This is an interview Jesse did with Billy Hutchinson of
Blues Matters -"The most read Blues magazine in the UK" -
Issue 23 - DEC-JAN 2005. The photo at the end appeared
on the title page of the six-page article and is suitable for printing.
Jesse Cahn - A man with almost a heritage his own
Cahn is the son of past BM interviewee Barbara Dane,
and as you will find out a rather interesting Father he had too.
up Barbara Dane's request to contact her son as I'm sure there is
still a great deal more to know about this
rich musical family.
BM: After having interviewed your mother, I would briefly like to
find out a little about
your dad, Rolf Cahn. What can you tell me
about your Dad teaching guitar to Bob Dylan?
JC: Rolf was introduced, in the late 1940s - by my mom, I think -
'folk music'. By the mid-fifties he was obsessed with it and
also had taken on Flamenco guitar. So, by the
late 50s he was a
very accomplished guitarist and had already been teaching for
quite awhile. He was rather innovative
in his teaching methods,
using the reel-to-reel tape machines available at the time. I
have some of his lesson tapes
dating back to the early 1960s that
I have been able to gather via the Internet. His students have
sent me wonderful
letters along with the tapes commenting on how
they treasure his instruction and how they have benefited for
from his tapes. (I use a similar system today).
So what I am getting at here is that he had really established
in the coffeehouse folk music scene by the time Bob Dylan
was coming up in Minneapolis and so when Rolf passed through
on a road trip - playing his way across the country - it
was somewhat of an event on the local scene and he naturally came
contact with Bob. He must have recognized the talent and drive
that Bob had at the time - Dylan was only like around 18
or 19, I
think, and Rolf was in his mid 30s. Bob attended a workshop that
Rolf was doing and as he left he made it known
that he saw
wonderful potential in the young Bob Dylan. According to his
biographer, this encounter was very inspirational
and a great
confidence boost to Dylan at a crucial time in his early
development as an artist. He also had the opportunity
guitar to Joan Baez, Jim Kweskin and others during the late 50s
and early 1960s when that whole generation
was getting started.
BM: Is your father's lack of recognition in music books due to
lack of original recorded work?
JC: I think so - and the reason for that lack of recordings was
he more or less 'dropped out' in the mid 1960s and moved to
New Mexico to raise his 2nd family. He did quite a bit of
recording though, in the latter years of his life
covering a wealth of original material. His self produced albums
Love', 'Midnight Sun' and 'Fall Rain' along with a host
of other more informal recordings are available at his website
is linked to mine.
BM: He certainly comes over as
a man that truly lived, as he is
quoted as being a folk guru, martial arts & guitar teacher,
author, social activist
and one-time WW II Special Forces agent.
JC: Here is a little anecdote
about his early life that explains
his lifelong relationship with the Blues and also the Martial
Arts. My dad's first
exposure to the Blues was through a black
man that was working as a mechanic at my grandfather's gas
station in Detroit.
He was just a skinny little Jewish kid from
Dusseldorf who didn't speak much English and was getting beat up
at school. So the man took pity on the boy and one day,
took him over to the boxing gym where he worked out and showed
some moves. Rolf was awestruck by the whole ambience of the
place - you can imagine - all these jabbing, sweating
men and solid, driving Blues on the radio in the
background. Forever after - to him - The Blues was more than
- it was a calling - full of irony, redemption and
survival. He went on to become a pro boxer and fought under the
'Kid Cahn' out of Detroit for a couple of years before he
was drafted. Later he dubbed an amazing collection of
tapes off friend's 33s and 78s covering every
imaginable music form. When I was a little kid and he had gone
to explore the Gypsy Blues in Flamenco - he would still begin
every Sunday morning with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and The Golden
Quartet blasting through whatever little pad in the black
neighbourhood he always found to live in - he felt safer there.
he lived life to the fullest right up to - and through - the
end. His passing was one of the most profound things I have
witnessed. He was teaching and performing up until a couple of
weeks before he died. He is buried in a little graveyard
Valle, New Mexico.
BM: The talented ragtime finger-picker,
and painter Eric Von
Schmidt, crops up in your dad's life I believe.
JC: They recorded an album together
in 1961 for Folkways Records
called 'Eric Von Schmidt and Rolf Cahn' and also Rolf is quoted
and written about in Eric's
book 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' -
a book about the Cambridge music scene. Pop also recorded an
album called 'California
Concert with Rolf Cahn' in 1959 for
Folkways and both are available from the Smithsonian Institution
BM: Having Odetta baby-sitting
your kid is a great way of giving
him a head start in the CV stakes.
