The music scene of Greenwich Village, in the ’60s, wasn’t just about folk. And Richard Barone’s new album, Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, reflects that, with songs written by Buddy Holly (“Learning the Game”) and Lou Reed (“Sunday Morning”), in addition to material from the Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Phil Ochs and Eric Andersen catalogs.
And even if the songs started acoustically, many pop and rock bands of the time covered them, anyway.
“I was looking at the Tim Hardin song, called ‘Don’t Make Promises’ and there were like 40 different cover versions, by people like Marianne Faithfull, and I believe Three Dog Night did it, and the Union Gap,” said Barone. “That’s how the album got the title, by the way: ‘Don’t Make Promises’ by Tim Hardin and ‘Pack Up Your Sorrows’ by Richard Fariña.”
Barone, who recorded the album with a series of guests, including some artists whose songs he was recording (John Sebastian, Dion), will perform at a record release celebration at Joe’s Pub in New York, Nov. 15; joining him at the show will be album contributors such as The Kennedys and David Amram. He’ll also perform at and be the music director for a David Bowie tribute concert at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair on Dec. 16.
Barone was an important member of the Hoboken music scene of the ’80s, with The Bongos, but has lived in Greenwich Village for many years.
In the process, he says, “I realized that all those people who instigated the singer-songwriter movement worked right on these blocks, right around where I live. That left a big impression on me: just knowing that John Sebastian lived here, and the Mamas and the Papas were down the block. Everybody was right in the neighborhood. Bob Dylan, etc. That always left an impression on me: This is where this started, this movement of people writing their own music.
“And then, as you get into it, the pop songs we do … they’re kind of based on the singer-songwriter structure and movement. The idea that we write our own songs: That’s like a real basic thing for bands, ever since the early ’60s. Before that, you’d go to a professional songwriter to get a song, or you’d take it from a Broadway show, or a movie. Then suddenly, these kids — and they were kids, they were 18 to 22 or 23 — were starting a concept where everybody wrote their own songs, and you’d go see an act to see what they had to say.”
He mentions one of the most well known Bongos songs, the catchy but mysterious “The Bulrushes.” “Would we even think to write something like that if these guys and girls weren’t there earlier, laying down some really personal expressions, and making records out of it?” he asked. “They laid a template, that you can be yourself, and say what you want. That was a new idea.”
Another thing that helped spur the project was working with Pete Seeger, in the last years of Seeger’s life.
“He introduced me to so many of the folk musicians that I worked with and performed with, onstage with Pete,” says Barone. “And during that time I really got to appreciate some of those folk songs more than ever. Even though I always liked them: They were always kind of around me, in some way, either in the Village, or just because, at home (as a youth), my brother and sister were listening to folk records while I was listening to more rock stuff. It always kind of seeped in.”
You can’t do an album about Greenwich Village in the ’60s without singing a Dylan tune, but Barone made something of a left-field choice with “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” which Dylan didn’t even release himself in that decade.
“I wanted to pick one that was not too famous,” Barone says. “Of course, we love him, and in every way, he is like a symbol for the singer-songwriters, everywhere. But we didn’t want to focus too much on him.
“So I looked for a song that I had a personal connection to, and I always loved Nico’s version of that, from Chelsea Girl. So I thought, let me do that one. It’s Dylan, but it’s also Dylan that was interpreted by others, and maybe I could have a shot at that one. And we had Dave Amram play piano on that. He played with Dylan, and with a lot of these artists. I think he’s 85 this year, and is a fantastic musician and composer himself. He gave it the flavor that I think maybe Dylan would have liked.”
Whenever possible, Barone got input from people who experienced the Greenwich Village music scene of the ’60s first-hand.
“Everybody had suggestions. John Sebastian, especially, guided me with the vocal performance on his song (‘Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?’). Besides playing harmonica and autoharp, he was guiding me to get the flavor of the way that they would sing their harmonies on Lovin’ Spoonful records.
“That was really a great learning experience. Unbelievable, really. Because when I was a kid, these were the songs that were everywhere. And they still are everywhere, really. They’re in the air. Not all of them are as famous as Lovin’ Spoonful songs, but they’re kind of in our culture, somehow, because they laid a groundwork for later pop.”
Barone will perform at a CD Release Celebration at Joe’s Pub in New York, also featuring David Amram, Lenny Kaye, The Kennedys, Steve Addabbo, Cheryl Prashker and Terre Roche, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.; visit joespub.com.
He will also perform and serve as music director for “Sound + Vision: The Music of David Bowie,” taking place at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair at 8 p.m. Dec. 16 and also featuring Jeffrey Gaines, Elvis Perkins, Wesley Stace and the Burnt Sugar Arkestra. Visit outpostintheburbs.org.
For information on the album, visit RichardBarone.com. here is its track listing:
“Learning the Game” (written by Buddy Holly)
“The Road I’m On (Gloria),” featuring Dion (Dion)
“Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?,” featuring John Sebastian (Sebastian)
“The Other Side to This Life” (Fred Neil)
“Sweet Misery” (Janis Ian)
“Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” featuring Allison Moorer (Eric Andersen)
“Pack Up Your Sorrows,” featuring Nellie McKay (Richard Fariña)
“Don’t Make Promises,” featuring David Amram (Tim Hardin)
“I’ll Keep It With Mine” (Bob Dylan)
“Sunday Morning,” featuring Jenni Muldaur (Lou Reed and John Cale)
“When I’m Gone” (Phil Ochs)
“Bleecker Street,” featuring The Kennedys (Paul Simon)
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