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Dave Van Ronk
Dave Van Ronk performs at the 1968 Philadelphia Folk Festival.
|Birth name||David Kenneth Ritz Van Ronk|
|Born||June 30, 1936|
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States
|Died||February 10, 2002 65) (aged|
New York City, New York, United States
|Genres||Folk, ragtime, blues, country blues|
David Kenneth Ritz Van Ronk (June 30, 1936 – February 10, 2002) was an American folk singer. An important figure in the American folk music revival and New York City's Greenwich Village scene in the 1960s, he was nicknamed the "Mayor of MacDougal Street".
Van Ronk's work ranged from old English ballads to blues, gospel, rock, New Orleans jazz, and swing. He was also known for performing instrumental ragtime guitar music, especially his transcription of "St. Louis Tickle" and Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag". Van Ronk was a widely admired avuncular figure in "the Village", presiding over the coffeehouse folk culture and acting as a friend to many up-and-coming artists by inspiring, assisting, and promoting them. Folk performers he befriended include Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Phil Ochs, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Joni Mitchell. Dylan recorded Van Ronk's arrangement of the traditional song "House of the Rising Sun" on his first album, which the Animals turned into a chart-topping rock single in 1964,helping inaugurate the folk-rock movement.
Van Ronk received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in December 1997. He died in a New York hospital of cardiopulmonary failure while undergoing postoperative treatment for colon cancer.
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Van Ronk was born in Brooklyn to a family that was "mostly Irish, despite the Dutch name". [ citation needed ]He moved from Brooklyn to Queens around 1945 and began attending Holy Child Jesus Catholic School, whose students were mainly of Irish descent. He had been performing in a barbershop quartet since 1949, but left before finishing high school, and spent the next few years bumming around lower Manhattan and twice shipping out with the Merchant Marine.
His first professional gigs playing tenor banjola were with various traditional jazz bands around New York, of which he later observed: "We wanted to play traditional jazz in the worst way ... and we did!" But the trad jazz revival had already passed its prime, and Van Ronk turned to performing blues he had stumbled across while shopping for jazz 78s, by artists like Furry Lewis and Mississippi John Hurt. Van Ronk was not the first white musician to perform African-American blues, but became noted for his interpretation of it in its original context.[ citation needed ]
By about 1958, he was firmly committed to the folk-blues style, accompanying himself with his own acoustic guitar. He performed blues, jazz and folk music, occasionally writing his own songs but generally arranging the work of earlier artists and his folk revival peers. At one point, he was considered for a folk-pop trio with Peter Yarrow. Van Ronk's voice and style were considered too idiosyncratic and the role eventually went to Noel Paul Stookey (who became the "Paul" in Peter, Paul and Mary).[ citation needed ]
He became noted both for his large physical stature and his expansive charisma, which bespoke an intellectual, cultured gentleman of many talents. Among his many interests were cooking, science fiction (he was active for some time in science fiction fandom, referring to it as "mind rot",and contributed to fanzines), world history, and politics. During the 1960s he supported radical left-wing political causes and was a member of the Libertarian League and the Trotskyist American Committee for the Fourth International (ACFI, later renamed the Workers League ). In 1974, he appeared at "An Evening For Salvador Allende", a concert organized by Phil Ochs, alongside such other performers as his old friend Bob Dylan, to protest the overthrow of the democratic socialist government of Chile and to aid refugees from the U.S.-backed military junta led by Augusto Pinochet. After Ochs's suicide in 1976, Van Ronk joined the many performers who played at his memorial concert in the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden, playing his bluesy version of the traditional folk ballad "He Was A Friend Of Mine". Although Van Ronk was less politically active in later years, he remained committed to anarchist and socialist ideals and was a dues-paying member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) almost until his death.
Van Ronk was among 13 people arrested at the Stonewall Inn June 28, 1969—the night of the Stonewall Riots, which is widely credited as the start of the gay rights movement. Van Ronk had been dining at a neighboring restaurant, joined the riot against the Stonewall's police occupation, and was dragged from the crowd into the building by police deputy inspector Seymour Pine.The police slapped and punched Van Ronk to the point of near unconsciousness, handcuffed him to a radiator near the doorway, and decided to charge him for assault. Recalling the expanding riot, Van Ronk said, "There were more people out there [outside the building] when I came out than when I went in. Things were still flying through the air, cacophony—I mean, just screaming and yelling, sirens, strobe lights, the whole spaghetti." The next day, he was arrested and later released on his own recognizance for having thrown a heavy object at a police officer. City records show he was charged with felony assault in the second degree and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of harassment, classified in 1969 as a violation under pL 240.25.
