New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s is revered as the scene of progressive social interaction fueled by groundbreaking musical adaptation. Or was it the other way around? Regardless, Eric Bibb was there, whiling away his early teens sitting in on Sunday jams in Washington Square and cavorting with family friends such as Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Bibb’s earliest musical role models were closer to home, however: Father Leon Bibb is well known in folk music circles and uncle John Lewis, the pianist, was a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Sharing quarters with a massive collection of vinyl, Bibb eagerly soaked up all that came within earshot. Then, at 19, he moved to Paris, where he came under the guidance of Mickey Baker—he of the popular jazz guitar instructional book. A decade or so later, Bibb found himself the director of a Swedish children’s choir before launching a recording career in the mid-’90s. His latest, A Ship Called Love [Telarc Blues], is turning a lot of heads.

Despite two decades of residence in France, Sweden, and the U.K., your music still has such an American, rootsy feel.
American folk music—meaning everything from ragtime to Delta blues to country gospel and western swing to Dock Boggs mountain music—that’s what really first influenced me. It was the world in which I grew up, because my dad was involved in that world, and it stuck. I’ve had many musical interests all along, but my anchor—musically, emotionally, spiritually—was the music that I grew up with: music like Leadbelly, Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, and Robert Johnson.

Yet A Ship Called Love is quite modern, with solid pop and R&B influences. What else goes into the songwriting mix?
I’ve been writing a long time. In addition to the more unrefined folk music that has gone into the hopper all these years, I’ve also been an avid follower of pop music: Ernie Ford singing “Sixteen Tons,” the Four Tops, Sly Stone, Bobby Womack, the Beatles, and the whole British Invasion. All that stuff was very much in my soundtrack growing up, along with the folkier stuff.

You have quite a collection of unique guitars, some fairly quirky. What are your favorites?
My main guitars are Fylde Guitars. I travel with a 6-string and a 12-string. I have some really interesting 12-strings: I have a parlor-sized slotted-headstock 12-string. It’s quite celestial and chimey. And then I have a very special Jones-Kendall guitar, a beautiful little ragtime guitar with a trapeze tailpiece.

Looking back, what was so noteworthy about the Village scene in your youth?
The music was far greater than simply the songs and the players and the careers that people were striving for. They were ambitious—people wanted the same things musicians today want: record deals and all that. But somehow the music was inextricably attached to a whole way of thinking, a whole set of ethics. It was socially aligned with things that were going on, with civil rights and other kinds of progressive movements. It seemed less self-conscious and more about making the world a better place. And that feeling is starting to come back.

And in those days you had interactions with Seeger and Dylan. What do you remember?
I remember when I was three, Pete Seeger used to come over our house and play banjo with my Teddy bear. He was a family friend. Dylan once came to a party my dad threw at our house when I was 11, Bob was 21 and about to bust wide open. He told me, “Keep it simple. Forget all that fancy stuff.” That really sank in.