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Monday, 14 August 2017

What Ever Happened To Folk Music?




Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger

 
This story is about folk music, what it is or was about and some of its history. Right up front, I don’t claim to be an expert on folk music. It is an intricate subject with a lot of moving parts. Some of this story is about things I remember personally and some of it is stuff I had to research. I expect to meander a bit but not get off track too much. Hopefully some readers will find something interesting along the way.

When I think about it, I probably haven’t seen live folk music in over 45 years. I’m 70 years of age now. The last time was quite likely back in the early 1970s in a little town called Brackendale which is just north of the small city of Squamish off of the highway to Whistler, BC. I remember driving up there with some other people on a wet winter’s night. I also recall an old church on the east side of Vancouver that featured folk singers on Sunday afternoons around the same time.

Out of curiosity I went on line and it turns out that the Brackendale Art Gallery has been around since 1973 and aside from displaying the works of BC artists it has also showcased evenings of folk and bluegrass music for over 4 decades. In May of this year folk singer Shari Ulrich appeared on stage along with former rocker Barney Bentall and their bluegrass group. Shari Ulrich is also part of a folk singing trio called UHF that includes the lead singer from the rock band Chilliwack, Bill Henderson, and folksinger Roy Forbes formerly known as Bim. My guess is that some of these folks are looking for their roots in music, remembering the days when making music was often about enjoying the company of likeminded people and making any money from playing a few tunes was just a small bonus.
Personally, I find it kind of interesting, the number of musicians from back in the day that chose the west coast of Canada to spend the latter part of their lives. The late Montreal folk singer Penny Laing spent her final 10 years on The Sunshine Coast. (If you are Canadian you probably remember the TV series The Beachcombers. A lot of it was filmed in that area.) Valdy, Shari Ulrich, and Randy Bachman all owned homes on Salt Spring Island near Victoria, BC. at one time. One of Phil Collin’s ex-wives lives there too. Shari Ulrich grew up in San Rafael, California, Randy Bachman grew up in Winnipeg, and Valdy was born in Ottawa. Ex-Brit Long John Baldry lived in Vancouver for years before passing away. Blues artist Jim Byrnes settled in Vancouver years ago after growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. Former Irish Rovers singer Will Millar lives by a little lake near Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island. He’s 75 or 76 years old now.
Folk music was part of my musical journey in life. I’ve never been the kind of person who could devote myself totally to one thing and forget about everything else. Maybe I was a bit of a whore over the years when it came to music? If I thought what I was listening to was catchy or interesting that was good enough for me, no matter the genre. I would kind of store the good stuff away in the back of my mind and revisit it from time to time when the mood suited me.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the times long ago when I was sitting in some little club somewhere in downtown Montreal watching people strumming acoustic guitars and singing folk songs. There’s something intimate about a small room where music is being played. Is it just my imagination but didn’t some of those places have empty Chianti bottles with candles sticking out of them sitting on the tables?

I think the reason I stopped going to folk clubs in my early twenties was because I didn’t think they were the easiest places to meet (pick up?) women which was more of a priority to me than listening to some tunes. I may have had similar political and societal beliefs as the folky types but I wasn’t about to fake being a hippie. Wearing an old army jacket wasn’t my style and the closest I got to being a university student was a few night courses one year.
Folk Music Pre 1950
The word “folk” is derived from the German word “Volk’. Volk means “people” in German. A Volkswagen literally means “people’s car”. If you didn’t know this before, now you do.
Every country in the world has its own unique folklore and stories that are told through songs. In Canada and the US folk songs date back to when Europeans first came to North America. Some of the early folk songs came from English minstrels who wandered the English countryside from town to town busking in the streets for a few coins. There were also songs that became popular in British and Irish taverns hundreds of years ago. Some of the songs were a bit on the ribald side or humourous. Other than the very wealthy, most people worked at jobs 6 days a week back then with little financial compensation. Singing popular ditties (short simple songs) and quaffing a few ales took the edge off of some pretty bleak lives.There were times in English history when men of meager resources were kidnapped off the street and forced to work on ships and songs were made up about their ocean travels.
Prior to the 20th century most people who immigrated to the US and Canada settled on the Eastern Seaboard. Both countries had mostly agrarian economies and most of the people lived in rural areas some distance away from the big cities. Making a living off of the land was a challenge and often not very financially rewarding. A lot of the working class back then never got past grade school. Being illiterate was quite common.
Music was the one thing that poorer people could create themselves that would break up the regular drudgery of their lives. Dances were organized throughout the year and all that was needed was a fiddle or two to stir up the crowd. Songs were made up and usually the lyrics were about something local that everyone had some familiarity with.

 
Slaves in the US, particularly in the Deep South, created spiritual and gospel music to assuage their dreary lives. “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” was first sung by ex-slaves at the beginning of The American Civil war. Different regions in Canada and the US had their own unique folk music. In Canada there were the songs about seafaring that originated in Nova Scotia and the later to be province of Newfoundland. There were French Canadian folk songs in Quebec. In Louisiana there was local Creole and Cajun folk music.
Perhaps the heart of American folk music was in the Appalachia area of the US deep in the Appalachian Mountains which run south from New York State through Pennsylvania, The Virginias, The Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and into Mississippi and Alabama. Most of the inhabitants of the area were either of Scotch or Irish background. A good part of this countryside of the US has seen poverty dating back at least 200 years. The Industrial Revolution that started just after The Civil War led to coal mining and short lives for many who worked in that industry.
Poverty can stimulate musical creativity to some extent and working poorer people found new and different ways to add instruments with other sounds. Washboards, jugs, and spoons were implemented. Guitars, banjos, and fiddles were the main instruments. Pianos were very expensive and they weren’t very mobile. I’m not 100% sure about this but I think the reason drums were not part of the music was because many whites associated drums with something that came from Africa.
Songs got passed on by word and mouth and over time the words would be changed somewhat from the original version. A lot of musicians couldn’t read or write so they had to rely on their memories. Some songs had religious overtones. A number of tunes came from The Civil War and often derided either the North or South. Basically it was all storytelling and folklore. Eventually the music started to get categorized. There was folk music, blues music, bluegrass music, and country music. I may be wrong but I think it is easier to identify a musical style when it is played at a faster tempo than it is when a ballad is being sung.
One of the common threads in earlier folk music was the identifying of different classes in society. Rich people didn’t work on farms, in factories, in mines, or on the railroad. The rich had their operas and orchestras, their servants, lived in mansions, and often had more money than they knew what to do with. Working people may not have had a pot to piss in but they had their own kind of music that couldn’t be taken away from them.

 
Some folk kind of songs that are over 100 years old include I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Buffalo Gals, Dixie, Grandfather’s Clock, Clementine, Casey Jones, and Blow the Man Down.

The record player and the radio had a huge impact on the availability of music to the masses. Not everyone could afford these devises but even really poor people knew somebody who owned a record player or a radio.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that some people decided that it might be a good idea to chronicle folk music for posterity. One of the first to do so was a guy named John Lomax who was born in 1867. He was a life-long academic and in the early 20th century got involved with Texas folklore. He was fired from his teaching job in 1917 when he was 50 years old and moved to Chicago where he became friends with the writer and poet Carl Sandburg. Sandburg wrote an anthology in 1927 called the American Songbag. He may have been one of America’s first urban folksingers as he often played his guitar while reciting his poems. Lomax along with his son recorded a lot of American folksingers in the 1930s including a back musician named Leadbelly.

