A Somewhat Recent Rediscovery

James McMurtry’s debut album, “Too Long In The Wasteland,” came out in August of 1989. After hearing “Painting By Numbers,” “Talkin’ At The Texaco” and the title song on the radio, I soon added a copy of this intriguing singer/songwriter/guitarist’s record to my collection.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that as much as I enjoyed “Too Long In The Wasteland,” I kind of lost track of James McMurtry until this past Spring. In May, my beloved Prescott Park Arts Festival in near-by Portsmouth, NH released their 2016 schedule and James McMurtry was booked as part of their River House Restaurant Concert Series. I immediately marked the Thursday, September 1st date on my calendar and began doing some research.

I soon discovered that McMurtry was touring in support of his most recent (February, 2015) and highly acclaimed album, “Complicated Game.” After a visit to the iTunes store, three of the songs from the album were getting frequent plays on my iPod, especially the album’s first track, “Copper Canteen.”

Now, I’m a sucker for a country waltz with a descending bass line, so McMurtry had my attention at the intro. But when he sang the first line, I was completely hooked.

Give a listen for yourself.

That song is definitely going to be on my list of the “Best of 2016.”

I did go to see James McMurtry and his band perform at Prescott Park on September 1st. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of exceptionally fine songs played by a four-piece, down-to-business band of road warrior musicians. The setlist included several songs from the new album (including “Copper Canteen”) and even “Painting By Numbers” from his first. I picked up a CD copy of “Complicated Game” at the merchandise booth after the show and was lucky enough to be able to get James to autograph it!

I’ve made a promise to myself to not lose track of James McMurtry again.

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Not Just Another “B”

“B?”

Yes, “B.”

Let me explain.

For quite some time now, I have been aware that an inordinately high number of all of the musicians and bands that I’ve ever seen perform live have the letter “B” as the first letter of either their forename, surname or, in the case of the bands, their title.

I’ve even made a list.

Here’s the bands: The Band, The Beach Boys (not with Brian Wilson), Blue Oyster Cult and The Byrds. (That would be the 1971 version with Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin.)

Now, the surnames: Joan Baez, Sam Baker, William “Count” Basie, Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne, Kenny Burrell and Gary Burton.

The forenames: B.B. King, Bette Midler, Bill Evans (the Jazz pianist), Bill Morrissey, Bill Staines, Bill Wyman (bass guitarist with The Rolling Stones), Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Bob Franke, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Cockburn, Bruce Hornsby, Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Guy and Buddy Miller.

Finally: Banana (aka Lowell Levinger) with The Youngbloods and Ringo Starr, a Beatle.

Quite the list, if I do say so. However…

Not one “B” on that list has had a number-one album in each of the last six decades.

And all of those artists and bands combined have not compiled a list of accolades that includes ten Grammy Awards, two Academy Awards, four Emmy Awards, a Daytime Emmy Award, a Special Tony Award, four Peabody Awards, nine Golden Globes, three People’s Choice Awards, an American Film Institute award, a Kennedy Center Honors prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

There is only one artist in the history of popular music whose resume looks like that and I am quite pleased to say that I can now add her to my list.

On Tuesday, August 16, 2016, Barbra Streisand’s nine-city, North American concert tour – the retrospective Barbra: The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic! – came to the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Thanks to the combination of my daughter’s mad on-line ticket-scoring skills and the amazing early-Christmas-gift-giving generosity of her & my son-in-law and my son, my wife (the big – make that “huge” – Streisand fan in the family) and I were not only able to attend the concert, but we had really good seats!

Ms. Streisand and her 13-piece band started the night beautifully with – what else?! – “The Way We Were.” Over the course of the highly-entertaining 50-minute first set, Ms. Streisand consummately performed a collection of eight songs and a three-song medley. [A passionate “Being At War With Each Other,” a simply gorgeous “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and the energetic medley of “Woman In Love/Stoney End/No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” were, to me, among the most memorable numbers.]

Between each song, Ms. Streisand engaged the audience with some conversation and an interesting, often humorous background story about the next number. Her reminiscing would be highlighted with photographs and film clips presented on the massive video screen that stretched across the back of the stage.

