Gordon Bok

Gordon Bok Biography

Gordon found his first music in his own dooryard. His family sang Scots, German, Italian, Australian and American traditional and popular songs – all learned from places they had lived. As he began to work the boats along his coast, he heard the songs of the Maritimes, and ballads and chanteys from around the world. "The kitchen music of coastal Maine was things like Hank Williams" he said "so I learned that too. I loved to sing those songs with Kendall Morse and others around home." Where he couldn't find songs that matched his experiences or needs, he began to write his own, and has kept up a lively flow of poems, songs, stories, choral and instrumental works. One Maine chorus is taking one of Gordon's choral pieces on tour in Serbia and Greece as part of their American repertoire. He reinvented and developed the cantefable/folk opera form until it is now widely used by storytellers and musicians in this country.

He has been a singer and caretaker of the music and liturgy of the Kalmyk Mongolians who immigrated to America in the '50s, maintaining and circulating an extensive collection of their surviving music among their descendents.

Gordon has written, sung, and helped to preserve the heritage of the working waterman of the Northeast, hence his honorary Doctorate from the Maine Maritime Academy. He also received the Blue Ribbon award from the American Film Festival for original music and lyrics performed by him and other local musicians for the documentary film "Coaster: The Adventure of the John F Leavitt."

Bok has always been an innovator. As a young man in Maine he was the first to bring the contradance tunes of Maine and New Brunswick into the folk guitar repertoire; when all the folk guitar players were picking out "Freight Train", Gordon was playing both guitar and fiddle parts on "Grieve's Handy" and "Hawkins' Handy." Long before the Bossa Nova craze, he helped bring forward South American music as a living presence into the American folk stream.

His contributions to folk music also include innovations to the instruments he uses. Gordon worked with friends Samuel Tibbetts and Nick Apollonio to develop the acoustic twelve string guitar to a power and diversity of sound unequaled in the field, through the "balanced bridge" which he invented in the late 1950s. Gordon brought the 'cellamba* and Viol de Gamba into a respected place as accompaniment to traditional music in America. In the 1970s, he developed and marketed the multi-keyed "Bok Whistle", an idea that has taken root in commercial whistle companies.

Gordon's legacy includes thirty-four recordings featuring his own compositions and traditional and contemporary folk songs from around the world. His extensive repertoire provides a rich well to draw upon for his concerts, guaranteeing a unique experience everywhere he performs. He has never sung the same solo concert twice. Gordon has toured throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia and has gathered many friends and fans throughout the world. He has performed with many other artists, and both toured and recorded with the trio Bok, Muir, and Trickett for 30 years, and with his wife, harpist and singer Carol Rohl. Back home in Maine he helped start two choruses, both now in existence for many years, and has been an encouraging force behind other singers in their efforts to record their own music and launch their own musical careers.

For most of his life Gordon has been a woodworker, having grown up with the local shipyard as his playground and place of learning. While not a boat builder, he has built a few small boats and repaired and maintained many larger ones. He has designed and built many tools and articles of furniture, houses and barns to his and others' needs. His woodcarving was a natural extension of his woodworking. His bas-relief carvings, which celebrates the people, boats and fisheries he grew up with around the coast of Maine. Gordon has the ability to capture a way of life or to define a rare moment with an intimacy that is immediately engaging. Sometimes his art takes the form of poetry, and often the words find their way into a song. Sometimes there are no words, just deft fingers coaxing the story out of the guitar strings. Sometimes this intimacy is carefully carved into a slab of wood. Gordon has been a woodcarver for over thirty years; it is just another way to preserve the ideas and culture that are expressed in his songs.

He's a 'rememberer', a keeper of songs and stories, a keeper of our traditions, our ways and ways of thinking that set us apart from others and yet confirms our place in the flow of humanity.

When asked about the focus of his work he has said "I try to keep hope alive in myself and others. I write to keep myself on track, to find out what I need to do in the world. Some of my large and more difficult works have turned out to be blueprints that, when I trusted them, have guided my life.

"I refuse to tell my audiences what to think or feel: I respect them too much for that. I will sing them what I honor and trust, and trust them to sort out what they can use.

"I'm drawn to songs that show me how others have loved their lives and sorted through their problems – that's the great wisdom in traditional music, and in the songs that will become the tradition in other generations. They've shown me how to live, and if others learn something from my passing them on, that's another pleasure."

In recent years, Gordon has made an effort to do less touring, preferring to stay closer to home where he can develop his sculpture, writing and recording, and work with the choruses, Carol and other local musicians.

*cell – amba – a Viola da Gamba rig on a 'cello body

Gordon Bok Bio from Discogs

Folklorist, Singer, Poet, Songwriter, Luthier

Maine, USA

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