Steve DeNaut

Steve DeNaut played bass and guitar and was rooted in the Greenwich Village folk scene. First solo, and after that along with Buzzy Linhart (guitar, vibes) –another one of Fred’s partners-, he played in different Village cafés during the famous hoot nights in the first half of the sixties. Steve and Buzzy formed The Seventh Sons, with James Rock (bass), Serge Katzen (drums and percussion) and Frank Evantoff (flute), a band which backed Fred Neil in 1965 and 1966 in the Nite Owl Café and in other venues, when Fred was just leaving Elektra Records and definitively moved away from New York City.

The Seventh Sons recorded the album Raga (ESP 1968) in 1964, reissued recently as 4am At Frank’s (Get Back –Italy- 2000), creating a fresh style of acoustic, flowing and spontaneous music, which by their ways, was practiced by musicians like Richie Havens, David Crosby or Fred Neil himself. Although the performances were really exciting, and got a cult following,The Seventh Sons split up circa 1969.

Steve stopped playing professionally after the sixties and became the Associate Editor of the 16 Magazine. Since then he’s been an actor in California, working for South Coast Repertory Theatre and teaching acting to kids in Young Conservatory. He still plays the guitar and bass but only for his own amusement.

-What made you leave wherever you lived, whatever you were doing for arriving in Greenwich Village?

I was living in California and went to Hollywood High. I traveled to Europe when I was 19 and on the way back–fell in love with New York City. I hung out in the Village because that was where all the good looking girls were and that was where everything was “happening”. I hung out in the Coffee Houses and learned to play a few folk songs on the guitar

-In which concrete circle of musicians and singer-songwrites were you moving?

I hung around with John Sebastian, Dino Valenti, Tim Hardin, Buzzy Linhart, Fred Neil, Karen Dalton, Richie Tucker, Richie Havens, Bob Gibson Bob (Hamilton) Camp and Phil Ochs. They were all working in the coffee houses then–and passing a hat after each set. We didn’t make much money, but we had a lot of fun.

You could find Richie Havens, Dino Valenti, Tim Hardin, John Sebastian and even Bobby Dylan singing in the coffee-shops. They were all over MacDougal Street and Bleeker. I used to play in the window of the Playhouse Cafe—and people on the street could see me. We hired girls to “pass the hat” for us–and gave them 10 percent of whatever they collected.

-Did you feel that there were two kind of folk movements in that scene? A traditional-political-lyrical oriented group (Dylan, Ochs, etc.) and another wing, more musical-jazz oriented (Neil, Hardin, Havens).

There were two kinds of folk singers, but at first Dylan was just a singer of traditional folksongs. It wasn’t till later that he started getting political. Most of us just sang traditional folksongs at the time at coffee houses called The Night Owl, Cafe Wha, Fat Black Pussy Cat, The Third Side, The Playhouse Cafe, The Cafe Rafio, and many more. It wasn’t till later that the folk-songs began to get more political. The closest to political Fred Neil ever got was “Dolphins” which was one of his pet projects. He swam with them–and still is active in protecting them.

-Which other cats did you like or follow?

I just remembered a few other people that played in the Village during those days -that were very hot at the time, but didn’t really make the big time. There were “Bunky and Jake”, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, The Holy Modal Rounders, Jim and Jean, Lydia Wood, Jody Graber (Comedian), “Big Brown” (a poet that “invented” rap), Shawn Philips, Dave Van Ronk, Hugh Romney (he was a comedian, he’s “Wavy Gravy” now, Tiny Tim. All of these people played in the coffee houses and passed the basket at one time or another.

My favorite performer (besides Freddy) at the time was Dino Valente. He was really great on the 12 string.

-Was the origin of the raga “way of playing” a kind of getting away from the traditional musical patterns?

The Seventh Sons started playing what we called “raga rock” when we first got together. Serge, the drummer, played a tabla and Buzzy played an open-tuned guitar. Sometimes our ragas (“Sing Joy” was one) went on for almost a half hour, depending on how we felt. We didn’t play it to get away from traditional musical patterns, because we played it bluesy sometimes and usually it had a tune.

-When did you meet Fred and how did you decide to play together?

I worked with Buzzy Linhart when he first came to the village. We worked at a place called “The Couch” and it was Buzzy on guitar, me on bass, Serge Katzen on drums and some guy on sax. (I can’t remember his name.) We only knew a few songs, so we played them over and over. Eventually Buzz, Serge and I became the Buzz Linhart Trio.

When Fred Neil came to town, as he did every so often, it was a big deal. All of the folksingers wanted to see him. He asked me to play bass for him, and I was really excited. Peter Tork, before he was a Monkee, had always played bass for him before. Peter wasn’t too happy about me taking his place, so he left New York and went to California. It was there that he became a Monkee.

I met Fred at the Gaslight Cafe. I’d heard about him for years, and we hit it off. When the Buzz Linhart Trio (later the Seventh Sons) played with him, we always did his tunes. We didn’t do our own. He was the leader, and we followed his lead. We expiramented with Raga style, with Fred on the 12-string, and had a ball with it. We used to just have jam-sessions up in Serge’s (our drummer) loft.

-Everybody has commented that the concerts of Fred with The Seventh Sons were incredible. Why didn’t you record any albums? Why didn’t you keep playing?

After a few times at the Night Owl, we became Freddy Neil and the Buzz Linhart Trio. Then the Buzz Linhart Trio became the Seventh Sons. We started playing “Raga Rock” and were quite popular in the Village for a while. We played the Cafe Au Go Go with Jesse Collin Young and the Youngbloods, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and lots of others.

Fred was great to play with. We didn’t record because we didn’t play together that long. He was always going back to Florida. He’d come up, play a few gigs, and then disappear again.

-Did some member of the Seventh Sons play on the last song of Fred Neil’s eponymous album: “CynicrustpetefredjohnRaga”? Was the style used in it the same you played with Fred live?

To my knowledge there were no Seventh Sons on”CynicrustpeteftedjohnRaga” and the style was kind of close to the style we played.

-In Ben Edmonds’ article for Mojo magazine, he quoted that Fred sometimes stayed in your apartment. Was he so difficult in treating as somebody’s said?

Freddy used to hang out at my apartment on 11th Street. He and I got along great. He used to like to hide out from all the young folksingers who sucked up to him. Sometimes he’d hang out there for days and nobody knew where he was. We did a lot of speed in those days, and smoked massive quantities of hash. Dino Valente, and many others, took LSD almost every day.

-Why do you think the whole “scene” began to disintegrate in the mid-sixties?

The Village scene began to die when almost everyone made the big time. There didn’t seem to be many people that took the places of the people that became stars. Buffy St.Marie, Spanky and Our Gang, The Mamas and the Papas, Bob Dylan, Richard Pryor, even Bill Cosby all worked the village. When they made it, there weren’t many people around who could fill their shoes. Drugs came in, and the whole scene fell apart.

Toni Ruiz