The second half of this superb concert included more of Ms. Streisand’s magnificent vocalizing, intimate storytelling and the outstanding playing of her first-rate band. The setlist of classic songs included “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” and – much to my wife’s great delight – “Don’t Rain On My Parade” (from Ms. Streisand’s 1968 movie, Funny Girl).

At the end of the show, Ms. Streisand honored her totally adoring (except for the small number of rather vocal Republicans in the house) and unashamedly enthusiastic Boston audience with three fabulous encores: “People,” “Happy Days Are Hear Again” and “With One More Look At You.”

Musical, memorable and magical, indeed.

I must add that my wife and I and the other 14,000 fans gathered in Boston’s cavernous TD Garden last Tuesday would not have been able to enjoy Barbra Streisand’s stellar performance nearly so completely had it not been for the rich and remarkably crystal-clear sound that was produced by the expansive state-of-the-art sound system and the obviously-gifted crew of audio engineers who ran it.

Bravo to one and all!

For your listening pleasure, here’s the original soundtrack recording of Barbra Streisand singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl.

 

Welcome to my “B”-list, Barbra Streisand! It is truly an honor to have you there.

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This Historic Day In Music: Ivan Vaughan Changed The World

Here’s how.

Ivan Vaughan was born on June 18, 1942 in Liverpool, England.

Ivan attended the Dovedale Primary School where one of his friends was an older boy named John Lennon.

After primary school, Ivan went to the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys. (John had gone to the Quarry Bank High School.)

At the Institute, Ivan became friends with Paul McCartney, a musically talented boy who happened to have the same birthday as Ivan.

John, meanwhile, had learned to play the guitar and, in November of 1956, decided to form a skiffle group with some of his friends from Quarry Bank and Dovedale. The group, known as The Quarry Men, featured John on guitar and vocals and Ivan, briefly, on tea chest bass.

By the spring of 1957, The Quarry Men – John Lennon, guitar & vocals; Eric Griffiths, guitar; Rod Davis, banjo; Len Garry, tea chest bass; Pete Shotton, washboard & vocals; and Colin Hanton, drums – began performing at parties, school dances and community events around Liverpool. Ivan often went to hear them play.

On Saturday, July 6, 1957, The Quarry Men were scheduled to play 2, 1/2 hour sets (the first at 4:15 pm and then again at 5:45 pm) at the St. Peter’s Parish Church Garden Fete in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, England.

Ivan invited Paul to the Fete to hear the group. (Paul did not have a group.)

Paul, riding his bicycle, arrived at the Fete about half-way through the Quarry Men’s first set.

Paul watched and listened intently. He was especially impressed with John.

When the Fete was over, at a little before 7:00 pm, in the nearby St. Peter’s Church Hall, Ivan Vaughan introduced Paul McCartney to John Lennon.

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This Historic Day In Music: “Sallie Gooden”

Two fiddlers performed together at the Old Confederate Soldiers’ Reunion in Richmond, Virginia during the third week of June, 1922. 34-year-old Texas fiddler Alexander Campbell “Eck” Robertson was one and 77-year-old Henry Clay Gilliland from Oklahoma (and a former Confederate soldier himself) was the other.

When the festivities ended, the duo took the train to New York City. Henry knew a lawyer in New York named Martin W. Littleton, who had done some legal work for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Eck and Henry were hoping that Martin could get them an audition at the well-known record company based in Camden, New Jersey.

On Thursday, June 29, Martin introduced Eck and Henry to “that man (who) was running the shop in the Victor office.” Right on the spot, the manager told Eck, “Get your fiddle out and start off on a tune.” Eck hesitantly complied but didn’t even get half way through “Sallie Gooden” before the manager stopped him and said, “Come back in the morning at nine o’clock and we’ll make a test record.”

On Friday, June 30, 1922, Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland recorded “Arkansaw Traveler,” “Turkey In The Straw” and two other fiddle duets in the Camden, New Jersey recording studio of Victor Records. The next day – Saturday, July 1, 1922 – Eck went back to the studio and recorded “Sallie Gooden,” “Ragtime Annie,” “Done Gone” and three other solo fiddle pieces.

These recordings stand as the first commercial recordings in the history of Country music.

Victor Records released the first record from these sessions – “Sallie Gooden” backed with the duet “Arkansaw Traveler” – on September 1, 1922.

