Thursday, November 19, 2009
A Chat with CAROLINE DOCTOROW
With a soft and mesmerizing voice, Long Island's own Caroline Doctorow has established herself as leading force on the folk scene that continues to gain mementum with each new album. Her latest, "Another Country", covers the songs of 1960's folk icons Richard and Mimi Farina. This is her sixth album and a highly personal project as the Farina's were personal friends of Caroline's parents. Her father is famed writer E.L. Doctorow. I had the great pleasure to speak with Caroline about her new album and her life as singer/songwriter...
MICK: Your new release "Another Country" sounds fantastic! What made you decide to cover the songs of Richard and Mimi Farina?
CAROLINE: They were a big influence of mine, one of the first people I listened to while in high school along with a lot of other folk musicians. I also listened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead but I've always been a folkie at heart!
Richard Frarina died in 1969 when he was 29 years old and Mimi died just several years back in 2001. After reading about her death, I revisited how they influenced me. It hit me like a ton of bricks how her music had affected me because I went on to become a folk singer also. It occurred to me they nobody had done a full album of their material even though a lot of people seem to love it. Richard Farina wrote "Pack Up Your Sorrows" which has been covered by a bunch of people including Johnny Cash and Judy Collins. He kind of fell through the cracks in a way so it became a passion for me to put this record out and hopefully reintroduce people who were also fans and get some new fans because his music was so good.
MICK: Did you know Mimi Farina?
CAROLINE: I met her when I was a kid at a party very briefly. I saw her perform several times after that after Richard had died.
I would not call that actually knowing her. I was introduced to her through my parents. My father [E.L. Doctorow] was a friend of Joan Baez and edited her first book. As a family, we were introduced to a lot of people in their circle and Mimi was one of them!
MICK: What was it like growing up in a household where famous writers, poets and folk singers often visited?
CAROLINE: It was fun! It was never dull, that's for sure! When I look back on that I wonder how my parents did it because I'm a parent now. There was always things happening and people coming through. A lot of emphasis on cultural things and the arts. I grew up in New Rochelle and it was close to Manhattan so we really got to take advantage of that. I must say that the community I grew up in was very arts orientated and intellectual to a huge degree. A lot of that was the Jewish community and their devotion to that by placing importance on education, language, words and spelling. It seemed that the parents were very encouraging to us. My friends were also musicians that I palled around with. It was a simpler time and a different time and maybe is was easier to be that way then.
MICK: Are you close with your dad?
CAROLINE: Yes I am! He's really a great person. Both of my parents are!
MICK: I see that John Sebastian and Eric Weissberg are among the guest musicians on "Another Country". How long have you known them?
CAROLINE: Eric Weissberg played on my very first album. I honestly can't remember how I met him but I've known him for years. I didn't actually know John Sebastian until he agreed to be involved in my project. Pete Kennedy, who produced the album, sort of set that up. We went up to Woodstock for the two tracks that Eric and John are on. Those two tracks were done a little differently 'Mainline Prosperity Blues" and "Hard-Lovin' Loser". They both live in Woodstock. There's a great music community there.
MICK: As a songwriter, what comes first..the words or the music?
CAROLINE: For me, it's thinking of a phrase that interests me or hearing a sentence that interests me and developing a concept of what the song is going to say. I think everybody has a different answer for this. I have to dig around and decide what the song is going to be about. then I work on the melody after I have some sort of form.
MICK: I read that Joan Baez actually taught you chords as a child. Do you still keep in touch with her?
CAROLINE: No. I'm not in touch with her. That was during the same time that her book was being worked on. She came out to Eastern Long Island one summer where I live now. I had already started learning guitar but she taught me some chords that i didn't know. That was the end for me! I said to myself "Okay, that's it! This is what I will be doing!". She was a superstar at that time!
MICK: Who do you like listening to?
CAROLINE: I constantly revisit the songwriters of the 1960's. Right now, I'm listening to Ian and Sylvia. There's also some friends of mine who are songwriters. One is a guy named James O'Malley who also lives on Long Island. I enjoy listening to him. I have friends that put out records and I like listening to them. I also host a folk radio show on WPKN FM called "Song Trails". It's broadcast the first Saturday of each month at 7:00PM. the station is located in Bridgeport, CT and it also has a sister station WPKM FM. In researching music for the show, it kind of stirs things up when you have to find things that interest you. There's also a band that some friends of mine are in called "The Harlem Parlor Music Club". It's sort of a music co-operative of a whole bunch of musicians who have different projects going on. They come together loosely to do this folk jam which is pretty cool.
MICK: It's been said that you are one of the foremost interpreters of Bob Dylan songs. Have you ever met him and do you plan on more interpretations of his music?
CAROLINE: I have never met him and yes, I can't imagine not doing more interpretations because he's like the marker at which you sort of see how you're doing! He continues to interest me especially in the way his songs don't age. He somehow puts them in a cultural setting that is hip and cool but doesn't become dated. Richard Farina is like that to me also. The language doesn't age or become corny or irrelevant. Richard Farina and Bob Dylan were friends. It's safe to say that Dylan was influenced by Richard Farina. Farina took this literary valid English/ Irish kind of language and he made it his own with some hip terminology. The songs are beautifully well crafted, highly intelligent pieces evoking a lot of imagery.
MICK: If you weren't a musician, what do you think you would be doing now?
CAROLINE: I like teaching so maybe I'd be a teacher!
MICK: What are your plans for 2010?
CAROLINE: I have another record that we will be releasing. It's a collection of songwriters from the 1960's, also some original songs to be included.
MICK: Do you have any other hobbies besides music?
CAROLINE: I have two daughters, one bull dog, one cat, two birds, two frogs and a husband so not much time for any other hobbies!
For more info on Caroline and her recording career:
You can see Caroline perform:
Saturday November 21st
Patchogue Folk Festival, 3pm
Patchogue Theater for the Performing Arts,
Saturday December 19th
Hard Luck Cafe
30 Washington Drive