The term “folksinger,” applied to a female, especially in the early ’60s, conjures up a vision of a wispy sylph with a pure, sweet soprano and an earnest demeanor. That wasn’t Cleveland’s Gusti 50 years ago and it’s not her today.
The one-named folksinger is releasing an 18-song compilation called Then and Now, which she’s celebrating with a 7 p.m. show Sunday at the Beachland Tavern. Admission is $7. Although her once flame-red hair is now gray, she promises a lively, fun evening and nobody sitting on stools singing “House of the Rising Sun.”
In 1961 Gusti was a soloist at the Windermere Methodist Church on Euclid Avneue, when a fiend from the chir took her to a hootenanny at the Rising Moon (later known as Faragher’s) on Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights. There she eschewed the mic and wowed the crowd with her deep, roof-raising voice which she says is “in a tenor range.”
Members of the New Wine Singers, a local group who’d jumped into the then-booming folk revival, were in the house and invited her to join. She took them up on it — just as they were moving to Chicago for what became a year-and-a-half stint. There she rubbed elbows with a who’s who of the folk, artistic, and cultural scenes.
Returning to Cleveland in 1963, she took up guitar (she’d been singing since she could toddle, thanks to encouragement from her father Harold Haugh, a noted singer of sacred music and professor at Oberlin and the University of Michigan) and played frequently at Faragher’s and the legendary LaCave on Euclid near E. 105th, which she managed for a while. Her subsequent career has included festivals in Scotland, campfires in Colorado, and in a Brendan Behan musical bio play at PlayhouseSquare.
Then and Now features just a sampling of the vast and varied repertoire she’s acquired over the years, ranging from traditional folk ballads like “Eileen Aroon” and “The Butcher Boy” to modern tunes like Eric Bogel’s “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” to show tunes like “Try to Remember.” She can move from bawdy to sentimental, humorous to heartfelt and moving in an eyeblink.
“I sing everything but rock and roll,” she says. “Gilbert & Sullivan, union songs, humorous songs, hymns. I even know one Yiddish song.”
The CD is on Cleveland-based Abydos Records, a project of Jeff McConocha’s Abydos recording studio. She credits McConocha as the catalyst.
“It was his encouragement and enthusiasm that made it happen,” she says. “He used to come hear me with his brother and sister when he was a little kid. Last year he asked if I would be interested in doing some recording, and I said ‘You betcha.’ We’ve recorded 52 songs so far. He’s planning many CDs and maybe a documentary. He thinks I’m well worth it!”
In a complete coincidence, vocalist/pianist Arnie Lanza, who sang with Gusti in the New Wine Singers in the early ’60s, is playing at Nighttown at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Lanza, a longtime Chicago resident, specializes in cabaret-style jazz, which he’s been playing since his 1953 graduation from Gilmour Academy. Admission is $10.
For those who’d like to know more about Gusti or aficionados of the ’60s folk revival, there’s a wealth of information at her Facebook page.