Leadbelly
Leadbelly was born in Louisiana in 1889 and aside from singing he played the guitar, accordion, piano, and lap steel guitar. His birth name was Huddie Ledbetter. He was both a blues and folk artist. When he was about 21 he wrote a song about the sinking of the Titanic. A good part of his earlier years were spent in prison. He had a pretty volatile temper. He once killed one of his relatives in a fight over a woman. The Lomaxes recorded Leadbelly’s signature song Good Night Irene in 1934. In the late 1930s he moved to New York City where he was to spend most of the rest of his life. He had a radio show for a while and toured Europe. He kind of became the elderly statesman of folk music.
Josh White
Josh White was a contemporary of Leadbelly’s and they sometimes appeared on stage together. White was 25 years younger than Leadbelly. He was also an actor on radio, on Broadway, and on film. During The Great Depression he became good friends with the US president, FDR. He wrote a lot of civil rights protest songs and was the first black singer to give a command performance at the White House. He was the first black recording artist to sell a million records. The song was called Sucking Cider Through a Straw.  White was a huge influence on other folk singers who became big names in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in 1969.
The Great Depression was tough times for most Americans and Canadians. Inequities and suffering in America became more political through folk music in the decade of the 30s. A lot of people were looking for answers as to how life could become better for the average Joe. One of the answers some thought was to have more socialism in government. FDR created something called The WPA during The Depression to get people back to work. The WPA (Works Project Administration) wasn’t just about building roads and national parks, it also included creating jobs for artists and musicians. Between 1935 and 1941 the WPA employed more than 8 million Americans.
Most Americans didn’t know much about Communism in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Russia was a far away country. Many leftists in the US at the time, thought that collectivism was something that might work in the US and improve conditions for the working man. There was a lot of pro Russia propaganda in the US during WW2 promoting Russia as an ally.
Woody Guthrie


 Woody Guthrie was born in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. He was named after US president Woodrow Wilson. Guthrie's mother was institutionalized with Huntington’s disease when he was 14 and his father was a Ku Klux Klan member. It was around this time that Guthrie learned how to play the harmonica. His father was also a failed businessman who had invested in real estate. In 1929, the first year of The Depression, Woody dropped out of high school and moved to Texas where his father was working trying pay off his debts.
Guthrie married his first wife when he was 19 and they had 3 children together. The Dust Bowl hit Texas hard and Guthrie decided to head out to California in search of work. He left his family behind. At times he travelled with the Okies (Oklahomans) who were also headed to the same destination. He learned how to play the guitar and fiddle and started writing songs about his travels.
Eventually he found work performing on air at a Los Angeles country radio station and earned enough money to send for his family. Around this time he met actor Will Geer (the grandfather in the TV series The Waltons) and writer John Steinbeck. Guthrie hung out with Communists and Socialists although he never actually joined the Communist Party. For a period of time he did write for a Communist newspaper. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the radio station owners decided that that they didn’t want to be perceived as Communist sympathisers and Woody and others were out of a job. Guthrie briefly returned to Texas and then accepted an invitation from Will Geer to come and live in New York.
Greenwich Village in New York City was an area where Bohemians, artists, musicians, and people with left wing political views often chose to live because of the vibrancy of the community and the low rents. Guthrie settled in. In 1940 he wrote This Land Is Your Land. He felt his song better described his feelings about America than Irving Belin’s patriotic God Bless America.
Guthrie first met Pete Seeger in 1940 and they soon became friends. He also met The Carter Family who had been singing folk songs since 1927. Many years later country singer Johnny Cash would marry one of the Carter’s daughters, June, after the family had turned their musical interests more to country music. Guthrie also had a lot of contact with John Steinbeck and he performed at a number of Steinbeck’s fundraisers including one to aid farmworkers. Leadbelly was another new friend and they sometimes busked together in bars in Harlem.
Guthrie started hosting a New York radio program in 1940 and was paid $180.00 a week which was a fair amount of money at the time. He sent for his family in Texas. His radio job didn’t last long and he resented being told what songs to sing. He quit the job, bought a new car, packed up the family, and headed once again out to California.
In 1941 after a brief stay in Los Angeles, Guthrie moved the family north to Oregon and he got a job as the narrator of a documentary film about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. The producers of the film had second thoughts about Guthrie’s left leaning politics and reduced his role in the film. He wanted to go back to NYC but his wife was having none of it. Their marriage was basically over.
Pete Seeger had formed a folk protest group in NYC called The Almanac Singers and Guthrie wanted to be a part of it. The group performed at concerts they called “Hootenannies”. By this time WW2 was raging in Europe. Not wanting to be drafted and engaging in combat, Guthrie joined the US Merchant Marine and spent close to 2 years travelling back and forth across the Atlantic. He also married for the second time. After his discharge he and his family moved to Mermaid Avenue on Coney Island near NYC. This may have been his most prolific time writing songs. He and his new wife had 4 children together, one of them being future folksinger Arlo Guthrie. Woody Guthrie was a mentor in folk music to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Elliott in turn became a mentor to many future folksingers including Bob Dylan.
By the late 1940s, Guthrie’s health had started to decline and his behavior became more and more erratic. In 1952 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. A year or two later his arm was burned in a campfire accident and he was never able to play the guitar again. He was in and out of hospitals for the last 10 years of his life and died in 1967 at the age of 55.
Guthrie was a prolific songwriter. His legacy includes songs like This Land Is Your Land, So Long It’s been Good To Know Yuh, Worried Man Blues, Frog Went A-Courtin, Greenback Dollar, and Mule Skinner Blues.
Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was born in the Manhattan area of NYC in 1919. His father was a Harvard trained composer and musicologist. His mother was raised in Tunisia and she trained at The Paris Conservatory of Music before immigrating to America. She was a concert violinist and later taught at The Julliard School of Music. Seeger’s father was an outspoken pacifist during World War 1.
Pete Seeger’s parents divorced when he was 7 years old and in 1932 his dad married one of his students. Her name was Ruth Crawford and she was deeply interested in American folk music and created musical backgrounds for some of Carl Sandburg’s poems. 4 of Pete Seeger’s half siblings became folksingers in their own right. One of them, Mike Seeger, was a founding member of a folk group called The New Lost City Ramblers.
At the age of 17 in 1936 Seeger joined The Young Communist League and from 1942 until 1949 he was a member of The American Communist Party. In 1941 he started performing with the folk group The Almanac Singers. Others in the group included Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Lee Hays. Hays would later co-write the song If I Had a Hammer.

 
In 1939 Seeger met a woman named Toshi Ohta at a square dance in New York City. She was born in Germany and her father was Japanese and her mother was an American living in Europe. Her father was living in exile partly because of his translating the works of Karl Marx into Japanese. She married Pete Seeger in 1943. She produced a number of documentaries about civil rights and was a dedicated environmentalist. For a short period of time in the late 1940s she and Pete lived in a log house they built together overlooking the Hudson River that didn’t have electricity or running water. She was very active in researching American folk music history. She helped set up The Newport Folk Festival in the late 1950s and has been credited for helping to discover black folksinger Mississippi John Hurt.
Pete and his wife had 3 kids together. Later on in life Toshi was instrumental in getting the Hudson River cleaned up. She and Pete were married for almost 70 years. She died in 2013 at the age of 91.
Pete Seeger was drafted in 1943 and spent the next 2 years of WW2 in the Pacific theatre. He never rose above the rank of private. Most of his time in the services was spent entertaining the troops. Years later when he was asked what he did in the war he said “I strummed my banjo.”
Some people back in the 1930s and 1940s who were involved with folk music had far left ideals. Some were sympathetic to Communism. Some lived their lives in a communal fashion sharing food and housing with others of similar beliefs. Most sided with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The lines between socialism, collectivism, and communism were often blurred.
There were some basic things that people who leaned to the far left stood for and against. They believed in equal justice for all and the rights of working people. They were against racism and segregation. They believed that women had a contribution to make to society. Most wanted no part of any wars unless there was no other choice.
With so many people unemployed and hard up against it during The Depression many Americans (and Canadians) looked hopefully to changes in how their societies worked. FDR and his New Deal were very popular. A lot of people had a lot of time on their hands to rebel against “the establishment”. The US’s involvement in WW2 changed a lot of American’s thinking. The country got focused on winning the war at all costs and when the war ended in 1945 America was the most powerful country in the world. Service people in general who came back from the war were far more interested in making up for lost time than they were in social causes.
In 1939 the USSR Communist dictator Joseph Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler and the Nazis. The Russians quickly took control of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. By the end of WW2 the Red Army also occupied Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Eastern Germany. In 1946 Winston Churchill coined the term “iron curtain” to describe the Soviet bloc.
The Soviet Union was the new threat to world peace and the word “Communist” had new and more frightening meaning to most Americans. The American political right and “Corporate America” in general began associating the threat of Communism with Socialism. 
In hindsight Pete Seeger and others should have been more aware of the atrocities and genocide that the Soviets were involved in from the 1920s through the 1940s. It is a bit surprising that many on the left in the US took so long to recognize that Communism was a failed political ideology that created poverty and hardship and denied people their individual freedoms.
Folk Music: The 1950s

