Testimonials About Marc & His Work
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Today is Marc Silber Day!Common triads and jumping bass runs
got that thumb doing a dance
and these fingers tickling the ears
make fools of the lick stealers
its the rhythm riding
highway man come to steal your song.
Hey, he gave credit and made it his own,
stole your old guitar
made it sound better n you.
Dont be made give him his dues
he did what you wished you could do.
World is on fire, we are sittin in the cold night
griot came and warmed up our soul.
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An Appreciation (part 1)
I could easily drop the still familiar names of many big shots of the 60s Village folk music scene who hung out or passed through my friend Marc Silbers Fretted Instrument Shop, and talk some trash about some of those with whom I may have rubbed shoulders, but I dont think that will be completely necessary. If you are reading this now, you already know who you are. Nor will I attempt to write a detailed, exhaustive history of the place. What Id like to recount are a few fond memories that I hope will illustrate my own relationship to this unique place and my friendship with its equally unique proprietor.
I first encountered Marc one balmy evening in the fall of 1963 while being one of the kids who were perpetually hanging out on the front steps of Izzy Youngs Folklore Center, when it was still located on MacDougal Street, a few paces down from the Gaslight and the Kettle of Fish and almost directly across the street from the Fat Black Pussy Cat. These places are all long gone now, but Ill bet that because I mentioned them, you are seeing them again in your mind right now. Just for the hell of it, I think Ill add the aroma of greasy smoke rising from the coils of Italian sausages with peppers and onions sizzling on the grill in the open front stand a little further down the block. Mix that with the smell of gyros, frying falafels and car exhaust, and you certainly got yourself one solid sense memory there, kid.
Marc just seemed to "show up". Soon, there was a guitar, and discussions about Skip James, Fred McDowell, and most importantly, Joseph Spence. If you dont know who he was, just go to YouTube and listen to his rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". That should clear things up a bit for you. No doubt about it, Spence had a very eccentric guitar style, which Marc had been able to master, but the one thing he couldnt replicate were the seemingly random gutteral utterances that Spence made while he was playing. Marc called this vocalizing "grunning". This is where I came in. Marc did the playing and I did the grunning. PRESTO! The Complete Simulated Composite Joseph Spence Experience! I believe it was at this point that we became real friends.
Lets skip ahead a couple of years to 1965. Marcs Fretted Instruments shop had been established in a space one flight up on 6th Avenue a few stores down from the Waverly Theater, the Cube Steak and the entrance to the W. 8th Street station of the IND subway. It was soon to be joined next door by the Folklore Center. Across the avenue, were the famous basketball courts at the corner of West 3rd Street where the best street basketball players in New York City hoped to get the attention of scouts from the professional teams. SERIOUS BUSINESS! In contrast to all the intense action that was going on across the avenue, Marcs shop on a quiet afternoon was like a sanctuary for me. Even though, at that time, my life in the world outside could be really, really rough, Marc, in his calm way, always made me feel welcome. I was free to shoot the shit with Marc, play some really good "used" guitars (we didnt have the concept of "vintage" yet) or look down at the endless parade of attractive young women passing along the sidewalk below the shops windows.
... to be continued
Prof. Danny Hamburg
An Appreciation (part 2)
A year before, I had committed folkie apostasy by selling my "used" Martin Herringbone Dreadnaught and getting a brand new double pick up cutaway Gibson electric jazz guitar. When everybody else wanted to play like Doc Watson and Reverend Gary Davis, I wanted to play like Kenny Burrell and Grant Green. Its now 45 years later, and Im just beginning to get there. Maybe in another 45 years, Ill have it right! Anyway, finally realizing that the chances of someone like me getting to play in a funky organ trio in Harlem were at best, more than nil, I sold the electric and got it into my head that I wanted a nice Guild flat top. Wouldnt you know it! Marc had just the instrument for me. It was a "fixer-upper" with the neck of one guitar grafted onto the body of another guitar that had been recovered from a car accident. It was a fine and funky instrument, just the way I like em! $125 was the price, cardboard case included. SOLD! SO I hung out with Marc for a couple of hours more, getting acquainted with my new guitar, and then happily got on the subway and made my way home. A few more hours passed and I suddenly realized that I had walked out of the shop without giving Marc the money, nor had he called in the interim to ask for it. BACK TO THE SHOP with the dough and no harm done!
