Folk Plus for Saturday December 11, 1999

Taped interview from 11/21/99 at Middletown, New York's Mansion House.

This interview aired within the setlist for December 11 1999 on WJFF
David can be reached at    or
David Roth has an ability to spin an audience within a song from watery eyes and tears to loud laughter.

                           1.   Professional. Standard - Another Side of David Roth
                           2.   I Do Not Need A Bag - Nights at the Chez

Angela:  I'm speaking with David Roth in Middletown, who has just performed at the Mansion House.  A great show Dave.

David:  Thank you

Angela:  It looks to me like you enjoy the "between song" business as much as you enjoy singing.

David:  Well as any honest singer-songwriter might tell you, they have heard their songs more than once, except the brand new ones of course. So, for me the delight is to pull someone up from the audience create something that is kind of fun, spontaneous, inclusive, and do whatever you can to break down that invisible barrier that you know separates performer from the audience. It is all part of one vibrant orchestra.

Angela:  You work at rewriting the intro- to the same song. Do you have a fresh intro

David:  Some intros, if it ain't broke don't fix it. And some certain stories go well with certain songs. It's not necessary crucial, because a song should stand alone I believe, without any explanation, but there are little anecdotes that given either pre or post song may be funny, touching or expanding the experience of the song by throwing them in there I look for those opportunities. Also I feel it helps break the ice with the audience, and to be a little personable with them and not some kind of aloof performer, and go hiding off in the dressing room.

                                          3.   Fan Letter - Another Side of David Roth

Angela:  What's your next song about?  The one that is not done right now.

David:  (Big sigh) ah. Well there are two things going on in my mind, actually there are a lot of things brewing. When I finished my sixth album this past spring of 99 I took a sabbatical from writing because I had been writing intensely, a lot of stuff and I just needed a break, not put the pressure on myself to have to keep writing more stuff. I just needed a little time off. Now all kinds of things are coming. One of them is based on a couple of interviews I heard on the radio the day before yesterday (which would have been Nov. 1999) It was the tenth anniversary of a sports talk show and the hosts were playing back interviews of great moments in their broadcasting. Many people in our culture pooh pooh sports and I agree that the monetary remuneration are really skewed for athletes but sports at its highest level is very emotional.  One of the guys they interviewed was "Don Newcomb who was one of the first African American athletes to play on the heals of Jackie Robinson.  He told this great story after many years of being differed on the major leagues made it into his first game and struck out the first batter that he faced and the next four got hits.  He was four runs down and pulled out of the game and he was weeping at the end of the dug out, sure that he was going back to the minors after, he had waited patiently his turn in a racist business to be able to come to the majors. He felt like he had blown it. The manager said, "what are you doing?" Newcomb said "I know I'm going back to the minors" and the guys said "Oh, you just got here and you are all ready managing" He looked up.  The manager said " Where is this team gonna be on Saturday?"  He said "Cincinnati " and he said "How many games" Newcomb said "Two" He said, "Your are pitching the 2nd game, it is all yours" He pitched a five hit shut out, beginning I think a hall of fame career in the major leagues.

And the next interview was with Jim Valvono the head coach of North Carolina State Basketball. His team won the NCAA tournament as a big underdog many years ago, on a last second tip. He contracted cancer a couple of years after that. So this interview was with him just before he died, about what was important to him and what he was feeling in the present moment. This was a powerful emotional interview and I've got to do something with the connection between the highest level of what sports can be versus what is thrown in our face every day with sneaker deals and overpaid athletes.

Angela:  Okay, so now I've heard this raw story that caught your attention, so you have answered one of my questions, "Where do you get this stuff?" So you've got this, where do you go with that? Now you are going to turn this into a song.

