Saturday, August 09, 2008

Erik Darling, 1933-2008

In 1975 I went to a party in a big old apartment building on Riverside Drive at about 75th Street, in Manhattan's Upper West Side. There was another party going on in a nearby apartment, and guests from both parties were mingling on the landing next to the stairway. I heard some laughing and clapping, and went out to see what was going on. A man with long, dark hair, evidently well in his cups, was doing an impromptu dance. Just after I arrived on the landing, he said, "I'm going to bring my friend out. He's had monster hits." He went into the apartment where the other party was going on, and emerged a moment later accompanied by a stocky man with short, salt-and-pepper hair, carrying a twelve string guitar, who launched into "Walk Right In", a 1963 number one hit for The Rooftop Singers. When the song and the applause were over, I said "You're Erik Darling."

He held out his hand and I introduced myself. He introduced me to his tipsy friend, who was Nashville based singer-songwriter Vince Matthews. They invited me to join them at the other party, which was being given by a woman who hosted a country music program on one of the local not-for-profit FM stations (if I recall correctly, it was WKCR, the Columbia University station). The hostess greeted me, and we gathered in a circle on the floor for a sing-along, accompanied by Erik's guitar. Vince and I sang "On Susan's Floor", a song he co-wrote with Shel Silverstein and which was recorded by Gordon Lightfoot and later by Hank Williams, Jr., and Erik entertained us with "Al Perrin", a song about one of the characters he had known while growing up in charming Canandaigua, New York.

Vince's claim that Erik had "monster hits" was correct. One of his earliest musical accomplishments was creating and recording, along with Bob Carey and Roger Sprung, musicians that he met playing in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, the arrangement of the Appalachian ballad "Tom Dooley" that became the first, and a number one, hit for the Kingston Trio. Before the Rooftop Singers and "Walk Right In", Erik was a member of the Tarriers, a folk group formed in Greenwich Village in 1955, originally as the Tunetellers. Another member of the group was the then future actor Alan Arkin, who also became a director of , among other films, Little Murders (which I saw last night, for the first time in 37 years, at the BAM Rose Cinema). The third member, Bob Carey, was African American, making this one of the first, if not the first, interracial folk groups. In 1956, Art D'Lugoff, owner of the Village Gate, asked the Tarriers to back up Vince Martin on "Cindy, Oh Cindy":

The song charted in 1956, and I remember it, and Vince's haunting tenor, from my fifth grade year. It was later covered by, among others, Andy Williams, the Highwaymen (of "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" fame), and the Beach Boys.

"Cindy's" tune was based on a Jamaican song. In this respect, it proved a bellwether. The Tarriers' first hit on their own account was "The Banana Boat Song", which Erik created by fusing two Jamaican songs he learned from fellow Washington Square singer Bob Gibson. This song, released in November of 1956, and in early 1957 rose to number four on the Billboard pop chart. Harry Belafonte contemporaneously released a similar song, "Day O (Banana Boat Song)" whih didn't include the "hill and gully rider" chorus that Gibson included in the Tarriers' version. Belafonte's version also charted in 1957, but by one digit less than the Tarriers', which was was later covered by Shirley Bassey and by the Kinks. There's an interesting account of its history here. The Tarriers also did a version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", which was taken to number one by the Tokens in 1961. This was an adaptation of a Zulu song which, under the title "Wimoweh", had earlier been a hit for the Weavers. Erik later left the Tarriers to join the Weavers, replacing Pete Seeger.

I first became aware of Erik by name in the late 1960s, when I began collecting folk albums and saw him credited as an accompanist, either on guitar or banjo, on many of them. Below is a clip of the Rooftop Singers doing their hit "Walk Right In". Erik is the shorter of the two men. The woman is Lynne Taylor, whose vocal style evinces her background as a jazz singer. The tall man is Bill Svanoe, who remained a close friend until the end of Erik's life, which came last Sunday, at the age of 74.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Your correspondent picks blueberries, and has another close encounter with Odocoileus virginianus.

That's me, on Kent Locke's farm in Barnstead, New Hampshire, carefully selecting the plumpest, ripest berries from a burgeoning bush. (What's this thing I have with alliterations involving the letter "B"?) Anyway, my wife, her cousin Lori and I picked like mad for about ten minutes, which was more than enough to bucket enough berries for a bodacious pie (There I go again!) and have plenty left over to supplement morning cereal. The bill? A mere two bucks a pint (normal fare was three, but, being 62, I qualified for Locke's senior discount). Below, behold the bounty borne by a single branch of a bush (Yikes! Am I possessed by some hoary Anglo-Saxon spirit, or perhaps that of Gerard Manley Hopkins?):

The beauty of the berries did not prove deceptive. They were the perfect combination of sweet, tart, and that ineffable musky taste that good blueberries have.

In an earlier post (one to which I've already linked in this one; forgive me if I've taken you there twice), I included a photo of a six-point buck that casually sauntered across my path in the village of Shoreham, on Long Island, a couple of weeks ago, then paused long enough for me to shoot his photo. On the road back from Locke's, this white-tailed doe, by crossing a busy highway, proved that the female of the species can engage in more dangerous escapades than the male:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hello, everybody.

I'm in far northern New York State, on a brief vacation. Please bear with me until Thursday, when I get back to dear old Brooklyn and resume posting as usual. Thanks.