December 9, 2013


Musician and activist Peter Seeger has been nominated for a Grammy Award for his new spoken-word album The Storm King. A collection of stories and poems from his life set to multi-genre music with percussionist Jeff Haynes, the album is great follow-up to two CDs he released last year-  not bad for a 94-year-old! Seeger grew up in a family of musicians who fostered a dedication to activism and traditional music. Seeger had a profound impact on the culture of the 20th Century through his gift for bringing people together through song. His long career stretches back to collaborations with Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, and decades of touring and playing on radio and television. As a website dedicated to 1960s style, Spy Vibe would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the major influence Seeger had on the Folk Boom and on the political and spiritual climate of the decade. Even if you are not a fan of his style of music, Seeger represents a dedication to community and to nature that I hope will prevail for years to come. This Grammy nomination is his fifth (he has won four times!), in addition to winning the National Medal of Arts, a Kennedy Center Honor, the Harvard Arts Medal, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the Felix Varela Medal, the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, and the George Peabody Medal. Good luck, Pete, in this year's Grammy Awards! Seeger sadly lost his wife Toshi this year after a 70-year marriage. His brother Mike Seeger (New Lost City Ramblers) passed away in 2009. His sister Peggy Seeger lives in the UK and continues to perform, record and speak out as an activist for LGBT rights and other issues. Below is a rare photo of Pete Seeger with Woody Guthrie. See more at NPR here. Story continues below. 

Recent related releases include Pete Seeger Remembers Woody and A More Perfect Union (with Emmylou Harris, Dar Wiliams, Steve Earle, and Bruce Springsteen), and a new documentary film called Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. Below is a rare poster for a benefit concert held in my backyard in Mill Valley, California in the late 1960s. Note the quote by John F. Kennedy. Other musicians supported Democratic candidate Phil Drath during the era, including the Grateful Dead and Joan Baez.

My eye on the early-mid 1960s has been particularly fascinated lately with the folk and blues boom. Not only is it interesting to see how youth culture embraced players like Pete Seeger, the music itself was powered by deep storytelling, humor, history, and topical concerns of the era. Pete Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, so maybe to that paranoid establishment, this was REAL "spy music." Spy Vibers might enjoy the video clips below of Pete Seeger. The Power of Song illustrates Seeger's commitment to bettering the world through music and captures some of the larger issues of the early 1960s. His song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, was performed on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967, but cut from broadcast by the censors. A campaign by the brothers pressured the network to finally air the footage, and Seeger was able to share a tune that showed his patriotism, empathy for those facing combat, and a larger questioning of war at the height of Vietnam. Written on his banjo were the words. "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." 

Another way to appreciate this area of music is to remember how important it was to the development of other styles. To stretch a quote by the great blues composer Willie Dixon, folks like Dylan, Seeger, Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Skip James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry, Lonnie Donegan, New Lost City Ramblers, etc were "the roots", and The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and Miles Davis were "the fruits". Traditional folk and blues performers might not have made a big splash with rebellious fashion and attitude (though Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins were certainly sharp dressers), but they sure had something to say. Sometimes the deepest messages come in plain wrappings. One of the most memorable moments I've ever seen on TV was Pete Seeger on Hugh Hefner's Playboy's Penthouse (1959). Pete had a great talent for getting a crowd singing, and it was sweet to see a room of sophisticates huddled around him singing along. Hefner, a huge music fan himself, sat close to Pete and joined in. The guests were movers and shakers of the new cultural revolution, but unified in curiosity and humanity by that banjo.

Spy Vibers interested in seeing another side of the early-mid 1960s should check out the great documentary, The Power of Song (about Pete Seeger).Although I played in a bluegrass band in high school, and have played mainly blues guitar all my life, my listening curiosity never really pulled in this direction until now. It's great to discover 'new" areas of culture when a fresh context or perspective open us up to the experience. Groovy organ soundtracks transcend time for me because they bring a sense of adventure and playfulness to the day. The spirit of Seeger and the poetry of Bob Dylan's songs transcend time because they embody universal, human emotion and experience. I was playing banjo recently in the Spy Vibe lair! It was quite fun to pick out blues and folk tunes. I've also discovered that the instrument can double as a shamisen for traditional Japanese melodies. I encourage all Spy Vibers to spend some time with characters like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Alan Lomax. Dive into the Smithsonian Folkways site. Listen to traditional music from around the world and discover your inner folkie. Pete Seeger Appreciation page here. Below is a rare photo of 2-year-old Pete with his musical family. Thanks to archivist and pal Rich Remsberg for inspiring this post today!

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Recent Ian Fleming posts on Spy Vibe: Erno Goldfinger, Ian Fleming Music Series links: Noel CowardWhispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr, new Ian Fleming CatalogJon Gilbert interview, Double 007 Designs, Bond audio book reissues, discovery of one of Ian Fleming's WWII Commandos, James Bond book covers, Ian Fleming's Playboy interview for Kindle, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, rare View to a Kill, Fleming's Royal gold typewriter, Ian Fleming's memorial address, Spy Vibe's Ian Fleming image archive

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I would be fine with Pete getting the Grammy but the Nobel Prize would be good too.

    That performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers has always been one of my favorite television moments, not only because I love the song itself but because it comes from a time when the networks were afraid that a song or a tv appearance could have real political impact. They actually worried a comedy show or a folk singer might unsettle people; that their switchboard operators would have to take angry phone calls or they'd be flooded with letters of complaint. I only wish television could still be that dangerous...