JC: I have fond memories of running
into Odetta in the Village in
the 60s and getting a big hug every time! She's great. Another
early experience - and
one probably best forgotten is when I had
an accident at age two during a gathering of Folksingers at
Waking up from a nap - I mistook the hole of a
fine Martin guitar for - well, you know - think sleepy
I met the guitar's owner - legendary folk
instrumentalist Billy Faier - some 30 years later and, needless
to say, apologized
profusely while the 'victim' good-naturedly
did not laugh...
BM: Another event that is really
folk/blues history is the
comment on your website of Jesse Fuller turning up at your house
with a prototype of his one-man
JC: Yes. Thank you for that excellent
segue. We were so lucky to
know that man. He was really something. He was such a, sweet,
creative human being. He was
quite an inventor and tinkered all
the time. When he had built the first footdella he just brought
it by our house in
Berkeley and set it up in the living room and
played it for us. The original laid out flat like a small grand
It didn't fit well on stage and so he re-designed it into
the stand-up bass contraption that you can see in pictures of
He is still one of my favourite 'songsters' and I will
always treasure the little bits of wisdom he imparted to me as I
BM: Was a career in music a forgone
JC: I think so. Everything I have
done to avoid it has been to no
BM: What did your brothers Michael
& Andrew do career-wise?
JC: You're speaking of my brothers
Michael and Andrew, my dad's
"2nd family" sons. They both play a little guitar. Michael is a
ski instructor and lives
in a cosy little house he built himself
in Taos, New Mexico. Andrew is a Chinese Medicine Doctor and is
a partner in a homeopathic practice
in Ashville, North Carolina.
BM: You play other types of American
indigenous music, but what
was it that made you want to play the Blues?
JC: Well... The Blues is kind
of a religion when you look at it a
certain way. It is a conversation with circumstance. A cathartic
and healing force
of nature. So it is like I except and enjoy
other means of expression and I love doing all kinds of music -
when I go home, I go home to the Blues. It never fails.
BM: To add to that, musically
what's Jesse Cahn drawing on?
JC: Right now I am listening to
Howlin' Wolf. This morning it was
Bob Dylan and Mozart. I think I will listen to a little Charlie
Mingus later tonight
or in the morning. I am just really
auditory and eclectic as hell... I draw on everything around
me the birds
and the bees, the rhythm of life - everything.
Mostly I listen to my heart and I remember that inside everyone
is a beating heart and a soul and I try to reach that level
of communication every time I play and sing. Right now I am
of a classical groupie. It's a good thing that Haydn, Mozart and
Beethoven are not around anymore or I would
be like a Deadhead
following them around everywhere they played with like this
really funky cello under my arm...
BM: You are a multi-instrumentalist;
did you set out to become a
one-man band, to get a broader musical education, or simply to
try something new?
JC: I just wanna do it all! I
think I got that from my mother.
Right now my passion is the Ukulele.
And yes - seriously - at a certain level every
instrument is an
education. It forces you to look at things from another
perspective. Like inversions or transposing
on steroids... I'm
playing drums in one of my students' Blues bands right now
amongst other adventures. I haven't done
that since I played
drums with the Chambers Brothers in the 1960s! I'm also directing
the band - so it is a whole
different perspective than my usual
place at the 'front'. Just great!
BM: You reside in Oklahoma, a
state I believe that has seen more
wind than change; but how does it fare as a Blues region?
JC: Fairly rich actually. I am
getting ready right now (Middle
October, 2003) to go on a tour of the Mississippi Delta region -
which is only 8 or
10 hours drive away - with 68 year old singer
Miss Blues from OKC. She is a good friend and she and I have been
an educational presentation of hers called 'Reminiscence of
the Blues' in schools, museums and libraries around the region.
play examples of the different styles that she teaches about.
South-western, South-eastern and Delta and she and I
sing. There is a fairly strong Blues Society here in OKC and
another in Tulsa, also there is a thriving
club scene and plenty
of quality studios. Oklahoma is really an undiscovered mother
load of talent in almost all genres.
BM: If pressed to label yourself
in an attempt to reveal yourself
to our readers; in a sentence or two what would you say sums up
Jesse Cahn, man and
JC: Wow! Hmmmm....A Man about
town.A Willing member of a
creative community - worldwide
and without borders. A good Friend,
I hope. Musically I aim for the
most honest expression in the moment.
I heard Pete Seeger the other
day on PBS quoting Yip Harburg.
Something like, "Words are a way of expressing a thought. Music
is a way of feeling
an emotion. Songs are a way of feeling a
thought." I think he got it about right.
Interview: Billy Hutchinson
|(High-density photo suitable for printing.)
|Blues Matters Interview Photo by Holly Roach