18: John Cohen

SLN # 19 John Cohen pt. 2
SLN # 18 John Cohen pt. 1

John Cohen has done almost everything worth doing, photographer, film maker, musician, teacher. We went to his home in Putnam County N Y for a full afternoon’s conversation. There are 2 podcast that resulted from our extremely pleasant visit.

Here John Is shown on the right with his Old Time Music band The New Lost City Ramblers accompanying Maybelle Carter.

Cohen’s neighbor in first loft on the Lower East side was photographer Robert Frank who’s seminal work “The Americans ” was published while John Lived next door


As neighbors should Robert was kind enough to produce photos for John’s Old Time Music band The New Lost city Ramblers


It’s hard to over estimate the influence of Folkways Records especially “The Anthology of American Folk Music” However well know that is, I do believe the following 4 LPs from Folkways also deserve ” Rosetta Stone” status


If you only get one John Cohen book (not a good idea IMHO) “There is No Eye” is the one to get. This is his first monograph and contains photographs from his days in New Haven, New York’s East Side, Peru, Greenwich Village folk music scene0 and groundbreaking trips to the American South to seek out regional musicians, monumental.


This book results from a session that was supposed to be a dry run for a film sound synch experiment that failed. Both Cohen and Dylan had the good instinct to catch lighting in a bottle. These images capture Robert Zimmerman becoming Bob Dylan, fascinating.


As long as we’re on the subject of Bob don’t miss “John Cohen Here and Gone”, photos of Woody Guthrie, 60’s music festivals, The New Lost Ramblers, what I believe was a cover shoot for Dylan’s “Self Portrait” and a lengthy conversation with Bob that originally ran in “Sing Out”. This book was printed by Steidl


Another masterful printing job by Steidl. Pawn grandfather’s watch to buy this book. Close to time traveling back to the source, the resulting photos from John’s trips to the American South in search of what he called “old time music” and is now called “Americana”. He found it and more. 1963, The High and Lonesome Sound, photos, a CD of audio recordings and a DVD of his film made primarily featuring Roscoe Holcomb. Way too much to take in in one sitting.


“Pull My Daisy” 1959 is a silent black and white film shot by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie from a Jack Kerouac play featuring Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers and others. John Cohen worked on this groundbreaking film which provides a look at The Beat Generation from within

The importance of The Newport Folk Festivals was immense. It began in response to the successful annual Jazz Festivals in Newport, Rhode Island managed by George Wein who recruited Albert Grossman to run the Folk Festival. Careers were started there. Most of the “rediscovered ” country and blues musicians played there. John Cohen and The New Lost City Ramblers played the first Folk Festival. It began in 1959 in “The Casino” now the International  Tennis Hall of Fame. This is how it looks today.




As the festival and the popularity of folk music grew the location moved to Freebody Park and the grounds of St Michaels school and for 1965 Festival Field now a housing site.

St Michael’s School today.


Dylan using Joan Baez’s O 45 Martin guitar Performs “Mr Tamborine Man” on the grounds of St Michael’s School at a workshop at the Newport Folk Festival 1964

It’s time for a shout out to our mutual friend Ed Grazda (John Cohen’s friend and photographer of Mr Cohen’s portraits) on the occasion of the publication of his new book, “Mean Streets” photos of New York in the 1970s – 80s. More time traveling. 

Much more to be added to this blog soon

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