Saturday, February 03, 2007

Dylan influence Eric Von Schmidt dead at 75

In DC, we've had a gradual shift in music retail over the last few years. There are fewer indie shops selling CDs and a few new ones that focus mainly on vinyl. I've been combing the folk sections of these shops, mostly full of Weavers/Baez/Seeger et al, and once in a while I come across something unusual, like Eric Von Schmidt's 1969 album Who Knocked the Brains Out of the Sky? Hadn't heard his name before, but the blurb on the back by Bob Dylan was enough for me to give it a shot.

Turns out he was a major figure in the Cambridge folk scene of the late 50s and early 60s, and an influence on a young Dylan. And not a month after I started listening to his music, his name showed up on the obituary page. His fascinating New York Times obituary mentions his meeting with Dylan:

In the early 1960s, Mr. Dylan had shown up at Mr. von Schmidt’s doorstep in Harvard Square in Cambridge. The two traded harmonica licks, drank red wine and played croquet. Before crashing on the couch, Mr. Dylan eagerly absorbed some of his host’s voluminous knowledge of music, including folk, country and the blues.
“I sang him a bunch of songs, and, with that spongelike mind of his, he remembered almost all of them when he got back to New York,” Mr. von Schmidt said in The Boston Globe.
A few months later, Mr. Dylan’s first album came out. Over the guitar introduction to “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” he told of meeting Mr. von Schmidt “in the green pastures of Harvard University.”

There are a few Von Schmidt albums on CD, but not Brains, which is full of smart, rollicking folk-blues and Von Schmidt's full-throated vocals, which strike a nice balance between joy and concern. My favorite track is the title track, below. RIP Eric.

MP3: Eric Von Schmidt - Who Knocked the Brains Out of the Sky?


Caitlin von Schmidt said...

Thanks for the nice post! It's great that people are still finding and listening to my dad's music - the Who Knocked the Brains album is a particular favorite of mine.

Funny thing about the Dylan story - my mom, who divorced from my father after five years - said it was unlikely they played croquet, since we lived a stone's throw from Harvard Square (my father WAS a great player though), and they didn't even own a couch! Other than that, I think the tale is pretty much true.

Thanks again for the kinds words!
Caitlin von Schmidt

Karl Eklund said...

See blog Joshua Gone Barbados. Eric, Too. at

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