The Busy-ness of Dying

ELDER MUSIC: Peter Paul & Mary

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

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Peter Paul & Mary

After school and university where he learned and sang folk songs, PETER YARROW started performing “professionally” at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. I used quotes as they weren’t paid but passed around the hat.

By this stage he had acquired a manager, the now famous Albert Grossman who suggested Peter should be part of a group. Albert knew MARY TRAVERS whose singing impressed Peter. Albert said that she was great if you could get her to work. I guess they managed that.

Mary was friends with a comedian named NOEL STOOKEY who was performing at the Gaslight. They chatted with him and although he knew music and played a little, it was in the fields of jazz and classical. He didn’t know any folk songs.

The others taught him some and after deciding to use Noel’s middle name of Paul, a group was born.

PETER PAUL & MARY became the most popular of the folk-inspired groups of the sixties.

Peter Paul & Mary

Besides the folk songs, the group performed the works of then unknown, but up and coming, songwriters like Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver and others. They did more than anyone else to get those names into the purview of the general public.

One of those they featured was Gary Shearston. Gary was already an established folk singer in Australia when PP&M heard the song of his called Sometime Lovin'. It appeared on the album just called “Album”.

♫ Sometime Lovin'

Peter Paul & Mary

We’ll have a couple of the songwriters mentioned above, starting with John Denver. It was through PP&M’s version of Leaving on a Jet Plane that I first became aware of John. It certainly wasn’t the last time.

♫ Leaving on a Jet Plane

Bob Dylan would certainly have been the finest songwriter in the second half the twentieth century without being kick started by recordings of his songs by PP&M and Joan Baez, but they certainly started his career a bit earlier.

One of those early songs is Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. Bob was being his usual enigmatic (and perhaps spiteful) self when he wrote this one.

♫ Don't Think Twice It's Alright

Peter Paul & Mary

Otto Preminger wanted a theme song for his film “Hurry Sundown”, so he contacted Earl Robinson to write one. Earl called on Yip Harburg to help him. In the end Otto didn’t use the song but PP&M’s arranger heard the song and got them to record it. Theirs was the first version of Hurry Sundown.

♫ Hurry Sundown

Peter Paul & Mary

PP&M were the first to record the songs of Laura Nyro, another singer/songwriter. One of her songs they recorded before anyone else is And When I Die. Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, said that Blood Sweat and Tears did it better, but our group today did it first.

♫ And When I Die

Peter Paul & Mary

Gordon Lightfoot’s version of For Lovin' Me will always be the definitive one. However, PP&M did a find version and kick started Gordie’s career south of the 49th parallel.

♫ For Lovin' Me

Peter Paul & Mary

Here is another song of Bob’s. It’s from the time he was holed up in Woodstock after the motor cycle accident that broke his neck. Also present was his backing group who eventually became better known as The Band. They made music together in a big pink house they rented for that purpose (and for some of the group to live in).

They played music for their own enjoyment, but also wrote songs that they, and especially Bob, thought would be suitable for others to record. One of those is Too Much of Nothing, which he sent to PP&M.

♫ Too Much Of Nothing

Before there was Bob Dylan writing songs there was Tom Paxton. He was the original singer/songwriter in the New York folk scene to do that. His songs were so good that many think some of them are traditional, but they’re not. One such is The Last Thing on My Mind. We’re not playing his version today, but I urge you to seek it out if you haven’t heard it.

♫ The Last Thing on My Mind

Peter Paul & Mary

Yet another singer/songwriter, the one who started it all for the folk boom of the sixties, Woody Guthrie. His song is Deportee, just as relevant today as when it was written many decades ago.

Today’s version is taken from the album “Lifelines” where our group got together late in their career with a bunch of other people. Singing on the song are Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman (both from The Weavers), Tom Paxton, Richie Havens, Dave Van Ronk, Odetta and John Sebastian. Now there’s a backing group.

♫ Deportee

Peter Paul & Mary

A second song from John Denver, and this is one where the title doesn’t appear in the lyrics – something Bob used to do quite often. The song is For Baby (For Bobbie). Mary sings this one on her own, and splendidly at that.

