I was working in New York in the late Fifties, a college kid with a job at what was incredibly enough, at a successful avante garde theater. God knows, there were plenty of avant garde theaters in NY but one that actually drew audiences night after night and made money, was a rarity. My employment gave me a mild amount of celebrity points so I was invited to places that I might never have seen otherwise. Since my taste ran to folk music, that's the scene I entered.
What made me think of this was coming acros this Greenbrier Boys thread. John Herald used to go to a lot of folk parties around Manhattan. If the Greenbrier Boys were in town and didn't have an engagement, John Herald would be in some loft or other with a group of fifty or more other guests, and there would be lots of music. On these nights, only daylight crowding through the windows of the lofts seemed to be strong enough to push people out and towards their homes.
I used to bring my guitar to these social events which were certainly the highlight of my calendar. My guitar was what was once an inexpensive Gibson blues guitar. I have no idea what the model was but it was finished a deep brown all over the box, front, back and sides. With its black scratchboard, it was a somber and somehat reserved looking instrument.
John Herald, for what ever eason, never seemed to bring a guitar to these gatherings and would to borrow one. That's how I met him, he wanted to borrow a guitar and I offered mine. He picked it up by the neck and kind of hefted it as though he felt that the weight was important. It seemed to satisfy him so he swung it up and played a simple figure on the strings. "Thanks, it has a nice old time 'thunky-thunk sound'".
I knew exactly what he meant. I also knew why it had that old time thunky-thunk sound. It was the strings. Even successful avant-garde theaters don't pay very much. I was making $34 week so strings were a luxury. Those particular strings might easily have been six months old although once, when I needed a low cost way of entertaining myself, I had boiled them to try to restore some of their clarity."
Six weeks or so later, there was John Herald in a loft, at a party looking for a guitar to borrow.
"Would you like to try this one?", I offered.
He took it, hefted it a bit, played a few notes and said, (You are probably getting ahead of me here) ""Thanks. It has a nice old time 'thunky-thunk sound'".
He had absolutely no memory of either me or the guitar but I have to admit that his critical facilities were very consistent because this same scene was replayed several more times over the next months until I decided that I had to devote more time to school. I was in a college seventy miles away and all this NY living with only occasional forays to classes was taking a toll on my grades. I left New York.
It was probably fifteen years before I realized that I had been on the edge of a very special time in New York when the Beat Generation, the Abstract Expressionists, the Folk Wave, Bop, Pop Art, Happenings and more were all vital parts of a cultural stew that bubbled in theaters, bars, storefronts and lofts all over Manhattan. Nearly forty years later and three thousand miles away, I can still see the ripples.