Lost City Ramblers,
Photo by David Gahr
and harp, Tupe, Peru, 1957
Cohen helped form the New Lost City Ramblers
in 1958, and has performed and recorded with them ever since. Their
approach, which is based on rural home music, is known as "old
time" or "Appalachian," and their campaign for this
music placed them in the spotlight at the Newport Folk Festival
(1959), as well as in many concert tours, club appearances and recordings.
Comprised of Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz (who replaced Tom Paley
in 1962) the NLCR changed the direction of the folk music revival,
steering it away from commercialized acts like the Kingston Trio,
and towards the performance of traditional music in authentic styles.
It has been said that the Ramblers introduced the idea that city
musicians could play and sing in the traditional styles, and in
this way they opened a path for many other musicians to follow.
The NLCR influenced well known musicians including Bob Dylan, Jerry
Garcia, and Ry Cooder, and started a revival of interest in old
time fiddle bands. There are now hundreds of fiddle bands who actively
play this music, as well as festivals, radio shows and recordings
and fiddle conventions where this music is performed.
Cohen made a series of documentary field recordings of traditional
musicians in their home settings. These include recordings in Kentucky,
Virginia and North Carolina, as well as in the highlands of Peru.
He discovered the great Kentucky singer Roscoe Holcomb, and has
issued many recordings of him. His first film was about Holcomb's
music, and he created the term "The High Lonesome Sound"
to describe it. Subsequently, the term became the generic name for
bluegrass singing, and it has been used in countless music contexts
1961 Cohen founded the Friends Of Old Time Music with Ralph Rinzler
& Israel Young. FOTM presented the first New York concerts of
Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, Mississippi
John Hurt, The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Gus Cannon, Joseph
Spence , Hobart Smith, Almeda Riddle, Bessie Jones, and others.
plays guitar, banjo, and mandolin. In addition to his work with
the NLCR, he recorded and toured with the Putnam String County Band
(with Jay & Lyn Ungar, and Abby Newton), and made a solo record,
Stories The Crow Told Me, for Acoustic Disc in 1998. His
banjo playing features a range of styles including frailing, two
and three finger picking, and he uses many distinctive tunings for
the five string banjo.
2001, he helped produce and wrote extensive notes for two recordings
for the Alan Lomax portrait series, "Texas Gladden" and
"Hobart Smith." He wrote liner notes for Jerry Garcia
& David Grisman: Shady Grove as well as many music articles
for Sing Out! Magazine. He has also published interviews
with Bob Dylan, Harry Smith, Roscoe Holcomb, Dillard Chandler, Roger
McGuinn, Pat Conte, and John Hartford.
In 2006, he formed the “Velocity Ramblers” with Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders), Pat Conte, Walker Shepard, Sam Shepard, and Betty Berkin to play a creative mix of original songs, traditional Appalachian banjo and fiddle tunes, blues, Harry Smith Anthology covers, political love songs, freak-folk, ancient pop and psychedelic music.
some of John Cohen's album notes.