A Folk Artist and
Family Man

Published: June 4, 2000

THE singer-songwriter John Gorka is an odd yet refreshing combination of intensity and deadpan humor. He can follow a song about fascism with another of how, when his infant son cries, the baby resembles Charles Bronson. His power of observation lends him an unusual voice in the heavily populated modern folk movement.

''It's hard not to write about things that affect you,'' said Mr. Gorka, who with Lucy Kaplansky, performs an 8 p.m. show on Saturday at the Stamford Center for the Arts Acoustic Studio. ''Especially fatherhood,' he said in a telephone conversation from Minneapolis, where he lives with his wife, Laurie Allmann, their 2 1/2-year-old son Joseph and 1-year-old daughter Noelle. ''It changed things in a healthy way. I'm not as self-centered.''

Mr. Gorka's latest CD, ''After Yesterday'' (Red House, 1998) demonstrates his fine song-writing ability on recent changes in his life as well as other subjects. Its 12 songs are branded with irony, deadpan humor and his stern baritone style. Besides his introspective songs like ''Cypress Trees,'' ''After Yesterday'' and ''Heroes,'' Mr. Gorka writes lucid character studies like ''Amber Lee,'' ''Silvertown'' and ''Zuly.''

''I try to be specific in my songs,'' said Mr. Gorka, whose songs have been performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary Black and Maura O'Connell among many. ''Yet I hope that I dig deep enough to reach a universal bone,'' he said, ''a shared experience; I write about living, and I know my life best.''

At Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., he worked for the Godfrey Daniels Coffeehouse, one of the most respected folk clubs in the East. As manager of the schedule, he said he saw many talented people breeze through. Watching Stan Rogers, Eric Andersen and Tom Paxton was Mr. Gorka's his real higher education.

After college, Mr. Gorka moved to New York, where he worked several jobs to support his music habit. ''I delivered flowers for three and a half years. I worked for Sing Out magazine. Then from 1982 to 1986, I worked steadily, about 125 gigs a year.'' He was soon making a name for himself at such prestigious gatherings as the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival, where he won the New Folk Award in 1984.

In 1987 Mr. Gorka recorded ''I Know,'' his debut CD on Red House Records. The recording served as a memorable calling card when he opened for established acts. Mr. Gorka credits those acts for his career boost. ''People like Nanci Griffith and Christine Lavin helped me get into bigger clubs,'' he said. ''They were very supportive.''

They still are. Ms. Griffith, along with Cliff Eberhardt, Sean Hopper and Lucy Kaplansky, back Mr. Gorka on ''Temporary Road'' (Ms. Kaplansky has sung back up on all but one of Mr. Gorka's CD's).

After the popular and critical success of ''I Know,'' Will Ackerman of Windham Hill signed Mr. Gorka in 1989 to his company's folk label, High Street Records. Mr. Gorka recorded five albums with High Street over the next seven years: ''Land of the Bottom Line,'' ''Jack's Crows,'' ''Temporary Road,'' ''Out of the Valley,'' and ''Between Five and Seven.'' ''After Yesterday'' marks his return to Red House.

These days, Mr. Gorka spends less time away from home, averaging about 80 dates a year, about half as much as before he became a father. And, he said, his writing schedule folds tightly around domestic chores including feeding, chasing and changing two young children.

Ready to return to the studio, he said that he already has more than enough songs for a new CD and remains receptive to ideas inspired from daily observations. ''I'll always write about the same things that affect me,'' he said. ''Hopefully I'm improving on my craft.''

John Gorka performs on Saturday at the Stamford Center for the Arts Acoustic Studio in the Rich Forum, 307 Atlantic Avenue (203-325-4466) The singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky joins him at the 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $15 and $20. To learn more about Mr. Gorka's performance dates, visit his Web site (