On July 23, 1962, Pete Seeger had a gig. He was performing at The Bitter End, a popular coffeehouse in New York’s Greenwich Village. This gig was a bit different than usual because John Hammond from Columbia Records was going to be recording the show for a live album.
Pete’s set list for the evening included a song he’d written back in 1959 (or 1954?) based on verses from the Old Testament of the Bible, specifically the Book of Ecclesiastes. He’d written the song in response to a request from his music publisher to write something like “Goodnight, Irene” (a Lead Belly song that Pete’s former group, the Weavers, had had a big hit with) and not another protest song.
Pete responded: “You better find another songwriter. This is the only kind of song I know how to write!” After receiving Pete’s demo tape of the new song, his publisher replied: “Wonderful; just what I hoped for.”
The recording of Pete’s July 23 performance at The Bitter End was released as the album: The Bitter and The Sweet. It contains Pete’s first recording of “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).”
In 1964, Judy Collins recorded the song with an arrangement by Jim (soon to be Roger) McGuinn, who also accompanied her on acoustic 12-string guitar.
In 1965, McGuinn and his band, the Byrds, recorded the song in a Rock arrangement that featured electric 12-string guitar and proved to be a huge and timeless hit.
On August 1, 2009, at George Wein’s Folk Festival 50 in Newport, RI, Pete opened his headlining Friday evening set with “Turn! Turn! Turn!”
The sources of information for this post were: Where Have All The Flowers Gone: A Musical Autobiography (1997) by Pete Seeger and Arthur Levy’s liner notes to the 2002 remastered edition of the Columbia CD: Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits.