John Gorka returns to Club Passim with new songs and old favorites
By Ed Symkus, Correspondent
Jun 26, 2018 at 4:02 PM


When he picked up the phone, John Gorka was still a little groggy from the time he spent “as kind of a midwife, helping to bring new songs into the world” at Eliza Gilkyson's songwriter workshop in Taos, New Mexico. He had just gotten home to Minnesota the night before, and despite the tiredness, was really happy that, aside from aiding others in the craft, he also completed two new ones of his own.

There's a good chance he'll be playing them when he returns to Club Passim in Cambridge on July 6 for a solo show, where he'll also be performing selections from his newest album “True in Time,” some older tunes he'll pick from his substantial catalogue (he's about to turn 60, and he's been writing songs since he was 15), and perhaps a cover or two.

Gorka, whose name means “small hill” in Polish, will be accompanying himself

on his Martin acoustic and his diminutive G-sharp electric guitars, and will likely, as usual, sit down at the piano for a couple of tunes.

“I probably won't have my banjo with me,” said Gorka, “but that was my first instrument. I started when I was around 14. I just loved the sound of the banjo. It was around the time of me hearing Earl Scruggs doing the 'Beverly Hillbillies' theme. I loved that, and I loved when he played 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' in 'Bonnie and Clyde.' The banjo had such a compelling sound, and I wanted to learn how to do that.

” He practiced a lot and he got, in his words, “pretty good.” But about six months after first picking it up, he started playing guitar, too. Then, although he'd been learning to play songs from books – he particularly liked Jim Croce – he soon started writing his own.

“I felt I was able to write within my limitations,” he said, “and that sounded better than trying to do other people's songs in a bad way.”

Gorka has been prolific, turning out album after album of original music, with “I Know” getting released in 1987. Early on he set up some demands on himself: He wouldn't settle for “almost good enough” in a song, and when he was writing one, he would “try to get out of its way,” rather than mess around too much with it.

It's still kind of a mysterious thing,” he said. “I often say that my favorite place to be is in the middle of a song, and that line in itself has started to become a song. I'm still excited about the process.”

Another part of Gorka's process is, after writing a song, he'll often try it out on an audience, then record it. Later on, if he still enjoys playing them, songs again show up in his live sets. But because he plays alone, and he often has musicians with him in the studio, it's going to sound quite different.

“The general idea for 'True in Time' is that what we were doing in the [studio] was going to be the record,” he said. “I mostly play solo concerts, so one idea was to leave enough space so that people who liked the record, then heard me live, wouldn't be disappointed in not having a band on the stage.” A side story about the making of “True in Time” reveals that there almost wasn't an album.

“Two days before the first session, I cut my thumb with a saw,” he recalled. “I was helping a neighbor clear some trees that had fallen, I didn't have a very good glove on, the saw I was using cut through the glove, and I got nine stitches in my left thumb. Fortunately, the ER doc was a guitar player, and it hadn't cut any tendons, and he was able to sew it up in a way that I'd be able to play. Though I had to reconfigure some of the chords because I couldn't wrap my thumb around the bass strings like I had been doing. But everything is OK now.”

Club Passim is one of Gorka's favorite clubs, a place he's regularly been performing since May, 1985, when he opened for Nanci Griffith. He'll take the stage there, as usual, without knowing exactly what he's going to play.

“I don't have a set list,” he said. “I always check in with the audience to see if there are people who have not seen me play live before because I want to make sure that they feel welcome and included. After that, it's kind of a mixture of what people call out and what I feel like playing. Then I try to make sure that the shape of the set is some kind of organized chaos.”


John Gorka performs at Club Passim in Cambridge on July 6, 2018 at 7and 9:30 pm
Tickets: $35. Info: 617-492-7679.

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