Eric Andersen - Biography
Eric Andersen was one of the singer/songwriters who burst out of Greenwich Village in the early 60s. Known for his masterful finger picking and poetic sensibility, his early albums were hailed as shimmering gems in the songwriting genre. He never attained the recognition of commercial success of his better-known contemporaries, but songs like “Violets of Dawn,” “Come to My Bedside,” and “Thirsty Boots” have been covered by many artists including The Blues Project, Judy Collins, Fairport Convention, Peter Paul and Mary, Rick Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, The Grateful Dead, and Francoise Hardy.
Andersen was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1943, and grew up in Buffalo, NY where he taught himself guitar and piano. Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, and Miles Davis were early inspirations, as were French poets Rimbaud and Baudelaire. He was also fascinated with the Beat Generation, in particular Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Ginsberg’s Howl. He dropped out of his pre-med program at Hobart College in 1962 and hitchhiked to San Francisco to play open mikes and meet the beats. His did get to hang out with Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Neal Cassady, and fellow songwriter Tom Paxton, who suggested Andersen try his luck in Greenwich Village; Paxton introduced him to Phil Ochs and Dylan. His first NYC gig, at Gerde’s Folk City, was given a rave review in the New York Times. He signed with Vanguard Records. Even before he had his first album out Judy Collins recorded “Thirsty Boots” and The Blues project had a minor hit with “Violets of Dawn.”
Today Is the Highway (1965 Vanguard), with the folk standards “Come to My Bedside,” one of the most erotic songs ever recorded at the time, and “Dusty Boxcar Walls,” got rave reviews. Andersen was still working day jobs and crashing with Gorden Friesen and Sis Cunningham, the publishers of Broadside magazine until he did a British tour to support the album.
‘Bout Changes & Things (1966 Vanguard), his first classic LP, included “Violets of Dawn” and “Thirsty Boots.” He played the Newport Folk Festival and on another British tour he met The Beatles who wanted him to sign with Brian Epstein for management. Unhappily Epstein died and he deal never happened. Back in the US the music business was changing. Andersen re-cut his second album with a rock band as ‘Bout Changes & Things, Take 2 (1967 Vanguard), but the ploy failed to increase sales. He made two more albums for Vanguard, the folk rock outing More Hits From Tin Can Alley (1968 Vanguard) and A Country Dream (1969 Vanguard), recoded with Nashville session players, before moving to Warner Brothers.
Avalanche (1969 Warner) was an introspective country flavored folk rock album, and Eric Andersen (1969 Warner) was more folky. In 1970 he toured Europe and signed on to the legendary Festival Express, a train tour across Canada with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, and the Band. In 1971 he lived at New York’s Hotel Chelsea where he worked on Blue River (1972 Columbia, 1999 Columbia/Legacy). The poignant songs and their simple arrangements were some of the best Andersen had written. The album got rave reviews and is considered a singer/songwriter masterpiece. Joni Mitchell contributed backing vocals to the title track. The mater tapes to his follow up, Stages, were lost during a Columbia restructuring. [The rediscovered tapes were finally released as Stages: The Lost Album (1991 Columbia/Legacy). It’s a stunningly mature work, with guest shots by Joan Baez, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. One can only guess what would have happened had it be released when it was made.]
Andersen had a hard time recovering from the loss of his album and only made two more in the 70s: Be True To You (1975 Arista) and Sweet Surprise (1976). He performed a few times with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review then moved to Europe and released Midnight Son (1980 CBS Norway), Tight in the Night (1984 EMI Sweden) and Istanbul (1985 EMI Belgium), the soundtrack music for a Marc Didden film.
Ghosts Upon the Road (1989 Gold Castle), his first American release in 13 years, got rave reviews. It won two New York Music Awards — Best folk Album and Best Male Performer. Next Andersen teamed up with Rick Danko and Norwegian American roots music fan Jonas Fjeld. Their combination of blues, folk, rock, country and R&B made them major stars in Europe. Danko Fjeld Andersen (1991 Rykodisc, 1991 Mercury Norway) won the Spelleman Pris (Norwegian Grammy) for best album. The trio’s second album Ridin’ the Rails (1994 Rykodisc, 1994 Grappa Norway) made the Top10 on the US Americana chart.
In 1997 Andersen signed with Appleseed, a small American folk label with a penchant for 60s singer/songwriters. Memory of the Future (1998 Appleseed) an introspective album dealing with familiar themes of love, mortality and loss showed Andersen at the top of his poetic form. You Can't Relive The Past (2000 Appleseed) is a bluesy outing and includes four songs co-written with Townes Van Zandt and one collaboration with Lou Reed. Beat Avenue (2003 Appleseed) may be Andersen’s best album, a two CD set that includes a disc of affecting love songs, and a disc with two extended spoken word pieces, “Beat Avenue” a narrative about the day JFK was assassinated and “Blue Rockin’ Chair,” a bluesy exploration of sexual love. Andersen looked back again on The Street Was Always There (2004 Appleseed) and Waves (2005 Appleseed) albums on which he sings the songs that were one everyone’s lips during the heyday of the Greenwich Village folk explosion. Tunes by the famous — Dylan, Lou Reed, Tim Buckley, Lovin’ Spoonful — rub elbows with less known songwriters like Tim Hardin, Richard Farina, and David Blue. Blue Rain (2007 Appleseed), recorded live in Norway, is a retrospective, but Andersen stick with lesser know songs from his back catalogue. The backing band is tight and subtle, keeping the spotlight on Andersen’s weary, soulful vocals. Violets of Dawn (1999 Vanguard) makes a good introduction to Andersen’s work with 18 tracks from his first six Vanguard albums.