It says something about me that two of my favorite Gorka songs, occurring back-to-back on the 1994 album Out of the Valley, explore the dark side of Johna€™s psyche.
The first is a€?Bigtime Lonesome.a€? It describes the pulling apart of a couple in which the woman, unsatisfied with her wandering partner (John, himself?), sends him packing when he proposes. The emotional terrain was all too familiar when I first heard it and, though life has been good -- Ia€™ve been gifted with a loving, solid marriage -- the darkness still calls to me. Johna€™s dark, comedic sense shines on two other songs on the album, a€?Mystery to Mea€? and a€?Up Until Then.a€? Here we encounter his trademark sarcasm and laser-sharp perception of human foibles. John soldiered through his Fast Folk Cafe performance and the cafe survived for another four years until the lease ran out (giving the landlord the opportunity to charge higher rent to a carpet store -- also now defunct).
In it, Gluck quotes Jennie Esposito, who ran the folk group: a€?Jennie Esposito remembers her first encounter with John Gorka.
At some point, after graduating from college, he lived in the basement of Godfrey Daniels for a few months.
When his first recording came out, his voice had a deeper sound, similar to that of Stan Rogers. I mentioned to John that he shows a great amount of empathy in his songs and asked how it developed and if the Fast Folk experience enlarged upon that. When I asked about some memorable experiences during this time, John recalled: a€?I remember singing on a tabletop with Shawn Colvin at the first Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 1988. Novelist and short story writer Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was a new name to this author.
The album Jacka€™s Crows was released in 1991, and the title track caused some speculation among some of us who thought it might be about attendees of Jack Hardya€™s song swap and their sharp critiques.
His 2006 CD Writing in the Margins included themes that strike deep into the heart on both a national and personal level. The album also contains a cover of one of his favorite Stan Rogers songs, a€?The Lock Keeper,a€? an eloquent musing on the sacredness of home life. Hea€™s the one who gets it better than everybody else, and delivers it in a voice so rich, it makes Pavarotti weep.
The voices and names poured out of the speakers: Greg Brown, Shawn Colvin, Cliff Eberhardt, Lucy Kaplansky and a€¦ John Gorka. An online description states that a€?he got his first guitar as a Christmas gift, but it was taken by his older brother soon afterward.a€? It makes his brother sound selfish, but the full story is different.
As he describes it: a€?My first banjo books were Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo which also had a companion record album, and was very helpful.
He says that Stan made an impact on him and that he inadvertently absorbed Stana€™s vocal style.


He learned about Jacka€™s New York song swap group and the principle that you could improve as a songwriter by writing one song per week and playing it for the group, whose attendees would give feedback. He replied: a€?I know people started taking notice of my songs when I started to write about the neighborhood around Godfrey Daniels and some of the local characters.
It had started to pour rain and everyone moved into the ski lodge (the festival was held at the Catamount Ski Area).
In the beginning there was a€?I saw a Stranger with Your Hair.a€? Ita€™s on his first album, I Know and is listed as one of the tracks on the first Fast Folk Musical Magazine recording. A ship is passing through the lock and the sailor exhorts the lock keeper to free himself and follow him. However, there are elements that prevent his work from getting old: mastery of language and the ingenious way he combines phrases. Much of what was played was generously sprinkled with a€?graduatesa€? of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine stable of discoveries. He states: a€?I knew I wanted to be a writer before I knew that music was going to be the route Ia€™d take. Ita€™s fun to contemplate what kind of impact the big baritone of this newcomer musta€™ve made on audiences back then. At Jacka€™s urging, he moved to New York and became one of the Fast Folk Musical Magazinea€™s greatest co-operating musicians, and one of its more well-known a€?graduates.a€? Emusic lists John as being a contributor on 14 of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine recordings. Wea€™re witness to a perfect marriage of melody to words and, of course, that astonishing instrument, his voice.
In the songs Ia€™m talking about, there is a melancholy so pure, so true to the human experience, it brings tears to your eyes with the expression of its stinging light. Much of what was played was generously sprinkled with a€?graduatesa€? of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine stable of discoveries.A  A lot of them had played at the Speakeasy, a Greenwich Village venue on MacDougal Street. It seemed that my songs sounded better to me than the versions of other peoplea€™s songs that I was trying to learn. At Jacka€™s urging, he moved to New York and became one of the Fast Folk Musical Magazinea€™s greatest co-operating musicians, and one of its more well-known a€?graduates.a€?A  Emusic lists John as being a contributor on 14 of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine recordings. At around 1996, when I realized that I didna€™t have the tools to be a performing songwriter, I figured I might be happy singing Gorka covers for the rest of my life as a music feature at poetry readings.
I had already started playing banjo and loved Scruggs style and the melodic style, as well as clawhammer and Seeger styles.
Ita€™s there in his song a€?Thata€™s How Legends are Made,a€? written about the great Canadian folk singer, the late Stan Rogers and his brother, Garnet.
Among the many John learned from he cites, a€?to name a few,a€? Claudia Schmidt, Roselie Sorrels and Dave Van Ronk.


There are two instrumentals on the album, a€?Fret Onea€? and a€?Fret Not.a€? Recording in his home studio allowed John to explore the sheer joy of letting an instrument do the singing. When that closed in 1992, Fast Folka€™s founder, Jack Hardy, looked for two years and found a space in TriBeCa to provide a listener-friendly place to play. Ita€™s there in his song a€?Thata€™s How Legends are Made,a€?A  written about the great Canadian folk singer, the late Stan Rogers and his brother, Garnet.
When I started to try songwriting I realized that through music I could express more than I could through words alone.
We listened to the radio growing up and I loved the Beatles and Elvis but didna€™t really think that I would ever do music for a living.
When he headed out on tour, taking his songs and big voice out on the road, some of those hea€™d opened for, opened doors for him. The song, a€?Ignorance and Privilege,a€? was sparked by Molly Ivinsa€™ remark about George W.
I wrote a€?Ia€™m From New Jerseya€? after reading his book The Sportswriter.A  I admire the poets for their ability to sing with words alone.
When I sing them, in my head to myself, they roll in, one after another in an almost endless chain, then loop around and start repeating.
I got a guitar for Christmas, but my hands were too small and the strings were too far from the fretboard so my brother took it and carved his name in it.
I learned quite a few chords from my brother and he was very generous in lending me songbooks and knows a lot about music.
A year later, Jack headed back out on the road to get back to his career and left the cafe in the hands of volunteers. John states in an interview I found online: a€?People were sitting around the front room passing around a guitar.
He hesitated between songs, appearing to try out a new persona, a€?the slow guy.a€? This brilliant performer haltingly spoke his song introductions, causing Lucy to look at him quizzically. Hea€™ll listen to the names of songs and respond, a€?I recognize those names as songs Ia€™ve writtena€¦a€? In other words, a€?there are too many to sing, and Ia€™ll do the ones I want to do.a€? Ita€™s an unusual audience member who goes away unsatisfied.



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