And now, a final fond memory of my friend Marc in New York City. It was 1969 and Marc had given up the shop, and was often in and out of NYC, hitting the road, and hanging out in exotic places like Morocco and Berkeley. Around this time, Izzy Young was running a series of concerts at the Washington Square Methodist Church. He offered to let me make posters for the concerts and If I wanted to go to any of them, I could get in free. John Fahey was the performer for the first concert, and even though I just didnt understand what all the excitement was about, I figured, maybe if I saw him live, I might "get it". Frankly, I was bored stiff. However, during intermission, I was rescued! From out of the milling crowd, Marc suddenly appeared with his accomplice, Jack Baker. Boldly exclaiming "You dont wanna listen to HIM, you wanna come play music with US!", Marc grabbed me by the arms and Jack grabbed me by my feet and they both yanked me bodily from the church and out into the street. From there, we went to Jacks studio and played our own music and I think we had way more fun than anyone in the audience did at the concert.
Decades have passed since then, along with all the events of life that go with them, and sometimes close to a decade passes between the times that Ive been fortunate enough to spend some time hanging out with my old pal. Suffice it to say that hes one of those friends who, even if you havent seen him in years, it seems as if you saw him only yesterday. Whenever it happens to be, Ill be looking forward to the next "hang" with you, Marc, mi amigo!
Prof. Danny Hamburg
Every time any of the old original Blues men were asked to define the blues, invariably, they would begin by saying "the Blues is a Feeling." Now, almost a century later, after volumes have been written on the subject, Id have to agree that those Blues men were right, and indeed captured the essence of what the Blues are about with that simple statement! There are thousands of guys out there, all busily learning all the right riffs and playing all the right notes, but in the end, that aint what the Blues is all about, and they dont move me one bit! Marc Silber, on the other hand, totally "gets" what the Blues is all about, which is why I love his music so much! "The Blues is a Feeling" and Marc beautifully expresses that feeling in the most soulful way! His spare elemental guitar style incorporates all the best elements of American Roots Music, creates a deep groove, and is Soulful and Funky to the bone! The same could be said of his raw, expressive yet understated vocals! I just love his rough-hewn voice! Though he is deeply informed and inspired by the best American Roots artists and their music, he is never just slavishly imitating the work of the old masters, but always creatively and authentically expressing himself in a fresh and honest way, while still evoking the best of our traditional musical heritage.
For more than 40 years, blues guitarist and songmaker Marc Silber has been known as a "musicians musician" by an elite circle of players. Originally from Michigan, Marc hit the road in 1960 for Berkeley, eventually ending up in New York City in 1963 jsut as the burgeoning folk revival was hitting stride. There he founded and ran Fretted Instruments, the legendary Greenwich Village music store. Before it closed in 1967, a typical day might find folks like Mississippi John hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, Elizabeth Cotten, Diavd Grisman, and Mance Lipscomb hanging out and jamming, and Marc was right in the middle of it with his guitar. Through the years, he has continued to play his own deep-rooted music, making new songs and rewriting the old ones, teaching blues guitar, and collecting, building and repairing musical instruments. Its about time the rest of the world gets to hear his wonderful musician.
I love to listen to Marc. No matter what state of mind Im in, I always feel better after hearing him play. After a while, you realize that hes whittled down what doesnt need to be there, and presents only whats important for the song. I dig that.
Ive known Marc Silber for nearly 50 years now (since the good old days at Fretted Instruments in NY where I worked for him) and Ill say unequivocally that hes been one of my best friends and a mentor to me in all things musical. His knowledge of musical styles and instruments is awesome. Its great to know that Marc is back performing and recording and still kicking it!
David "Dawg" Grisman
If Marc Silber seems to play and bend and sing every note like he mean it, thats because he means it. While he may look laid back of aloof, he brings the same passion and sincerity to a ballad or a blues, a spiritual, a country classic or a ragtime ditty that he brings to the standard folk repertoire or his own felicitous, haunting originals. Not only is he a superb performing musician, Marc is one of the all time great listeners. Nothing gets past his hungry ear. In his calming presence, you can even feel him listening to and feeding his audience. His loving understanding of understatement and silence - when to play sparsely, when to lay out -- make him one of the towering masters of artful understatement. Marc Silber is the real thing: an honest, living treasure.
Al Young: Author, music commentator & former CA poet laureat
INCREDIBLE SONGSTER: MARC SILBER
Marc and I go back to the late 1950s and to Ann Arbor. where we both belonged to the then just-forming University of Michigan Folklore Society. Silber was part of a small group of people that I knew, inducting the legendary guitar finger picking virtuoso Perry Lederman, and a young Bob Dylan who came through Ann Arbor infrequently. We all hung out.
One of the first things Silber and I talked about was how Perry Lederman was the greatest finger-picker either of us had seen, from back then until now. He could run rings around Chet Atkins, and ever so tastefully at that. Lederman was also a great buyer and seller of guitars, particular old Martin Guitars. He inspired both Silber and me. Marc Silber went on to become an expert in the repair and maintenance of rare guitars. Silber has a personal collection (like a museum) of rare instruments.
But what is the rarest thing of all, and this is why I drove 200 miles, was Silbers gift of music. I believe that most of my readers know I am strongly connected to music, and started out in folk-music in the later 1950s. I also founded the All-Music Guide, still the largest collection of discographies, biographies, tracks, and everything else musical on the planet. Although my main interested eventually became the great African-American blues players, I was very much present back in the days of the folk-music revival of those early times. I travelled with a young Bob Dylan; we hitchhiked together in 1961 and all of that.
Anyway, what got me on the road (on what turned out to be a 90-degree day) along the highways of Detroit was Marc Silber. He was such an important figure back in the folk scene, and he was giving a concert. What was his music like after 55 years? I had to see.
I was not disappointed. In fact my mind was totally blown by what I heard. I have heard a lot of folk music in the last 50 or so years, but nothing as pure and unadulterated as what Silber laid down yesterday. He did what I have never seen done until now. Using his own arrangements, but fueled by his very deep respect for the music, I heard guitar renderings that were, to my ears, perfect, ever so subtle, and absolutely so true to the tradition. It was never even this good back in the day!
Silber is a just a perfect fingerpicker, with the lightest touch, the most delicate chords, just impeccable playing, and all of this right before my ears. He added nothing that shouldnt be there to the music, and took nothing away that should not be taken away. It was perfect. I never expected to hear anything this good. Not ever!
Silber has kept a low profile, and was very humble for someone who knows many, many rich and famous musicians on a one-la-one basis. He never brought his connections up, unless we just kind of stumbled into them while conversing.
Silber has repaired and preserved many rare instruments, but more important that instruments, he has flawlessly preserved the folk music of the times I remember, and even restored it to something more pristine that I can recall. Each tune, for me, was like perfectly transparent and clear.
In the last 50 or so years I have heard every kind of re-enactment, attempt to present, bastardization, etc. our folk heritage, almost never without too-much ego added on where it should not be, etc.
But yesterday, I heard none of that, only music when, as Silber played it, came rushing back to me. He played to most exquisite Blind Lemon Jefferson tunes, or Rev. Gary Davis, and the others right-on-down-the-line. It was mesmerizing.
