Buskin & Batteau retaking the stage in a healthier state
The long, glorious run of folk duo Buskin & Batteau could be coming to an end.
On the other hand, if the music gods are agreeable, Buskin & Batteau could be coming to a listening room near you for years to come.
What will determine whether David Buskin and Robin Batteau’s first shows together in nearly four years trigger a tour for the singer-songwriters who formed a perfect union in the late 1970s and built a legion of followers that exists to this day?
“We’ll see how we feel about it and how our fans feel about it afterwards,” Batteau says. “We’ll take it one step at a time.”
The first of those steps is a weekend date at one of their old haunts, Club Passim in Cambridge.
The two sold-out shows — billed as “Up Yours, Cancer and Happy Valentine’s Day” concerts — were set in response to Batteau’s recovery from colon cancer (as well as a heart attack), but almost six months of chemotherapy left him with numbness in his hands and feet. It’s the hands, of course, that present the greatest worry for a musician whose signature instrument is a violin (he plays guitar too).
“That’s a challenge, and it’s on top of the arthritis I’ve been dealing with for 10 years,” says Batteau, 70, a New York native who was raised in Cambridge and graduated from Harvard with a degree in biochemistry. “The arthritis has made me unable to play the guitar as I need to. My fingers just aren’t as nimble.
“And I’m not as adept on the violin as I have been, and that’s frustrating,” adds Batteau, whose “The Boy With the Violin” has captivated concertgoers for four decades. “I don’t want to play for people if I can’t play as well as I should. I’ll do my best, but who knows, this might be the last hurrah, the last concerts I do because if I’m not satisfied with the way it sounds, then I’ll focus on something else for the last chapter.”
Batteau said it was arthritis that put the brakes on the duo four years ago. The last time they performed together was March 22, 2014, as part of a Stand for the Troops concert in Washington, D.C.
From 1978 to 1990, they thrived as Buskin & Batteau, in recordings and concerts. They also enjoyed lucrative, award-winning careers writing ad jingles. Then they took a break, spending more time with their families while pursuing other work before reuniting in 2008.
On Sept. 10, 2016, Batteau suffered a heart attack. His wife, Wendy, drove him from their Wesport, Conn., home to the hospital, where doctors inserted a stent and tried to determine the cause of the attack. Two days later, they discovered that he had colon cancer. He had surgery around Christmas 2016, followed by chemotherapy treatments until May of last year.
Buskin, 74, who has been performing as a duo with his daughter Sophie since 2016, is looking forward to reuniting with his old partner. (Longtime B&B percussionist Marshal Rosenberg will also be on hand for the Passim shows.)
“It’s a treat to play all these songs again,” says Buskin, a Bronx native and Brown University graduate who lives in Katonah, N.Y. “When we started doing this, we weren’t even sure there was a gig at the end of it. I suggested to Robin that we try rehearsing just to get him over some of the effects of chemo. We started getting good, so we said, ‘Let’s fly it by the public.’ ”
Meanwhile, the Buskin father-daughter collaboration has given him even more cause to count his blessings. Sophie, 27, who studied for two years at Berklee College of Music before hopping on the folk music carousel, performs a stirring solo rendition of her father’s “When I Need You Most of All” in their shows together. “When did I write that, 1970?” Buskin says. “And here’s my daughter, singing it better than it’s ever been sung.” That song will be included on the solo album Sophie is recording at Fox Run Studio in Sudbury, and her dad is delighted she’s joined “the family business.”
“I’d already considered myself one of the luckiest people I know,” Buskin says. “This just puts the proverbial icing on the cake. Who knew this treat was waiting for me in my dotage?”
And who knew that Buskin & Batteau would still be a treat for fans 40 years after their first collaboration?
BUSKIN & BATTEAU
With Janie Barnett
At Club Passim, Cambridge, Feb. 10-11 at 7 p.m.