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A Boston folk legend reappears

“Everything I write, I mean. Just because something’s funny don’t mean it ain’t serious, All my life it’s been that way,” says Jack Landrón, who was known as Jackie Washington back in the 1960s.Catherine Sebastian/Handout

In one of the more unforgettable scenes from “For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival,” a recent documentary about the historic Cambridge venue now known as Club Passim, Jack Landrón essentially hurls a fireball at the screen.

Landrón, known back in the 1960s as Jackie Washington, one of the more popular folk musicians around town (and perhaps the only one of color), details how he felt like an outsider in a scene that was charged with supporting equality and progress.

Born Juan Cándido Washington y Landrón in Puerto Rico and raised in Roxbury, Landrón was not like his white contemporaries. As they were discovering what he calls ethnic music, he didn’t have to. It was already in his blood and in his family’s home.


When Landrón returns to Club Passim on Friday for a rare local performance, he arrives not just as a footnote in Cambridge’s folk-music legacy, but rather as a survivor whose path has been circuitous but rewarding.

“What’s happening to me now is that people saw me in that [Club 47] movie and said, ‘Oh, I thought you were dead,’ ” Landrón says recently from his home in Los Angeles, where he moved four years ago from New York.

He has a new album, his first in 45 years, called “Curbside Cotillion,” and befitting a man who waited that long to record again, it’s all over the map. From the cabaret-esque opener, “One Man Show,” to songs that brim with joyful Latin rhythms, it presents Landrón as a chameleonic songwriter with something to say.

The album strikes a tasteful balance between wry humor and lion-in-winter poignancy. On “One Man Show,” he admits, “I always wanted to be a star / But I never made it / Until I picked up my guitar / And I created a one-man show.”


“Everything I write, I mean. Just because something’s funny don’t mean it ain’t serious,” he says, laughing. “All my life it’s been that way.”

For all of his local acclaim — and he’s an acknowledged influence on Bob Dylan and Joan Baez — Landrón is the Club 47 luminary who has fallen through the cracks. His legacy hasn’t been preserved in traditional ways. He doesn’t have a website. None of his four albums on Vanguard Records in the ’60s have been released on CD or in a digital format. A YouTube search yields mostly videos for the Canadian blues musician named Jackie Washington. And Landrón seems surprised by the notion that anyone would discover him in 2013.

“I am an antique in that I don’t know a lot of things,” he says. “Somebody showed me Wikipedia and Googled me, and there’s a whole lot of material about me that I didn’t know was there. I didn’t and don’t to this day know how it gets there or who puts it there.”

Landrón playfully sidesteps a question about his age. “Let’s just say I was the busboy at the Last Supper,” he jokes. (His Wikipedia page lists it as 74.)

He’s partly responsible for his own obscurity. When he finished Emerson College, he disappeared from the music scene and moved to New York to work with various theater groups. Every once in a while he’d be recognized from his folk days and be invited to perform with his guitar.


As early as his Club 47 years, Landrón was well aware of the disparity he felt among fellow musicians.

“At the time the folk music thing was happening around Harvard Square and in Boston in general, there was a new wave of thought,” he says. “We were talking about equality and changing the way things were perceived. But when you say, ‘We’re all equal,’ that doesn’t happen right away. I was in the center of the Harvard Square [scene], and we were all equal, it was just that everybody else was more equal than me.”

To demonstrate, he tells the story of meeting Baez. Like most everyone who encountered her back then, he was enchanted.

“She was, and still is, beautiful and had a voice that was absolutely ethereal,” Landrón says. “She was unattainable and everybody wanted to save her. Oh, my God, it was fabulous!”

When it came time to meet her after a show, knowing that Baez was Mexican-American, he exclaimed, ‘Por fin! Me alegro conocerte, mami!” (“Finally! I’m happy to meet you, mami!”), to which Baez replied, rather coldly, “I don’t speak Spanish” and turned and went back to talking to her friends.

“I felt like I was on a dusty road carrying a bunch of plátanos,” he says. “I’ll never forget the moment.”

“He was my favorite part of the film for that kind of honesty. He really lit up the screen,” says Todd Kwait, who made “For the Love of the Music” with local filmmaker Rob Stegman and also released Landrón’s new album on his label, Kingswood Records. “I try in all of my films not to be nostalgic, and he really said it as he felt it. I’m glad he said it. Life is not always ‘Kumbaya.’ ”


James Reed can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.