Pete-Pak By Pete Seeger

October 6, 2016


Pete Seeger walked this earth for nearly 95 years. He was a radio personality during the 1940’s, a member of the early folk-revival group The Weavers, and as a solo artist spent nearly five decades promoting peace and the environment, writing such songs as “Where Hale All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had A Hammer,” and “Turn Turn Turn,” plus resurrecting folk songs from around the world.

Since his death, there have been a number of re-issues. The latest is a remaster of his first Grammy winning album Pete, originally issued in 1996 at the age of 77. This release is combined with a DVD that covers 23 years of his career. First is a 55 minute live performance with Paul Winter and friends at the 1982 Living Music Festival in Litchfield, Connecticut. Next is Pete-nic, which is a 17 minute spontaneous performance, recorded at a picnic in 1997 by many of the musicians who had participated in the Pete project. Finally there is a 2005 performance of “Take It From Dr. King,” commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Pettus Bridge March in Selma, Alabama.

Pete is probably the best of his late career releases. It combines traditional folk tunes, a number of covers, and two originals. “John Henry,” “Drunken Sailor,” “Roll The Old Chariot Along,” and “Old Time Religion” are the type of songs that have graced Seeger’s repertoire for most of his career. Songs that have no known author but have undergone changes due to time and place and Seeger’s interpretations are another link in their chain. The two originals, “My Rainbow Race” and “Well May The World Go” are poignant songs from a man nearing 80.

Most of Seeger’s albums have been sparse affairs but here many of the songs are within a band setting, including sax, cello and guitars. It is a rare nod to the modern age by a traditional artist.

The Living Music Festival live performance presents a 63 year old Seeger at the top of his profession. He is joined by The Paul Winter Consort and they form one big group. Seeger is relaxed and his banjo play is some of his best. The concert was recorded with three cameras and meant for release but sat in the vaults for 33 years. It is a highlight for any Seeger fan.

Seeger was an uncompromising traditionalist. Many of his songs had a meaning and message. Pete-Pac is a celebration of culture meeting music.


Turn Turn Turn By The Byrds

July 25, 2016

The Byrds are best known for their other number one song, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but “Turn Turn Turn” was the bigger hit.

The song has the distinction of being the number one song with the oldest lyrics. Pete Seeger had adapted the words the the Biblical Book Ecclesiastes to music. The Byrds added more of a beat and harmonies. Their version reached the top of the Pop Cart December 4, 1965, and their it remained for three weeks.

Peggy Seeger Live by Peggy Seeger

April 4, 2012

There must be some good longevity genes in the Seeger family as Peggy (age 76)and half-brother Pete (92) are still going strong despite their advancing years. Brother Mike passed away several years ago at the age of 75.

Peggy Seeger may not be as well-known as Pete, but she has been just as dedicated to social causes and traditional folk music as he. Her 1955 trip to communist China resulted in her passport being withdrawn by the United States State Department. She spent the next 25 years of her life living in the U.K. married to British folksinger and socialist Ewan MacColl, who was a kindred spirit.

Her latest album release, Peggy Seeger Live, was recorded on stage In New Zealand. The concert was for the benefit of the of The Nelson Woman’s Centre, which was damaged by arson. Enter Peggy Seeger who has been a longtime advocate of woman’s rights and a perfect spokesperson to contribute to the resurrection of the damaged building.

The CD’s 23 tracks are divided between American folk songs, a number of original compositions, and some witty and biting spoken word interludes and poems. This is only the second live album of her 55 year career and finds her voice aging gracefully. The same cannot be said for her music and poetry, as she is still in the forefront of taking no prisoners with her biting commentary and social positions.

The best of the traditional folk material was “I’ve Been A Bad Bad Girl,” which was a cover of a tune recorded by Alan Lomax by a Florida prison inmate during 1926. A bouncy “Mountaineer’s Courtship,” a medley of “Sally Goodin/Sourwood Mountain,” and the old children’s ballad, “Fatal Flower Garden” are also well worth a listen.

She has also always been an imaginative songwriter. “Missing” was about the disappearance of people in Chile after Salvador Allende’s takeover during the early 70s. One of her signature songs, “I’m Gonna Be An Engineer,” and the previously unreleased “Everything Changes,” which was written for her mother, make their live debuts

It is her wry comments and poetry that connect the songs and give the concert a warm and personal appeal that reflect her views and character best. Some of her comments will never receive airplay such as “Give ‘Em An Inch” and particularly “Eagle And Condom.”

In many ways she is a throwback to the voices of a by-gone era that would not be silenced. She is currently on what she calls her final U.S. tour. Peggy Seeger Live is an excellent look into the life and music of an artist, whose type and style are quickly disappearing.

Article first published as Music Review: Peggy Seeger – Peggy Seeger Live on Blogcritics.

