Thursday, 04 April 2019 12:30

Songpoet Legend: Eric Andersen Performs at Caffe Lena Sunday

SARATOGA SPRINGS – It was shortly before the Summer of Love, just before the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 and around the time Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army.

Eric Andersen, by that time, already had a couple of albums to his credit. He’d made an appearance in an Andy Warhol film alongside “Girl of the Year" Edie Sedgwick, and was being recruited by Brian Epstein to be taken under the Beatles’ manager’s wing. Epstein arrived in New York with an advance copy of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and invited Andersen to give it a preview listen.   

“He had just flown over from London and was at the Waldorf Astoria,” Andersen recalls. “We had a little record player and he just played it. We heard ‘A Day In The Life.’ We heard a bunch of tracks, there, in the dark, with only a little light coming from the bathroom that was open just a crack.”   

Three years later, Andersen journeyed alongside Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead atop the rails of their legendary trans-Canadian train tour, and a handful of years after that was on stage harmonizing with Patti Smith in a prequel to Bob Dylan's equally legendary Rolling Thunder Revue. Legendary status finds him resting easily.

“Live long enough and you’ll get to meet everybody,” he says with a laugh.

Fast-forward to the present day where on an early spring afternoon, the singer-songwriter-poet is motoring between a booking in Philadelphia – where he sang about Lou Reed in Anthony DeCurtis' music journalism class – and Montclair, New Jersey, where a 1960s themed concert is being staged. Over the past two weeks, he’s appeared in Greece to give a speech to a psychoanalytic convention – “I know, go figure,” – and celebrated Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 100th birthday on the Lower East Side alongside Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders and Laurie Anderson.

Now, he begins a springtime tour, which visits Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, April 7.  Andersen will be accompanied by percussionist Cheryl Prashker, producer, musician, and audio engineer extraordinaire Steve Addabbo, and violinist Scarlet Rivera - whose majestical bowing is forever sonically imprinted on the Bob Dylan tracks “Hurricane,” and “One More Cup of Coffee,” and on David Johansen’s “Lonely Tenement,” among others. 

Twenty or so years ago, Andersen co-wrote a song titled "You Can't Relive the Past" with Lou Reed. And while maybe you can’t relive the past, he seems mostly OK talking about it, albeit amid all kinds of mayhem going on around him. 

“We just missed an accident. Just got by it. Collision of two cars right on the street. Two firetrucks. Two ambulances. And a freight train going by overhead,” Andersen says. Further complicating matters is he is being navigated in a vehicle with an apparently wonky tire. “The car is vibrating,” he reports. Or, it could be the making of a song.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1943, Andersen received his early schooling in Buffalo, where he taught himself guitar and piano, watched Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers play at his high school gym and saw Elvis Presley perform in a gold suit at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium.

“What do you remember about Elvis in Buffalo in 1956?”  

“When that first chord hit, the chairs were kicked away within one nanosecond and everyone was standing,” he responds.

In the early 1960s, Andersen hitchhiked west and landed at job at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where he attended a party following a Haight-Ashbury poetry reading on a memorable November night in 1963.  “I wrote a 26-minute-long tone poem called ‘Beat Avenue,’ about it,” he says.  “The day John Kennedy was killed. I was at a party with Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, and (Kerouac’s friend) Neal Cassady – the protagonist of ‘On The Road.’ They were all there. And Allen was walking around with no clothes on. That was funny. Like a naked Buddha.”  The double CD set, “Beat Avenue,” features 14 original compositions in all, and was released in 2003.

At the invitation of Tom Paxton, Andersen headed to New York City where a flourishing Greenwich Village songwriting circle included Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. His first New York gig was opening for John Lee Hooker. He performed at a plethora folk and jazz clubs. And when not performing, was watching others - the Velvet Underground, the Doors, and John Coltrane, among them – stage their own performances.  

“John Coltrane… on stage he could put himself in a trance and play. And eventually he’d put you in a trance,” Andersen says.  

During the 1970’s, Andersen divided his time between California and New York, the latter being where a new scene was unfolding with people like Sam Sheppard and Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. “Patti Smith: she was working at the book store, and we were all living at The Chelsea Hotel.” Manhattan, meanwhile, isn’t what it used to be. “It’s so gentrified and expensive,” he says.

The early ‘70s also delivered the release of “Blue River,” perhaps his best-known and best-selling record. “One crazy (concert) was when my album ‘Blue River’ came out. I did a show with the Jefferson Airplane in front of 400,00 people. They had a band. I had a guitar. I mean, I figured if I didn’t get a heart attack that day… I’ll live forever.”

More recently, Sony/Legacy Recordings issued “The Essential Eric Andersen” last spring. The 42-track retrospective covers 50 years of Andersen’s recorded history. A retrospective documentary, titled “The Songpoet,” is slated for release later this year. (The trailer, which looks awesome, may be viewed HEREHERE

On April 7, Andersen returns to Caffe Lena, where he last performed 12 months ago.

"Saratoga. If I had done better at the track, I could be living in my Range Rover on my small estate in Saratoga Springs, one of those houses with the pillars with a chandelier 100 miles up over the front door," he says with a laugh. Of Sarah Craig, Caffe Lena’s executive director, Andersen says: “she’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She’s a repository of arcana. She knows all kinds of facts and figures about the world; a reservoir of fascinating information,” he says. “You can print that for everybody to know.”  So, there it is.

Eric Andersen, with Scarlet Rivera and Cheryl Prashker, performs 7 p.m.  Sunday, April 7 at  Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs. Tickets are $35 general admission, $32 café members, $17.50 students and kids. More information and tickets, go to:, or call 518-583-0022. 

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