“Inside Llewyn Davis” with Dave Van Ronk and Eric von Schmidt
A bit late for many of you, perhaps, but I just went to see “Inside Llewyn Davis”. Needless to say I have been shuffling along ever since listening to pre-electric Dylan and remembering my first winter visits to Greenwich Village in the mid-1970s. Nothing to report from that, other than listening to some jazz and having my first egg creams.
But in reading up after seeing the film, I came across an interesting essay by Joe Boyd, the record producer who has worked with everyone from Nick Drake to Pink Floyd, Maria Muldaur, Taj Mahal and Toots and the Maytals. In it, he compares the influence of two early denizens of the Greenwich Village folk-blues scene – Dave Van Ronk and Eric von Schmidt.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is not specifically about either of them, but Van Ronk had an album called “Inside Dave Van Ronk” and a book about him, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, provides some of the film’s plot.
Boyd ‘s aim in his essay – Not Von Ronk-Van Schmidt – is to make the case for the latter being a much greater musician and influence on the scene. He has some experience of both. He relates the tale of Van Ronk crashing on his sofa at the place he shared with Geoff Muldaur (Maria’s ex) after a night playing poker at von Schmidt’s.
He is clearly not a fan of Van Ronk, partly for personal reasons but also musically. Boyd writes:
From my youthfully opinionated 1962 perspective, I disliked the path he laid out for younger white folk singers to butcher the blues: scratchy voice, “red-hot-mama” clichés, plunky Josh-White-influenced guitar picking.
He calls instead for a reappraisal of von Schmidt’s work noting that it was his record jacket, not Van Ronk’s, that Bob Dylan had on the cover of “Bringing It All Back Home”. Dylan also famously credited von Schmidt when he introduced his “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” on vinyl, saying: “I first heard this from Ric von Schmidt”.
So, it seems a great opportunity to reappraise both Von and van. If you want to read Boyd’s full essay, click here.