Saturday, April 22, 2006

Seeger & You Shall Find...

Just read in the Wall Street Journal weekend section about New Jersey's fave son Bruce Springsteen, who for some reason for as long as I can remember (yet no one can ever recall exactly why), people always call the Boss. Seems he's caught a screening of A Mighty Wind and has a case of folk fever again. Springsteen, whom Jon Landau once wrote about "I've seen the future... and it's name is Bruce Springsteen"...

well, it seems Landau's once futuristic rock hero is releasing an album of Pete Seeger influenced tunes, and going on an arena tour with a folky Americana backing ensemble replete with fiddle. Now the one thing I know about this, is I'm pretty sure Pete Seeger was never much fond of guys who liked to be called the Boss...

Pete Seeger, though is certainly overripe for proper tribute, and if it has to be the Boss to do so, then so be it. (Pocatello's Jeremy Petersen's blog has some of the Bruce tracks posted as a preview, and Brit blogger Jon sends me a link to a Guardian interview with ol Bossy.) Pete's likely proud of all this hub bub, and amazingly enough, he's still alive and living up along his beloved Hudson river in upstate New York. In fact he's turning 87 on May 3rd, and is scheduled to perform at the Clearwater festival this summer, an event in Poughkeepsie NY that benefits his fave river related environmental causes.

Seeger, son of a Juilliard musicologist was a frustrated and unemployable Harvard grad when he became a musician as a side line to his idealistic pursuit to fight injustice & poverty. No doubt one of America's greatest songsmiths, he was a very vital part of the activist folk music scene in the 40's, 50's & 60's. Seeger, then a Communist Party member, formed The Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie back in the 1940's and later the Weavers, dabbling in a heady mix of Marxism & music during a contentious "Red Scare" period in American history.At the behest of J Edgar Hoover, The Weavers soon became the first musicians in American history to be investigated by the FBI for sedition.

Pete Seeger has somehow survived the cold war hysteria that threatened his career, and has since become a mostly forgotten figure to the mainstream media, but remains a beloved elder movement folk hero from a unique era in American history. Lately, he's been known as much for his ecological concerns, and for entertaining children as he did the rabble rousers & activists back in the day.

Here's one of his more benign kid friendly tunes...

Pete Seeger - Fly Through My Window

As harmless as he sounds there, he certainly aroused the ire of right wing zealots & anti-union forces throughout his career.

He was eventually summoned before the House UnAmerican Activities Commitee in the 1950's, where he took not the 5th, but cited the 1st Amendment as reason not to testify. He refused to give names or apologize for his beliefs, and instead offered to sing the songs he was on trial for to the stern faced panel and was cited for contempt of Congress. On July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt of Congress. After a "trial" he was sentenced to time in jail, but his ordeal ended when the case was dismissed in the early 1960's on a technicality.

Basically blacklisted from his then thriving career, he wound up going virtually underground. The Weavers went from one of the most popular groups on the airwaves, to having their TV show cancelled, and Seeger would not be invited to perform on network TV for 17 more years . He was soon found playing liberal campus coffeehouses, and small rallies, stirring up crowds during the civil rights movement, and later against the Vietnam War.

Despite the government persecution, and the old timey quality of Seeger's music, his songs grew in fame, with one of the biggest hits being the 1956 anti-war tune "Where Have All The Flowers Gone"...

Here's an English version sung by the German born cinema & stage star Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich performed it in 1962 in French ("Qui peut dire vont les fleurs?") , as well as her native German ( "Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind?").

Marlene Dietrich - Where Have All The Flowers Gone

here's her native tongue version :

Marlene Dietrich - sag mir, wo die blumen sind?

Other versions of this classic are of course numerous including those from Dolly Parton, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Rivers, Peter Paul & Mary and the NYC peace punk band A.P.P.L.E...

and just to prove that here's another more contemporary take by Ashland Oregon electro garage rocker Technator

Technator - Where Have All The Flowers Gone

Some of Pete's songs became big hits for other artists such as The Byrd's featuring Roger McGuinn & David Crosby.

Pete talks about this in this 2003 interview

Pete Seeger on the Byrd's Turn Turn Turn

and here's the Byrd's song itself

The Byrds - Turn, Turn, Turn

Roger McGuinn of the Byrd's was no doubt a big Seeger fan, and bought a Vega "Pete Seeger Model" banjo at the first chance he had. It was actually his Seeger influenced banjo picking style that created the Byrd's trademark 12 string guitar sound. Here McGuinn recalls seeing Seeger as kid, in a quote from McGuinn's FolkDen website.