David:  Yeah. I'll probably at some point sit down at the word processor. It used to be handwriting, but I hate my handwriting even though my mother was the penmanship champion for the state of New Jersey in 1938. She Was! So, I'll get to my work processor and Ill do just free flow writing, whatever comes into my mind for as long as it takes. It might be a half-hour it might be 10 min, 15 min, I'll write everything I can remember from the interviews, my impressions and what struck me in the gut about them. I may get a phrase or two that will be a springboard into a title or a song with a theme that can be built around it. I’m afraid it is going to be another one of those David Roth songs. You know, finding something that is good and powerful in places where you might not normally expect to find it, which I have been either praised or dismissed for depending
On who is writing or talking in the folk community over the years.

On Air:  Though we can't hear the tunes yet to be written, the following sports related tune is about sneaker deals, only this athlete wants them sold for under 35.00 and have the slogan "Make commitments, follow your dreams"

                               4. The Dream - Irreconcilable Similarities

Angela:  What kind of song can't you write?

David:  Well, I took the Bob Franke workshop this year.

Angela:  That is the question I'm asking.

David:  I told the class that I always wanted to write a gospel song.

Angela: Oh, I would think that would be easy for you no?

David:  No. I play in a lot of churches and stuff but I come from that great tradition of urban Jewish folk singers. I mean a gospel! I could liken it to what Paul Simon did with Gone at last on his Crazy After All These Years, the duet he did with Phoebe Snow in the 70's.  I just really liked the push of it, more the feeling than the words or the message.  The one five beat that people can really jump in on.  So that was the assignment I took at Bobs.  I came up with one.

Angela:  All right (I should have said Hallelujah, I don't know why I didn't think of it!) So you can write one.

David:  I can.

Angela:  So there is no answer to that.

David:  Well, I'm sure there are plenty

Angela:  Did you ever take a Kiersey Temperament test? Do you know what I'm talking about? I'd be curious how you came out,

David:  I've done some personality profiles. I'll tell you the ones I have done, the Myers-Briggs is a personality profile.

Angela:  It is the same one.

David: With the four letters?

Angela:  Yeah. Maybe we are talking about the same thing?

David:  Well I know it as Myers Briggs. Yeah I know how I came out. I came out.  High, high, high, high on the introvert scales.

Angela:  Oh really?

David:  The letters at the time I believe were INFP.  An introvert as opposed to an extrovert.

Angela:  Indeed a Friendly Person! No. Just kidding.

David:  I think this is not that uncommon in our field, the singer-songwriter field because there is a certain safety that I feel when I'm up on stage. I don't know if it is control or whatever, but I feel comfortable kind of gently guiding the group energy in silly to serious ways and everything in between.  There is certain part of my personality emerges there and when I come off stage I like my quiet private time.  I need my recharge time.

Angela:  You're right.  That is common.

David:  I'm guessing cuz I can't speak for other people, but I know I like my private time. That is not to say that a full time folk singer at whatever level, is like the most besieged person by poparatsi, but as any of our peers do, I'm sure you do in radio. I'm sure people come up and tell you how much they appreciate how much you are doing whether to promote the music or whether it is that you are playing the music.  I have people tell me that al the time at my shows.  Something touched them, or made them laugh or cry.

Angela: You ruined a lot of mascara in there today.

David:  Yeah, but the women were wearing it too.

                    5.    Mr. Ryan - Digging Through My Closet

Angela:  So off stage. What's a good day for David Roth.  Not touring.

David:  No alarm clock!

Angela:  Yeah? But where does it go from there?

David:  Oh, gosh. I'll roll out of bed, well I don't sleep really late anymore cuz I like to catch some of the morning. I'll have something to eat.  Take my vitamins. (laughing) When I travel that is the one thing I think keeps me healthy, giving me some of the things that I might not get in the food that I catch as catch can.  A good day back home in Seattle where I live, is to go outside and do stuff around the house outside.  It might be raking leaves just breathing some outside air, taking a walk with the dog.  Got plenty of time to jump back in to the home office and take care of all the busyness.  If I'm really lucky, on one of those good days, I will get to sit down with my thoughts and my notes for my songs.  I'm also learning some other people's songs too.  I hope to do an album, the next or the one after of just cover songs. I'm starting to collect material that I really like from other writers.

Angela:  Do you ever take several days where you are not music-ing at all, not writing?

