Andy Cohen grew up in a house with a piano and a lot of Dixieland Jazz records, amplified after a while by a cornet that his dad got him. At about fifteen, he got bitten by the Folk Music bug, and soon got to hear records by Big Bill Broonzy and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, both of which reminded him of the music he grew up to. At sixteen, he saw Reverend Gary Davis, and his course was set. He knew he had it in him to follow, study, perform and promote the music of the southeast quadrant, America’s great musical fountainhead. Although he’s done other things, a certain amount of writing and physical labor from dishwashing and railroading to archeology, playing the old tunes is what he does best.
Andy’s Musical friends and influences:
Reverend Gary Davis
Big Bill Broonzy
Reverend Robert Wilkins
I was lead boy for:
Reverend Dan Smith
Brother Daniel Womack
and briefly, Reverend Davis himself
I hung out with:
John Jackson, Phil Wiggins, John Cephas, Hank Duncan, Honeyboy Edwards, Mad Dog Lester, Big Joe Duskin, Pigmeat Jarrett, Howard Armstrong, Carl Martin, Ted Bogan, Elizabeth Cotten, Etta Baker, John Dee Holeman, Fris Holloway, Larry Johnson, Eugene Powell, Johnnie Shines, Will Dukes, and many others.
I have given support when I could to deserving players, and arranged work for many more; organized festivals and small venues for them and others to play in; written about several of the old guys and studied their work in a systematic way; and taught a couple of dozen players who are now professionals.
What I do mostly anymore, is a sort of Country Blues 101. It’s broader than that, of course, covering material from before the twenties to about the fifties, and ranging over the several states to which Memphis is adjacent. I grew up during the Sixties Revival in Massachusetts, but I’m a Southern boy at heart. I made a point of acquainting myself with all the blues players I could, on record and in person. In my shows, I do material by Reverend Davis, John Hurt, Big Bill, Gus Cannon, Frank Stokes, Memphis Minnie, Bukka White, Barbecue Bob, Charlie Patton, Ted Bogan, Henry Spaulding, and any of a hundred other blues people.
People down here are serious about religion, and when they sing, you know they believe it. Street corner Gospel and spiritual players from a dozen different forms of Black and white worship add richness and gravity to Southern music. I do my best with it…
Being something of a picker, I’ve studied Reverend Gary Davis’ repertoire extensively. He was from western South Carolina, but lived in several places in North Carolina before coming to New York, finally and permanently. I regard him as enough of a guru that I’ve issued one CD of his sacred songs and produced a tribute album to him (‘Gary Davis Style’), editing together twenty players who were either his students or ‘grand-students.’ I’ve also worked out a show that I call ‘The Life And Times Of Reverend Gary Davis,’ based on his music and associations.
A major purveyor of what historians call the ‘Social’ Gospel (think of Dr. King) was Washington Phillips. He made 78s back in the twenties, playing on a pair of zither-form contraptions called Celestephones. I play his music and a good deal more on a Schroeder-sized grand piano called a Dolceola, made in 1905. Carry it everywhere with me, wouldn’t leave home without it.