Interview | Hanging Out with Tucson Folk Artist, Don Armstrong

The Kid From Wilton

Jonathan Frahm: This is Jonathan Frahm recording with Don Armstrong. Don, do you consent to this voice recording?

Don Armstrong: I don’t think so. Yes.

JF: So, we’re going to start from the beginning. The primary goal is to focus on Mother, Don’t Give Up on Me Now, that you put out nearly two years ago.

DA: One year—one year, please. [Laughs]

JF: So, let’s start from the top. Describe to me, in detail, the consequences leading to your birth.

DA: First of all, I had to die first in my last life. Then it was kind of rough. I remember my mom and dad going on a picnic and when they came back from the picnic, there were three of us. I remember my dad saying that he barely got his bait back.

JF: That should be the first line of this piece once it’s published!

DA: It’s been a much more interesting life than the cabbage farmer that I was prior.

JF: Although, you were really the backbone of America. So, were you always musically inclined or interested in playing?

DA: It was pretty much singing first, ‘cause my mom and dad always had the radio on. They weren’t musicians themselves, but they loved it. My mom grew up most of the year in Chicago, and spent her summers in Lansing, Michigan. In Chicago, she would see all the big bands when they would come to town. She had a big scrapbook full of autographs.

I remember, the Three Stooges had a nightclub. She would go and see everybody and my dad was into it, too. I loved—back in the very early days—Eddie Fisher and Perry Como and Bing Crosby.

My next door neighbor who rented from my mom and dad came to a show that I did probably 20 years ago. She said, “Yeah, you probably don’t remember this, but you used to come up to me in my kitchen and I would be cooking supper and ask if you could sing for me.”

So, there was that. I remember getting into Elvis Presley when he came out, when I was about eight, and then I heard the Kingston Trio. The Kingston Trio came to town when I was 12. My mom got us tickets because they were the hottest thing to check out at the time. It sold out real fast.

That night changed everything. My parents went out and bought me a guitar later. They bought me a banjo, too. All I wanted to do after that was play music, you know.

Caffe Lena opened that same year the Kingston Trio came to town, but I didn’t go there ‘til a couple years later with my parents. I remember when I first walked up the stairs and heard the music up there. It ended up like me running away from home every weekend!

Lena would let me hang out without charging me. You’ve got people like Bob Dylan there, and Dan Van Ronk and Rev. Gary Davis. Later, we had Jerry Jeff Walker and Arlo Guthrie. It was great. I learned so much. What I do now came from those experiences watching fingerpicking and watching flatpicking guitar at Caffe Lena and saying, “I want to play like that. I want to write like that.”

JF: And you still go back to Caffe Lena often, right?

DA: I flew back a couple of years ago because Petie and Mikey (The Ronstadt Brothers) were playing there, and I just had to be a part of that. I remember Sarah, the manager, telling me that she more positive compliments about them than she’s ever had about anybody.

[Editor’s Note: Don also mentions a show that he was playing with Liz & Pete at Caffe Lena this past September. Since, this show has came and went. He acknowledges it as his first tour for his solo album, Mother, Don’t Give Up On Me Now.]

And of course, it’s where I met Victoria. It’s a very special place to me.

ON PAGE 3: ‘Ronstadt Record Co.’