Sallie Gooden copy

Victor Records #18956 – a 2-sided, 10 inch, 78-rpm disc – was the first commercial record ever released by a Country musician.

In an April, 1923 Victor Records advertisement for Instrumental Records, “Sallie Gooden” is described as: “a medley of jigs and reels, in the very best style of the travelling cowboy fiddler, with almost continuous double-stopping, one string being used for a kind of bag-pipe drone-bass, and the other to carry the melody.”

Author Tony Russell writes in his 2007 book Country Music Originals: “’Sallie Gooden’ is not just good for its time, it is great for all time, a small but perfect masterpiece of American music.”

Listen for yourself.

 

Here’s Henry and Eck from the B-side.

 

The sources for the quotes and information used in this post are: Country Music Originals: The Legends and The Lost (2007) by Tony Russell; the Eck Robertson page on the Old Time Music website; the Henry C. Gilliland page on the website of the Oklahoma Historical Society; and Wikipedia.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

Ferdinand Joseph “Jelly Roll Morton” LaMothe (1885-1941)

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Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 11

If you’re a new visitor to this blog, the purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series (or category) is to highlight and share individual songs that are on a list of mine entitled: Devastatingly Great Songs. The title phrase, “Wrestling With The Angel,” is my paraphrase of a line from a poem by Herman Melville called “Art.” You can read the complete poem in my archived post of November 4, 2011: “The Source.” (This is the first time a chapter in this series has been about an entire album.)

Given the size of my music collection, selecting the perfect soundtrack for an afternoon in the car running errands can be a daunting task. Every now and then, however, I find that a specific disc almost seems to call out to me from the shelves.

The CD that beckoned most recently was Marshall Crenshaw’s first album.

IMG_0663

Well, I barely got out of the driveway before the instantly-infectious opening track, “There She Goes Again,” reminded me that Marshall Crenshaw is one totally incredible record!

First, there are the twelve extraordinary songs: ten Marshall Crenshaw originals  (“There She Goes Again,” “Someday, Someway,” “Girls…,” “I’ll Do Anything,” “Rockin’ Around In N.Y.C.,” “The Usual Thing,” “Cynical Girl,” “Mary Anne,” “Not For Me” and “Brand New Lover”), one by Crenshaw with Rick Cioffi & Fred Todd (“She Can’t Dance”) and one cover of a song from 1962 written by Buzz Cason & Tony Moon and recorded by the R&B/Country vocalist Arthur Alexander (“Soldier Of Love”). Each and every one of these numbers is memorably melodic, lyrically well-crafted, irresistibly danceable and appropriately concise. (The longest cut logs in at 3:07.)

Then, there’s the band and let me tell you, these guys can rock! Marshall Crenshaw plays all of the intricately-layered electric and acoustic guitar parts and is a fabulous lead vocalist; Chris Donato joins in on really good-sounding bass guitar; and drummer Robert Crenshaw, Marshall’s brother, contributes much of the records spirit and energy. All three collaborate on the album’s outstanding back-up vocals. (Marshall spent from 1979 to 1980 being John Lennon in the West Coast road company of Beatlemania, so he knows a thing or two about quality back-up vocals!)

Last but certainly not least, this record sounds fantastic! Marshall Crenshaw was recorded at The Record Plant in New York City in January of 1982. Richard Gottehrer and Marshall shared the producing duties and Thom Panunzio was the engineer with assistance from Jim Ball. This talented team managed to capture the guitars, drums, bass and vocals in all of their gorgeous tonal glory and then carefully honed a mix that allowed every sparkling detail of each impassioned performance to shine through loud and clear.

Ultimately, Marshall Crenshaw does on Marshall Crenshaw what a great Pop musician is supposed to do: bring together the best elements from the music of the past and create new music that sounds fresh, exciting and timeless.

Hey, now! Don’t just take my word for it. Give a listen for yourself. You’ll be glad you did!(Headphones highly recommended.)

Here’s “Someday, Someway,” the song that was released as the single from the album.

 

And here’s “Mary Anne,” the third track on Side 2 of the original vinyl LP.

 

Marshall Crenshaw was released by Warner Brothers Records on April 28, 1982.

