ABOUT MY MUSIC
(The song section is a work in progress. I will be adding to and replacing recordings as I refine them)
In the summer of 1963, while babysitting up in Goldensbridge, NY, a song happened. The melody, the first couple of lines of lyrics, just appeared in my head. I started writing the lyrics down and as soon as I got home that night took out my guitar and played it: my first song.
And it was really awful. Having been raised as a Red Diaper Baby and been exposed to political music all my life, that’s what I wrote.
As all monarchs descend thus the tyrant’s head must ever bow
Let free men…
I can’t go on. I certainly didn’t think it was awful at the time, and by the end of that summer I was writing much better stuff. Not long after that, watching two 9 year olds playing in the sand by our lake (Jeremy Schneider and Diane Brown) I was inspired to write Little Boy, Little Girl, which became my first big hit – well, it became the first song I had written that people actually asked to hear. And it’s the oldest song that I’ve recorded and included on this site.
From that point on I thought of myself chiefly as a songwriter. I wasn’t particularly prolific but every once in a while I’d pen a good song. I wrote my last song, B’shert (also included here) 20 years ago. Playwriting took over my creative juices.
The earliest recordings I have of my music are from 1973. I had formed a band with three other folks, James Halpern (lead vocal, guitar), Carl Jaslowitz (harmony, bass) and Helene Stokes (lead vocal). While rehearsing in Helene’s kitchen one day, someone turned on a cassette recorder and recorded a number of our songs, mostly written by me. The quality is poor but it captures the arrangements and the spirit of the group. Willow was the name of James’ Irish Setter. I had forgotten about the recording until I reconnected with Carl and he gave me a copy. Willow I (we called ourselves Willow, of course, I’m just including the I for clarity) never performed anywhere. But we reunited after I reconnected with Carl in around 2000 and formed Willow III which eventually morphed, with a number of personnel changes, into some nameless band. There is a CD we recorded under the name Willow that contains three of my songs and songs by other of the musicians, including Carl and Helene (then called Helena). I haven’t included any of those recordings on the site but they’re good and you can get a download or physical copy at CDBaby.
Helene contacted me several years later after Willow had disbanded and asked about forming a new group. I invited two old friends who were super musicians, Janie Pogan, who played piano and wrote lovely songs, and Eric Stand, who sang, played bass and flute. Helene played bassoon and we did some woodwind arrangements for a few songs. After a few gigs I thought we needed to ratchet up our sound and I asked Jeremy Schneider to join us as a drummer (the same Jeremy I had written Little Boy, Little Girl about). Our repertoire was my songs, Janie’s, and an eclectic bunch of cover tunes ranging from Jackson Browne to the Fiestas’ So Fine to Neil Sedaka. We found a couple of bars to play at and started recording. At around this time, I had reconnected with an old friend (and old girlfriend of Eric’s) Judy Gorman-Jacobs, who was a folksinger with a rich, lusty voice. She managed to get a gig on an otherwise dark night at Gerde’s Folk City and asked us to join her. We performed there a number of times, including one memorable weekend around New Year’s Eve. The recordings Willow II made are of better quality, but I lost all the original reels and so I had to convert my cassettes to CDs to MP3s. When we performed we pulled in a couple of other musicians. Janie’s brother Lenny played guitar with us occasionally, and the guy who we did the bulk of our recording with, Elliot Sokolov, also played guitar and some clarinet for us. Willow II was together for three or four years and then disbanded.
The Rail was where the kids in my old neighborhood congregated. I used to bring my guitar down there and play and I wrote a number of songs in that environment that I still enjoy playing. Chief among them is Jennie Comes, another song of mine that became somewhat popular.
Carolyn and Rosalind
Two women I had relationships with, Carolyn Bell and Rosalind Spar, were the inspiration for many of my songs. When I switched over from social protest songs to songs about relationships, I found I was most fertile when I was in pain, and so many of the songs are about the longing to repair a relationship gone sour. It’s not at all a fitting legacy for these two wonderful women but it’s all I got. And some of the songs are among my best. I have only written three songs for my wife of 20+ years, Robin. Not enough pain, I guess.
There are a bunch of women (and two men) who were my muses for various songs. I mention them in the intros but I thought I should just list the names. Jeremy Schneider, Diane Brown, Buffy St. Marie, Helen Chellin, Sue Sherman, Judy Pearlman, Carolyn Bell, Danielle Gilman, Rosalind Spar, Sarah Thorne, Tina Jacobowitz, Rita Crosby, Betsy Ahearn, Harvey Bender and, of course, my wife Robin Anne Joseph.
These are songs that were more associated with the 60s than The Rail.
This is pretty much everything else. I continued writing into the 90’s actually. The earlier songs in this group are frequently characterized by a fair amount of self-deprecation (and quite a bit of New Age imagery). Not sure why I have always been drawn to do this, in my writing and in my life, but I have. Judy Gorman-Jacobs once gently suggested to me that audiences are going to be made uncomfortable by hearing these confessionals. I’m guessing there are several other more basic reasons listening to my voice might make folks uncomfortable – but there I go again. Eventually I hit my stride in the 80’s and wrote a few really serviceable songs.
Many of these later recordings were done at a studio in Baltimore around 2000. And then in 2014 I started another round of recording with my old friend Elliot. His creative, counterintuitive and always very musical arrangements have breathed new life into my tunes and made me feel much more comfortable about posting them on this site.
I love my songs, I love listening to them, performing them. I never believed there was a particularly large audience out there for this type of music (to the extent my music represents a “type”). But all I have control over is pleasing myself.
And I’ve done that.