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Saturday January 16, 2010:
Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 80's

Welcome to the chemical and fragrance free studios of wjff. We are member-funded, hydro-powered, volunteer-run studios in jeffersonville NY. We serve the catskills, Northeast PA and the Upper Delaware and streaming on the web at   Folk Plus is a blend of contemporary and older singer songwriters with perhaps spoken word or Broadway tunes, or whatever may be relevant to the theme.  The station's website and stream are online at WWW.WJFFRADIO.ORG

Angela thanks the staff of WJFF for making it possioble for her to volunteer Saturday mornings by  accommodating her health issues and maintaining a chemical and fragrance free environment. Thanks to John Webber and Adam Weinreich for aid in posting and preparing this show.

Today show revolves around the music scene in greenwich village about 30 years ago.  For much of the 50s 60s and 70s the action circled around Mike Porco's club Gerdes Folk City. But when Mike moved to Florida to retire and Folk City was taken over by Robbie and Marilyn Woliver it didn't have the same sort of aura taht many wer used to. So I and friend Vinny Vok  began looking for a spot to provide the same sort of freedom, experimenmtation and total dedication to folk that the itchy writers and singers at that time wanted.   We found it around the corner from Folk City. It was on MacDougal street and it was called Speak Easy. It had been a disco, and a reagae bar and the owner Joe was willing to try a club that was totally dedicated every night to folk music. I managed operations at that club from the day it opened until I moved up to Sullivan County in 1983. 

These two hours will highlight some of the folks who hung out at the club night to night. It was a time of intense creativity and limited performing spaces. The crowd that gathered night after night began to learn each others songs and at any moment would join their buddies on stage or sing from the audience, switching voices and providing back up. Much of the audience were musicians themselves. The space was the back of a felafel restaurant. THe owner was Joseph Zbada who let us use the back room. We didnt change the name. We got the door entry money and he made the food and drink profits. The partnership began.

We opened in September 25th of 1981 with Willie and Annie Nininger with Lucy Kaplanski opening the show. So since she was the first official voice to perform I am going to kick off today with this cut by Lucy kaplanski. Welcome to folk plus.

1. Lucy Kaplanski - The Tide [415] - The Tide - Red House

Though Lucy wrote this later with her now husband Richard Litvin, at that time she was mostly an interpretive singer. She came to N.Y.C from Chicago with her boyfriend Elliott Simon and they were billed as Simon and Kaplanski. I remember her at the first meeting to discuss the birth of speak easy and she was very excited and willing to do anything to get it underway.  Shed been bartending at Folk City. Since we were going to operate as a cooperative we needed all the performers to share the work load of a successful space. She split with her boyfriend and began to perform solo and with the song project.The new york times said "it will be easy to predict stardom for her"  She was so good at interpretation that many hoped she'd cover their works. I was more use to hearing Lucy doing Suzanne Vega than Suzanne. Here is Lucy covering "Calypso".
2. Lucy Kaplanski - Calpso [409]- March 1982 Fast Folk Musical Magazine

September 25, 26  1981
Willie and Annie Nininger
Lucy Kaplanski

Lucy opened for Wille and Annie Nininger.  Now Annie and Willie had performed on nationally syndicated Hee Haw. Willie wrote "Proud to be a Moose" for the captain Kangaroo show. They wrote the music for NBCs after school special Career Day at the Kelly School based on the Miss Peach comic strip.

3. Willie Nininger - Im Proud to be a Moose [308] - Almost Home - 57 Thompson Street #2 NYC 10012 [not anymore, lol]

4. Willie Nininger - Christine Lavin Presents On A Winter's Night - Winter Love Songs - Rounder

Ernest Leogrande of the Daily News came by a few days before we were scheduled to open Speak Easy.  He followed us around as we were prepping the space which involved the metamorphosis from a dance space to a performance space.  The stage had a massive fish tank as a backdrop.  It had a large dance stage with a disco ball. Joeseph was doing whatever... disco ... raegae as long as people came to drink. He was about to have folk music every night of the week and we were determined to have the room full.  Here is what Ernest wrote two days before we opened:

The Daily News  Wednesday, September 23, 1981:
"Easy Sounds"
    by Ernest Leogrande        
             Speak Easy is a new club at 107 Macdougal St. in Greenwich Village.  It was called Speak Easy when is was being run as a small disco.  A group of musicians, banded together as a cooperative, thought is was a good location and the right name for their acoustic sound.  "What, you don't want to use the overhead glitter ball?"  the owner asked them.
"No", said Angela Page, the cooperative's coordinator, putting the disco ball into a storage room.  Speak Easy (598-9670) has a comfortable ambiance and there is music nightly, a show case Mondays through Thursdays, featured acts Fridays and Saturdays.  This week it's Lucy Kaplanski and duo Willie and Annie Nininger.

Well the second weekend was Eric Frendsen. Eric was a very funny man and awesome guitarist. He had a habit of opening every show with "hello music lovers".  Opening for him was this new and very interesting writer, Suzanne Vega.

Friday Saturday October 2 & 3, 1981
Eric Frandsen
Suzanne Vega

5. Suzanne Vega -  Gypsy 404 - Solitude standing - A & M Records

Suzanne attended Barnard College at the time of Speak Easy, I remember going to see her senior thesis, a script she wrote where she played Carson Mccullers.  She frequented the diner near Barnard College and Columbia University, famous for being on Seinfeld. Heres the song that came from that location. Tom's Diner  was an answer to an idea put forward by one of her writing buddies

6. Suzanne Vega - Toms Diner  209- Solitude Standing - A & M Records

7. Eric Frandsen - Viking Rag with Intro - Fast Folk, a community of Singers & Songwriters - Smithsonian

October 9 &10 1981
Rod MacDonald
Ilene Weiss

 When I stoped doing the booking at the club and moved up north to the Catskills, Rod MacDonald took over. Rod lived right across the street from Speak Easy and right across the hall from Erik Frandsen.  His album No Commercail Traffic has a photo of Speak Easy from across the street. The gates were up and Speak Easy was closed and a bunch of folks are sitting on the sidewalk with guitars waiting for it to open.    Recently at a Clearwater gathering Peggy Atwood, a Cornelia street attendee and speak easy hanger outer-er played Rod's famous "Sailors Prayer" - So some 30 years after she learned it , this was played for Pete Seeger and a crowd of Clearwater workers. The power of song and the folk process eh?
8. Rod MacDonald -  Sailors Prayer  329 - No Commercial Traffic - Solstice Records

You just heard Bill Merchant, Joe Henderson, Nat Seely, John Kruth, Mark Dann, Jeff Hardy, Tom Duval, John Lewis, Lucy Kaplansky, Dave Van Ronk and Judy Molner on that cut. Thats what I love about those times, youd have oodles of folks join in on the chorus. Of course that how you have [some 30 years later] people remembering the words.

Rod's opening act, Ilene. was a way funny act. She was a regular at Folk City and Speak Easy. Many people clearly spent hours preparing their village look to see and be seen. Ilene was just a regular and unashamed here I am sort of woman. Nothing pretentious about Eileen and I loved her for that. I believe there are some mannerisms and ideas that Eileen used that the Roches picked up on. Eileen sort of faded from t he performance scene and actually became a steady care taker for Suzi's young girl Lucy. Lucy Wainright Roche has begun her own career now in the music bizz - she sure spent a lot of time at the cornelia street cafe in a carriage, guess the whole scene got to her - osmosis.  Anne Hills covers this song of Ilene's: Woman of a calm heart

9. lene Weiss - Woman of a Calm Heart [420] - Outside and Curious - Gadfly

Friday October 16 & 17, 1981
The Song Project

In the late 70s the scene in Greenwich village had a lot of writers. It was realized there needed to be a dynamic group gathering all the best songs and presenting them to the public as a Peter Paul and Mary sort of performance. There was a need to shed a light on the many writers of the scene and not just one particular person. So a group was formed and it  ran five straight nights at Folk City in 1978- Jack Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Mark Dann, Tom Intondi Nacny Lee Baxter and Carolyn Mas.   It worked, a buzz was creaeted ... they had brought attention to Steve Forbert, Willie Nile, the Roches, The New York Times said:
    " if anyone needs prof that the folkmusic is alive, its only necessary to look at the song project... radiant musical intelligence.. with their perfect four and 5 part harmonies embellishing an incisive interpretive approach to generally excellent material. Seldom has the expression f'resh blood' been more vividly personified. 

The New York Post said: 

           "the harmonies sound as if they never do anything but sing"

Again in 1981 Tom Intondi  and Mark Dann resurrected the idea again and were joined by Martha Hogan sometimes Frank Christian, sometimes Bill Bachman sometimes Gerry Devine and Lucy Kaplanski

10. Song Project - House of Water 300 - Song Project in Rome -  FolkStudio

October 22, 23  1981
Frank Christian

Hearing Frank's name I always think about his entry in the Bob Dylan contest. It was July 22, 1982. I had been running the club then for 10 months and was amazed at how may people arrived to sign up for dollar nights or hoots and sound not like themselves but try to sound like dylan. It occurred to us to simply have a night to let them all do what they are trying to do anyway - and make it a contest. So that night we had a sound alike, look alike bobby dylan contest. Judging was Cynthia Gooding, Larry Sloman filling in for David Blue , Mike Porco, Each of the 51 acts got 5 minutes. There were roughly 250 packing the club. Entries were by categories announced and amazingly no one did the same song. Categoris were folk protest, born again, free style, post motorcle accident voice change. At the end Frank was crowed winner. BOb Dylan number 26. Here he is doing his winning number. After the evening was over Mike Porco was heard saying "everyone should go agter their own style cuz there ony one bobby dylan"  Please welcome Bob Dylan number 26

11. Frank Christian bob dylan # 26 - 248 -  Fast Folk Musical Magazine August '82

Frank was an amazing guitarist who backed up most of the scene's performers. Nancy Griffith scooped him up to bring on tour and even recorded his song Three Flights Up.

