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Apologies to Woody, Pete and my thanks to Joan, Jack, Rooftop Singers and Peter, Paul and Mary
I should apologize to
the very gifted son of folk music legend, Woody Guthrie for what I am about to say. I do not miss Woody Guthrie in the least. Not that I had ill will toward the guy, I can pin-point the cause of my lack of mourning for Guthrie as being that incisive howling and acceptable-off-key-and-sincere moaning and singing about the plight of society in which he chose to live before and during The Great Depression.
I would not hold it against Arlo if he were to say the same about my dad, who by the way, was around during Woody's hey day. He would be entitled.
I do give credit
to Woody Guthrie for being a "friend to the friendless" and yet establishing a silent rebellion among migrant farm workers and fruit pickers who were at the mercy of crop owners to could pay little or nothing to these hungry and poor workers who knew that if they got one foot out of line, it would mean a beating from the crop owners' "bulls" or in layman's terms, enforcers and loss of their shells-of-jobs.
But that howling at the drop of a hat when the mood would strike Woody Guthrie. That red-hot passionate lyrics that he mostly made up on the spot to soothe the workers' anger and yet teach them to have pride enough to not fear the hard hand of the crop owners and their harsh treatment.
But to Woody and Arlo, "I am so sorry" that I never gained a love for Woody's style of music. I am not going to insult you with a back pocket loaded with flimsy excuses. But Arlo, your music said a lot to me as well as your wonderful gift of playing the guitar. (e.g. "Alice's Restaurant" Live at opening of The Woody Guthrie Center) as well as "Hobo's Lullabye," "Coming Into Los Angeles," and others where the real you was always visible.
Caption for above photo
Pete Seeger, left, singing and playing banjo for Valentine's Day party to mark the opening of the United Federal Labor Canteen.
I should also apologize
to another folk legend, Pete Seeger, activist, songwriter, performer, for his unorthodox banjo picking style and yes, his squealing of some swiftly-written lyrics to coincide with whatever cause (or protest) that he was supporting through his music.
Seeger also played guitar on occasion. I know what you are thinking. Did Seeger ever meet Bob Dylan? Sure. They had a lot in common: their mildly-annoying style of singing. Seeger's squealing and now Dylan's nasal twanging out "The Times They Are a Changin" sure made Americans sit up and get angry. I mean, Dylan in time had legions of worshipers as he still does, but that nasal barking got to be an old song worn out on the Victrolia.
But this is to voice my not missing Pete Seeger. Fact: I do not own one record by either Seeger or Woody Guthrie. I do own, thank God, a few by Arlo.
Now enjoy Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Caption for Above Photo
Ramblin' Jack Elliott at Knuckleheads Saloon's Gospel Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri on May 3, 2013.
My instant appreciation for
"Ramblin'" Jack Elliott, a true pioneer (in every since of the word) in Folk Music, was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents in 1931, he attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and graduated in 1949. Elliott grew up inspired by the rodeos at Madison Square Garden, and wanted to be a cowboy. Encouraged instead to follow his father's example and become a surgeon, Elliott rebelled, running away from home at the age of 15 to join Col. Jim Eskew's Rodeo, the only rodeo east of the Mississippi. They traveled throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and New England. He was only with them for three months before his parents tracked him down and had him sent home, but Elliott was exposed to his first singing cowboy, Brahmer Rogers, a rodeo clown who played guitar and five-string banjo, sang songs, and recited poetry. Back home, Elliott taught himself guitar and started busking for a living. Eventually he got together with Woody Guthrie and stayed with him as an admirer and student.
While in one of my recent bouts with depression, Elliott touched my heart with a rendition of the Dylan classic, "Don't Think Twice It's All Right," and although he will never know it, during my watching and soaking in of his venture to record this song, I realized that all things in life although sometimes small and overlooked are all the more important in the Grand Scheme of things.
Rooftop Singers, "Walk Right In"
My next-to-the-next-to last folk favorite
is and without any apology to my rock band followers, The Rooftop Singers. If you love what I call from my strictly amateur status as a folk music expert, "progressive folk," than these singers are for you. The Rooftop Singers were an American progressive folk-singing trio in the early 1960s, best known for the hit "Walk Right In".The group was composed of Erik Darling and Bill Svanoe (vocals, guitar) with former jazz singer Lynne Taylor (vocals).
Darling put the group together in June 1962 specifically to record an updated and uptempo version of a 1929 Gus Cannon folk blues song, "Walk Right In". The trio recorded the song for Vanguard Records, with updated lyrics and an arrangement featuring paired 12-string acoustic guitars. The record became the most successful single in Vanguard's history.
