Foolkiller Folk’s annual ‘Will you Miss Me When I’m Gone?’ program, featuring folk singers, songwriters, and musicians who have died in the previous year. This program we honor:
Maggie Roche, the songwriter whose serene alto anchored the close harmonies of the Roches, her trio with her sisters Terre and Suzzy; Bruce Langhorne, “Mr. Tambourine Man”; Vincent Paul Garbutt, the Teesside troubadour;Rosalie Sorrels, Grammy-nominated folk singer: DL Menard, Cajun and country singer-songwriter; Tom Paley, original member of the New Lost City Ramblers; Eamonn Campbell, member of The Dubliners; Katie Lee, American folk singer, writer, photographer and environmental activist, and Robert De Cormier, classically trained singer and choral composer who helped spur the folk music revival in New York.
Maggie Roche, the songwriter whose serene alto anchored the close harmonies of the Roches, her trio with her sisters Terre and Suzzy, died January 21, 2017.
Maggie Roche developed a pop-folk songwriting style that could be droll or diaristic, full of unexpected melodic turns, and often inseparable from the way the sisters’ voices harmonized and diverged. On albums from the early 1970s into the 2000s, Maggie Roche’s songs chronicled a woman’s life from early stirrings of independence (“The Hammond Song”) and amorous entanglements (“The Married Men”) to thoughts on longtime connection (“Can We Go Home Now”). They often mixed heartfelt revelations and flinty punch lines.
Maggie received her first big break when she and Terre attended a songwriting course led by Paul Simon at New York University in 1970. Simon used them as backup singers on his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, paid for their music lessons, and then helped produce Maggie & Terre’s duo album, Seductive Reasoning (1975).
The trio’s first album with Suzzy, The Roches, was produced in 1979. The eponoymous first album was followed by Nurds (1980), then Keep on Doing (1982), which included their unlikely but often requested arrangement of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.
Although the Roches never broke through to achieve chart success, they took it in their stride, together writing Big Nuthin’ about a television show that was going to change their careers but which turned out to be a “big nuthin’”.
Further albums included Another World (1985) and a Christmas record, We Three Kings (1990). Their songs featured on the soundtrack of the film Crossing Delancey (1988), and they provided voiceovers for animated cockroaches in Steven Spielberg’s television cartoon series Tiny Toon Adventures.
In addition to singing, Maggie played guitar and keyboards, but she often stayed in the shadows. Suzzy described her as a private person, sensitive and shy, but “smart, wickedly funny and authentic”. Following the 1995 album Can We Go Home Now – for which Maggie wrote the title track in response to their father’s Alzheimer’s disease, and also contributed the song My Winter Coat – the Roches disbanded. Maggie and Suzzy continued as a duo, and a final trio album, Moonswept, was released in 2007.
Bruce Langhorne, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, died 14 April 2017
As a session guitarist and percussionist, he was crucial to the 60s boom in folk music, but Bruce Langhorne, who died aged 78, will be best remembered as Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man. It was Langhorne’s Turkish frame drum, like a giant tambourine with bells attached to its edges, that inspired the “jingle jangle morning” of Dylan’s song on the pivotal Bringing It All Back Home album (1965), showcasing Langhorne’s electric guitar. The record’s mix of electric and acoustic songs cued folk music’s transition into folk rock. “If you had Bruce playing with you, that’s all you would need to do just about anything,” Dylan said.
Langhorne’s unusual style, without fingerpicking, was dictated by an accident with a firecracker when he was a 12-year-old violin prodigy, blowing off most of his thumb and two fingers of his right hand. “At least I won’t have to play the violin anymore,” he told his distraught mother, Dorothy, on the way to the hospital.
He was born in Tallahassee, Florida, where his father, known as JL, was a professor of English at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a black institution in the still segregated American south. His parents separated when he was four, and he and Dorothy moved to Spanish Harlem, New York, where she supervised public libraries. Bruce attended the prestigious Horace Mann school, but was expelled for alleged gang activity. He later claimed to have stabbed someone and fled to Mexico
He returned aged 17, playing the guitar, first on the streets of Provincetown, Massachusetts, and New York, where he became an accompanist to Brother John Sellers, who was also the MC at Gerde’s Folk City, the hub of the folk movement in Greenwich Village. Like Django Reinhardt, he had to create a unique style using only three fingers. He was quickly in demand as an accompanist to acts as varied as the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins and Buffy Sainte-Marie. He played with Alvin Ailey’s African-American dance company, where he met the dancer Georgia Collins; their marriage lasted 18 months. He then toured with the folk singer Odetta; in August 1963 they performed in Washington just before Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech and can be seen in recordings standing behind King on the stage.
