Michael Cooney, the popular folk singer who lived and worked out of this area in the late '60s, will perform at the Washington Ethical Society on Friday, his first local appearance since a serious auto accident two years ago. Cooney, known as "the singer of old songs," maintains the troubadour tradition by spending most of his time out on the road -- which is one of the reasons he left Washington. "I was always paying rent on a place I never was," he explains. "I'd originally moved down here because there were so many good singers and players, but whenever I'd get home, I'd never want to leave the house. Now I have no address at all, only a post office box."
The singer, whose last album was appropriately titled "Still Cooney After All These Years," is on the road up to three weeks of each month. "It's very difficult to turn down work," he says. "I asked myself, 'Would I pay this much not to work tonight?'" Cooney crisscrosses the country in a comfortable van that is also home to his two guitars, two banjos, concertina, harmonicas, kazoos and jew's harps. Should he ever become stranded, he expects to start practicing some of the hundreds of folk songs he's collected in his travels. "There are some from 10 to 15 years ago I still haven't learned," he confesses. "And the best songs come from hearing something you've never heard before in a place you've never been before." Those songs include children's variations on commercials, an always popular segment of Cooney's animated performance.