I remember going to see Pete Seeger in concert at Orchestra Hall in Chicago many times in my teen years. His 12-string guitar was always tuned down so that the bass notes were big and round, filling the hall as would a string quartet. His voice was clear, full of emotion and youthful exuberance. That was the first time I heard The Water Is Wide. Now I'm on concert tour in England. I decided to recorded this song live at the Jazz Cafe in London.

Roger McGuinn- The Water Is Wide

In 1995, on occasion of his 75th birthday the NY Times interviewed him and Seeger offered up some interesting comments.

NY Times Q: How have your politics changed?

A:" I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other. My father, Charles Seeger, got me into the Communist movement. He backed out around '38. I drifted out in the 50's. I apologize [in his recent book] for following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader.

I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it. But if by some freak of history communism had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in 'ail. As my father used to say: "The truth is a rabbit in a bramble patch. All you can do is circle around and say it's somewhere in there."

I've been trying to write a song for years on the general theme of "don't give up." Now I just quote the bumper sticker: "There's no hope, but I may be wrong." I've been saying it so much that people think it's mine, but it's not.

here's just a small assemblage of Pete's many recordings...

here's a depression era ballad

The Weavers - Brother Can You Spare A Dime

here's pickin' Pete with that suite blue eyed Judy Collins singin' a unifyin' tune about labor issues...

Pete Seeger + Judy Collins - Union Maid

In the late 40's he helped sound the alarm about the problems with cold war Atomic weapons buildup

Pete Seeger - Talking Atom

Pete wasn't afraid to comment on the issues of the day, and the draft was not immune...

Pete Seeger - The Draft Dodger Rag

His Vietnam era song Waist Deep in Big Muddy which he wasn't allowed to perform on Laugh - In, tells a parable of the foils of war in a foreign land, and has no parallels at all to today's 10 billion dollar a month quagmire in Iraq... really. The main difference being the lack of mud, but a revised version Waist Deep In Big Sandy , could be appropo for sure

Pete Seeger - Waist Deep in Big Muddy

on this old spiritual in an early 60's recording by the young Joan Baez, who provides some overtones against the gristled folk vet's

Pete Seeger & Joan Baez - That Lonesome Valley

"You've got to walk that lonesome valley
You've got to walk it by yourself
Ain't nobody else gonna walk it for you
You gotta walk it by yourself...

This is a version of an old civil war era song dedicated to the famed abolitionist...

Pete Seeger - John Brown's Body

an olde English folk song that Pete does a fine rendition is that tale of Barbara Allen

Pete Seeger - Barbara Allen

Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds lays out a not so subtle subversive commentary on post war suburban sprawl & the inherent process of molding middle class mores'. Here's Petes version.

Pete Seeger - Little Boxes

Here Pete does another Malvina Reynolds song composed from a viewpoint of a striking Miner's wife

Pete Seeger - Mrs. Clara Sullivan's Letter

and while we're at it, here's some of Woody Guthrie's tunes as well...

Woody Guthrie - This Land Is Your Land

Woody Guthrie - Talkin Dust Bowl Blues

Woody Guthrie - Roll On Columbia

Woody Guthrie - The Biggest That Man Has Ever Done

Springsteen of course is hardly onto a groundbreaking concept, with much of his following likely unaware of Wilco and Billy Bragg teaming up more than half a dozen years ago to pay tribute to Woody Guthrie via the Mermaid Avenue collections.

Billy Bragg - All You Fascists, Are Bound To Lose (live)

Billy Bragg - Black Wind Blowing ( live)

Wilco - Airline to Heaven ( live)

Other artists have covered some of these Guthrie classics before as well like native American rockers Blackfire, in this cut produced by Jim Lauderdale...

Blackfire - Mean Things Happening in this World

Folk songs from guys like Seeger & Guthrie were a vital part of the youth culture throughout the 1960s. Young troubadour Robert Zimmerman left Minnesota to ply his singin' trade in the coffe houses of Greenwich Village and soon visited his idol, Woody Guthrie on his death bed. Dylan of course, knew and respected Seeger as well. Here's a photo of the two onstage at a 1963 civil rights rally in Greenwood Mississippi. Later, Seeger was one of the "purists" that were very pissed off at Newport when Bob Dylan showed up with his heretic "electric" band.

Bob Dylan - Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie

Jack Johnson - Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie

Dylan went on to become one of the most influential lyricists of the decade, here's a commercially unreleased early 60's banjo'd up cut from tv starlet Patty Duke doing Bob Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind" recorded for United Artists as well as a moody version from Immediate Records' Britsh chanteuse Marianne Faithful.

Patty Duke - Blowin In The Wind

Marianne Faithful - Blowin In The Wind

One of Pete's best known songs is If I Had A Hammer... which even Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek even covered ...

