John Hearld

John Hearld

John Hearld

The Manumit School (“manumit” in Latin means freedom from slavery) was an “experimental” socialist boarding school in Pawling, New York.

clip_image001_0006Founded on purchased farm land in 1924 by William and Helen Fincke, it was formally called The Manumit School for Workers’ Children. An early promotional flyer for the school asked parents if they’d like their kids to grow up “to become men and women who can think for themselves, stand on their own two feet, and fight injustice and oppression.” It’s teachings were meant to provide a “progressive,” “workers education” slant during a time of increasing socialist optimism in America. Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn worked here as an English and Drama teacher until 1929.

A former student, Robert Shnayerson, is quoted in a Time Magazine article in 1961, describing the Manumit experience: “We drove trucks at nine years and plowed with tractors, slaughtered pigs and took care of the cows. But I didn’t learn anything about anything.”

John Herald Interviewed…

…taken from the liner notes of John Herald’s forthcoming “Roll On John” album, released May 2000 on Spit & Polish, distributed by Proper Distribution – Cat. No. SPITCD003

Tracklisting:
Martha And Me, Hitch Hike Fever, I Heard The Bluebirds Sing, Gone Home, Carmelita, Roll On John, Walking The Floor Over You, Dark As A Dungeon, Hey Good Looking, Saved

Recorded over just two days during a rare visit to the UK, this is the first album in 18 years from the Greenwich Village troubadour clip_image001John Herald. As the leader of the Sixties New York bluegrass pioneers The Greenbriar Boys, founder member of the Seventies folk collective The Wooodstock Mountain Review and an accomplished solo performer, Herald has flown the flag for traditional folk music throughout his four decade career. His songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur and Peter, Paul & Mary, and as a singer and session guitarist he has recorded with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Doc Watson and Ian & Sylvia. Interviewed from his home in the hills of Woodstock, NY, John Herald talks candidly about his influences, his career and his passion for music which remains as strong as ever.

To go back to the beginning, John, what kind of music were you first drawn to? Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?

Well the first was Pete Seeger. He’s the person who let me know that I could sing in the sense of saying, “Come on, sing along with this tune here if you feel the spirit and maybe you will hear your voice sailing above the crowd and you’ll see what fun it is.” That was at Summer camp back in 1954. And later on my father had some records in the house of Pete Seeger, again, and Leadbelly. He’s one of the precursors of rock and great traditional black singing from the USA. He’s not a blues singer so it’s hard to say with a couple of words exactly what kind of music he’s made but he’s the kind of singer, like Ray Charles, that could sing pretty much anything with a thrilling feeling and earthiness. Also records by a white Appalachian singer and banjo player Hobart Smith who was not well known, even by Americans. He was one of the hundreds or thousands that were unknown when the folk revival got started in the late Fifties and Sixties. Woody Guthrie was not so much a music influence but was an influence in the sense of lifestyle and philosophy.Then I got really interested in bluegrass. In my last year or two of boarding school – I went to a progressive school called Manumit (in Latin meaning Freedom From Slavery) – there was this radio program coming from New Jersey called Larkin Barkin’ hosted by Don Larkin. He would come on every day at 12 o’ clock, which was lunch time for us at the boarding school, andwould play 15 minutes to half an hour of a certain bluegrass artist. When I first heard that, of would play 15 minutes to half an hour of a certain bluegrass artist. When I first heard that, of course, I went totally ga ga. I used to go racing back to my room at the boarding school and breathlessly turn on his show. So that was how I first started finding out about the more commercial side of bluegrass and I got to know some names. I distinctly remember Don Reno (photo above: Don Reno & Earl Scruggs). He was a bluegrass banjo and guitar player, totally original, who played lead and to this day is probably the only person I’d say I copied guitar from.