The album received a 4-star review from Rolling Stone magazine and a 5-star review in the AllMusic Guide To Rock. It made the “Best Albums Of The Year” list from the critics of several publications including the L.A. Times, Trouser Press and Newsday. Stereo Review magazine gave it a “Record Of The Year” award for 1982.

In the liner notes to the 2000 Warner Archives/Rhino Records Reissue/Compilation CD of Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw writes: “This stuff is pretty celebratory throughout and was deliberately designed as music to dispel anxiety – my own and anybody else’s.”

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On This Historic Day…

…I’ve become a grandfather.

“Oh, Boy!”

(“Oh, Boy!” was composed and performed by yours truly, with all due respect to Buddy Holly and Big Bill Broonzy.)

Happy Birthday, Grandson.

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Finding Covers, Chapter 4

“Really?!”

I couldn’t believe it when I first heard the news.

Rhiannon Giddens was going to start her Spring 2016 US Tour here in southeast New Hampshire. The singer, fiddler, banjo player and songwriter was scheduled to perform on Tuesday, April 5 at Phillips Exeter Academy, in near-by Exeter.

I immediately wrote the event on my calendar. Having twice seen Rhiannon Giddens perform with her other band, the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, this was a show I didn’t want to miss. As the date got closer, I started heartily recommending the concert to my students.

The supremely-talented Rhiannon Giddens was backed that chilly April evening by a superb band – Hubby Jenkins on guitar, banjo & mandolin; Rowan Corbett on guitar & bones; Jason Sypher on acoustic bass; the astonishing Jamie Dick on drums & percussion; and a cellist who was doing his first show with the group (and who’s name, unfortunately, has escaped both me and the internet). The six musicians filled the hallowed hall and transported the audience with their relentless energy, astounding skills and dazzling versatility.

The set list for the show featured material from Rhiannon’s excellent first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn (released in February, 2015) and Factory Girl, a five-song EP released in November, 2015. Among the evening’s many highlights were outstanding renditions of songs from Odetta, Dolly Parton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Patsy Cline.

For me, the most memorable performance from the show was Rhiannon’s stunning turn on “Factory Girl,” a traditional Irish song to which she had added additional lyrics.

Rhiannon’s cover of the Patsy Cline song, “She’s Got You,” was a big favorite among my students. Since April, I have helped three of them each learn how to play and sing a solo, acoustic guitar & vocals arrangement of the song.

For the version of “She’s Got You” that appears on Tomorrow Is My Turn, Rhiannon states in the liner notes from the CD that she and Hubby Jenkins “recast (the song) in a sort of old-timey R&B vibe.”

Check it out for yourself!

 

Rhiannon Giddens is accompanied on that track by: Jay Bellerose, drums; Dennis Crouch, acoustic bass; Colin Linden & T-Bone Burnett, guitars; Keefus Ciancia, keyboards; Gabe Witcher, fiddle; Jack Ashford, tambourine; Darrell Leonard & Lester Lovitt, trumpets; Tom Peterson, Joe Sublet & Jim Thompson, saxophones; and Jean Witherspoon & Tata Vega, background vocals.

“She’s Got You” was written in 1961 by the Nashville, Tennessee-based songwriter, Hank Cochran.

Hank presented the song to Country singer Patsy Cline, claiming that it would be her next #1 hit. (Hank Cochran & Harlan Howard had written Ms. Cline’s first #1 hit, “I Fall To Pieces.”) Patsy immediately loved the song and recorded it on December 17, 1961 in Nashville, TN.

“She’s Got You” (b/w “Strange”) was released as a single on January 10, 1962. Before long, it did indeed reach the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot C&W Sides Country records chart.

Here is that recording!

 

Patsy Cline included “She’s Got You” on her August, 1962 LP, Sentimentally Yours.

Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932 in Gore, Virginia. She passed away on March 5, 1963.

Hank Cochran was born Garland Perry Cochran on August 2, 1935 in Isola, Mississippi. He passed away on July 15, 2010.

Rhiannon Giddens was born on February 21, 1977 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In case you were wondering, Patsy Cline sang the song in the Key of F. Rhiannon Giddens set the song higher, in the Key of Ab. Each of my three students preferred going vocally lower to the Key of D while fingering the guitar chords in the Key of G with their instrument capoed up at the seventh fret.

