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“Spider” John Koerner

+ {Koerner, Ray & Glover} + {“Spider” John Koerner & Willie Murphy}

Although closely associated with the country-blues revival movement of the 60s (and even more so nowadays), John has also been at the core of folk music since his introduction to the genre in 1958.
Born August 31, 1938, in Rochester, New York, KOERNER jumped from college undergraduate to a brief stint in the Marine Corps before he finally set his sights on becoming a beatnik folksinger around the campuses and coffeehouse of various universities; Dinkytown in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was one such haunt, and that’s where he met DYLAN, who was still Bob Zimmerman at the time.
Back in New York City around spring ‘62, KOERNER found new musician buddies, guitarist Dave Ray and harmonica-player Tony Glover, all three adopting extra “blues” monikers such as “Spider” (named so due to his gangly legs and arms), “Little Sun” and “Snaker” respectively. An album was released in 1963, BLUES, RAGS & HOLLERS {*8} initially issued on the small independent Audiophile label, it was bought up by Elektra soon afterwards (missing a few cuts). A mixture of their own individual songs, KOERNER on the majority, the LP was strewn with readings of blues and trad-folk dirges from the likes of LEADBELLY (`Linin’ Track’, `Hangman’, `Go Down Ol’ Hannah’ and `Mumblin’ Word’), MUDDY WATERS (`Down To Louisiana’), ELMORE JAMES (`Dust My Broom’), BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON (`One Kind Favor’), SLEEPY JOHN ESTES (`Stop That Thing’), et al.
Repeating the formula somewhat, Elektra Records delivered a second instalment, LOTS MORE BLUES, RAGS AND HOLLERS (1964) {*7}, but this time the sources came via LEADBELLY (on `Black Betty’, `Keep Your Hands Off Her’, `Red Cross Store’ and `Fannin Street’), MUDDY WATERS, again (`Honey Bee’) and Memphis Minnie (`What’s The Matter With The Mill?’); most songs incidentally performed at that year’s Newport Festival gig.
The trio recorded and released one more LP together, THE RETURN OF KOERNER, RAY & GLOVER (1965) {*7}, another mainly LEADBELLY-inspired set (`Titanic’, `Looky Looky Yonder’, `Poor Howard’, `Packin’ Truck’ and `John Hardy’, all sourced from the great man), while stick-out tracks came through Spider’s `The Boys Was Shootin’ It Out Last Night’, `Goin’ To The Country’ and BLIND WILLIE McTELL’s `Statesboro Blues’.
With the lads always doing their own thing (even on stage they would play solo, duo or trio in any permutation necessary), KOERNER had already issued his own solo effort, ”SPIDER” BLUES (1965) {*6}, although Glover was still behind the harmonica parts.
For John’s next long-player, RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL (1967) {*7}, he collaborated with local electric ragtime-blues pianist, Willie Murphy, a bearded mountain-man type, who helped create the good-time Western appeal on tracks like the 8-minute `Old Brown Dog’, `Sometimes I Can’t Help Myself’ and an ode to photo-lust, `Magazine Lady’.
Over the course of the following several years, Spider kept a relatively low profile, only two LPs finding the public: MUSIC IS JUST A BUNCH OF NOTES (1972) {*5} – alongside Willie And The Bumblebees (aka Murphy) and Tom Olson, and the solo, JOHN KOERNER-credited SOME AMERICAN FOLK SONGS LIKE THEY USED TO (1974) {*5}.
More than a decade out of the limelight, the man rebounded back with NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE BEEN (1986) {*7}, while other solo sets have followed: RAISED BY HUMANS (1992) {*6}, STARGEEZER (1996) {*5} – all featuring Murphy, while there was a reunification for KOERNER, RAY & GLOVER via the live ONE FOOT IN THE GROOVE (1996) {*4}, the latter strictly for blues buffs. John still performs regularly on the Minnesota circuit and has lined up gigs for 2010.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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