David:  I don't write everyday. I'm not one of those writers. I am susceptible to any distraction. Sometimes writing to me is like a big dark shadow in the corner, lurking and I go "Well I could vacuum this floor one more time" or "I could get another video".  When I am home I like to get videos and catch up on all the movies I don't see.

Angela:  I was thinking you ought to make a video for a hallmark commercial.  I think they'd use it!  You could come up with something.  Think about it.

David:  I will.  Ok. I'll take that under advisement.

Angela:  Have some good acting going on and have your voice come in… your voice!  When did you know you had a good voice.

David:  If you look at your self in the mirror everyday you hardly ever see yourself change.  You are so close to it. So I am not sure that I ever really knew. People have told me. I still hear what I consider to be the imperfections in my voice, which I celebrate. I like that. We are also living in a culture where the singers of the world are sometimes held up to the standard of a Garnet Rogers, or a Mariah Carey, Barbara Streisand, Michael Bolton or Stevie Wonder….

Angela:  Or, or, or…

David:  People with what I think are gifted from whoever -God, voices, apparatuses, you know Garnet and Stan had those lungs and those pipes. That is not something you can learn. You have something genetically and physiologically. Then there are other people and I put myself in this latter category who have just been doing it for a long time and practice makes progress. That is my take on that. I can't point to a time that I knew. I joined a chorus in 3rd grade and have been singing ever since.

Angela:  Well they say that you should start something you want to be really good at, before you are seven. Third grade?

David:  Third grade, yeah. I remember when my voice changed. I was a tenor as a sophomore in High School. When I came back my junior year, my voice started cracking and I was doing the involuntary yodel every time I opened my mouth or tried to sing what I used to be able to.

Angela:  You mentioned Peter Paul and Mary doing one of your tunes. If you could have hand picked one of your songs for them to do, what do you wish they were doing.

David:  There are actually a couple of others that I thought would fit well and be well aligned with the kind of music that they've done as I've known them as a fan for 30 years. One of them is a song called "Manuel Garcia" about a man who had cancer and got a lot of support from his people around him. I thought it would be great to hear Mary sing a song like that with her voice. Just a cappella. No instruments, no harmonies necessarily. I thought that would be a good song for their show.

Angela:  I think you are right.  Let's air that.  Lets air Manual Garcia and imagine Mary Travers singing it with Peter Paul and Mary.

                 6.   Manuel Garcia - Rising In Love

Angela:  So you are so good at both humor and incredibly moving songs.  You need to pass out - forget the David Roth bags, you need the David Roth tissues.

David:  I've been trying to contact Kleenex about an endorsement deal  All I can endorse so far all I got is guitar strings.

Angela:  You would be so good. They are all looking the wrong way.

David:  Pretty soon it will be Depends!

Angela:  You could write jingles really well. Or hallmark cards.

David:  I understand that is a very incestuous field.  Doesn’t really pull on my heartstrings, but if I fell into it accidentally I guess anything is possible.

Angela: I'm wondering in general, this happy guy who balances off your set with these heart string pulling songs- are you balancing your set or are you feeling both of these intensely inside you?  Is my question making sense.

David:  Yeah.  When I play there are three things I want to do.  I'm gonna, again, I heard the basketball coach who died of cancer said this so beautifully.  He gave me my mission statement and I've never really put it into words before,.  He said that in the time remaining in his life he wanted anybody who had interaction with him to laugh, cry and to think.  As I'm listening to this basketball coach say this, you know, that would be my goal. I don’t want to make anybody do anything but what I put out there offers the opportunity for people to laugh, to feel/cry and to think.  If I've done all three of those things then I'll feel like it’s a successful…uh…

Angela:  I like that. I was thinking about when I sit down at 11 o'clock Saturday and I have this pool of music to share. I think that is what I am after. I want everybody listening to laugh to cry and to think.

David:  Then I take that one step further. I love playing places like here at the Mansion, where the songwriter is like in home field. You are preaching to the converted. I like an audience where maybe a third of the people are really with me, a third of them are a little perplexed and the other third are provoked in some way.