The Weavers
The Weavers were a folk group that was formed in NYC in 1948 by Pete Seeger and others. In 1950 they had a hit tune with Leadbelly’s song Goodnight Irene. They also recorded songs like Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, Rock Island Line, and On Top of Old Smokey. Two other songs they sung later became hits for others with some reworking. Wimoweh morphed into The Lion Sleeps Tonight and The Beach Boys changed the name of the song The Wreck of the John B to The Sloop John B.
The Weavers’s manager was well aware that the early 1950s was not a good time to market political songs particularly if they had anything to do with Socialism. The early 1950s were the height of “the red scare” and a number of right wing American politicians were very concerned that America was being infiltrated by Communists. After being convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in 1951 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were both executed via the electric chair in 1953. The threat of Communism was a serious business.
A Republican senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy first gained notice for a speech he made in 1950 about Communists in America. The House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) was formed in 1938 in the US to fight those who were living in the US and undermining the US government with foreign ideological political beliefs. McCarthy used HUAC to investigate those he thought had allegiances to the Soviet Union. Two of his assistants were Bobby Kennedy and lawyer Roy Cohn who was at one time a mentor to Donald Trump.
In the late 1940s Hollywood blacklisted a number of writers, directors,  actors, and singers who seemed to be Communist sympathizers, most notably screen writer Dalton Trumbo. There was a publication called Red Channels that named names of those who were thought were “Commies”. The list included Ring Lardner Jr., Lillian Hellman, Stella Adler, Lee J. Cobb, Will Geer, John Garfield, Dashiell Hammett, Burgess Meredith, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, Edward G. Robinson, Artie Shaw, and Judy Holiday. Singers Paul Robson, Lena Horne, and Burl Ives were also on the list.
Burl Ives

 
Folksinger Burl Ives was born in Jasper County, Illinois in 1909. In the 1930s he quit college and started roaming around the US doing odd jobs and playing his banjo and singing for donations on street corners. Eventually he ended up in New York in the late 30s at The Julliard School. In 1940 he began his own radio show where he sung folk songs. Two of the songs he sang back then were Blue Tail Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn) and his version of The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ives became friends with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and other folksingers who had settled in NYC. In 1949 Ives had a hit song with Lavender Blue.
Ives was drafted into the army in 1942 and switched over to the air force where he entertained the troops as part of Irving Berlin’s This Is The Army. He was discharged in 1943, probably because of weight problems. For a few months in 1943 he lived with actor Harry Morgan who was the older doctor in the TV series MASH 30 years later. Ives started acting in the late 40s but still maintained his singing career.
In 1952 he was asked to appear before HUAC and explain any connections he might have had to American Communists. He had been blacklisted. Instead of taking the 5th or refusing to answer questions about his personal life, Ives cooperated. People on the left, particularly in the folk community, suspected that he named names. After his testimony his name was removed from the blacklist and he went on to very successful career in the movies and selling records.
In the 1960s Burl Ives switched over to singing country and pop music and had hit songs with Funny Way of Laughing, Mr. In-Between, and A Little Bitty Tear. He was also known for his Christmas songs including A Holly Jolly Christmas.
41 years after testifying in front of HUAC Burl Ives and Pete Seeger were reunited on stage at a benefit in NYC. Ives was in a wheelchair and the two of them sung Blue Tail Fly. Seeger may have thought let bygones be bygones but many in the folk community never forgave Ives. Ives died at the age of 85 at his home in Anacortes on the coast of Washington state.
The decade of the 1950s was a conservative time in America. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was president from 1952 until 1960. For much of the decade folk music kind of went underground. Many Americans watched Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Orchestra on TV on Saturday nights. Minorities were seldom seen on TV. When rock and roll came along in the mid-50s many conservative parents were reviled. For the most part teenagers that got revved up about rock music didn’t care what colour skin the musical artists had. All they cared about was if they liked the sound or not.
Harry Belefonte and Odetta

 
Radio was the #1 source for music and included cross over country tunes, crooners, novelty songs, instrumentals, and rock and roll. In the mid-1950s Harry Belefonte, a black man, started to get a lot of radio airplay with his Caribbean folk music like The Banana Boat Song. The signature lyric of that song was “Day-o!” Today “Day-o” is sometimes blasted on the PA system at hockey games to rev the crowds up. My guess is that most hockey fans don’t have a clue where that sound came from.

Odetta
A black female folksinger named Odetta who was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1930 was also starting to be noticed. She also sung blues and jazz tunes.

Subculture
A subculture was developing in America in the 1950s It was labeled The Beat Generation. The word “beat” meant beaten down and not a musical beat. Adherents were called beatniks. Writer Jack Kerouac and poet Alan Ginsberg were some of the leaders of this mostly underground movement. San Francisco and NYC became the hubs for people of this persuasion. A number of small cafes and coffee shops opened up that catered to folk music and jazz fans.


Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac
In NYC some of the more notable venues for folk and jazz were The Village Vanguard, The Bitter End, Café Wha, and The Gaslight Café. Most of these café like places were located in Greenwich Village. Dave Van Ronk and Rambin’ Jack Ellliot  played these clubs along with folk groups like The Tarriers, The Journeymen, and The Rooftop Singers. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie performed at some of these clubs as did a number of black folk music players from the US South like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Perhaps the most notable night club that catered to folk music in San Francisco in the 1950s was The Hungry i. Glenn Yarbrough, later of The Limeliters, got his start there as did The Kingston Trio. The Journeymen which included Scott MacKenzie and John Phillips were the house band for a period of time. MacKenzie had a big hit in 1967 with his song San Francisco. “If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Phillips would later form the group called The Mamas and the Papas.

It was sometimes difficult to label a song as being a folk song. It seemed to depend upon what the artist(s) considered the music to be. Country, bluegrass, and blues music could at times be thought of as folk music. The country group The Browns had a number of songs that sounded like folk songs including their tune The Three Bells. Other songs from the 1950s that sounded like folk songs were Billy Grammer’s Got to Travel on, Hank Snow’s I’ve Been Everywhere, and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons. Just to name a few.
The Kingston Trio and Tom Dooley

 
In 1958 the Kingston Trio came out with a song called Tom Dooley. It was a huge hit and reached #1 on the charts. The song dated back to 1866 and was about the murder of real woman in North Carolina. Folk music purists were not thrilled about the Kingston Trio. They often thought that their interpretations of folk standards were too sleazy and commercially devised. The group sold over 8 million records in the next 3 years and made millions of dollars. Nobody in the history of folk music up until then had ever been that financially successful. There was a new interest in folk music particularly on college campuses across the US. In their first few years of success the Kingston Trio stayed totally away from protest songs or songs with left wing political points of view. In some ways they were kind of folk music “lite”.

Newport Folk Festival

 
The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 and had on its board folk singers like Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, and Oscar Brand. Pete Seeger, Odetta, The New Lost City Ramblers, Memphis Slim, Josh White, The Clancy Brothers, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Bo DIdley, Oscar Brand, Earl Scruggs, Tommy Makem, the Kingston Trio, and Joan Baez all performed on stage during the 2 day event.
Montreal: Mid to latter 1950s
I can’t recall the years exactly, I believe it was grades 4,5 and 6 when I was 9,10 and 11 years of age and attending Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal. Around 1956-1958? Aside from getting a fairly heavy dose of religion, which wasn’t listed as a subject on our report cards, we were also introduced to a variety of music including black spirituals and regional folk music.
I find it a bit strange that I can still recall most of the lyrics to those songs 60 years later. We sang French songs like Frere Jacque and Au Clair De La Lune, Alouette,and Bonhomme, Bonhomme, and spiritual songs like Go Tell It On The Mountain and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. One year we learned the lyrics to Drill Ye Tarriers Drill. We even got into some folk songs from The Maritime provinces on the eastern seaboard of Canada including The Squid Jigging Ground.

