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Eric Andersen

One of the many beatnik folk troubadours to check out the burgeoning Greenwich Village circle, the young singer/guitarist soon established himself as part of that aforementioned NY culture. Where contemporaries such as PHIL OCHS, TOM PAXTON and DYLAN took to political protest-folk, ANDERSEN was quite the literate, romantic poet, although there were stand-out similarities to these aforementioned icons of folk.
Born on February 14, 1943, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Eric almost immediately on arrival in New York inked a deal with Vanguard Records (home to JOAN BAEZ, BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE, et al), the label enthused by his earnest and intimate songwriting. The rugged and good-looking ANDERSEN soon delivered his inaugural long-player, TODAY IS THE HIGHWAY (1965) {*5}, a record that was both introspective and searching, although it was indeed flawed and quite inoffensive for these testing and troubled times. Accompanied by only his acoustic guitar, harmonica and a second guitarist named Debbie Green on two tracks, the freewheelin’ troubadour came up trumps on a handful of occasions courtesy of `Looking Glass’, `Dusty Box Car Wall’, `Come To My Bedside’, `Song To J.C.B.’ and a cover of `Baby Please Don’t Go’ (his version only bettered by the Big Joe Williams original and by THEM/Van Mo).
Around a year later, his masterful follow-up set, `BOUT CHANGES & THINGS (1966) {*7}, should’ve given Eric his first sweet taste of success – how or why it failed was anybody’s guess. Among the highlights were such gems as `Thirsty Boots’ (inspired by civil rights chief GIL TURNER and subsequently covered by JUDY COLLINS), `Violets Of Dawn’ (The BLUES PROJECT interpreted this), `Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ (later exhumed by FAIRPORT CONVENTION and The DILLARDS respectively), `The Hustler’ (virtually an ode to DYLAN!) and renditions of Arthur Crudup’s `That’s All Right Mama’ and EWAN MacCOLL’s `Champion At Keeping Them Rolling’. With the backing of an electric band – which his peer DYLAN was to pioneer! – ANDERSEN chose to re-record the album in ‘67, now adjusted as `BOUT CHANGES & THINGS, TAKE 2 {*5}, it suffered a little backlash in the process.
It was rumoured at the time that before he died, BEATLES manager Brian Epstein was about to sign ANDERSEN, although it was unclear how far negotiations had gone. Prolific if not outstanding, his subsequent, late-60s recordings such as More Hits From Tin Can Alley, A Country Dream and his debut for Warner Brothers, Avalanche, provided a source for ANDERSEN’s quasi-sedate revolt.
The first of these, MORE HITS FROM TIN CAN ALLEY (1968) {*6} – a play on words from the phrase “Tin Pan Alley” – was quintessentially a folk-rock set tinged with psych-blues. Augmented by former DYLAN sidekicks AL KOOPER, Herb Lovelle, Paul Harris, Paul Griffin and Bobby Gregg, ANDERSEN’s sound was not too far removed from that of the bearded bard; tunes such as `Miss Lonely Are You Blue’, `Just A Little Something’ and `Honey’ are ones to shout about here.
Recorded for Seven Arts/Warner Bros, AVALANCHE (1968) {*4}, was another session-friendly introspection, and another set littered with session people (Bruce Langhorne, Eric Gale, Chuck Rainey, Lee Crabtree, et al) to fine-tune songs like `(We Were) Foolish Like The Flowers’ and the eight-minute finale, `For What Was Gained’ – the best here by far.
The eponymous ERIC ANDERSEN (1969) {*5} set – his second for Seven Arts – also went ignored, but at least it showed promise by way of `Don’t Leave Me Here For Dead’, `I Was The Rebel (She Was The Cause)’ and another wifey ballad, `Go Now, Deborah’.
By its title, A COUNTRY DREAM (1970) {*4} was obviously recorded by Vanguard in Nashville, session men on board this time were Ken Buttrey, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and Weldon Myrick, although not everyone could make the transition from folk-star to C&W performer. From the ballad-esque ode to his wife, `Deborah, I Love You’, to a cover of OTIS REDDING’s `(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ and a stab at an old HANK WILLIAMS nugget, `Lovesick Blues’, this set was hardly top-drawer ANDERSEN.
However, a comeback of sorts was just around the corner after his new label, Columbia Records, delivered a Top 200 album(!) and ANDERSEN’s finest hour, the Norbert Putnam-produced BLUE RIVER (1972) {*8}. Emerging from Nashville, but with quality recordings this time around, Eric’s new sedate sound, something akin to JAMES TAYLOR or JIM CROCE, was better equipped to tackle fickle audiences. With nine originals and one cover (`More Often Than Not’ from fellow folkie DAVID WIFFIN), it was ANDERSEN at his most intimate through songs such as `Wind And Sand’, `Faithful’ and the title track.
Just when his fortunes seemed to be on an upturn, his label suffered some major personnel changes, resulting in master tapes of his follow-up album, `Stages’ (along with the sleeve work) getting mislaid. The president and former man in charge, Clive Davis, swiftly set about getting his own imprint together, Arista Records finally delivering some of the “re-recorded” tracks under the new title of BE TRUE TO YOU (1975) {*5}; look it up at least for `Time Runs Like A Freight Train’ and his cover of TOM WAITS’ `Ol’ 55’.
For his next LP, the Tom Sellers-produced SWEET SURPRISE (1976) {*5}, Eric wrote a handful of fresh tracks to sit alongside some cleverly crafted cover versions (TOM WAITS’ `San Diego Serenade’, Arlen Roth’s bluesy `Dreams Of Mexico’ and Paul Horan’s `Lost In A Song’), but this was his Arista swansong, having accomplished little.
