This re-issue CD is the first in a fivesome constituting a long-overdue revisitation of an industry legend who never really attained to his proper niche in the public eye. Though word of him only rarely leaks out now, Gibson was once one of the key figures in modern folk music and fairly esteemed for it. In '53, an afternoon with Pete Seeger induced a fever that never left him, so he took up the banjo and, in only three years time, released Offbeat Folksongs on the Riverside label, also commencing an impressive 11-month residency at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, where he opened for legends (Bill Broonzy being just one). That was '56. 1957 & '58 saw three more albums and regular appearances on the prestigious Arthur Godfrey Show.
1959 rolled around and Gibson started mentoring Joan Baez, introducing her at the Newport Folk Fest, a key point in Joanie's career. He also served as mentor to David Crosby and Judy Collins. In 1960, asked to start up a folk supergroup, Gibson declined but nonetheless remained the base inspiration for what became Peter, Paul, and Mary. Starting the New Concepts management corporation, he signed Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and Richie Havens in 1961 while, in '62, appearing regularly on the very popular Hootenanny TV show. In 1970, the Bob GIbson LP for Capitol Records had Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, and Bernie Leadon, among others, playing behind him. Never heard of it? Well, that's because it was yanked due to a lawsuit brought by Atlantic Records, never to emerge again...though the very prospect of a perhaps-eventual release makes the mouth water, no? That was 1970, now it was 1974 and Funky in the Country saw the light of day on his own indie label, a precursor move in and of itself, but let's skip ahead a bit, in order to complete the history.
Between '74 and 1996, Gibson founded a songwriting school; wrote, produced, and performed in Courtship of Carl Sandburg; toured with Tom Paxton, whom he'd introduced to the folk scene years before); continued recording his own albums; participated in televised children's projects and concerts; sat in on the Bob Gibson Class Reunion (1994) sporting a stellar array that included Paxton, Peter Yarrow, John Hartford, Dennis Locorierre (Doctor Hook), Oscar Brand, Glenn Yarborough, Spanky McFarlane, Josh White Jr, and Shel Silverstein (a man he'd also introduced to the scene), among others...but was also experiencing a growing palette of troubling physical symptomatic problems. In '96, he was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Sadly, he succumbed the same year, leaving a huge chasm in the field…
…that's now being repaired by his daughter Meridian Green (a.k.a. Barbara Ann Gibson, a musical partner of Gene Parsons [Byrds]) with this marvelous exposition of root-bottom folk singing and superb 12-string playing, as the audience's reception well demonstrates. That's the musical aspect, the social factor, however, is just as important, as there were any number of similarly overlooked folkies (Michael Parks, Tom Rapp, etc.) deserving of far larger fame and fortune than they received, and Funky in the Country succeeds in resurrecting not just the sonority of the era but the feel such individuals brought to the table back then. A live gig from the Amazingrace dive (Evanston, Ill.), Funky carries a vibe impossible to evoke now in the 00's. Then, on the consumer side, the LP itself is very hard to locate and expensive as hell if you do, so there's a blessing present in many more ways than one.
The release is, as I infer, actually a crucial recording, representing a splinter of folk in danger of being entirely swamped by the many permutations that came after. As attractive as those are, this is a piece of history, as is Gibson, and needs to be preserved in the annals no less than the rudimentary and evolving forms of roots blues, jazz, and other American modes. Though the folk "brand" itself goes back endlessly into the recesses of time, Gibson was not only there while it was being made anew on these shores but was a key figure. His music was not the type Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, or any of the other Brit marvels were making but rather found itself pushed further as a blend of the prairie with the streets of New York.
Like his inspiration Seeger, Gibson was both deadly serious and breezily cool, qualities in abundant evidence throughout the performance. His adroitness in the style permeates the roster of songs chockablock with broad slices of humor partially attributable to a partnership with Shel Silverstein, a pairing that would come to yield ever more bountiful returns as the years proceeded. The tracks also demonstrate why Bob would attract Tom Paxton as a sometime-confederate and musical soulmate: lots in common 'twixt the twain. In fact, it might even be said that Funky in the Country represents the perfect dividing point at which Dylan, ultimately and controversially a provocateur, deviated from both traditionalism and Gibson-styled novo-folk to create what would dominate the style and still does. Thus, the CD provides a very interesting retrospective scrutiny upon a little-known nexus understood only now, in contrast to the record.
[For the remainder of this cool reissue series, just look in the FAME Reviews Index under 'Bob Gibson'.]
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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