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1 Comments Eric Von Schmidt Has Died

Article written by Ken on Saturday, Feb 03, 2007 in Passings

Baby Let Me Lay It On You Cover Eric Von Schmidt died at his home in Connecticut on Friday. A seminal figure in the late fifties and early sixties folk scene in Cambridge Mass., He influenced Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tom Rush and many others.

Von Schmidt taught himself to play guitar after hearing Leadbelly on the radio in high school and soon found himself traveling with friends to New York City to play music. After a stint in the army and studying art in Italy he wound up in Cambridge in 1957. He quickly began hosting jams and playing in the coffee houses there. He recorded his first album in 1963.

He is most famously associated with two songs, “Joshua Gone Barbados” which he did write and Dylan standard “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” which he didn’t. Although Bob Dlyan credited him as the author, Eric said he got the song from Geno Foreman who got it from an old Blind Boy Fuller recording. He and Jim Rooney did pen a 1979 book by that title about the early Cambridge folk scene.

Von Schmidt recorded ten albums and appeared on a number of compilations. He combined his musical career with an active career as a painter and illustrator and created album covers for Joan Baez, Odetta, John Renbourn and others. As a painter he focused on historical subjects, particularly the American west. You can see examples of his paintings at his web site.

Faced with health troubles in recent years he never fully recovered from a stroke last year and died quietly in his sleep. He was 75.

Remembrances can be sent to remembereric@vonsworks.com and will be posted on a remembrance page at his web site.

New York Times Obituary

Biography – All Music Guide

Illustrated Discography by Stefan Wirz

Eric Von Schmidt page at the Richard and Mimi Farina fan site

Profile by Elijah Wald

Mudcat Discussion

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Llyn French Website Reply

I entered the folk scene in St Petersburg, Florida, in 1965. Eric von Schmidt was living on Longboat Key in those years. We local folkies, being very young and impertinent, would come to his home without prior notice to pay homage. He and his wife Katherine, the shark biologist, were most gracious hosts, no matter what we had interrupted. There is a much-told tale of the time that a bunch of attendees at the Longboat Key Folk Festival got hold of an old fire truck, loaded themselves on board, and drove it to the von Schmidt home. Eric came on occasion to the Beaux Arts Coffeehouse in Pinellas Park, near St. Pete. The first that I recall was a folksong festival held there 27 Feb 1966. The song I remember best is “Stick to Rum.” Among those he brought with him were Mitch Greenhill (son of Manny Greenhill of Vanguard Records) and Eric’s daughters Megan and Caitlin. We loved and revered Eric and felt privileged and honored to be in his presence. He is now thoroughly woven into our local lore. Dean Arnold, of Cortez, FL, who had married into my “family,” the Martins, built the boat that Eric sings of in “Gulf Coast Blues.” John Martin and I used to run into Eric at the Club 47 when we lived in Somerville, MA. Eric generously donated the beautiful cover painting for the CD insert and J-card for the recording “Will McLean Live at Van Wezel Hall” (released 1997), which as graphics designer I composed for printing, and during the production of which I was delighted to correspond with Eric. As Florida is being voraciously devoured by the cancer of development, we treasure Eric’s songs more than ever, especially “Gulf Coast Blues”: “You ever see the sun shine on that Gulf of Mexico…” and “Spin an old rum bottle, baby; be my compass ’til I die.” Thanks for being so much a part of our lives, Eric! You go with all our love. We’ll sing with you next life. — Llyn French, St. Petersburg