Twelve years ago, Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of the traditional song “Polly Von” ended up changing the lives of local folk musicians Gloria Jean, David LaPlante and Stephen Pounds.
At the time, LaPlante and Pounds were performing together as a duo, something they had been doing since first picking up guitars as kids in the ’60s growing up in Connecticut.
Jean, a solo folk singer who also got her start in the ’60s, happened to be in the audience at one of the duo’s Caffe Lena shows, and was struck by their rendition of “Polly Von.”
“LaPlante and Pounds kind of does a great job with Peter, Paul and Mary material — they were known for that,” Jean said. “I was sitting in the audience thinking, ‘They need a third voice.’ They were playing ‘Polly Von’ and I was sitting in the audience singing the third part.”
Some time later, in late September 2001, LaPlante, then a Caffe Lena board member, was asked to put together a Peter, Paul and Mary benefit night at the venue. He reached out to Jean, not knowing she had been at that previous concert of his.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Emack & Bolio’s, 366 Delaware Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 512-5100, www.ebalbany.com
“Actually, at the time I didn’t know that at all,” LaPlante said. “Gloria and I started a personal relationship as well as a musical relationship after that. So that was sort of the genesis of it, a dozen years ago now.”
“And I still think we do a killer version of ‘Polly Von,’ ” Jean added. “That’s sort of a special tune to us.”
The band, now known as All-She-Wrote, has other significant connections to Peter, Paul and Mary. LaPlante, a luthier as well as musician, has built guitars for Noel Paul Stookey since 1988; before that he repaired instruments for Stookey.
Also, up until his death in January of last year, longtime Peter, Paul and Mary and John Denver bassist Dick Kniss regularly performed with All-She-Wrote, appearing on the group’s self-titled 2004 album. LaPlante and Pounds first met Kniss, who was based in Saugerties, at a concert in Maine in 1993.
“He had said, ‘Well, if you guys ever need a bass player, let me know,’ ” LaPlante said. “We found out he lived in Saugerties, so he was close and accessible. He didn’t really hesitate much — we first had him do some recording, adding bass tracks to tunes Stephen and I did. . . . When Gloria joined us, it was a natural thing to have him there, so we worked with Dick for 10 or 11 years. Of course we lost him a year ago, last January, and that was a real loss for everybody, but we feel very lucky to have been able to work with him.”
In May of last year, the band appeared alongside surviving members of the original Peter, Paul and Mary and others at a tribute concert for Kniss, held at Woodstock Playhouse. “It was an honor, and unnerving, I might add,” LaPlante said. “When Gloria and I — we did one song for the finale with Gloria and I singing lead, and once you realize all these people are following you, you don’t want to mess up.”
While the group still performs Peter, Paul and Mary songs, as well as other traditional folk material, its focus is on Jean’s original songs. The band’s next performance will be at one of its regular haunts, Emack & Bolio’s, on Saturday.
“I had started songwriting a little late in life, but that was sort of the extra piece — I think that’s what made the group,” Jean said. “I had started writing and going to songwriting workshops, and the first one was the best — Roseanne Cash was doing an audition-only one out of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, and I got into that without even knowing how hard it was to get into that. . . . That kind of spurred me on; it was very encouraging.”
Jean released a live solo album of her material, “*live,” in 1999, mostly recorded at Caffe Lena. LaPlante and Pounds helped provide the final piece of the songwriting puzzle, contributing arrangement and instrumentation ideas.
“Gloria filled in a lot of our weaknesses — our strengths and weaknesses blended very well in terms of counter-balancing,” LaPlante said. “Gloria bumped up the quality of our lead vocals and gave us the original music, and our instrumental and harmony and arranging skills complemented what she was doing. It was really a good blend.”
Focus on live shows
Since the self-titled album, the group has released a handful of three-song singles to various radio stations around the country, and is gearing up for another full-length release sometime next year. But the band’s true passion is with its live show.
“I think there’s a real need for live music — the Capital District used to be really prime real estate for live music, and a lot of that has slowed down in recent years,” Jean said.
“But I still think there’s a real desire for live music, and a place like Emack & Bolio’s, which is such a comfortable environment to experience live music. It’s like a living room with a stage — that’s exactly what it is.”