(3 of the Skillet Lickers – Riley Puckett, centre)

clip_image001_0002Now just for back up guitar and backing your own voice, I was greatly influenced by the same fellow that Doc Watson was influenced by, a fellow named Riley Puckett. Riley was a blind white guitar player from the South. He played with fingerpicks turned backwards and a great character in his voice. Although I was copying Riley Puckett’s guitar style, I was also trying to learn his vocal style. When he sang a word that began with an ‘h’ he would get a nice crack in his voice. I haven’t tried to learn the voice style of any singers now in maybe 25 years. I just sing the way I sing. So it’s hard to say if you would hear a cracked ‘h’ in any of my recent stuff, but perhaps you would in the old stuff that I did for Vanguard. So those were the influences I copied from – Riley Puckett and Don Reno.
When you perform, John, it seems to me that you can’t help but give it all you’ve got. When you sing it’s very powerful and when you play guitar you don’t seem to give yourself an easy job. Do you agree with that and, if so, where did you get that from? Do you think it’s a direct influence from anyone?

The power or volume probably came from learning to play on the streets of New York City where you had to sing above the traffic noise to be heard. It also has to do with certain pickers I have loved like Frank Wakefield and Scotty Stoneman. They come across, to me, like a possessed old world symphony conductor who pushed the verve and beat like a train locomotive. Other than that there is no easy way to describe their feeling of spontaneity and inspiration. If they ran out of strings while taking an instrumental break their fingers and body language would end up playing the pegs or pick guard until someone threw a bucket of water on them. These same people could also play just one note throughout a whole song and sound exciting and at the same time creating some brand new fever pitch section. This one note might also be more thrilling to them than a lot of notes played very cleanly and slick. Of more concern to them, I think, is how unique the sound feels, and if it transfers to the audience. If it does and they get a nice response from the clip_image001audience like a preacher with a holy roller congregation the musician can be moved to yet another level of excitement, almost doubly wowing the flock. For me it’s musicians and performers like The Skillet Lickers doing talking music records, good clog dancing, a great yodeler, a stirring preacher, Doyle Lawson, Carl Story, The Lewis Family and The Nashville Bluegrass Band doing acapella gospel, James Brown, The Nicols Brothers, Fred Astaire with feet a-fire, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Bob Yellin’ s instrumental solos and Raymond Fairchild (Raymond especially can get possessed on the banjo), Uncle Dave Macon’s pure joy on stage, Pete Seeger singalongs like with Wimoweh was always the heart of chills – buy his LP with Wimoweh and the audience singing different parts he shows them, Iris Dement and Steve Earle’s sensuality and inner beauty combined in their beautiful songs and songwriting, Jennifer Warnes’ fully original singing, Rory Block and Hazel Dickens’ passion andWhen you perform, John, it seems to me that you can’t help but give it all you’ve got. When you sing it’s very powerful and when you play guitar you don’t seem to give yourself an easy job. Do you agree with that and, if so, where did you get that from? Do you think it’s a direct influence from anyone?
The power or volume probably came from learning to play on the streets of New York City where you had to sing above the traffic noise to be heard. It also has to do with certain pickers I have loved like Frank Wakefield and Scotty Stoneman. They come across, to me, like a possessed old world symphony conductor who pushed the verve and beat like a train locomotive. Other than that there is no easy way to describe their feeling of spontaneity and inspiration. If they ran out of strings while taking an instrumental break their fingers and body language would end up playing the pegs or pick guard until someone threw a bucket of water on them. These same people could also play just one note throughout a whole song and sound exciting and at the same time creating some brand new fever pitch section. This one note might also be more thrilling to them than a lot of notes played very cleanly and slick. Of more concern to them, I think, is how unique the sound feels, and if it transfers to the audience. If it does and they get a nice response from the audience like a preacher with a holy roller congregation the musician can be moved to yet another level of excitement, almost doubly wowing the flock. For me it’s musicians and performers like The Skillet Lickers doing talking music records, good clog dancing, a great yodeler, a stirring preacher, Doyle Lawson, Carl Story, The Lewis Family and The Nashville Bluegrass Band doing acapella gospel, James Brown, The Nicols Brothers, Fred Astaire with feet a-fire, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Bob Yellin’ s instrumental solos and Raymond Fairchild (Raymond especially can get possessed on the banjo), Uncle Dave Macon’s pure joy on stage, Pete Seeger singalongs like with Wimoweh was always the heart of chills – buy his LP with Wimoweh and the audience singing different parts he shows them, Iris Dement and Steve Earle’s sensuality and inner beauty combined in their beautiful songs and songwriting, Jennifer Warnes’ fully original singing, Rory Block and Hazel Dickens’ passion and Diane Stockwell’s pure voice coming right out of Manhattan’s shadowiness. These are the type of folks that have always made me feel that something is right with the world.

