Dave Van Ronk, Ukulele Player


He was a Greenwich Villager before “The Village” became a tourist destination, and a folksinger before the “Folk Revival” took the “folk” out of the music and replaced it with a lot of cash.  He was already a well-known performer when he befriended a young Bobby Zimmerman (Dylan), just arrived in The Village from Hibbing, Minnesota. And he was the inspiration for the recent Coen Brothers movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

The late Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) loved jazz, classical and folk music, but it was with folk that he realized his greatest successes (even when “success” meant that the coffeehouse owner let you sleep overnight on a couch in the kitchen, rather than having to search around for a friend’s apartment floor).

And it all started with Van Ronk’s first instrument, the ukulele.  As he describes in his autobiography (“The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” with Elijah Wald, Da Capo Press 2005), he first picked one up in the late 1940s, inspired by Arthur Godfrey.  The first song he learned was “Cool Water,”  the Sons of the Pioneers’ 1948 hit.  And when he bought his first guitar, he took the low E and A strings off so that he could learn with just four strings, waiting until his technique improved before first putting the A string back on, then the low E.