Dave Van Ronk Biography

Born 30 June 1936, Brooklyn, NY, USA

Died 10 February 2002, New York, NY, USA

Nicknamed the Mayor of MacDougal Street, New York City native Dave Van Ronk was considered by many to be music's raconteur, troubadour and provocateur. Arriving at Washington Square Park in the mid 1950s during the folk revivalist boom, Van Ronk lived hand-to-mouth while teaching himself to play guitar and dabbling in communist political circles. By 1958, he and life-long friend, musicologist Samuel B. Charters, released their first album, Lyrichord's "Skiffle in Stereo" as members of The Orange Blossom Jug Five. After a stint in the Merchant Marine, tireless gigging in most every cabaret in the city, and a one-off collaboration as a The Foc'sle Singers on Paul Clayton (2)'s album of sea shanties, Van Ronk settled on the lower west side Manhattan, in Greenwich Village.

Referred to as “the great, grizzled, guitarist” by Peter Fornatale, Van Ronk’s music eluded classification. As a self-described ‘moldy fig’ who eschewed the term “folk artist”, Dave Van Ronk’s eclectic blend of dixieland jazz, ragtime, blues, vaudeville and other styles were often in direct conflict with the format-conscious world of the commercial music business. Reminding listeners his only constant was, "I've always been inconsistent”, his recordings followed one rule, “anything that I like and that I think I can find a handle to, I'll take a whack at. And as it has been, so shall it be." Though more an arranger than a songwriter, Van Ronk was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers toward the end of his four plus decade career in December of 1997. Debuting on Moses Asch's Folkways Records label in the early 1960s, Van Ronk moved onto Prestige with Dixieland revivalists The Red Onion Jazz Band and Mercury with The Ragtime Jug Stompers. At the close of the 1960s, Verve Forecast released his sole rock album with the The Hudson Dusters. As the folk boom ebbed, Van Ronk’s gravelly voice was relatively quiet, releasing an album for Polydor in 1972, another the following year on Cadet Records, then landing on the Philo roster in 1976. By the early 1980s, Van Ronk was recording several one-off projects with assorted independent folk labels, including a handful for Samuel B. Charters' New England-based Gazell (2) imprint. Joint ventures with Christine Lavin and Frankie Armstrong followed in the 1990s.

Van Ronk continued performing live right up to his death from complications following colon cancer surgery in Winter 2002. His auto-biography, written with Elijah Wald, and live album, "...And The Tin Pan Bended, And The Story Ended. .... Click here to read the full bio on DISCOGS.

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