In case you were wondering…

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No. 6

sixstr stories turns six years old today!

Two “six” songs came immediately to mind as I began planning for this birthday party post: “Six Days On The Road” and “Route 66.”

“Six Days On The Road” was written by Alabama songwriters Earl Greene and Carl Montgomery. It was first recorded in 1963 by Country musician Dave Dudley and is today considered to be the definitive truck driving song.

My favorite version of “Six Days On The Road” is by singer, songwriter & acoustic guitarist Livingston Taylor. Recorded at Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon, Georgia, it was released as the third track on the first side of Livingston’s 1970 self-titled debut album.

Joining Livingston on this track are Pete Carr, electric guitar; Paul Hornsby, piano; Robert Popwell, bass guitar; and Johnny Sandlin, drums.

Let’s get this party started!

 

“Route 66” was originally titled “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” It was written by American R&B songwriter Bobby Troup and first recorded by the King Cole Trio in 1946.

The Rolling Stones learned “Route 66” from recordings by Chuck Berry and Perry Como. They liked their version so much, they featured it as the first song on the first side of their British self-titled debut LP in 1964. The song was a staple of The Stones’ live shows during those early days and a scorching rendition was captured on tape during their March 1965 British tour. That track was released on The Rolling Stones’ first and chart-topping British EP, “got LIVE if you want it!,” in June, 1965.

Give it a listen!

 

That was Mick Jagger, vocals; Brian Jones, electric guitar; Keith Richard, electric guitar; Bill Wyman, bass guitar; and Charlie Watts, drums.

So, there you go. sixstr stories is six years, 319 posts and over 25,000 views old today.

To each and every one of you who visit, read, follow, listen to, like and comment on my random musings and enthusiasms here at sixstr stories, please accept my heartfelt thanks and know that I am sincerely grateful for your past, present and future support.

As always, “Good music doesn’t get old.”

 

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Woo hoo! It’s International “Louie Louie” Day!

Yes, it really is!

To join in on the celebration, I am re-posting a piece I first published on April 16, 2011. Included this time are Richard Berry & The Pharaohs’ original recording of the song and the famous cover version by The Kingsmen!

Here you go!

He could hear the band through the walls of the dressing room.

It was summer, 1955. Richard Berry was the featured singer that night at the Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim, California. The band was Ricky Rillera and The Rhythm Rockers, led by brothers Bobby and Barry Rillera. As the band played the first set on their own, warming up the crowd, Richard relaxed and waited backstage.

The incessant rhythm of one number, however, really caught Richard’s attention: duh duh duh.. duh duh, duh duh duh.. duh duh. It stuck in his head and gave the songwriter in him an idea. Richard picked up the handiest piece of paper, a crumpled bag, and jotted down a few lines of a lyric.

Later, he asked the Rillera brothers what the song was with that great rhythm. “That was ‘El Loco Cha Cha’ by Rene Touzet.”

Richard Berry (born April 11, 1935 in Extension, LA) was an accomplished R&B singer with a strong and versatile voice. He was capable of doing a frantic, Little Richard-style lead, switch to a deep, Muddy Waters-style Blues growl and then turn in a smooth and soulful performance on a slow ballad. He’d had hit records as a member of The Flairs, with The Robins on their classic “Riot In Cell Block #9,” and with Etta James on her hit “The Wallflower.”

As a songwriter, Richard knew how to follow a moment of inspiration and how to remain open to influence by other songwriters. “El Loco Cha Cha” had provided the riff, the basic rhythm, to build his new song on. “Havana Moon” – the Chuck Berry song that served as the B-side to Chuck’s 1956 single “You Can’t Catch Me” – and the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen 1940’s-era standard “One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)” eventually served as melodic and lyrical inspiration.

When the new song was done, Richard took it to a recording session with his regular band, The Pharaohs. In April of 1956, at Hollywood Recorders on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA, Richard Berry and The Pharoahs recorded four songs: “You Are My Sunshine,” “Somewhere There’s A Rainbow,” “Sweet Sugar You” and the new one: “Louie Louie.”

