I mostly missed the hottest groups of the pop-folk craze. I was born in 1959 rather than 1950; I started out with my grandparents’ 78s, listening to the Almanac Singers and Josh White; my half-brother Dave introduced me to old-time country blues recordings; and I guess I was already something of a loner and a contrarian by age five, more attuned to Woody Guthrie than to the perky collegiate approach. In any case, I missed the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, and only heard Peter, Paul and Mary because my little sister liked them, but never listened to them voluntarily.
However, somewhere along the line I picked up Vanguard’s Greatest Folksingers of the ‘Sixties, and along with Cisco and Kweskin and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott it included the first tracks I ever heard by Ian and Sylvia, and by Richard and Mimi Fariña, and “Walk Right In,” by the Rooftop Singers. Those were not really my kind of music — the Fariñas a bit more than the others, and I did pick up their “best of” double LP, but didn’t listen to it very often — but it was hard to resist the rhythmic drive of “Walk Right In,” propelled by Eric Darling’s 12-string guitar. (Incidentally, Ian and Sylvia’s “You Were on My Mind,” also on that album, has a very similar 12-string arrangement, which I’d guess was not coincidental.)
The Rooftop Singers, as it happened, were formed by Darling specifically to record “Walk Right In,” which he’d presumably heard on Sam Charters’s The Country Blues reissue LP. I preferred the Cannon version, of course, but didn’t learn it because the song was already so overdone, due to the Rooftop version, which was a number one pop hit in 1963… the rub being that I could not avoid knowing the Rooftop version, more or less, because it was unforgettably catchy, and fooling around with my own variation of the bass part, because it was fun. And then there was José Feliciano…
He was on Greatest Folksingers of the ‘Sixties as well, blowing away the Newport Folk Festival audience with his flamenco-ized version of “La Bamba,” and sometime later I managed to acquire a copy of his first LP, which is a truly weird and wonderful record, recorded when he was seventeen years old and including his versions of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” “High Heeled Sneakers,” and “Walk Right In,” which he sings in English, Spanish, and Yiddish.
Whatever my reasons for not learning the Cannon or Rooftop versions, my reason for not learning Feliciano’s is simple: there was no possible way I could even dream of playing like him… and yet, the bassline in my head is more Feliciano than Darling, and I’ve got that Spanish verse (I don’t speak Yiddish, which didn’t stop José, but I’m not seventeen, or a genius). So, here it is, for what it is.