Back in my early days as a professional player in Woodstock, NY, I learned very quickly about being self-reliant in many ways. One of the great problems for me, was being so young, and being so taken advantage of. Of course, it all somehow didn’t seem to matter then, as one so young feels so invincible, faced against the wildness of this new and heretofore, untested life! Woodstock, NY at this time was a hotbed of great, creative musical activity. From The Band and Bob Dylan, to Eric Andersen and John Sebastian, these were the kinds of folks you could sit in with at their homes or onstage at a place like the Joyous Lake restaurant.
It was not uncommon to be playing “Silent Night” onstage, Christmas eve, with the entire town in attendance and with the stage inhabited by folks like Paul Butterfield, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, John Sebastian, Happy and Artie Traum, producer John Simon, bassist Harvey Brooks and myself, totally intoxicated by all the great feelings that were abounding. It was a kind of nurturing feeling that went on, and when you’re the “hot new kid” they’re all talking about, it’s really quite encouraging to say the least!
Needless to say, the phone would start to ring for sure, and tour offers and recording dates would start to flow in. Most of the time, the only pay would be literally the bus fare to make it to the session, but regardless, I felt these were important “building blocks” on the way to recognition and a real musical career. Who was I to judge? After all, I just figured this was the way one “paid their dues”, and how they showed others, much older, that I was willing to work hard, and to do my best. And do my best I did! Imagine being only 17 or 18 years of age, and all these 30 and 40 year-old musicians who actually made records were showing me respect, and needed me to change their sound and approach. I wasn’t just “fitting in,” I was making a difference!
This was such a magical time, it’s barely possible to describe, but it set into motion something that never really left me. I mean, even to this day, I get a certain musical “thing” that comes over me when I am in Woodstock. It was really evident in this latest album I recorded with Levon Helm, the elder statesman of The Band, and a longtime resident of this quaint little upstate NY town. The instant camaraderie and feeling that I had when I walked through the doors of his barn was unmistakable, and it showed the resonance of both of our musical and personal tenures in this fabled place. There is, unquestionably, “something in the air” there, and it’s really good for the musical soul!
More on Woodstock next installment … till then, stay tuned!
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