Bill Lauf is a singer-songwriter who and an innovative player on the tenor (4-string) guitar. Born in Danbury, Connecticut, he has played in a variety bands, duos and as a soloist for over 35 years.
Bill is often heard himself called “the man with the weird guitars” because these non-traditional 4-string and 8-string instruments are a direct result of a sweet accident of birth-his father Bill Sr. and his dad's three brothers played tenor guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles so four strings was, well, the perfect number.
He grew up with both sacred and pop music, jointly singing in the church choir and covering Everly Brother’s tunes at age 12. His father taught him some basic chords on his old Gibson acoustic tenor guitar and Bill learned the rest by ear.
After playing in bands throughout his teens and early twenties, he migrated to the starker and non-dance oriented folk music scene where he overcame the fear of singing and playing solo and it was here where began to write his own songs. (One of his first, Vermont Is Afire In The Autumn, began as a poem written for a his college literary magazine. Although unrealized at the time, it would also be the main impetus for creating the “Follow The Fire” autumn minstrel walks [see below]).
In coffeehouses throughout the northeast and eastern Canada, he improved his solo abilities. During several of these trips, he met a handful of writers who had a profound effect on him, notably Bruce Cockburn and Paul Lauzon of Canada and Susan Osborn and David Darling (formerly with the Paul Winter Consort), folk legend Dave Mallett of Maine, Vermont native Lui Collins, and especially, Horace Williams who lived in and ran a recording studio in South Starksboro, Vermont. Early musical influences also came from Laura Nyro, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Neil Young.
Follow The Fire Minstrel Walks
After co-producing and playing on Collins’ first LP “Made in New England”, Williams and Lauf teamed up to create the “Follow the Fire” autumn minstrel walks, three successive musical walking tours of New England and Quebec. The first, in 1980, was spawned by Lauf’s single “Vermont is Afire in the Autumn”. The two troubadours walked the 23-mile length of Vermont Route 100 from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border in 14 days, performing at grange halls, churches and schools at each town they walked to.
The duo released their only LP in 1981, The Weight of the Rose and walked from Sherbrooke, Quebec to New Haven, Connecticut following the Connecticut River valley. The trip took 23 days and covered some 390 miles. As a result, they appeared in the Sunday New York Times, the Evening Magazine tv show out of Boston and NPR’s All Things Considered.
Their final walk in 1982 was the longest-Montreal to Manhattan. The two performers played day shows as well as the traditional evening concerts, completing 56 shows in 26 days over a span of 430 miles. Their final show was at Fast Folk in Greenwich Village, home of many great acoustic songwriters like the uber-prolific Jack Hardy, Dave Mangussen and Suzanne Vega.
With Susan Osborn (post Paul Winter Consort)
Lauf released his first solo album in 1983, Songs From the Heart and continued to play sporadically both as a soloist and with Williams. He also appeared on Susan Osborn’s Living Music release Susan and performed with her in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Boulder, Colorado and Orcas Island, Washington. His appearances then took a back seat to raising a family though he occasionally played in local venues throughout the late 80’s and mid 90’s. When Osborn decided to make another CD of her own songs in 2000 (after years of recording known songs for her growing Japanese audience), she asked Bill to join her and Reunion was the result. Bill helped to arrange some of the tunes and accompanied her with guitar and voice (along with Ralf Ilenberger and Jim Bredouw).
Gray Diner at 5am
He also finished recording a new CD with friend and producer Chris Brown. Gray Diner at 5am was released in September of 2001. The CD features mostly new material from his songwriting efforts over the past years. He also re-mastered his 1983 recording “Songs From the Heart” on CD.
For the Snow
Bill's new release (December 2012) For the Snow is a beautiful collection of songs set in or about winter. From his liner notes:
"In the week before Christmas in 2008, I met my good friend Susan Osborn at her home on Orcas Island, Washington for what was to be five nights of Christmas concerts in the San Juans. Uncharacteristically, a series of snowstorms followed by frigid cold descended on northwestern Washington State and all but the first night's show were cancelled. To boost our spirits, Susan suggested that we each (her husband David Densmore and a nearby neighbor) write a song and ply it in her home on Christmas Eve. We had a great time and Susan and I continued songwriting once a week via Skype for the next three months. Most of the songs on this recording owe their existence to the convergence of friendship, bad weather and a few good guitars."
Lahri Bond writing in Dirty Linen Magazine said:
“(Bill's) song “Vermont Is Afire In The Autumn” (is) a gorgeous hymn to New England’s spectacular fall foliage”
Writer Bill Chretien from Keene, New Hampshire says of Gray Diner:
“The music is wonderful. The lyrics are clean and moving. (“Gray Diner at 5am” (the title song) is) particularly powerful. The song is so well written. I cannot separate out the lyric from the melody. They seem bound (and) that connectedness runs throughout the CD.”
World-singer and former Paul Winter Consort vocalist Susan Osborn comments:
"Bill Lauf is one of my all time favorite musicians. His playing is a miracle of complex rhythm and harmony on four strings and his songs are rich tapestries of life. And to top it off, Bill is one of the funniest people I know. You are in for a wonderful evening."
from “Mornings on Maple Street” by Joe Manning
“‘Gray Diner at 5AM,’ (is) one of the most evocative of road songs…(and) ‘Full Moon Through An Apple Tree’ (is) one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.
Of Bill’s new release, For the Snow, Manning says:
"For the Snow is Bill’s winter Van Gogh. Its aching beauty captures the grayest of seasons in all of its shimmering melancholy. David Darling, whose cello gave the Paul Winter Consort part of its signature sound, wraps the songs in a wool blanket."
For more information, go to billlauf.com.