Angela: You like that?

David: Yeah it kind of keep me on my toes. It would be a nice little world if everybody loved everything.  I like to shake it up a little bit.  Ultimately I will learn something from somebody who will come and correct me on something.

Angela:  I told you I walked around the audience.  One guy  came over and said, (seeing my notes and recorder) "What are you doing?"  I said, "I'm going to interview him.  Anything you'd like to ask him?"  He said, "No.  I don't really like him that much"  Then he said "Well I didn't at the beginning.  He was kind of silly, but I like him now, so in fact, I'm going over to buy his CD" (34)

David:  That my highest form of praise.  I do this running gag in my shows saying, "How many people were dragged here against their will to a folk show?"  I play with that.  It helps break the ice. It makes them feel acknowledged and not an outsider with their arms crossed.  A fellow came up to me the night before last and said, "You know, I was dragged here.  I don't mind telling you.  But I really loved it"  That to me is the triumph of the night.  I know that people who come to hear me cuz they've heard me will react fine.

Angela:  That’s easy?

David:  Not necessarily easy but open, open to enjoy and feel what is going on.  That guy came up to me too, and he says "You know, I don't really like this kind of music that much, but I really like what you do"  The silly he was referring to is a humor I like to use little doses of early on, just to get people feeling a little comfortable like they are not going to get whacked over the head with a whole bunch of leftist stuff.  I like to tap the pillow, I don't like to wield the hammer. I think the message can get across either way. People are sometimes more receptive if it sneaks up on them. A great way to embrace that and cushion it is to just have everybody have a laugh and make fun of myself.

                7.  Master's Degree - If You Can't Fly

Angela:  I could see you lecturing.

David:  I do talks.

Angela:  I had the sense because just before you sing the song you say, "Oh,  I guess I'll sing the song now" as if you could go on and on.

David:  And one wonders if anyone gives a shit. Do they really find this interesting?  Reactions I get is that the stories are for what some people come for as much as the songs.

Angela:  I have to say, that seeing and listening to a lot of folk, that I am disinterested by the third song if they have not talked. If they don't try to meet some eyes or share something personal, I don't care how good their songs are. I feel like I may as well be playing the CD. Why'd I come. You really have that connection down.

Angela:  Anything that you wish people would ask you?

David:  They will. I will say the dumbest question.

Angela: I'm gonna start asking that! What is the dumbest question a radio interviewer has asked you?

David:  The dumbest question is the question you don't ask. In other words…

Angela:  You forgot to ask it? You didn't have the insight?

David:  No you were wondering about something but maybe you thought it was too dumb to ask or maybe you thought they'd think you stupid if you asked it, or you think I don't want anyone to believe I didn't know that. I believe the dumbest question in life is the one that you don't ask. In other words give yourself permission to ask any question, or else, how are you going to learn?
Unless you are one of those rare people who knows everything.  Do you know any? (laughing)

Angela: No. I use that in teaching all the time.

David:  Just to capsulate that.  People will often say, "you know this might sound dumb, but I'm gonna ask anyway" and I'll say, "No the dumbest question is dumber if you don't ask it, cuz how you gonna find out?"

Angela:  You must be inundated with people who want to turn an idea, or letter, or e mail or soft huggy story into a song.  Aren't you?

David:  I get a fair amount of those.  I couldn't say inundated because maybe one of a hundred might just really - the other 99 might be great stories but it has to touch something inside of me to register.  I'll get those.  Which is why I still read them on.  I read some of those forwards on the internet.  Not that much anymore as time evaporates.  Jewels are hiding out there.  Just turning on the radio the other day to hear the basketball coach and Newcomb was just such a great blessing, to be reminded of that perspective have to pay attention and keep a pad in my pocket.

On Air:  David added a song to his new CD about the death of his dad.  He shared the fact that his dad was never happy with David's choice of profession right up until his death.

Angela:  What was your last real job like a real job as your dad might put it.