New York Post  Friday, February 5, 1982

        by Ira Mayer
Speak Easy (107 MacDougal St; 598-9670) is perhaps the most unique of the new clubs.  For one, it's situated behind a falafel stand.  For two, it's run as a songwriters' cooperative.  For three, there are running fish tanks flanking the stage.  For four, the name doesn't really have anything to do with prohibition (liquor is served)--and the music, rather than the jazz that might be expected, is acoustic folk.
            This weekend's bill is almost as unusual as the club itself.  Musical humorists Christine Lavin and Andy Breckman will be competing for the biggest laughs --and, no doubt, leaving people rolling on their banquettes--with Joey George adding a touch of blues.  Sets begin around 9:30 and admission runs around $2.

12. Christine Lavin - Don't Ever Call Your Sweetheart by his Name 218 -

13. Andy Breckman- Hello Hello Hello Song

Andy was a great MC for events we had there, as was Christine Lavin and Eric Frandsen, they were mostly our MCS for big events. 
A year after Speak Easy opened, Breckman started writing comedy full-time as part of the original staff of Late Night with David Letterman and for Saturday Night Live for several seasons including work on the sketch  where Eddie Murphy went around as a white guy.  Breckman was executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning television series Monk, now off the air.  Now Breckman hosts a show on WFMU in Jersey City called "Seven Second Delay."   New York Times said of Breckman: "If Woody Allen had taken up folk singing, he would be Andy Breckman".

14. Andy Breckman - Here comes my career

1 :03 :07   Thanks for tuning into the second hour of folk plus

According to Ed McCurdy, MC of the Monday evening open mike, "Our hootenanny is regaining the feeling of people playing for fun, seasoned veterans next to amateurs.  We are getting away from the desperation of the audition and creating a more respectful atmosphere for performers regardless of their stature. One minute you've got Steve Forbert singing a duet with Jack Hardy, and the next  minute a talented amateur like Gary Paris is singing an old cowboy song."   - Ed Muccurdy

15.  Steve Forbert & Jack Hardy - This land is Your Land 436

Before this the folk scene had centered around Folk City, Bitter End, Kettle of Fish Kenny's Castaways, Bottom Line. Folk City was hands down the place to find the emerging writers and singers. It was run by two Italian brothers who bought Gerdes at 11 West 4th street and it opened in 1952. Later they added Folk City to the name.  That building is no longer there. Dylans first gig was there on April 11, 1961. Mike was happy to have launched the career of Bobby as he called him. In1970 it moved to 130 West 3rd Street and closed in 1987. 

16. The Roches - Face Down at Folk City -  4:08

Mike had just provided the spot. He really had no business, environmental or publicity sense, but he place prospered non the less. He had a venue, and there was a hunger for this intimate sort of venue and people came. THey came to hear what have come to be the folk legends of the time.   Dylan, Baez, Ochs, Van Ronk, Judy Collins, Taj Mahal, Rick Danko, Ed McCurdy, Odetta, Cisco Houston, Simon and Garfunkel, Roger McGuin, Rambling Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie,Townes Van Zandt., Weavers.. this list is endless.
Behind the stage was a large painting with a dancing woman in a fluffy layered dress. All the photos of the now famous who played Folk City in the 70s and 80s have this dancing scene behind them on the stage wall. THe other walls were plastered with b & white photos in all alike 8 by 10 black frames  of folks who had played there.
Speak Easy provided a space to hang after Mike Porco left for Florida and sold Folk City to Robbie Woliver.  We invited whomever to come and be part of hoots, short for hootenanny, a better sounding than amateur nights. At Speak Easy we charged a dollar for these nights and they eventually were simply called Dollar nights. Some times they were run by Van Ronk dubbed the Mayor of MacDougal st, sometimes Jack Hardy and sometime Paul Kaplan. Heres Paul.

