Classical Guitarist Linda Cohen – Interview 2006

Classical Guitarist Linda Cohen

Linda is only related to me in name. I first saw Linda open for Tracy Nelson at Penn’s Landing in 1977 and knew that I wanted to be a classical guitarist. Over the years Linda was one of my teachers and even before that we had become friends. 

PCMA few years back I bought a really nice Silver Tone guitar from a woman who turned out to be your cousin. She was selling it because she was moving to Florida.

Linda: That would have been Betsy. Did she give you a good Price? (Laughs)

PCMWhen I found out who she was and I told her what your music has been to me, she pretty much gave it to me and made me promise that I would never sell it to a collector, it must be used by a guitarist.

Linda: That is Betsy!

PCMIn my Bio, you are Linda Cohen (no relation). In 1977 I saw you open for Tracy Nelson at Penn’s Landing. That is what made me pick up classical guitar. Do you remember that concert?

Linda: That was a great day! I love Tracy Nelson!

PCM: When did you pick up the guitar?

Linda: I played the drums first. I was in high school when I started the guitar. 

PCM: Did you start learning classical guitar?

Linda: Well, my boyfriend at the time was a classical guitarist and wanted me to do likewise. I resisted because I was a percussionist and happy being a percussionist but by happenstance my Aunt Rita married a guy named Sam who had a son that had a cousin who opened the Philly Folk Workshop. So now I had a connection and my Aunt Rita and Uncle Sam said I should learn the guitar. After the first lesson that was it.

PCMWhen did you start teaching/making a living? Was there a transition period?

Linda: I guess I started showing up places, like the open mic at the 2nd Fret. At the time I was playing this fancy finger picking style and the folk boom had just begun. At the time there weren’t a lot of people who were playing that fancy. So I got a reputation for being very fast. They put me on TV when I was in high school. I was on public television, I was on Chief Half Town. (laughs)

PCMDid you ever have a job outside of music?

Linda: For a brief time when I came back from a big motor cycle trip and was broke. I worked at my fathers office checking peoples credit ratings.

PCMWhere were the places you taught?

Linda: The first place I taught at was the successor to the place I learned how to play. The owner sold the business and moved it from Hunting Park to Center City. It was at 19th & Samson next to the R&W Delicatessen. They hired me to teach there. After that folded and the owner moved away I taught at Esther Halpern’s School of Guitar on Walnut Street. I remember being very desperate for a job when I finally went into Esther’s. It was right across the street from where I lived. After I went in I realized I was dressed wrong. I had a very mini skit and leather jacket on. I tried to cover my skirt but Esther just looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I saw your skirt it’s nice”. I told her I needed a job and she told me she just hired someone. I told her, “I really need a job and I am better than anybody else you can hire”. She thought I had hutzspa so she hired me.

PCMWasn’t Esther the woman who ran the Gilded Cage with her husband? Did you ever play there? (The Gilded Cage was the first coffee house in Philadelphia Opening in 1956 and closing in 1969)

Linda: She wasI didn’t play there as a regular gig but I played at the round robins.

PCMWho were some of the other teachers at Esther’s ?

Linda: Let’s see, Jerry Ricks whom I’m still friends with and John Oates.

PCMWow, John Oates! Can you verify any rumors that have circulated in rock & roll history that could possibly bring many hits to my little ol’ web site?

Linda: (Laughing) I know which one you are talking about. I saw no evidence of that. But in terms of the rock & roll history, I do remember a time when he was so broke Esther had the staff chip in enough money so at Christmas we bought him a giant salami. I mean it was really huge so he would have something to eat for awhile.

PCM: What kind of guitars do you use?

Linda: Well I have my Menkovich that I absolutely love and my Lo Prinzi. Since I am performing with an electric harpsichord I need to have pick up not just mic’d so I use a cut away Alvarez with pick up .

PCM: What were the clubs you played in?

Linda: 2nd Fret, Main Point of course. There was place that didn’t last long called Folk, there was The 2nd of Autumn; there weren’t that many clubs then, I guess I played them all.

PCM: Did you ever come across Joni Mitchell at the 2nd Fret or Main Point?

Linda: Oh, Many Times.

PCM: What was she like?

Linda: She was an extreme talent. I do think she played the on the “I’m so frail act”. But sure! If you’re that good, so what! She was a very talented, look what she’s done.

PCM: I’m pretty sure you were the last act to play at the original Main Point. I remember seeing your show that night and looking at the schedule and seeing no acts after your show and the following Saturday it just said closed. I asked the lady who ran it and she said, “We’re closing”.

Linda: Yeah, I shut down a lot of places (Laughs). Remember Stars?

PCM: Who were some of the people you were billed with?

Linda: Well, Procal Harem, Buffy Saint Marie, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dave Van Ronk, John Fahey, there’s so many people I can’t think of them all.

PCM: When the clubs starting closing in Philadelphia in the late 70’s, where you worried about the arts in Philadelphia?

Linda:  I was worried about it but not in a benevolent way for the arts (laughs). I was worried about making a living.

PCMWhere do you place your music?

Linda: No category it’s an amalgam of the good music I learned to play plus what I add to it.

PCMIf you play instrumental music and don’t play straight out classical , jazz, blues or whatever, you’re called new age.

Linda: In a popular mind yeah.

PCM: How do you respond when people call your music new age?

Linda: Watch out for the vomit! I might ruin your microphone. Well, what was New Age was form-less, morpheus noodling. It was noodle soup. It was messing around with no particular thematic matter so it created a spacey mood without any content. They don’t say that much anymore. What they use to call New Age they call it World now.

PCM: You don’t think what they call World Music is World?

Linda: It’s as close as you get. I think it’s a lot of things thrown in and New Age is one of them.

PCM: I listen to World Music, I never thought of it as the new New Age.

Linda: Yeah but all the instruments you play, you have something from china….. You are playing World Music.

PCM: I have to change the title on the World page of my site. I don’t want anyone to get a New Age impression.

PCM: Do you think there are a lot of outlets for us (classical musicians) in Philadelphia?

Linda: It’s tough. There are a lot of places for up and coming rock bands for sure.

PCM: Do you get a sense of there being an artistic community in Philly?

Linda: Yeah. Maybe not the way it use to be it’s more fragmented now. It use to be that everybody knew everybody else.

PCM: That’s what I meant by artistic community.

Linda: Its more fragmented, like the way radio stations have gone. Now stations play this tiny segment of music and this station plays that tiny segment. It use to be with progressive radio you would hear some jazz some classical some of everything but now with play lists it’s much harder. I use to be played on WMMR all the time. Imagine that, a classical guitarist playing original music on the radio all the time. You never get that now.

PCMDo you listen to a lot of music?

Linda: It might sound weird but I don’t. It messes up the sound track I have going on in my head.

PCM: Speaking of that, do you have favorite piece that you wrote?

Linda: I wouldn’t say favorite, but the one I identify the most with I would say is Wisteria. It’s definitely the most romantic.

PCM: My favorites are Oh Susanna and Tommy Troller.

Linda: I was very proud of Oh Susanna when I write that one. Tommy Troller I am playing at this concert.

PCM: Well speaking of this concert you will be at the Tin Angel with Michael Kac, supporting the CD, Naked Under the Moon on August 17th.

Linda: Yes. We have been friends for a very long time and always played together. We finally decided after so many years to record together and that is the cd, Naked Under the Moon. It was produced by Craig Anderton and it was a great experience.

PCMDo you get nervous before you perform and regret every decision you’ve make in your life that has put in that moment.

Linda: Absolutely! I want the stage to open up and swallow me to the bosom of the Earth but once I start playing that changes.