Paul Siebel, a folk singer and songwriter who drew comparisons to Bob Dylan in the 1960s and ’70s but dropped out of the music business, hindered by stage fright and disappointed by the lack of attention his work received, died on April 5 in hospice care in Centreville, Md. He was 84.
The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, his nephew, Robert Woods, said. Mr. Siebel had lived in nearby Wye Mills.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Siebel (pronounced SEE-bel) moved from the folk music scene in Buffalo to the more thriving one in Greenwich Village.
“He knocked me out,” the folk singer and multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg, who backed Mr. Siebel in performances and remained his friend for decades, said by phone. “He was a great singer and songwriter. But he had the worst stage fright of anyone I ever met. If not for the stage fright, he would have continued.”
Mr. Siebel, whose music was infused with a country sound, sang in a nasal voice and wrote evocative songs with strong narratives. In “Louise,” his best-known composition, he sang about the death of a truck-stop prostitute:
Well, they all said Louise was not half bad
It was written on the walls and window shades
And how she’d act the little girl
A deceiver, don’t believe her, that’s her trade
Linda Ronstadt, in her book “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir” (2013), recalled seeing Mr. Siebel at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in 1969.
“We saw the last part of his very impressive show made rich with his cowboy falsetto and a song about a poignant, sad girl of a certain reputation named Louise,” Ms. Ronstadt wrote.
She recorded “Louise” and included it on her album “Silk Purse” (1970). It was subsequently covered by Bonnie Raitt, Leo Kottke and at least 20 other artists. Another of Mr. Siebel’s songs, “Spanish Johnny,” was recorded by Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings and by Mr. Bromberg.
Mr. Siebel signed with Elektra Records after Mr. Bromberg set up a concert for him at the Folklore Center, in Greenwich Village, so that Peter Siegel, a producer for the label, could hear him.
When Mr. Siebel’s first album, “Woodsmoke & Oranges,” was released in 1970, Gregory McDonald, a critic for The Boston Globe, wrote that it “justifies his currently being compared with Bob Dylan.” He called Mr. Siebel “the big new name in folk music.”
But “Woodsmoke & Oranges” did not sell well and neither did his follow-up album, “Jack-Knife Gypsy,” released the next year.
There would be only one more, a live album recorded with Mr. Bromberg and the singer-songwriter Gary White in 1978 and released in 1981.
“He was very critical of himself,” Mr. 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 business altogether.
“I started drinking, things started coming apart,” he told the magazine American Songwriter 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 again and again. I soured. It soured.”
Paul Karl Siebel was born on Sept. 19, 1937, in Buffalo. His father, Karl, was a farmer and restaurateur. His mother, Dorothy (Hosmer) Siebel, was a homemaker and seamstress.
Paul studied classical violin as a child and later became proficient at the guitar. After attending what is now the University at Buffalo, he served in the Army in Europe before beginning to perform on the folk circuit in Buffalo. When he moved to New York City, he supported himself by working in a baby carriage factory in Brooklyn.
Robert Zachary Jr., his manager, told Dirty Linen, a folk and world music magazine, in 1996 that, before Mr. Siebel signed with Elektra, he didn’t have a telephone. “I used to have to send him telegrams, you know, to get him to come uptown and see us and talk to us or sign a contract,” he said.
After Mr. Siebel walked away from the music business, he became a bread baker for a restaurant and a county park worker in Maryland.
He leaves no immediate survivors.
Asked in 1996 how he thought he would be remembered, Mr. Siebel said: “He was a guy who wrote a couple of pretty good songs. What ever happened to him?”