One critic called Memphis, Tennessee based guitarist and singer Andy Cohen, “the best kept secret in folk music.” Cohen specializes in the traditional sounds of the South—Delta, Piedmont and country blues; Black and White roots gospel; rag time, boogie-woogie, honky-tonk and barrelhouse. But he is most deeply rooted in the blues.
Cohen will be making a rare Illinois performance on Friday, April 6 at 7 PM at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry. He will be half of a special program, Social Gospel in Words and Music that will pair him with local poet and activist Patrick Murfin. Together the two will explore social justice issues through the arts.
The joint concert was Cohen’s idea. He has matched a lifetime in music with a passion for social justice. When he re-connected with Murfin, an old acquaintance from their mutual involvement in the Industrial Workers of the World decades ago, on Facebook he suggested the unusual collaboration.
Lately Cohen has used his talents supporting the Occupy Memphis movement in his adopted home town.
The 64 year old grew up far from the south in Boston. His father was a collector of Dixieland jazz recording. At the age of 15 he was also drawn to the very active local folk music scene and was first exposed to the legendary Big Bill Broonzy and Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band. He heard echoes of his father’s jazz in both.
His life’s work really was set the next year when he heard the legendary bluesman the Reverend Gary Davis perform live. Davis became an inspiration for a life of close study of the tradition. In the process he played with Davis himself and other traditional musicians. He knew and learned from a galaxy of legendary performers, most of them now passed on.
Cohen has absorbed that tradition with every fiber of his being. “Revivalist would not be an inaccurate term to describe him,” according to Dan Forte in Vintage Guitar Magazine, “but there’s nothing academic in the way he fills decades-old music with vitality.”
In addition to his legendary guitar picking, Cohen also performs and records on the dolceola, a small keyboard hybrid that has keys that strike clusters of zither-type chords on the left side and a miniature run of tiny piano keys on the right.
As a music preservationist Cohen was the long time guiding light of the venerable Kent State Folk Festival in Ohio, and has been the President of the Beale Street Blues Society in Memphis.
The McHenry performance, sponsored by the UU Congregation’s Social Justice Committee, will benefit the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants post release program, which provides assistance to those released from Federal custody after it has been determined that they were not in violation.
A $10 donation will be asked at the door and a free will collection will also be made. A reception for the artists will follow the performance. Cohen’s CDs and Murfin’s collection of poetry, We Build Temples in the Heart will be available.
For more information call Patrick Murfin at 815 814-5645 or visit http://joomla.uucofwoodstock.org .