As folk-rock morphed into the singer-songwriter era, Langhorne played on Eric Andersen’s Avalanche (1969), and with singers as varied as Tom Rush, Noel Harrison and the former Blues Project vocalist Tommy Flanders. He branched out, recording with the African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, and, in 1971, composing the music for Peter Fonda’s excellent western The Hired Hand. He played on Dylan’s soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), and scored Fonda’s Idaho Transfer and Jonathan Demme’s Fighting Mad (1976), which starred Fonda. His understated style was highly influential, especially on film-scoring guitarists such as Ry Cooder. Langhorne’s other credits included Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry (1976) and Demme’s Melvin And Howard (1980).
Unsuited, he claimed, to the politics or partying of Hollywood, Langhorne moved to Hawaii and farmed macadamia nuts. He returned to Los Angeles in 1985, ran a studio, composed occasional film scores, and played on records with the Nigerian drummer Babatunda Olatunji and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. After being diagnosed with diabetes and having to change his diet, he created a low-sodium African hot sauce, Brother Bru-Bru’s, which became hugely successful.
Following a stroke in 2006 he had to give up the guitar, but he played the piano on his only solo record, Tambourine Man (2011), on which he also sang with a strong Caribbean flavor. His final score was a beautiful composition for a documentary short, Walden (2012) about Thoreau’s pond. In February 2017, Scissor Tail Records released a double-album tribute to Langhorne called The Hired Hands
Vincent Paul Garbutt, the Teesside troubadour, died 6 June 2017.
With his repertoire of self-composed and traditional folk songs sung with passion and commitment, hilarious introductions and stories, a distinctive voice and a mop of hair that either hung in ringlets or resembled an untidy haystack, Vin Garbutt was one of the most popular singers on the British folk music circuit. Dubbed the Teesside troubadour, Vin found inspiration for his songs from his Irish mother’s family, as well as from the industrial landscape of his home town and stories of its townspeople. In addition to his skillful guitar playing, Vin was a highly accomplished player of the whistle, with a wide repertoire of Irish tunes.
was born in South Bank, Middlesbrough, to Theresa (nee Kelly) and an English father, Alfred, who worked in the local steelworks. On leaving St Peter’s Catholic school, he worked at the ICI Wilton chemical plant on a six-year apprenticeship but, on its completion, left to spend the summer busking in bars in Spain. He had acquired his first guitar while at school, visiting the local folk club and learning the protest songs of Bob Dylan and the rousing Irish songs of the Clancy Brothers. He was also inspired by industrial songs from nearby Tyneside – local songs sung in a local accent, and later said that folk music gave him his sense of identity.
When he returned from Spain, Vin joined a folk group, the Teesside Fettlers, but was also determined to pursue a solo career. Touring clubs in north-east England, he was soon offered bookings, and developed his repertoire of mainly Irish songs.
Frustrated by the lack of traditional folk songs from industrial Teesside and its rural hinterland, he started writing his own material about the area. Inspiration came from local songwriter Graeme Miles, as well as from Ron Angel, whose The Chemical Worker’s Song regularly featured in Vin’s performances.
spite the region’s heavy and dirty industry, Vin looked to a better future, most notably in one of his best known songs, The Valley of Tees, which anticipated the industrial landscape becoming green again to match the surrounding Cleveland Hills. The song was the title track of his first solo album in 1972. Slaggy Island Farewell was a bittersweet lament for the decaying steelworks and changing social life in Slaggy Island, a local name for South Bank.
Vin was never afraid to tackle controversial topics in his songs. The title track of his 1983 album, Little Innocents, dealt with the subject of abortion. His Catholic upbringing and strong faith indicated his viewpoint, but his stance cost him bookings and media coverage, although some opponents argued for his right to freedom of expression. The song Lynda told of a Teesside woman’s fight for medical treatment for her son, born with spina bifida, even though friends had suggested a termination. Other songs tackling subjects such as unemployment (The Loftus Emigrant), and the plight of asylum seekers (Teacher from Persia), were often based on the lives of local people.
