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Gravelly-voiced American folk musician, 1936-2002.

Dave Van Ronk was an influential figure on the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. He was born across the East River, in Brooklyn, New York, in 1936. Van Ronk never finished high school, and knocked around lower Manhattan for several years, playing in jazz clubs inbetween gigs as a merchant seaman. He was discovered in one of these clubs by Odetta, who arranged a tryout for him with Albert Grossman, who would later manage Bob Dylan.

While Grossman was unimpressed, Van Ronk would be signed by Folkways Records before long, and released his first record, as part of a jug band called the Orange Blossom Jug Five, in 1958. His first solo record came out a year later, and contained versions of blues standards such as "Duncan and Brady", "John Henry", and Leadbelly's "In The Pines".

In 1961, he met and befriended a young Bob Dylan, who repaid the favor by ripping off Van Ronk's arrangement of "House of the Rising Sun", which would appear on Dylan's debut record in early 1962. The famous version by The Animals is basically Dylan and Van Ronk's arrangement with a full-band electric backing. Dylan and Van Ronk remained at least somewhat friendly, however, and Van Ronk was one of the few folk musicians to defend Dylan's decision to go electric a few years later.

Van Ronk's most famous recording is probably his 1973 rendition of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic", from his "Songs for Ageing Children" LP. His recorded output dropped off in the mid-1970s, though he continued to record until his death from complications of colon cancer in February 2002. Van Ronk, sometimes called "The Mayor of MacDougal Street", remained active in the New York folk scene (such as it was), and hosted a radio show in the 1980s in the New York area that showcased obscure folk musicians. I believe it was on Saturday mornings, and my father would regularly pre-empt my cartoons to listen to it.

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