Eden & John's East River String Band
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Eden & John's East River String Band

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
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It's been a pleasure to follow the progress of this duo, not only because of their energetic interpretations of old time tunes, but because their two previous albums featured original artwork by close friend Robert Crumb. In addition to designing the cover for Be Kind to a Man When He's Down, Crumb gets more directly involved this time by contributing some accomplished mandolin playing on most of the tracks. His presence actually lends more cohesion to the sound, and when the group are fully filled out with fiddler Pat Conte and guitarist Dom Flemons (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops), they become much more than the old-time record collector vanity project the group still essentially are. Be Kind to a Man When He's Down has much to offer, and not just for Crumb fans.
(East River) - Exclaim Magazine


I'd not heard the East River String Band before but it wasn't long before John (guitar, voice) and Eden (ukelele, voice) were treating us to some 20s & 30s folk-blues songs culled from John's enormous collection of 78s. Tunes like Skip James' 'Crow Jane', Memphis Minnie's 'My Chauffeur', Charlie Patton's 'Screamin' & Hollerin'', Mississippi John Hurt's 'Ain't No Tellin'' & Blind Lemon Jefferson's 'One Dime Blues' should give you an idea of what they're about. Oh, and let's not leave out Pigmeat Pete and Catjuice Charlie's 'On Our Turpentine Farm' either. Robert Crumb joined 'em to strum some mandolin, then the Sharks' Joe Lauro (upright bass) and Andy Burton (accordion) and the Otis Brothers (Bob Guida, guitar & Pat Conte, banjo, fiddle) stepped up to fill out the sound beautifully and suddenly the night got magic. I hadn't planned to film the gig - if anything, maybe a tune or two by the Sharks or get a Crumb ID, but I used up most of my tape because this seemed like it had to be documented, however haphazardly (no tripod, and filmed from the the balcony on the right). They were fantastic and I hope Joe brings 'em back soon. I've not yet had the good fortune to experience one of Levon Helm's Midnight Rambles, but I'd bet the vibe is exactly the same. - North Fork Sound


JOHN HENEGHAN tugged a large shellac disc from its brown paper sleeve, placed it on a turntable and gently nudged a needle into place. Behind him, in the corner of his East Village apartment, sat 16 wooden crates, each filled with meticulously cataloged 78-r.p.m. records. The coarse, crackling voice of the blues singer Charley Patton, performing “High Water Everywhere Part 1,” his startling account of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, rose from the speakers, raw and unruly. The record is worth about $8,000.
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Augusta Pumilla for BluesImages.com

John Tefteller is one of the world’s most prolific collectors of records on the old Paramount label, whose roster once included rural blues singers like Charley Patton.

Mr. Heneghan, 41, is part of a small but fervent community of record collectors who for decades have hunted, compulsively and competitively, for 78s: the extraordinarily fragile 10-inch discs, introduced near the turn of the 20th century and made predominantly of shellac, that contain one two- to three-minute performance per side. At a time when music fans expect songs to be delivered instantaneously (and often at zero cost) online, scouring the globe for a rare record — and paying thousands of dollars for it — might seem ludicrous. (A rarer Patton record could command $15,000 to $20,000.)

But according to some, the rare-record business is booming, despite the recession and the devaluation of music as a physical product. “Prices have been rising at a phenomenal rate, as people take money out of the stock market and out of different real estate investments and look for a place to put it,” said John Tefteller, a collector who makes his living dealing in rare records. He noted a particular spike last fall, when the economy first faltered.

Others, like Mark Berresford, who edits VJM’s Jazz & Blues Mart, the oldest blues and jazz magazine still in print, are more cautious about looking to rare records for financial stability. “If one is considering collecting rare 78s solely as an investment, one should seek professional advice as to what should be purchased and from whom,” Mr. Berresford wrote in an e-mail message.

By any standard 78s are unwieldy, impractical and unstable. By the mid-1950s they had been mostly replaced by 33 1/3 r.p.m. long-playing albums and 45 r.p.m. singles. Collectors of 78s are enticed in part by the thrill of the quest, which they consider unmatched by a mouse click.

“I’m not proud of the fact that I have to chase these records down like a maniac,” said Mr. Heneghan, who supports himself by working as a video technician. (He also performs in an old-time duo, Eden and John’s East River String Band.) Before he became friendly with other collectors, he said, he felt “sleazy and weird.”

