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Spider John Koerner - Koernering The Market

And so, as we heard, he gave up music forever, and a year later decided it was alright after all, but didn’t want to play the stuff he was playing earlier any more. He’d previously told me that he didn’t really like the lyrics that he’d done before…

“Well, alright. There were a number of things involved, of course. I don’t know, maybe I grew up a little bit in that time. One thing, it started seeming odd to me at that time to try and be like a black guy, which is sort of what we did back then. And also I came across the folk music, one of Lomax’s collections in the house and looking over that material I realised how good it was, really solid stuff, good poetry and good imagery. And I thought, well OK, I’ll try and do that, see what happens. And I’ve never regretted it.”

On his ’60s records, Koerner was an incredibly manic, crazy, flash guitar player. To this day, people still say ‘How did he do that?’ – and that even includes fans like Martin Simpson. Had he also decided that he didn’t want to go down that route any more, to simplify things?

“Sort of. Yeah. Of course it’s a process. It took some time to feel my way through it. I wanted to sing the song. I became more interested in the singing of the song than the guitar, and I wanted to make the guitar work simple enough so I didn’t have to think too much about that. And like I say, this was a process of some years that that happened over. But I know what you’re talking about. Paul Geremia thinks of Spider Blues as being one of my best records, because he says I was on the top of my form with my guitar playing. But on the other hand, this record drives me nuts. It’s all that ‘My baby’ this and ‘My baby’s legs’ and I don’t know what the hell all those things were, you know, and when I look back at it, it feels a little adolescent.”

Koerner at Towersey Festival, 2010
Koerner at Towersey Festival, 2010

There is indeed some great music on Spider Blues, Koerner’s first solo abum and, sadly, the only one of his Elektra LPs to have never been reissued. The version of Corinna on there is really beautiful and melodic, and to this day, of all the songs of his that I’ve ever tried to work out how to play – even though on record it sounds relatively simple compared to his fingerbusters like Crazy Fool – I can’t figure it out. Nobody else did anything like that. It’s a work of art.

“Well, sure, at the time. I wouldn’t try to duplicate it now, or even try to do the same thing any more. But I understand all that. It’s just my own feelings about some of those things are – with some distance now, looking back on it – it seems a little weird. But I understand why other people are interested in it.”

As a Koerner completist, I’d bought a single of his that seems to have only come out on British Elektra, in 1966 (EKSN 45005, for you trainspotters). The two sides, Won’t You Give Me Some Love and Don’t Stop never appeared on an album. When I’d met him in 1995, Tony Glover, the unofficial KR&G archivist had been stopped in his tracks by this revelation.

“Do you have that? I’ve been trying to find that fucker for years. I remember that session! It was a single,” explains Glover. “The idea was that there was a lot of folk rock stuff round – ‘let’s try Koerner with a band’. There was Al Kooper and Felix Pappalardi. I was playing harp, I think there was a drummer from the Blues Project. I had a fever of about 103. People said ‘whatever happened to that session?’. Nobody ever heard nothing about it. Nobody could find any masters. I’d love to get a copy. I remember the idea at the time was he was about to go over to England. I think it was supposed to be for the English market maybe.”

I theorise that it might have something to do with Joe Boyd, who was running the UK end of Elektra at the time, but when I later enquire from Joe he has no recollection of it whatsoever. But then I once saw Koerner at the legendary London underground club which Joe ran called UFO, and he doesn’t remember that either. It’s all a mystery.

Koerner was to have another dabble into the more pop-oriented end of things with his 1969 Running, Jumping, Standing Still duo outing with Willie Murphy. Rolling Stone went crazy over it, I seem to remember, but apart from it inspiring Bonnie Raitt – a Koerner fan – to later record a cover of I Ain’t Blue, it soon disappeared below the waves. In 1972, after cutting the very hand-made Music Is Just A Bunch Of Notes for Dave Ray’s emerging Sweet Jane label (which nevertheless included the very wonderful Takin’ My Time), Koerner took off for Denmark.

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


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