My Musical Roots: The Folkie Never Dies

Greenwich Village c. 1960.
When I was about 10 I discovered I absolutely loved folk music, and the song that triggered that was Walk Right I by the Rooftop Singers. Suddenly, I was consumed with an overwhelming desire to learn guitar, and watching Hootenanny on TV became a weekly tradition in our home. Born into a family of professional musicians, my obsession was of course indulged.

My 14 year-old foster sister, Ginger, had a friend who visited her from Texarkana for a weekend. Her name was Millie. She'd brought her guitar with her, and she let me play around with it, teaching me the song, Abilene. She also taught me Green Green by The New Christy Minstrels and my life was forever changed.

Me, back in the day.
A friend at church had a Kay guitar from Sears that he never played, so I asked if I could borrow it. My father bought me some picks and a chord chart, and I taught myself to play along with my brother's Ricky Nelson albums, as well as my own by Joe & Eddie, Odetta and Leadbelly. This was before the Beatles, and I started to write my own songs, immature as they were, coming from a pre-adolescent. I wrote songs about summertime fields, rain on windshields, and the green rolling hills of the Santa Ynez valley, where I lived. Having bought a book on the subject from our local lirbrary's book sale, I also tiptoed through British folk ballads from the 16th through the 19th centuries. I had no idea what the melodies were, so I invented my own.

"Hey, nonny-nonny, down by the greenwood-o..."

And all that.

On my 12th birthday my father walked in the house carrying a large triangle-shaped cardboard box, and I immediately knew what it was. It was a guitar! It cost him only $14, but it was a treasure to me. I never put that guitar down, except to go to school, or take a shower. I slept with it, I took it to the dinner table, I took it to the bathroom with me and I took it in the car whenever we went anywhere. I played until my fingers bled, and my grandmother taught me to soak them in vinegar to toughen up the callouses that were developing.

Later, in 1964 or '65, after I'd encountered the Beatles and gravitated toward British rock, I came upon Donovan and Dylan and the other folk artists of that time, and my love for the genre was rekindled. I began researching the folk movement of the 1950s and '60s and was dismayed to discover that I'd completely missed the Greenwich Village folk scene. I can't tell you what that felt like. I felt out of step and out of rhyme. I was too young, born too soon. While Dylan sang for his supper at Cafe Wha?, I was only in the 5th grade. While Donovan kicked around the British Isles with Gypsy Dave, I was only 12. Now, here I was surrounded by friends who screamed at pop idols while I longed for smoke-filled coffeehouses and cold water flats full of other songwriters who sang about global change and literature.

I didn't fit.

Performing at one concert or another.
When I met Deni everything changed again. I'd met a fellow folkie who helped me to nurture that side of my creativity. We went to concerts together that featured the original folk artists in our area. We went to a Donovan concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. We spent hours playing songs for each other. And my songs changed. Now I wrote about art museums and wooden stiles by the windswept Highway 1 that curved and climbed along the northern California coastline.

I guess I'm feeling nostalgic this week. I wish I could have been part of The Village folk scene. I miss that being part of my personal history, but I have memories of other experiences on the west coast, and I'm grateful for that.

There is no end to this story. I'm working on some song ideas in my head, and writing them down. Folk music is something I could still perform publicly, and I just might decide to do so. After all, folk artists aren't required to stay young and sexy.