This is the place where writing gets difficult. Telling my story without being perceived as a “name-dropper” is not an easy task. As I have written before, it was a time everybody was getting to know everybody else. And some of the artists I’m writing about became household names. But back in the day, however, everyone was just another unknown musician trying to get a break.
Faragher’s Back Room
Walking into the place, it looked like any other lounge. As one traveled to the back of the room near the end of the bar there was an open doorway to the left and a much different environment. The back room. They had an open mic night where I first met Jim Glover who, with his wife Jean, became staples in Greenwich Village, and Phil Ochs who wrote many of the protest songs of the era like “I Ain’t Marching’ Anymore.” And it was there where I first got on stage with my guitar.
One of the traveling groups that came through became close friends of both Michael and me. It was a bluegrass group, The Dillards. Their opening act was a young comedian who had been playing The Bitter End in New York, Bill Cosby. I remember having a beer with him as he talked about quitting the business and going back to Temple University. The Dillards were on their first tour out of Salem, Missouri, ironically about 30 minutes from where I now live in the Ozarks. Along with Faragher’s Back Room, The Dillards also played the Buddhi, Michael’s home club in Oklahoma City. So several years before we had heard of each other we had a connection.
When La Cave opened Cleveland was blessed with an even more important cast of musicians. Josh White, Odetta, and Bob Gibson to name a few. And there were up and coming artists and groups that had started to make a name for themselves on the folk circuit. The Halifax Three from Canada. Two of their members went on to bigger things. Denny Daugherty became the lead singer with the Mammas and Pappas. Zal Yanovsky became the guitar player with The Lovin’ Spoonful. And Buffy St. Marie, the beautiful young indigenous girl, who told me about this songwriter who had just turned up in The Village, Bob Dylan. She taught me “Blowin’ In The Wind.” A song none of us had yet heard in Cleveland.
Shortly after graduation from Baldwin-Wallace I began traveling and playing coffee houses. The country was now alive with folk music clubs and I began meeting people who were just beginning their careers as well. There was at a folk club in Coconut Grove, Florida where I ran into David Crosby and Fred Neil…the singer/songwriter who influenced us all. And The Blind Owl in Kent, Ohio where I first met Michael Brewer, followed by the Lemon Tree in Dayton where we became friends.
The Lemon Tree was a coffee house connected to an art theater which made it a perfect place to hang out with people of like mind. Almost every coffee house had a place for the artists to stay and everyone knew they had a home whether working there that week or just passing through. Young folkies were in effect homeless. In my case, Michael was following me into the Lemon Tree the next week and arrived a few days early. By the end of my engagement, Michael and I had gotten to know each other and when my week was over I hung out there until my next show came up. That is usually how it worked. And how our peers became friends.
An example of the way artists got to know one another was the night I first met Micheal at the Blind Owl. A folk singer who had been with The Journeymen, a folk group we had all known, was headed to LA with his bride. It was John Philips who, with his wife Michelle, were about to form the Mammas and Pappas. I remember John leaning against the wall looking very bored as Michelle moved around the room surrounded by a herd of guys looking very much like football players circled in a huddle.
There was Cass Elliot who later joined John, Michelle, Denny, and Elain McFarland, or “Spanky” of Spanky and Our Gang. These ladies added standards to their folk music repertoire. They were playing Cleveland’s Commodore Hotel which, like so many other venues, had started adding folk singers to their roster.
Eventually, I found myself spending as much time in Greenwich Village as life would allow. When I wasn’t playing my circuit of coffee houses that is where I would be hanging out. While staying at the unholy Earl Hotel on MacDougal St. I ran into a couple of musicians that had been the guitarists with a couple of the artists I had opened for at La Cave. Lance Wakley and Monty Dunn. When times got tough Monty would find a place for me to sleep at his grandmother’s apartment in Flatbush.
As I hung around The Village my mind would often travel back to my youth. Those were the days when I was fascinated with Jack Keroack. And here I was in the land of the original Beatniks sitting in a bistro talking art and politics with some new-found friends. Was this just like Ernest Hemmingway and Gertrude Stein and their “Movable Feast” in Paris or was it more like Keroak’s “On The Road” in Greenwich Village? I have to say it didn’t make any difference. I was young and on my way. To where I didn’t know but I was no longer just a confused kid from northeastern Ohio.
In the next installment, we head to Canada. I hope you’ll stay tuned.