I am working on bringing Marc Silber to Michigan this fall to play for the hundreds of musicians that come to the Harvest Gathering put on by my son-in-law Seth Bernard and my daughter May. Silber should meet them, and they should hear him. They have never heard anything like this. Here is a little blurb I am writing for Marc to use.
ABOUT MARC SILBER
I started out with the folk-music revival back in the later 1950s and early 1960s, and I have been around the block a bit on this scene. I met songster Marc Silber over 55 years ago, when we both knew a young Bob Dylan, and we all traveled around together.
I had not heard Silber play since back in the day, so I was amazed when at a recent house-concert, he rendered song after song from those early folk days, flawlessly, humbly, and profoundly! I know of no modern player, aside from Marc Silber, (none!) who has mastered finger-picking so elegantly, with such incredible taste, and with no trace of ego.
Silber has taken the old traditional folk tunes into the 21st Century and has so perfectly arranged them, that their original meaning and tonality are rendered as if new, without anything being added on or taken away. The music lives again! This is what music revival is supposed to be like.
Where perhaps other players have worked to be better known as performers, Marc Silber (to my ears) has worked just as hard to honor the purity of the music itself, rather than the performer. This is an astounding achievement, one that is very, very rare in these times.
Michael Erlewine: Founder of the All-Music Guide
Marc has always been a repository of information. Not only does he know the names of just about every country blues artist who have recorded, he can also play their songs with authority. Marc is a born raconteur and historian.
Marc Silber belongs to a small group of musicians who not only knows the roots of American popular music but also can make it their own. His music is never imitation but always original and entertaining and true to the many genres of American "folk" and popular music. He is a true gem in the long tradition of the wandering troubadour who always manages to lighten your load and tell you something you already knew.
Country Joe McDonald
Marc Silber is a rarity - one of a few musicians and performers who has spend time with the iconic artists of our time, most of whom have left us. In his years before, in, and after his years in New York as owner to Fretted Instruments, he has absorbed many of the styles of those artists, and as such, represents a repository of styles, which you can hear on his recordings and in person. Add to that personal experiences and point if view and you have a very enlightening and entertaining performer, always welcome audience. His loving understanding of understatement and silence -- wh in those places where he is known. Would that he could spend more times in Denver - that would me a joy.
Harry Tuft: Founder and Director, Denver Folklore Society
Marc Silber is steeped in music to his very marrow. His delivery is at once totally his own and yet so deeply rooted in the "folk" vernacular that you simultaneously hear the new and the old entwined. His ears are always open for a new song to fall into. And Marc has been at the epicenter of so much of the cool stuff that has happened in the last 50 years, that to hear his stories is always engaging and enlightening.
My favorites: The 99 Year Blues, Sorry to My Heart, Cannonball Blues, You Gonna Quit me Baby, Hot Dog, Going Down Slow and Hesitation Blues. On the current record, the song about Marrakech is a heart-breaker. Theres an underlying impeccability about the playing, so clean and precise that this banana fingered lunk wants to close his finger in a door. The singing is so warm, full of feeling and without any artifice. Its deep and instead of "style" it offers a real authenticity. Im such a fan. Its not that Im a shitty player, but I dont have "big ears" and have trouble pulling thinks off records, so I inevitably change them to make them easier for me to play, always losing the very thing I loved about them. Id love to hang, and have a couple or really lovely guitars to play here.
The roots of Americas music grow right through Marc Silbers heart. His deceptively simple readings of country blues and old-time music reveal a profound understanding of folk music, while his many years of travel, adventure, and observance of the human condition give his songs rare depth. Hes one of my most cherished inspirations, and youll love him too.
Spencer Bohren: New Orleans musician & artist
When Marc Sliber makes a new album, I need it immediately! Marcs soulful skills in the guitar, often learned first-hand from the masters, is the opposite of the clinical imitation we often hear from academics. Briefly, Marcs music is the sh*t!