The award-winning, Minnesota-based folk singer plays Cadillac, Whitehall, Suttons Bay and Boyne City this week. Read the Local Spins interview and listen to his music.
THE ARTIST: John Gorka
THE MUSIC: Singer-songwriter, contemporary folk
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM: (With Amilia K. Spicer) Noon Thursday at H.O.M.E. in The B.O.B. for WYCE’s “GR Live”; 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay; 8 p.m. Friday at the Elks Lodge in Cadillac; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall; 7 p.m. Sunday at Freshwater Art Gallery in Boyne City
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The roots of John Gorka’s three-decade career as a successful touring singer-songwriter can be traced to the inspiration he’s found in the seminal country blues of the late Son House and Charley Patton.
“Their music was so great and their lives were so hard,” said Gorka, 58, who himself has released more than a dozen albums since 1987 and established himself as a mainstay in the modern folk scene.
“I call myself a singer-songwriter folk guy. I don’t know if what I do is folk music, but I feel like I’m part of the folk world and I’m interested in the history of American music … going back to the original folk-blues guys. They’re like spiritual inspirations to me.”
The highly acclaimed New Jersey-born and Minnesota-based Red House Records artist brings his tour to Michigan this week, on the heels of his most recent release, “Before Beginning,” being named best singer-songwriter album of 2016 by The Indie Acoustic Project.
Gorka, who continues to write songs for a new studio album he hopes to release in early 2018, will play four Michigan concerts with Americana singer-songwriter Amilia K. Spicer. Spicer, who just released a new studio album, “Wow and Flutter,” will join Gorka on a few tunes, as well as performing an opening set.
The pair will play The Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay at 7:30 p.m. Thursday ($25 advance/$30 day of show), the Elks Lodge in Cadillac at 8 p.m. Friday ($15 advance, $20 day of show), 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall ($20 advance, $25 day of show) and 7 p.m. Sunday at Freshwater Art Gallery in Boyne City ($30 advance, $35 day of show). They’ll also perform a few songs for WYCE-FM’s “GR Live” in The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids at noon Thursday.
For Gorka, the Michigan tour allows him to capitalize on the “personal connection” he’s had with Great Lakes State audiences, thanks in part to his longstanding relationship with an Ann Arbor booking agent.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing there, both in the Upper Peninsula and the lower part of Michigan,” he said. “These are beautiful spots. That’s one of the things that’s really great about my job. I get to visit a lot of beautiful places, but it’s never for very long.”
Moving from Pennsylvania to Minnesota more than 20 years ago, Gorka has frequently crisscrossed the country and struck up collaborative relationships with other folk and Americana artists, including folk/jazz icon and former northern Michigan resident Claudia Schmidt.
‘NEW LIFE’: RELEASING A SET OF SONGS FIRST RECORDED MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO
“She’s one of the people who inspired me to want to do this. She’s still an inspiration,” Gorka said in a telephone interview from his home in Stillwater, Minn. “She’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met.”
Several years ago, Gorka also recorded an album with well-known singer-songwriters Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson under the name Red Horse, a supergroup project that hit No. 1 on folk radio and No. 6 on the Billboard Folk albums chart.
More recently, Gorka unveiled “Before Beginning,” a set of songs he recorded in Nashville back in 1985 but never released. After restoring and listening to the old tapes from that project, he decided to release the vintage album last year.
“I thought, ‘Hey, this sounds pretty good.’ After not hearing it for that long a time – almost 30 years at that point – it was almost like listening to somebody else’s record,” he recalled. “It was fun to hear those songs with those players and those arrangements. I felt like it kind of gave them a new life.
”I thought I made the right decision in 1986 (to not release the album at that time), but I thought there was a lot of good on this record that people might like. It’s gotten a pretty good reaction.”
That reaction includes The Indie Acoustic Project naming the refurbished collection as the best singer-songwriter recording of 2016.
Of course, Gorka also has a handful of insightful new songs which will be included on the follow-up to his most recent studio album, 2014’s “Bright Side of Down,” which was praised by No Depression magazine for “words and melodies (that) glisten” and by Amazon.com for having a “classic Gorka-esque sound.”
The singer plans to write a few more tunes to round out the new studio album that he’ll release next year. The new material gets penned in a variety of places – in early mornings on the road, “noodling around” during sound checks.
The writing and touring is all part of what’s become a long and fulfilling run as a musician.
“I know what I do is not for everybody, so what I try to do is find everybody who’s interested in the kind of music that I do,” Gorka said of his audience.
“I’ll continue doing what I’m doing now and hopefully stay healthy enough to play songs for people and work on new things. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten do this for so long and that people still are coming out.”
VIDEO: John Gorka, “The Bright Side of Down” (Live)
VIDEO: John Gorka, “Ignorance and Privilege”
VIDEO: John Gorka, “The Gypsy Life”
VIDEO: Amilia K. Spicer, “Fill Me Up”
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC