Stephen in concert at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California

Stephen in concert at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California
Stephen performs on cigar box guitar at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, Caliifornia with a stellar band of children joining along

Monday, May 27, 2013

listen to song clips and download songs from "Here Comes the Band" on i Tunes; hear more music and see videos at "3 String Stephen Plays Cigar Box Guitar" site

Click here to listen to song clips and download songs from Here Comes the Band on iTunes
Click here for "3 String Stephen Plays Cigar Box Guitar" site to hear more music and see videos

Video: "You Need to Get to Know Me", from one of Stephen's Artist Residencies

See me with Wilsonville special education students performing "You Need to Get to Know Me" 

my story: musical and artistic bio with links

Stephen Cohen is a performing and recording artist, acoustic guitarist, vocalist, composer, song writer, band leader and visual artist. He was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he played jazz trombone at the age of 12, then started playing acoustic guitar, composing music and writing songs at age 14. He attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts for 3 years before leaving school, guitar in hand, to travel across the United States. After many adventures along the way, Stephen made his home in Oregon, where he completed his Bachelor's Degree in Art, raised 2 children, and worked a variety of jobs over the years while continuing to play music
His first album, The Tree People, was a vinyl album recorded in a studio in the woods near Eugene, Oregon in 1979.

Cover drawing (by Stephen Cohen) of the 1979 vinyl album, The Tree People 
The Tree People were a creative acoustic music ensemble originally formed in the late 1970’s in Eugene, Oregon.  Founding members were Stephen and Jeff Stier, who plays recorders, flute and percussion. They performed, at times with third and fourth band members, at concerts and festivals in the Eugene area for 7 years. They recorded two albums, The Tree People, in 1979, (which was recorded at Rocking A Ranch, a studio in the woods near Eugene), and Human Voices in 1984.

Cover drawing (by Stephen Cohen) of the 1984 Tree People album Human Voices
Listen to Grandfather, and 
Dance from Human Voices 

The Tree People, 1979
hoto by Dina Harmon
After the Tree People disbanded in the mid 1980’s,  Stephen continued his music career, moving to Portland, Oregon in the mid 1990’s, composing music, writing songs, and performing at concerts and festivals across the United States, including the Philadelphia Folk Festivalthe Long Island Children's Museum and the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas (where he was an award winner for songwriting in 2000).  He recorded three albums during that period, including his nationally acclaimed 2006 album Here Comes the Band, a children's album, which includes a 20 page illustrated booklet with paintings and drawings by Christopher Shotola-Hardt and lyrics and activities, and which features songs that Stephen performs in his interactive performances for children. In addition to the Long Island Children's Museum, Stephen has done children and family performances at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, California, the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, the Providence (R.I.) Children's Museum and the Kids Discovery Museum in Bainbridge Island, Washington. He presented a workshop, "Creating Sculptural Percussion Instruments" at the Mendocino (CA) Art Center. He has done countless concerts, performances, workshops and residencies in his home state of Oregon, including a series of artist residencies in which he assisted students and making instruments, composing music, writing songs, and producing albums of the results. He received a grant from the Puffin Foundation of New Jersey for a recording project he did in conjunction with "P:EAR of Portland, Oregon with homeless and transitional youth. That project was also funded by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
Stephen's CD, Stephen and the Talk Talk Band , was released in 2004.  Stephen's song It's My Story, from Stephen and the Talk Talk Band, is the closing piece in the sound track of the Freedom Center video which was featured on the Forbes Magazine web site. The song was also the closing piece in The Story Pouch, a computer animated film by Todd Kesterson.
Stephen all the while was creating visual art and original sculptural percussion instruments using used guitar strings and other found objects, along with woods and metals.
He was featured in a story on Oregon Public Broadcasting's Art Beat show in 2002 about his residency at Wilsonville High School, where he worked with a special education class and several music and art students to produce a CD, Junk Jam and a performance at the Wilsonville Festival of Arts. One of the songs created was You Need to Get to Know Me.
Meanwhile, the first Tree People album, originally released in vinyl and sold only in Eugene, Oregon, somehow appeared across the ocean, and was discovered worldwide by record collectors twenty five years after it was first recorded. Stephen was contacted by several record companies, leading to CD and vinyl reissues of the first two Tree People albums by record companies in Japan, Tiliqua,and Spain, Guerssen Records, and Stephen’s solo acoustic guitar piece from the first album, The Tree People, "No More School", was included in an acoustic guitar collection, Wayfaring Strangers, Guitar Soli, by the Chicago record company The Numero Group. The Tree People, whose original music was hard to classify the first time around, were now being called “Fathers of Freak Folk” and “Psych Folk Pioneers”.
And then the second life of the Tree People began. Stephen and Jeff, with new member, Seattle double bass player Rich Hinrichsen, began rehearsing, making new arrangements old material, creating and recording new music, and performing in concerts and festivals throughout the Pacific Northwest, including performances at the Mississippi Studios, the White Eagle and Performance Works Northwest in Portland, the Matrix in Chehalis, Washington, the Upstage in Port Townsend, Washington, and the Arts in Nature Festival and Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. They have done two Creative Residencies at Centrum, an art organization in Port Townsend, Washington where Stephen and composed, directed and produce the Cistern Symphony, a symphony being created deep underground in the Dan Harpole Cistern in Fort Worden, where Centrum is located. Guerssen Records, of Spain released CD and vinyl editions of a 3rd, new and last Tree People album, It's My Story. Jeff Stier retired from the group after playing on the new album and taking part in his last Tree People performance at the It's My Story release concert at the Old Church in Portland on November of 2010. 

The cover of the 2010 Tree People album
  Listen to the title song:

It's My Story 


Stephen and Rich, with two wonderful Spanish musicians, Jordi Gallen on cello and Hector Beberide Farrus on mandolin, did their last performance under the Tree People name on March 12th, 2011 at the Musiques Disperses Festival in Spain.

Stephen then teamed up with Rich Hinrichsen to create the WALKING WILLOWS,  featuring Stephen on acoustic guitar, voice, and cigar box guitar and Rich on double bass, piano and voice, with a rotating roster of guest musicians on french horn, voice, cello, and other instruments. They played in concerts up and down the Pacific Northwest. They did musical tours in New Mexico and the East Coast. Their album, by hand, was released in 2102 and was on Delire Musical 2012 Eclectic Music Top 50 list. Their album release concert was in November 2012 at the Old Church in Portland.

The guitar string bracelet on the album cover was designed by Stephen Cohen and Kristin Shiga and made by Kristin Shiga
Listen to 6 songs from by hand

Stephen has added cigar box guitar to his musical repertoire, and it has been a big hit everywhere he and thplays. His next album will be a solo album featuring cigar box guitar, with a working title of 3 String Stephen Plays Cigar Box Guitar. Link here to see and hear Stephen play Red-Tailed Hawk on cigar box guitar live at the Electric Bean.  Link here to see and hear Stephen play Ride the Train on cigar box guitar at Dead Aunt Thelma's Recording Studio.

photo by Julie Keefe

photo by Glenn Bledsoe

Stephen now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate and their Sussex Spaniel dog Beeber. His two children now each have children of their own, and Stephen is a grandfather! Stephen continues to play guitar every day, compose music, write songs, perform, record and to live! He returned to Wilsonville High School in 2012 as Artist in Residence and helped students in 3 special education classes produce a recording (recorded by Dean Baskerville's Recording Arts class at Clackamas Community College in a nice educational collaboration) and a music video of original material (filmed and edited by students under the direction of Stephen and filmmaker Billy Miller).

In February 2103 he produced and was a performer at the Rain Songs concert  in Portland.

Stephen just built 2 new cigar boxes himself. Here he is on the porch with one of them.
                                                     He can't wait to see what happens next!

Stephen's Kindiefest Industry Showcase Performance at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Last month I attended Kindiefest and performed at the industry showcase.


All in all, it was a good experience. My industry showcase performance went very well: a good room with a great sound and a nice audience of music professionals, musicians and the like. The audience participation in my songs Give Me That Toy and Baseball, Baseball was great. I played Ride the Train on cigar box guitar, and later that night and on the next day I received many enthusiastic comments about it from conference attendees. There is something going on with that cigar box guitar! I am already planning my next album, which has a working title of 3 string Stephen plays cigar box guitar. Here are the Kindiefest tailored lyrics of Ride the Train:
photo by Julie Keefe in Portland 

It's a dusty old train rolling down the line, it's a dusty old train making good timeride, ride, ride the train
I'm so happy to be at Kindiefest singing my song, thank you so much for singing along     
ride, ride, ride the train
Hear that train coming, coming round the track, hear that train coming to Brooklyn and back    ride, ride, ride the train
through a many toned forest behind an old stone wall, hear the voices in the forest after the fall
ride, ride, ride the train
I came here all the way from Portland, Oregon
Portland is a place where it rains, rains, rains, rains, rains
I didn't take a car that would be much too far,  I didn't take a bus that would be too much fuss, I didn't take a truck, I'd be out of luck, I didn't ride a bike on the turnpike 
I took a plane, then a train, then the 3 train, then I took a walk, but enough talk
                                                      let's take a ride with the slide  (and the piece ends with a slide solo)

It was a pleasure and an honor to attend and a perform at a conference at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is a really a world class facility. I've had many musical trips to Manhatten and Long Island, but I never really spent time in Brooklyn until this conference. It is definitely dense, diverse, busy, and full of human life. Walking the streets in Brooklyn I could imagine living there as opposed to living in Portland, and I could see it, I could see the creative possibilities, I feel could see the increased opportunities. But I also could feel the crowding, the noise, the constant striving that goes on in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Back in Portland, with flowering trees in our yard and mountains in the distance, I am appreciating our life here in this western oasis even more.

