John's love of music permeated every realm of his life. His contribution to the world of music far surpasses any singular project or instrument. In 1958, he helped form the New Lost City Ramblers, a band know for their "old time" or "Appalachian" sound, changing the direction of the folk music forever. The Ramblers influenced well known musicians including Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Ry Cooder, and revived popular interest in traditional fiddle bands.
As a player of guitar, banjo, and mandolin, he also recorded and toured with the Putnam String County Band and made a solo record called Stories The Crow Told Me. His banjo playing features a range of styles including frailing, two and three finger picking, and many distinctive tunings for the five-string banjo.
In addition to his own music, John made a series of documentary field recordings of traditional musicians in their home settings -- in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as in the highlands of Peru. He discovered the great Kentucky singer Roscoe Holcomb, who was the subject of countless recordings and films. In 1961 Cohen founded the Friends Of Old Time Music with Ralph Rinzler & Israel Young with whom he presented the first New York concerts of countless old time musicians. He wrote for Sing Out! Magazine and produced extensive liner notes for many fellow musicians.
The New Lost City Ramblers, or NLCR, was formed in New York City in 1958 during the folk revival. Mike Seeger, John Cohen and Tom Paley were its founding members.
In their forty years on the stages of the folksong revival, The New Lost City Ramblers brought a fresh, aggressively vernacular rural repertoire of spunky songs while introducing to the city the full array of country instrumental techniques.
During the 1960s they presented to audiences not only their music but the actual performers of the rural south, traveling and giving concerts and workshops with masters such as Tom Ashley, the Stanley Brothers, Cousin Emmy, Maybelle Carter, Elizabeth Cotten, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Tommy Jarell, and the Balfa Brothers.
The NLCR received Grammy nominations for two of their more than 25 recordings.
“We made it possible for urban-based musicians to step out of the demands of the music business and look out into America to get in touch with the genuine energy, drive and craziness out there.”
New Lost City Ramblers (1958) FA 2396
New Lost City Ramblers, Volume 2 (1959) FA 2397
New Lost City Ramblers, Volume 3 (1961) FA 2398
New Lost City Ramblers, Volume 4 (1961) FA 2399
New Lost City Ramblers, Volume 5 (1962, released 1963) FA 2395
Old Timey Songs for Children (1959, originally a 10" disc) FC 7064
Songs from the Depression (1959) FH 5264
Tom Paley, John Cohen and Mike Seeger Sing Songs of the New Lost City Ramblers (1961) FA 2494
American Moonshine and Prohibition (1962) FH 5263
Gone to the Country (1963) FA 2491
String Band Instrumentals (1964) FA 2492
Rural Delivery Number One (1965) FA 2496
Remembrance of Things to Come (1966) FTS 31035
Modern Times (1968) FTS 31027
Cousin Emmy with the New Lost City Ramblers (1968) FTS 31015
On the Great Divide (1973) FTS 31041
The New Lost City Ramblers (1961, a 7" disc) EPC 602
Earth is Earth (1961, a 7"disc) FF 869
Radio Special #1 (1963, a 7" disc) EPC 603
The New Lost City Ramblers: The Early Years, 1958-1962. SF 40036
The New Lost City Ramblers: Volume II, 1963-1973, Out Standing in Their Field. SF 40040
There Ain't No Way Out (1997) . SF 40098
New Lost City Ramblers: 40 Years of Concert Recordings, 2001. Rounder 821 610 481-2
20 years - Concert Performances (1978, 2 LP set). Flying Fish 102 20th Anniversary Concert, with Elizabeth Cotten, Highwoods String Band, Pete Seeger & the Green Grass Cloggers. (1978) Grammy Nominee. Flying Fish 090
The New Lost City Ramblers & Friends (1963-5, released 1994) with
Cousin Emmy, Maybelle Carter, Eck Robertson, Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs and Sam & Kirk McGee. 77011-2
In addition to their own albums, the New Lost City Ramblers are featured in numerous anthologies of folk music.
John Cohen was a founding member of The New Lost City Ramblers, an old-time string band central to folk music's revival.
In 2006, John Cohen released a solo album. Stories the Crow Told Me is a bird's eye view of old-time music, featuring guest artists David Grisman, Jody Stecher and Sue Draheim.
"John Cohen's genius lies in his persistent devotion to the rawest, densest, and most playful shades of old-time music. Forty years ago he helped found the seminal New Lost City Ramblers--a band that continues to perform today--and began his life's work of documenting and mastering string-band music, especially the banjo. In the process he has exposed a whole new generation to old-time country played as it is meant to be--with passion, wit, and skill. Accompanied by David Grisman, Jody Stecher, and Sue Draheim, Cohen offers his first solo album, a smattering of familiar tunes such as "Cannonball," "Which Side Are You On?" and "Danville Girl." His voice cackles and cracks, and if not an easy listen, the songs reveal a secret history of American music. Fans of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and contemporary bluegrass will recognize melodies and lyrics across this album, and perhaps hear in Cohen's banjo and moan a deep connection to acoustic music of all kinds."
John Cohen was invited to record with several folk bands, including Putnam String County Band, The Dustbusters, and The Downhill Strugglers.