Fancy-Pants Gambling Man

This is one of the rarest songs I know; to the best of my knowledge, it has never been publicly available until now. Which is truly weird.

I heard it on a reel-to-reel tape in the position of Amy Cohen, the friend who introduced me to Dave Van Ronk, sometime in the mid-1970s. The tape was by Erik Frandsen, a terrific guitarist, songwriter, and performer, whom I later saw numerous times at Folk City and the Speakeasy, usually with Dave nodding approvingly at my elbow. I recall Dave explaining that Erik got so good by practicing in front of the television during all the Mets games, so I tried that for a while (albeit with the Red Sox), but never came close to his precision and virtuosity… and that’s not to mention the songwriting.

I don’t know how Amy came to have the tape, which  seems to have been recorded in Chris Smither’s apartment circa 1970 or thereabouts, but I was  mightily enamored of it. The songs included a sixties counterculture rewrite of “He’s in the Jailhouse Now”; a brief a cappella interlude celebrating the virtues of Bromo-Seltzer; Erik’s signature song of the time, “Drowning in Beer”; and this masterpiece of tongue-in-cheek Americana.

For a while I didn’t bother to learn this, because I thought of it as Erik’s song and didn’t see the point. But here we are, more than forty years later, and as far as I know it has never been recorded except for that stray tape. Erik never made an album — I have no idea why, and would encourage any producers out there to contact him and try to change that — though he did a few songs on the Speakeasy’s Fast Folk LPs and now has a bunch of videos online. But by the time I met him in the early 1980s, he’d dropped this from his repertoire.

So I started doing it, citing Erik as its originator, and only recently checked with him and learned that it was written by Tom Hobson — a name I had never heard, despite a lifetime burrowing around the folk and blues scenes. rememberingtomHobson is no longer among us, but some friends have mounted a nice website in his memory, with several albums of his music and encomiums from associates and students including Jorma Kaukonen, Dan Hicks, and Steve Mann — and that’s another story worth investigating.

Hobson was a legendary Bay Area character who played brilliantly, was known and admired by all the musicians, but never really made a go of it as a performer (a description shared by my friend Perry Lederman, on whom more in a forthcoming post). And to make the story even crazier, none of Hobson’s albums includes “Fancy-Pants Gambling Man,” nor do any of the remembrances even hint at its existence.

How the hell could a song like this be in the ether, performed by musicians of the quality of Hobson and Frandsen (and who knows, maybe a bunch of other people), and never get recorded? As best I can tell, I’m currently the only person on earth who knows it, and that just doesn’t seem right. So here it is.

erik-frandsen-headshot(Incidentally, one of the reasons Erik is not better known as a musician is that he has dedicated most of his professional attention to acting — you’ve likely seen him in movies and on the Daily Show — and wrote an off-Broadway show, and all in all has kept pretty busy doing other stuff. Which said, I’m still waiting for that album.)