Goodnight Irene by the Weavers

April 3, 2012

The number one song of 1950 was not issued by a vocal group, or a big band, or a solo artist. It was issued by a folk group.

The Weavers were formed during the late 1940s and were instrumental in helping to spread and commercialize folk music. Their most famous line-up consisted of Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman.

“Goodnight Itene” was a song from the 19th century. Lead Belly began playing the tune around 1908 and recorded a version during 1933. It became one of The Weavers signature songs and one of the biggest hits of the decade.

It was number one on all of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Charts.

Best Sellers In Stores Chart – 13 weeks beginning August 19, 1950
Most Played By Disc Jockeys Chart – 8 weeks beginning September 2, 1950
Most Played In Jukeboxes Chart – 12 weeks beginning August 26, 1950.
Plus Cashbox Chart – 10 weeks.

Just before Lee Hayes death in 1981, they reunited for one last concert and “Goodnight Irene” was their final encore.

I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag 45 by Pete Seeger

May 9, 2011

Pete Seeger was and is one of the seminal figures in American folk music. First as a member of the legendary Weavers and for five decades as a solo artist, he has released dozens of albums which sold millions of copies.

Seeger has also been a part of the anti-war movement since the Vietnam War era. He has also remained active as an advocate for many social causes.

He has had only one single make the BILLBOARD MAGAZINES Pop Singles Chart. “Little Boxes” reached number 70 during early 1964.

Just about everyone who was a part of the folk movement recorded Country Joe McDonald’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” and Pete Seeger was no exception.

Seeger’s version receive little radio airplay and saw no chart action but was a lot of fun to listen too.

Live From Australia 1963 (DVD) by Pete Seeger

June 9, 2009

So how old is Pete Seeger? He’s so old that Eleanor Roosevelt did not like his music while her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, was sure no one would listen to it. He’s so old that he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He’s so old that he actually wrote the anti-war song “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.”

Pete Seeger will turn 90 on May 3rd and is now the grand old man of folk music. He was a member of the legendary folk group The Weavers and the Almanac singers before that. He has played with everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Leadbelly (or Lead Belly). The cream of American folk music will gather in Madison Square Garden next month to celebrate his birthday.

Pete Seeger has always been consistent in his anti-war positions, his support of environmental causes, and as a performer and advocate of traditional folk music.

Live In Australia 1963 finds Seeger at a transition point in his career. He had just emerged from years of persecution by The American Government and his social and anti-Vietnam War activity was in the future. He had embarked on a world tour and the core of this DVD is his 1963 performance at the Melbourne Town Hall. It should be required viewing for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the history of American music.

The concert itself may seem simplistic today and granted it is from another era. While such songs as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “If I Had A Hammer” are included; it is the simple folk songs of America and other countries that dominate his performance. “Skip To My Lou,” “Pretty Polly,” “Down By The Riverside,” “Kum Ba Ya,” “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore,” and “I Will Never Marry” among others are brought to life by Seeger and give hints of their importance to American culture.

Seeger was a concert master. He would usually perform solo with only his guitar or banjo to support his voice. He would constantly lead sing-a-longs with the audience. What would continually come through was his commitment and passion for his craft.

The bonus material was probably worthy of its own DVD. “Two Links In The Chain: The Story Of Leadbelly” was recorded in Sydney in September of 1963. He intersperses his performing the songs of Leadbelly with rare archival footage. Three songs, performed by Leadbelly, are presented. The liner notes state that these are the only known live performances by him that are known to exist. I have been a folk aficionado for a long time and I am sure I had never seen a performance. He performs “Pick A Bale Of Cotton,” “The Grey Goose,” and “Take This Hammer,” with just his 12 string guitar. It is a rare look into the sound of the southern cotton fields that formed part of the foundation for American folk and blues music.

Equally interesting is the short film about Australian bush singer Duke Tritton which explores the musical roots of Australia.

The DVD has excellent sound and picture, especially for 1963 Australia. There is a very informative booklet that gives some nice background material about the concerts and bonus material.

Live In Australia 1963 by Pete Seeger would make a fine addition to any music collection as it presents and explores a too often forgotten form of American music by one of its masters.

At Carnegie Hall by The Weavers

June 7, 2009

Every once in awhile, and I have to be in the mood, I pull this old war horse off the shelf and give it a spin.

The Weavers were an important and transitional folk group. They were a connector of the early folk traditions of many countries and the style of Woody Guthrie to the pop type folk of The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Banjo player and tenor vocalist Pete Seeger, bass vocalist Lee Hays, baritone vocalist and guitarist Fred Hellerman, and alto vocalist Ronnie Gilbert formed the group in 1948 and within a year they were stars due to their cover of the old Ledbelly tune, “Goodnight Irene.” Fame was fleeting as their leftist political beliefs and songs of protest were not appreciated during the McCarthy era. They found themselves blacklisted as performers plus their label fired them. In fact, The Decca label deleted all of the group’s material from their catalogue. They would disband in 1952.

