Albeit belatedly, we raise a glass to folk and roots singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Van Ronk who died on the 10th February. Born on the 10th June 1936 in Brooklyn, New York, as a life long sympathiser of the Socialist Movement he was a member of both the Workers League and the Socialist Equality party. Quitting school by the time he was 16 to become a merchant seaman, by his own admission music was the only thing to save him from a life destroyed. At that time he was listening to jazz, both traditional and be-bop, and teaching himself guitar, in his teens he was considered good enough to sit in at clubs, picking. He was even allowed to jam with big names like Coleman Hawkins and Johnny Hodges who passed through New York's numerous venues.


It was during one of these sit-ins that he met the folk legend Odetta who persuaded him to make a demo tape and send it to Albert Grossman who owned a club in Chicago (later, incidentally, to become Bob Dylan's manager), which he did and heard nothing. Eventually, tired of waiting, he hitchhiked all the way to the Windy City where Grossman claimed never to have received the tape but gave him an audition. Once he had finished he asked Grossman what he thought and it was not the reply he expected. Grossman allegedly stated, "Look son, I book Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Why should I hire you?" Van Ronk exploded, accusing him off “crowjimming” (practising reverse racism) leaving him with no alternative but to hitchhike back to New York, which he did and got mugged in the process.


Soon though, came a total reversal of fortunes as Dave became one of the darlings of the Greenwich Village folk scene along with other up and coming performers such as Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, Tom Paxton and the young Bob Dylan along with the established acts like Rambling Jack Elliott and Odetta. It would be his recordings for the Prestige label in the mid-sixties that really established his reputation, allowing him to work major folk festivals like Newport and to tour the length and breadth of the United States. A highly rated guitarist and a gifted writer, his music pays little regard to boundaries, soaking up folk, blues, country and jazz. Van Ronk continued to record for various labels throughout the decades, one of the more recent being ‘Another Time And Place’ which was released on Alcazar records in 1995 as well as near constant touring throughout the U.S. along with Canada and Europe, amazingly finding time to teach guitar at a workshop in his native New York right up to the time of his death.