Richard Barone’s “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s” show, which he will present at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair on March 29, will include a performer who played a big part in that scene: Eric Andersen, who grew up in the Buffalo area but was living in Greenwich Village — playing in clubs, releasing albums, and hanging out with Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and others — by the mid-’60s. Andersen also wrote one of the songs, “Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” that was featured on Barone’s 2016 album, Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s; it was sung, on that album, as a duet by Barone and Allison Moorer.
Andersen’s recent projects include a series of albums paying trying to great writers (Shadow and Light of Albert Camus, Mingle With the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron, Silent Angel: The Fire and Ashes of Heinrich Böll); and a film about his life and career, “Songpoet.” His upcoming tour, launching April 4, will include shows in Tuckerton and New York, and feature violinist Scarlet Rivera, best known for playing on Bob Dylan’s 1976 Desire album and his 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
I talked to him by phone from New York on Monday.
Q: These “Music + Revolution” shows, and the album Richard did (2016’s Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s), are kind of based on the idea of Greenwich Village having all kinds of stuff going on — pop and rock and folk — and not just folk. You’re usually viewed as being part of the folk scene. But did you have a sense of all this other stuff going on, too? Were the scenes really discrete, or one big scene?
A: Well, it’s one end of one river, and the beginning of another. Like, the river that has all the … (long pause)
Sorry, I might be a little slow. I just flew in from Amsterdam, and we did a celebration for (poet) Lawrence Ferlinghetti, with Laurie Anderson, and Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group. … When I got off the plane, I just grabbed my hat and guitar and ran down to The Village, to First Street. We did this thing, it was full of people, and it was just beautiful, just for him.
But the reason I mention that is because, you know, The Village, also … there were things in place in The Village. For example, the Beat Generation had been there. People like (Jack) Kerouac and (Allen) Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, they were from New York, that area. So that was happening there. And they had a coffee shop scene there, because they weren’t able to have liquor licenses. So they had these little coffee shops. It was an Italian neighborhood. It was like North Beach in San Francisco. That was Italian, too: Grant Avenue, and Columbus Avenue. That was where the Beats were, out there.
So it was these little pockets of Italian neighborhoods, and besides that, NYU is there. And you had these coffee shops where they couldn’t pay people, because of the cabaret laws. So they couldn’t really hire jazz people, or rock ‘n’ roll bands or anything, because they couldn’t pay them, because they didn’t have liquor licenses. So they’d have places where a poet could come in and read, or a comedian could come in and do something, or somebody could walk in with a guitar and play, and they could pass the hat around, and you’d make a few bucks.
There were some jazz places: The Village Gate, and The Village Vanguard, and places uptown like The Half Note. People who ran afoul of these rules, like Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday, who got busted for drugs, they were banned from playing. So it was a very draconian, strict situation taking place in New York City. And also the unions were really strong. Most of the people who played music in the singer-songwriter scene, they couldn’t read music. They were supposed to get union cards, or stuff like this. The first rule is you’ve gotta read music. Well, we couldn’t. But they still wanted to get their money, so they got us in the union, anyway. It was a crazy time.
And then there were these singers, people like Woody Guthrie, folksinger types, who came into New York. And Lead Belly. So there was this sort of cauldron — something cookin’ on the stove — of these forces. And there were these political forces going on, too: The Civil Rights Movement, Ban the Bomb and all these things were happening. So it was ready to explode.
So these songwriters started popping in and writing about these things that were happening: Peter La Farge, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton from Oklahoma, Phil Ochs from Ohio. I came from Buffalo, after being in San Francisco. Fred Neil, who wrote “The Dolphins.” There were, like, a handful of writers, writing about what was going on. The feelings were in the air.
So people like Richard Barone, when they looked at this, they said, “Man, this is Mount Olympus.” So he did an album of this music, or some of it. A few crumbs of all this cake.
Q: And he also drew in, to that album, writers like Lou Reed and Buddy Holly.
A: That’s true, too. Lou Reed was my best friend in New York. He died in 2013. He was working on the East Side (in the ’60s). Warhol’s Factory was up on the East Side. So it’s like we were in the same town, at the same time, but we never met, back then.
Q: And then you had some people who had some pop success, like The Lovin’ Spoonful.
A: That’s true. And some of the Mamas and Papas were around then. Roger McGuinn, (David) Crosby had been around. So you’re right, there was that thing happening, too, and it was simultaneous. And there weren’t that many people in the scene.
Q: Have you done any of these “Music + Revolution” shows with Barone, or seen them?
A: No. I know him. He came to one of my shows at the Museum of the City of New York, and I’ve met him a few times. He seems like a very nice chap. Our connection is through (guitarist) Steve Addabbo, who produced my album Ghosts Upon the Road (1989), and he’s in my band, and he’s playing this show, too.
Q: The Kennedys are also on the show. I imagine you’ve probably crossed paths with them, at some point.
A: Yeah, I worked with (Pete Kennedy) a lot. I did two albums of songs from The Village: The Street Was Always There (2004) and Waves (2005), which was about how the singer-songwriter movement waved and radiated out. I did those albums for Appleseed (Recordings), and he was the guitar player. So I kind of did what Barone did: I had a Sebastian song, and a Lou Reed song.
Q: I know Scarlet Rivera is doing your upcoming tour. How far do you go back with her?
A: I met her once, a long time ago, in the ’80s, I think. And she came to a show of mine in L.A., and we just started talking. We’ve been playing together for a few years, now, and we’re going to do a tour of Australia and maybe Italy, next year, or maybe later this year.
Q: Is it possible to sum up what she adds to your music?
A: She’s a deeply orchestral player, and has a very rich, deep tone. She’s very savvy to jazz and Latin music. Before she was found for the Rolling Thunder Revue, she was playing in jazz and Latin bands. And she’s classically trained. And she’s very improvisational. She’s just a great player.
Q: What’s the status of the “Songpoet” documentary?
A: They’re saying (it will be shown) around the festivals, and hopefully it’s out this year.
Q: To what extent does the film represent your view of yourself, or to what extent is it the director’s (Paul Lamont’s) view?
A: It’s their movie, and I’m the vehicle that they’re kind of riding the movie through. It’s about my time … you know, I did a Warhol movie (“Space,” in 1965). They threw that in. Stuff about the writing. Stuff about living in The Village.
I’m the horse, and they’re just driving me around the canyons and the arroyos and the plains of their vision.
Andersen will perform at Richard Barone’s “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s” show at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, March 29 at 8 p.m. Other performers will include The Kennedys, Glenn Mercer, Jeffrey Gaines, Tammy Faye Starlite and Steve Addabbo, and Mary Lee Kortes will open. Visit outpostintheburbs.org.
Andersen will also perform at the Loft at City Winery in New York, April 4 at 8 p.m. (visit citywinery.com/theloft), and the Lizzie Rose Music Room in Tuckerton, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. (visit lizzierosemusic.com).
For more about Andersen, visit ericandersen.com.
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