|June 06, 2014|By Dave Howell,||Special to The Morning Call|
John Gorka visit to south Bethlehem's Godfrey Daniels is a special event.
He's returning Sunday to promote he release of his 12th studio CD. The
show is sold out.
Godfreys and Gorka grew up together. Gorka, who was attending Moravian College, was starting his musical career at the same time Godfreys was founded in 1976. He performed as a member of the folk/bluegrass Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, hosted open mikes and worked the soundboard. He even lived in the club's basement for a time.
Gorka released "Bright Side of Down" from Red House Records in March. It has the variety he is known for — the reflective title track; the gently rocking "Holed Up in Mason City"; the dark-edged "Procrastination Blues"; the lighthearted and slightly silly "Honeybee"; "High Horse," the dramatic story of an unemployed man, and the love songs "Outnumbered" and "She's That Kind of Mystery." "She's That Kind of Mystery" is the only cover, written by the late Bill Morrissey.
Gorka's smooth baritone and gentle guitar work tend to disguise the complexity of his lyrics. "Mind to Think" begins with, "Oh if I had a mind to think/ I might do some damage/ Mix my thoughts in the kitchen sink."
"Outnumbered" ends with "You are the one till you outnumber me," which you have to think about for a moment until the meaning sinks in. Gorka sometimes starts the creation process with lyrics, or sometimes with the tune. "It can happen in any way. It starts with a feeling. If I have words I can come up with music, but music doesn't always turn into words." Sometimes he will use fragments of things he has thought of in the past. "Musical bits can live on for years before they find a home."
Gorka's work has evolved with his life experiences. "Getting older, my perspective has changed. In being a dad, I see things in years and decades, not just a week at a time," he says. S
ome of Gorka's popular songs were inspired by the Lehigh Valley. "Blues Palace" is about a former residence; "Down in the Milltown" is the story of a working man; "Where the Bottles Break" bemoans gentrification on Bethlehem's South Side; and "Houses in the Fields" laments the loss of family farmland off of Freemansburg Avenue.
Some of the tracks on the new CD are backed by a band, and others just have Gorka singing with his guitar. Six other singers are featured. Gorka did basic tracks in his home studio, sometimes letting them "rest" to see how they stood over time.
He visited The Brewhouse Recording Studio in Minneapolis weekly or every other week for further work. "The main thing was to get a good performance on vocals and guitar, since that is the way most people see me live," he says.
Gorka says he has three hometowns. He was born in Newark in 1958 and was raised in Colonia, N.J. He performed at a church in Colonia last month. In 1996, he moved to Minnesota's St. Croix Valley area near St. Paul, where his wife was based. They have a teenage son and daughter.
Gorka recorded his first album, "I Know," for Red House Records in 1987. In 1989 he moved to High Street Records, a division of Windham Hill. He was one of the first vocal artists signed to Windham Hill, which was best known for instrumental and New Age music. He became dissatisfied after recording five albums for the label and returned to Red House in 1998.
Over the years, Gorka has been featured in Rolling Stone magazine, has appeared on television's Austin City Limits and CNN, and his videos have been aired on VH-1, Country Music Television and the Nashville Network. He has also toured Italy, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, although it is difficult to picture him singing for an audience that does not understand his lyrics.
"In the Netherlands, fortunately, a lot of people speak English. What I try to do otherwise is communicate the feeling with the sound of my voice," he says.
He does 85 to 90 shows a year. Nearly all are solo, but sometimes he will share the bill with another singer/songwriter. In 1990 he teamed up with singer/songwriters Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky to release "Red Horse" as a "folk supergroup." Gilkyson and Kaplansky sing on the "Bright Side" CD, and the trio still occasionally performs together.
Gorka travels with a Martin OM-28VR acoustic guitar and a G-Sharp electric guitar. He brings a banjo if he can drive to the show. His G-Sharp, manufactured in Norway, is tuned two steps higher than a standard tuned guitar. He will also perform songs on piano when one is available (Godfreys has one).
Gorka usually plays the region at least a couple times a year.
Last year the singer/songwriter did a two-hour show at Musikfest without taking a break. "I didn't want to lose the audience. It was exhausting," he says in a phone call, "but it was fun to see old friends."
But he says each visit to Godfreys is especially special.
"There are always people who have known me 30 years or more," he says. "But I am starting to see younger people when I play. Some are second generation kids of my original audience members.They heard my music when they were growing up."
Howell is a freelance writer.