Nevertheless, Vin’s songwriting was never parochial, tackling issues in East Timor and Nicaragua, among others. There was also humor and humanity in his songs, as well as in the patter in his introductions. Vin was a hilarious raconteur whose stories often involved a humorous play on words, taking him into flights of fantasy that delighted audiences.
ter The Valley of Tees, Vin released a steady stream of albums, latterly on his own label, Home Roots, the most recent being Synthetic Hues in 2014. Two of his albums, When the Tide Turns (1989, re-released 1998) and The By-Pass Syndrome (1991) were produced by Alan Whetton of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a dedicated fan. Several albums captured Vin in live performance, although accommodating his long introductions was always a challenge. In 2011, local film-maker Craig Hornby made an affectionate documentary, Teesside Troubadour, which played to packed houses in Middlesbrough’s Cineworld.
n was one of the hardest working performers on the British folk scene, playing at clubs, concerts and festivals throughout the country. He also had a loyal following in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the far east, often making round-the-world tours. In 2001, Vin was judged best live act at the BBC Radio 2 folk awards, the same year he received an honorary degree from Teesside University.
osalie Sorrels, Grammy-nominated folk singer, died June 11,2017
Rosalie Sorrels recorded more than 20 albums and performed at top folk festivals around the country. Her albums Strangers in Another Country and My Last Go Round were nominated for Grammys. Eric Peltoniemi, retired president of Red House Records in Minneapolis, worked with Sorrels on four albums, including the two that were nominated for Grammys, and other projects.
“She didn’t just sing a song, she embodied it,” Peltoniemi told the Idaho Statesman. “She was one of the most passionate performers I’d ever seen. When she recorded something it was an event. People like Bonnie Raitt and Kate McGarrigle would come and play.”
Sorrels’ music often touched on social themes. “I take the news from place to place,” Sorrels told Idaho Public Television in a 2005 interview. “I do it with music. I do it with poetry and stories and I try to connect.”
After making three albums in Utah with her husband Jim on guitar, including the first recorded songs by her friend Utah Phillips, she went eastward in 1966 for the Newport Folk Festival. Sorrels’ marriage broke up in 1966 and she started performing on the road, traveling across the country. As she sang in “Travelin’ Lady”: “I used to live in a big fine house, I had rooms for twenty friends or more. Now I run begging from lover to friend For a pallet on any old floor.”
It sounds like a fairly typical example of a ramblin’ folksinger lyric, until you realize that Sorrels hit the road in a station wagon with five children, a journey that became an indelible part of her legend.
She returned to Idaho in the early 1980s and eventually lived in a cabin near Idaho City about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Boise that had been homesteaded by ancestors. She continued to travel and perform.
DL Menard, Cajun and country singer-songwriter, died 27 July 2017
Seeing DL Menard for the first time, a lean guitar-slinger with a seen-it-all gaze, you would guess that he was an old-school country singer. Then he would speak or sing, in English or French, in the accent of southern Louisiana, and you would take him to be a Cajun musician. Both identifications would be correct. Menard, who has died aged 85, embodied the mixed DNA of Cajun and country music, and was proud of his nickname, “the Cajun Hank Williams”.
DL Menard (Doris Leon Menard), the only son of Ophy Menard and his wife, Helena Primeaux Menard, members of a farming family, was born outside Erath in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. Most musicians from deep Cajun country are raised on the traditional sounds of accordion and fiddle and keening French lovesongs, but DL came to the music late; he didn’t hear a Cajun band until he was 16. What he listened to first was hardcore country songs by Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb, borne on the airwaves from station XERA in Del Rio, Texas. When the family radio died, he had to wait for the next cotton crop to provide cash for a new battery.
Hearing an uncle’s band practicing, he fell in love with the guitar, ordered one from a mail-order catalogue, learned some chords, bought a better guitar, and played his first dance job with accordionist Elias Badeaux and his Louisiana Aces. Joining the band in 1952, he initially sang country songs, but in the revival of Cajun music during the 50s he started singing in French. In time, he also began songwriting. “The band had this pretty waltz that didn’t have words to it, so I made up some.” They called it La Valse de Jolly Roger, after a dancehall where they played, recorded it in 1961 for Floyd Soileau’s Swallow label and had some local success. The following year they made another record, a rueful song about a loser’s life called La Porte en Arrière – The Back Door.
“The story came to me all at once,” DL told the Cajun historian Barry Jean Ancelet, “but I was working in a service station. It took only a few minutes to write it down, but they were stretched out over a long afternoon. I based the tune on Hank Williams’ Honky Tonk Blues, changed it some, and made up words in French. It’s about having to come in through the back door. Lots of people could identify with that.”
