Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, August 31, 2007

unidentified guitarist, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Len Chandler
at the March on Washington, March 18, 1963

[Update, below.]

In his recent memoir, Chronicles, Bob Dylan speaks highly of singer Len Chandler from his early days in New York. They sang together at the March on Washington of 1963, and if you haven't seen the video of them singing one of Chandler's songs with Joan Baez and another identified guitarist -- it's a hair-raiser. I've listened to it many times and still haven't caught the words of the verses, just the urgent sound of the beating guitars and the fine blend of Chandler and Baez's voices on Chandler's urgent tune which sounds adapted from a spiritual. I can't hear Dylan at all.

Check it out: “Eyes on the Prize”.

Also worth hearing and seeing: Mavis Staples covering the song from her new -- 2007 -- album of songs from the Civil Rights era, We’ll Never Turn Back. Staples' take is a terrific swampy bluesy rock-with-modern-percussion recording, and her video has intense, dramatic footage from the era: “Eyes on the Prize”.

* * *

In other folky archivalistic news, the kid wanted to hear "Wimoweh," and while I was surprised there is no archival footage of the Weavers or the Tokens doing it, I did find this charming video by a group I'd never heard of, The Tarriers, leading a well-buttoned college-y audience about 50 years ago in a singalong of the pre-English-lang version of the tune. Check it out. Seriously.

Did you check it out?

Did the banjo player's voice sound familiar?

It's Alan Arkin, who was shortly to become, and still is, a famous actor. The midrange singer is Erik Darling who later joined the Weavers and then formed the Rooftop Singers, who had a huge hit with "Walk Right In." Later members of The Tarriers included Eric Weissberg, who later wrote "Dueling Banjos."

* * *

In still other folky archivalistic news, Miguel Frasconi has excerpts from a fan letter Woody Guthrie wrote about John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (for prepared piano) on the day Arlo was born: “I need something like this oddstriking music, to match the things I feel in my soul tonight,” wrote Woody, concluding with thanks to the pianist “for recording up and down for me all of this virgin unsettled and wild wide open sounding dancy music.”

* * *

The kid has been making most of my band practices lately, playing percussion and singing some. After his first rehearsal playing two sticks, he said that next time he would bring his tambourine. I vetoed that suggestion and he got mad, saying, "You don't control what I do!" And I never had, during our at-home jam sessions. I tried to explain that a band playing a show would be different. The other night he brought a little drum, and before songs he would ask, "Do I play loud or soft or medium or not at all on this song?" A cooperative bandmate! After a while he got tired of the jamming and lay on the floor to draw. When we played a song he had written, and which we have been practicing, without looking up or even stopping drawing he sang. He'll probably back out when showtime arrives, but I hope not.

A friend joined us on lead guitar at practice the other night. After playing, Jen said to him, "You look familiar."

"We met 15 years ago at a party on Vashon Island [an island in our county]," came the reply.

"Oh! Yes! I think I have a picture of you!"

Getting stoked for our show next week.

* * *

Update: My friend Tim Harris has gently corrected mistakes in my description of "Eyes on the Prize." Len Chandler apparently didn't write it; it was an old spiritual originally called "Hand on the Plow" that got transformed into a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s by people at the Highlander Folk School.

Thanks Tim!

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