Roy Book Binder learned blues guitar at the foot of the Rev. Gary Davis. He ran in Greenwich Village circles with the likes of Dave Van Ronk, and he learned songs from one of his heroes Pink Anderson. But to Book Binder, there’s only one thing that matters when he takes the stage: entertainment.
“I’ve always considered myself more an entertainer than a bluesman,” Book Binder said in a telephone interview this week. He’ll perform at “The Faces and Voice of the Blues . . . Too” on Saturday, June 22 at the Tripp House in Scranton. “I don’t really consider myself the world’s greatest guitar player. There are better singers, there are funnier, people. But it’s entertainment. It’s all entertainment.”
Book Binder, who grew up in New York City, got turned onto guitar by a friend while he was in the Navy. Then he learned from Davis, a musician who influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Towne van Zandt.
“Well, he was available, No. 1,” Book Binder said of his lessons with Davis. “I got out of the service; I was in the city and was with Dave Von Ronk, and Gary was the source. In the ’60s he had a successful career after Peter Paul and Mary did one of his songs, but he was playing on the street before that. It was $5 a lesson at his house in Long Island. I didn’t know what to expect at the time. I gave up my G.I. Bill and education and went on the road with him and became a folk singer.”
Book Binder, who turns 70 this year, has been on the road, more or less, ever since those heady days of the New York City folk boom.
“I grew up in a middle class situation. Big family, etc., etc., but I wanted something different,” shared the guitarist and singer, who for the past 15 years has lived in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Growing up in New York, I saw the bridges as a way out of the beat writers kind of put you in that mindset. And I’ve been ramblin’ ever since. Six-month jaunts, and in the winter I go home and prune my trees.”
On Saturday, Book Binder will perform at 8 p.m. But before that, he’ll conduct a free guitar workshop from 2 to 4 p.m.
Asked what he has planned for the workshop, Book Binder said, “I got absolutely no idea.”
“I’m not a jammer. I don’t sit and play with other people. I can show guitar players a few tricks to jazz up their tunes. I’ll listen to them, and they’ll listen to me. I was drawn to cold country blues music because it was a solo venture.”
That said, Book Binder’s upcoming album, which is set for a July 1 release date, features other players. He calls is “the most important album of my life.”
“This recd could really do something,” he enthused. “I never thought I’d be able to make this record. If nothing happens career-wise, when I listen to this record, I’m so pleased with myself. That’s enough. So I’m a happy man.”
As for what’s in store for Saturday’s concert?
“It’s historical, educational and funny. And sad. It covers the bases. It’s a true American art form. . . . The greatest satisfaction is being on the stage with the lights on. It’s the greatest gift.”