The Song Journal

Miscellaneous news and writing by Bob Franke, mostly about songs as a portable art form, and the process of creating them and enabling them to do their work in the world.

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Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

from Bob Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My neighbors

Who in their right mind would live in the Boston area? Unpredictable weather, healthcare and housing prices through the roof, decades of driver training neglect turning into chaos in the streets--doesn't seem artist-friendly, does it?

But then, there's our history and what it's given us. And I'm not talking about Paul Revere here--I'm talking about a number of individual decisions by song-obsessed individuals that have helped enable any resident or any visitor here to find good grassroots music within driving distance nearly any night of the week. I'm talking about a community--not the Communion of Saints, perhaps, but what I believe to be a community nonetheless. I'm talking about some great musicians and some great singer-songwriters, and the institutions they have helped form to enable them to continue to work their craft even though some of us are hanging on by the skin of our teeth in these troubled funding-starved times. I'm talking about my neighbors:

Chuck Hall of Rowley, MA writes songs that have made their way across North America by virtue of the fact that they tell interesting stories reflecting a deep spirituality and positive human values. Chuck is a former WUMB disk jockey and a net-savvy guy who is starting a new podcast and stream of his songs and others'. His wife Mary Hall is living proof that some of the smartest human beings on the planet speak with thick Boston accents.

Geoff Bartley (of Framingham, MA) and I met one another when we were a children's theater orchestra over 30 years ago. These days he mostly hosts open mics at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge. Cambridge Mayor Michael A. Sullivan proclaimed February 13, 2004 Geoff Bartley Day in honor of his contributions to the musical life of the city. In addition to fostering music at the Cantab, Geoff accompanies Tom Paxton regularly (I wish Tom lived closer by). What too often gets overlooked about Geoff is that he's one of the finest singer-songwriter/guitarist/rack harp players in America. You may have heard others sing "Cut by Wire" or songs he's co-written with John Gorka. As a friend of 30 years, I can attest also that he's got a heart of gold.

Lorraine and Bennett Hammond of Brookline, MA are an accomplished string duo on guitar, dulcimer, banjo, harp and mandolin, and the kind of songwriters who sneak up on you--they're so knowledgeable and involved in traditional music that sometimes you forget that they've written many of the songs they sing. They're also tireless music educators, and like myself, proud and happy to be associated with WUMB's Summer Acoustic Music Week.

Rick Lee, who lives in Natick, MA, is another world-travelled artist with impeccable credentials in traditional music who takes what he learns there and uses it to make great songs. He's also a great picker of contemporary songs anywhere from British folk to contemporary country.

Mel Green of Gloucester, MA had the closest relationship to stardom of any of my neighbors. He was a Columbia recording artist in South Africa in the days of the "folk boom". A gentle and charming guy, what he learned in those days he still brings with him on stage.

David Fishken and Ellen "Buffie" Groves have put together a duo representing the core values of traditional music combined with the kind of entertainment chops you might expect from someone (Buffie) with an extensive background in theater. Fishken's the one with the wisecracks and the devotion to Woody Guthrie, Buffie's the one with the musical sophistication. Together they make a fun evening with deep roots. Westford and Bedford, MA, respectively.

Dave Mattacks, currently residing in Marblehead, MA, is my candidate for best drummer in the world. He's been drumming to the lyrics for more years than I'm sure he wants me to remind you. Those lyrics were written and sung by the likes of Richard Thompson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Fairport Convention, and Steeleye Span, to name a few. Dave is living proof that everybody's local somewhere.

Moving to the far suburbs (an hour of clear highway around here is roughly equivalent to 20 miles at rush hour), John Schindler and his bride (name withheld) live way up in Jaffrey, NH, but John plays out down here often enough to seem like a near neighbor. John's the best singer songwriter I've run into in the last 10 years or so. He's kept his day job, though, so you non-New England folks can't hear his elegant and funny live shows unless you come here as tourists.

Ray Chesna
finds himself in Manchester, NH these days, but spent enough of his days around Atlanta to derive a deep knowledge of the blues. Ray's the kind of songwriter who's shy about calling himself a songwriter because of all of the bad songwriters out there. He's an old bandmate of Bela Fleck. Opened for the Rolling Stones once, I believe. Cool guy.

You'll just have to Google Martin Grosswendt (master of non-promotion) of Providence, RI to get the full story, but what a story you'll get. Martin was a prodigy accompanist for Utah Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels in the old days, and put together a singer-songwriter album on the Philo label that is still prized and sought-after. He got a degree in semiotics and a graduate degree in law; by the time he passed the bar he realized that all he wanted to be was a musician. He plays everything and anything, with current concentrations (and a new CD) in country blues, and lots of Cajun music activity with the Rhode Island band Magnolia. He's also a music educator with banjo and old-timey camps in the Boston area.

I guess my point is, with friends and neighbors like these, who needs a music industry? I'm running out of time, or I'd list more. I bet you've got a few such neighbors yourself, and you're welcome to post a comment on them on this blog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite. Bob, I've been a fan of yours for decades. Just found your site and blog thanks to the article today in the Salem Evening News. Having grown up in Marblehead, but living in Salem now, I know there is a wealth of music greatness around. One you missed in your list, who is my new favorite female singer/songwriter, is Cheryl Wheeler - just fabulous.

I'll save your sites for future reading.

Rebecca Crowell, Salem, MA

2:47 PM  
Blogger Bob Franke said...

I'm a big Cheryl Wheeler fan as well, Rebecca--but I've only met her once long ago, and I don't know where she's located these days. If I wasn't using the geographical criterion, I'd certainly include her as worthwhile, as well as Linda Waterfall and a list that would keep growing and growing....

11:35 AM  

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