Joe Boyd isn’t the most recognizable name in music to most people, yet he was responsible for some of the most important psychedelic folk music of the 1960s including Nick Drake, Shirley Collins, The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. In Boyd’s charming and entertaining memoir White Bicycles, first published in 2006, he recounts his years as a producer and tour manager to many of these musical acts. The book not only offers keen insights into some of those unusual pop artists, it's also rich in anecdotal stories that illuminate the period. Boyd was born in Princeton, New Jersey to a middle-class family. As he reports, “When I was a eleven, we became the last family on our street…to get a TV set…in the autumn of 1954 my brother Warwick and I discovered the real reason we needed it: Bob Horn’s WFIL-TV Bandstand [that] beamed out of Philadelphia every afternoon after school.” The charisma of Horn as host and the vintage r&b and early rock ‘n roll to which Boyd was exposed via the daily high school dance program, changed his life.
Besides being inspired by a TV show, later hosted by Dick Clark, there was also a familial connection. His grandmother, Mary Boxall Boyd, was a concert pianist who taught him piano as a child. But Boyd preferred to place himself under the instrument and listen to his grandmother play Mozart. “I would sit under her grand piano while she practiced. She viewed me as a soul mate…I took lessons from her until I was thirteen, but never thought of myself as a musician. Listening…became a part of my being.” In his final push to a becoming a “producer”, Boyd read the exploits of Ralph Peer, a field-recording producer who was the first person to document blues and country artists for OKeh Records in the 1920s. Boyd goes on to describe his times during his Harvard University days booking Lonnie Johnson for a rare campus gig that launched the bluesman’s career in 1962 to a new audience. It was his love of rural blues music that put Boyd in the forefront of bringing white audiences in touch with virtually forgotten musicians such as, Sleepy John Estes, the Rev. Gary Davis and Doc Watson. As a concert producer and promoter, Boyd’s assertive personality eventually put him into the recording studio. But he spent most of youth travelling the southern U.S. with a major stop in New Orleans. Boyd writes, “As jazz moved from swing towards bebop in the late ‘30s, a group of white fanatics set about rescuing traditional New Orleans jazz from obscurity, much as we were trying to do blues…as the fashion shifts and the beat changes, the intellectuals and wallflowers who have admired the music’s vitality and originality move in to preserve or resurrect the form.” Such was the case in New Orleans, demonstrated by Alan and Sandy Jaffe who established Preservation Hall, and its world famous Jazz Band.