WUMB June Program Guide

Remembering Eric Darling

Erik Darling is one of the forgotten about figures of the folk revival. Perhaps this is because so much of his work was as a part of groups that achieved fame (and hit records,) and as a sideman and a session guy who contributed to dozens and dozens of albums and soundtracks.  Raised in Canandaigua, NY, he came to Greenwich Village in the early 50s, where he formed a group with fellow banjo virtuoso Roger Sprung and Bob Carey (later of The Tarriers) called The Folksay Trio.  This trio recorded a song that folklorist Frank Warner had collected from Frank Proffit called “Tom Dooley” which later became a major hit by The Kingston Trio and started what many of us call the “Great Folk Scare.”

By the mid-50s Darling had formed a group called The Tunetellers, which included future actor Alan Arkin.  This group soon became known as The Tarriers and in 1956 they scored a top 10 hit with “The Banana Boat Song.” heir success with the song was soon eclipsed by a version from Harry Belafonte, but by then the Calypso fad was in full swing. He was then recruited by the Weavers to replace Pete Seeger. This was a perfect fit as Erik’s main instruments were banjo and 12 String Guitar, the same as Pete. In fact many people, listening to late 50s recordings by the Weavesr, assume that it is Pete on banjo but it was not, it was Erik.

He came to a parting of the ways with the Weavers in 1962 based on political rather than musical difference. They were decidedly and openly leftist while Darling was reading Ayn Rand.  Darling went on to form the Rooftop Singers where he melded Leadbelly style 12 String Guitar to a Gus Cannon jug band tune called “Walk Right In”, which also hit the top 10.  During this period he was contributing banjo and guitar to a variety of other artist’s album, plus movie and TV soundtracks.  In fact, his work still pops up in films.  Most recently the recording he did with The Kossoy Sisters was used in “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou.”

While all of this recording activity was going on, he also found time to record three solo albums for the Vanguard label: “Erik Darling,” “True Religion” and “Train Time.” These recordings have all been reissued, at one time or another, on CD, but are only sporadically available so grab ‘em when you see ‘em.  You won’t regret it.  Later in life he recorded as a duo with Pat Street (one of  The Rooftop Singers), an album of Southwestern Folk Music when he was living in that part of the country and his last recording, “Child, Child” came out in 2000 a few short years before he passed away in August of 2008, a victim of Lymphoma.

In June of that year, less than two months before his passing, Science & Behavior Books, Inc. published his autobiography  “I’d Give My Life – A Journey by Folk Music.”  It is filled with amazing and amusing insights into the music and the music business as the revival was gathering momentum.  The later chapters of the book provide what some will find a fascinating look into his theories of dealing with political issues with psychology, however most of the book deals with the music. The book includes a compact disk featuring 24 of his best recordings including all of the “hits”.  The book, which has not seen a second printing, is getting hard to find so my advice is to get it now while you can.

As always, if you do decide to by the book from Amazon, visit  WUMB.ORG first. Click on the Amazon logo you’ll find in the lower right hand margin of the page, you’ll be taken to Amazon and a portion of the proceeds of your purchase will be donated to WUMB without it costing you anything extra.

Dave Palmater

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