Disillusioned by the music world, ANDERSEN semi-retired for over a decade, only issuing the odd European-only LP that have since become very rare: MIDNIGHT SON (1980), TWIST IN THE NIGHT (1984) and the soundtrack to ISTANBUL (1985).
He resurfaced with a tidy comeback set for Goldcastle Records, GHOSTS UPON THE ROAD (1989) {*5}, not his greatest by a long shot but reflective and cosmopolitan through tracks like `Belgian Bar’, `Spanish Steps’, `Trouble In Paris’ and `Irish Lace’.
The 90s saw Eric achieve more than the cult status awarded to him by his peers and critics, in fact things had looked positively brighter, when in late October 1989, a number of boxes containing the tapes of STAGES – THE LOST ALBUM {*6}were found; the album would finally hit the shops in ‘91.
Collaborations with RICK DANKO and Norwegian Jonas Fjeld also materialised (from `Danko/Fjeld/Andersen’ & `Ridin’ On The Blinds’), although his solo comeback (with said musicians) was deservedly back in full swing after 1998’s MEMORY OF THE FUTURE {*7}. Sounding like the “saved” DYLAN at times (although looking as serious as a wild DAVID BYRNE!), the set was a watershed of all his relationship preoccupations put into one great hour. Once again introspective and autumnal, ANDERSEN was at his most effective on `Sudden Love’, `Rain Falls Down In Amsterdam’, `Goin’ Home’ and a reading of PHIL OCHS’ `When I’m Gone’.
A second set for Appleseed Records, YOU CAN’T RELIVE THE PAST (2000) {*5}, saw ANDERSEN re-invent himself as an avant-bluesman courtesy of a collaboration (and guest spot) with LOU REED, while a handful of fillers were penned (then unearthed) alongside TOWNES VAN ZANDT: `Meadowlark’, `The Road’, `The Blue March (The Iris)’ and a re-vamped Duke Ellington tune, `Night Train’.
Never one to shirk ambition or progression (although he’d just turned 60), ANDERSEN released his next project, BEAT AVENUE (2003) {*7}, a double-set that comprised one disc of poetic ballads such as `Before Everything Changed’, `Under The Shadows’ and `Runaway’, the other disc by way of two lengthy pieces featuring the title track beat-poem with augmentation from jazzman Robert Aaron.
Like some Greenwich Village version of the “Brill Building” Rod the Mod, ANDERSEN completed two “Great American Song Series” volumes: THE STREET WAS ALWAYS THERE (2004) {*4} and WAVES (2005) {*6}. Mainly a showcase of covers (with the exception of one or two) recalling days of his youth and the legendary NY folk singers from the time, both sets were hit-or-miss affairs. On “Vol.1” one can trek through Eric’s readings of FRED NEIL’s `Little Bit Of Rain’ and `The Other Side Of This Life’ (`I’ve Got A Secret’ appears on Vol.2), DAVID BLUE’s `These 23 Days In September’, BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Universal Soldier’, PETE LA FARGE’s `Johnny Half-Breed’, PHIL OCHS’ `I Ain’t Marching Anymore’ and `White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land’ (`Changes’ on Vol.2), PAUL SIEBEL’s `Louise’, TIM HARDIN’s `Misty Roses’, DYLAN’s `A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ (`John Brown’ on Vol.2), PATRICK SKY’s `Many A Mile’, while on “Vol.2” there’s a couple of great ANDERSEN revamps (`Today Is The Highway’ and `Thirsty Boots’ plus newbie `Hymn Of Waves’), alongside TIM BUCKLEY’s `Once I Was’, TOM PAXTON’s `Ramblin’ Boy’, Lou Reed’s `Pale Blue Eyes’, HAPPY TRAUM’s `Golden Bird’, TOM RUSH’s `On The Road Again’, The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’s `Coconut Grove’ and RICHARD FARINA’s `Bold Marauder’.
Recorded a year earlier, BLUE RAIN – LIVE (2007) {*6}, was ANDERSEN’s attempt to familiarise a new audience to his talent, Kicking off with NEIL’s `The Other Side Of This Life’, folk-blues fans were also treated to covers of Jesse Stone’s `Losing Hand’ and JIMMY REED’s `Shame, Shame, Shame’, plus jewels such as `Blue River’ and `Don’t It Make You Wanna Sing The Blues’. A second live set, THE COLOGNE CONCERT {*5}, featuring his wife Inge on backing vox and violinist Michele Gazich was issued in 2011.
Several years in the making, and separated by just a matter of several months in 2017, German-only studio sets MINGLE WITH THE UNIVERSE: THE WORLDS OF LORD BYRON {*7} and the mini, SILENT ANGEL: FIRE AND ASHES OF HEINRICH BOLL {*5}, correlated two of his favourite literary giants. Whilst the latter concentrated on the WWII Nobel Prize winner who’d deserted the fascist German army, only to be imprisoned by American soldiers (check out the opening title track), ANDERSEN cast out the net further by putting music to the poems of wordsmith Byron. Indeed, it was a task first trialed a few years back at London’s Green Note café (with wife Inge and violinist Michele); the depth of this ancestral project culminating on the brilliant `Child Harold’s Farewell’, `Song To Augusta’, `She Walks In Beauty’ and the inspired title piece.
© MC Strong 2000-2010/GRD-GFD / rev-up MCS Oct2013-Sep2020

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