SEEGER, Pete: If I Had a Hammer

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With The Weavers, The Union Boys, Burl Ives & LeeHays 

Original Recordings 1944-1950

If there was a Mount Rushmore of influential folkperformers, Pete Seeger would be the first one carved into stone, head raisedand singing to the heavens. In the more than sixty years since folk music madeits journey from the backwoods, hills, and valleys of America to the concretejungles of New York City, no one person has had a greater impact or a morepronounced presence on the music than Seeger and his long-necked five-stringbanjo. In retrospect, even the monumental accomplishments of his friend andfrequent musical companion, Woody Guthrie, pale in comparison with Seeger's.Although Guthrie penned the folk world's anthem, \This Land is Your Land," andwas the lightning rod for countless aspiring folk singers, it was Seeger whotranscended Guthrie's era and others that came after it; writing, performing,teaching, preaching, reviving folk traditions, and then ensuring theirperpetuation. If there was a cause, be it musical, populist, orconservationist, you could count on Seeger to be there, singing out hissupport. He is as American as Abraham Lincoln in his nobility, his love for hiscountry, and his relentless support of the rights of the individual.

A member of an esteemed family of musicians and folklorists,Seeger was born on 3 May 1919 in New York City. His father, Charles, was anoted ethnomusicologist; his mother, a concert violinist. Seeger attendedcollege at Harvard, but dropped out after becoming entranced with folk musicafter his father took him to a folk festival in Asheville, North Carolina. In1938, he hoboed around the U.S., riding the rails while meeting performers suchas Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Earl Robinson. His father introduced him toAlan Lomax, and Seeger spent the next two years learning to play the banjo andstudying the vast folk music archives at the Library of Congress.

When the Almanac Singers were formed before World War II,Seeger helped lead and organize the group, playing at rallies and contributingpro-union and anti-fascist songs. After serving in the army during the war,Seeger continued his support for labour unions by helping to found People'sSongs, the notorious leftist organization of the late '40s. During this time,Seeger rode the campaign trail with Henry Wallace and after the demise ofPeople's Songs, helped organize the Weavers, the group that set the standardfor the oncoming 'folk music revival'. The Weavers soon became victims of theblacklist, which all but destroyed their careers in the early 1950s. In 1955,Seeger himself became a martyr when he invoked the Fifth Amendment, refusing toanswer any questions posed by the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee)about his political background.

Surviving the Communist witch-hunts, Seeger inspiredthousands of would-be musicians to learn to play the five-string banjo with hismany recordings for the Folkways label. As 'Johnny Appleseed', Seeger penned along-running column in Sing Out! the folk music Bible that helped disseminatefolk songs through articles, printed transcriptions, and record reviews. SinceSeeger could not get any gigs himself, he passed his folk traditions on toothers through his column, keeping his music alive. 

In the '60s, he was banned from appearing on television'sHootenanny programme, but continued on, joining the peaceniks and protestingthe war in Vietnam. In the process, he penned some of the decade's best-lovedsongs, including the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Where Have All the FlowersGone". Seeger also was responsible for helping transform an ages old hymn ("WeShall Overcome") into the anthem of the anti-war movement.

Seeger's dedication toward conservation led to hisspearheading the cleanup of the Hudson River, which he counts as one of hisproudest achievements. Through all these years, Seeger soldiered on, and today,in his mid-80s, he is the patron saint of folk music. He has outlived Guthrieby more than three decades, yet modestly dismisses his role as America's folklaureate.

During his long career, Pete Seeger has managed to deftlyjuggle traditional folk ballads and instrumentals with topical and politicalsongs that were both timely as well as powerful. We have included a generousand balanced sampling of these on this CD. Songs in the former category includethe country dance tune Cindy, the cowboy song Git Along Little Dogies, and amedley of instrumentals played on the banjo (Banjo Pieces). Seeger's abilitieson the banjo have always been understated in comparison with his talents as asinger and performer. But Seeger's musical versatility on the banjo enabled himto play traditional country, blues, classical, jazz, Spanish, and other ethnicstyles with great virtuosity.

As a youngster learning to play in the late '30s, Seeger wasespecially attracted to records by Uncle Dave Macon, the grand old man of theGrand Ole Opry. As a result, Seeger's first 78 for the Charter label featuredrenditions of two songs made famous by Macon, Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase(which Macon recorded as "Cumberland Mountain Deer Race", based on an 1850spoem entitled "The Wild Ashe Deer") and Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy(Macon's first hit in 1924). The latter song was paired on one side with JimmieRodgers' "T" for Texas (aka "Blue Yodel").

Like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger liberally borrowed melodiesfrom traditional sources. Solidarity Forever featured words by Ralph Chaplain,one of the early leaders of the I.W.W. (The Industrial Workers of the World,commonly known as the 'Wobblies'). Burl Ives sings Chap-lain's lyrics to thetune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" which is followed by Seeger's talkingblues verses. The song became popular on scores of picket lines. Ironically,Ives would violate the concept of solidarity by not only cooperating with theHUAC in 1952, but also fingering many of his fellow folk singers, includingSeeger, as having attended Communist supported functions.

Theodore Bilbo (1877-1947) was a senator and former governorof Mississippi who, in 1945, wrote letters to constituents using raciallyoffensive terminology. Bob and Adrienne Claiborne were New Yorkers who tookparticular offense to Bilbo's insensitivity and penned the biting Listen, Mr.Bilbo, explaining how some of America's most important personages came fromother lands. The song first appeared in the March 1946 issue of People's SongsBulletin.

The gathering storm clouds of the HUAC inspired Seeger andLee Hays to pen The Hammer Song (aka "If I Had a Hammer"), written to warn ofthe dangers to liberty loosed by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was one of twosongs issued on the first 78 recorded by the Weavers in 1949. The other sidewas Banks of Marble, a song that was triggered by the post-war recession andsubsequent rising unemployment of 1948. A struggling apple farmer fromNewburgh, New York named Les Rice wrote the song, which was introduced bySeeger to a hootenanny audience in New York. In time, members of labour unionswould include their own verses describing other wretched working conditionsamong laborers.

Talking Atom (aka "Talking Atomic Blues") was written by aLos Angeles newspaperman named Vern Partlow. Performed in the style of WoodyGuthrie's "Talking Dust Bowl Blues" (itself a take on Chris Bouchillon'soriginal "Talking Blues" from 1926), the song was discovered by singer SamHinton in a 1947 issue of People's Songs Bulletin. Partlow ended up beingtargeted himself by the HUAC, got fired from hi
Disc: 1
Banjo Pieces: My Blues-Eyed Gal - Cripple Creek -
1 Cindy
2 The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn
3 The Erie Canal
4 Casey Jones
5 Solidarity Forever
6 U.A.W. - C.I.O.
7 Listen, Mr. Bilbo
8 Roll the Union On
9 Devilish Mary
10 Danville Girl
11 I Had a Wife
12 Talking Atom
13 Newspaper Men
14 Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase
15 Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy
16 "T" for Texas
17 John Riley
18 Darling Corey
19 Git Along Little Dogies
20 Penny's Farm
21 The Jam on Jerry's Rocks
22 Come All Fair Maids
23 Wasn't That a Time
24 The Hammer Song
25 Banks of Marble
26 Banjo Pieces: My Blues-Eyed Gal - Cripple Creek -
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