Sunday, February 27, 2011


I have found one thing to be constant on my path following Mike Porco and the lives he touched along the way: love. 

They loved him. And he loved them back. 

But it's not just that. The most amazing thing to me is that it's still flowing to this day. To my great fortune, and perhaps only because of my bloodline, much of it has been transfered to me. There's a sincere and palpable reverence between all the kindered spirits within this community. Everyone has welcomed me in no questions asked. I like to say that I've been "grandfathered in." Everyone I've contacted with and connected with have made me feel right at home. They've shared their memories and feelings with me as if they've known me for years. And to think that I've only introduced myself to Grandpa's ol' friends a short 16 months ago...I feel like I've been here in some way all along. 

The very first person I contacted one late November evening was Suze Rotolo. I told her I was writing a book on Gerde's and Mike and from right there and then, she became my biggest supporter and cheerleader. She seemed to have that effect on people. She followed my movements as I promoted the anniversary party from afar and offered encouragement through timely emails I could have never expected.

We met for lunch last February and got carried away in conversation so quickly that my note pad, which typically became full of illegible words, was mostly empty. We talked about lots more than Gerdes and had quite a laugh together. She told me to keep contacting people because I had a "magic name." She helped connecting me with Terri Thal, Sylvia Tyson, Alix Dobson, John Cohen and everyone's Godfather, Isreal Young. I assumed that I'd see her again for a follow up of our own one of these days...  

On the task of book writing (something she only needed to do once with A FREEWHEELIN' TIME), she merely shared her thoughts from her own experience in writing her memoirs. It's that advice that I still hear in my head: don't look at the mountain just keep taking steps...find one ear to hear what you're trying to say. To her, that ear was her son, Luca. She wanted him to know her completely. She just happened to let the world find out about her in the process, too. The other thing she told me after the Reunion was, keep your vision and TRUST ADVICE FROM ARTISTS AT ALL TIMES!  

I've had many heartfelt conversations thus far and I've been pleasantly surprised to find men openly bidding me adieu with a sincere "love ya" or just plain ol' "I love you, man." Why? I can only guess that they mean it. I've seen Vince Martin tell David Amram the same. I've heard it from Buzzy Linhart. Why?

Perhaps because, as Sally Spring told me, we're all in this together. The connections are real. The sentiment is honest and unforced. And that's why Suze's loss is a great loss to this whole family, no matter how long you've been a part of it. (And, men, just admit it. You can see why she was born to be Suze) 

And now I have regrets that I didn't get to tell as much to Suze. Personally, I'm not a big fan when people use their Facebook page, or their blog for that matter, to "speak" to Jimi or George Harrison on their birthdays...just not my style. 

But I will say here, to the memory of Suze Rotolo, Thank you, Sweetie. I love you. I'll miss you. Ciao Bella

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Big Joe Williams was first booked at Gerde's in the fall of 1961. Ever the crowd pleaser, he entertained in the intimate setting with his rousing style fashioned after 40 years on the road. Born in 1903, he was playing traveling minstrel "tent shows" around Mississippi by 1918. He converted his beat up Supertone into a 9 string and played in open G tuning giving him a one-of-a-kind sound. As if all that wasn't unique enough, he added a kazoo for good measure. A most ecstatic Bobby Dylan befriended Joe and sat in with him for almost the entire two weeks. By the end, they were billed as Big Bill and Little Joe.  
Early in 1962, Mike Porco was considering booking him again. By then, Folk City regular Dylan had more than an influential hand in getting Big Joe some work. "He's the greatest old bluesman. You gotta put him in here," he told Mike. 

A three week booking began on 2.20.62 with Zimmy showing up throughout to either jam, listen or, once again, perform onstage during some of Joe's sets. The album BIG JOE WILLIAMS AT FOLK CITY was recorded on 2.26.62.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ian and Sylvia Tyson

February 25, 1963

Ian and Sylvia begin a week's engagement at New York's Center of Folk Music, Gerde's Folk City.

Ian & Sylvia started performing together in Toronto in 1959. By 1962, they were living in New York City where they caught the attention of manager Albert Grossman, who managed Peter, Paul and Mary and would soon become Bob Dylan's manager. Grossman secured them a contract with Vanguard Records and they released their first album late in the year.

Ian & Sylvia's first and self-titled album on Vanguard Records consisted mainly of traditional songs.There were British and Canadian folk songs, spiritual music, and a few blues songs thrown into the mix. The album was moderately successful and they made the list of performers for the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

Four Strong Winds, their second album, was similar to the first, with the exception of the inclusion of the early Dylan composition, "Tomorrow is a Long Time", and the title song "Four Strong Winds", which was written by Ian. "Four Strong Winds" was a major hit in Canada and ensured their stardom.

Ian and Sylvia married in June 1964. They also released their third album, Northern Journey, that year. The album included a blues song written by Sylvia, "You Were On My Mind", which was subsequently recorded by both the California group We Five (a 1965 #1 on the Cashbox chart, #3 on the Billboard Hot 100) and British folk-rock singer Crispian St. Peters (#36 in 1967). A recording of "Four Strong Winds" by Bobby Bare made it to #3 on the country charts around that time.

On the Northern Journey album was the song "Someday Soon", a composition by Ian that would rival "Four Strong Winds" in its popularity. Both songs would eventually be covered by dozens of artists.

In June of 2010, Sylvia Tyson would return to New York to perform "You were on my mind" as one of the supreme highlights of the 50th Anniversary party.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yet another first at Gerdes'

Fifty years ago today: according to Clinton Heylin's book Stolen Moments, February 6th 1961 was the Monday where Bobby Dylan played the Hoot for the first time. Back then, everyone was a complete unknown and had to draw a number from the hat to determine the order of appearance on the famed stage. At some point later on, Folk City employed using a numbered deck of playing cards face down to figure out pecking order. The peformance rule for Hoots....rarely followed to the letter...was 3 songs or 15 minute time limit, whichever came first. With chatty musicians and the potential for relentless story telling through song, it's no wonder the Hoots started early and needed a savvy emcee to herd the cats on and off.

Bobby would end up doing consecutive open mics at Gerdes well into March. By then, he had befriended one Dave Van Ronk and wife and talent promoter Terri Thal who had Mike Porco's ear enough to encourage him to sign the kid up to be billed at least for an opening act. That would come later on April 11th. In the meantime, this Dylan kid's name had been circulating around the square. The applause meter in Mike's head probably told him that he just may have the goods. And if you had the goods, odds were, you drank at Folk City for free after a time. I've been told that well-liked musicians' money was no good at the bar. I'm sure that sat well with Zimmy.

Dylan would later be discover'd here at Gerdes' and it became the ideal place for him to showcase his new material and even rehearse. And did I mention drink for free???