On today’s show I speak with musician, photographer, filmmaker and folk-musicologist John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. At the time of this interview, conducted in the summer of 2008, John had just come out with a new CD of old recordings called “Berkeley in the 1960’s” on the Field Recorders Collective label. This is a great record label, definitely check them out.
On the show we discuss this excellent new album, but also range over topics including his earliest field work in Kentucky and Peru, his influences as a guitarist, favorite photographers and his advice/anti-advice to students, stemming from his experience as a professor of art. John also demonstrates Hobart Smith’s piano style, which I’ve never heard anyone else tackle before and offers his reflections on his friend Roscoe Holcomb. Recordings John mentions are played throughout.
Apparently whenever the New Lost City Ramblers would go to Berkeley, CA through out the 1960’s, they would have a big jam at a house on Colby Street. John was so impressed by this gathering of musicians at that place and time that in 1970 with the help of Vanguard Records he flew to California to record this sound. They used the left over tape from the Grateful Dead’s Working Man’s Dead sessions at Pacific High studios and recorded some great stuff, but one thing and another it didn’t come out, until now! Musicians on the record are Jody Stecher, Larry Hanks, Sue Draheim, Holly Tannen, Hank Bradley, Sue Thompson, Eric Thompson, Kenny Hall and Bob Potts, Mac Benford and Walt Koken who would later form the Highwoods Stringband.
I’ve been trying to bring this interview out for over a year! Many thanks to Carly Nix for volunteering to edit this interview for airplay, otherwise it might have never got done. Thank you!
Sadly, I would also like to note the recent passing of Field Recorder’s Collective founder Ray Alden. He was a great guy who did really important work. I him met on a couple of occasions, but only briefly and without time to really talk or do an interview. Now its too late, but I hope to do a piece about him as soon as possible.