What’s the Word on… JOHN KRUTH

Kruth is Loudon Wainwright shoved in a blender with Allen Ginsberg and a mad scientist. – Folk Roots (UK)

A Randy Newman-type flair for pathos… one of the more provocative and more entertaining urban ruralist types around these days.   – No Depression

The Madman of the Mandolin. – San Francisco Weekly

 John Kruth is impossible to peg – his omnivorous approach yields a wealth of riches, ranging from Mid-Eastern jams to Waits-like blues ballads to squirrelly jazz-pop ditties. - Dallas Morning News

A freewheeling sort given to playful humor. A colorful inventive songwriter. – Boston Pheonix

 Subtitled “Sonic Impressions Of Croatia,” Splitsville is a more conventionally song-based release, although full of strange beauty nonetheless. Inspired by Kruth's travels in Croatia between 2003 - 7 and recorded there, with overdubs in New York, it features local Balkan styles but is based around the mandolin, electric guitar and reedy vocals more usually associated with Americana and alt. country. Within a couple of tracks of this delicately swirling music, it started to exercise a strangely narcotic power. These songs of saints, giants and forlorn anchovy sellers are framed with backing that finds room for accordeon, bamboo flute and some bluesy harmonica. Far more convincing than any of the Balkans-meets-indie projects that have been hyped up in recent years .- fRoots (London, UK)

 John Kruth is turning into a major talent. Kruth’s humor is sly… (with) an understanding of how to craft a first-class lyric, offering a character study with all of Paul Simon’s scalpel-sharp focus and twice Simon’s wit. - The Star Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)

His music is truly singular. It’s fun. It’s like Shel Silverstein colliding head-on with a Kalahari Bushman barn dance. – The Valley Advocate

Stylistically Kruth strikes wherever he pleases. There’s blues, mountain    music, bluegrass and a bit more jazz. Kruth’s songs are often hilarious, always pointed, and the picking always crisp. This one is purest delight .– Sing Out!

 A one-man hootenanny trail blazing new genres. Kruth shows us just how hard a mandolin can rock. A fascinating argument for the mandolin as a prime tool of rock and roll.The Milwaukee Journal

Kruth picks mandolin as well as anybody on the planet. He’s also an engaging front-man playing everything from folked-up funk to blitzkrieg bluegrass. – The Isthmus (Madison, WI)

Mandolin player John Kruth is banjo ace Bela Fleck’s counterpart, taking the mandolin in new musical directions. – San Antonio Express

Your tone sounds like flesh and blood. You didn’t choose the mandolin. It chose you, to play its eternal melodies through. – Ornette Coleman

Great mandolin playing mate! – Robert Plant

The Pete Townshend of the mandolin. – Luka Bloom

Burnin’! – John Scofield 

John Kruth makes great albums – Adrian Belew

The best damn mandolin player around today! – Yank Rachell

The Swiss Army knife of Rock and Roll. – Chris Kirkwood/Meat Puppets

The cat daddy of eternal hipness. - Beatle Bob 

An Interview with Hrvoje Bubić of Solin Live (Croatia)

SL: Can you introduce yourself to our readers and say something about yourself?

JK: I’ve been a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, guitar, banjo, harmonica and flute) who has recorded eleven solo albums and toured off and on over the last forty years, performing in cafes, clubs, concert halls and festivals in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Morocco and India. This experience has given me a unique perspective when it comes to writing about the music of others. Although I am a voracious reader my education, for the most part, has come from first-hand experience. I often find in writing books and articles that I too have had similar experiences to many of the subjects I write about. As a former disc jockey and producer of albums by rock, jazz, folk and world music artists, as well as producing a series of musical benefits over the last few years, I have gained a unique insight into the collaborative and creative processes of contemporary musicians of all stripes. My intellectual curiosity continues to be fueled by everything from the poetry of William Blake to Ravi Shankar’s ragas, from American pop culture to Marcel Duchamp’s Dadaism and from Native American to Buddhist studies. All of these influences have sparked a passion and discipline within me that have not only led to the creation of my own music, but have compelled me to educate others, whether in the forum of the college classroom or through printed media.

SL: You are known as a multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, guitar, banjo, flute, harmonica etc.). Tell us more about that as well as your beginnings as a musician.

 JK: Like most kids growing up in America in the 1960’s I was obsessed with the electric guitar until witnessing the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe playing the mandolin live at the Expo World Fair in Montreal. From that point on, the mandolin became my passion and I listened to every mandolin picker I could find, from the ragged blues of Yank Rachell to the slinky Texas swing of Tiny Moore, to the classical finesse of Hugo D’Alton, to David Grisman’s progressive Dawg Music, to the exotic choro music of Brazil’s Jacob de Bandolim.

I loved the mandolin, whether it was played by the Incredible String Band, Ry Cooder, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Levon Helm of the Band. You could also hear it on records by Dr. John and Led Zeppelin, whether played by John Paul Jones or Jimmy Page, who was always a favorite for me. I love how he drew from Scottish traditional music and blues, bringing it together as a blend of Afro-Celtic music. Led Zeppelin III being the greatest album It’s not one of Zeppelin’s most popular albums. They use banjo with 12-string guitar on Leadbelly’s ‘Gallows Pole.’ Page’s influences from Pentangle to Incredible String Band come forward. Yet at the same time he’s sharing old blues influences in a tremendous way. Great kick-ass energy with layers of tonalities. Eastern European melodies/Jewish/Greek stuff really comes natural to me -- part of my DNA, I suppose. It has been in pop music since "Paint It Black" and "Over Under Sideways Down." I always felt that gypsy music and rock had strong ties not just musically but also in terms of image -- starting with Keith Richard and Jimi Hendrix with all those scarves and bone earrings... All of these influences drove me to form bands like TriBeCaStan – a 9 piece world music ensemble, and my latest 6 piece group, The Folklorkestra, which just won a grant from Chamber Music America to record our debut album.

