Quick Q and A with David Roth

David Roth says that he’s a lucky man and I’d have to agree.  He is touring singer-songwriter who opens his heart on and off stage and brings music fans into community with him and each other. Who wouldn’t want to do that as a career? Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary) says this of David Roth:  “David has reached our hearts. With voices like his still singing, there’s a certainty that the candle will remain lit, the hope reasserted and the dream still sung…” If your spirit needs a lift, just listen to some David Roth songs and everything will be all right.

To find out more about David Roth, check out his website.

Here’s an inspiring song, “Women Planting Trees.”

Tell us about your path to becoming a musician. Did you grow up as a musical kid or did you discover that you wanted to make music later on in your life?

I grew up in a show business family – my mom was a professional big band singer in our hometown of Chicago, and my dad the Maitre’ D at the biggest show club in Chicago called the Chez Paree.  Since they both often worked nights, my sister and I found ourselves hanging around night clubs at an early age.  I was an extremely shy kid and picked up the guitar when I was a senior in high school as an attempt to overcome that shyness, on the coat tails of my best friend who was a very gregarious and popular person AND who played the guitar.

Was this career choice a given or did you pause and ponder about whether you wanted to go down that scary road of “the arts”?

Not a career choice at all, but rather what I ALWAYS came back to when I tried all the other things my parents, particularly my father, would have preferred I do – basically anything BUT folk music.  He was a Russian Jewish immigrant and had the vision that his only son become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, cantor (I sing about all of this!), etc.  To his dying days he offered me a free ride to the law school of my choice.

Did you have any musical heroes growing up — both in terms of songwriting and performance?

Enjoyed the popular singers of the day that I was exposed to at an early age – Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, and the more cabaret-like performers that included Danny Kaye, Sophie Tucker, Durante, the Rat Pack…but my ears became GLUED to the stereo speakers when I heard my older sister’s Peter, Paul and Mary albums, Allen Sherman parodies (loved those) and later on (by my own choosing) Gordon Lightfoot, Dan Fogelberg, and the late great Steve Goodman.  Goodman is the artist at the top of my list to this day, someone I call a “4” – he was a great writer, singer, guitar player, and performer all wrapped up into one.  It’s rare to find “4’s” in my view.

You are always so warm and natural on stage.  Was it always that way or can you give aspiring musicians some hope if you reveal that you have practiced on and off the stage to craft your shows like you do?

Oh my goodness.  I went to the open mics in Greenwich Village for YEARS in the 1980’s, taking my numbers (and lumps!) with the likes of Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Jack Hardy, Rod MacDonald, David Massengill, Cliff Eberhardt, John Gorka, Christine Lavin, and many more.  It’s a learning curve to this day.  Nothing will help you get better at it than to do it.  Just like exercise.  I’ve also found it really helpful to have a bit of alone quiet time just before going onstage AND a rough roadmap of the songs I’d like to do on any given night for a given audience…this is almost always subject to change on the spur of the moment based on what’s happening in the room.  In my 28 years of doing this full time, I can count on ONE hand the times I’ve stuck to a set list that I prepared beforehand.  Always be willing to change things up.

How did you get involved with writing songs for the Goddard Space Center? How cool is it that your song has been sent into outer space?

I got a phone call one autumn from a gal at NASA who was a fan of mine and who also coordinated their “Exploring Leadership Colloquium” where she got to invite people from all walks of life to come and speak about their work in this world to the NASA rocket science community.  Prior to my invitation she’d had a Tour de France Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, Senators, Cabinet Members, Supreme Court Justice, and now me.  My presentation in October of 2007 coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Russians launching Sputnik, so I wrote a song about the history of the space program for my talk, and the tune was carried into the heavens on the Space Shuttle Atlantis in May of 2009 on a mission to repair the Hubble Telescope.  Longest world tour ever.  I’m putting in the paperwork for the frequent flyer miles.

You’ve given a lot of yourself to teaching.  What are some of the key elements that you discuss with your students?

Big question!  I believe that exploring being an artist involves some serious self-interview.  What’s your agenda?  Why do you want to do this?  What can you bring of your authentic self to the world?  What are the turning points in your life?  Whether in a songwriting, performance, or singing class, this is where we begin, tuning in to our motives and inspiration and letting the art be an extension of that expression.

Your songs are included in the legendary books, Rise Up Singing and now Rise Again.  That must be mighty fulfilling — knowing that your songs are included with so many of the world’s most beloved songs!

Absolutely an honor.  Having cuts on the new Kingston Trio CD and the final Peter, Paul, and Mary CD feel like Grammys to me too.  Pinch me!

Tell us a little bit about your work with the Full Moon Open Mic on Cape Cod.  How long has that project been going on and what makes that work important to you?

We had our tenth anniversary this past December (I’m taking a little break now) of something that started out as a whim here at home on the Cape – I wanted to network with local musicians AND create an affordable night out (something rare on Cape Cod) for friends and neighbors way back in December of 2005.  No cover charge.  Free.  So many people showed up on that first night that I hastily put out a free-will donation bucket for Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod.  At the end of the night we had over two hundred bucks in there, so I decided to keep going, putting the bucket out every time for a different non-profit (there’s no shortage) each time, and we hit $13,000 on the nose on our anniversary, including a $10 check from my mom Gloria out in LA who’s 90 years old and living on social security.  She sent a check every time.  What’s important to me about this?  Everything.  Music.  Community-building.  Fun.  Supporting local businesses.  Providing a forum.  Networking.  Collaboration.  Good will.  On and on.

How did you happen to start taking music fans on tour in Ireland?  What is it about Ireland that draws you there?

My friend Tom Kimmel (and many other peers) had been doing these tours and a couple years ago Tom suggested I call the fellow who is now overseeing the company ~ Johnsmith, the wonderful songwriter from Wisconsin.  These 9-day tours are magical and so well put together by Inishfree Tours in Ireland- by day we see the sights in each of three counties that we visit, and every night we’re in the pubs participating in the vibrant and robust music scene that IS Ireland.  We hear some the finest musicians in the world.  We sing, we play, we socialize, we gather for the love of the music.  The whole country is an open mike, where anyone can stand up just about any time and sing a song.  I took my first group of 25 in 2014, took two groups last year, another coming up in August, and at least one, maybe two next year.  It’s not only great great fun, but meaningful.  Music is in the fabric and soul of this country.

What is coming up in the near and far future for you?

I’m going over to Germany at the end of the year (or early next year) to make my 4th recording for Stockfisch Records.   My first came out in 2003 and the folks over there are world class as people, music lovers, musicians, arrangers, and recording gurus.  Also in the planning stages for a duo recording with long-time friend Reggie Harris (this is LONG overdue, as we’ve been friends since the early 1980’s).  I’m also joining the staff for the first time at Traditional Song Week at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina, joining Robin & Linda Williams and Tim O’Brien among others, and this is the 25th anniversary of this great music camp.  I’ll also be at SummerSongs songwriting camp for the 18th consecutive summer in upstate New York, the Moab Folk Camp in Utah (run by Cosy Sheridan) and preparing for year #4 of the Cape Cod Songwriters Retreat in January and March of 2017, where I’ll be joined by Brooks Williams, Sloan Wainwright, and Cosy in January and Sloan, Tom Kimmel, and Kate Campbell in March.  We convene at the Lands End Inn in Provincetown – a 5-star Bed and Breakfast – and make music and build community for three days each time…magical setting, the most beautiful people in the world.  I’m a lucky man.


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