Dylan colleague Eric von Schmidt dead at 75


FAIRFIELD, Connecticut -- Guitarist and painter Eric von Schmidt, a player in the Northeast's blues and folk scene in the 1950s and 1960s who influenced Bob Dylan, has died. He was 75.

Von Schmidt died in his sleep Friday at a convalescent home in Fairfield, his daughter, Caitlin von Schmidt, said Saturday. He had battled throat cancer and suffered a stroke last summer, but the cause was undetermined, she said.

He met Dylan in the early '60s at his apartment in Harvard Square in Cambridge, where a folk scene developed and featured the likes of Joan Baez and Tom Rush. He told The Boston Globe in an interview in 1996 that he played several songs for Dylan that day.

Dylan wrote liner notes for von Schmidt's 1969 album, "Who Knocked the Brains Out of the Sky."

"He could sing the bird off the wire and the rubber off the tire," Dylan wrote. "He can separate the men from the boys and the note from the noise. The bridle from the saddle and the cow from the cattle. He can play the tune of the moon. The why of the sky and the commotion of the ocean."

On Dylan's first album, "Bob Dylan," in 1962, he says at the beginning of "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," that he first heard the song from von Schmidt in "the green pastures of Harvard University." The song was based on one recorded by Blind Boy Fuller.

Von Schmidt began playing guitar when he was 17, and said he was inspired when he heard bluesman Leadbelly on the radio. He said he listened to many folk and blues recordings at the Library of Congress, where his father -- Harold von Schmidt, who was noted for his illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post -- would drop him off during trips to Washington.

He went to Italy in 1955 to study art on a Fulbright scholarship before landing in Cambridge. His first album, "The Folk Blues of Eric von Schmidt," was released in 1963.

One of his better known songs was "Joshua Gone Barbados," which has been performed by several other artists. The ASCAP Foundation, which promotes music education, gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He also painted album covers for Baez and other folk musicians.