In April of 1957, “Louie Louie” was released on a Flip Records single as the B-side to “You Are My Sunshine.” When “Louie Louie” started getting more attention and airplay, it was re-released as the A-side of a single with “Rock Rock Rock” on the back.

 

In April of 1963, two popular Northwest Rock & Roll bands: Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Kingsmen, went into the studios of Northwest Recorders in Portland, OR and each recorded their version of “Louie Louie.”

In late 1963/early 1964, “Louie Louie” b/w “Haunted Castle” by The Kingsmen had reached #1 on the Cashbox chart and held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks in a row.

 

Dave Marsh, author of Louie Louie: The History & Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock ‘n’ Roll Song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture & Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I., & a Cast of Millions; & Introducing for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics and the liner notes to the CD compilation Love That Louie: The Louie Louie Files, wrote: “‘Louie, Louie’ is either the essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll or definitive proof that no such essence ever could exist – unless it’s both of those at once.”

Information for this post was drawn from the two sources by Dave Marsh as listed above and The All Music Guide to Rock.

Happy International “Louie Louie” Day! Woo hoo, indeed!

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Two Days In New York City

I’ve written about days like this before: days that are pinpoints on the timeline of music history, when paths crossed and discoveries were made. Days that changed lives and (ultimately) changed music.

For instance…

August 1, 1927: The day that The Carter Family auditioned for Ralph Peer.

July 16, 1933: The day that John & Alan Lomax were introduced to Huddie Ledbetter.

August 16, 1939: The day that Charlie Christian auditioned for Benny Goodman.

July 6, 1957: The day that John Lennon met Paul McCartney.

This story is about two such days in 1940. The significant event on each of these days was an evening concert. It has been said that the after effects of these two concerts altered the course of American music; giving birth to what is now officially referred to as the “American Folk-music Revival.”

So, the first day…

On Sunday, February 25, 1940, the Mecca Temple (at 56th Street and 6th Avenue) was the setting for a huge benefit concert for Spanish Loyalist Civil War refugees. Well-known folk musicians Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Alan Lomax were among the many artists on the diverse roster of performers that evening. Woody Guthrie, the heralded singer/guitarist from Oklahoma, was a last minute addition.

This was Woody Guthrie’s first public performance since arriving in New York City two weeks earlier. Guthrie had been encouraged to come to New York by the actor and activist Will Geer. The two had met and become friends in California the previous July. Geer served as master of ceremonies for the Mecca Temple event and specifically arranged for Woody to have a spot on the program.

Woody Guthrie did not perform until well into the long concert, finally appearing somewhere between a “workers’ chorus singing Russian folk songs and classically trained baritone Mordecai Bauman.” Bauman (Broadway star and Columbia Records recording artist) remembered Guthrie that evening as being “a talent we had never heard in New York. In a minute he had the audience in his hand.”

Alan Lomax later recounted Guthrie’s performance that night at the Mecca Temple in a bit more detail: “He stepped out on the stage, this little tiny guy, big bushy hair, with this great voice and his guitar, and just electrified us all.”

The first song that Woody sang was one of his own: “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

“Well,” Lomax continued, “I realized, listening to this song, that I was meeting a guy who was a ballad maker, in the same sense as the people who made ‘Jesse James’ and ‘Casey Jones.’ I thought they were from anonymous people. Well, here was Mr. Anonymous singing to me.”

Woody closed his short set with a new original song, “Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?” This clever, funny and well-received number was inspired by a New York Post article about a speech recently given by President Franklin Roosevelt to a meeting of the left-leaning American Youth Congress.

Lead Belly (Library of Congress, ARC and Musicraft recording artist and “King of the 12-String Guitar”) followed Guthrie to the stage. “But,” Lomax recalled, “only after a long wait filled with encores and roars of delighted laughter.”

Alan Lomax was more than an observant and well-versed folk singer. He was a renowned musicologist and, at the time, Assistant Director of the Archive of American Folk Music at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Also, Alan Lomax was the writer, director, producer and host of the weekly “American Folk Songs” series for the New York-based CBS radio show American School of the Air.

Backstage at the Mecca, Lomax excitedly approached Woody, inviting him to come to Washington, D.C., visit the Library of Congress and to sing on his radio show. Guthrie was put off by Lomax’s fast talk and big city hustle and managed to side step his offers. He did, however, get Alan to introduce him to Lead Belly.

