Folk Plus for Saturday August 14, 1999

Focus: The Speak Easy

Falling this morning is the first rain in what seems like 2 months, of course its the 30th anniversary of Woodstock just a few miles away.   WJFF is the closest radio station to the Bethel field of Yasgur's farm, the original Woodstock site.  This weekend, the Liberty native and entrepreneur Allen Gerry brought Johnny Winter, David Crosby, Randy Travis, Arlo Guthrie, Ritchie Havens, Rick Danko, Leslie West, Melanie, Country Joe Macdonald, Reba McEntire, etc ... no doubt reviving memories of the 69 gathering, that was to be in Woodstock NY  Panicking promoters relocated here when the Woodstock area backed out fearing overwhelming crowds.

In NYC a club on West 4th Street named Folk City had been launching careers.
Peter Paul and Mary, Phil Ochs played his last concert there, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez....
By the end of the 70's however, Mike Porco, legendary owner of Folk City, was selling  his club.

In 1981 a new club began around the corner where Minetta Lane hits MacDougal Street. It was called Speak Easy.  Today's show is dedicated to the beginnings of the Speak Easy club.

I had run several clubs before, and Vinny Vok, a local performer knew that.  He had his eye on a club and together we went to see the two owners of Speak Easy, then, a part disco and part reggae club.  It was there in Sept `81 a round the clock all folk music space was born in Greenwich Village, operated by a group of musicians as a cooperative. We handled the publicity with the door money and the owners had a crowd to which they sold food and drinks.

The opening calendar for the club can be viewed at:

Erik Frandsen, Suzanne Vega, Song Project, Willie and Annie Nininger, Lucy Kaplanski, Rod MacDonald, Ilene Weiss, Frank Christian, David Massengill... Not well known then, but probably regulars on most folk shows now.

There were lots of good writers. We needed a Peter Paul and Mary approach to getting the songs out.  So The Song Project was born. The first configuration of this group was Tom Intondi, Nancy Lee Baxter, Carolyn Mas, and Jack and Jeff Hardy who played a week gig at Folk City. They were not meant to be a group. They had solo careers.

A second version of the group emerged. They toured and even recorded.  The core group consisted of,  Martha Hogan, Lucy Kaplanski, Tom Intondi, with any combination of the following:  Frank Christian, Jerry Devine, Bill Backman or Mark Dan.  In the NY Times, Steven Holden wrote "Seldom has the expression `fresh blood' been more vividly personified"

The Song Project, Erik Frandsen and Suzanne Vega made up the first weekend's entertainment. This first cut today is from a recording made of the second version of the Song Project. After Dave Van Ronk's hounding of John Hammond did not result in a US recording of the group, this Italian recording was made:

1. The Song Project - Three Strangers
Folkstudio FK5019 Roma Via G Sacchi, 3 Tel 06/5892374-314150

2. Erik Franksen - Howard Hughes Blues
The Coop Fast Folk Musical Magazine - Feb `82

3. Suzanne Vega - Cracking
The Coop Fast Folk Musical Magazine - Feb `92

4. Song Project - Yonder Mountain
Folkstudio FK5019 Roma Via G Sacchi, 3 Tel 06/5892374-314150

The Song Project was only one of many Projects that we dreamed up. On Nov 12 `81 the following performers played on a bill called "The Skinny Project" Nancy Baxter, Rod MacDonald and Paul Kaplan.

5. Nancy Baxter - Time Waits for No One
     Live in Greenwich Village (`81)- cassette

6. Rod MacDonald - Stop the War
    White Buffalo - Gadly

7. Paul Kaplan - Call Me The Whale - cassette

Speak Easy was open every night. It was dedicated to acoustic folk.  There was variety under the "folk" umbrella. Other nights included "Anything But Guitars" night and storytelling. There was "The Italian Project" whose members included: Tom Intondi, Frank Mazzetti and Michael Fracasso.

"The Tall Project" was Peter Spencer, Brian Rose and Ansel Matthews. These were not actual groups just fun ways of labelling nightly gatherings.

Without a doubt the most publicized event, which I added as a joke to the calendar to fill it out, was "The Bob Dylan Sound Alike Contest". It was covered by major TV and radio.

Up next is the winner of that contest from the August `82 fast Folk Musical Magazine. After playing this, I aired an ABC radio interview where I mention that Richard Shennell had won the look alike portion of the evening., followed by two other imitators refered to by their Bob Dylan number.  Judges included: Dave Van Ronk, Cynthia Gooding, and press.

8. Bob Dylan #26 - Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Frank Christian)
     August `82 Fast Folk Musical Magazine

9. Portions of Bob Dylan Sound Alike Contest
     Two selections....cassette...

Van Ronk, Tom Paxton, David Bromberg and Joan Baez were interested in this new dishwasher from Tennessee:

10. David Massengill - On The Foad to Fairfax County
      The COOP - Fast Folk Musical magazine - Feb `82

At the songwriter's meeting where David premiered the song, some were wanting to add some political message, fearing it would not stand as a mere love song. Since then it has been recorded by The Roches among others.

In the tradition of the time, everyone knew everyone's tunes. The Great American Dream became a classic. Anyone in the bar at the time would take any verse...

11. David Massengill - The Great American Dream
Tom Intondi, Nancy Baxter, Jack Hardy, Angela Page, and David all taking a verse.

On the last tune Jack sang David's words in the carpenter verse, and here Lucy sings one of Jack's tunes:

12. Lucy Kaplansky - Woman of the Road (by Jack Hardy)

Lucy came to Greenwich Village from Chicago and was a duo with her boyfriend at the time Elliott Simon. Lucy was quite the spreader of good songs, not yet writing much herself. She was a bartender at Folk City, before Speak Easy opened.  Here she is doing a tune by Cliff Eberhardt, which was in the repertoire of the Song Project.

13. Lucy Kaplansky - Goodnight (by Cliff Eberhardt)
     The Tide - Red House

I believe Lucy was very helpful to spread the name Suzanne Vega. In the background is a very rough tape from the Cornelia Street Cafe where Lucy is doing Calypso, one of Suzanne's tunes.  I heard Lucy doing this tune more often than I heard Suzanne herself doing it.

Cliff arrived in town in about `81 and brought his friend, Shawn Colvin to Speak Easy.

14. Shawn Colvin - I Don't Know Why
     Live `88 - Plump Records

Lucy and Shawn performed "Heart on Ice" by Judith Zweiman for a show at the Bottom Line, here is Judith doing it herself:

15. Judith Zweiman - Heart on Ice
       Look at the Moon (sampler)

16. Roches - Face Down at Folk City
      Another World - Warner Brothers

17. Hugh O'Doherty - Looks A Lot Like Me - cassette

18. Willie Nininger - When I Was A Kid
      Almost Home - 212 226 3329

19. Ilene Weiss - No Baby
      Greenwich Village Folk Festival -

20. New England Express - (by Frank Christian)- Nancy Reynard
      Fast Folk Musical Magazine March 1983

The club was in the New York Post, February 5th 1982. The article can be viewed at:

Up next is Christine Lavin and then Andy Breckman who shared the bill on the evening of the February 5th New York Post article.  You can imagine aching mouths from laughing at the end of this double bill..

21.  Christine Lavin - Regretting What I Said
       The COOP -Fast Folk Musical Magazine June `82
        "I didn't mean it..."

22.  Andy Breckman - Don't Get Killed
       Christine Lavin Presents: Laugh Tracks    Shanachie
       "Run real fast down the middle of the road"

I first heard Stan Rogers at Canada's 1976 Mariposa Folk Festival.  He was doing this song.  He came the following January of 1977 to play my college club "The Side Track Cafe" , having never played a gig in the U.S. before.   On return trips to the U.S he played at Speak Easy, November '81 being the first of several times.

23.   Stan Rogers - Forty Five Years
      Fogarty's Cove - Fogarty'sCove Music
      "I'd like to look around, but honey, all I see is you"

24. Mary Catherine Reynolds - On the Highway with The Band
      "Lost my soul to Wellers Wiskey, on the highway with the band"

Though this two hour show is over, there were many names from that time:  Hugh Blumenfeld, Rae Monroe, Jeff Gold, Vinny Vok, Belles of Hoboken, Janet Stecher, Doug Waterman, Kathy Devine, Marilyn J, Carolyn McCombs, Joey George, Carol and Judy Ficksman, Charlie Chin, Martha Gallagher, Josh Joffin John Kruth, Gwyll Odell, Richard Meyer, Lili Anel, Soldier's Fancy, Ed McCurdy, Robin Greenstein, Susan Brewster, Sammy Walker....