The New Lost City Ramblers (John Cohen, Mike Seeger & Tom Paley) formed as a band in 1958, and this year marks their 50th anniversary. In fact, this interview, recorded on September 13th, 2008, was 50 years to the day after their first concert, held on September 13th, 1958 at a chapter hall of Carnegie Hall. On today’s show I speak with John Cohen and Tom Paley about their memories of the birth of the band, how it happened, how they met, began playing together, chose the name, got their sound, made recordings and started touring. John and Tom don’t remember it quite the same way, but some where in there lies the truth!
Tom left the band in 1962 and moved to Europe where he still lives. But he and John were both in New York where they played together at the “11th Annual Park Slope Bluegrass & Old-Time Jamboree” at the Society for Ethical Culture. I was able to catch up with them there and we sat in the basement and talked.
The New Lost City Ramblers have been a tremendously influential band in the folk revival of the last 50 years as well as in the parallel revival of interest in old-time string band music. Their enthusiasm for and devotion to the old-time sound changed the debate in the folk music world of the 1950’s and 60’s and made musicians and listeners take a much deeper and nuanced listen to the rural sounds they were hearing on records. The NLCR made urban, non-traditionally schooled musicians approaching the material, aware of not the just songs, but the style and challenged them to grapple with that issue. This is still a serious question and one that is very relevant today.
(Read the rest of my essay below, plus track information for the today’s show)