.Photo: Ann Marsden March
.Photo: Ann Marsden March
John Gorka playing at Sharon Hoydich's high school graduation pool party in June 1976.
Gorka is an acoustic based singer songwriter and self described "aspiring
folksinger." His songs look at the world with a realistic hope, acknowledging
the sorrows and celebrating the joys of a modern life. "the quintessential
John Warde on pedal steel and John Gorka on guitar at Dave Fry's house (you can see his feet!)
Godfrey Daniels is one of the oldest and most venerable music institutions in eastern Pennsylvania. A small neighborhood coffeehouse and listening room, it has long been a hangout for music lovers and aspiring musicians, and in the late 1970s, one of these was a young Moravian College student named John Gorka.
Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band was formed in 1976 at
Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The band consisted initially
of John Gorka, Russ Rentler, and Doug Anderson. Later, Richard Shindell
joined the group on lead guitar. Tim Germer was also part of the group,
playing bass guitar. As Gorka would later describe it, "It was kind of
a bluegrass band, but not a real formal, traditional one." Although the
band never recorded an album or even went on a tour, three members (Gorka,
Shindell, and Rentler) went on to have significant careers in folk music.
Doug Anderson, is now a philosophy professor at Southern Illinois University
and continues to play music locally and Tim Germer is a software engineer
in Northern Virginia.
Though John Gorka's academic course work lay in Philosophy and History, music began to offer paramount enticements. Soon John found himself living in the club's basement and acting as resident M.C. and soundman, encountering legendary folk troubadors like Canadian singer/songwriter Stan Rogers, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton and Claudia Schmidt. Their brand of folk-inspired acoustic music inspired him, and before long he was performing his own songs --mostly as an opener for visiting acts.
he started traveling to New York City, where Jack
Hardy's legendary Fast
Folk circle (a breeding ground for many a major singer/songwriter)
became a powerful source of education and encouragement. Folk meccas like
Texas' Kerrville Folk Festival (where he won the New Folk Award in 1984)
and Boston followed, and his stunningly soulful baritone voice and emerging
songwriting began turning heads. Those who had at one time inspired him
-- Suzanne Vega,
Morrissey, Nanci Griffith,
-- had become his peers.In
1987, the young Minnesota-based Red
House Records caught wind of John's talents and released his first
album , I Know , to popular
and critical acclaim. With unusual drive and focus, John hit the ground
running and, when an offer came from Windhan
Hill's Will Ackerman in 1989, he signed with that label's inprint,
High Street Records. He proceeded to record five albums with High Street
over the next 7 years: Land
of the Bottom Line
Jack's Crows, Temporary Road, Out of the Valley, and Between Five and Seven. His albums and his touring (over 150 nights a year at times) brought new accolades for his craft. Rolling Stone called him "the preeminent male singer/songwriter of the new folk movement." His rich multi-faceted songs full of depth, beauty and emotion gained increasing attention from critics and audiences across the country, as well as in Europe where his tours led him through Italy, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Switzerland and Germany. Other performers also discovered his songwriting. His material is championed by many -- to date more than a score of artists have recorded and/or performed John Gorka songs, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary Black and Maura O'Connell. He also started sharing tours with many notable friends -- Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter among them. All this has brought his music to an ever-widening audience. His video for the single "When She Kisses Me" found a long-term rotation on VH-1's "Current Country," as well as on CMT and the Nashville Network. John also graced the stage of Austin City Limits, appeared on CNN, and has been the subject of other
programming. Finally in 1998, after five successful recordings, and seven
years at Windham Hill/High Street, John felt the need for a change and
decided to return to his musical roots at Red House Records. The choice
was driven, in part, by the artistic integrity that the label represents
in an industry where the business of music too often takes precedence.
As John says, "Red House is in it first for the music, and so am I. It's
a good place to be." After Yesterday represents the first fruits of that
reunion and reflects John's continuing commitment to the craft of songwriting.
Longtime fans will find in its twelve songs John's trademark twist of
lyric and attention to the details that so effectively evoke a time, a
place, a person, or a range of emotion. But there are also the stirrings
of new musical directions with the evocative addition of percussion from
Ani DiFranco's drummer Andy
Godfrey Daniels, John Gorka is still honored to be a part of the folk tradition -- energetic acoustic music that is not a trend, not a fad, but an expression of everyday life. After Yesterday is the embodiment of that expression -- another classic release where his rich baritone voice and unique songcraft weave together in a way that can only be described as "Gorka."
