Eric Andersen will perform at the Lobero Theatre on April 22. (Paolo Brillo / photo)

Aesop told us that “a man is known by the company he keeps,” and by that measure singer-songwriter Eric Andersen is clearly one cool dude:

Over the years, his friends and/or collaborators have included Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Phil Ochs and Townes Van Zandt.

Andersen got his start over 50 years ago as a folk musician performing in the legendary venues of Greenwich Village and writing classic songs like “Thirsty Boots,” “Violets of Dawn” and “Close the Door Lightly When You Go.”

Since then his style evolved in various interesting directions, and many of his albums are highly acclaimed, including his 1972 album Blue River which is a somewhat hidden gem of the singer-songwriter genre.

Andersen will be performing at the Lobero Theatre on Saturday, April 22, as part of the Sings Like Hell concert series. Tickets are available at

Also on the program are Dan Navarro, Steve Postell and Danny Kortchmar. With apologies to Aesop, if you want to be known by the concerts you attend, this is a great place to start.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?

Eric Andersen: I’m going to do material off of some special projects that I’ve done in Europe.

I did an album in conjunction with the family of the writer-philosopher Albert Camus, so I’m going to do some material from that project. The title of that is Shadow and Light of Albert Camus.

I’m going to be singing stuff from Lord Byron, a show that I did at his house in England, his ancestral home — we did a concert there to raise money.

The Lord Byron album is called Mingle With the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron. It’s coming out on May 19th.

It’s a 14-song cycle, an opus, using Lord Byron’s words and my music, and I have two original songs where I talk about who Lord Byron is, the poet. He was the greatest Romantic poet.

Another thing is I might do a song from another project I’m doing on Heinrich Boll. He’s a post-war German writer, an anti-fascist, anti-Nazi writer. He served in the German army. And I’m working with his family on that.

So there are kind of special things that yielded some very good songs.

Otherwise, I’ll do stuff that I recorded in my past. I’ll be doing some songs from an upcoming Sony album, a two-CD set on my works over a period of time, kind of a retrospective. And I’ll be working with some very good musicians.

JM: I really like your [1966] album ‘Bout Changes and Things. What are your reflections on that album?

EA: Well, for starters I think I sound like I’m 14 years old [laughs]. The voice has deepened and darkened since then.

Well, I wrote a lot of my well-known songs on that album, like “Thirsty Boots” that John Denver and Bob Dylan recorded, Judy Collins “Close the Door Lightly [When You Go],” “Violets of Dawn.”

They became like folk-music standards, those songs.

JM: Do you have a favorite cover version of those songs?

EA: I think John Denver did the most musical cover version, but Bob Dylan was very accurate with the lyrics, absolutely perfect.

JM: I read that a little bit before that album came out you were in an Andy Warhol movie. How did that come about, and what was that experience like?

EA: He was a friend of mine; we were both born in Pittsburgh. He was older than I was. So we were kind of good friends.

I did a couple of screen tests for him, and I did a film [Space] with Edie Sedgwick and Don Lyons.  I would see him from time to time, and I liked him a lot.

You know, he was one of the geniuses you’re lucky to rub shoulders with during your time here on Earth. He’s one of them.

JM: You may or may not know that Edie Sedgwick was from Santa Barbara.

EA: She was very sweet. I loved her, she was wonderful.

JM: You were part of the Festival Express train tour [through Canada in 1970], which sounds pretty wild. Are there any crazy stories that you’re willing to share about that?

EA: Well, it was great music. We had a whole train to ourselves. It was like the greatest rock ‘n’ roll party that ever happened in history.

I mean, just all of these people on the train together, drinking and getting high and doing shows. It was great.

JM: I read that you met Janis Joplin when you were on that tour?

EA: Yeah, Janis actually became my best friend for a while. It was horrible, because I woke up one morning and went to the corner, and on the newspapers it said she died. And I’d just seen her record the song “Mercedes Benz.”

I went up to the studio and she did that recording, and like two days later…  It was scary. Most of the people I know are dead [laughs].

JM: What was Janis like?

EA: Oh, she was very warm-hearted, a great sense of humor, very, very smart, very intuitive, very empathetic. As a friend, she was the best you could get.

JM: I think your best-known album is the Blue River album. What were you going for with that? It has a different sound from, say, the ‘Bout Changes and Things album.

EA: Nothing was conscious. It was just whatever happened that day, that month. Whatever the feeling was, and the chemistry, the combination of ingredients — it always creates another outcome.

It was just a magical time. But it wasn’t all done in Nashville. Some of that stuff was done in L.A. and San Francisco, too. It somehow congealed into one kind of nice beautiful sound.

JM: Any other things you’re working on?

EA: There’s the Heinrich Boll project. I’m working on writing my own album. I’m working on my own writing. A lot of it’s centered around writing.

I’m working on this episodic novel, crazy novel. I’m working on the film [The Songpoet, a documentary about Andersen]. You know, trying to get by, trying to make a living, trying to make a buck every once in a while.

Click here for the full interview with Eric Andersen.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.