Oh…..this is the place where the fishermen gather

With oil skins and boots and Cape Ann’s battened down

All sizes of figures with squid lines and jiggers

They congregate here on the squid-jiggin’ ground

I didn’t realize it back then but this period of time was probably my introduction to folk music.

Folk Music: The 1960s
With the success of the Kingston Trio’s Tom Dooley song in 1958 a number of college types went out and bought acoustic guitars. Stella and Gibson and the more expensive Martin were popular guitar brands at the time. Some formed groups and harmonizing was often an integral part of their on stage presentation. Their sound was kind of like a combination of The Four Preps mixed with traditional folk music. These clean cut guys weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by folk purists.
Two of the college groups that achieved success at the beginning of the decade were The Brothers Four and The Chad Mitchell Trio. Both groups started out at Washington State campuses.

The Brothers Four
A place called Gerdes Folk City opened in January of 1960 in Greenwich Village. Bob Dylan had his first professional gig at this club in April of 1961 supporting blues artist John Lee Hooker. Bob Dylan debuted his song Blowing In The Wind and met Joan Baez for the first time at Gerdes. Blues/folk artist Doc Watson often played the club as did Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Peter, Paul, and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, and Judy Collins all played gigs at Gerdes early in their careers.
Bob Dylan

 
Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941 and grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota. His birth name was Robert Zimmerman. He has attributed the poet Dylan Thomas as the source for his new last name. Dylan had a number of bands in high school and they mostly played covers of Little Richard and Chuck Berry rock songs. He has said his switch from rock to folk was because he wanted to create more serious music with deeper thoughts.

Dylan quit college and set off for NYC in 1961. His musical idol was Woody Guthrie who was in failing health in a hospital in New York at the time. They quickly became friends and through Guthrie Dylan met “the old guard” of folk music. People like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk, and Pete Seeger.
A guy named Albert Grossman became Dylan’s manager in 1962. Grossman had put the trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary together the year before. Bob Dylan didn’t exactly have a smooth voice. It sounded nasally and took some getting used to. In some ways he sounded a bit like a hipster or street hustler when he sang.
Early on it became quite obvious that he was a prolific songwriter. Many of his songs were covered by other musical artists. A lot, not all, of folk songs in the past before Dylan were “little ditties”. His songs always had depth. He was a wordsmith who could create a theme that would make the listener wonder what was coming next. There was also a rawness to his words. Something else that was evident about Dylan early on was his cynicism of the status quo.
Basically Dylan turned folk music on its head. Baby boomers could identify with him because he was close to their age. He wasn’t an old Commie. Here’s a list of just some of the songs Dylan wrote and sang in the 1960s.
Blowing In The Wind, The Times They Are A-Changing, Like A Rolling Stone, Lay Lady Lay, It Ain’t Me Babe, Mr.Tamberine Man, Positively 4th Street, Maggie’s Farm, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Rainy Day Woman, I Want You, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.
A TV Show Called Hootenanny

 
Folk music peaked in popularity in the US around 1963 when a TV show call Hootenanny went on the air in April of that year. At one point it was the second most popular US TV show just behind Ben Casey. As many as 11 million Americans watched the show each week. That’s a hell of lot more people than in some small café in Greenwich Village.

The original host was NYC radio talk show guy Jean Shepherd who wrote the hilarious classic, A Christmas Story. Shepherd was quickly replaced by Jack Linkletter, a son of 1950s TV game show guy Art Linkletter. The show was great exposure for both old time folksingers and others just breaking into the business.
Some of the newer folk artists included The New Christy Minstrels, The Limeliters, Judy Collins, The Smothers Brothers, The Journeymen, and Ian & Sylvia. Country Music, to some extent, was also evident on the show and Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, Hoyt Axton, and Flatt & Scruggs all made appearances.
The dress style for men on stage at the time was sportsjackets and ties, cardigans, or big sweaters. Women always wore dresses on stage and often had bee hive hairdos.
Civil rights and world peace were the big issues on campuses at the time and some students had taken part in marches and demonstrations. This isn’t to say that all of the students at the time were into social issues. Phone booth stuffing and spring break at Fort Lauderdale were other things that got many of them excited.
Martin Luther King was the leader of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Spock and Bertrand Russell were notable activists in the “Ban the Bomb” movement. The peace symbol which was first used in the UK in the late 50s started to be seen on posters on American campuses in the early sixties.
The Cold War was at its height and there was a nuclear standoff between the US and the USSR about Cuba in 1962. The producers of Hootenanny would not allow Pete Seeger on their show unless he recanted his Communist leanings from the past. Joan Baez never appeared on the show as a sign of respect for Seeger.
Joan Baez

 
Joan Baez was and is kind of the first lady of folk music. She was born on Staten Island, NY in 1942 and her father was the co-inventor of the x-ray microscope. Her father was born in Mexico and her mother was from Louisiana. Joan grew up as a Quaker which influenced her pacifism in life. He father worked for UNESCO and the family lived in a number of countries while she was growing up including Iraq, Spain, France, and the UK.

She was 13 years old when she first saw Pete Seeger which helped stir her interest in folk music. She got herself a Gibson guitar and learned all of Seeger’s songs. Her first concert was in 1958 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her breakthrough was her appearance at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959.
Joan Baez presented herself as someone who really cared about social issues and those feelings were reflected in almost every song she sung. Her voice was as clear as a bell and she never varied from that. She didn’t have a whole slew of hit songs and didn’t write much of the stuff she sung. In some ways she was the serious side of folk music.
For a few years in the early sixties Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were a couple. Dylan was initially interested in Baez’s younger sister Mimi who was also a folk singer. Before Joan Baez got involved with Dylan her most noted songs were Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream and We Shall Overcome.  Her biggest selling album was Diamonds And Rust. She is still performing at the age of 76.
Peter, Paul, & Mary


The trio was formed in 1961 and was composed of Peter Yarrow (tenor), Paul Stookey (baritone) and Mary Travers (alto). The group was created in a similar way that The Monkees were years later. There was a casting call. Dave Van Ronk was considered for the group but was rejected because it was thought he didn’t have enough commercial appeal.
Most of Peter, Paul, & Mary’s success was due to recording other folk artists songs including If I Had A Hammer, Lemon Tree.  Leaving On A Jet Plane, 500 Miles and Bob Dylan’s Blowin In The Wind and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Their manager was also Dylan’s manager so they had a instant source of good material.
The lyrics for their hit Puff The Magic Dragon were based on a poem written by a college friend of Peter Yarrow’s. Yarrow wrote the music. Apparently the song has nothing to do with marijuana.
The trio broke up in 1970 after Yarrow was arrested and convicted of making sexual advances towards a 13 year old. Yarrow was later pardoned by President Jimmy Carter.
The group got back together from time to time in the ensuing years. In some ways they kind of became the elder statesmen (and woman) of folk music. Mary Travers died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 72. Yarrow and Tookey still continue to tour together from time to time.
The Limeliters

 
The Limeliters were formed in 1959 and were made up of Alex Hassilev, Lou Gottlieb, and Glenn Yarborough. “The Limeliter” was a name of a club that Hassilev and Yarborough owned in Aspen, Colorado.

They were known for singing rousing folk songs like There’s A Meeting Here Tonight. They didn’t have much success at recording hit songs and for the most part stayed authentic to their folk roots.
After being together for about 6 years, Yarborough decided to go solo. He had an amazing voice. Yarborough made no secret about the fact that folk music was financing a number of sailboats that he owned and lived on.
They weren’t totally folk purists. They did some commercials for Coca-Cola and L & M Cigarettes. Some older readers might remember the “Things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with Coke” commercials.
In the 1970s the group, including Yarborough, started doing “reunion” tours. Gottlieb died in 1996 and Hassilev retired. Yarborough died in 2016 at the age of 86.
The Irish Guys

 
When folk music first became popular in the late 1950s and in the early 60s there were a number of Irish folk singers who were often on the bill. For some reason some of them liked to wear white cable knit sweaters when on stage. Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers were probably the most notable.