clip_image001_0003You were one of the founding members of The Greenbriar Boys in late ’59 and were based in Greenwich Village in the early Sixties. It must have been a very exciting place to be hanging out and making music.

Boy was it! You bet it was. In this particular case I was in the right place at the right time. I was born and raised in Greenwich Village. I had already been prepared for the Village before the actual music thing started. My father was a poet. All of his friends were bohemians – painters, dancers, writers – and here I was, somebody that was in on another sort of bohemian revolution in the sense of the folk part of art; folk craft, folk culture and so on. There I was in lower Manhattan and it was happening all around me. People like Frank Wakefield, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker were arriving every other month. There were others born in the right time and place in Greenwich Village like Rory Block who I’m actually wild about to this very day. She’s a white blues singer. Very big in the United States; John Sebastian, of course, from the Lovin Spoonful who was always extremely influenced by jug band music and old blues; and Eric Kaz was another fellow who turned out to be an absolute crack-a-jack songwriter. He wrote a tune called “Love Has No Pride”. That’s what he’s most known for. One of the saddest songs I ever heard. He’s a good friend of mine. He was born and raised mostly in Greenwich Village and his parents had this place in Woodstock and I was roughly the same. I was born in Greenwich Village and my father used to take me to Woodstock. My mother died when I was three so if you don’t hear me mention my mother much in my life that’s the reason.

Talking about the Greenwich Village scene, you touched on Dylan who must be the most famous of your contemporaries.clip_image001_0004

Well, there was a time in New York – around 1959 to 1961 – when there were not that many people around that were nuts about traditional music. A lot of them were interested in songwriting. If I wanted to go hear some traditional music like blues or Clarence Ashley or the McGee Brothers and so on – that were being brought into New York by a group called The Friends Of Old Time Music at the time – there weren’t that many people that I could call up and say, “Hey, you wanna go see this concert?”. Dylan was one of those few people that happened to like traditional music as much as me. That also includes rock n roll. We were both night owls and enjoyed Cafe Society, our girlfriends were also best friends, so he was one of the maybe ten scuffing partners that I had.

Can you remember when you first encountered him?


I actually first encountered him by seeing him when he was playing fiddle. There was a place in New York City on Macdougal St. called The Folklore Center and it was run by this great character by the name of Israel Young. One day I passed by and heard this fiddle coming out of the store. As I peeked in it was him. All I knew was he was a guy with a little twitch – a sort of Woody Guthrie twitch – and a cap that, if you knew him, he was wearing most of the time. He had this raspy voice – even more raspy than Woody Guthrie. Anyway, he was noodling on the fiddle and it kind of surprised me ’cause there wasn’t that many fiddle players around. There’s probably even less that would remember Dylan playing fiddle. Maybe he could have been a great fiddle player if he practiced.

You don’t ever hear of Dylan having been a fiddle player.
No, not that I know of, but back then there was a lot of experimenting going on. Maybe there’s a hidden Dylan fiddle record somewhere.

He’s well known for soaking up influences from people around him.

Yes, probably more than most people.