Three days after it was released, the band played at the Jolly Roger and had to perform the song seven times. It would stay with DL for the rest of his life. His wife Lou Ella, whom he married in 1951, told him that if he went on stage and didn’t sing it, it was like not going on at all. Soileau boasts that it has taken over from Jolie Blonde as the Cajun national anthem.
e Louisiana Aces disbanded in 1967, but the 1973 National Folk Festival in Washington seemed to open doors again. In the company of other folk musicians, DL went on State Department tours of South America, the Middle East and east Asia. By then he had quit the service station and, looking for an occupation that left more time for music, had settled on chair-making. He and Lou Ella, who was skilled at caning (weaving) chair seats and backs, opened a small chair factory in Erath, and DL was now invited to folk festivals as both musician and craftsman.
In 1984 he was offered his dream session: a program of his own and Hank Williams’ songs, accompanied by members of Williams’ Drifting Cowboys and Ricky Skaggs. “DL doesn’t imitate Hank,” Skaggs wrote in the sleeve notes to Cajun Saturday Night, “but he has that bottom-of-the-heart sincerity that Hank had, so people tend to remember Hank when DL sings.”
In the late 80s and 90s he joined fiddler Ken Smith and accordionist Eddie Lejeune to play classic Cajun songs and tunes. They were warmly received on several tours of France and the UK, made the albums Cajun Soul and Le Trio Cadien, and collaborated on DL’s 1988 album No Matter Where You At, There You Are, a characteristic mixture of Cajun tradition, Hank Williams-style honkytonk and original songs by DL such as La Pompe Du Puits (The Water Pump, literally a well pump).
In 1994 DL received a National Heritage Fellowship award, in 2009 he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and in 2010 his album Happy Go Lucky secured a Grammy nomination. He gave his last public performance in July at an event in Erath celebrating the 55th anniversary of The Back Door.
Tom Paley, original member of the New Lost City Ramblers, died September 30, 2017
Allan Thomas Paley became interested in folk music from attending left-leaning summer camps and learned to play guitar in his teens. He became fascinated by what was then called “hillbilly” music and by “race” music, or recordings of the blues by black performers.
aley’s first album, “Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachian Mountains” (1953), included the traditional tune “Jack-a-Roe,” which became a staple of the folk repertoire and was later recorded by Dylan and the Grateful Dead.
After recording albums with folk musician and radio host Oscar Brand and singer Jean Ritchie, Mr. Paley was teaching math at the University of Maryland in 1958 when he joined two like-minded musicians for a live performance at Washington radio station WASH-FM.
e had a hasty rehearsal with John Cohen, a former musical collaborator from Yale, and Washingtonian Mike Seeger — the half-brother of folk music performer and activist Pete Seeger. They didn’t yet have a name, but there was an immediate rapport, and in short order the three musicians formed a group they called the New Lost City Ramblers, a group that helped spur the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s and influenced Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
The Ramblers began appearing in coffeehouses and on college campuses around the country. Their first album came out in 1958 on the Smithsonian Folkways label, featuring such tunes as “Tom Cat Blues,” “Railroading and Gambling,” and “Battleship of Maine,” which had Mr. Paley on lead vocal:
Paley left the New Lost City Ramblers in 1962, partly because Cohen and Seeger wanted the band to be a full-time affair, while Paley wanted to continue teaching, and partly for political reasons. However he kept performing and recording, always specializing in the old songs he so loved.
He released two albums with Peggy Seeger in the mid-60s and in 1966 he formed the New Deal String Band, which included another expatriate New Yorker, Joe Locker, and British fiddlers. When the band re-formed in the 90s, the lineup included his son, Ben, an accomplished fiddle-player, who joined him on further recordings including Svenska Latår: Swedish Fiddle Tunes, and the two albums that were to revive Paley’s career.
Eamonn Campbell, member of The Dubliners from 1987 until his death 18 October 2017
The Dubliners were instrumental in popularizing Irish folk music in Europe. They influenced many generations of Irish bands, and their legacy can to this day be heard in the music of artists such as The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. One of the most influential Irish acts of the 20th century, they celebrated 50 years together in 2012, making them Ireland’s longest surviving musical act, receiving the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.
It was at Eamonn Campbell’s suggestion that the Dubliners worked with London-based Irish band The Pogues in the mid-1980s, thus giving them their second biggest UK hit to date (“The Irish Rover“); their biggest hit was Seven Drunken Nights which reached number 7 in the charts in 1967. and an appearance on Top of the Pops.