♫ For Baby (For Bobbie)

A songwriter we haven’t encountered yet in this column is Fred Neil. He is most famous for writing Everybody’s Talking but PP&M didn’t record that one. Instead we have his next best known song (amongst those who know these sorts of things) is The Other Side of This Life.

♫ The Other Side of This Life

Peter Paul & Mary

I’ll end with another Gordon Lightfoot song, from very early in his career. The A.M. and I both like this one, but we are very nitpicking about some of the words of the song. I like the one Gordie recorded first, she is in favor of a later version (which even Gordie performed later).

The song is Early Mornin' Rain, and this is the later version.

♫ Early Mornin' Rain


Thanks for these selections. Now I know what I'm doing this Sunday ... kicking back and listening to all these old songs that bring back so many memories.

Love all of their songs, and that we had them with us as we changed the world, us Baby Boomers, and with what we've come through... Thanks for sharing these today, m

Y’know, I’m sitting here in my kitchen, peeling potatoes while looking out my window at a cloudy, chilly day and Peter’s weekly column came along at just the right time. I couldn’t have picked better songs to listen to and ‘Don’t Think Twice’ & ‘Early Morning Rain’, perfect. Very much enjoyed the accompanying song notes too. Thank you Peter, and please give my best to Norma.

Hi Pete, very nice music to listen in a cool sunny mexican morning. Thank you. A big hug.

Ah, the good ol' days. The knot in my gut loosened a bit just seeing the pictures and names and titles again.

Ah, you took me back to my college years.... Listened to every one...some familiar and a few new to me.

Ahhh, delicious! Thank you.

And I agree with Norma, the Assistant Musicologist: Blood, Sweat, and Tears own "And When I Die."

What a great time I had with all these songs and where they took me as memories washed over me with each one.
Thanks --

Yes, what a wonderful time I had reading and listening. Thank you.

Aah...even if it was a little bittersweet, thank you for taking me back to my youth today!

Thoroughly enjoyed this little trip back to an exciting time of my life. Thank you.
Have to say, "Deportee" really struck a chord with me because of the current situation in Aust. with primary producers despairing at the lack of cheap labour available to pick their crops. "When Will We Ever Learn"??

Please, Sir, may I have some more please? Please more PPM - please. Thank you for this column and the notes.
Please, Sir, may I have some more??

Thanks, Peter, for a badly needed sixties moment. Sometimes time-traveling is the only thing we can do to get through this.

PPM a folk music group I came to appreciate though i was immersed in other types of music in their heyday. Came to enjoy BST, too, thanks to my nephew.

Great blog post, clearly enjoyed by people of a certain age. Went with a friend to see PP&M in concert in 1966 or ‘67 in Miami Beach; then again In the late 90’s at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. We all sang their old songs with them..the ultimate compliment, eh? My dad was part owner of The Gaslight in Coconut Grove in about ‘66 to ‘67. Sparky and Our Gang were popular there, before they got famous with their cheesy pop tunes..Spanky had quite a powerful voice, doing Buddy Can You Spare a Dime to perfection. Got to see Fred Neil just once when he performed at The Gaslight with Vince Martin and his 12 string guitar. Fred wasn't in great shape because of his heroin addiction, but his bass with Vince's tenor voice made for a memorable evening. Everybody's Talkin' used in Midnight Cowboy .. rated X when it came out..was Fred's only real claim to fame. Great song, even when crazy Harry Nilsson sang it. Thanks for posting

I saved this post for tonight, when I could truly enjoy it. The very first album I think I owned was a PP&M one that my then-boyfriend (later husband for six years) gave me for Christmas. I can even picture exactly what home looked like and the other presents he gave me that year. Don't Think Twice stands out. He's long gone too, but I wouldn't take a $1MD for those memories. Thank you so much, Peter.

I am looking forward to today's post, as usual, but have been listening and re-listening to the songs on this one (and finding Tom Paxton and other suggestions, as well) and it has been a great pick-me-up. Thank you, Peter and Norma.

Just been re-amazed by the gifts that they shared. Paul's Sebastian is such a beautiful piece of art.

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