In 2000, he performed at Blind Willie's in Atlanta, clothed in garish Hawaiian garb, speaking fondly of his impending return to Greenwich Village. He reminisced over tunes like "You've Been a Good Old Wagon," a song teasing a worn-out lover, which he ruefully remarked had seemed humorous to him back in 1962. He was married to Terri Thal in the 1960s, [ citation needed ]lived for many years with Joanne Grace, then married Andrea Vuocolo, with whom he spent the rest of his life. He continued to perform for four decades and gave his last concert just a few months before his death. He found it amusing to be called "a legend in his own time".
Van Ronk died before completing work on his memoirs, which were finished by his collaborator, Elijah Wald, and published in 2005 as The Mayor Of MacDougal Street.[ citation needed ]
In 2004, a section of Sheridan Square, where Barrow Street meets Washington Place, was renamed Dave Van Ronk Street in his memory.Van Ronk was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously by the World Folk Music Association in 2004.
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Van Ronk has been described as an irreverent and incomparable guitar artist and interpreter of black blues and folk, with an uncannily precise gift for impersonation. Joni Mitchell often said that his rendition of her song "Both Sides Now" (which he called "Clouds") was the finest ever.
He is perhaps underestimated as a musician and blues guitarist. His guitar work, for which he credits Tom Paley as fingerpicking teacher, is noteworthy for both syncopation and precision. It shows similarities to Mississippi John Hurt's, but Van Ronk's main influence was the Reverend Gary Davis, who conceived the guitar as "a piano around his neck". Van Ronk took this pianistic approach and added a harmonic sophistication adapted from the band voicings of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. He ranks high in bringing blues style to Greenwich Village during the 1960s, as well as introducing the folk world to the complex harmonies of Kurt Weill in his many Brecht-Weill interpretations, and was one of a very few hardcore traditional revivalists to move with the times, bringing old blues and ballads together with the new sounds of Dylan, Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. During this crucial period, he performed with Dylan and similar artists and spent many years teaching guitar in Greenwich Village, including to Christine Lavin, David Massengill, Terre Roche and Suzzy Roche. He influenced his protégé Danny Kalb and the Blues Project. The Japanese singer Masato Tomobe, American pop-folk singer Geoff Thais and the musician and writer Elijah Wald learned from him as well. He once said, "Painting is all about space, and music is all about time." In his autobiography, Dylan writes, "I'd heard Van Ronk back in the Midwest on records and thought he was pretty great, copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase. [...] Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved his style. He was what the city was all about. In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme."
Thanks to what he had learned from Davis, Van Ronk was among the first to adapt traditional jazz and ragtime to the solo acoustic guitar. His guitar arrangements of such ragtime hits as "St. Louis Tickle", "The Entertainer", "The Pearls" and "Maple Leaf Rag" continue to frustrate and challenge aspiring guitar players. He also wrote compositions of his own in the classic styles, such as "Antelope Rag".[ citation needed ] His song "Last Call" is the source of the title of Lawrence Block's book When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.[ citation needed ]
The Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis follows a folk singer similar to Van Ronk, and incorporates anecdotes based on Van Ronk's life.
Van Ronk was mentioned among the dead musicians and recording artists in the song "Mirror Door" by the Who in 2006 on the album Endless Wire (The Who album).
Van Ronk refused for many years to fly and never learned to drive (he took trains or buses or, when possible, recruited a girlfriend or young musician as his driver), and he declined to ever move from Greenwich Village for any extended period of time (having stayed in California for a short time in the 1960s).Van Ronk's trademark stoneware jug of Tullamore Dew was frequently seen on stage next to him in his early days.
Critic Robert Shelton described Van Ronk as "the musical mayor of MacDougal Street":
[A] tall, garrulous hairy man of three quarters, or, more accurately, three fifths Irish descent. Topped by light brownish hair and a leonine beard, which he smoothed down several times a minute, he resembled an unmade bed strewn with books, record jackets, pipes, empty whiskey bottles, lines from obscure poets, finger picks, and broken guitar strings. He was [Dylan]'s first New York guru. Van Ronk was a walking museum of the blues. Through an early interest in jazz, he had gravitated toward black music—its jazz pole, its jug-band and ragtime center, its blues bedrock... his manner was rough and testy, disguising a warm, sensitive core. Van Ronk retold the blues intimately... for a time, his most dedicated follower was Dylan.
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Van Ronk was author of a posthumous memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street (2005) written with Elijah Wald.Anecdotes from the book were used as a source for the film Inside Llewyn Davis .
Van Ronk and Richard Ellington collected and edited The Bosses' Songbook:  Songs to Stifle the Flames of Discontent, Second Edition – A Collection of Modern Political Songs and Satire (Richard Ellington, publisher: New York, 1959). This originally 50¢ staple-bound paperback of lyrics in 1959 carried an asking price of $265 on AbeBooks.com (accessed February 6, 2015); the booklet is downloadable as two files.
Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis, was a blues and gospel singer who was also proficient on the banjo, guitar and harmonica. His fingerpicking guitar style influenced many other artists. His students include Stefan Grossman, David Bromberg, Steve Katz, Roy Book Binder, Larry Johnson, Nick Katzman, Dave Van Ronk, Rory Block, Ernie Hawkins, Larry Campbell, Bob Weir, Woody Mann, and Tom Winslow. He influenced Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Wizz Jones, Jorma Kaukonen, Keb' Mo', Ollabelle, Resurrection Band, and John Sebastian.
Jesse Fuller was an American one-man band musician, best known for his song "San Francisco Bay Blues".
Paul Clayton was an American folksinger and folklorist who was prominent in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Gaslight Cafe was a coffeehouse in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. Also known as The Village Gaslight, it opened in 1958 and became notable as a venue for folk music and other musical acts. It closed in 1971.
"Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" is a traditional folk song popularised in the late 1950s by blues guitarist Eric Von Schmidt. The song is best known from its appearance on Bob Dylan's debut album Bob Dylan.
Luke Faust is an American musician. In the early 1960s he played a five-string banjo and sang Appalachian ballads, at The Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, New York City. For five or six years Faust performed with Jerry Rasmussen. One of his fellow entertainers at the Gaslight was Bob Dylan who described Faust as "Someone closer in temperament to me."
MacDougal Street is a one-way street in the Greenwich Village and SoHo neighborhoods of Manhattan, New York City. The street is bounded on the south by Prince Street and on the north by West 8th Street; its numbering begins in the south. Between Waverly Place and West 3rd Street it carries the name Washington Square West and the numbering scheme changes, running north to south, beginning with #29 Washington Square West at Waverly Place and ending at #37 at West 3rd Street. Traffic on the street runs southbound (downtown).
"Dink's Song" is an American folk song played by many folk revival musicians such as Pete Seeger, Fred Neil, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Cisco Houston as well as more recent musicians like Jeff Buckley. The song tells the story of a woman deserted by her lover when she needs him the most.
Dave Van Ronk and the Ragtime Jug Stompers is an album featuring Dave Van Ronk playing with a jug band.
Just Dave Van Ronk is a 1964 album by folk/blues singer Dave Van Ronk. It has not been released on CD.
Two Sides of Dave Van Ronk is a compilation album by American folksinger Dave Van Ronk, released in 2002. It includes the complete 1963 LP, In the Tradition and all of 1982’s Your Basic Dave Van Ronk except for "In the Midnight Hour" and "Stagolee".
Van Ronk Sings is an album by American folksinger Dave Van Ronk, released in July 1961.
Dave Van Ronk Sings Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual is an album by American folksinger Dave Van Ronk, released in May 1959 on Folkways Records.
Somebody Else, Not Me is a 1980 album by American folk and blues singer Dave Van Ronk.
The Mayor of MacDougal Street: Rarities 1957-1969 is a compilation album by American folksinger Dave Van Ronk, released in 2005.
"The House of the Rising Sun" is a traditional folk song, sometimes called "Rising Sun Blues". It tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans; many versions also urge a sibling or parents and children to avoid the same fate. The most successful commercial version, recorded in 1964 by British rock group The Animals, was a number one hit on the UK Singles Chart and also in the United States and France. As a traditional folk song recorded by an electric rock band, it has been described as the "first folk rock hit".
Elijah Wald is an American folk blues guitarist and music historian. He is a 2002 Grammy Award winner for his liner notes to The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box: The Journey of Chris Strachwitz.
Moses Asch, often known as Moe Asch, was a Polish-American recording engineer and record executive. He founded Asch Records, which then changed its name to Folkways Records when the label transitioned from 78 RPM recordings to LP records. Asch ran the Folkways label from 1948 until his death in 1986. Folkways was very influential in bringing folk music into the American cultural mainstream. Some of America's greatest folk songs were originally recorded for Asch, including "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie and "Goodnight Irene" by Lead Belly. Asch sold many commercial recordings to Verve Records; after his death, Asch's archive of ethnic recordings was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution, and released as Smithsonian Folkways Records.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a 2013 French-American black comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, and edited by Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in 1961, the film follows one week in the life of Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac in his breakthrough role, a folk singer struggling to achieve musical success while keeping his life in order. The supporting cast stars Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.
Llewyn Davis is a fictional character, the main protagonist and anti-hero from the film Inside Llewyn Davis. He is a young, struggling folk singer trying to become more famous and financially successful after the flop of his debut album, Inside Llewyn Davis.