Campbell produced all of the Dubliners’ albums from 1987 onwards, as well as albums for many other Irish artists, including Foster and Allen, Brendan Shine, Daniel O’Donnell and Paddy Reilly. He played locally with the Delta Showband, The Bee Vee Five and the Country Gents before joining Dermot O’Brien and the Clubmen and first met The Dubliners when both acts toured England together in 1967. In the mid to late 1970’s Eamonn more or less retired from the road and became involved in the growing Irish recording scene, first as a session musician and later moving to production.
He was the Grand Master for the 2009 Drogheda St Patrick’s Day Parade. In his younger years Campbell taught guitar lessons at the “Music Shop” in Drogheda. While on tour in the Netherlands with the Dublin Legends, Eamonn had been feeling unwell during his final performance. He returned to his hotel at around 1am and went to bed. Eamonn died during the early hours of the morning of 18 October 2017.
Katie Lee, American folk singer, writer, photographer and environmental activist, died November 1, 2017).
From the 1950s, Lee often sang about rivers and white water rafting. She was a vocal opponent of Glen Canyon Dam, which opened in 1963, and called for the canyon to be returned to its natural state; for her environmental activism, was often called “the Desert Goddess of Glen Canyon.” Her obituary in The New York Times states, “Ms. Lee never forgave the builders of the Glen Canyon Dam and said the only thing that prevented her from blowing it up was that she did not know how.”
Lee’s early folk music albums, Songs of Couch and Consultation (1957) and Life Is Just a Bed of Neuroses (1960), parody the rising popularity of psychoanalysis at the time. Both albums have long been out of print, but six of her later CDs remain available. She also released three videos, including Love Song to Glen Canyon (DVD, 2007).
In 1964, Lee released an album on Folkways Records, entitled Folk Songs of the Colorado River. In the 1980s, she recorded a cassette-only release, Colorado River Songs, consisting of old songs popular among river runners on the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, and some original compositions. She also was featured on the 2005 Smithsonian Folkways compilation album, Songs and Stories from Grand Canyon. In October 2011, Katie Lee was inducted into the Arizona Music Hall of Fame.
Lee also authored five books. Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle: A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse (1976), a study of the music, stories, and poetry of the American cowboy, was later recorded as an album with Travis Edmonson. Sandstone Seduction, a 2004 memoir, relates Lee’s continuing love affair with desert rivers and canyons, and discusses her Lady Godiva-style bicycle ride through downtown Jerome, Arizona, where she lived.
Chronicles of Lee’s adventures in Baja California appear in the book Almost An Island by Bruce Berger. In 2016, a short documentary entitled Kickass Katie Lee was screened at Telluride Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival where Lee was a regular guest.
Robert De Cormier, classically trained singer and choral composer who helped spur the folk music revival in New York, died November 7, 2017
A dashing baritone, Mr. De Cormier played a leading — if largely invisible — role in the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s, when he arranged politically progressive songs for artists such as Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston and Paul Robeson, sometimes accompanying them with his voice or guitar. De Cormier worked as an arranger for Harry Belafonte and became almost a “fourth member” of the harmonizing vocal outfit Peter, Paul and Mary
“He lived the same imperative that Peter, Paul and Mary did,” band member Peter Yarrow told the New York Times in 2016, “thinking of this music not just as an art form that had beauty, and that’s admirable in and of itself, but also as a vehicle for spreading a certain kind of sensibility.”
That sensibility, a steadfast commitment to peace and social justice, remained a fixture of Mr. De Cormier’s musical projects for six decades, extending from his folk arrangements to his work as a composer and director of classical choral groups such as the New York Choral Society, Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Vermont-based group Counterpoint.
At the New York Choral Society, where Mr. De Cormier was director from 1970 to 1987, he drew on his folk connections to arrange for choral collaborations with Belafonte and Peter, Paul and Mary, and expanded the group to 175 singers, more than 10 times its initial size. He also diversified the chorus’s songbook, supplementing canonical works by Brahms and Handel with modern pieces Mr. De Cormier sometimes composed himself.
His works included the cantata “The Jolly Beggars,” a setting of poetry by Robert Burns, and the dance classic “The Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder,” a chain-gang song that he arranged with producer Milt Okun, and drew from genres as varied as African American spirituals and the folk music of Israel, Sweden, Japan and Korea. De Cormier also recorded several children’s albums with the former Louise Dobbs, whom he married in 1950.
A son, Christopher De Cormier, died of cancer in 1977; a piece written by Mr. De Cormier in his honor is scheduled to be performed at a 2018 tribute concert for Mr. De Cormier. Titled “Legacy,” the work’s four movements are written in a kind of code, with each key spelling out Christopher De Cormier’s initials: C major, D minor, E minor and C again.