A group called The Irish Rovers was formed in Canada in 1963. They were all immigrants to the country. For several years in the 1970s they had their own TV show in Canada. Their biggest hit was The Unicorn song. It was written by former Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein.

Mariposa Folk Festival


The Mariposa Folk Festival was founded in Orillia, Ontario, north of Toronto in 1961. “Mariposa” means butterfly in Spanish and was the fictional name of a town Canadian writer and humourist Stephen Leacock used in his short stories. Back around 1915 Stephen Leacock was the most widely known English speaking humourist in the world. Kind of like Canada’s Mark Twain.
The festival was banned after 3 years in Orillia due to too much vandalism and public drunkenness. The festival moved around for a few years and there were a number of years when there was no festival at all.
Over the years Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bruce Cockburn, Jann Arden, and Serena Ryder have all made appearances at one time or another at the festival.
Competing For Listeners And Fans
Folk music for most Americans and Canadians back in the early to mid 1960s was never really at the top of the pile. At best it was an add-on to other popular music like country, rock, and pop music when it came to popularity. Most teenagers at the time preferred music with a fast tempo that they could dance to, often tunes that had a sax blasting away.
Between 1960 and 1965 it was only occasionally that a folk song would break through and make the Billboard Top 100 charts. Here is a list of some of those tunes.
Greenfields and Greeen Leaves Of Summer…The Brothers Four…1960
Michael…The Highwaymen…1961
Where Have All The Flowers Gone…Kingston Trio…1962
If I had A Hammer…Peter, Paul, and Mary…1962
Walk Right in…Rooftop Singers…1962
Cotton Fields…The Highwaymen…1962
Four Strong Winds…Ian And Sylvia…1963
Green, Green…The New Christy Minstrels…1963
Puff The Magic Dragon and Blowin’ In the Wind…Peter, Paul, And Mary
1963
500 Miles…Bobby Bare…1963
We’ll Sing In The Sunshine…Gail Garnet…1964
Don’t Let The Rain Come Down…Serendipity Singers…1964
Today…The New Christy Minstrels…1964
The Eve Of Destruction…Barry McGuire…1965
Like A Rolling Stone…Bob Dylan…1965
Soul music and girl groups were popular in the early sixties and then surf music turned up. The Beatles and the British invasion happened in 1964 and folk music to some extent was pushed into the background.
Dylan Goes Electric

 
By 1965 Bob Dylan had become the best known folksinger and folk song writer in America. In March of 1965 he released his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. Side one featured Dylan backed by an electric band and side two had Dylan playing acoustic guitar. On July 20th he released his rock version of Like A Rolling Stone. On July 26th Dylan turned up at the Newport Folk Festival.
Supposedly Dylan was pissed off by some condescending remarks the festival organizer Neil Lomax had made about the electric Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Dylan’s set was sandwiched in between two lesser known traditional folk acts. Dylan performed his rock version of Like A Rolling Stone and he and Mike Bloomfield played electric guitars accompanied by Al Kooper on organ.
There are mixed reports as to how the crowd responded to Dylan’s going electric. There certainly was some booing but it also seems that there was some cheering. After a bit of a break Dylan sang Mr. Tambourine Man and It’s All Over Baby Blue while playing an acoustic guitar. As they say, the crowd went wild after his performance. He didn’t appear at the Newport Festival for another 37 years.
The Birth Of Folk Rock

 
Bob Dylan wasn’t the first person to use electric guitars in performing folk music. Tex/Mex singer Trini Lopez had been doing it for a few years. He took folk standards like Lemon Tree and If I Had A Hammer and sped up the tempo.




A band called The Byrds was formed in the fall of 1964. The original 5-piece band had David Crosby as a member and Jim McGuinn, who later changed his first name to Roger, was the lead singer. In January of 1965 they recorded a single, Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man. Sort of. The only band member to take part in the recording was McGuinn. Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, produced the record and brought in “The Wrecking Crew” to get the sound he wanted. One of the musicians who took part was Leon Russell.
The Byrds released Mr. Tambourine Man in April of 1965. It went to #1 on the US charts. They followed that song up with Dylan’s All I Really Want To Do in June of 65’ and Pete Seeger’s Turn,Turn,Turn In October of 65. In 1966 they released 8 Miles High, a “stoner” tune if there ever was one. It was one of the first “psychedelic” rock tunes.
The Byrds kind of spawned other folk rock groups like The Mama’s & The Papas, The Lovin Spoonful, “the British Bob Dylan” Donovan, The Turtles, and Buffalo Springfield.
Montreal Folk Scene: 1960s

 
Just a a short walk away from the front gates to McGill University on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal there used to be a small nightclub called Café Andre on Victoria Avenue. It was a 3 story building that probably dated back to the 1920s or earlier. The hands-on owner was a Mr. Racicot who appeared to be in his late fifties, wore glasses, and had sandy grey hair. My guess is that the Café Andre (also known as “The Shrine” as a reference to well known in Montreal catholic Brother Andre) had been a student watering hole dating back to the 1940s.
I first walked into the joint in 1964. I was 17 years old at the time and looked younger. The Café Andre was one of those places that looked the other way when it came to asking for ID. I was once carted off in a paddy wagon for under aged drinking at the café.
The café was on the ground floor and you had to walk through 2 doors to get into the place. The 2 door deal was so the weather wouldn’t come rushing in. The bar was the first thing one noticed, It had about a dozen stools. There were 5 or 6 two seat tables (deuces) along the walls. At the far end of the bar was an archway that led to a bigger room that sat about 50 people. There was about a 10 foot wide kind of stage for the entertainers. Upstairs, for a brief period in the mid sixties, there was a disco.

 
A trio of folksingers called The Raftsmen were the “house band” back in 64. At the time they were playing acoustic instruments. They later went electric and added a 4th member from NYC named Jake I believe. I can recall some of the songs they sung including Yellow Bird, The Kingston Trio’s Scotch And Soda, and Canadian folksinger Oscar Brand’s Something To Sing About. They also sang a Jamaican song called The Big Bamboo which had funny sexual connotations.
I vaguely remember a group called All The King’s Men who also played the Café Andre.
I remember leaving the Café Andre one night drunk and 3 of us going home on a red Honda 90cc motorcycle.

Penny Laing
Penny Laing was a big deal in the Montreal folk scene for the last half of the 1960s. For a time she was so popular that on weekends there would be long line-ups to see her at the Café Andre. I’m not sure if I ever actually saw her sing. Date night and cover charges didn’t fit my budget at the time.
From what I’ve read about her, she kind of missed the boat a few times in her career as far as making some really good money out of her singing. She had one son who was fathered by American folk/blues artist Dave Van Ronk. She died in Medeira Park, BC at the age of 74 in 2016.

Gary Eisenkraft
Gary Eisenkraft grew up on the west side of Montreal in the district of NDG. For those who like small details, I believe he either lived on Beaconsfield or Hingston Avenue near Cote St. Luc Road. At the age of 15 he quit high school and headed south to the US and became active in The Civil Rights Movement. He learned how to play the guitar and played some gigs at folk music hangouts.
In 1964 at the age of 19 he opened a nightclub in Montreal called The Fifth Amendment on Bleury Street. He would later own 2 other clubs, The Penelope and The New Penelope. In the 4 or 5 years Gary Eisenkraft ran his clubs he introduced Montrealers to a who’s who of blues and folk artists, a number of which who were soon to become household names.
Here’s the short list…..Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Dave Van Ronk, Bruce Murdoch, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Tim Hardin, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, James Cotton Blues Band, Frank Zappa, The Mountain City Four, and Bob Dylan.
It’s a tough business running a nightclub and music trends can change very quickly. Gary Eisenkraft shut his last Montreal club down in 1968. He moved to the US and to the warmer weather that he apparently preferred. He lived in Hawaii for a bit of time and spent the rest of his life taking care of a piece of land he owned in Northern California. He died in 2004 at the age of 59.
About a year ago I had coffee here in Nanaimo with a guy from Montreal. He said he was a neighbor of Gary’s when he was in high school. The guy’s parents were away on a winter vacation and Gary asked the guy to put somewhat up at his house for a few days. It turned out to be a young Gordon Lightfoot. Apparently they didn’t share any chit chat.
My own sighting of Gordon Lightfoot in Montreal was while working on construction in 1966 at Expo 67. We were eating lunch outside of The Western Canada Pavilion and a crew was filming Lightfoot walking along a still dry canal with a guitar over his shoulder. 
The Yellow Door/ La Porte Jeaune was and is (occasionally) a coffee house in an old building on Aylmer Street about a block away from the McGill campus. It opened its doors in 1967 and like other Montreal coffee houses was a bit of a haven for American draft dodgers.


