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Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Unknown  legend Karen Dalton

July 19, 1937 – March 19, 1993
All that shines is not truth
All that glitters does not shine
Rare beauty rarely shines, I find

Karen Dalton

Katie’s Been Gone  sung by Dan LaFortune written by Bob Dylan and The Band

“My favorite singer in the place was Karen Dalton,” writes Bob Dylan on p.12 of Chronicles: Volume One. “She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky, and sultry. I’d actually met her before, run across her the previous summer outside Denver in a mountain pass town in a folk club. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday’s and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple of times.”

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Ego

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

I like to think (foolishly) that I’m familiar with all the names of important performers from the 1960s.  Of course, “important” is a relative term.

Karen Dalton meets few of the typical measures of importance. She only recorded two studio albums and one of those she didn’t realize she was recording.

At a time when singer-songwriters were emerging as the leaders, she covered others’ songs.

Her voice was not particularly unique, yet as Dylan said above, it could have a Billie Holiday quality to it.

Authentic

In a TIMELINE site article, Peter Stampfel, who played in Dalton’s backup band in the 70s and was a member of the Holy Modal Rounders, wrote in the liner notes to a Dalton reissue that she was “the only folk singer I ever met with an authentic ‘folk’ background. She came to the folk music scene under her own steam, as opposed to being ‘discovered’ and introduced to it by people already involved in it.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Cherokee/Irish

Karen Cariker was born in Bonham, TX and raised in Enid, Oklahoma. Her mother may have had some Cherokee blood.  Her father a descendant of the Irish. Her first marriage was to Don Dalton.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Greenwich Village

In the early 60s she lived in Greenwich Village amongst the many folk musicians gathering there. She played the twelve string guitar and the banjo. At times she lived in Colorado. She later married Richard Tucker.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Of the two albums, the first was It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best released in 1969 on Capitol. Producer Nik Venet had tried unsuccessfully to record Dalton, so he invited her to a Fred Neil session and asked her to cut Neil’s “Little Bit of Rain” for his own private archives. She cut the entire album that night, most of the tracks in one take.

It was was re-released by Koch Records on CD in 1996

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Dalton’s recorded her second album, In My Own Time (1971) at Bearsville Studios and originally released by Woodstock Festival promoter Michael Lang‘s label, Just Sunshine Records. The album was produced and arranged by Harvey Brooks, who played bass on it. Piano player Richard Bell guested. Fred Neil (“She sure can sing the shit out of the blues”) wrote the liner notes, and Elliot Landy took the cover photos.

The album’s title is no accident (not that any are). Dalton did things at her own pace and the album was recorded over two years (1970 and 1071).

At AllMusic, Thom Jurek praised the albuma more polished effort than her cozy, somewhat more raw debut… If one can only possess one of Karen Dalton’s albums, In My Own Time is the one. It creates a sound world that is simply unlike any other; it pushes the singer outside her comfort zone and therefore brings listeners to the place Dalton actually occupied as a singer. Without apology or concern for technique, she could make any song her own, creating a personal narrative that could reach outside the song itself, moving through her person and becoming the truth for the listener.

Check out her cover of Percy Sledge;s “When A Man Loves A Woman”

Or her cover of Paul Butterfield‘s In My Own Dream.

Lang arranged for Dalton and band to tour Europe as the opening act for Santana. An odd opener for sure. Her life became an unhealthy one.

The album was reissued in 2006 and  Nick Cave wrote in its liner notes: “All of us in the Bad Seeds were huge Karen Dalton fans…  She’s a blues singer to me. It’s full of idiosyncrasies that you can’t repeat – it’s in her voice and it’s just extraordinary. She is my absolute favorite blues singer – female blues singer.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Cotton Eyed Joe

Joe Loop was one of the proprietors of The Attic, a short-lived Boulder, Colorado folk club. During its time, The Attic had several artists on their way to fame: David Crosby, Tim Hardin, and John Phillips.

In 1962 he recorded Dalton there.  Those tapes remained unreleased until 2007  when they became part of a 2 CD compilation called Cotton Eyed Joe, which was one one of the albums cut as well.

It was the first music of Dalton’s released since her 1971 In My Own Time.

From the Austin Chronicle: Delmore Recordings’ Mark Linn, who guided Cotton Eyed Joe onto the market and played an enormous role in this story, ultimately delivered the most poignant reflection on Dalton.

There’s a small amount of people that have the original records [who] were intensely affected by them – by her voice,” he offers. “I think you can really feel the pain. She lived a hard musician’s life. It wasn’t about trendiness or stardom. It was about playing music.

“She wasn’t really made for her time.”

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Woodstock

From the same TIMELINE article above: After years in New York, Dalton relocated to rural Colorado, where she and her third husband lived in a tiny cabin in the near-abandoned town of Summerville. There, she descended further into her addictions. Eventually, she made her way back to upstate New York, where she lived in a trailer near the town of Woodstock. According to the biographical quotes and notes at the beginning of Karen Dalton: Songs, Poems, and Writings, Dalton was struggling with drugs and was HIV positive in the 1980s. The combination made her “fragile as a wisp.” Still, she commuted to the city, “worked at low pay jobs, and struggled to stay alive.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Death

Given her musical anonymity, it is not surprising that a haze surrounds Dalton’s death.  The story was often that she died homeless on the streets of New York.

