Sunday, June 20, 2010
CRUMB ART BLUES: A Chat with New York's Premier Country Blues Band
NEW YORK, New York: The IRT was lucky enough to have befriended Eden Brower, singer for the great New York City-based old timey outfit The East River String Band, via Facebook this spring.
She and her partner in crime, stringman John Heneghan, were gracious enough to take a moment for a brief e-chat with us about their city, their music and their long-standing comraderie with legendary comix czar Robert Crumb, who art directed both of their great albums, "Some Cold Rainy Day" (2008) and "Drunken Barrel House Blues" (2009), available now on Amazon or at your better local record shop.
Also make sure to visit their Web site at www.eastriverstringband.com. -Ed.
IRT: How did you guys first meet and get together?
John: [Eden and I] been dating for 13 years. We started the band about 5 years ago.
IRT: What draws you to old-timey music?
John: There’s a purity in almost all old-time music that you can’t find in today’s music. The music of the 1920’s & 30’s came from a time where musicians were isolated and had their own sound without being heavily influenced by what was popular. That changed with the Depression and the advent of radio.
Eden: I got into it just by hearing John play these great 78s over and over...It started sinking in how special this music was. I began to sing along with it and really realized how much I loved it!
IRT: In playing early 20th century music like you do, I'm sure you can hear many parallels to the state of America when these songs were being written and the trials of today's society...
John: It’s actually all the exact same stuff that’s going on today. Bankers had free reign and they destroyed the economy. Almost identical to what’s going on now.
IRT: When did you first get into old timey music and how were you turned onto it?
John: I got interested in old-time music when I was about 16 years old. I came across a used Charley Patton Yazoo LP in my local record store. I was completely transformed by it. It would become a lifelong obsession.
Eden: John’s obession sucked me right on in! The music is just so raw and powerful to me.
IRT: Where do you guys live on the LES and how has your neighborhood changed over the last 10 years?
John: We live in the East Village. Basically our neighborhood changed from Midnight Cowboy into Sex In The City/Friends.
Eden: The hood is unfortunately becoming like one big shopping mall of chain stores. All the quirky neighborhood shops just can’t make it anymore...very sad to see this happening.
IRT: What staple of the LES do you miss the most and why?
John: Junk stores. No more hidden treasures to be found. It’s all Ikea furniture now.
Eden: Thrift stores, junk stores, non-chain mom and pop shops.
IRT: Eden, you told me on Facebook you guys are friends with Robert Crumb. How did you come to meet him?
Eden: I met his daughter Sophie in the LES and we became friends. Then she introduced us to her parents. John and Robert immediately hit it off and we just all became very good friends.
IRT: The covers that he had done for you for the new album and your previous LP, were the art concepts collaborative between you guys and Mr. Crumb or did he just send you his own interpretations?
John: he asked us if we had any ideas for both. For “Some Cold Rainy Day”, I suggested he parody an old Paramount Records ad. He loved the idea. For “Drunken Barrel House Blues”, I suggested he draw Eden getting wasted onstage while the band looked on in disbelief. He loved that idea even more.
IRT: Do you guys get to jam out a lot with Crumb?
John: We play with Crumb all the time. He’s the best old-time mandolin player I’ve ever played with. He can get a feel of those old players that no one else I know can achieve. I guess he’s been studying this music more closely and for longer than anyone else I know.
IRT: Did you guys ever discuss with Mr. Crumb the possibility of recording an album together?
John: We are actually headed to France next week to record with Crumb for our next record due out late fall.
IRT: What is your favorite Crumb work and why?
John: I like everything he’s done on old-time musicians and recollecting the best. I also love the stuff him and Aline and sometimes Sophie do together.
Eden: I love Weirdo and the Dirty Laundry stuff. Sophie is also a great cartoonist and artist as well..I love Aline’s work, too.
IRT: How did you guys first discover Crumb as fans of his art and music?
John: The first time I heard of Crumb was when I picked up American Splendor. The one with the cover of him trading recording records with Harvey.
IRT: What is your favorite Crumb story?
Eden: I like America.
IRT: What is currently your favorite place to play in NYC and why?
John: The Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn and Banjo Jim’s in the Lower East Side. Both places cater to acoustic music and support the old-time thing. The owners of The Jalopy Theatre are the most down to earth club owners I’ve ever met. Playing there is like playing at your friend’s house.
IRT: What new music are you guys currently digging?
John: None. Unless you count The Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Dust Busters, The Martin Family, Blind Boy Paxton, Hubby Jenkins and The Dough Rollers.
Eden: I like all kinds of stuff...Aimee Mann and some punk and metal too..like old Metallica and also some old hip-hop stuff, too!
IRT: What else are you guys up to this summer besides hanging out in France with Crumb?
John: In addition to playing some gigs in southern France with Crumb, we have a big show at the Jalopy Theatre which we booked with all TOP NOTCH acts in late July. Details as follows:
Friday July 23rd 8PM COUNTRY BLUES GUITAR NIGHT at Jalopy Theatre
315 COLUMBIA STREET
BROOKLYN, NY 11231
A Night Of Country Blues Guitar Featuring:
8PM PAT CONTE
9PM ARI EISINGER
10PM EAST RIVER STRING BAND
11PM THE LITTLE BROTHERS
(FRANKIE & KIM BASILE WITH MIKE HOFFMANN)
(FRANKIE & KIM BASILE WITH MIKE
Jalopy Lecture Series on Sunday, August 1st
A NIGHT OF OLD-TIME RECORD LISTENING & DISCUSSION
315 COLUMBIA STREET
BROOKLYN, NY 11231
5P-7P - THE SECRET MUSEUM HOSTED BY PAT CONTE
7P-10P - JOHN HENEGHAN'S 78 RPM RECORDS
East River String Band covering Charley Jordan's "Keep It Clean"
East River String Band with Robert Crumb performing "Bye Bye Baby"