PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
September 11, 2007

Gove Scrivenor's Tale

by Jim Newsom

When Gove Scrivenor comes to town for a couple of concerts this week, you can be certain that a lot of old friends will be in the audience. For a time in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Gove was the guy on the local singer-songwriter folk music scene. His local reputation began when he was discharged from the Navy in January, 1967.

“I got out of the Navy in Key West actually,” he told me when I called him at his home in Hendersonville, NC, “and I was a student of Edgar Cayce as were a lot of people at that time. Me and my soon-to-be-wife at the time were both into that, so we moved to Virginia Beach. I had made some friends there the year before I got out of the Navy, and they were all into the Cayce thing.

“There was this little alley called Eden Alley, between Atlantic and Pacific on 17th. It was a creative little alcove stuck back in an alley there. I had a leather shop, made sandals and stuff; there was just a whole bunch of us hippies living back in there.”

There was a burgeoning acoustic music scene in this area in those days, and Gove was right in the middle of it.

“Judy Kay Newton—Juice Newton—was from Virginia Beach,” he said, “and Emmylou Harris had come to town. Herb Selby had a club called the Upstairs a couple of doors down from this Eden Alley thing, so that’s where I started my following. I was playing the Upstairs regularly with Emmy, Juice, Mike Williams, Bryan Bowers.”

But the place that many of the folks at The Circle on Wednesday night and the East Beach Bayfront Club on Friday will probably remember the most is the Red Mule, the center of the then-thriving folk music scene in Norfolk.

“It was just a little beer hall at 33rd and Colley,” he remembered. “The cover charge was twenty five cents and steak and spaghetti for dinner was two dollars. I had a day job selling city directory advertising, and walked in there and Red Williams and I got to talking. He said, ‘Why don’t you come in here and play on a Tuesday night.’ One thing led to another—I think I was one of the first to play there. The stage moved three times and it got to be quite the hang for Ghent.”

After making a name playing around here, Scrivenor got a big break in Nashville:

“My wife-at-the-time’s brother had a friend that had started a little mastering studio in Nashville where they cut acetates, back when they were making records. He had one record that had done well, called ‘Harper Valley P.T.A.’ for Jeannie C. Reilly. That was his gold 45 hanging on the wall when I walked in!

“I went to visit for a long weekend to see what was going on, and in the course of a Friday and a Monday I got a publishing deal at Acuff-Rose and a record deal. I got a great advance and thought we were rich for a while. We were in good company—Mickey Newbury was there, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison were all part of the Acuff-Rose team back then. I was starstruck to be honest with you. I recorded an album called Heavy Cowboy and in September of ’69, I came back to Norfolk, picked up my wife and son and we moved to Nashville.”

Since then he’s flirted with success, played on a number of other people’s albums, released several of his own and traveled all over the country. I asked him what the coolest thing was that he’d done in his lengthy career.

“I would have to think working with Neil Young for a week and a half, hanging with him,” he replied. “That was a long time ago [Young’s album Old Ways in 1985], but nevertheless that was pretty heady stuff. And then the Shady Gove album on Rounder/Flying Fish with Doc Watson and John Hartford, all that bunch sitting around in the same room just staring at each other and playing in a circle for days. And Austin City Limits—once with the Amazing Rhythm Aces and once with Doc Watson. That was ’77 and ’79, I believe.”

In a real sense, Gove Scrivenor has come full circle back to where he started when he first discovered that he could entertain an audience with his music. Playing house concerts and small restaurants is not that different from those early experiences.

“As far as playing guitar and doing my own music,” he said, reflecting on his musical beginnings, “it was Joan Baez, Tom Rush, Eric Von Schmidt, Dave Van Ronk—that whole Cambridge folk thing influenced me quite a bit. I was probably nineteen; I went to the Newport Folk Festival two years in a row, ’64 and ’65. I thought I could play guitar a little bit and I was sitting under a tree a long way from any of the stages, during a dinner break or something. I gathered a little crowd around me and I remember distinctly thinking, ‘I might be able to do this when I get out of the Navy.’”

And that’s just what he did. Now in his sixties, Gove’s always distinctive voice has gotten deeper and richer, more expressive, weathered from the many years he’s spent plying his trade.

“I’m hearing that from people,” he laughed. “It’s probably all this smokin’ and drinkin!”

copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.