One man, an acoustic guitar, and a head full of stories.
That's the first original form of music that served as entertainment in America, the roots of an expansive, colorful tree that today bears so many different fruits. So often, when we see a traveling storyteller performing in that tradition, we consider them a throwback to those early 20th century days when the blues began to ripen. But don't tell that to Roy Book Binder.
Not that he ignores his forefathers -- it's quite the opposite. He learned firsthand from greats such as the Rev. Gary Davis, Pink Anderson and Dave Van Ronk, and has been singing and telling stories about them since he first hit the road in the late-'60s from his birthplace of Queens. He brings them further on down the road with an upbeat nature and the sharp finger pickin' they taught him, and tonight will park his motor home at the Village Meeting House, 5658 Main St., Williamsville, for a show at 8 p.m. (741-9440). We gave him someone to talk to, other than himself, as he barreled up the highway bound for Buffalo.
How do you define the East Coast blues?
What I call the East Coast sound is different than the Delta sound that guys like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters defined, and eventually took up the river to Chicago where it became rock 'n' roll. The East Coast sound probably originated in Florida with Blind Blake. It has more of a country style -- it was never urbanized. It's still danceable, but it's less percussive than the Delta sound.
I do a little Delta, because it's all influenced me, but I play as many folk and rootsy Americana festivals as blues ones, cause those folks enjoy pickin' and grinnin', too. I like to call the style I play "hillbilly blues."
Why do you reject the idea of your show being a throwback?
It's not a throwback but a continuing of a tradition. I'm not the only one around, and I'm not the oldest, either -- my good friend Robert Lockwood Jr. is 89 and still doing shows. Every time I talk to him, he says, "You're 61? Aw, you ain't nothin' but a baby! Keep doin' what you're doin'." I couldn't have dreamed of having this kind of success -- not necessarily financial, but making a living like this for 35 years, and never making a conscious effort to commercialize my music.
There's a great freedom to this, being a gypsy of the highway and playing music, and I have no great aspirations to do anything else. I really feel like the king of the road -- I'm just getting onto the 90 right now.
Good deal, the home stretch. What kind of show will we get when you pull into the Village Meeting House?
A lot of laughs, but I don't tell jokes -- they're all true stories from the road. I never write down a set list, just play songs as they come and react to the audience. My goal has always been to entertain, not to be a maestro. You don't have to be a fan of the blues to enjoy me, you just have to be alive.