“I knew I was doing it because I liked it, but it’s strange when you can’t relate to one single other person,” he said. “You obviously start to question — like, is there something wrong with me?”

Although most collectors subspecialize by genre, whether jazz or classical or country, it’s early American rural blues — loose acoustic laments, recorded before 1935 and performed by artists who were born in or near the Mississippi Delta — that inspires the highest prices and the most fevered pursuits. “The early blues material from the ’20s and ’30s is the hottest material of all,” Mr. Tefteller said in a phone interview. He said that on average a rare jazz 78 might sell for $1,500 to $5,000, whereas sales for a comparable blues record would start at $5,000.

Blues music is in part mythological; its legend involves sweltering juke joints, homemade whiskey and Faustian bargains at rural crossroads. A furniture company in a largely white Midwestern suburb is rarely evoked in these reveries, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s Paramount Records — an arm of the Wisconsin Chair Company, a manufacturer of wooden phonograph cabinets in Port Washington, Wis. — became an unlikely home for blues legends like Patton, Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House and Skip James. Paramount’s blues releases — especially its “race” records with label numbers in the 12000s and 13000s — are among the most coveted records in the world.

“There are some people who would kill their own mother for the only copy of a Son House record,” Mr. Heneghan said. “And they sure as hell would kill your mother, and you.” - The New York Times


Last week, a crowd of 60 or more patrons crowded into the Jalopy Theater and School of Music, the tin-tiled Brooklyn venue situated within sight of the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Inside the main room, which houses a few rows of church pews and a small proscenium, concertgoers had just witnessed a masterful example of buck-dancing (sometimes called "tap-dancing's cousin") performed by septuagenarian Thomas Maupin, up from Eagleville, Tenn.

Having traveled slightly less of a distance were Manhattanites John Heneghan and Eden Brower, who ambled up on stage soon after Mr. Maupin and played a set of old-timey songs as Eden & John's East River String Band. They were there to mark the release of "Baby, How Can It Be? Songs of Love, Lust and Contempt from the 1920s and 1930s," a new three-disc set curated by Mr. Heneghan from his prized collection of antique 78 rpm records and released on the Atlanta-based imprint Dust-to-Digital.

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NYDUSK
NYDUSK
Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

Eden Brower and John Heneghan of Eden John's East River String Band perform in Red Hook at the release party for the new 3-CD set 'Baby, How Can It Be? Songs of Love, Lust and Contempt from the 1920s and 1930s.'

As Mr. Heneghan, 42, raked the strings of his vintage 1920s Kay Craft guitar and stomped his foot in time to the music, Ms. Brower, 38, strummed her nickel-plated brass ukulele, took solo turns on a plastic kazoo and belted out a set of nearly forgotten tunes. She confessed at one point that the duo had learned some of these 90-year-old songs "like, yesterday."

The next day at their East Village apartment, Mr. Heneghan and Ms. Brower maintained their onstage presence, wearing their bowler hats indoors. The walls were covered with record sleeves, minstrel sheet music, a portrait of Robert Johnson rendered by comic artist Robert Crumb (an acquaintance of the couple), even a certificate issued by the Deadwood Gold Mining Company for $487 in gold. Both musicians hail from Queens. They met 14 years ago when he was the manager at Forbidden Planet comic-book store on Broadway. Ms. Brower was a new hire.

"He would prank call me from the office and I fell for it every time," she said, noting that it wasn't always easy to tell the difference. "We'd get questions like, 'Who do you think is stronger: the Hulk or the Thing?' That'd be a real call at the store."

The co-workers bonded over a love of underground comics and the work of R. Crumb. Their music tastes, however, were slightly divergent. Mr. Heneghan was a devotee of 1920s delta-blues guitarist Charley Patton and studied jazz performance at the New School, where, he said, "nobody was into old-time music. Everyone at the school thought jazz started with Charlie Parker."

On a road trip to Florida, Ms. Brower said, "I made him listen to Salt 'N' Pepa the whole ride down." When they returned home, he bought her a collection of old-time music called "The Roots of Rap." "I started knowing the songs, like Memphis Minnie," she said.

Memphis Minnie, as it happened, would prove a pivotal figure in the couple's life. One day about five years ago, while Mr. Heneghan was practicing the late singer's "Me and My Chauffeur," he overheard Ms. Brower at the couple's computer, singing along.

