September 23, 2010 by Lauro Luppi

This May I had the great pleasure of attending my second Acoustic Guitar Meeting in Sarzana, Italy. Based on my previous visit, I anticipated the wonderful week I was about to re-live with my dear Italian friends and the fine guitars and live music of the festival. This year I brought my wife and two children so they could absorb the natural and historic beauty… the food and culture of Italy and its wonderful people. What I did not anticipate was the privilege to meet an American singer-songwriter whom I have admired for years, John Gorka. I have seen John in concert on several occasions in the US… I own several of his CD’s… we even share many mutual friends. I’ve often thought of John as an American treasure who is amongst the greatest songwriters alive today… yet I had never met the man. Ironically, It would be in an ancient fortress in Northern Italy where I would finally have the chance to shake his hand and tell him personally how much I love his music.

One of the benefits of my job as a luthier is to meet musicians I admire and have the honor to tell them what their music has meant to me. But meeting John Gorka this year in Sarzana was a much different experience. John, my family and I spent three days together as we became embraced by a wonderful group of special friends. We shared very touching moments at private gatherings and home cooked meals. After each meal, John would grab a guitar and play us a few songs without being asked or even suggested. It was what he did… it was what he wanted to do. This was one of those experiences that struck me as a cherished memory being created at that moment. I’ll never forget those days… and by the looks on the faces of the few of us who were fortunate to be a part of this, I can say I am not alone in this feeling. Of all the anticipations I held for Sarzana before arriving, it is the unanticipated experiences that shine brightest in my memories. Thanks John!

(Roy McAlister, Gig Harbor, 9th June 2010) .

A better presentation of the artist could not be asked for, written by someone who, I believe, is a real expert in songwriters! So, any kind of presentation of John Gorka could be put aside, considering what’s been said by that one who needs no presentation… Nevertheless we believe (we ‘plural’, not ‘majestic’) useful and necessary, in order to complete the reports on the 13th edition of the Acoustic Guitar Meeting in Sarzana, presenting John Gorka in an instructional and later in a less obvious way. Both the artist and our ‘captain’ Andrea Carpi agree to follow a different track, tell a story, a story of friendship, intimacy, sensitivity and … trains (surely one too many) – this can provide a different, new interpretation, even if tightly bound to the great tradition of our instrument. Besides, you know very well how the heart of Sarzana is not only the guitar, but the people you meet, the people that live it.

Why John Gorka

I could just say “because he is John Gorka”, because I personally consider him one of the few who can still represent the great singer-songwriter tradition, comparable to the classical one, because he’s a songwriter for the songwriters, never over the top, never for granted, because he’s a storyteller and a guitarist with a little more than an elementary technique, but extremely effective, capable of striking because of the ease with which he accompanies his wonderful voice. At the recent Meeting of Sarzana he has deeply affected all the audience, no exceptions. For this reason, I’m not the only one to think that opening the Sarzana Meeting to songwriting is a very important aspect for the whole acoustic guitar movement.

What to report

I’ll be honest, you will not find a recording that is not worth the money it costs, testifying a series of publications always of very high quality. Even when Gorka recorded with a band, the band is never over the top, always at the service of the song and the artist. And let’s not mention the recording quality: among the recording labels you’ll find two that are renown for special attention to the quality. You can’t miss all the Red House recordings, then add Land of the Bottom Line which spread out his pure talent. Some recordings (After Yesterday and Old Future’s Gone) can be considered in the way of Americana or New country, and this caused a misunderstanding of the artist, specially during his Nashville days and his collaborations with Nancy Griffith. In 1996 John Gorka decided to leave Windham Hill Records because he thought the label was too ‘commercial’. His New Jersey roots (the same as the Italian-Irish songwriter who wrote of ‘factories and darkness’…) and his song topics labelled him as the new Springsteen: incorrectly, his career and his songs, even in respect of the tradition, are completely original. I must say, John Gorka is a stage artist, he’s at ease among people who listen to his stories. He could sit in front of a huge audience or just in front of few people and reach out and touch everyone deeply, everybody in silence listening to what counts, his songs, sung by one of the most beautiful voices of the current panorama. Even if you have to fight for the last copy available, you must get the DVD The Gipsy Life, it’s worth it, physical pain passes anyway… How to define it? Private concert, ‘concept concert’… I don’t know, what I know is that most surprising is the intimate atmosphere: a carpet, some plants, mics, a guitar, a mandolin, a piano and an electric bass (played by Michael Manring). And then? Then… you have a guitar that sounds like a wooden instrument, a warm and natural bass, a clean and present voice – it seems like the group is right beside you. Technically speaking the DVD is a wonder: no elastic reverbs, no deep EQs, no compression… it sounds so absolutely natural, finally, honour to one of the best songwriters of the moment. Few things, but the right ones at the right moment, songs that make me strenuously search for adjectives, irrelevantly, since the document is so precious and beautiful..