I enjoyed hearing the other performers at Kindiefest. Kindifest is part of the Kindie music movement, a  movement that values music that can be enjoyed by parents as well as their children. I made my album Here Comes the Band in 2006 as a concept album for adults and children. That album is what brought me to Kindiefest, where it was nice to see a whole community that shares the idea of music for all. Every band and performer that I heard had something good to offer. I was especially impressed with the quirky good musicianship of Verad and the Babes from Brooklyn, the hip hop creativity of the Alphabet Rockers from California, and the gentle showmanship, music and all around good feeling of David Wax Museum. And dance bands like Father Goose, Josh and the Jamtones, and the Dirty Sock Funtime Band, all with excellent musicians, created compelling dance music for both adults and children.
Keynote speaker Ella Jenkins played some wonderful harmonica, repeated 2 songs, the Cuckoo and London Bridges Falling Down over and over (a sign of age?), serenaded a baby on stage with those two songs, repeatedly forgot that she was there to give a keynote speach, but when asked by one of the festival hosts to give us some advice, she won us over by simply saying, "Love everyone".

I've been involved in the so called music business most of my life, yet I was able to find some new ideas, and some good discussions of old ideas at the conference panels. I am at a point where I am rethinking, retooling and replanning my musical future, and attending the conference helped me in this process. Most of the talk at the panels was about how to manage the business of being a musician, and that was a timely subject for me, as the financial challenges facing a creative person in this world are always daunting. Questions were posed, such as, "Is a full CD really necessary now?" "Are you better off as doing it yourself, or using an agent and publicist?" "Are record label still relevant in these times?" All good questions, and all matters, that I (having been signed by 4 different record companies over the years, as well as having released many self produced projects) am always thinking about.. 

I found that Tyler Bickford, an ethnomusicologist at Columbia University had a very interesting world view of the Kindie movement and music in general. I was moved by Laurie Berkner's talk on her life in family music.
She was a very real person who talked about the luck, hard choices and hard work involved in trying to pay the bills while creating music. And it was good to see and hear Jim Packard, as a panalist on the presenters panel. I have enjoyed performing at the venue he manages, the theater at Long Island Children's Museum, many times, and I was able to appreciate things from the presenters point of view when listening to him and other presenters talk.

The Kindiefest producers, Stephanie, Mona, Tor, and Bill deserve a lot of credit for hosting a wonderful conference while being super nice people as well.

Did any tangible, career changing things happen at Kindiefest for me? That remains to be seen, but I think some of the connections I made there can only lead to some good things down the road. I am already excited by the idea of some possible future collaborations with some of the musicians I met at Kindiefest.

There was a lot of talk on the panels on branding and finding out who you are. I came away from the conference realizing that I am not necessarily a folk artist, not necessarily a kindie artist, or whatever. I am a creative artist who creates music and art. I am project oriented, always thinking of the ongoing project and the next project, but keeping all the past projects alive as well. That is was led me to Kindiefest, and that is what will lead me to even newer adventures. I'll keep doing "grown-up" concerts with my current creative acoustic duo, the WALKING WILLOWS (which features me and Rich Hinrichen, a fantastic double bass player and pianist from Seattle). I'll continue to do family performances now and then, and residencies and workshops as well. Who knows what else the future will bring?

Read reviews of "Here Comes the Band"

 Children's Music That Rocks

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

***Stephen Cohen***

A red-jacketed band of half-human, half-animal musicians comes marching down the street, accompanied by a couple of oversized birds ... what an awesome introduction to Stephen Cohen's Here Comes the Band! With a smoky-voiced delivery, vocal phrasing a little like Rickie Lee Jones, and an intimate coffee house presentation, Portland resident Stephen Cohen whams, tickles, and strums the strings of his guitar, which acts as much a percussion instrument as a keeper of melody, intertwined with the tinkles, knocks, and wobbles of his handmade musical gear. Rhythms are suspended and sometimes done away with entirely in several songs, tying together everything in a cohesive dream-like collection of thoughts put to music. Sound too heavy for a kids' album? Au contraire, my little ones, for that's the amazing thing about this CD: yer tiny kids can sing right along with every single song on the album, while grownups can bask in the glow of Cohen's musical inventiveness. Even though Cohen has been recording since 1979, Here Comes the Band is his first album specifically for kids.

