As a part of the sixth annual Porch Stomp season, we're working with Beehive Productions, NYC Ferry and Blue Point Brewery to bring you a series of videos featuring artists spanning the gamut of NYC folk scene (and then some). Check out our blog every month for new videos and interviews with artists, and be sure to follow us on instagram: @porchstomp and Facebook: Porch Stomp
It’s hard to place value on a name, but if there ever was a man who struck gold, it would have to be Larry Legend. I first met Larry when I began my journey into the development of Porch Stomp, when Aaron Friedman, previous president and founder of Make Music New York (and current Executive Director of the Make Music Alliance) offered his contact as an auspicious connection into the bluegrass community. It was through Larry that I met Michael Daves, and learning about Daves' emphasis on building the NYC bluegrass scene through his regular classes and jams shed a lot of light upon the value of New York's vibrant local music scene. Thus, Larry has been essential to the formation of Porch Stomp as we know it today.
Since 2014, I’ve come to know Larry as one of the most likable and dependable guys on the folk scene, watching him transform from nubile student to one of the most on-call bassists in the bluegrass scene. His impeccable sense of time, rich knowledge of the fundamentals of music making, and deep insight into the canon of American music have led him to usher in many New York bluegrass staple sessions, including his regular performances with the Bluegrass Book Club as well as his showcase/jam series Sad Song Happy Hour (which has hosted not only local but international talent of the bluegrass, old-time and, wait for it… even experimental jazz communities). When not performing, he has produced numerous albums riddled with original songs, each finding a new way to spin the bluegrass songwriting tradition into contemporary and often far fetched, off kilter scenarios.
Larry performs a vital role in our local music scene. As a community organizer, respected performer and confidant to many, he serves as the backbone for a myriad of musical and personal collaborations that wouldn’t persevere otherwise.
Check out Larry Legend performing "When the Zombies Come" live on Governors Island as a part of our sixth annual festival this past June. Continue reading for a Q&A and be sure to find his music online at the link below.
How did you first get involved with Porch Stomp and what is your favorite Porch Stomp memory?
I was in touch with Nick when Porch Stomp started in 2014, but I was tied up with other Make Music New York events that same day and couldn’t participate. Starting in 2015, each year I’ve been fortunate to play bass in a few different groups, and have hosted a bluegrass jam and Sad Song Happy Hour stage for the past couple of years.
My favorite memory goes back to 2017, when it rained cats and dogs for at least half of the day. Many people (including me and my bass) got completely soaked, but it had the effect of bringing people together—often literally, huddled under umbrella and awnings—and it ended up to be a very fun and unforgettable day of music.
What are the elements that inspire your quirky writing style and what songwriters do you feel inspire you the most?
I spent several years working as a recording engineer, mostly for hip-hop music. Many of the emcees would sit for hours with the instrumental beat on loop and write their verses in the studio, and then we would record the vocals.
Several years later, when I started trying to write songs, I think I unconsciously adopted the lyrical approach I had perceived in these hip-hop songs: wordy, first-person narratives, unfolding wordplay, rhyme-y setup/punch couplets, verse-chorus song forms, etc. This all dovetailed into what I was hearing in the melodrama of bluegrass lyrics and the tongue-in-cheek wit of old country songs.
As far as subject matter, I try to work with what’s on my mind. If that’s zombies and dating apps, then that goes into the song. However, I do adore songwriters like Gillian Welch who are able to timelessly encode their personal, contemporary experiences into more traditional folk themes and subject material.
Gregory Alan Isakov was the first folky singer-songwriter who grabbed my attention. His music gradually led me to want to learn acoustic guitar, and eventually, seek out bluegrass jams.
I also got into Bob Dylan around the same time and continue to be drawn to his almost paradoxical songwriting and singing. I love Andrew Marlin’s writing for Mandolin Orange, the gentle and sometimes dark humor of John Prine, and the overall strange mystical quality of folk songs and melodies.
I’ve also gotten a lot of inspiration from people here in NYC who I’m very lucky to know and play music with, such as Kate Prascher, Robert Kitchens, Sean Kiely, Bobby Hawk, Paper Anniversary, Bears of Alaska, and Mary-Elaine Jenkins. When you see the people around you writing great songs and making amazing music, it makes you want to try and do it too.
How do you feel that your background as a jazz pianist affects your identity as a bluegrass artist?
Studying jazz and going to music school definitely gave me a head start when I started going to jams, trying to pick up songs on the spot, learning to play the bass, etc. On top of that though, there’s a “no B.S.” aspect to playing 3-chord music. My musical ear, timing, and fundamental musicianship continues to grow in leaps and bounds from playing bluegrass, particularly from playing with all of these amazing musicians in the city.
In terms of songwriting, I’ve noticed my chord progressions tend to follow the traditional harmonic pull of dominant (V) chord motion, since that is so fundamental to jazz. I’ve noticed some of my friends paint shades with ii chords and IV chords and vi chords without as much concern about hitting a big V chord at some point.
How did Sad Song Happy Hour begin and who are among your favorite guests?
My 2017 New Year’s resolution was to start playing solo sets of my own songs. I started by playing a couple of sets at Pete’s Candy Store early in the year, but felt very nervous and unsteady with my singing, playing, and overall presentation. Eventually, I hit on the idea of Sad Song Happy Hour, which would give me a chance to play solo on a weekly basis, invite special guests that I admire to do the same, and then have a big jam while everyone is there together. I had run into Fumio and Miho walking by the Mirror Tea House after a gig, and pitched them the idea and they were so welcoming to host us every week for years. I was really amazed how many incredible musicians have been willing to give it a shot and play a guest set.
I am very grateful to some of the very first guests, who graciously took a chance on the new format, like Libby Weitnauer, Melody Berger, and Chris Luquette. Hubby Jenkins played a set of amazing music and also interwove a lot of insights about the historical and racial context behind this traditional music that we play. I also got a huge thrill out of jazz guitarist Ben Monder’s set, as he’s been a musical hero ever since I was a jazz nerd in college! He very gamely joined the bluegrass jam as well, and it was really fun. But it’s very hard not to list every guest here.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer to a bluegrass musician looking to grow here in NYC?
Find an opportunity to study with Michael Daves, either in any of his group classes and/or private lessons. He’s a deeply insightful musician and an excellent teacher. He will expose you to many nuances of bluegrass style and technique.
For more information about Larry Legend, visit :
Special thanks to Jeff, Sue and Redia of Beehive Productions as well as the fine folks at Blue Point Brewery for making this video possible.