In another time, roots scholar and multi-instrumentalist Michael Eck might have been a “songster,” traversing local counties with a bag of ballads, blues and spirituals, some borrowed, some stolen and some written on the fly; or a “musicianer,” grabbing anything close at hand—a guitar, a mandolin, a tenor banjo—and joining in as the evening’s music unfolded.
But the time is now, and Michael Eck makes music for today, whether reaching back to Blind Lemon Jefferson, nicking a number from Tom Waits or banging out one of his own mighty songs.
Eck is deeply invested in the upstate New York folk scene as a performer, presenter and chronicler, but he has little patience with pure tradition, seeing the great river of American song as an ever-flowing, meandering stream.
As a member of Ramblin Jug Stompers, Lost Radio Rounders, Tin Can Alley, Berkshire Ramblers, Good Things and SpancilHill, Eck explores 78 rpm music for the 21st century, historic American music and more. As a solo artist and songwriter, he is always exploring the connections—between Lead Belly and Johnny Cash, between Kid Prince Moore and Tim Hardin and between Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt.
His own roots lie in the Albany NY punk scene of the early 80s, but that edgy spirit was filtered through subsequent rounds in alt.country, R&B, art damage and guitar pop. Eck spent the 90s vigilantly pursuing the singer/songwriter ring, black suitcoat, battered Martin, bus trips to New York and all.
Four albums and too many miles later, cooler heads prevailed, and in the 00s, Eck (having spent requisite rounds in Austin and New Orleans) began balancing his own songwriting with the overarching draw of The Anthology of American Folk Music. For the past decade or more, he’s been as likely to sing “Dink’s Song” or “Do Re Mi” as he is one of his own oft-covered tunes like “Dead Man’s Shirt” or “Do You Hear Me, Jesus.”
In addition to his primary work with Ramblin Jug Stompers and Lost Radio Rounders, Eck has created a number of themed solo shows based on the Anthology, Woody Guthrie and the music of the Hudson River. He also plays occasionally as Ukulele Mike NY.
He has performed onstage with Pete Seeger, Patti Smith, John Sebastian, Peter Case, Jim Kweskin, 10,000 Maniacs’ Robert Buck, John Lombardo & Mary Ramsey, Hamell on Trial, Happy Traum, Jason Ringenberg, Butch Hancock, Leigh Gibson and Lonesome Val, among others; and has recorded with Aimee Mann, Jon Brion and former Warner Brothers Records President Dan McCarroll.
Eck is the curator and host of WAMC’s American Roots Series at The Linda; assistant producer of the Music Haven Concert Series; producer and host of fundraising concerts for Caffe Lena (where he is a longtime board member); host of the Late Night Sing at the Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music and Dance; co-producer and host of Music from a Fishbowl at the Eighth Step; and contract producer for the Eclectic Performance Series at Steamer No. 10 Theatre. Previously he was producer and host of Performance Place: Live Concert Radio at WAMC; producer and host of the Borders SongWriters Forum; and producer and host of the Annual Bob Dylan Birthday Celebration at Union College.
He has produced four solo albums as well as releases by Jim Gaudet, Coal Palace Kings, Blue Wilder, The Plague and others. He is a featured musician and writer on recordings by Sara Ayers, Chefs of the Future, Glaze, Frank Jaklitsch, Kevin Maul, Rosanne Raneri, Terri Roben, Shack, Stomplistics and Strange Anatomy as well as Ramblin Jug Stompers and Lost Radio Rounders.
Michael Eck is a featured artist with Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments and National Reso-Phonic Guitars.
Photos by Lakota Ruby-Eck and Thomas D. Lindsay.