Rompin’ With Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk, a quintessential 1960s Greenwich Village folksinger, never became a superstar. But he was always a part of the folk-rock fabric, and the superstars listened to him. Bob Dylan swiped his interpretation of the traditional “House of the Rising Sun” from Van Ronk, and later the Allman Brothers picked up Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” from one of his records. The gravelly-voiced strummer/shouter died in 2002. I was lucky enough to hear him perform once, at a beatnik poetry tribute at St. Marks Church, in the late 1990s.

I’ve just heard some great news: the Coen Brothers’ new movie Inside Llewyn Davis is loosely based on Van Ronk’s posthumously published memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street. If the Coen Brothers handle the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene as beautifully as they handled the 1930 Delta blues scene in O Brother Where Art Thou, then we’re all in for something very special. Here’s an early glance at the movie’s trailer.

It’s hard to pick a representative Dave Van Ronk song — he was too eclectic to be easily represented — but one of my favorite tracks is “Rompin’ Thru the Swamp”, from the album Dave Van Ronk’s Hudson Dusters, here:

6 Responses

  1. Thanks for the info! Ah
    Thanks for the info! Ah sweet memories of Dave Van Ronk’s music, introduced to me by an old friend…in fact, sweet memories of my old friend… t’anks!

  2. I saw Van Ronk numerous times
    I saw Van Ronk numerous times at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Other than the usual blues and other stuff, he did an excellent version of “Mack the Knife”. Closer to the Weill original than Bobby Darin

  3. Another good Van Ronk record
    Another good Van Ronk record is the Ragtime Jug Stompers. Sam Charters played something on that record – washtub bass maybe? If I remember Danny Kalb is also on it.

    Ah, the sixties blues and folk revival. For every Chad Mitchell trio there was a Dave Van Ronk or Koerner Ray and Glover, not to mention Dylan and Phil Ochs.

    And then there’s Ramblin Jack Elliot. They don’t call him Ramblin cause he travels a lot. How old is he now – 100? I’ve seen him do one song and 500 stories.

    Elektra, Folkways, Vanguard, Verve..

    Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band – who were the first organic band.

    The list goes on and on.

    This movie looks like it may catch the vibe.

  4. Right on all counts…
    Right on all counts – Both factually and opinion-wise. Dave Van Ronk & the Ragtime Jump Stompers is a terribly under-rated and over-looked piece.

    Charters did play jug, washtub bass and sang backing vocals in the Ragtime Jug Stompers. Kalb was the guitarist and the two of them went on to record for Folkways as:

    1. The New Strangers (duo)
    2. The True Endeavor Jug Band (group)

    Even though Sam Charters is a musicologist, historian and writer above all else, he’s unique in that he recorded with, conceived and/or led those 3 aforementioned groups + the Orange Blossom Jug Band’s “Skiffle in Stereo” in ’59 (w/his long time wife, Ann and Van Ronk).

    Though it may not be “authorized” you can also hear Charters perform on a recently released 1940s home recording in California, on the Merry Maker’s CD “Sam Charters’ Washboard Jazz Band: New Orleans Jazz”.

    He also ran the stateside incarnation of the Gazell record label out of his home in CT for about a decade starting in 1986.

  5. Wow – good information, John.
    Wow – good information, John.

    I always thought a good jug band would be Jean-Paul Sartre and The Being and Nothingness Jug Band. Sartre, vocals and guitar, Albert Camus, jug and washboard, Simone de Beauvoir on fiddle and mandolin.

    The true rift between Sartre and Camus caused by “artistic differences”: Sartre and Camus divided over whether to give more weight to tunes by the Memphis Jug Band (Sartre) or Cannon’s Jug Stompers (Camus). De Beauvoir, a Memphis Minnie partisan, tried to mediate, but to no avail.

    The group recorded one album – Existential Rags and Reels.

  6. Right on , John , good info indeed! When you say Sam was a musician, historian, and writer, I would agree.. but above and beyond all that, I would add to those three fields in which Sam gave so much, that he was one of the greatest record producers in folk and blues history– if not THE greatest. Also one of the greatest “talent finders” and “re-discoverers .” Check this site out for more and much more information on Sam Charters 🙂

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