Do you think you were any kind of influence on Dylan or might he have been an influence on you?

No. Our ages were too close. It seems most of our influences were older than us. We were both big Rambling Jack Elliott fans and that reason was something to do with age. I’m sixty now, Dylan about fifty nine, Jack Elliott’s about sixty four. Even that four years age difference meant we would stand in a position of awe about him, whereas Dylan and myself might have awed each other in a different way. We were both in New York, we were both interested in learning Riley Puckett and Leadbelly and another hundred odd blues and mountain tunes and so on. But I do remember one time when Dylan was at my house – this was around 1988 – and I brought out this whole list of songs I used to sing. It wasn’t singer songwriter stuff, it was just good old mountain music and Deep Ellum ghetto music. Thirties, Forties and Fifties music made by acoustic singers. And when I brought this list out and started naming some of these songs, Dylan went, “Oh, what is that? Oh I used to know that one”, and we went down the list. We tried singing them but couldn’t remember a lot. If Rambling Jack was at that singing session when this list came out, Jack Elliot might have said, “I remember that tune. I remember this tune. In fact, Cheryl Tridlock used to sing this tune a bunch over in Glasgow, Scotland. Or so and so would sing this tune from Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas”, and he would have had his own take on the whole thing. He’d been living some of those songs. Also at that time he knew more songs than we did. He was an experienced travelling troubadour that sidekicked with Woody Guthrie. In those days we all did so much listening and song swapping that we probably all influenced each other to an extent.

You spent some time in LA in the Seventies. How did that musical environment compare to the East Coast?

It was similar only in a certain way. It had a sort of coterie of people that were extremely interested in traditional music and were, in a sense, like east coasters. They sort of soaked up what they liked by osmosis. I remember going to play in the Ash Grove that was the great going club in LA at the time. I stayed with a friend of Bob Neuwirth’s in LA for a while, right down from Charlton Heston’s house I remember. And we used to have parties round the swimming pool and pickers and singers like John Hartford, The Dillards, Linda Ronstadt and Maria Muldaur might come by. There were many folk music scenes happening all over the country at a time when these singers weren’t so legendary and busy and played and traded songs with others just for the fun of it.

clip_image001_0005Did you enjoy the West Coast experience?

Well, let’s say my soul has always been in the East Coast but I found some wonderful people in California where I lived for three and a half years with a quite stunning woman by the name of Willow Van Den Hoek. She was beautiful inside and out, and an amazing spoon player and singer. I wrote a song about her called “Queen Of Spoons”.

How did the Woodstock Mountain Review project come into being?
Artie and Happy Traum put that together. Two of my very good friends who have lived in Woodstock for as long as I have. The first record we made was called “More Music From Mud Acres” and they didn’t really have a name for the band. Then I wrote a song called ” Woodstock Mountain” so they decided to use the name Woodstock Mountain Review. The foundation of the band was: The Traum brothers; Pat Alger who went on as a soloist and wrote songs for Nanci Griffith, Garth Brooks and many others; Jim Rooney who has produced records by Iris Dement and John Prine; Bill Keith who is known for creating a bluegrass banjo style all his own; and Roly Salley who has been with Chris Isaac for the last fifteen years. Other artists that played on different records and tours were Paul Butterfield, John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, Eric Anderson, Paul Siebel, Gordon Titcomb, Patty Elam, Rory Block and Lee Berg.

It’s been quite a while since you last put out an album and here you are with a bunch of songs recorded in Scotland. Can you tell us a bit about some of the songs, for example, “Roll On John”?
That came to the group [the Greenbriar Boys] through Ralph Rinzler who was a bit of a musicologist connected to a lot of fine folk life collectors in this country. “Roll On John” was collected by Margo Mayo in the Nineteen Thirties and sung by an unheard of fellow by the name of Rufus Crisp.

