by Phil Kogan Photography

An American Folksinger

over 35 years singing Folk, Rock, Reggae, Jazz, Blues,
Bluegrass, Country, Western, Celtic, Appalachian, Americana
and more
Traditional and Modern, Originals and Standards
On the Stage and on the Street


I've been a singer since childhood, began performing professionally in my early teens, while also doing educational programs in schools. When I left Highschool, I decided I did not like the music business, though I loved music, and so I dropped out for a few years, performing rarely. In 1983-84, I returned to performing, and went to Central America for a few months. Travelling in Central America, I entered a world where music was not a business like America, but part of the social fabric, and in it I had a recognized and traditional role. I think my early education and avocation as a folksinger and folklorist prepared me to see my role in terms of this ancient tradition. When I came back to the states, I was rededicated to a life as a folksinger, but never returned to the "music business". As I tell people, there is very little room at the top of the mountain, but a lot of room at its base. If what you want to do is be a working musician, there are countless little places to play, festivals and venues, street scenes and odd niches like performing on schooners out for a sunset sail. There are always people to play for, if you are good enough, and a simple living to be made. Practically speaking, you have to rely on tips, which means reaching your audience. Often, the most practical thing was to play the street scenes because they paid better than what the venues offered. Folkmusic, or an odd instrument like the dulcimer often, didn't interest venue managers, but the people always liked it, out on the street.

filmstrip of biographical images

I've toured through most of North and Central America over 35 years of performing, and never needed another job. Except for an occasional break to just do something else, I have played music for a living all my life, it is what I do, and I do it well. That is my greatest recomendation, in my view. I have developed a wide range of material and performance styles to suit the many venues and situations I played in, while remaining within my personal taste and sincerity. As a folklorist I have performed and lectured in schools at all levels. I remain an American Folksinger, drawing on many genres and periods for my music, from the oldest to the latest, but never focusing on anything specific. My music is all about the songs, the words and stories I want to tell. If a song speaks to me, I play it, no matter what genre or time it comes from.

the hammered dulcimer

The 5 octave solid-body electric-acoustic Hammered Dulcimer

I am a singer who began playing the hammered dulcimer, instead of the standard guitar or piano, over twenty-five years ago. I developed a unique style as I adapted modern music to the dulcimer and the dulcimer for modern music. I designed and built the first 5.5 octave dulcimers, acoustic and electric. I performed many songs from many genres, traditional, standards, originals. My style is essentially vocal-accoustic, a "folksinger", in whatever genre I pick from. This is combined with the complex rythmic-melodic percussion of the dulcimer. My outlook is from classic and early rock, blues, jazz, bluegrass, celtic, and folk traditions. I write songs when when I feel like it, play them if it is what people want to hear. Sometimes I can find no song that says what I need to say, so I have to write it myself. But one thing I specifically wanted to do with the dulcimer was applying it to modern music, which meant playing standards from many generes, to show how the dulcimer worked with them, show what the dulcimer could do, that it was not restricted simply to traditional "fiddle tunes". I also follow the school that considers originality of style as important as original composition of lyrics or melodies, maybe more. The true test of originality of style is not to write something new, but to be able to play a standard in such a way that it is original, unmistakable, and enjoyable. That is difficult.

As you get older, youthink of what you want to get done in your life. All my life, people kept asking and telling me to "do more" with the music. I've decided that is what I should do, go beyond just making a living, and playing for people, while really staying in the shadows. I want to show the world what I have done with the dulcimer, both using it as a modern instrument, playing any type of music, and as an electric instrument. What you do dies with you, but what you pass on lives on. I want to pass on what I have done with the dulcimer, physically and stylistically, to a new wave of modern hammered dulcimer players. I have also brought a lot of pleasure to countless people with my music, but I always let my desire for a simple quiet life hold me back, satisfied with the anonymous life of a folksinger, avoiding recognition. Now I realize the the dulcimer, and my music, should be allowed to go as far as they are able, and I shouldn't hold them back. It is not ambitin that drives me, not fame or fortune, but that I love the music, and love performing, and love the dulcimer, and should give them a chance to be recognized, and go wherever they lead me.



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