Leonard Nimoy - If I Had A Hammer

here's Pete's more traditional take:

Pete Seeger - If I Had A Hammer

If I had a hammer,
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening,
All over this land.

I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning,
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.

If I had a bell,
I'd ring it in the morning,
I'd ring it in the evening,
All over this land.

I'd ring out danger,
I'd ring out a warning
I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.

If I had a song,
I'd sing it in the morning,
I'd sing it in the evening,
All over this land.

I'd sing out danger,
I'd sing out a warning
I'd sing out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.

Well I got a hammer,
And I got a bell,
And I got a song to sing, all over this land.

It's the hammer of Justice,
It's the bell of Freedom,
It's the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.

It's the hammer of Justice,
It's the bell of Freedom,
It's the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.

Words by Lee Hays
Music by Pete Seeger (1949)

Pete Seeger & Arlo Guthrie collaborated on an album called More Together Again, here Arlo's daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie contributes lead vocals.

Sarah Lee Guthrie -

Sailing Down this Golden River

These days, Seeger's son Mike is a well respected folk musicologist as well, here's a track from a 1991 releasecalled Old Time Music on Rounder with banjo and quills (pan pipes). You can look for his new collection coming out this week via Smithsonian Folkways called Old-Time Country Songs and Tunes Played on the Autoharp

Mike Seeger - Tennessee Dog

Pete's grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger, at one time resistent to following in the family footsteps has become a decent banjo picker himself. He has played many shows with his famous grandad, and now tours regularly with his "subversive acoustic traditionalist" group The Mammals.

Tao Rodriguez Seeger & The Mammals - Crickets In The Kitchen

The Mammals - The Bush Boys

--------------------- anyhow --------------------

Here's a version Pete's notoriously prescient Waist Deep In Big Muddy from 1967 as recorded by Texas based musician Richard Shindell in 2003 for his Vuelta album.

Richard Shindel - Waist Deep In Big Muddy

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man'll be over his head, we're
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

Words and music by Pete Seeger (1967)

I found this next Python-esque track at, an excellent resource for those interested in starting their own micro broadcasting pirate radio stations . In SF this month it's the tenth anniversary of our beloved Pirate Cat radio, and they be having a party at Annie's Social Club on Friday the 28th.

So in honor, here's some audio tributes to the grass roots movement away from the Clear Channel, Infinity, Entercom and other media congloms deperately trying to profit & control the music & thoughtwaves of our nation ...

Eric Idle - FCC song

Here's a little number I wrote the other day while out duck hunting with a judge (quack!)

Fuck you very much the FCC
Fuck you very much for fining me
Five thousand bucks a fuck so I'm really out of luck
That's more than Heidi Fliess was charging me

So fuck you very much the FCC
For proving that free speech just isn't free
Clear Channel's a dear channel
So Howard Stern must go
Attorney General Ashcroft doesn't like strong words and so
He's charging twice as much as all the drugs for Rush Limbaugh
So fuck you all so very much

So fuck you very much dear Mr. Bush
For heroically sitting on your tush
For Halliburton, Enron, all the companies who fail
Let's send them a clear signal and stick Martha straight in jail
She's an uppity rich bitch and at least she isn't male
So fuck you all so very much

So fuck you dickhead Mr. Cheney too
Fuck you and fuck everything you do
Your pacemaker must be a fake
You haven't got a heart
As far as I'm concerned your just a pasty-faced old fart
And as for Condolezza she's an intellectual tart
So fuck you all so very much

So fuck you very much the EPA
For giving all Alaska's oil away
It really is a bummer
When I can't fill my Hummer
The ozone's a no-go zone now that Arnold's here to say
"Ze nuclear winter games are going to take place in L.A."
So fuck you all so very much

So what the planet fails
Let's save the great white males
And fuck you all so very much (quack!)

And well, here's one more rousing punker number for y'all. It one goes out to our oily lady of righteous rightwing indignation, St. Condoleeza

Against Me! - From Her Lips to God's Ears


J. O'Manachain said...

I've been looking for that Dylan song for a while. Thanks.

Jon said...

Your readers might also be interested in this interview with the Bruce, too, cheers.

Jon said...

er i mean this one!,,1759069,00.html

(sorry- but its sunday morning, what do ya expect?)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all this! I wouldn't knock Bruce for covering Pete. He's been on quite a few past tribute albums to both Pete and Woody.

BTW, Mike Seeger is Pete's half-brother, born in 1933, a former member of the New Lost City Ramblers. Peggy Seeger is another sibling (full to Mike and half to Pete) who has a solid body of both folk and original music.