All in all I was probably in the place no more than about 6 times in the late 1960s. The room where poets and folk singers did their stuff was downstairs in the basement. A McGill student I knew, Bill Russell, who was from Louisiana, played a few gigs at the Yellow Door in 1969. Back then he had a keen interest in Cajun music. Bill has stayed with folk music his whole adult life and performed at the Yellow Door in June of this year. From what I can gather Bill has been a bit of a “purist” when it comes to folk music. I believe he has written and recorded a number of children’s songs in both English and French and occasionally does the “calling” at square dances.
For a number of years The Yellow Door has been involved in a number of urban causes including connecting with the inner city elderly and growing vegetables that they give away.

 
Other notable hangouts in Montreal in the 1960s for folkie and hippie types were The Seven Steps, The Swiss Hut, The Limelight, and The Café Prague. A lot of university students from Sir George Williams (now called Concordia) also hung out at The Stanley Tavern.

Yorkville, Toronto

 
Toronto had its own folk stuff going on in the 1960s and a lot of it was centered around a “Bohemian” area of the city called Yorkville. It was kind of like New York’s Greenwich Village. The big deal for many Canadian folk singers back then was to get a gig at The Riverboat nightclub. It had a 120 seats. Other folkie places in the area included The Mynah Bird, The Pennyfarthing, and The Purple Onion (Canada’s Purple Onion).

Murray MacLaughlin



Canadian folk artists Murray MacLaughlan, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Ian & Sylvia and Neil Young too, all played the Yorkville coffee houses. Americans Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, and Tom Rush also made appearances.
I have to confess that although I was living in Toronto in the early 70s I had almost no familiarity with Yorkville. We were chasing women in discos like The Studio and The Coal Bin or hanging out at The Jarvis House at the time. My loss.
One place in the Yorkville area that I did have some familiarity with was Rochdale College. It was an experimental communal college with free tuition and was housed in a large apartment style building on Bloor Street. We bought pot there several times on our way home from work. A couple of guys with jackets and ties like we wore were looked upon as being a bit suspicious by the denizens of the building.
Oscar Brand

Oscar Brand with Joni Mitchell
Oscar Brand was born to a Jewish family in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1920. His family moved to the US when he was 7 and most of his schooling was in NYC. His radio career began in 1945 and over the years he introduced a number of folk artists to the American public.. He was a prolific song writer and one of his tunes in the early 1950s, A Guy Is A Guy was a #1 hit for Doris Day in 1952. For most of his early time on radio he wasn’t paid a cent.
He became active in writing children’s songs and wrote music for a number of commercials including for Log Cabin Syrup and Cheerios. At one time he was on a Communist black list in the US but he never was one. He had a squeaky clean image and a keen sense of humour. He once wrote a book titled “How To Play Guitar Better Than Me.” Unbeknownst to many, he also wrote a number of risqué songs early in his career. He was one of the organizers of the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959.
From 1963 to 1967 he hosted a Canadian TV show called “Lets Sing Out”. Guests included a young Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Tom Rush, and The Clancy Brothers. The series was exported to the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Brand also wrote a song called Something To Sing About. Lyrically it was quite similar to Pete Seeger’s This Land Is Your Land in that it described different areas of Canada instead of the US.
Oscar Brand was on US radio for over close to 70 years. He died at the age of 96 in Great Neck, NY in 2016.
The Travellers

The Travellers
The Travellers were a folk singing group that was formed at a Jewish camp near Toronto in 1953. Their politics were certainly to the left. In 1962 the Canadian government invited them on a tour to the USSR. One of their members, Joe Hampson, married Sharon Hampson of kid’s songs group Sharon, Lois, & Bram fame. The Travellers’s most noted song was their version of Oscar Brand’s Something To Sing About.
Ian & Sylvia

 
Ian Tyson was born in Victoria, BC and Sylvia Fricker was born in Chatham, Ontario. (Baseball Hall of Famer, pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, also came from Chatham.)  Ian Tyson initially wanted to be a rodeo rider. The couple met in Toronto in the late 50s and formed a duo in 1959. They started appearing at clubs in the Yorkville area.

By 1962 they were living in NYC. Peter, Paul and Mary’s manager became their manager too. They appeared at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival and got married in 1964. A song called Four Strong Winds, written by Ian, became a big hit for them and others in 1963. Sylvia wrote a song called You Were On My Mind in 1962 and it became a big hit for a band called We Five in 1965.
Ian wrote the song Someday Soon and Judy Collins had a hit with it in 1968. Another classic tune he wrote was Summer Wages.
In 1969 they formed a back-up band called The Great Speckle Bird and moved to ranch in Southern Alberta. Ian hosted a Canadian musical TV show from 1971 to 1975 with Sylvia as a sometimes guest. The couple divorced in 1975 but appeared on stage together several times over the following decades. They had one child together.
By the 1980s Ian had turned his attention totally towards cowboy country music. He suffered irreversible damage to his vocal cords in 2006 and cut back on touring. He is 83 now and still lives on his ranch. Sylvia began a solo career after her divorce and was still recording albums as late as 2011.
Gordon Lightfoot

 
Gordon Lightfoot was born in Orillia, Ontario in 1938. He was a boy soprano in a local church choir and later studied music at McGill University in Montreal and at the University of Toronto. He moved to California in 1958 where he studied jazz composition and orchestration. He moved back to Toronto in 1960 and became part of a large singing group that made some appearances on a Canadian TV show called Country Hoedown. He started recording in 1962 and began being noticed in Canada.

He travelled and performed in Europe in 1963 and appeared at The Mariposa Folk Festival in 1964. He developed a reputation as a songwriter and many of his songs were recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary and others.
Lightfoot’s career really took off when he was signed by Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, in 1965. In 1966 he released his first album which included notable songs like I’m Not Saying, For Lovin’ Me, Early Morning Rain, and Ribbon Of Darkness. He became an international star. In 1967 he was commissioned by the Canadian government to write a song honouring Canada’s 100th anniversary. He came up with The Canadian Railroad Trilogy.
As the 1970s rolled around Lightfoot didn’t slow down in his writing and singing. Here’s a list of just some of his tunes he popularized in the 70s.
If You Could Read My Mind-1970
You Are What I Am-1972
Sundown-1974
Rainy Day People-1975
The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald-1976
By the 1980s Lightfoot’s music was sometimes categorized as “adult contemporary”. He was still writing songs but by this time the newer ones weren’t getting as much exposure, particularly on the radio. In the 1990s he returned to his acoustic roots.
In 2002 Lightfoot started experiencing health problems and he was sidelined for long periods of time. No matter his illnesses he soldiered on. He was still writing songs and performing. In 2015 he went on tour in the UK. He is currently on tour in Canada and the US.
Gordon Lightfoot is now 78 years of age. There are few that would argue that he isn’t a national treasure in Canada.
Was It Really Folk Music?
Simon & Garfunkel


