Biography

Gordon Bok before an audience holding his guitar and speaking into a microphone.

Gordon was born in Pennsylvania in 1939. When he was three years old, his family moved to Maine where his father worked in a shipyard that was building wooden vessels for the government during WWII. Gordon’s playground became the post-war shipyard, and his heroes were shipwrights, machinists, and those who worked around the waterfront.

His mother’s family enjoyed making music together and they learned songs wherever their travels took them; there was never a lack of music in his home.

Gordon’s first jobs were on local boats, and as he wondered farther afloat he indulged his passion for absorbing music from people of many different backgrounds. He picked up guitar from family and other players he met. His playing was influenced by recordings of Lead Belly, Les Paul, Andres Segovia, wind in trees and rigging, Laurindo Almeida, the role on the shore, Yaqui harp music, boat engines, accompanying fiddlers for contra dances, and South American musicians.  

In the 1960’s, he was still working on boats in the warm months and in cities like New York and Philadelphia in winter. In New York City, he met Noel Paul Stookey, who not only convinced him to make an album for Verve Records Folkways Subsidiary, but also produced that album. In Philadelphia, he worked with and accompanied Esther Halpern, who encouraged him to concentrate more on concerts and music as a career.

In Philadelphia, he also began making music with Kalmyk Mongolian immigrants who had settled in the area in the 1950s. There he made many friends, played in a small ensemble for their traditional performances, and became in informal repository for a collection of some of the music they brought to his country, gathered over a 50 year span.

In 1960, he met Ann Mayo Muir and began an over 40 year collaboration, joined later by Ed Trickett. They toured as a trio for 30 years.

In 1969 he was the original first mate in the sloop Clearwater, delivering her from Maine to her work on the Hudson River and performing in fundraising concerts for that endeavor. On that trip, he met and began a long relationship with Sandy and Caroline Paton, the owners of Folk Legacy Records. He would record a large body of songs for them, many original, as well as stories and myths from the sea.

In 1986, Bok founded the Timberhead Music record label. There would be 18 albums on Timberhead, including two new titles by Bok, Trickett & Muir, as well as albums by Helen Schneyer and Bob Stuart. In 2021, Timberhead Music’s complete collection of musical works was acquired by The Smithsonian Institute’s Folkways Recordings label, which had also previously acquired Folk Legacy’s catalogue as well, making it the permanent home for nearly all of Bok’s work.

Over the span of sixty years, Gordon Bok’s touring has taken him across North America, including Alaska and some Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and a bit of Australia, both solo and with his wife, singer and harpist Carol Rohl.

Among other honors, Gordon has received the American Film Festival’s Blue Ribbon Award for his music and score for the film Coaster: The Adventures of the John F. Leavitt, (1983), an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Maine Maritime Academy, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Rutgers University.

At home, he continues to write, design, work on his art and make music with Carol and other friends, as well as doing the occasional concert. He released his latest album, “Windcalling” in December 2023.

For sync and DPD licensing inquiries pertaining to recordings, please contact Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. For mechanical licensing inquiries pertaining to covers, please email music.timberhead@gmail.com.