Five Things: Wednesday 29th January

Folk Music Has Another Moment…
A fitting soundtrack to The Naked Rambler (some Nick Drake, I think, and Tom Paxton’s “Rambling Boy”). The Joan Baez documentary I’ve not quite finished watching. BBC4 showing Murray Lerner’s great Festival. The opening of Inside Llewyn Davis and attendant media blitz. And lastly, all the obits for Pete Seeger folk’s been all over everything in the last week or so. My favourite act in Lerner’s film were the amazing Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, clean-cut college kids looking for all the world like cousins of Buddy Holly and Annette Funicello, high-stepping and twirling, accompanied by Seeger’s banjo-playing, to a standing ovation from the crowd. “In 1962 from in and around the little mountain town of Hendersonville, NC, the so-called Dancingest Little Town in America, a group of teenagers and one adult, 24-year-old James Kesterson, started the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. Hendersonville had been the Home of the retired world champion North Carolina Cloggers and a bit of their influence can be seen in the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers.”

At The Foot Of Richard Williams’ Fine Pete Seeger Tribute
on the Guardian site: Seeger jeans, just in…

Seeger

Happy Traum, Interviewed By Ken Hunt, 1981, Found On rocksbackpages.com
Happy: “It seems to me that folk music is a very funny form musically, because it can be easily a kind of dead issue. I think that’s the way many people do folk music; when it’s put in those terms, it really can lose the vitality that it’s supposed to have. So, naturally I’m attracted to people who can take folk songs and make them alive and make them exciting, without necessarily turning them into something different. I mean, you could play folk songs with a symphonic orchestra or you can play folk songs with a rock and roll band, but it will very often lose the essence just as much as if somebody’s doing an old Burl Ives imitation, which also loses the essence to me. But when Ry Cooder plays a folk song, most of the time he keeps the essential things about that music that attracts me to it and yet at the same time adds something which is fresh and different. So that’s one of the reasons why I think both he and Taj Mahal are very important. Because they take those old songs and add a life to them.”

Excerpt From Neil Young’s Grammy Speech (Producers & Engineers Wing)
“So this is a cool night because we’re all here together… A lot of us, you know, producers and engineers –I’m kind of a producer, partially, an engineer, I’m not really good at either one. It’s hurt my records in the past. We’re performance-oriented: technical things don’t matter that much. That’s only one way of making records. A lot of you out here are craftsmen: just beautiful records, and take great care with every note. And I know I’m not one of them. I like to capture the moment. I like to record the moment. I like to get the first time that I sung the song. I like to get the first time the band plays the song. So there’s a lot of compromises you make to get that feeling, but in the long run, that’s where the pictures are when I hear my words and when I see the pictures while I’m listening. So that’s what we try to record.

I love you all people, because I know what you’re doing. I know how crazy you are about all the things that I don’t care about. Sometimes you make great records, and it’s fantastic. They’re not like my records – sometimes I can’t feel them, but I really appreciate them. No, sometimes I can feel them and I go, “Holy shit, how did they do that? How did they make that record? I know they layered it – it’s not like a documentary where something happens and you take a picture, cinema verite. This is a movie: somebody created all the scenes, and there was the dialogue, and then they did the dialogue again, and there was the foley to do the sounds, and they did all the stuff, and everything’s perfect – but it’s still good.”

There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just a different way of doing it than I could ever do, because I have so little ability to do that, that it would really suck: over and over again, getting it right. That’s why I’m flat, that’s why it doesn’t matter that there’s bad notes. That doesn’t mean it’s not production – it just means it’s the kind of production that we do.

Some people are here tonight that I’ve worked with over the ages that are just really incredible people. Al Schmitt’s here tonight… because he’s the father of what’s going on here, and he’s still here. He has staying power. And he was recording the way that I want to record now. I’m going to make a record with Al – we’re talking about making a record together where there’s only one mic, but we do a huge orchestra. And when we finish doing that performance, and every guy’s standing the right length from the mic: the background vocal is like “hey-hey-hey,” and of course I’m up here, but they’re right there, so it sounds like that there. So we’re going to do it that way. We’re not going to mix it: we’re going to do it, and mix it while we do it. Everybody can get in the right place, and if it’s not right – well, we’ll move the bass up. Move the bass closer. It’s not loud enough? Move the amp closer, then! It sounds good, but it’s just too quiet, so move it up. Move it in, and the drums? Leave it over there, go back farther.

Do you know how fun that is to do? That is so much fun. It’s like playing music – it’s not making music, it’s playing it… There’s something that happens with one mic. I’ve just never been able to do that, with some rare instances like when I record in a recording booth from a 1940s state fair. I got that sound by closing myself into a telephone booth. And I notice, it sounds just like an old record. And I like the sound of old records! I’ve always loved that.

The thing we do is, we make great stuff in the studio and then we kiss its ass goodbye, because nobody’s ever going to hear it. That’s unfortunate, and it didn’t used to be that way. That’s something that happened to us – that’s an injury we sustained, and it deeply hurt us. So the time has come for us to recover and to bring music back to the people in a way that they can recognize it in their souls – through the window of their souls, their ears. So they can feel and vibrate and so that they can get goosebumps. We cherish those fucking goosebumps. We really need those.”

Some Non-Folk: I walked between the raindrops…
…to work, eschewing my usual Boris Bike, and “Day Dream”, the Ellington/Strayhorn song on Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi album, sneaked into my earphones. It’s really something, and somehow I’d never properly listened to it before – Joshua Redman on burnished tenor duetting with Toussaint’s exquisite piano. It makes time stand still as I walk past a hundred people standing in the rain in Rathbone Place, victims of a fire alarm drill. It comes to an end as I cross the coffee shop threshold, usurped by Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” as I stand in line behind Ian Hislop and Andy Hamilton catching up with one another.
nb, from Michael Hill’s liner notes on Nonesuch Records’ website: Apparently, Redman nailed his solo on the first take. Toussaint praises Redman’s “beautiful tone. I could just listen to him alone, solo. I’d love to catch him on a street corner somewhere. And everyone was hip to him much more than I was. When I told my son about him, he said, ‘Oh yes, he’s the bomb.’ And my son was right. Joshua is a marvelous musician. He’s finely tuned to what he’s looking for in his sound; he doesn’t accept stock.”

Comments

  1. What I found fascinating about Seeger’s life and achievements is how strongly he believed traditional songs were yoked to progressive politics. But many blues express derogatory sentiments about women, and many hillbilly songs have sociopathic attitudes. The mention of Bascar Lunsford in Richard Williams article reminded me that in Dave Van Ronk’s autobiography, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, he described 2 Washington Square folkies who travel to a North Carolina music festival. Lunsford greets them by asking if they know Pete Seeger, and when they say they’ve met him, Lunsford asks: Are you Jews, Are you communists? Lunsford let the boys sing, after they’d assured him they were not communists. Van Ronk matter of factly describes Lunsford as “a racist, anti-Semite, white supremacist who in later years steadfastly refused to come to the Newport Folk Festival because of Seeger’s involvement.” But his “Mole In The Ground” is one of the greatest recordings in traditional American music, and Lunsford was a superb custodian of his tradition.

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