Wednesday, 29 January 2014

PETE SEEGER (1919 - 2014) remembered

Pete Seeger and family on their way to a gig in 1962 at Caffé Lena in Saragota Springs, New York (Foto: Joseph Deuel)

SAM CHARTERS, writer of numerous books about the blues

Yes, I knew Pete.  The world of folk music was very small in those days, and we all knew
each other. Also, both Pete and I were close
to Folkways, beginning in the mid-1950s when Moe Asch began releasing recordings I'd done.  Pete had a kind of innocence that most of us lose somewhere along the way, and he still believed that there was a path there for us to take, and he would help us find it.  I don't know of anyone who could lead people of such different attitudes and opinions along that path - at least for part of the way.  I never sat in an audience where people didn't sing when he set them into different singing groups and in two or three minutes we all were following that enthusiastic voice wherever he was leading us.  Pete and I also knew each other through the singers and the performers I was recording for - first Fokways, then Prestige Records and Vanguard Records.  If there was something exciting that I'd been involved with, I could expect a phone call from Pete.  What I learned from him was that just one person can make a difference, and you don't ever stop.

HAPPY TRAUM, musician with Bob Dylan in the 60s

"I don't know where I'd be today if it wasn't for Pete Seeger. I’m pretty sure I wouldn't have started singing folk songs or playing the guitar and banjo, and there certainly would not have been a lifetime of writing, performing, traveling, teaching and innumerable musical adventures. I might not have even met Jane, whom I originally encountered through folk music and who has shared my life for more than half a century. I owe it all to Pete.

Back in 1954, some high school friends took me to a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. There, on stage, was this tall, skinny guy, standing alone in the spotlight before hundreds of young people, playing his long-neck banjo and singing for, and more importantly with, the crowd. He sang about all manner of things that I had never heard addressed before, and  his energy, enthusiasm and engagement with the audience captivated me, electrified me. I suddenly saw music in a whole new light. It could address social issues and relate to the joys and sorrows, the history and universality, of people everywhere. I watched Pete on stage and I thought, “I can do this too!” As I sang along on "Wimoweh," "Wasn't That a Time,"  "If I Had A Hammer," and "Irene Goodnight,” I felt the thrill of being part of something vast and important. I thought that music was going to change the world.

The next day, I went out and bought a guitar. I found out about Washington Square, went to "hoots" and folk concerts, learned hundreds of songs and sang them with the image of Pete peering over my shoulder. I tried to approximate his stance, his instrumental style, and his cheer-leader's approach to group singing. I sang only songs I thought Pete would approve of, and wore his records thin -- "Darlin' Cory," "The Goofing Off Suite," "Sodbuster Ballads," and anything I could get my hands on by the Weavers. I sang of solidarity with unions, even though I wasn't a worker; peasant chants - and I certainly wasn't a peasant (never even met one). I sang songs in bad Korean, unintelligible Swahili, broken Hebrew, and other languages that Pete sang in. I was one with the miners, the farm hands, the pioneers, the whalers (still politically correct in those days), the “people.”

From the perspective of today, this all seems naive and hopelessly out-dated, but
somewhere deep inside my soul the eternal optimism of Pete's songs still rings
true. I think of those old days as sunny and warm, filled with camaraderie,
friendship and idealism, with Pete's warm voice, gentle humor and thrilling banjo leading our way to a better world. And even if that new world doesn't materialize in our lifetime, I know that one sixteen-year-old's life was irrevocably changed by the revelation of a lone man on a wide stage, singing his songs and becoming one with his audience. Thanks Pete. I'll be forever grateful.

Jeffrey Lewis, Anti-Folk-Singer, New York City
                                                                                                                                     Foto: Manuel Wagner

"In the rock and roll world where rebellion is supposed to go together with dying young, Pete Seeger was an opposite example, showing how much real work it takes to be genuinely revolutionary (not just rebellious) AND keep it up for year after year, decade after decade.  If Pete Seeger had been in the "27 club" he would have died in the 1940s, can you imagine that?!?  Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain and all those other "rebellious" icons just look like tiny specks compared to a man like Pete who had to keep the spirit and body and dedication and focus and compassion strong for an additional two lifetimes, not just for himself but for the whole world to whom he gave more than most mere musicians can ever hope to.  For young artists of today it's only a small fraction of the picture if you only know the Pete Seeger of his 80s and 90s, or even if you only know the songs from the Weavers; for myself I had mostly given him credit as an omni-present activist more than as a performer until I eventually heard the Almanac Singers recordings and some of Pete's solo recordings to hear what I felt to be his more powerful and resonating material."

Tom Paley, New Lost City Ramblers, London

"I knew Pete Seeger back in the 1940s. I think he was a great man and a true idealist, as well as an important influence on those of us starting out in the world of traditional folk-music. He was always friendly and supportive. Even without him, I'm sure I would have continued in the folk-music field, but his influence was an important factor."

Rennie Sparks, The Handsome Family,  Albuquerque / New Mexico

"Mostly I'm amazed that there was a recent time in American history when Pete Seeger was seen as a dangerous bad guy."


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