By Lucky Clark
Back in 1960, Noel Paul Stookey — of Peter, Paul & Mary fame — offered to produce an album by a young man who didn’t really feel ready to commit to a music career. Fortunately, that young gentleman decided, in 1965, to take up Stookey on his earlier offer, and Gordon Bok became one of the most authentic and beloved singer/songwriters around. Since then, Bok has recorded many more albums as a professional musician and performed all over, bringing the spirit of Maine to folks around the world. The January Men and Then Some members are Bok, Charlie Crane, Bill Huntington, Jamie Huntsberger, Bob Richardson, Carol Rohl and Ivan Stancioff.
On Sunday, March 12, he’ll be at Longfellow’s Greenhouse in Manchester doing a show with the January Men and Then Some to benefit the Kennebec Land Trust’s 2017 Mt. Pisgah Campaign. To that end, a phone interview was arranged to his office in Camden.
Q: I understand the concert you have coming up in Manchester is a fundraiser.
Bok: Yes, for the Kennebec Land Trust.
Q: Have you worked with them before helping to raise money?
Bok: No, I haven’t. It was their idea, and I thought it sounded like it was worth going along with.
Q: Well, with the way things are going nowadays, we’ve got to take care of what we’ve got.
Bok: That’s true.
Q: Now, please pardon my ignorance, but I’m not familiar with The January Men and Then Some.
Q: How did that group come to be? I’d really like to know.
Bok: Oh, 20 years ago I just decided I’d like to explore some traditional songs that a group could do — and maybe some working songs and various likes of music with a smaller group than the Quasimodal Chorus that I’ve worked with for 30 years or more. We’ve had quite a lot of fun over the years, we meet once a week most of the year. At first we had quite a bit of turnover but we settled down to a small, very devoted group: there’s seven of us, and the Then Some came along when we were running very low on tenors so a couple of women joined us — my wife is one — and we’ve had two or three of them since then. My wife is the only Then Some now.
Q: So that group is more traditional as opposed to original compositions?
Bok: No, we’re doing quite a few original compositions. There’s other composers in the group: We’re doing a song by Ivan Stancioff, two or three of mine, and some by Bob Richardson, he’s one of our basses. We’re also doing some traditional songs and some songs by friends of mine over in the UK and Australia, too.
Q: Well, I’ll be darned. Now I noticed also that the concert will be held at the Longfellow’s Greenhouse.
Bok: Yeah, that should be interesting!
Q: To be honest, I can’t think of a better location for a late-winter concert than a greenhouse — that conjures up images of spring.
Bok: Yeah, and it’s in the afternoon. It sounded like something fun and different. And I’ll do most of the first half of the concert, and The January Men and Then Some can join me later on.
Q: That first set, then, will be just you and a guitar?
Q: So a solo set in the truest sense of the word.
Q: Now, have The January Men done an recording or is it just live performances?
Bok: Yeah, they have done various things on about five of my albums and most of them are in the Quasimodal Chorus, all but two.
Q: Do you do much work with the Quasimodal group?
Bok: Oh, yeah, we meet every week except in the summer, and last night (Jan. 24) the weather was pretty sloppy here. It never quite froze down here, but I bet where the Quasis meet, up at my brother’s farm — it’s a higher elevation — I bet it was pretty greasy. They plowed the driveway and sanded it. But then the rain was washing the sand away and it was right around freezing, so we called it off.
Q: Do you do many benefit concerts?
Bok: I think that’s mostly what I’ll be doing these days. You see, I stopped touring last year, so I’m just taking things that sound like fun or concerts that I have done before — very easy for me, no-hassle things — more local things that I usually do in places where I don’t have to travel too far. I will be doing something on the Cape and in Connecticut this spring, just a couple of things — small concerts.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Bok: Well, let’s see. I released an album a couple of years ago called “Then & Now” which contains some of the songs from the very first album I recorded 50 years before that. I’ve been doing this at least 60 years. I figured that was a good enough shot to allow me to stay at home more.
Q: Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you think we should?
Bok: No, just that I’m looking forward to revisiting some of these songs. That’s what I miss about not touring is keeping a huge body of songs fed and groomed and exercised. (laughter) It’s like having a herd of horses all of which you know very well, but you’ve got to work all the time just to keep them healthy.
Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.