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David Blue

At a time when the Greenwich Village scene was hip and cool in the mid-60s, so was folk singer-songwriter DAVID BLUE, whose inner circle of friends included BOB DYLAN, PHIL OCHS, JONI MITCHELL, ERIC ANDERSEN, DAVE VAN RONK, TOM PAXTON, et al – it was more than a pity that this notoriety didn’t quite transpire into record sales.
Born Stuart David Cohen, February 18, 1941, Pawtucket, Providence, Rhode Island, the son of a disabled Jewish ex-WWII veteran father and Irish mother of French-Canadian ancestry, early memories of his life were as a sad, overweight teenager living with his dysfunctional family; his older half-sister, Suzanne, became a prostitute and died in a car accident in ’63.
Signed to Elektra Records in 1965, Dave Cohen (as he was then monikered) was part of a 4-way Various Artists set, THE SINGER-SONGWRITER PROJECT {*5}, billed together with emerging Village troubadours RICHARD FARINA, PATRICK SKY and the youngest of them all, 17-year-old Bruce Murdoch; “Dave” delivered three pieces including a live favourite, `I Like To Sleep Late In The Morning’.
Advised by prophetic DYLAN and friends to change his stage name, the fresh-faced songsmith released his eponymous debut, DAVID BLUE (1966) {*7}, a record not that far removed from Bob himself, and a record that just might’ve filled a gap post-“Blonde On Blonde”/near-fatal motorcycle crash. Although BLUE’s vocals were somewhat awkward and wooden, genuine highlights from the LP came courtesy of searching ballads `Grand Hotel’, `I’d Like To Know’, `Midnight Through Morning’ and `So Easy She Goes By’; his studio backing band at the time comprised Paul Harris (keys), Harvey Brooks or Monte Dunn (bass) and Buddy Salzman or Herbie Lovelle (drums).
A subsequent band project in ’67 with American Patrol came to nothing, resulting in lost time for a singer who urgently needed to catch up – and quick. THESE 23 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER (1968) {*6}, was not exactly the answer BLUE or a fast-fading fanbase had ordered, possessing as it did a “Dylanesque” (or LEONARD COHEN) approach that bordered on musical stalking on the nine self-penned songs themselves, `Ambitious Anna’, `The Sailor’s Lament’ and a re-vamped take of `The Grand Hotel’.
With everyone else including DYLAN off to Nashville to record, then it was inevitable BLUE would also join the illustrious queue, although somewhat uncannily, his sound on ME (1970) {*5} – credited to D. David Cohen – had taken on a country-COHEN/TOWNES VAN ZANDT feel. From the first bars of opener `Mama Tried’ (a cover of a MERLE HAGGARD tune) to the barroom-inspired spoken-words on poetic closer `Sara’, this breezy, romantic album was at least ambitious; check out flop 45 `Beautiful Susan’ and `Atlanta Farewell’.
An introspective self-portrait (as depicted on the sleeve artwork), STORIES (1972) {*6}, marked a move along the corridor to David Geffen’s Asylum Records (home to JONI MITCHELL, JACKSON BROWNE, et al), and therefore session men a-plenty; RY COODER played slide guitar on `The Blues (All Night Long)’; Pete Jolly performed accordion on `Marianne’; JACK NITZSCHE produced strings on `Fire In The Morning’.
1973’s GRAHAM NASH-produced NICE BABY AND THE ANGEL {*7} was BLUE’s drift into country-inflected, soft-rock territory, compounded by the West Coast-orientated array of backers who included multi-instrumentalist DAVID LINDLEY, guitarist DAVE MASON and backing singers JENNIFER WARNES and GLENN FREY; indeed the latter artist procured the opening dirge, `Outlaw Man’, for a minor EAGLES 45 and a track on their Desperado album. There was no doubt this was David’s most commercial drive so far, expressing his intentions through songs like `On Sunday, Any Sunday’, `Troubadour Song’ and `Yesterday’s Lady’.
Disillusioned by the lack of interest in his previous set, BLUE went his own way on 1975’s follow-up, the concept set COM’N BACK FOR MORE {*3}, an ill-advised venture that plummeted his credibility even further down the fame ladder. Looking on the sleeve like a sharp-dressed businessman ready to take a bullet from a young lady, this record was well below par and more significant for its inclusion of JONI MITCHELL’s jazzy backing band; `Lover, Lover, Lover’ was a funky monotonic “reading” of a LEONARD COHEN gem.
Straight from a prestigious Rolling Thunder revue/tour with pal DYLAN, CUPID’S ARROW (1976) {*5}, marked a slight upturn for BLUE, although its steely West Coast session men (Auburn Burrell, Duck Dunn, Jesse Ed Davis, Mike Baird, LEVON HELM, LINDLEY again and producer Barry Goldberg) that run the show, not DB’s adequate vocal cords. On reflection, God loves a trier as they say, and BLUE was exactly that, a songwriter with good songs and a mind that wanted to sing them – no matter what anybody said.
It was poignant at this period of time, that BLUE took a musical backseat and ventured into the world of acting, making movies such as Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977), DYLAN’s Renaldo And Clara (1978; as himself), The Ordeal Of Patty Hearst (1979; for TV), and NEIL YOUNG’s Human Highway (1982). Sadly, while jogging in NY’s Washington Square Park on December 2, 1982, BLUE collapsed and died of a heart attack.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Apr2015

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