Three fifths Irish and no stranger to bedlam, Dave van Ronk is a tragically underappreciated bard. He was one of the guiding hands in the folk revival of the 1960’s and in NYC, held court as the king and residing guru of coffeehouse folk culture. Not one to stick to the well-trodden path, his music was born from a great pot of wide ranging influences, he took swing, jazz, the ballard, rock and ragtime to name a few, and with a voice like he was gargling gravel, built a truly individual sound. Arrested at the Stonewall Riots of 1969, van Ronk went against the grain in both his music and his values, not one to let outside forces stifle his beliefs and his creation. If you’re not familiar, allow us to introduce you to The Mayor of McDougal Street.
It isn’t exactly the most Irish sounding name, sure, but van Ronk had more Irish in his heart than a thousand O’Doyles. According to his pals, his “rough and testy manner hid a warm sensitive core.” Can’t get more Irish than that.
Even if you haven’t heard of him, it’s probably safe to say you’ll have heard of one of his long time collaborators. They first met in a Brooklyn guitar shop, van Ronk seeing the potential in the kid and offering him a gig at the local Gaslight Café. This was the first many New Yorkers saw of a young Bob Dylan.
Now, not only was a young Dave van Ronk never seen on stage without his trademark bottle of Tullamore D.E.W, the man also possesses one of the most productive drinking stories we’ve ever laid ears on. Of course, apocryphal bar tales are ten-a-penny, we all know the one guy who spins his yarn of half remembered revelry, tall tales and half truths. But Dave’s is a little different. It involves a hotel room, a notebook, and two extraordinary drinking partners in Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. After a heavy night, van Ronk woke up to a notebook filled with lyrics in handwriting no one recognised. Neither Mitchell nor Cohen admitted to writing it, which only left the big Irishman. ‘Last Call’, one of his greatest songs, was born.
If the life and times of Dave van Ronk sounds like something that’ll float your boat, keep your eyes peeled for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, just shown at Cannes, it's an upcoming Coen Brothers offering, expected May 2013 based loosely on his memoirs.
On a final note, please do drink responsibly. Let’s be honest, most of us wouldn’t wake up with a notebook full of lyrics, most of us would have just lost the notebook, we’re not all van Ronks.
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