Spider John Koerner is the classic musician’s musician. Dylan loved him, in fact, he introduced Dylan to the 12-string guitar, and everyone from John Lennon to Beck has sung his praises. His popularity with the music community at large, however, has always seemed a bit underwhelming. March 1963, a newly unearthed radio performance by Koerner, is further evidence of how desperately we need to pay more attention to this guy’s career. Performed solo just a day before he cut the excellent Blues, Rags & Hollers as a member of Koerner, Ray & Glover, this set is blues-folk done to near perfection. Koerner is a twanging beast on the guitar, snapping off standard blues riffs in what seems like double time. On “Hangman”, he channels Leadbelly’s nervy, downhill delivery, while “Creepy John” shuffles with a dusty insistence. Koerner shouts out talkin’ blues, he bellows with a heft that belies his young age, and, perhaps most impressively, his original songs mesh perfectly with the standards. With the stamp of his foot, the quick licks of guitar, and the speedy wordplay, it’s hard to believe just one dude is playing here. That is Spider John Koerner’s brilliance as a blues and folk musician. He plays traditional music with a youthful exuberance, even at age 72. He doesn’t cut corners, but rather goes deep into tradition to pull his own sound out of it. This is certainly not the only great performance to find from Koerner, but if you’re going to play catch-up on this guy (and you should) this is as good a place to start as any.
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