John Gorka's two children have taught him a lot of things, but none more important than that there is a lot more light than darkness during a typical day. "I had no idea there was this much daylight," says the affable Gorka during a telephone interview from his Minnesota home, which he shares with his wife, 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. "Now I get up at 6, sometimes before 6, in the morning, so there's a lot more daylight."
Gorka, 54, who will perform Friday at the Ephrata Main Theatre, has been one of folk music's most durable singer-songwriters for about the past 30 years. Though he has never sold a ton of records, he has been a mainstay in small clubs, theaters and coffeehouses around the country, entertaining fans with his witty, well-crafted songs and smooth baritone.
He got his start in Bethlehem in 1976 when he was a freshman at Moravian College. Serendipitously, the year he enrolled at Moravian was the same year Godfrey Daniels, a coffeehouse and listening room, opened for business. "The key for me was discovering Godfrey Daniels coffeehouse and going to the open mics there and going to see shows," Gorka says. "That's where I saw people doing what I realized I wanted to do. It seemed like it was possible."
Gorka says he knew he wanted to be a writer long before he ever realized he had a knack for writing songs, which started coming shortly after he learned a few chords on the guitar."I tried to learn other people's songs, but I wasn't very successful at it," he says."What I was coming up with sounded better than my attempts at other people's songs. I was working within my limits, and other people's songs were beyond my limits at that time."
He didn't release his first album, "I Know," until 1987, but had established himself on the folk circuit long before then. Gorka, always a solo performer, says he used to average 125 to 150 shows a year. He's cut that back to 75 to 90, something he found necessary once he had a family. "Since having kids, I can't be away that much so I do a lot of short runs," he says. "It's not a terribly efficient way of doing things, but it's a way to maintain a home life. "I think it's gotten harder to leave home over the years. They don't like that I'm away so much."
His children have altered his approach to his craft in other ways as well. Gorka says for years he forced himself to write two songs every month, a discipline he learned from the late folk singer Jack Hardy, who used to perform at Godfrey Daniels.
He doesn't have those uninterrupted blocks of time anymore, however, so he writes when he can. Gorka says he is working on a new album, which he hopes to release next year. It would be his first since 2009's "So Dark You See." He did, however, release a collaborative effort called "Red Horse" in 2010 with fellow singer-songwriters Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson. The trio has frequently performed together since the release of the album. The experience of playing in something akin to a band, however, hasn't altered his belief that the solo path was the correct one for him. "I kind of like the solitary way of traveling and performing," he says. "I never really wanted to be a band leader."
And he knows there's always a family waiting for him at home when he does come off the road. Gorka says both of his children play piano and sing. He says he would not dissuade them from pursuing a career in music.
"If it's in them I would encourage them, because I think music is kind of a calling," he says. "They would have a realistic idea of what it's like, and what it's like for the people who are left at home."