Before long, the couple was performing at shows ranging from the Brooklyn Folk Festival to clubs in Alphabet City, and traveling as far as France. They have released three albums to date, with a new one, "Be Kind to a Man When He's Down," expected early next year. (Mr. Crumb, who contributed cover art for the band's previous two albums, plays mandolin on the new one.)

Mr. Henaghan's collection of 78 rpm records, which began with a bid on a Memphis Minnie record for sale on eBay, now numbers more than 2,500. "It's a sick, disgusting habit and, having said that, I'm really only driven by music," he said.

Three years ago, following a chance encounter with Dust-to-Digital founder Lance Ledbetter in an East Village café, the idea was hatched to compile a selection of Mr. Heneghan's favorite 78s. The result, "Baby, How Can It Be?," features country blues, Cajun music, vocal groups, fiddle bands and early jazz orchestras.

Mr. Heneghan estimated he spent over two years on the project, even when "it looked like it wasn't going to happen because it's so difficult to sell CDs these days. I was still trying to change it the week it went to mastering."

As he spoke, he pulled out a country ballad recorded by the unknown duo Harold & Hazel that didn't make the final cut. At the song's end, he said: "It sounds like he was born to play guitar behind her."

Mr. Heneghan looked to Ms. Brower, who was busy gazing down at her iPhone. - The Wall Street Journal


UNDERGROUND comics legend R. Crumb is playing some of the devil's music in the Hamptons before hitting the road to promote his latest work about God's own creationary chops, "The Book of Genesis Illustrated." Crumb, a longtime blues lover who plays the mandolin, will be sitting in Saturday night with the East River String Band at Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. The artist is tight with East Village band members John Heneghan and Eden Brower, and even drew the cover of their upcoming CD, "Drunken Barrel House Blues," which rolls out on Halloween.

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/pagesix/item_wzSXrJVIB8dwsme5dmhywI#ixzz1nuVKktXv
- New York Post


'Cubist Bebop Comics," first published in 1972 as part of Robert Crumb's "XYZ Comics" (subtitled "The Last Word in Comics"), is, ostensibly, a series of images relating to music: A blues singer perspires profusely all over herself and her microphone, a modern-jazz saxophonist spins a series of abstract lines out of his horn, teenagers in pompadour and poodle skirt lindy-hop to rock 'n' roll, a hot jazz trumpeter blows so hard that he literally levitates above the crowd. Like a jazz solo that gets more and more intense as it goes along, the images become increasingly frenetic and out-of-control, at once more abstract, with visual references to Picasso and Dali, and more sexually explicit—one being an eye-opening tableaux of a boy, a girl and a rather phallic guitar. (At one point, Mr. Crumb literally shows us a "stream of consciousness" in the form of a river with a bunch of eyes and thought balloons.) "Cubist Bebop Comics" comes from the end of the period when Mr. Crumb was making heavy use of LSD, but the piece isn't about drugs—it's about music. No one else has ever so convincingly depicted the feeling of getting lost in sheer aural sensation, revealing the internal workings of a listener's brain drifting amongst clouds of melody and harmony.
[Crumb] R. Crumb
The Book of Genesis

Illustrated by R. Crumb

Hammer Museum of Art, UCLA
In conversation with Françoise Mouly Oct. 29

Exhibition of original "Genesis" artwork
Through Feb. 7, 2010

University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center
In conversation with Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly Nov. 13

Mr. Crumb, whose artistic imagination is exceeded only by his skill at self-deprecation, has referred to himself as a "half-assed" musician (he plays various string instruments in the guitar family), but music has always played a major role in his art. He is currently on the road in the U.S. to promote his latest project, a fully illustrated "Book of Genesis." In his first full-length graphic novel, Mr. Crumb shows that even when interpreting the Bible as straightforwardly as possible, deliberately avoiding any kind of commentary or parody, his "Genesis" is frequently as strange and even perverted as anything else he's drawn.

Mr. Crumb, who has been living in France for more than 15 years now, made two public appearances in New York last weekend, giving equal time to the visual and musical aspects of his canon. On Oct. 23, he talked about "Genesis" at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, in conversation with Françoise Mouly of the New Yorker in front of roughly 700 vociferous fans. The next night, he appeared as a guest player with the East River String Band at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. The latter venue is on Long Island almost three hours out of Manhattan, but since Mr. Crumb's performances are rare, many of his fans decided to make the trip.

Mr. Crumb's interest in music is concentrated in the Roaring Twenties—his collection of original 78rpm records from the era is legendary. And even though he first became famous for drawing the cover of Janis Joplin's breakthrough album "Cheap Thrills," he actively detests the sounds of the psychadelic '60s, an era in which his illustrations played no small role.