17. Paul Kaplan - Call me the Whale

18. Dave Van Ronk - Josh White's Sometime [whatcha gonna do] -
Dave Van Ronk and the TIn Pan Bended and the story ended - Smithsonian Fokways

Before Speak Easy days, and before Folk City closed ,writers gathered at the Cornelia Street Songwirters exchage began about 1974 where performers gathered to play acoustically to the small cafe crowd. There was a waitress at Cornelia St Cafe, a singer, named Carolyne Mas who later signed with Mercury Records. She was part of the monday night performers along with some of her friends.... Robin Hirsch writes "  some of whose songs I had first heard around the corner - Nancy Lee Baxter, Frank Christian, Steve Forbert, Jack Hardy, Tom Intondi, Rod Madonald, David Massengill and all sorts of Roches also began to play Cornelia Street . I remember one early concert in particular in November where by the end of the evening scattered across the cafe there were Tom, Carolyne on guitar, David on dulcimer, Jack on mandolin and Jack's brother with his huge standup bass virtually obliterating the espresso machine all singing Tom's America

19. Tom Intondi - [Intondi & Frank Rossini  ] America 327 - City Dancer - Great Divide Records

Jeff Hardy carried his huge bass everywhere and knew everyone's songs, literally, he backed up everyone. He was a gentle man who had no enemies. It's ironic that he lost his life to Saudi Arabian  terrorists on 911 in the tower where his day job was a cook for Canter Fitzgerald. Love you Jeff.

Regulars would challenge each other at the song nights. I'd listen one week to something Suzanne Vega had just written and the next week  Brian Rose or someone would have sort of a song offshoot or answer to that. Here from the album called The Cornelia Street Cafe  is regular Brian Rose

20. Brian Rose - Paddy on the Handcar 328  - Cornelia Street Songwriter's Exchange - Stash Records

Speak Easy was run as a musician's cooperative.  We formed  a steering committee and rotated publicity, booking, running the door etc.  After being open a few months, Jack Hardy got the idea to put out a record a month and sell it out of the club. It would just be a slice of who was on  the scene.  Since we were a cooperative we referred to ourselves in short as "the Co-op"  which became the coop. We had t shirts done with chickens climbing all in and around a guitar case.  The  fast folk records were called the COOP and then that was dropped. and they simply referred to them as Fast folk
 Shows were recorded live at speak easy, live at the bottom liven, in toronto in Mark Dann's attic and reporters covered the events and casts of characters of the scene.

In the liner notes of the first release editor Jack Hardy wrote:  "We will never be saying that this is the best there is, only a slice of what is. We hope to draw more writers to write for our magazine. like the folk process it should always be in motion and it should never become stale. With a monthly timetable no one magazine will have to stand as a definitive statement. Collectively they may begin to define the process called folk music"

[A  discography of its recording history can be found at:]

From that first Coop of February 82, singing together, here are Frank Christian, Susan Brewster, Jack Hardy Ansel Matthes, Doug Waterman Ilene Weiss and Suzanne Vega  with Ed Mccurdy on his famous song "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream". A year later he had moved to Canada.

1 32 50 - 1 33 00

21. Ed McCurdy - Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Here are some more regulars and we will move into the many covering the many, my favorite part ofthe whole scene back then.
- there was competition but also support for 3each others  creativity.

22. Lucy Kaplanski, Shawn Colvin, Nikki Matheson singing Cliff Eberhardts  - Goodnight

Cliff Eberhardt had been writing jingles like "Heartbeat of America" but it wasn't fulfilling the creative drive that turned out his many albums. Cliff convinced his good friend Shawn Colvin to move to the city and they were a great addition to the scene.

Many became a sort of anthem of the movement - The Great American Dream by David Massengill was one of them.
Here are Rod Macdonald, Tom Intondi, Jack Hardy, Lucy kaplanski, accompanying David Massengill with a chorus including Lavin,Carolyn McCombs, Germana Pucci, Suzanne Vega, Erik Frandsen, Frank Christian and Paul Kaplan.

23. Massengill  and ensemble-  Great American Dream

You heard the fast folk ensemble doing David Massengill's "Great American Dream" David had the pleasure of playing with  Joan Baez over the years, with her taking one of the voices on this tune.

24. Christine Lavin, Nikki Matheson, Germana Pucci doing
Gladys Bragg & Lillie Palmer's] - Bayonne  235  -Live at the Bottom Line

Lili Palmer [who co-wrote that tune] is the woman on the cover of the Smithsonian collection of the fast folk.

Speak Easy provided a space, and people came. Former audience members have became djs or are still fans who tell me now they still travel an hour to hear John Gorka or Hugh Blumenfeld, having first heard them at Speak Easy.

The area drew those who were obsessed with what they felt they had to do, write and sing.
"Tree of Rhyme" by Jack Hardy sums up the overwhelming obsession many writers and singers had then as they were all drawn to the village because they had to write and sing.

25. Jack Hardy - Tree of Rhyme 400 - Landmark - Great Divide Records

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Mold & Chemical Injury:

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