Simon and Garfunkel were childhood friends who grew up in the NYC area. They got their first recording contract at the ages of 15. They called themselves Tom & Jerry which was also the name of two cartoon characters, a cat and a mouse. Originally they modeled themselves on the rock and rollers The Everly Brothers.
Simon graduated from university in 1963 while Garfunkel was still at Columbia in NYC. Folk music was a big deal in 63’ and they decided to go in that musical direction. They started playing clubs in Greenwich Village like Gerde’s Folk City. Between 1963 and 1964 Simon wrote The Sound Of Silence.
No longer Tom & Jerry they released their debut album called Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. in 1964. The album only sold 3,000 copies and Simon moved to England for about a year. Simon returned to the US and spent 1 more semester at university before returning to the UK. He wrote I Am A Rock during this period.
Back in the US a Boston disc jockey had a got a hold of a copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound Of Silence and the tune became very popular on Eastern Seaboard college campuses. By January of 1966 the song had sold over a million copies. The duo followed up with Like A Rock and Homeward Bound.
The album songs Scarborough Fair and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Tyme were released in late 1966.
Simon and Garfunkel first parted company in 1971. There is little doubt that Simon, particularly as the songwriter, was the more creative of the two. Garfunkel had a great singing voice and once did an amazing solo cover of I Only Have Eyes For You.
They would get back together every several years including at a huge concert in Central Park in 1981. Apparently part of what pissed Simon off about Garfunkel was his cigarette and pot smoking and lack of interest in learning new lyrics.
Here’s list of some of their more notable songs over the years…
Homeward Bound, Sound Of Silence-1965
I Am A Rock, The Dangling Conversation, A Hazy Shade Of Winter-1966
At The Zoo-1967
Scarborough Fair, Mrs. Robinson-1968
The Boxer-1969
Cecilia, El Condor Pasa-1970
After Simon’s split with Garfunkel Simon started to experimenting with different kinds of music including reggae, a cappella, zydeco, and mbaqanga. For years he just kept producing hit after hit including the following…
Mother And Child Reunion, Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard-1972
Kodachrome-1973
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover-1975
Still Crazy After All These Years-1976
Slip Sliding Away-1977
Late In The Evening-1978
Graceland, You Can Call Me Al-1986
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes-1987
The genre of music Simon and Garfunkel are associated with is folk rock. Some folk purists never gave this kind of music much credibility. Creatively and lyrically Simon was miles ahead of most of them when it came to expressing himself in my opinion.
Bobby Darin

 
Bobby who? Yes he was slick and often corny but in his 37 years on the planet he showed that he could cross over from pop to country and folk music almost effortlessly. He had a particular talent for finding good songs to sing, some of which he wrote himself.
The first song Darin ever recorded was Rock Island Line in 1956. 10 years later in 1966 he recorded two of Tim Hardin’s folk songs, If I Were A Carpenter and Lady Came From Baltimore. He also wrote A Reason To Believe. One of Hardin’s biggest hits was A Simple Song Of Freedom that was written by Bobby Darin. Hardin died young at the age of 39 from a heroin overdose.

 
To say that Bobby Darin was never a folksinger would simply be wrong. Just because a person drove taxi at one point in their life doesn’t make them only a taxi driver.
Buffy Saint-Marie

 
Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on a First Nation’s reserve in Saskatchewan. She was later adopted and grew up in Massachusetts. In the early sixties she spent a considerable amount of time playing coffee houses in Yorkville and Greenwich Village.

She wrote the protest song Universal Soldier in 1963. A lot of her songwriting reflected her ancestry. In a 2008 interview she claimed that she was blacklisted in the 1970s because of her protest songs. At one point in her life she was married to a surfing teacher in Hawaii.
Buffy Sainte-Marie is 76 now and still performs from time to time. Her last record release was in 2017.
 Judy Collins



Judy Collins was born in Seattle, Washington and spent the first 10 years of her life there. Her father was a blind musician and the family moved from Seattle to Denver, Colorado.
She studied classical piano and made her public debut at the age of 13. She became fascinated by folk music and started playing guitar when she was 16. She appeared on the Hootenanny TV show in 1963.
She was friendly with the “Yippie” leaders Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and once wrote a song about Che Guevera. She was the subject of the Steven Stills composition Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.
Most of her recording success was in the late sixties with songs like Both Sides Now, Someday Soon, Chelsea Morning, and Turn. Turn. Turn. She’s 78 years of age now and lives in Manhattan with her second husband. A life-long activist, she still performs occasionally.
Folk Music: 1970-1975
By 1970 it was becoming harder and harder to identify who was and wasn’t a folksinger.

 
Joni Mitchell was born in Fort MacLeod, Alberta in 1943. She grew up mostly in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and  from an early age was an artsy type who liked painting and writing poetry. She taught herself how to play guitar from a Pete Seeger songbook. By the age of 18 she had become interested in jazz and was a fan of Miles Davis. She also liked French singer Edith Piaf’s music. Mitchell’s first paid gig was at the age of 19 at a jazz and folk club in Saskatoon.

After spending a year at The Alberta College of Art in Calgary, she set off by train to Toronto at the age of 20 in 1964. She got a day job and scrambled to find amateur gigs and sometimes played church basements. In late 1964 she discovered that she was pregnant by an ex-boyfriend in Calgary. She gave the baby up for adoption. She reunited with her daughter in 1997.

She married an American folk singer she met in Toronto named Chuck Mitchell and they moved to the US where they began playing together. She returned to Canada and appeared on Oscar Brand’s TV show Let’s Sing Out several times in 1965 and 1966. In 1967 she and her husband were divorced. She then headed off to New York. Other folk artists started recording her songs including Tom Rush, George Hamilton IV. Buffy Sainte Marie, Judy Collins, and Dave Van Ronk.
David Crosby saw her performing at a club in Florida and she went back to California with him where he introduced her to his music contacts. She released her first album in 1968 titled Song Of The Seagull. My guess is that most people won’t remember any of her songs from that album. Her 2nd album, Clouds, was released in 1969 and included Both Sides Now and Chelsea Morning.
She followed up on Clouds with the notable albums Ladies Of The Canyon in 1970 and Court And Spark in 1974. Big Yellow Taxi, Carrie, You Turn Me On I’m A Radio, Raised On Robbery, Help Me, and Free Man In Paris were other tunes she wrote and sang. The Court And Spark album was her first venture into jazz and she would mingle between jazz, folk and pop for most of the rest of her career. She did a lot of experimenting with synthesizers and drum machines. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny was once a member of her band.
For a period of time she had some problems with her singing voice, most likely from her years as a smoker. In 2015 she had a brain aneurysm and is taking therapy to try and recover her voice. She’s 73 now.
Out of all the icons that have played folk music over the years, to me she was and is the most talented. She was far more musical than Dylan or Lightfoot or Pete Seeger. Her lyrics were truly amazing and multidimensional. She is a pure artist.
No Labels
By the time the 70s had rolled, I personally found it harder and harder to distinguish folk music from, folk rock, blues, and country rock. A lot of artists crossed over to other genres from to time to time, some more often than others. Here’s a list of some of those people and songs they sang in the 70s….
Nash, Crosby, and Stills
Crosby, Stills, & Nash…Teach Your Children 1970, Just A Song Before I Go 1976

Cat Stevens…Wild World, Peace Train, Moonshadow, Morning Has Broken…1971/72. (I once served Cat Stevens’s back-up band breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.)
Melanie…Brand New Key…1971
Don McLean…American Pie 1971
Richie Havens…Here Comes The Sun 1971
Mathew’s Southern Comfort…Woodstock 1971
Harry Chapin…Taxi 1972, Cat’s In The Cradle 1974
Jim Croce…I Got A Name 1972, Time In A Bottle 1973, I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song 1974
Maria Muldaur…Midnight At The Oasis 1973
Janice Ian…Society’s Child 1967, At Seventeen 1975
Judy CollinsSuzanne 1966, Both Sides Now 1968, Someday Soon 1969

 
James Taylor…Sweet Baby James and Fire And Rain 1970, You’ve Got A Friend 1971, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight 1972, How Sweet It Is 1974, Handy Man, Your Smiling Face 1977, Up On The Roof 1979

Linda Ronstadt…When Will I Be Loved 1975
Seals And Croft…Get Closer 1976
Keith Carrradine…I’m Easy 1976
Leonard Cohen