Soon-to-be Toddler Time classics include the mantra-like "Give Me That Toy!", the boppity "Mr. Knickerbocker" and "Baseball, Baseball". The controlled chaos of "The Elephant Walk" mirrors, coincidentally, sounds produced by bands of the Elephant 6 collective (Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.), while the ethereal "Rain, Rain, Rain" fully utilizes Cohen's self-created percussion inventions. The three-part thread "Here Comes the Band / There Goes the Band / Sleepy Dreams (of the Band)" that runs through the CD gives Cohen a chance to name check his old group, the Talk Talk Band. By using a few tunes culled from some of his grownup albums, real life and fiction and Many Hats, Cohen shows his trust in kids' taste and intelligence. He's not making music for children, but just making music.

Not only do you get Cohen's wonderful songs, the CD is also packaged with a lyrics booklet full of artwork by Christopher Shotola-Hardt, instructions on making your own instruments, and explanations of everyone's duties in the making of a CD ("The producer chooses the songs..."). Check out more of Cohen's work, it's pretty inspiring and amazing.
Warren Truitt-(from


 Based in Portland, Oregon Stephen Cohen has been making art of one sort or another for nearly 30 years. Creating music, musical instruments, and visual art, Cohen integrates these three into his performing career.

This is exactly the kind of person that should be making kids' music.
On his recently-released Here Comes The Band, Cohen gives reason to be optimistic for the future of music for families. A heady collection of multi-instrumental folk music, Cohen weaves together an album that flows seamlessly from start to finish. The opening title track serves as the prelude to the whole album, with a melody that pops up at least a couple more times later on in the album. It segues almost imperceptibly into "Give Me That Toy!," which, thankfully, doesn't tell the young listener to ask politely -- it's written from the child's perspective. And from there into the traditional children's rhyme "Mr. Knickerbocker," in which Cohen's distinctive voice (ever-so-slightly nasally and slightly-less-slightly raspy) repeats the phrase "bobbity, bobbity, bobbity-boo" until it gets lodged in your brain. Another favorite song of mine is "The Planetarium," which although is written from the point of the parent taking his son to the planetarium is written with the words of a child ("Then a baby cried and had to go outside / While we watched the lights / Stretch across the black dome sky.")
To talk about the lyrics is to miss the album's chief allure, which is its music. As noted above, some of the musical transitions are seamless. Which isn't to say this is an entirely low-key album. "There Goes the Band" lists 13 people playing or singing on the track. "The Elephant Walk" sounds not a little bit like Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk." The lullabies at the end of the album are sweet as well.
I can't review this album without noting the album packaging, which is one of the best I've seen this year. Lyrics, gorgeous illustrations by Christopher Shotola-Hardt, activities are in the liner notes, along with an explanation of what various people on the album (producer, engineer, visual artist) actually do.
The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9, though it may create fans of parents who are 39. You can hear samples of 5 songs at the album's CD Baby page and hear "Baseball, Baseball" here.
Stephen Cohen's album is a little bit like what might happen if Mr. David and Randy Newman decided to record a kids' album live on Prairie Home Companion. Here Comes the Band establishes a mood and a world that will draw in you and your kids. It may not be the album your family listens to every day for a month, but it will be one you listen to occasionally for many years. Recommended.

January 31, 2007
Here Comes the Band
One of the more unique and sophisticated kids' albums I've come across in the last year is Stephen Cohen's Here Comes the Band.
Although Cohen has a long career as a musician, songwriter, and artist-in-residence for numerous schools, Here Comes the Band is his first kids' album. Cohen has a somewhat Zanesian (did I just invent a new word?) approach to kids' music -- friends and family joining in to play or sing along, laid-back vocals, a folksy singer-songwriter style. But I'm guessing Cohen is also a fan/follower of composer and instrument-builder Harry Partch. Through the use of sculptural percussion instruments and other sounds, Cohen incorporates sound-as-music, much like Brian Wilson did on Pet Sounds.
The title track, which opens the album, sets an intimate tone; and Cohen's voice is raspy, but warm and conversational. The album, overall, is very mellow and sleepy, and the production is reminiscent of Tom Waits. Songs like "Give Me That Toy!" and "Baseball, Baseball" are a bit less mellow than than the rest, but I found myself waiting for a more upbeat, energetic track that never came. In fact, the album winds down with not one or two, but four lullabies.
The album's liner notes include brief explanations on the various instruments played on each song, including several home-made percussion instruments. There are also simple instructions for playing slide guitar on a regular acoustic guitar, and illustrated how-to's for building your own instruments.
Cohen's creative use of sound, combined with sophisticated rhythms and lyrics that express the wonder and innocence of childhood, make music that could easily appeal to listeners of any age. Listen to sample tracks and order the cd here.