Not true. In a 2008 PopMatter interview, Dalton friend Joe Loop explained, “ She was actually staying in a house owned by Peter Walker — a guitar player who lives up in Woodstock …. She was staying at his house — had been for quite some time — she was there when I got a hold of her. And, she told me, matter-of-factly, when I called her that she was “staying in this cabin this guy got me to croak in.” Those were her words. We chatted and all that. Her son Lee was with her, taking care of her. And, actually, when she passed away, Peter Walker was with her in the room.”

She died of AIDS.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Remembering Mountains

In 2015, Tomkins Square Records released Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton.

After she died, a number of writings or perhaps poems or perhaps lyrics without music were found. These words were given to several women to interpret.

According to a Pitchfork account: “Remembering Mountains is maybe the closest we’ll ever get to hearing Dalton’s own articulations of heartache, although plenty was communicated on her first two records, regardless of whether the words there were her own. Still, there’s a palpable narrative here, a sense of loss and stillness, and it reanimates Dalton, if only for a moment. It’s good to have her back.”

Here is Patty Griffin’s All That Shines Is Not Truth. An NPR article said:  She [Griffin] recorded “All That Shines” in an Austin church, filling both the structure and the song to the brim with swooping gospel vocals, piano and organ. 

All that shines is not truth
All that glitters does not shine
Real beauty rarely glitters so I find
Real beauty rarely glitters so I find

Broken diamonds on the floor
Fractured beauty into violence
Muddy waters that’s for sure
Despite the mist

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

Peter Walker

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton

As often happens, delving into the life of one interesting person leads to another equally interesting person. Peter Walker, the person who sheltered Karen Dalton during her last days, still lives in Woodstock, NY.

In October 2018, his home–The Ark–burned down with all of its contents—including his guitars and items from his numerous world travels

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to assist Walker.

Unknown Legend Karen Dalton
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Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Happy birthday, March 31, 1947
 “Music is simply the sugar syrup that the medicine of the Divine name is hidden in.”

Sometimes a happenstance event becomes that stone thrown in a still pond and the ripples vibrate out to the lakes’ shores and throughout history.

In April 1965, the Beatles were filming the movie, Help!. The script called for a scene in an Indian restaurant with Indian musicians playing.

George Harrison saw a sitar for the first time.

Norwegian Wood

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

On October 12, 1965, the Beatles began working on their Rubber Soul album  and during the day’s second session they started to record “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” Harrison played sitar on the song.

On my tours at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts I emphasize the importance of the Rubber Soul album and how it changed the scope of pop music. I joke about how when I first listened to the album, intently staring at and reading its covers, I found a typo: someone had misspelled guitar! They spelled it s-i-t-a-r.

And just as Harrison had accidentally discovered Indian music (and thus Indian culture), so too happened the teenage Western listener.

And as the Beatles became interested in other things Indian, so did many Baby Boomers.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel was a student at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

He had first learned yoga asanas [postures] on the floor of a tenement apartment on the Lower East Side in 1966 from a guy who had just come over from India.

He also loved rock music and was in a band. He wanted to be a star.

The Soft White Underbelly would go on to rock fame as Blue Öyster Cult and sell more than 24 million records worldwide.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Krishna Das

As much as Jeff Kagel wanted to be a rock star, he felt spiritually lost.  In the winter of 1968, he made a decision: move to New Hampshire visit the spiritual teacher Ram Dass  (who, in his former incarnation was Harvard professor Richard Alpert as in LSD researcher with Timothy Leary).

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Later, Kagel traveled across the country with Ram Dass as his student, captivated by the stories of  Dass’s recent trip to India where he had met the legendary guru Neem Karoli Baba, known to most as Maharaj-ji.

Jeff Kagel went to India.

From an interview in Ascent magazine:

In India, Krishna Das [Kagel] also encountered kirtan, or the chanting of God’s name. “I heard it and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, this is fantastic. I was always musical and I always loved to sing. I didn’t really do it at first as a spiritual practice, in a heavy way like that. I sang because I loved to do it.”

He spoke of his guru with great love and respect: “Someone like him is like the sun. To be in his presence and to be connected to him is to be doing the best thing you can do for your own blossoming. He didn’t give meditation techniques, he didn’t give mantras. He ripened you from the inside.”

For awhile, Kagel became “Driver” because he was in charge of driving the one car that’s how many referred to him, but…

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Neem Karoli Baba gave Krishna Das his spiritual name. Das means servant, and Krishna is one of the names of God.

NYT interview: Krishna Das lived blissfully at Neem Karoli Baba’s temple until 1973, when he returned to America at the guru’s behest. His teacher called him back about a year later, but Krishna Das, who was making money and enjoying a new romance, hesitated. Within months, Neem Karoli Baba died.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Lost/Renewal

After Baba’s death, Das became lost.  Eleven years of substance abuse and depression followed.

