Early On – A Kid in New York
by Andy May
I grew up loving music. The Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly…then later Mississippi John Hurt, the New Lost City Ramblers, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, Flatt and Scruggs, the Byrds with Clarence White, Albert King, The Band, Django Rhinehart, Charlie Christian…. The list goes on and on….. I still get the same great feeling today, so many years later when I hear the great music of these many masters of music.
When I was really young, I wanted to play the guitar more than anything. I dreamed about guitars! My dad got me an little Stella acoustic for my seventh birthday. It was set up so poorly that it was hardly playable. But– it got me going. Later I was able to get a better one: an early Guild acoustic.
New York in the 1960’s was a fabulous place to be for a young guitar nut. There were great players like Dave VanRonk appearing at venues where even an under-age guy could go. Then, there were folks like Doc Watson coming to town! I remember hearing Doc and Reverend Gary Davis jamming backstage at a hall…that was really something! I got to hear so many of the greats: Maybelle Carter, Sam McGee, Mike Bloomfield, Albert King, Clarence White…. Years later I would find myself working with some of my heroes– opening up for folks like Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry or Merle Haggard, or performing with Mike Seeger.
In High School, a friend sold me an old Gibson style A mandolin, and so began my love affair with that instrument. Bill Monroe would come into town now and then, or we would all pile into a car and travel for hours to see him play with the Bluegrass Boys at Sunset Park in rural PA. David Grissman would come to my High School and perform with the New York Ramblers. The banjo player in that group was the late and great Winnie Winston, and Winnie’s mom was a wonderful teacher in our school.
In the midst of all this, Loy Beaver became my friend. Loy had probably the greatest collection of rare old time and bluegrass 78 rpm records in the world. He knew so many of the great artists and so much of the history of the music, having grown up around it in the Georgia hills. Loy was generous with his knowledge and his collection. He was my mentor and teacher. My family loved Loy too. He and my “granny” loved to talk and laugh together! We lost Loy early in 2011. I’m so glad I was able to reconnect with him when I moved to Tennessee and to spend time with him again over those last few years.
I hitchhiked a fair bit up and down the east coast during the year after I graduated from high school. Then I moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and studied Fine Arts (mostly painting and drawing) at The School of Visual Arts for three years. I also got serious about writing songs and instrumentals. I was listening to and playing all kinds of music during this time; honing my mandolin and guitar “chops”, working on my electric guitar style– gigging and jamming. By the time I hit twenty, I was performing old-timey music, folk, bluegrass, rock-and -roll, and what we call today, “singer songwriter music”– mostly in the city but occasionally as far north as New Hampshire or south to the Main Point in PA. I think my last show in NYC before I moved to Cambridge, MA, was a concert of my original songs at the Folklore Center. (The late and great Ray Alden recorded it– I have the tape!) For this show, I appeared with a trio -Skip Moya on electric bass and Tony “Ace” Korf on drums. I played a 1934 Gibson L4 with a DeArmand pickup through a Fender amp.