On Stage (Extra): Historic Germantown presents shows on history of US music

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Roy Book Binder

There is a special attraction coming to Philadelphia this year that gets underway this weekend.

Like the wedding saying, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” this weekend’s event has all four.

“Something new” is the series.

Historic Germantown (historicgermantownpa.org) will present a series of six concerts, “Music Alive: A Living History of 20th Century American Music.”

The series will depict the progression of American roots music, blues and jazz beginning in the 1920’s and traveling through the turn of the century with intimate concert performances from artists beginning with series opener, Roy Book Binder on May 11.

The series takes place on the Second Saturday of each month through October and includes performances from Saul Broudy, Odean Pope Quartet, Bobby Zankel and the Wonderful Sound Six, Rhenda Fearrington, Gloria Galante, Jim Dragoni and Paul Woznicki.

Each of the artists were curated for their national and international recognition as well as their historical knowledge of and their places in the chronology of musical history.

Performances will take place in the Historic Germantown courtyard, located at 5501 Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia and shows begin at 4 p.m.

“Something old” is Book Binder, who turned 80 this year.

“Something blue” is actually “something blues,” the music which Binder plays.

“Something borrowed,” is some of the traditional blues music Book Binder shares with blues legends such as Reverend Gary Davis and Blind Willie McTell.

Book Binder is billed as “an American blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and storyteller, who is equally at home with blues and ragtime.”

“I’m not a blues artist,” said Book Binder, during a phone interview Thursday from somewhere in Pennsylvania. “I’m an entertainer who plays the blues. I play music and I tell stories.”

Book Binder was somewhere in Pennsylvania as he was driving his “tour bus,” actually his comfortable motor home, with Philly as the eventual destination.

“I got my first bus/motor home in 1976,” said Book Binder. “I gave up my place in Greenwich Village and lived on the road for 17 years – until I met my new wife in 1990. I’ve had a lot of motor homes over the years.

“During the winter, I stay in Florida – for the last 26 years. I have a home in St. Petersburg. In the wintertime, I don’t tour. I just do about one gig a month locally.”

Book Binder, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., traces his music career back to his time in the Navy in the early 1960s.

“There was a kid on the ship from Oklahoma,” said Book Binder. “He had a guitar and taught me some chords. So, I bought myself a guitar when we were somewhere off the coast of western Italy.

“Another kid who was from Dallas who played sax. He had a battery-operated Victrola and introduced me to blues acts like Bobby Blue Bland. A third kid was from Brooklyn. He was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac, so I borrowed some of his books.”

Even though Book Binder is an octogenarian, he is still mentally sharp. He recalls things from 60 years ago with the accuracy of a teenaged boy remembering losing his virginity two months ago.

“I got out of the Navy in 1965 when Greenwich Village was still happening,” said Book Binder. “I went to junior college in Providence, Rhode Island on the G.I. Bill. I played my first open mic there in 1967. It was then that I knew I was going to do it the rest of my life.

“I met Dave Van Ronk in Providence. A year-and-a-half later, I played an open mic in the Village and Dave heard my last song. I asked him if he remembered me. He said, ‘I do’ and ‘You did.’

“We went to his place and drank Irish whiskey all night. The thing I liked about him was that he made the music his own.

“That led me to Reverend Gary Davis. I took a five-dollar guitar lesson with him. We talked and he wanted me to go on tour with him – but not as a musician. He was blind so he needed an assistant. I was part of Gary Davis’ world until he died in May 1972.”

Soon, Book Binder got involved in recording.

“I recorded a few tunes on anthologies in 1967 and 1968,” said Book Binder, who was born Paul Roy Bookbinder. “Then, I went to England where I really made my mark. I also got a gig playing with Arthur Crudup in 1969. Around that time, I signed with Adelphi Records.”

After meeting another of his musical influences, the bluesman Pink Anderson, Book Binder released his first album, “Travelin’ Man,” on Adelphi in 1971. The album was named after one of the songs he learned from Anderson.

Book Binder has released more than a dozen albums since then – the most recent of which is “The Good Book,” which came out in 2013.

“The most important album is ‘The Good Book,’” said Book Binder. “It was my best record.”

Now, almost 60 years since he started playing music, Book Binder is still at it.

“I do around six gigs a month,” said Book Binder. “In my live shows, I sing and I tell stories. There is no greater joy than making people laugh.”

Video link for Roy Book Binder — https://youtu.be/Ot7VVFxXYrM.

The show on May 11 will start at 4 p.m.

Other shows in the series are: June 8, Saul Broudy; July 13, Odean Pope Quartet; August 10, Bobby Zankel and the Wonderful Sound Six; September 14, Rhenda Fearrington, Gloria Galante, and Jim Dragoni; and October 12, Paul Woznicki.

Tickets for an individual are $25 per show if purchased in advance, $30 at the door.

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