ON THE ESPLANADE
(Text and new video below)
The second in our “Summer Song” series.
Going to New York from Detroit after I had just turned eighteen was everything for me. The clubs and the music in Greenwich Village, the freedom to explore at any hour the city that never sleeps, the making of new friends who were just like me, was a dream come true.
Clubs like the Gaslight, Café Au Go Go (where Lenny Bruce was arrested) Gerdes Folk City (where Dylan was “discovered”), Café Wha (where Jimi Hendrix played), jazz venues like Village Vanguard, the Gate, were all available to me. I played in most of them.
I met, saw, performed with and learned from legends. Rev. Gary Davis, the great fingerstyle ragtime guitarist, Bukka White (a cousin of B.B. King) was a phenomenal slide guitarist (“Panama Limited”, Fixin’ to Die). Doc and Merle Watson, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were frequent performers at the Gaslight. I had the chance to perform on bills with Dave Van Ronk (subject of Coen Brothers “Inside Llewyn Davis” ), John Hammond, Bonnie Raitt and many more.
I worked as a dishwasher at Sam Hood’s Gaslight (116 MacDougal). I slept there for awhile and it was my mailing address for a couple of years. The careers of Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and many others were launched there.
After the clubs would close, I would wander the city with music partner Owen Fite. Times Square, Fulton Fish market, take the Staten Island Ferry (back and forth, back and forth depending how drunk we might have been). In those days of summer, sleeping on park benches was pretty safe. You could watch the city wake up.
“On the Esplanade,” takes place downtown at Battery Park, overlooking the Hudson River, South Ferry and the Statue of Liberty. A great place for watching the world go by and maybe, just maybe, falling in love.
“On the esplanade, saw you standing there
In the morning breeze saw your coal black hair
I got the nerve and I prayed to God
And there we were on the esplanade”