A different political climate would begin to permeate The United States during the mid-1950s. This would prompt the group to re-unite for their historic concert at Carnegie Hall on December 24, 1955. This concert would be released on the Vanguard label as The Weavers At Carnegie Hall in 1957. In many ways this concert and album signaled the beginning of the folk revival movement in The United States.

The Weavers sang traditional folk songs but with two, three, and four part harmonies which was a unique approach at the time. Their voices would entwine and even challenge each other. They would support their sound with Seeger’s long neck banjo and Hellerman’s Spanish guitar.

The amazing thing about this early live release is the sound. This 1955 concert has a clearer sound than many concert recordings that would follow over the next half century. You can actually hear the group members pronounce each word clearly which is important to the stories that the songs tell. I can’t help but think that the acoustics at Carnegie Hall helped a great deal in this area. In addition the album notes are extensive and informative.

The Weavers At Carnegie Hall is a long album for its time as there are twenty tracks contained on a single disc.

Side one has a number of interesting performances. The old Irish folk tune, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” was given some new lyrics by Lee Hays. This continued the folk tradition of artists constantly changing old songs and then passing them on to the next generation for more changes. The old and famous English song, “Greensleeves” is given a sweet and traditional performance. “Wimoweh” is an old African folk song which would become a huge hit for The Tokens under the name “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Here it receives an inspirational rendition of hope and resurrection. The old Hebrew song, “Shalom Chavarim,” was appropriate for the seasons of Christmas and Chanukah.

Side two contained a number of solo performances by the members of the group. “Sixteen Tons” by Fred Hellerman makes me forget the famous version by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Pete Seeger shows what a wonderful instrumentalist he could be on “Woody’s Rag.” Ronnie Gilbert brings the purity of her voice to the simple ballad, “I Know Where I’m Going.” I have gotten so used to “When The Saints Go Marching In” being presented as jazz that The Weavers gospel interpretation always stands out. They end the concert with their biggest hit, “Goodnight Irene.”

The Weavers At Carnegie Hall is now an album of long ago and a simpler time yet for aficionado’s of folk music, appreciators of American musical history, or just people in search of good music, it remains a fine listen. Carl Sandberg may have summed it up best when he wrote; “The Weavers are out of the grass roots of America. I salute them for their great work in authentic renditions of ballads, folk songs, ditties, nice antiques of word and melody. When I hear America singing, The Weavers are there.”

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

If there is one thing Bruce Springsteen has done during his career — besides producing brilliant albums — it has been providing a number of unexpected twists and turns of his musical vision. He has created memorable anthems, top-forty hits, and stark albums of painful songs and flawed characters. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions found him interpreting traditional folk songs based on the enduring legacy of Pete Seeger.

Seeger, now 89, began his career in the late ’30s — at one point performing for President Franklin Roosevelt — eventually garnering fame as a member of the Weavers, who helped popularize traditional folk music in the early ’50s. They indeed formed an important link in the folk music chain by modernizing the genre’s songs and, in so doing, bringing them mass appeal. Seeger became a voice of social protest in the ’60s and ’70s with such works as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had A Hammer,” and “We Shall Overcome” serving as messages to millions. Even today, he continues to perform and support chosen causes.

And so on We Shall Overcome, Springsteen set out to record songs that Seeger had popularized over the years, which, considering they number in the hundreds, posed a wide variety from which too choose. Ultimately, Springsteen wisely decided to cover very traditional songs — some of which I remember singing in grammar school — remaining true to the original intent of the compositions while still giving them a modern feel.

“Old Dan Tucker” is a square dance tune that predates the Civil War. “Jesse James” builds from a simple acoustic start to something that would have fit the old Hootenanny concept. “John Henry” has been recorded by hundreds of artists in the folk, country and bluegrass traditions. It may be a depressing song at heart, but Springsteen brings a rock temperament to it with a band in support.
“Erie Canal” and “Jacob’s Ladder” are both songs I remember singing as a child in the ’50s, “Erie Canal” telling about labor and a trusty mule while “Jacob’s Ladder” is a spiritual straight from the cotton fields of the South. “My Oklahoma Home” is from the dust bowl days and, while the song is one of loss and desperation, Springsteen evokes the music in a different tone.

“Eyes On The Prize” (which is perfect for a funeral procession) and “Pay Me My Money Down” both have a New Orleans spirit to them.

The album concludes with a simple childhood tune, “Froggie Went A Courtin’,” followed by the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Bruce Springsteen has taken another road less traveled and produced an album of surprising quality, proving that with the right amount of passion and talent, good songs can always live up to their potential. Perhaps the best analysis of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is that it offers superior music interpreted by one great artist.