About 10 years ago, on the only occasion when I had the chance to speak with Mr. Crumb at any length, he told me that as a kid in the 1950s, he hated the pop music of the day, from Patti Page to Pat Boone, and essentially escaped from it by discovering King Oliver and Jimmie Rodgers. A self-described miscreant, he said in the celebrated 1994 documentary, "Crumb," "When I listen to old music, it's one of the only times that I have any love for humanity."

Both Mr. Crumb's own band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders (which recorded three delightful LPs in the 1970s), and the East River String Band, with which he occasionally performs when back in the U.S., rarely play anything even as recent as tunes from the Swing Era. John Heneghan, of the East River group, shares this interest in American vernacular music of the pre-Depression era, a Pangaea period when pop and jazz, jazz and blues, blues and country, were all closely intertwined. The core of the group is Mr. Heneghan, a virtuoso acoustic guitarist who also sings, and vocalist Eden Brower, who wields a steel-plated National-brand resonator ukulele. She's tattooed and tiny, he's big and bear-like, sporting an Amish-style beard; they both dress like refugees from a traveling medicine show, including matching bowler hats (which looks better on her). You would have thought they resembled Mr. Crumb's comic-book characters even before you saw the cover of their album, "Some Cold, Rainy Day," which was, indeed, drawn by Mr. Crumb.

Ms. Brower and Mr. Heneghan started the Saturday evening set as a duo, with six rural blues numbers learned primarily from Charley Patton and Memphis Minnie, before being joined by Dom Flemons, mostly on banjo, bassist Joe Lauro, and Mr. Crumb on mandolin. The additional musicians made the ensemble sound more hillbilly. Even so, nearly every tune on the 90-minute set was a 12-bar blues number. Mr. Crumb's best moment as a soloist was in taking the central melody on "The Girl I Left Behind Me," a traditional folk song that was popular as late as World War II (when it was swung by Kay Kyser and Bob Wills). Mr. Crumb is a fluid and competent instrumentalist, and could have probably been a successful professional if he had applied himself with the same dedication that he brought to his art.

Since it was Mr. Heneghan's show, he did most of the talking; the only time Mr. Crumb spoke was to explain the nickname of a very obscure '20s blues singer, Little Hat Jones. (Apparently, it refers to the condition of the brim, not the size of the hat itself.) Unlike much else in the Crumb oeuvre, it was not a sexual reference.

At 66, Mr. Crumb remains a man of many contrasts—not least in that he rarely grants interviews, but, at the same time, he puts his darkest and most intimate thoughts on display for all to see in his work. At Barnes & Noble, Ms. Mouly observed that nearly every graphic artist she knows regards Mr. Crumb as a genius, and she asked him if he considers himself one as well. "I guess in my more extreme moments of megalomania I probably do," he answered. But then a few minutes later he said "genius-shmenius!"
—Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal and is the author of seven books on music, cartoons and popular culture. - The Wall Street Journal


Musical styles come in and out of fashion as often, if not more frequently, than clothing styles. However, unlike trends in clothing or other transitory fads, many of the musical genres which become flavours of the month had their small pool of adherents who both played it before it became popular and continue to play it long after its popularity has waned. Ironically it's not even those who have been playing and keeping the genre alive who are usually the ones who enjoy the benefits of their style's fifteen minutes in the spotlight, as they aren't usually the types a record company feels comfortable with as star material.

Once the brief flurry of interest in the genre has died down most go back to being played and appreciated by those who had all along, while everybody else moves on to the next "new" discovery. Sometimes the only record to mark a genre's passing is if a commercially viable form of the music is created which allows for the creation of a new Top 100 chart in its name. Aside from that, for most of the world it's as if the music has ceased to exist as miraculously as it once appeared. Thankfully, that's not usually the case; it's just that the music is out of the public eye again, but it's still being played and recorded if you know who to look for.

Ever since the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? was released about a decade ago there have been periodic revivals of interest in what's called everything from roots music to Americana. Now most of the songs used in the soundtrack were familiar to people already, but what made them so fresh was they were performed in the style they would have been during the time the movie took place. Instead of the overblown production that's been associated with country music for the last thirty or forty years, the songs were stripped down to their basics and sounded amazing. Somehow or other though, that point got lost, and it's become harder and harder to hear the music played as it was originally.

