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Spider John Koerner - Koernering The Market

“After a year I started playing again and things went on their own way. The guy that I stayed with in Cambridge, Mass., is a private detective, and he somehow found one that was very like the other. Same kind of triangular plectrum-shaped soundhole thing. It was a different model, not a model 75, but basically it looked pretty much the same. And it was busted up. The neck was kinda coming out of it and I gave it to a friend of mine down in Florida, a luthier, and we were thinking what to do with it. There were two choices; one was make it the way it was originally, or two was turn it into a twelve-string. We were pondering that, and one night I called him up and I said ‘Well, I just think we should make it like it was originally’ and he said ‘Too late!’ He took the fingerboard off, widened the neck quite nicely, did all that.”

“So I played that for a while. And it was OK, but it was a little awkward for me somehow. At some point I went back to this one I’m playing now, the Epiphone, that I bought somewhere around 1977.”

And finally his old given-away model 75 came back home…

“I had a job a couple of years ago, near Boise, Idaho. And I was just getting ready to go on the stage and this guy comes up to me. He says ‘I’d like to introduce you to an old friend of yours’ and I’m thinking ‘Oh, who the hell is that?’ and we went out in the parking lot and he had a pickup, and in the back of the pickup, well, there it was, just like it was. And it still smelled the same, for God’s sake! Yeah, that was totally amazing. I’ve taken a look at it and I can see that I didn’t do a very good job of spacing the strings, so I’m gonna redo that, but at some point I will put it back exactly the way it was before.”

Koerner & Glover, Winnipeg 1995
Koerner & Glover, Winnipeg 1995 Photo: Ian Anderson

The first Blues, Rags & Hollers LP was made for the small Audiophile label, before being licensed to Elektra nationally. “When our record was made we sent some of them off to Elektra Records and they picked up on it and reproduced the record. They also had us come out to New York City to record a second album, and on that visit they also managed to slip us in as a late thing at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, so now we had records and we were presented to a wide audience, and at that point it got to be kind of easy. There was people wanted to manage us and all that stuff. Betsy Siggins from the Club 47 was there and got us to play up there. I remember we went up there to play and it was totally amazing to us. There was a line halfway round the block, holy moley! So at that point it wasn’t hard to get jobs.”

That Boston/Cambridge area became his second home…

“Yeah. I jumped in on the scene there. It was kind of a wild scene. I’m not sure what some of those people thought of me, but I lived with some of them over a period of time. That’d be ’63, ’64. I quite enjoyed it. When I think back on it, it was too much, you know. It was a lot of drunkenness, running around playing, doing this and that, it was kinda nuts, but that’s the way things were at that time, in general.”

The impression one got from Jim Rooney & Eric Von Schmidt’s book about that scene, Baby Let Me Follow You Down, was that there was a party in somebody’s apartment every night with half the musicians you’ve ever heard of playing there.

“Yeah, it was kinda like that. That book is a little weird in one way. It’s a bit of a soap opera that they’re talking about – a lot of personal relationships, all that kind of stuff. Not that it was inaccurate, by any means. Yeah, it was quite a scene. I had my own part of it, on my own, but also hanging out with those guys.”

So what got him to England? I used to read the weekly music papers and I remember quite vividly that one of them – possibly Record Mirror or New Musical Express – had a column where they asked the Beatles what their favourite records were and John Lennon said Koerner, Ray & Glover. “Fucking hell, the Beatles have heard of these guys!” I had no idea that anybody so famous could have heard of something that obscure which I was listening to. “Me neither,” chuckles Koerner.

From fRoots 325, July 2010 – incorporating some sections from an earlier interview published in fR150, December 1995


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