Here’s an interview with John Cohen and myself for the No Depression roots music magazine about our recent album “Old Man Below” by the Dust Busters out on the Smithsonian Folkways label. The interview was done by Chris Mateer who has the excellent Uprooted Music Revue blog site: http://www.uprootedmusicrevue.com.
The Dust Busters and John Cohen (of The New Lost City Ramblers) recently released their new album, Old Man Below, on the legendary Smithsonian Folkwayslabel. I am thrilled to present this interview with John Cohen and Eli Smith (of The Dust Busters) regarding their friendship, admiration for old time music, and musical collaboration together.
Eli, before we dig into The Dust Busters’ work with John Cohen, I’d like to ask you if you can you discuss your own personal musical history with the work of The New Lost City Ramblers and John Cohen?
Eli Smith: I’ve been very appreciative of the New Lost City Ramblers and John Cohen’s work in particular as a musician, field recordist, photographer and film maker for years.
I first became acquainted with the New Lost City Ramblers’ and John Cohen’s work when I was first starting out as a musician and fan of folk, blues and old time music back in high school in the late 1990′s. I loved the sound of the New Lost City Ramblers, thought and still think they are an incredible band and I also greatly appreciated the information about their sources for their music.
The Ramblers led me back to the original recorded sources of the music and those recordings have in turn become the core of my favorite music. I also greatly appreciate the field work that each of the Ramblers, of most particular note: John Cohen’s work in recording and making known Roscoe Holcomb, Wade Ward, Frank Proffitt and so many others.
Can you discuss what drew you to this genre of music initially and what keeps it fresh to you?
John: I first got involved with old time music in 1948 when I first heard re-issues of 1920s string band recordings. It was music that excited me, and music I could perform, or learn to play it. It still excites me today, and the challenges I felt in 1948 are still with me.
There is a quality of music contained in the old stuff that is lost in today’s music scene (it has been lost throughout the Folksong movement and revival.) It’s lost quality is what fed the New Lost City Ramblers for 50 years, and continues to feed me today.
Eli: I liked music since I was a kid and I started playing guitar when I was quite young. However, it was not until my high school era when I heard old time music and authentic American folk music that I really cared about music specifically. I had heard music on the radio and television, my parent’s listened to some music around the house, but I didn’t care about any of it too much. I thought it was my fault that I couldn’t like any of that plastic garbage you hear everywhere.
Music is very close to the human soul, and when I heard old folk music that really spoke to me it hit me real hard. The music gave me a clarity in my mind that I required, and it was a lot of fun! And if you listened to the words you could learn a lot about some gritty subjects, about getting through life, and one can connect with people and history that you don’t hear about or get to feel anywhere else.
You met and toured together before the release of Old Man Below. I’d like to dig into your back story including how you met, hit it off, and what led up to your collaboration.