Folk Singer-Songwriter Eric Andersen Looks Back at His 50-Year Career

click to enlarge Folk Singer-Songwriter Eric Andersen Looks Back at His 50-Year Career
Paolo Brillo
Veteran singer-songwriter Eric Andersen saw Elvis Presley perform decades ago, and yet, the experience still resonates with him.

“Wow! It was a once in a lifetime epiphany to witness a hero all-revved up, singing and dancing, and in true action,” he says in a recent email exchange from his home in Norway. He performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, at Nighttown. The show supports The Esssential Eric Andersen, a 42-track digital release, 33-track double CD release and 20-track double LP retrospective release covering 50 years of his recorded history. “It’s an unforgettable [experience] to actually see one of the giants you learned your first three guitar chords from.”

Born in Pittsburgh, Andersen grew up in upstate New York and then moved to Boston, San Francisco (where he met singer-songwriter Tom Paxton at the famous Beat bar the Coffee Gallery) and New York, where he became part of the Greenwich Village folk scene.

“I was part of the first singer-songwriter wave in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s with the likes of Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Dylan,” he says. “Many of them wrote protest songs that reflected what was going on around them – the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, other protests, etc.”

Andersen, on the other hand, didn’t write explicitly about those troubled times. While he did write the Civil Rights anthem, “Thirsty Boots,” he also wrote “Violets of Dawn,” a gentle folk number that features wispy vocals. And he penned precious ballads such as “Close the Door Lightly When You Go” too.

“I was documenting a whole other emotional and interior world moving through the ’60s and beyond,” he says. “My songs dealt more with inner perceptions, views, and feelings — songs that were perhaps the precursors to those of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. [Greenwich Village] felt
exciting because you knew it was a historical, breakthrough time, and it was amazing to belong to such a vibrant era.”

At one point, Cohen even told him that one of his songs inspired him to start writing and performing.

“It was an unexpected total surprise,” says Andersen of meeting the late Cohen. “I invited him to a recording session in L.A. [when he told me that]. He was always accompanied by beautiful women."

In 1972, Andersen would sign with Columbia Records after Blood, Sweat and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby introduced him to then-label head Clive Davis. Andersen’s Columbia Records debut, Blue River, would become his most commercially successful release. But when the master tapes for the follow-up album, Stages, were lost, Andersen's career lost much of its momentum.

Andersen subsequently retreated to Woodstock, New York and would move to Norway, where he now lives, after meeting a woman there.

“I always wanted to get a taste of life over here,” he says.

While his popularity in the States declined, 1989's Ghosts Upon the Road was so well-received in the States that it helped revive his career.

“It helped me critically,” he says of the album. “[It received] four stars in Rolling Stone, for example. But another problem ensued. The record company Gold Castle went out of business the week it was released. My manager at the time eventually put it out on his label.”

The Esssential Eric Andersen provides a great overview of Andersen's music; it will undoubtedly help raise his profile once again.

“I believe people will be surprised by this Sony/Legacy song survey because it reveals musical sides of me that are different for those who thought they knew my stuff,” says Andersen.

Expect to hear songs from his entire catalog at the Nighttown show, including some of the tunes he recorded in Germany for Cologne-based Meyer Records.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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