His 2001 release "The
Company You Keep" held fast to John's tradition of fine songwriting,
yet moved forward down new avenues. Its fourteen songs displayed John's
creative use of lyrics and attention to detail. Andy Stochansky played
drums and shared production credits with Gorka and Rob Genadek. Ani DiFranco,
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucy Kaplansky and Patty Larkin contributed stellar
guitar work and vocals to this fan favorite.
Windham Hill has also released in 2006 a collection of John’s greatest hits from the label called Pure John Gorka.
Gorka his first DVD "
The Gypsy Life" was released on september 16, 2007 on AIX
Records (a high definition, surround audio/video music label). Joined
by Susan Werner, Amilia K. Spicer, Russ Rentler and longtime collaborator
Michael Manring, John performs 19 of his best songs including: I Saw A
Stranger With Your Hair, I'm From New Jersy, Let Them In and Mercy of
the Wheels. Shot in HD Video and combined with two different 5.1 surround
music mixes, this is the ultimate presentation of acoustic vocal music.
Red Horse's sparse instrumentation allows these three distinctive voices to carry the magic of the music that is awash in great harmonies and songwriting. Each of these legendary singer/songwriters solos on classics first made famous by the other two members. Lucy gives a haunting performance of Eliza's "Sanctuary," John takes the lead on Lucy's "Don't Mind Me" while Eliza performs John's "Forget to Breathe" which has never been released on Red House before. Red Horse showcases new material from all three, covers they have never before recorded as well as revisiting and rearranging a couple of early classics.
Red Horse is the result of three veteran songwriters and good friends coming together to make music. With Red Horse Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka, and Lucy Kaplansky give us a collection of songs that solidifies their place as three of folk music's great songwriters
Bright Side of Down (12th solo CD, March 4, 2014)
Bright Side of Down arrives during the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Gorka's first record. But this is not your father's Gorka album. Largely absent is the affectionate satire of "I'm from New Jersey," the political commentary of "Land of the Bottom Line," and the up-tempo passion of "Mean Streak." With arrangements built around acoustic guitar, and vocals recorded with a different pre-amp and mike, Gorka takes a softer, gentler approach as he ruminates on the passage of time and the passing of friends.
The opener, "Holed Up in Mason City," introduces the themes of time and winter that run throughout. A fierce storm has stranded the singer, stopping time ("The future isn't ready tonight.") in Mason City, where time stopped in another snowstorm, when a plane crashed, leaving Buddy Holly eternally twenty-two. In anybody else's hands, the song could have been heavy-handed, but Gorka lightens it with an accordion sound, a two-stepping rhythm, and an evening at the fictional Big Bopper Diner.
The title track follows, with a tinkling six string and vocal help from Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky, as the singer reflects on easing "the way down the uphill climb." "More Than One" provides the record's most driving tune, powered by light but insistent drumming that reminded me of the way some cars sound. It's a folksong Gypsy's prayer for a clear sky, a dry road, a full tank, and a light load. "She's That Kind of Mystery," a rare cover, is a reverential and lovely take on a lovely tune. Listen to the way Bill Morrisey's original guitar figure appears here. "Honeybee," a kids' song--another Gorka rarity--has a terrific progression and the album's most hummable melody. The most revelatory guest appearance comes on "Procrastination Blues" with Claudia Schmidt's powerful outro vocalese. "Mind to Think" has Gorka on banjo and the unmistakable sound of Michael Manring on bass. "Really Spring" brings the album to a thematic close. Dirk Freymuth's high strung guitar and an overlay of Antje Duvekot voices bring the beauty.
"new old" recording:
Released on Red House Records in 2016
Back in 1987, a young John Gorka released his first album, I Know, on Red House Records. The album became a hit on folk-radio stations around the country, with songs like "Branching Out," "Love is Our Cross To Bear" and "I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair," helping launch a very successful career for Gorka. But what we didn't know was that this recording was actually not Gorka's first attempt to release these songs.
Two years earlier, Gorka took his life savings down to Cowboy Jack Clements' studio in Nashville and recorded essentially the same collection of songs with a band of professionals and a top-notch producer named Jim Rooney. After the recording was finished, Gorka decided the finished product didn't really go the musical direction he wanted.
Fast-forward to 2016: Gorka thought he'd give a listen to the 1985 sessions. He ended up bringing the tapes to Rob Genadek at The Brewhouse Recording Studio in Minneapolis, and with a few tweaks and re-mixes, and the help of Red House Records, Gorka decided to release the "new old" recording as Before Beginning — The Unreleased 'I Know' — Nashville, 1985.
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