The Gipsy Life DVD Trailer

A Brief History

We already said about John Gorka’s discography. Let’s try to understand how John, who is almost unknown in Italy, is to be considered a major contemporary singer-songwriter. In the beginning he’s a student of History and Philosophy, a permanent guest at Godfrey Daniels’ café, which is a musical institution in the east side of Pennsylvania: a small coffee shop with a stage where musicians used to gather. The ‘residing’ musician John Gorka soon meets Stan Rogers, Eric Anderson, Tom Paxton and Claudia Schmidt, sharing influences and inspirations. This makes him move to New York City, where he finds Jack Hardy of the Folk Fast place (a fertile ground for many important singer-songwriters) who encourages him. Important dates follow, like the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas (where he won the New Folk Award in 1984) and Boston, where his baritone voice and intimate songwriting emerged. Red House Records, always seeking new talents, signs a contract in 1987 and produces his first album, which is a success. So in 1989 he signs with William Ackerman for Windham Hill. In the next seven years five albums are published: Land of the Bottom Line (one of my favourites), Jack’s Crows, Temporary Road, Out of the Valley and Between Five and Seven, while Rolling Stone presents him as «the preminent male singer-songwriter of the new folk movement». In 1998, after seven years with Windham Hill, John feels a change and returns with Red House Records: a choice determined by the artistic honesty of the label in a world where music business is dominant. As John says, «Red House’s first concern is the music, just like me, and it’s a fine place where to stay».

Gorka’s Trademark

After Yesterday is the first disc after the reunion and reflects John’s continuing commitment to the craft of songwriting, simple and direct. John’s trademark in writing is the attention to the lyrics and details in evoking a time, a place, a person and a range of emotions. But traces of different musical directions are also present, drums, strings and piano are added – elements that will be refined during his discography. If we want to focus, we can say that John is an autobiographical writer: his inner peacefulness supports his changing life experiences (his wedding, parenthood, moving to Minnesota), all present in songs like “Cypress Trees”, “After Yesterday” and “When He Cries”. There is a hardened knowledge in “Wisdom”, but each song his a small masterpiece of story and character: “Amber Lee”, “Silvertown”, “Zuly”. Each song has a fundamental meaning for John and could stand and be published alone, rich in imagination and introspection. This may represent a limit of John: his publications are never easy listening, attention is required, like for a small painting. The thoughtfulness in each verse must be understood and it’s not easy to do, as John blends poetry, introspection, humor (in a beautiful video of the song “I’m from New Jersey” he raises his arm just like the other guy from NJ does…). Though a long way from Godfrey Daniels, John has still a long way to go. He’s still proud to be part of that ‘folk tradition’ in which the acoustic music is considered a profound and intelligent expression of everyday life.

So why John Gorka? What do I get from knowing John Gorka? Much not explainable, much very subjective, characterized by ‘personal taste’. You should know that John can open doors with his songs for people who would never imagine such emotions could exist, and make them say: «Did it really happen?» It’s true… there is no guitar in a room that he would not caress, nor person that cannot be moved by his sincere and spontaneous emotions. There’s an image in me, one of my dearest in my forty-four years of life, a man fleeing from that room, a man of equal sensitivity who lowered his sunglasses over tear shining eyes and uttered few important words: «That’s why I build guitars»… And it really happened. Lauro Luppi.


Studio Albums

I Know, Red House Records, 1987
Land of the Bottom Line, Windham Hill/High Street, 1990
Jack’s Crows, Windham Hill/High Street, 1991
Temporary Road, Windham Hill/High Street, 1992
Out of the Valley, Windham Hill/High Street, 1994
Between Five and Seven, Windham Hill/High Street, 1996
After Yesterday, Red House Records, 1998
The Company You Keep, Red House Records, 2001
Old Futures Gone, Red House Records, 2003
Writing in the Margins, Red House Records, 2006
So Dark You See, Red House Records, 2009


Pure John Gorka, Windham Hill, 2006


Motor Folkin’, Windham Hill/High Street, 1994


The Gypsy Life, AIX Records, 2007 .





















...After lunch with friends in Sarzana ...















On the main stage at the Meeting of Sarzana (photo by Tiziano Gagliardi, Circolo Fotografico Sarzanese)


















On the main stage at the Meeting of Sarzana (photo by Tiziano Gagliardi, Circolo Fotografico Sarzanese)








Other Collections

Old recordings can be found in Fast Folk Musical Magazine, while the beautiful “I Saw a Stranger with your Hair” and “Christmas Bells” can be also found respectively in AA.VV, Legacy – A Collection of New Folk Music (Windham Hill, 1989) and in AA.VV., On a Winter’s Solstice – Vol. III (Windham Hill 1990).

Websites [from this site you may download plenty of material, audio files and videos with previously released or unreleased songs]

......... SrL - P. IVA 03025351200 numero REA - BO - 485569