David: The last real job where I was given a paycheck was in 1988 I worked for 3 months at United Nations Radio in New York City. I was an engineer at UN Radio, and I was editing shows in any of six or eight different languages just that were broadcast about what was going on in the General Assembly. It was a three month temporary contract.  I know a little bit about audio engineering and so I got hired on for a couple three years in a row during the General Assembly which was every fall.   Ant that was when I made my first little homemade tape. I would work the swing shift at UN Radio I'd work from four to twelve, take the bus home and I was living in 22nd Street and eighth avenue at the time.  Then I'd walk over to Mark Dann's studio in the East Village, and I made this little home made tape called "May the Light Of Love".  It was 12 songs mostly just guitar, voice and Mark add a little bass. Before I eventually ended up doing CDs with the Wind River Division of Folk Era of Chicago. I've been with them…

Angela:  …there are good people on that label…

David: …Cosy Sheridan, Small Potatoes ,  Micheal Smith

Angela:  James Gordon

David:  And also Jack William, wonderful people, I'm very honored to be with.  The  people at Folk Era are great. Are hard working and honest people.  Before I went CD I had made this little homemade tape with these 12 songs for years I had this one little tape.  Those first few years before 1993 I either sold or gave away 10,000 of those from my shows.  I wasn't working within anybody's machine just selling them from the stage where I was playing and just by having that product and apparently having songs that people were finding universal and relatable to their own lives in some way.  That got my cash flow started and that gave me my freedom to finally say in 1988 this is my last part time job.  I'm in my 30's I gotta really find out if I can make this work because I don't want to grow old wondering what would happen if I tried. There is rejection around every corner in the folk music world from people who consider it kind of old fogey farty music but also within the folk community itself.  There is a certain trendy sheik hip what you will

Angela:  And always those clubs you can't get into.

David: Right

Angela: And it changes person to person.

David:  Right. I have just kind of worked outside of that not really taken too seriously the criticism I sometimes get for being too positive in my music.  It is a conscious choice.  It is not just mindless optimism. There are a lot of things going on in my life that are not always so up.  What I chose to celebrate in a song are some of these situations but most  of them have some kind of reason to go on at the end of them.  Some kind of resolution or faith makes  a hope to make people want to continue.  Like I said I've gotten a career out of this. People are finding their way to it now and I've in turn been dismissed by some over the years as a result, but it is just another songwriter writing songs silly to serious.  We find our audiences and they find us.

Angela:  Will you introduce something for us now and I can play it?

David:  Sure.  I'd love for you to play the song Holland from my new CD.

Angela: What a metaphor! I love that.

David:  It is from Emily Pearl Kingsley.  She had a special needs child.  When her baby was born they weren't expecting it to have Downs syndrome.  She wrote a little essay called "Welcome to Holland" about what it was like to plan this big trip a.k.a. pregnancy and life-changing event. You got on the plane and got off and found you had landed in a foreign land, when they had their special needs son.  He is now in his 20's.  So, that metaphor is so very dear to me.  I don't have a special needs child, but again, that is  just such a beacon of hope to people that feel like overwhelmed by the turns like takes.  Here she is seeing the beauty in an way she never expected to.

Angela:  And here it is.  It's simply called Holland - David Roth

                8.  Holland - Irreconcilable Similarities

Angela:  Holland from the album called…

David:  Irreconcilable Similarities

Angela:  and if people want to get a copy, they can email you?

David:  yeah, or they can go to my web page, there's contact information. The web page is http://www.Songs.Com/DR

Angela:  Great.  Well you said you didn't have a special needs child, I feel like you have such an influence over many people I've talked to in different places in the country that you're almost like that song you wrote, Mr. Ryan.  How many people that you've touched at all these different ages.  You know, you made some jokes about good looking woman coming up to you and saying (breathy) "David Roth!" and you say (suavely) "Yes" - she says, "My Mom has all your CD's…"

David:  (chuckles)

Angela:  But you are, being passed down…

David:  Not having kids…

Angela: …and you do.

David:  yeah, I do and they're sort of in the form of songs but they're also in the form of - uh, parenting can be sort of sublimated in different ways. Both my wife and I do a lot of work in that way.

