NEW YORK – Danny Kalb, a guitarist whose 1960s band the Blues Project brought drive and experimentation to blues-rock, died Saturday at a nursing home in Brooklyn, where he lived. He was 80.
His death was confirmed by his brother, Jonathan, his only immediate survivor. Kalb was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago, and he stopped eating about a week ago, Jonathan Kalb said.
The Blues Project was anything but purist. Along with blues standards, it jammed its way through Chuck Berry songs, folk-club favorites and material by band members that touched on pop, folk-rock, soul and jazz.
In the early days of underground FM radio and psychedelia, the Blues Project didn't have pop hits, but it worked its way from New York City clubs to nationwide touring. Kalb sang lead vocals on the blues songs, and his keening lead guitar lines infused the band's arrangements with a hectic intensity.
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The original Blues Project splintered in 1967, though Kalb joined sporadic regroupings as late as 2012. But most of his music after the 1960s was made in solo projects, collaborations and club gigs. Daniel Ira Kalb was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 9, 1942, and grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y. His father, Fred, was a lawyer; his mother, Gertrude, was a homemaker. He started playing guitar at 13 and attended the University of Wisconsin, where he performed at coffeehouses. He was a student there when he met Bob Dylan, an itinerant folk singer traveling through.
"Dylan crashed with me for a few weeks in Madison on his way from Hibbing, Minn., to New York," Kalb told AM New York in 2013. "We had so much fun, I dropped out and followed him."
Kalb immersed himself in the Greenwich Village folk scene. After hearing Dave Van Ronk on the radio, he sought him out in Washington Square as a teacher and mentor. In 1961, Kalb performed with Dylan at a Riverside Church folk concert. His first recordings were folk-revival projects.
Kalb played in the studio with Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Jimmy Witherspoon and others in the 1960s, and accompanied Phil Ochs throughout his 1964 debut album, "All the News That's Fit to Sing." He was one of eight Greenwich Village regulars – among the others were Van Ronk, Geoff Muldaur and Eric Von Schmidt – collected on a 1964 Elektra Records anthology, "The Blues Project: A Compendium of the Very Best on the Urban Blues Scene."
A mesmerizing performance by John Lee Hooker at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival convinced Kalb that he should concentrate on electric guitar and immerse himself in the blues. "
He formed the Danny Kalb Quartet, with Artie Traum on rhythm guitar, Andy Kulberg on bass and Roy Blumenfeld on drums. That group became the Blues Project after Steve Katz replaced Traum and Tommy Flanders was added as lead singer. Keyboardist Al Kooper joined the band after playing a demo session with them.
The Blues Project played extended residencies at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village from late 1965 into 1967.
In March 1966 the Blues Project released its debut album, "Live at the Cafe Au Go Go," recorded in 1965. Flanders left the band before the album's release; other members took over lead vocals.
The original Blues Project released its only studio album, "Projections," in 1966, with Kalb as the front man for extended roller-coaster versions of blues songs by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. The album also included the jazzy Al Kooper instrumental "Flute Thing," which featured Kulberg on flute and which was later sampled by the Beastie Boys, J Dilla and De La Soul.
The Blues Project toured North America through 1966 and into 1967. In April 1966, the group headlined the opening night of the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. In 1967 it had a grueling nine-day engagement at the RKO 58th Street Theater in a package show assembled by DJ Murray the K, playing a three-song set for multiple shows each day, on a bill that included the first U.S. appearances by Cream and the Who.
Tensions were growing within the band, and it fractured a few weeks after appearing at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. Kooper and Katz started Blood, Sweat and Tears, while Kulberg and Blumenfeld made an album, "Planned Obsolescence," as the Blues Project before renaming their band Seatrain.
Kalb was struggling. He reclaimed the Blues Project name in 1969, working with new musicians; Blumenfeld rejoined him in 1971 for the album "Lazarus," and Flanders returned for a 1972 album, called simply "The Blues Project."
The band had other short-lived reunions in the 1980s and '90s. In 2012 Kalb, Katz and Blumenfeld toured as the Blues Project, with additional musicians.
Through the years, Kalb taught guitar and kept performing at clubs, largely in Brooklyn and around the Northeast. He appeared solo and led trios; he collaborated with Grossman and Katz on tour and on a 2007 album, "Played a Little Fiddle." In the 2000s he recorded for Sojourn Records, dipping into blues, country, ragtime, jazz standards and gospel.