late 1950s, when he began performing
    on New York's club and coffeehouse circuit. For a time
    he roomed with the writer and music historian Sam
    Charters, who was shortly to publish his pioneering
    book The Country Blues, and the two played in bands
    called the Orange Blossom Jug Five and the Ragtime Jug

    Van Ronk was one of the first villagers to draw
    attention to the compositions of a younger musician
    lately arrived in New York, when he began to sing Bob
    Dylan's He Was A Friend Of Mine. He later recorded it
    on his 1963 album Folksinger. When Dylan first came to
    New York, he often stayed with Van Ronk and his wife,
    Terri Thal, at their apartment on West 15th Street. For
    a few months Thal was his business manager, before
    Dylan put his affairs in the hands of the wily Albert
    Grossman, of whom Van Ronk said: "Albert was easy to
    deal with. It wasn't till maybe two days after you
    would see Albert that you'd realise your underwear had
    been stolen."

    Dylan listened attentively to Van Ronk's huge
    repertoire, regarding him, in his biographer Robert
    Shelton's phrase, as "his first New York guru . . . a
    walking museum of the blues". Van Ronk was the source
    of several songs Dylan later recorded, among them
    Dink's Blues and House Of The Rising Sun, Dylan's
    recording of which was in turn absorbed by the Animals
    and became a pop hit.

    By the mid-1960s, Van Ronk was a major figure on the
    East Coast folk scene, appearing at folk festivals and
    Carnegie Hall, teaching guitar and recording steadily.
    People had begun to call him "the mayor of Greenwich
    Village", a phrase that may have originated with
    Shelton, who described him as "a tall, garrulous, hairy
    man of three-fifths Irish descent . . . he resembled an
    unmade bed strewn with books, record jackets, pipes,
    empty whiskey bottles, lines from obscure poets, finger
    picks and broken guitar strings."

    As with many of his contemporaries, his music was
    fuelled by political conviction: in the 1960s he was
    dedicated to the civil rights movement, and he was a
    lifelong Trotskyist, with a relish for involvement and
    confrontation. A friend asked him how he came to be
    arrested in the 1969 riot when New York police busted a
    gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. "I was passing by and I saw
    what was going down," he said, "and I figured, they
    can't have a riot without me!" In 1974 he appeared with
    Dylan and others at a benefit concert for Chilean
    political refugees.

    He continued to perform and to record. On the
    collection Let No One Deceive You (1990), he and the
    English folksinger Frankie Armstrong sang the lyrics of
    Bertolt Brecht, while the double albums A Chrestomathy
    (1992) and To All My Friends In Far-Flung Places (1994)
    were bulging folios of musical Americana from Scott
    Joplin's The Entertainer to Dylan's Subterranean
    Homesick Blues.

    He played his last concert in October, and, while
    recovering from an operation for colon cancer, was
    sorting through tapes to put together for his next
    album. He is survived by his second wife, Andrea

    David "Dave" Van Ronk, folk musician, born June 30
    1936; died February 10 2002

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