Leonard Cohen grew up in the wealthy area of Westmount in Montreal. Early on he was influenced by Montreal poets Louis Dudec and Irving Layton and had some of his poems published as early as 1954. He attended McGill University and spent a year studying law before moving to NYC and spending a year at Columbia University.
His father died when he was 9 years old and left him a modest trust and he never had to experience being a “starving artist”. He wrote his first book Spice-box Of Earth in 1961. He spent most of the sixties writing books including Flowers For Hitler in 1964 and Beautiful Losers in 1966.
Not having a lot of success with his book writing, Cohen decided to tackle folk music and moved to NYC in 1966. For a while he was a fringe member of artist Andy Warhol’s crowd. Cohen had written a poem called “Suzanne” and singer Judy Collins had a hit with it in 1966. She also encouraged Cohen to sing his own songs on stage. In 1967 he released his version of the song Suzanne.
Suzanne was followed by Bird On A Wire and So Long, Marianne a few years later. He started touring in 1970. Somewhere along the line he gave away the rights to the song Suzanne, supposedly in a document he did not read.
Cohen did a lot of experimenting in his life including taking LSD and investigating various religions and beliefs. He was also a peace activist.
In the mid to late 1980s Cohen wrote and sang several songs that got the public’s attention, including Dance Me To The End Of Love, Hallelujah, and First We Take Manhattan.
If he wasn’t before, by the 1990s Cohen was like a senior sage who had become kind of weather beaten looking in appearance. He started wearing a fedora in his on stage appearances. It was obvious that he had experienced a number of relationships with women in his life.
He always had a deep gravelly voice that added to his mystique. He died in California in 2016 at the age of 82.
John Denver

 
Possibly more than anything else, John Denver is probably remembered for his over the top exuberance. He was born in Roswell, New Mexico in 1943. (Roswell is famous for an alleged UFO incident in 1947.) Denver’s father was a military pilot and the family moved around the US several times while John Denver was growing up.

He started playing guitar when he was 11. While still in high school and living in Texas he stole his father’s car and took off to California hoping to get into the music business. His father caught up to him and brought him home to finish high school.
Denver started singing in LA folk clubs in 1963 and in 1965 replaced Chad Mitchell of the folk singing trio. He few years later Denver went solo. He wrote Leaving On A Jet Plane in 1966 and it became Peter, Paul, and Mary’s biggest hit.
In his lifetime John Denver released somewhere around 300 songs, 200 of which he wrote himself.
His biggest hits were…Take Me Home Country Roads 1971, Rocky Mountain High 1972, Sunshine On My Shoulders 1973, Annie’s Song and Back Home Again 1974, Thank God I’m A Country Boy and Calypso 1975.
For most of his adult life he was an activist and got involved in various causes including world hunger, the environment, the poor, AIDS, and alternative energy. He was good friends with President Jimmy Carter.
His dad taught him to fly and he owned a number of small planes in his lifetime. He died in a small plane crash in 1997. Because of a number of DUI’s he wasn’t legally flying at the time.

He may have been hokey at times but he sure did a lot of good in his life.
Folk Music: 1976 To The Present
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1976. Many folk singers who were a big part of the folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s are no longer with us.

Once in a while over the last 40 years a tune or two would come out that echoed the days when folk music was once riding high. Tracy Chapman had a few songs that did that with Talking About A Revolution. Give Me One Reason. and Fast Cars in the 80s and 90s. For the most part folk music seems to have gone underground over the years. Today it seems to be mostly played in places like church basements by folk purists.
Every now and then PBS would air a folk music reunion. I saw one the other day that was performed in 2006 and featured Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Mary and Pete Seeger (at 94) have since passed on.
The older one gets, the more obvious it is that nothing stays the same. Apparently Hip Hop has passed Rock and Roll as America’s favourite music. Very few kids these days have folk songs on their iphones.
Protesting today is often quite different than it was 50 years ago. There are no protest songs about Trump that I know of. A few years ago Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert organized a march on Washington, DC. One of the rules was that no signs were allowed. What the fuck?
On the plus side all the old folk stuff is easily available on YouTube. It was interesting times back in the day.
On a personal note I would like to add that I’ve always been impressed about the activists over the years who have put their money where their mouths were and tried to make the world a better place. Sometimes it was through the songs they sung while other times it was restoring rivers or helping feed the poor. It was and is all good.
Money And Folk Music
The majority of people who have played folk music over the years never got wealthy from it. It’s a tough world out there! Money counts. I’m sure there are some out there who think Joan Baez is about as pure as person can get. She’s worth about 12 million dollars and owns a few homes.
Personally I believe that almost everyone has a price, particularly when it comes to politics. When you come down to it we are almost all interested in our own welfare first. The bigger names in folk music could always do a few concerts to replenish their bank accounts. It seems to me that the others who wanted to continue their lives connected to folk music often got a lot of support from their friends and learned to live fairly modest lives.
There is something that I have found a bit confusing over the last 30 years or so. I’ve seen a lot of live jazz in that time and quite often there have been younger people, some even in their teens, performing. A lot of older guys who once played in garage rock bands or even professional rock bands seem to have gravitated to blues music. I never see anyone anymore playing folk music. I’d go if I knew where to go.
Apologies For Some Folks I Left Out
I only had so much room here and as is it is I almost turned this story into a book. Here are just some of the others I may have missed that also made a contribution to folk music over the years....
Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Johnson, Son House, Cisco Houston, Doc Watson, The Foggy Mountain Boys, Lee Hays, Tim Hardin, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Gale Garnett, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, and a long list of groups, trios, and quartets.
Canadian Content
Canadian folk musicians and singers were a huge a part of the folk music revival in the 1960s.
Denny Doherty was from Halifax and Zal Yavnosky was from Toronto. Before Doherty gained fame with The Mamas And The Papas and likewise Yavnosky with The Lovin Spoonful, both were part of a folk group called We Three, later The Mugwamps, along with Cass Elliot.
Gordon Lightfoot, Murray MacLaughlin, Dan Hill, and Bruce Cockburn all grew up in Ontario.

The McGarrigle Sisters
Penny Laing and Leonard Cohen were both from Montreal. Jesse Winchester lived in Montreal for a while too as an American draft dodger. The McGarrigle Sisters grew up in St. Sauveur about 40 miles north of Montreal.

Neil Young
Neil Young spent a lot of his growing up years in the Winnipeg area of Manitoba. Fred Penner, the children’s songwriter also grew up in Manitoba. A guy named Rick Neufeld wrote a song called Moody Manitoba Morning. A group from Montreal called The Bells later recorded it. Sometime around 1968, while working as waiter on the CN trains, I heard Rick Neufeld sing the song in a passenger car. Freaked me out when I later heard the song on the radio.
Ian Tyson was born in Victoria, BC but spent most of his adult life living on a ranch in Alberta. Leon Bibb, Roy Forbes, Allison Crowe, Tom Northcott, Sherry Ulrich, and Valdy have all called BC home.
Buffy Ste. Marie was born in Saskatchewan but grew up in Massachusetts, Joni Mitchell was born in Alberta but spent most of her childhood in Saskatchewan.
Stompin’ Tom Connors was from New Brunswick.
Rita McNeil and Anne Murray, aside from Denny Doherty, were also from Nova Scotia.
My Recommended Favourite Folk Songs Short List
Some might not consider some of these tunes to be folk songs but what the hell. -Raised On Robbery…Joni Mitchell

-Four Strong Winds…Ian & Sylvia
-Bet On The Blues…Jon Denver
-Hallelujah…Leonard Cohen
-Scotch And Soda…Kingston Trio
-Someday Soon…Judy Collins
-At Seventeen…Janis Ian
-Stewball…Peter, Paul and Mary
-Old Man…Neil Young
-Early Morning Rain…Gordon Lightfoot
-A Man Of Constant Sorrow…Foggy Mountain Boys
-Stars Fell On Alabama…Jimmy Buffet
-This Land Is Your Land…Woodie Guthrie
-Coldest Night Of The Year…Bruce Cockburn
-If I Had A Hammer…Pete Seeger
-Positively 4th Street…Bob Dylan
-Last Thing On My Mind…Tom Paxton
-Homeward Bound…Simon and Garfunkel
-Something To Sing About…Oscar Brand
-Summer Wages…Ian Tyson