Paul Siebel, singer whose career was remarkable but brief, dies at 84
Paul Siebel, a folk singer and songwriter who drew comparisons to Bob Dylan in the 1960s and 1970s but left the music business, bothered by stage fright and disappointed by the lack of attention his work received , died April 5 in hospice care. in Centerville, Md. He was 84 years old.
The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, said his nephew, Robert Woods. Mr Siebel had lived near Wye Mills.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Siebel (pronounced SEE-bel) moved from Buffalo’s folk music scene to the more thriving Greenwich Village scene.
“He knocked me out”, the folk singer and multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg, who supported Mr. Siebel in performances and remained his friend for decades, said by telephone. “He was a great singer and songwriter. But he had the worst stage fright of anyone I’ve ever met. If it wasn’t for the stage fright, he would have carried on.
Mr. Siebel, whose music was steeped in a country sound, sang in a nasal voice and wrote evocative songs with strong narratives. In “Louisa”, his best-known composition, he sang of the death of a truck stop prostitute:
Well they all said Louise wasn’t half bad
It was written on the walls and the window blinds
And how she would act the little girl
A deceiver, don’t believe her, it’s her job
Linda Ronstadt, in her book “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir” (2013), recalls seeing Mr. Siebel at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in 1969.
“We saw the last part of his very impressive show enriched with his cowboy falsetto and a song about a poignant and sad girl of a certain reputation named Louise,” Ms. Ronstadt wrote.
She recorded “Louise” and included it on her album “Silk Handbag” (1970). It was later covered by Bonnie Raitt, Leo Kottke and at least 20 other artists. Another of Mr. Siebel’s songs, “Johnny Spanish” was recorded by Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings and by Mr. Bromberg.
Mr. Siebel signed with Elektra Records after Mr. Bromberg arranged a concert for him at the Folklore Center in Greenwich Village so that Peter Siegel, a producer at the label, could hear him.
When Mr. Siebel’s debut album, ‘Woodsmoke & Oranges’, was released in 1970, Gregory McDonald, a critic for the Boston Globe, wrote that it “justified his being compared to Bob Dylan now”. He called Mr. Siebel “the big new name in folk music”.
But “Woodsmoke & Oranges” didn’t sell well, nor did his follow-up album, “Jack-Knife Gypsy,” released the following year.
Only one more would remain, a live album recorded with Mr. Bromberg and singer-songwriter Gary White in 1978 and released in 1981.
“He was very critical of himself,” Bromberg said. “After those two albums, he wrote another bunch of songs, but he destroyed them. He said they weren’t as good as the ones on the albums.
By the early 1980s he had left the company altogether.
“I started drinking, things started falling apart” he told American Songwriter magazine in 2011. “I guess I wasn’t getting the recognition I wanted, and without that, how can you write? And then after a while, I just couldn’t go out and do those same songs over and over again. I soured. This embittered.
Paul Karl Siebel was born on September 19, 1937 in Buffalo. His father, Karl, was a farmer and restaurateur. Her mother, Dorothy (Hosmer) Siebel, was a homemaker and seamstress.
Paul studied classical violin as a child and later became proficient on the guitar. After attending what is now the University at Buffalo, he served in the military in Europe before beginning to perform on the Buffalo folk circuit. When he moved to New York, he supported himself by working in a pram factory in Brooklyn.
Robert Zachary Jr., his manager, said Dirty Linen, a folk and world music magazine, in 1996 that before Mr. Siebel signed with Elektra, he had no phone. “I used to send him telegrams, you know, to come see us and talk to us or sign a contract,” he said.
After Mr. Siebel walked away from the music industry, he became a restaurant baker and county park worker in Maryland.
He leaves no immediate survivors.
When asked in 1996 how he thought he would be remembered, Mr Siebel said: ‘He was a guy who wrote some really good songs. What happened to him ?