Thursday, August 03, 2023

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Remembering Erik Darling


On this day in 2008, folksinger Erik Darling died at the age of 74 after suffering with lymphoma. Those who loved his music believe he just walked right in and sat right down in Heaven.

And though he died in North Carolina, he lived in Santa Fe during the 90s and early 2000s. Unfortunately, I only got to meet him once, when he came to my office to give me his latest -- and sadly his last -- album, Child Child.

It's likely that most people aware of Darling probably remember him for his role in a folk-pop group called The Rooftop Singers, who had a huge crossover hit called "Walk Right In," a cover of a 1929 song by Cannon's Jug Stompers.

Here's the original: 

And here's the hit version by The Rooftop Singers. According to The New York Times, this version was "rearranged by Mr. Darling with twin 12-string guitars, played in a pounding, percussive style. The song became a No. 1 hit and created a fad for 12-string guitars." (A "fad" I guess that Roger McGuinn picked up on):

But while technically Darling was a one-hit wonder, Darling had quite a history in the Great Folk Music Scare of the 1950s-early 60s. Before starting The Rooftop Singers, he was a member of two popular folk groups, The Tarriers and, for more than four years, The Weavers, where he took the place of Pete Seeger. 

Seeger told The Washington Post that Darling was "tremendously talented musician with a subtle sense of poetry and musicianship. . . . He wasn't loud, he wasn't flashy, but very sensitive."

Though not as well known as The Weavers or even The Rooftop Singers, The Tarriers was an influential little trio. For awhile the group included Alan Arkin -- another celebrity Santa Fe resident -- before his acting career took off.

They recorded a Jamaican folk tune called "The Banana Boat Song" in 1956, the same year that Harry Belafonte released what would become his signature song, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)." 

Darling and fellow Tarriers said they first heard it done in Washington Square by folk singer Bob Gibson, who had recently heard it during a visit to Jamaica. According to The New York Times, the Tarriers combined it with another Jamaican song called "Hill and Gully Rider" and retitled it "The Banana Boat Song." Darling and pals "watched in amazement as it climbed the pop charts and set off a craze for calypso music, fueled in part by Harry Belafonte's reworked version of their song, `Day-O.'"

Here's The Tarriers version:

And here's The Tarrier's take on "Tom Dooley." Hang down your head, Kingston Trio, The Tarriers did it first: 

Darling also recorded several solo records. Here's a salty little song from his 1958 self-titled album

After the Rooftop singers broke up in 1967, Darling drifted in and out of the music biz. 

I don't know the precise time Darling was in Santa Fe, but in 1994 he released an album called Border Town at Midnight at Stepbridge Studios (now Kitchen Sink) in Santa Fe with local musicians Sid Hausman and Lynn Lucas. Also playing on this album were bassist Laurianne Fiorentino, fiddler Gretchen Van Houten and drummer Jeff Sussmann.

 (Unfortunately I couldn't find any of this album's songs on Youtube or Spotify, so I'll just post the album cover.)

Below is a song Erik did with the Kossoy Sisters in 1997. It's called "The Wagoner's Lad" and contains some lyrics, ("My horses ain't hungry, they won't eat your hay ...") that later appeared in Peter, Paul & Mary's song, "Pretty Mary":

Finally, here's the title cut from the CD Erik Darling gave me 20 years ago. RIP Erik. I wish I'd gotten to know you better.

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