SL: You collaborated with names like Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Steve Buscemi, Die Kreuzen, Meat Puppets, Violet Femmes. Please tell us more about these collaborations, as well as your solo career

JK: Some of these situations were brief, one two or three time meetings, jams/collaborations, many – like Allen Ginsberg, Steve Buscemi, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, when I was working with the late/great producer Hal Willner, who died three years ago from covid… a terrible tragedy… Patti Smith actually got up on stage with me and Peter Stampfel of the holy Modal Rounders at a New York club to sing the Stones’ “Factory Girl” with us. It was great! The famous playwright/actor Sam Shepard was in the audience, and he eventually joined our short-lived band playing rhythm guitar and filling the clubs with his star power.

    I first witnessed Violent Femmes at New York’s legendary club, Folk City on a Wednesday night - January 27, 1983. My friend, the keyboardist/ composer Sigmund Snopek III called long-distance from Milwaukee to tell me, “You gotta see this band!”

   “Really? What’s so special about ‘em?” I asked.

   “They’re like Buddy Holly and the Crickets,” Siggy said. “Except on acid, the brown kind that they warned you about at Woodstock.”

   I was dubious. I’d heard that Buddy Holly comparison before, with Elvis Costello. But all similarities to the Lubbock rocker ended with a pair of math-geek horn-rimmed glasses and a Fender guitar. Not that I was disappointed when I first saw Elvis, I was thrilled. But Buddy Holly he was not. Besides, a bunch of cow-punks from Wisconsin on a Wednesday night hardly sounded enticing. Beyond the mind-bending punk/funk jazz of James Chance and the Contortions, whatever came out of Milwaukee that mattered beyond Liberace, Hank Aaron, or Laverne and Shirley?

   Okay, so I was jaded, having played around the Village for the previous five years. But Folk City was just a few blocks away and I didn’t have anything better to do that night. So, I bundled up and ventured out into the January cold.

   When I arrived that night at the corner of 3rd Street and 6th Ave., there was a long line down the block, waiting to get in. But after the first tune I had to admit that this trio of acoustic misanthropes from the Dairy State were on fire. In no time, they had the packed crowd whipped into a frenzy. I hadn’t seen a band drive an audience that crazy since the Doors. At any moment, it felt like riot might break out.

   After the set, I approached the tall, skinny, blond bassist, Brian Ritchie to ask him what he was listening to…

   “Uh, Nick Drake, Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Soft Machine,” he replied.

   All the same weird shit I’d been into! I told him that I was a friend of Sigmund’s and played the mandolin, flute and harmonica. He asked if I’d like to sit in the following night Violent Femmes at their gig at Columbia University. And thus, began my career as “the Swiss Army knife of Rock and Roll” as Chris Kirkwood, bassist of the Meat Puppets later dubbed me.

   I joined the Femmes for most of their East Coast jaunt, becoming a full-fledged member of their revolving door of backup musicians known as the Horns of Dilemma. It was a wild ride indeed. The Femmes were packing the house everywhere they went. And everywhere they went everybody seemed so oblige them with whatever they desired, from sex and drugs to lasagna dinners. But the lightning pace of their success would soon kick them in the ass.

   All three of the original played on my 1986 debut album Midnight Snack, as well as a few other of my projects. I met the Meat Puppets and Die Kreuzen, both through my connection with Violent Femmes and played live with both and recorded with Die Kreuzen on their final album, Cement.

6. For the end, what would you say to our readers? What are your future projects? As far as I know, you and your wife are often in Croatia.

My sweetheart Marilyn Cvitanic’s family is Croatian, and we go to Croatia every summer. Her uncle was the zookeeper of Split. I have found so much inspiration there - Back in 2007 I recorded an album of music inspired by over 20 years of visits to Dalmatia called Splitsville (Sonic Impressions of Croatia). Split is beautiful, - prekrasno! and the Diocletian Palace is there. The cover photograph of the album was a snapshot taken in 1968. If you remember, there were riots busting out everywhere, and it was the year that Martin Luther King was shot. There were riots all over America. The tanks were pulling into Prague. There were riots in France. And there was a guy named Pave Dulcic, an avant-garde conceptual artist in Split at the time. And his response to everything was to paint the Diocletian Palace Square red in the middle of the night. So, he and a couple of friends, with a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of gallons of paint went and painted the town square red. And what happened, of course, being Yugoslavia, under Tito, they came, and they dragged him away, and they beat him with clubs, and they locked him up in jail, and by the time they released him he was never the same. And he died soon afterwards. And I wrote a very Billy Bragg electric proletariat rock song, "The Ballad of Pave Dulcic,", along with a handful of other songs. All of the songs are about Croatia, or inspired by Croatia on one level or another. And there are 15 songs, from very sweet, gentle, eastern European waltzes, to a very Tom Waits kind of tune, “The Rakija Song” which has since been recorded by Croatian Blues man Tomislav Goluban). My second Croatian album was The Drunken Wind of Life: The Poem/Songs of Tin Ujevic (released October 17, 2015). I wrote music for English translations of Tin’s poems. It's more haunting than Splitsville. It has a few originals mixed in, like "Girl From Korcula" to brighten things up. My favorite poem of Tin Ujevic’s "Blood Brotherhood of Persons of the Universe," was given a very Bob Dylan/Leonard Cohen treatment. 

For more information please contact:

John Kruth

Smiling Fez Records 

88 Bleecker Street #2L,

NY NY 10012