He returned to India and came to the realization that although Neem Karoli Baba had left his body, his presence remained.

Chanting had never left Krishna Das.

Back in the United States, in 1994, Krishna Das started leading chant at Jivamukti Yoga Center, NYC.

From his siteOver the years, he continued chanting, developing his signature style, fusing traditional kirtan of the east with western harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities. 

Does he still love rock? Does he ever tire of kirtan?

I do, all the time! You should hear us at sound check. We do Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Rolling Stones. We do everything. We’re totally nuts in sound check. [YJ interview]

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

One Track Heart

In 2012, director Jeremy Frindel released One Track Heart, The Story of Krishna Das. It is how I first heard of and heard KD.  And again I found myself asking, “How is it I never heard of him before.”

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das
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Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

February 21, 1938 – January 14, 2010

Bobby Charles….Big Boys Cry. 

The intro is Bob Dylan from his Theme Time Radio Hour (Season 1, Episode 39—Tears)

When I watched Martin Scorsece’s The Last Waltz, I couldn’t believe how many amazing musicians had come to the party.  I’d heard of nearly all the performers (surprised about Neil Diamond), but Bobby Charles was unknown to me.

He shouldn’t have been.

“See You Later Alligator”? Bobby Charles wrote it.

One of my favorite singles was Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans.” Bobby Charles, again.

He’s barely a part of the released movie, barely seen in the group performance of “I Shall Be Released.”

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

The song he did do (“Down South In New Orleans“) was on the released soundtrack, but not featured in the movie itself. A video-taped outtake of his “Down South In New Orleans” exists. Unfortunately for Charles, it’s Levon Helm’s voice that mainly heard. Perhaps a reason for the song’s exclusion? Or perhaps the brighter starlight of Louisiana compatriot Dr John who had preceded Charles in the show (“Such A Night”) and stuck around for Down South.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Abbeville, Louisiana

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Robert Charles Guidry was born in Abbeville, Louisiana and thus it is no surprise that he grew up listening to Cajun music.

When he was 15, he heard Fat Domino’s “Goin’ Home” on the radio.  It was a revelation. According to the Poderosa Stomp site, “…Charles remembers the epiphany this way: “That was it, it changed my life forever. It hit me hard. Something hits you that hard you don’t forget it.”

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

White?

He had written “See You Later” for his idol Fats Domino, but Fats didn’t do alligator songs.  Charles ended up singing the song over the phone to Leonard Chess, of Chess Records in Chicago.

Heard, but unseen, Chess sent a airplane ticket to Charles.

In 2012 Terry Gross, of NPR’s Fresh Air show, did a piece on Charles. Ed Ward spoke on the report: “…when Charles showed up at his office, Chess said something I can’t say on the air. The sentence ended with the word “white” and a question mark, though. ”  (The report has plenty of great song snippets by Charles.)

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Homebody

Though a successful songwriter, a jealous wife and a dislike of touring kept him off the road.  When a divorce eased that issue a bit, a pot bust in 1971 put him on the run rather than be jailed.

Where did he end up? A place called Woodstock, NY.  A place he’d never heard of, not even the festival.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Albert Grossman

I suppose it’s hard to be a musician in Woodstock and not run into others in the business. Fortunately for Charles, he ran into Albert Grossman, the manager of, among others, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.

Along with his neighbors (I guess you’ve already figured out that they were the guys with the last names Helm, Hudson, Robertson, Manuel, and Danko), he recorded an album. One that people who know it and have it will enthusiastically tell someone who doesn’t, “Oh yea, you should get it!”

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Light In the Attic

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Here’s the track list. Click on a title for a sample.

  1.  The radio DJ and historian Charlie Gillett summed up…[the] song’s appeal: “It was precisely the uneventful nature of the music that made it so alluring. Alongside the Band’s rhythm section, Dr John slipped in behind the organ to play an instantly addictive melody that is still in my blood.”

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly given Charles’s track record, the album did not sell. He eventually left Woodstock and returned to Louisiana.

And I guess we all can figure out now his Last Waltz invitation in 1976.

He didn’t stop writing. In 1976, Joe Cocker covered Charles’s The Jealous Kind.  So did Ray Charles and Etta James.

He did release more albums  with equal outstanding quality and equal non-commercial success.

In 2004  the double CD Last Train to Memphis was a retrospective of his compositions, with guest appearances by Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Fats Domino.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Louisiana Music Hall of Fame

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

On September 24, 2005, Charles lost his home to Hurricane Rita when it struck southwest Louisiana.

In October 2007, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007. The site has a great summary of his life and music.

Among that summary, is the amazing fact that Charles neither played an instrument nor read or wrote music.

Keith Spera said in a NOLA article, “Songs popped into his head, fully formed. To capture them, he’d sing into the nearest answering machine; sometimes he’d call home from a convenience store pay phone.”

By the early 2000s he was in poor health with diabetes and was in remission from kidney cancer. He died on January 14, 2010. He was 71.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop
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