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.
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.
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”.
We’ll have a couple of the songwriters mentioned above, starting with John Denver. It was through PP&M’s version of
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yet another singer/songwriter, the one who started it all for the folk boom of the sixties, Woody Guthrie. His song is
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.
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.
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.
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.