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Eric Andersen

Since rising out of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early-1960s, Eric Andersen has maintained a prolific, adventurous, and varied career that spans folk, rock, country, blues, and beat poetry. Writing with a philosphical and poetic bent, he emerged alongside peers like Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs and recorded a series of albums for the Vanguard label before finding mainstream success amid the singer/songwriter movement with his 1972 standout Blue River. He was part of legendary '70s tours like the Festival Express and Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, while touring throughout Europe, Japan, and North American on his own. He later based himself in Norway where in the '90s he formed the acclaimed folk-rock trio Danko/Fjeld/Andersen with Band bassist Rick Danko and Norwegian musican Jonas Fjeld. As a musician and writer, Andersen remained prolific into the 21st century, writing short ficiton and poetry, releasing solo albums like 2003's Beat Avenue and 2004's The Street Was Always There, and contributing to cultural events celebrating writers like William S. Burroughs, Albert Camus, and Jack Kerouac. The Songpoet, a career spanning documentary about Andersen, premiered in 2019 and was followed in 2022 by a tribute collection featuring a range of artists, from Bob Dylan to Linda Ronstadt, covering his music. Born February 14, 1943 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andersen grew up outside of Buffalo where he saw rock and roll greats like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers perform in his hometown. He learned to play guitar and piano and became interested in folk music. After stints in Boston and San Francisco, fellow folk singer Tom Paxton invited him to come to New York City where he arrived at the hieight of Greenwich Village's early-'60s folk scene. He signed with the Vanguard label and released his 1965 debut, Today Is the Highway, which featured early highlight "Come to My Bedside." Andersen's second album, 'Bout Changes & Things, contained some of his best-known songs of that era, including the poetic "Violets of Dawn" and "Thirsty Boots," the latter of which was eventually recorded by Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and John Denver. During this period he also made his debut at the Newport Folk Festival, was courted by the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, and appeared in one of Andy Warhol's experimental films. In the latter half of the '60s, Andersen experimented with country, pop, and rock music, releasing additional albums for Vanguard as well as for Warner Bros. In 1970 he joined the trans-Canadian Festival Express tour alongside the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Band, and others. Splitting his time between California and New York, he often stayed at the famous Chelsea Hotel where befriend the likes of Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Patti Smith. Andersen signed with Columbia for his landmark 1972 album, Blue River, which turned out to be his most commercially successful release and a highlight of the early singer/songwriter movement. His career suffered two years later when the master tapes for his follow-up album were lost by Columbia. As a result he left the label and signed with the newly formed Arista Records, headed by ousted Columbia president Clive Davis. During the mid-'70s, Andersen recorded a pair of albums for Arista (Be True To You and Sweet Surprise), played a handful of shows as part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, toured Japan, and relocated to Woodstock, New York. By the early-'80s, he'd taken up residence in Europe where recorded 1980's Midnight Son for CBS. Although he continued to tour folk clubs in both in Europe and North America, his recorded output over the next several years was limited to a Swedish release, Exile, and the soundtrack to the Belgian film Istanbul. He eventually settled in Norway where he started a family, touring occasionally and writing both songs, essays, and short fiction. 1989's critically-lauded Ghosts Upon the Road marked something of a comeback for Andersen and reflected heavily on his '60s troubadour years. The '90s saw Andersen form a collaborative folk-rock project with Canadian Rick Danko and Norwegian Jonas Fjeld. Billed as Danko/Fjeld/Andersen, the trio released their debut on Rykodisc in 1991 followed three years later by Ridin' on the Blinds for the Norwegian label Grappa Musikkforlag. The lost master tapes of his early-'70s follow up to Blue River were also recovered and finally saw the light of day in 1991 as Stages: The Lost Album. Andersen contributed a song to the 1997 Jack Kerouac tribute Kicks Joy Darkness, then released the introspective solo album, Memory of the Future, in 1998. At the dawn of the 21st century, Andersen's musical output became more prolifice with releases like 2003's ambitious double album Beat Avenue and 2004's wistful Greenwich Village-inspired The Street Was Always There. He also released his first live album, Blue Rain, in 2007. He also continued to tour and take part in significant cultural events. In 2008, he performed at the Andy Warhol Week Celebration at the Gershwin Hotel where, alongside artists like Lou Reed and Billy Name, he received an "Andy" award. The following year he performed on the BBC program Greenwich Village Revisited, hosted by Billy Bragg; other guests included Carolyn Hester, Roger McGuinn, and Judy Collins. Also in 2009, Andersen also took part in the international celebrations centering around the 50th anniversary of the publication of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. He contributed an essay entitled "The Danger Zone" to the volume Naked Lunch @ 50: The Anniversary Essays, published by the Southern Illinois University Press. His second live offering, The Cologne Concert, appeared in 2011 through Meyer Records. Along with deep catalog material, the set offered a pair of new songs in "The Dance of Love and Death" and "Sinking Deeper Into You." In May of 2012 he became a member of the newly created European Beat Studies Network under the auspices of William S. Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris. That fall, he was commissioned by Catherine Camus to write original material for the centennial celebration of her father Albert Camus' 100th birthday in Aix en Provence, France. Andersen delivered a song cycle entitled The Shadow and Light of Albert Camus, recorded and released through Meyer in 2014. In September 2015 Andersen took part in a V.I.P. charity concert in Grand Hall at Newstead Abbey Park, the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron in Ravenshead, Nottingham, U.K. (in Sherwood Forest). Andersen played music he set to Byron’s verse and offered entirely new compositions in the poet's rhyme style. This project was written and developed over the previous two years. Andersen later recorded the songs and issued them as Mingle with the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron in the spring of 2017. Two years later, Andersen's life and work were celebrated in the documentary film The Songpoet which premiered in September at the Copenhagen Music Film Festival. A 2020 collection titled Woodstock Under the Stars collated various live recordings, webcasts, and studio sessions between 1991 and 2011. Two years later, Tribute To A Songpoet: Songs of Eric Andersen was released featuring artists like Bob Dylan, Lenny Kaye, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Lucy Kaplansky covering his songs. Another live album, Foolish Like the Flowers, recorded in Italy, appeared in early 2023.
© William Ruhlmann & Timothy Monger /TiVo
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