“Martha And Me”?
“Martha And Me” was actually originally called “Lawdy Lawd” and was done by a group that did some recording in the Thirties called The Alabama Sheiks. They only recorded four sides which would be two 78 speed recordings, one song on each side. Every song was top notch. I re-wrote “Lawdy Lawd” to suit my style a little more, and called it “Martha And Me”. When it comes to giving the proper credit I figure that if the family of the singer plus the singer himself is long gone, then there is absolutely no way for me to get in touch with anybody from the original artist’s past. But if anybody knows the whereabouts of the Alabama Sheiks’ relatives please let me know. As Pete Seeger said, “You wanna be a songwriter? You don’t know how to do it? If you hear a song you like but don’t remember it then you can add to it or change it. You don’t remember the words? Write your own. You figure that maybe you didn’t have the melody quite right? Don’t worry about it. Just finish the melody off in your own style and with your own words and you might find you have your own song”. That was one of many things that Pete Seeger passed on to my generation. Of course he didn’t mean steal it but a blurry memory or mistake or two can lead to a whole new tune.

clip_image001_0006OK, one more song on the album. “Gone Home” ?
I first heard that by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and actually have it in an old songbook by a fellow named Bill Clifton who was a song collector and well known bluegrass singer who put out this songbook way back in the mid Fifties. [reading book] It says “Bill Clifton – Old Time Folk And Gospel – 150 songs”. There are all these pictures of The Carter Family and this and that…But anyway, he did have this song called “Gone Home” or “They Have Gone Home” and…just bear with me here…This song is one of the songs, one of the literally thousands of old great songs that may have been forgotten. I don’t know if I’m the one that’s going to resurrect it here; I haven’t been that up on the music scene…Anyway, [reading] “They Have Gone Home” was written by Bill Carlisle – now that’s interesting. I don’t know if I ever told you this, Francis, but the Greenbriar Boys played on the Grand Ol’ Opry way back in about 1960. The way that worked was we were touring with Joan Baez at the time and we were passing through Nashville and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs couldn’t make it that night, ’cause they were on tour. They needed a bluegrass band to fill their spot and it so happened that Flatt & Scruggs knew who we were. And Joan Baez’s manager, a guy by the name of Manny Greenhill, and Flatt & Scrugg’s agent who was Earl Scruggs’s wife, had a rapport going because they were trying to share some shows with Flatt & Scruggs and Joan Baez. So we ended up playing on the Grand Ol’ Opry. Anyway, to get back to what I was originally going to say, I had gone to the Grand Ol’ Opry as a spectator back in 1957 and there was a great singer by the name of Bill Carlisle. Bill had this little shtick you might call it, where he would run up to the“Martha And Me” was actually originally called “Lawdy Lawd” and was done by a group that did some recording in the Thirties called The Alabama Sheiks. They only recorded four sides which would be two 78 speed recordings, one song on each side. Every song was top notch. I re-wrote “Lawdy Lawd” to suit my style a little more, and called it “Martha And Me”. When it comes to giving the proper credit I figure that if the family of the singer plus the singer himself is long gone, then there is absolutely no way for me to get in touch with anybody from the original artist’s past. But if anybody knows the whereabouts of the Alabama Sheiks’ relatives please let me know. As Pete Seeger said, “You wanna be a songwriter? You don’t know how to do it? If you hear a song you like but don’t remember it then you can add to it or change it. You don’t remember the words? Write your own. You figure that maybe you didn’t have the melody quite right? Don’t worry about it. Just finish the melody off in your own style and with your own words and you might find you have your own song”. That was one of many things that Pete Seeger passed on to my generation. Of course he didn’t mean steal it but a blurry memory or mistake or two can lead to a whole new tune.

