Stephen Cohen

The Newport Folk Festival converted endless hordes to the religion of folk music. Not least among those was Stephen Cohen, who spent a lifetime writing songs and living thoughtfully. A native Rhode Islander, he had better access than most to the annual festival, and he drank in every ounce of bent Americana that George Wein and Albert Grossman thought fit for the program. The acoustic guitar had become the rank and file’s instrument, unrivaled at the time to play and compose with. And although Cohen had basic music training for the trombone, his approach to guitar was idiosyncratic from the beginning, though he sought no formal education for it. His natural inclination was fingerstyle, and because there was no one to lead him in any other direction, he went toward it.

On Cohen’s 1979 debut The Tree People, he played a Gibson B25, acquired years earlier and strapped to his back as he rambled about the country for the lion’s share of the 1970s. The B25 featured one crucial alteration: its factory-standard metal bridge had been expertly replaced with a permanent wooden one. After settling in Eugene, Oregon, Cohen formed an acoustic ensemble also known as The Tree People that focused on instrumental composition and improvisation. They borrowed heavily from the concepts of both American Primitives and British Traditionalists on their two self-produced albums, but “No More School” is clearly an ode to the former, a flurry of fingers and thumb picking and strumming all over the drop D tuning. Issued in a one-time pressing of 1000 copies, the album pierced more than a few ears, allowing the group to become something of a go-to opener for Fahey and Pentangle whenever they rambled through Oregon.

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