Then, the second day…

On Sunday, March 3, 1940, the Forrest Theater (230 W. 49th Street) was the setting for “A ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Evening” presented by “The Theatre Arts Committee and Will Geer of the Tobacco Road Company.” The 8:30 pm show was “For the Benefit of the John Steinbeck Committee for Agricultural Workers.” Ticket prices ranged from $.55 to $1.65.

The featured cast was announced as “American Ballad Singers and Folk Dancers: Will Geer, Alan Lomax, Aunt Molly Jackson, Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Pennsylvania Miners, Margo Mayo, Golden Gate Quartet and many others.” The “many others” included Bess Lomax, performing with her brother, Alan, and singer/banjo-player Pete Seeger making his public debut.

The show opened with Aunt Molly Jackson, a folk singer and United Mine Workers activist from Kentucky. Woody Guthrie, “a real dust bowl refugee,” followed.

Seeger recalled the evening for Mainstream magazine in 1963.

“Will Geer was MC of the show. Burl Ives was on it and also Lead Belly and Josh White. And there was Woody. A little, short fellow with a western hat and boots, in blue jeans and needing a shave, spinning out stories and singing songs that he had made up himself. His manner was laconic, offhand, as though he didn’t much care if the audience was listening or not.”

Guthrie sang three original songs that night at the Forrest: “Talking New York Subway Blues,” “Do Re Mi” and “Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?.” He interlaced his songs with observations and stories from his time in New York: “You know, they could have more people on these subway trains if they’d lay ’em down: when you got to your station, they could shoot you home like a torpedo… Trains were so crowded today, you couldn’t even fall down. I had to change stations twice, and both time I came out with a different pair of shoes on…”

The way Pete saw it, “Woody was the star of the show. He’d tell a joke and sing a song, and then he’d tell another joke. He must’ve been on stage for twenty minutes, more than any other member of the cast.”

As for his own performance, Seeger recounted in 1999: “I was allowed to sing one song on the program because my friend folklorist Alan Lomax insisted on it. I remember walking out to the front of the stage and singing, very amateurishly, the outlaw ballad ‘John Hardy.’ I got a smattering of polite applause.”

Woody Guthrie himself summed up the evening’s success: “We showed ’em where singing started. We showed ’em how songs come to be… We didn’t have no fancy costumes, nor pretty legs, but we showed ’em old ragged overalls, and cheaper cotton dresses… shows [folk music] can be useful.”

After the “Grapes of Wrath” show, Alan Lomax talked with Woody Guthrie again. He again invited Guthrie to visit Washington, D.C., to record his songs and stories for the Library of Congress and to be a guest on American School of the Air. This time, Woody accepted Alan’s invitations.

Finally, before their conversation was over, Alan Lomax pulled the evening’s rookie performer forward and said, “Here. Woody Guthrie, I want you to meet Pete Seeger.”

At the time of those concerts, Pete Seeger was 20 years old; Alan Lomax was 25; Woody Guthrie was 27; and Huddie Ledbetter was 51.

The work that those four men went on to do in the months and years after those two days in New York – along with the efforts of a roster of musicians that included Josh White, Burl Ives, Big Bill Broonzy, Jean Ritchie, Oscar Brand and Cisco Houston – resulted in a phenomenal rise of national interest in Folk music that stretched into the 1960’s.

The vast collection of recordings and writings that Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax and Huddie Ledbetter produced in their lifetimes will continue to enlighten, inspire and delight musicians and music lovers around the world for many decades to come.

The information and quotes used in the writing of this post were gathered from many sources including:

This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of An American Folk Song (2012) by Robert Santelli

Woody Guthrie: A Life (1980) by Joe Klein

Woody Guthrie: American Radical Patriot (2013) by Bill Nowlin

How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger (1981) by David Dunaway

Pete Seeger in His Own Words (2012) Selected & Edited by Rob & Sam Rosenthal

The Life & Legend of Leadbelly (1992) by Charles Wolfe & Kip Lornell

Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded The World (2010) by John Szwed

Alan Lomax’s liner notes to the 3 CD set: Woody Guthrie: Library of Congress Recordings (1988) Rounder Records

Wikipedia

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