In the U.S., the song was #1 for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in early 1963. It spent five weeks atop the Easy Listening chart, which would later become known as the Adult Contemporary chart. In addition, "Walk Right In" reached both the R&B chart (peaking at #4) as well as the country music chart (peaking at #23). The song reached #1 in Australia on the Kent Music Report in 1963, and it made the Top 10 on the UK Singles Chart in the United Kingdom, peaking at #10. The recording sold over one million copies, gaining gold disc status.
I admit it. I loved this song, "Walk Right In," by this open-minded group and I also admit that this song was the first song that was the easiest to memorize and sing anywhere you happen to be. Did you also find yourself memorizing your favorite songs to just sing them to yourself or if you were with friends? That was fun.
And this was probably the only progressive folk song that I found could make the atmosphere just right if and when (in those days) that I was blessed to be with a pretty girl who loved music as much as I did. But what caught my ear was the 12-string guitar solo (or bridge) by Darling and Svanoe that separated the verses. I know why this solo was so fluent and easy to appreciate. Every music lover knows that a 12-string "axe" always sounds better than a regular 6-string guitar.
Joan Baez, Woodstock, 1969, "Joe Hill"
My next-to-the-last folk favorite
is Joan Baez born Jan. 9, 1941 as (Joan Chandos Baez) is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician, and activist, whose contemporary folk music often includes songs of protest or social justice. Baez has performed publicly for over 55 years, releasing over 30 plus albums. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has recorded songs in at least six other languages.
She is regarded as a folk singer, although her music has diversified since the counterculture days of the 1960s and now encompasses everything from folk rock and pop to country and gospel music. Although a songwriter herself, Baez generally interprets other composers' work, having recorded songs by the Allman Brothers Band, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Violeta Parra, The Rolling Stones, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and many others. In recent years, she has found success interpreting songs of modern songwriters such as Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Steve Earle and Natalie Merchant. Her recordings include many topical songs and material dealing with social issues.
My favorite song performed by Baez is "Joe Hill," as she did at the first Woodstock, Aug. 1969, Bethel, N.Y. What she says in the introduction still gives me chills today as then, she was actively involved (as many music and film stars were) in protests against the Vietnam War. Baez speaks about her then-husband, David Harris, another activist who had been sentenced to Federal Prison on charges of (allegedly) the destruction of public property, inciting a riot, among other charges.
(Although Baez does not speak of Harris in the "Joe Hill" video on this hub). During Harris' time in prison, he convinced around 40, more or less, Federal prisoners to go on a hunger strike with him in protest of the conflict in Vietnam. Harris and Baez were married for a short time before her career began to be the root of conflict for Harris and preventing the two from being able to spend time together.
The incomparable Peter, Paul, and Mary
Blame it on age
for my not acquiring a taste for the early music by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. I was young and foolish. But so were the majority of my friends who were the same age as me. Hardly none of them liked Woody or Pete. But one guy, Hardwick Gregg, formerly of Hamilton, Ala., a classmate of mine from the Hamilton High School Class of 1972, was an Arlo Guthrie freak. Gregg loved every note of every song released by Arlo.
And if the conditions and chemical mixtures were right, Gregg could easily sing the entire song "Alice's Restaurant" and never miss a lyric. Not many of us could do that even with our school anthem. Shame. I sometimes wonder how I made it through high school.
In my latter years and when my music appreciation began to expand (not my mind, do not read anything illegal into this story) I took a liking to PBS and a trio whose song brought tears to my eyes. I do not care if any of my classmates are reading this. Peter, Paul, and Mary were doing a sell-out concert at Carnegie Hall and the audience was made up of mostly (late) twenty and thirty-something's who had their grandkids with them to enjoy this trio who sang with the ease of a crow flying on its route. That's easy.
But the last song of the concert defied any adjective that one could imagine. "Puff, The Magic Dragon," started out with Peter and Paul strumming their guitars, but at song's end they stopped and with Mary, led the audience in singing the entire song while the cameramen (women too) did a superb job of panning the crowd who was spell bound except for their lips who moved in sync to this folk standard.
I will be honest. The early music by Peter, Paul and Mary did not appeal to me as it did Hardwick, if truth be known. I guess as I sat and silently wept as the lyrics for "Puff, The Magic Dragon" filled the hallowed Carnegie Hall, it was all of the memories of my youth that this song had touched. And man, did it ever touch me at the deepest level.
That was a few years ago. But even now in 2016, soon to be 2017, I will catch myself whistling or softly singing this song to myself when my wife is working in her shop and I am bored by whatever re-run is on television.
Thank you, Peter, Paul, and Mary, for "Puff, The Magic Dragon."
And thank you to my own "Puff" when I was "Jackie Paper's age."
Good night, Biloxi, Mississippi.
If you are a Folk Music fan closet or open, find out more about these artists at these links:
© 2017 Kenneth Avery