Thankfully, for those who want to hear this music played as it should be, there remain select groups of musicians scattered around the country dedicated to keeping the legacy of this music alive. One of the finest examples of this are Eden & John's East River String Band. Eden and John are Eden Brower (ukulele, kazoo and vocals) and John Heneghan (guitar and vocals), and on their latest disc, Be Kind To A Man When He's Down, the band is rounded out by Robert Crumb (mandolin), Pat Conte (fiddle) and Dom Flemons (guitar). (For those wondering, Robert Crumb is indeed the illustrator of underground comics from the 1970s. Not only does he play with the band on occasion, he has created all their album artwork).

On this disc the band has focused on traditional songs and adapted and arranged them to suit their needs. One of the first things you'll notice when looking at the album credits is the lack of any mention as to who has written the material. These songs have obtained the status of being so ingrained into the social and artistic fabric of American culture that who wrote them no longer matters; they are a part of the country's cultural heritage in the same way songs like "John Barley Corn" are part of the heritage of the British Isles. In fact two of the titles on the disc are most likely ones that a high percentage of Americans will hear at least once in their lives and whose names will be recognized by nearly as many: "Oh Suzanna" and "Swanee River."

Both songs were written by the first great composer of American popular music, , in 1848 and 1851, respectively. A product of their times, their original lyrics aren't what anybody would call racially sensitive, as they were written in faux-slave dialect, and in the case of "Swanee," have the narrator yearning for life on the plantation and, by implication, life as a slave. Both songs gained their initial popularity through being performed in "Minstral Shows," white performers appearing in black face singing and playing Dixieland jazz style music. While this may sound offensive to us, the songs were a reflection of contemporary attitudes and in no way diminishes their quality musically.

Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Eden-John-s-East-River-String-1306594.php#ixzz1nuUjUCYa
- Seattle PI


Eden and John's East River String Band are white city folk — singer/ukulele player Eden Brower and singer-guitarist John Heneghan from New York's East Village — who cover black country blues from the 78-rpm era with crisp fervor on Some Cold Rainy Day (East River). They don't strain for authenticity, but they address songs such as Willie Brown's "Future Blues" and Skip James' "Crow Jane" with a natural flair that suggests loving study and a respect for the hard lives and fight for joy on the original records.

[From Issue 1065 — November 13, 2008]

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/blogs/alternate-take/frickes-picks-east-village-blues-20081111#ixzz1nuL7PIfy
- Rolling Stone magazine


Discography

"BE KIND TO A MAN WHEN HE'S DOWN" ERR1004
CD & LP from Eden & John's East River String Band released February 18th 2011 featuring special guests Robert Crumb on mandolin, Pat Conte on banjo, fiddle, guitar & harmonica and Dom Flemons on guitar.
Cover by Robert Crumb.
On Yellow Vinyl.

"DRUNKEN BARREL HOUSE BLUES" ERR1003
CD & LP from Eden & John's East River String Band released December 7, 2011 from the 2009 CD featuring special guests Pat Conte on fiddle, Dom Flemons on guitar, quills & vocals and Eli Smith on banjo.
Cover by Robert Crumb.
On Blue Splatter Wax!!!!

"SOME COLD RAINY DAY" ERR1002
CD & LP from Eden & John's East River String Band released 2008 featuring special guest Terry Waldo on piano.
Cover by Robert Crumb.

Photos

Bio

Drawing from the vast spectrum of traditional American country blues music Eden & John’s East River String Band create some of the most authentic sounding renditions of songs from the 1920’s and early 30’s. Focusing on both well known and lesser known country blues and some popular music from this era, their love and deep reverence for this music shines through in every song. Founded in 2006
the New York City based duo have released four albums and toured the US, Canada and Europe. The group’s two leaders, Eden Brower (vocals, ukulele, guitar & kazoo) and John Heneghan (vocals, guitar, mandolin & kazoo) are
often have special guest musicians join the group such as underground comic/ old-time music legend Robert Crumb (Cheap Suit Serenaders), stride pianist Terry Waldo (Leon Redbone/ Woody Allen), and multi-intrumentalist Dom Flemons (The Carolina Chocolate Drops). Their 2011 release, “Be Kind To A Man When He’s Down” features Robert Crumb on madolin, Pat Conte on fiddle & banjo and Dom Flemons on guitar. David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazines says, "Eden And John cover country blues from the 78-rpm era with crisp fervor and a natural flair that suggests loving study and a respect for the original records".