Angela:  Yeah, you're great, that Uncle Dave

David:  Uncle Buck, it's great being Uncle Buck because you can come and visit a town, have all this fun and then you move on and everybody's still there with each other.

Angela:  For some reason, I had this thought to ask you what your pet peeves are. I don't know if you have any because you just seem so easy going.  I just want to find out if you have something that drives you nuts.  I want to hear it from you.

David:  Oh, this is like that series on PBS in the actor's studio where this guy interviews all these actors and asks them what their favorite swear word is.

Angela:  Maybe I just wanna see you mad…you know, you're funny, emotional - doesn't anything just drive you crazy David!?!

David:  You know what drives me crazy. One thing, there are many things that drive me crazy, but I love, I still love to play basketball. I take out a lot of my aggression and my physical you know aggression out on the basketball court.  Not on other people per say but I just blow off a lot of steam. I have been pretty good over the years of keeping it in, I'm working on it.  I'm letting it find ways to come out so.  One thing that I really like to do, it's not necessarily a pet peeve, but when I'm carrying a lot of stuff and I'm just like struggling with a door or trying to get in my car with my arms absolutely full, I'll just throw everything on the ground.  And it feels really good.

Angela:  And that's it? That's as mad as you get?

David: Well, I get plenty mad at other things ya know.  I like to be on time and I get frustrated with other people, it probably comes to control issues, about how things are done.  I get nervous when I show up at coffee houses where they have volunteer sound people who say "gee, I'm really looking forward to this, I've never done this before" and then I get really nervous and I'm probably not as friendly as I cold be,

Angela: Great…

David: I might come off a little bit adamant.  I'm concerned about how things sound for the people who come out to hear the music.  Things like that.  Good intentioned volunteers make me nervous.

Angela:  the people who come to hear the music are always the ones, the ones listening to the radio, the ones coming to pay are really the ones I feel like thanking. When I'm at festivals and they're thanking the volunteers, I just want a round of applause for everyone who paid full price and keeps coming! None of would do what we do with out them.

David:  One thing I hate is spinach that's going rotten in the refrigerator.

Angela:. Ok! There you go!

David:  Eat that spinach like Popeye before it goes bad you know.

Angela: I can't have anything in the fridge going bad.  That's that Hemmingway quote, someone asks him who he writes…

David:  Oh, I know, Long periods of thinking, short periods of writing.

Angela: Oh, that's good, I didn't know that one…

David: That's what he says…what were you going to say?

Angela:  Someone asked how do you go about writing and he said, "well, first, I clean out the refrigerator"  I know that feeling that everything has to be in place.

David:  Yeah, that's another pet peeve of mine is mess in my office clutter  I get piles and piles of stuff  and get so frustrated  because I, in order to work optimally for me I like to have it be kinda clean and Zen-like and NOT a lot of clutter because visual clutter makes mind clutter.  SO I get frustrated with my clutter and I create plenty of it too

Angela:  As a final thought, if you could pick a song and pick a singer is there somebody you'd love to do one of your tunes or a particular tune?

David:  Oh, to do one of my tunes?  Well, based on what Garth Brooks did with Cheryl Wheeler Jesse Colin Young song, I couldn't very much say that, but you know…I'd be lying if I didn't say I'd love for a major artist to pick up a song.  Here's one I got an answer for that question.  I always thought Rising In Love would be a good song for James Taylor.

Angela:  Oh, yeah, I think you're right.

David: I wrote it back in the mid 80's and he was infused in my blood stream back then and I thought this would be a great song for somebody like him, or Ann Murray. But JT, hearing JT do Rising In Love would be…. I could hear.

Angela:  Alright, well, thanks for talking to us and let's hear Rising In Love and see whether we think James Taylor could do a better job.  David Roth and Rising In Love

David: Oh we didn't say anything about doing a BETTER job, of course he could do a better job, he could do a better job on just about anybody's song. JT, it's all yours baby…

                     9.  Rising in Love - Rising In Love