OK, one more song on the album. “Gone Home” ?
I first heard that by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and actually have it in an old songbook by a fellow named Bill Clifton who was a song collector and well known bluegrass singer who put out this songbook way back in the mid Fifties. [reading book] It says “Bill Clifton – Old Time Folk And Gospel – 150 songs”. There are all these pictures of The Carter Family and this and that…But anyway, he did have this song called “Gone Home” or  “They Have Gone Home” and…just bear with me here…This song is one of the songs, one of the literally thousands of old great songs that may have been forgotten. I don’t know if I’m the one that’s going to resurrect it here; I haven’t been that up on the music scene…Anyway, [reading] “They Have Gone Home” was written by Bill Carlisle – now that’s hollander3interesting. I don’t know if I ever told you this, Francis, but the Greenbriar Boys played on the Grand Ol’ Opry way back in about 1960. The way that worked was we were touring with Joan Baez at the time and we were passing through Nashville and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs couldn’t make it that night, ’cause they were on tour. They needed a bluegrass band to fill their spot and it so happened that Flatt & Scruggs knew who we were. And Joan Baez’s manager, a guy by the name of Manny Greenhill, and Flatt & Scrugg’s agent who was Earl Scruggs’s wife, had a rapport going because they were trying to share some shows with Flatt & Scruggs and Joan Baez. So we ended up playing on the Grand Ol’ Opry. Anyway, to get back to what I was originally going to say, I had gone to the Grand Ol’ Opry as a spectator back in 1957 and there was a great singer by the name of Bill Carlisle. Bill had this little shtick you might call it, where he would run up to the

Biography by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

While John Herald’s name might not be as familiar as Alan Lomax’s, his work as a member of the Greenbriar Boys and as a session musician made him a prime mover and shaker on the folk scene during the ’50s and early ’60s. Herald was born and raised in Greenwich Village, and his vocation was pretty much chosen for him when his poet father took the young boy to parties where folk-forefathers like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie performed live. “All of his (father’s) friends were bohemians …,” Herald recalled in the liner notes to Roll On John, “and here I was, somebody that was in on another sort of bohemian revolution in the sense of the folk part of art; folk craft, folk culture and so on.” Like many roots music lovers of his generation, he also learned about folk from Pete Seeger, whom he saw perform at summer camp in 1954. While attending Manumit, a progressive school, he started listening to bluegrass on Don Larkin’s radio program (Larkin Barkin’) out of New Jersey. He learned to play the guitar by attending loose jam sessions with future notables like Bob Dylan, Rory Block, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. In 1959 Herald joined the Greenbriar Boys with John Yellin and Eric Weissberg. While the band garnered a good rep playing Sunday jams in Washington Square (in Greenwich Village) and local American Youth Hostels, they had few commercial aspirations early on. This outlook changed, however, when Yellin was replaced by Paul Prestopino and then Ralph Rinzler. Rinzler encouraged the band to practice more often, and by 1960 the group traveled to Union Grove, North Carolina where they won first prize in the band competition (the first Northern band to do so). In 1962, the Greenbriar Boys guested on “Pal of Mine” and “Banks of the Ohio on Joan Baez’s second album. From here it was a short step for Vangaurd’s Maynard Solomon to sign the group. After performing on the compilation, New Folks, the group recorded three successive albums for the label, The Greenbriar Boys (1962), Ragged But Right! (1964), and Better Late Than Never (1966), and one album for Electra, Dian and the Greenbriar Boys (1963).While holding down his guitar and vocal chores in the Greenbriar Boys, Herald went to work at the Smithsonian Institute and managed bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. Vanguard also kept him busy with session work during the ’60s. He played an essential roll in the work of Ian & Sylvia as they expanded their folk sound in the mid-’60s, and also played on albums by Jack Elliott and Doc Watson. In 1972, Herald recorded his first solo album for Paramount and followed with the electric John Herald and the John Herald Band in 1978. By the early ’80s, however, he had returned to his acoustic roots. “… Most of the traditional folk music people that I know …,” Herald noted, “will always be playing only at home if need be, like we did when we first started.”