Sunday, 19 August 2012
ELDER MUSIC: Washington Square Park
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Today we have music from the folk song revival of the early sixties. Early on, the folkies around Washington Square Park in New York (and elsewhere) sang traditional folk and blues songs. Eventually, some of them started writing their own.
About the first of those to do so, and I’m excluding the previous generation like Woody Guthrie and Huddie Leadbetter, was TOM PAXTON. Indeed, Tom started doing this some years before Bob Dylan did the same.
A lot of Tom’s songs were so good and sounded so timeless that people often considered them “trad” or “anon” (as they refer to such songs on the backs of record albums).
Rather than one of those really early songs, one you’d all recognize, here is a song from his great, neglected album, “Morning Again,” that has a couple of his best songs (and that’s saying something). It’s not a protest song, it’s just an observational one, Victoria Dines Alone.
It’s time to return a song to its rightful owner. There are some songs that get associated with certain people who perform cover versions and the original is often lost in the mix. This is one of them.
FRED NEIL wrote Everybody’s Talkin’ and recorded by far the best version and I’m going to play that one today.
Fred was one of the early folkies in New York. Bob Dylan, in his memoir, said that Fred gave the young Bob a start by getting him up on stage to perform before anyone had heard of him. He also taught him more than a few guitar licks.
Fred recorded few albums but the ones he did were excellent, and he retired to Coconut Grove in Florida in the seventies where he remained for the rest of his life, living off the royalties from this song (and maybe a couple of others). Fred died in 2001.
JOAN BAEZ needs no introduction from me.
It was through Joan’s music that I first started listening to these folks. Before that, it was rock & roll and then jazz, heavily into Miles and Monk, and a bit of Beethoven. When I first heard her, I thought oh, this is interesting.
I soon discovered Bob and the rest of them. I received a couple of her albums for Christmas or birthday (okay, I did drop a couple of subtle hints). Here is something from Joan’s first album, El Preso Número Nueve.
PHIL OCHS was the real protest singer of all the Washington Square Park crew. He was also the most tragic of them.
Phil started out writing more songs and better songs than anyone at the time. Even Bob was in awe of the number and quality of his output. When Bob hit it big, Phil expected to be the next big thing, sort of the Dave Clark Five to The Beatles. It turns out that that is an apposite analogy.
Phil recorded one great album, “Pleasures of the Harbour,” and several decent ones and that’s about it. He never lost his wit, wry sense of humor and his commitment to great causes. I think it was that last that brought him down. He saw how the forces of reaction always seemed to win.
Plagued by bipolar disorder in the last years of his life and drinking to excess, his behavior became so erratic that his brother tried to intervene without success. Phil took his life in his sister’s house in 1976.
Here is Phil with a song that isn’t a protest song, Changes, a song that Joan Baez also performed really well, and it shows what might have been.
JUDY COLLINS started her musical life as a classical pianist. She switched to guitar and became a folk singer. Later she performed art songs and even classical material and then started writing her own songs. Who knows what she’ll do next?
Well, I do. She’s coming to Melbourne soon as I write this although by the time you read it she’ll be long gone.
After several okay but not outstanding albums, Judy hit her straps with her fifth album (that was its name) and the next several are as good as anyone was recording back then (and not just in the folk/singer/songwriter field either).
The song I’ve chosen was from that fifth album called The Coming of the Roads. This was written by Billy Edd Wheeler.
I’ve always been surprised that ERIC ANDERSEN didn’t make it bigger than he did. After all, he was good looking, sang and played well, made fine albums and wrote terrific songs. I guess you never know about such things.
Oh, here I am talking about him in the past tense and he’s still out there performing better than ever.
Eric was often considered a gentler version of Bob Dylan and I think the song, The Hustler demonstrates that very well.
JUDY HENSKE seems to be the forgotten one whenever this topic is raised, so I’ll include her for that reason.
She’s also present because she’s a fine singer. Judy began her career in San Diego and then Los Angeles where she worked with Lenny Bruce amongst others.
Then she teamed up with Dave Guard who was once the main man in the Kingston Trio. Judy then made it to Greenwich Village to join our merry gang.
Eventually she married Jerry Yester, one of the Lovin’ Spoonful and returned to California in the seventies.
They split around this time and Judy took up with musician Craig Doerge. She pretty much gave up performing but still continues to write songs.
This is the song that you’d know if you’ve ever heard Judy, High Flying Bird.
DAVE COHEN performed under that name, his birth name, and also under David Blue.
He was a good friend of Bob Dylan’s and often appeared with him. He was also associated with Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton and others.
He only recorded a few albums but he could turn out a good song – The Eagles covered Outlaw Man on an early album of theirs. Later, he turned to acting and appeared in several films and did stage work as well.
Dave died of a heart attack at the age of 41 in 1982, while jogging in Washington Square Park. This is I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning, a song covered really well by David Bromberg.
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE wrote the song that was Donovan’s first hit. Unfortunately, that song, Universal Soldier, is still relevant today.
Although it probably wasn’t Buffy's intention when she wrote it, many famous performers have covered the song featured today. Elvis did a very ordinary version, as did Glen Campbell. Cher, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and many others have had a go at it. None of them come close to Buffy’s original.
Of course, I’m sure she’s happy with the royalties. Here is Until It's Time for You to Go.
I don’t know what bright spark thought of adding strings and all manner of superfluous junk to TIM HARDIN's first couple of albums. This was an excessive, lily-gilding exercise. They should have done as for his third, a concert album, where he was backed by a small jazz combo. That was one of the finest concert albums ever.
However, in spite of what I just said, I’m going with a tune from one of those first albums. This is another case of restoring a song to its creator. Reason to Believe has been recorded by many people – The Dillards and Rod Stewart have the best cover versions.
Here we have Tim as it was originally recorded, strings and all.
There are many missing from this list, most notably Bob Dylan but he’s been treated at length elsewhere. Also not present are Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Josh White, Oscar Brand, Richie Havens, Carolyn Hester, Sam Hinton, Richard Fariña and many others.
Obviously another column is called for.