We Asked the Unicorn: An Interview with Ed Askew
If you're the type who gets all doe eyed over every young snot who wears a kaftan and sings of freewheeling mysticism like it's some newfangled thing, you better wise up and pay attention to the man who has been the master of all such things in this city for over 40 years, Ed Askew.
The LP he released on the early Manhattan based indie label ESP-Disk in 1968 entitled Ask the Unicorn went by without a whimper at the time of its release. Later on, it was grasped by a later generation of thread pulling record collectors looking to catch the sparks and connect the dots on all things gloriously arcane that shot out of New York City in the '60s.
The Ed Askew Band plays Cha-Cha's tomorrow night.
Sometime in the early oughts, Ed was tracked down by the Minneapolis based label DeStijl. Not only was the gent sitting on a good chunk of unreleased material from over the years, he was raring to get back out there and play. Since then, he has performed both solo and with his Ed Askew band all around the area with the hunger and fervor of a man half his age.
We tracked Ed down to chat about his classic recordings and his time in the city both past and present. Here's what the good man had to say.
What made you first want to perform music?
Aside from my father having aspired to be a professional singer as a young man, one of my aunts took pleasure in playing the piano and singing songs from the 1930s maybe. And my seeing Hoagy Carmichael on TV when I was a kid and being very impressed; I always remember singing. I always belonged to a choir as a child.
You were living in New Haven originally when you were playing music. Were you from there? If not, how'd you end up there?
I went to Yale Art School to study painting in 1963, and occasionally sang for my friends there. But I started making songs after I left New Haven. I soon moved back, around 1968, and met a whole new bunch of people, and joined a band, and after I quit the band I began putting on shows of my music there. I grew up in Stamford, a very nice town before the corporations and the mall moved in.
When did you initially come to NYC to perform music?
I think it was 1967 that I moved to New York for a few months. I was playing in coffee houses. Carrying my Martin Tiple around. I would just show up, and they would ask me to play. I also met Bernard Stolman (President of ESP Disk) at that time. I soon left, however. Which is when I moved back to New Haven, where I stayed put--except a part of a year in San Francisco, and a year spent hitchhiking--until around 1986, when I moved to New York for good. I put on shows in New Haven for about 10 years. Mostly for my friends, occasionally playing at local colleges and at a bar in Mystic where my friend Dean ran the music and cooked. In the '80s I was more involved in painting. I was trying to show in NY while still writing songs.
Where were you playing in NYC?
Back then; these were just little places where a bunch of kids passed the hat when you played. I don't remember any names. They were mostly in the East Village around Tompkins Square. I also was on the Bob Fass show twice. When I moved here again, I wasn't doing much music. I played out only once. I had lost the Tiple and I was having some issues with pain in my hands. I was also painting, and working with kids as an art teacher.