Pete Seeger & Songs of My Life

I was trading some messages with bicycling buddy Annie O’Reilly the other day when Pete Seeger’s name came up. I mentioned that I had seen Pete in concert three or four times and photographed him in May, 1977, when he played in White Springs, FL. I said that I’d keep my eyes out for the pictures while I was working on the Cape project. “He just turned 91, so I’d better have them ready for an obit. I hope it’s later, not sooner, though.”

I’ll toss up his photos, along with random thoughts about the music of my life.

A Bushel and A Peck

One of the first songs I can remember from my childhood is A Bushel and A Peck, with the lines, “I love you a bushel and a peck, A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” I don’t know if Mother would sing it to me or if it was just a phrase she’d use like, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Johnny Horton and The Battle of New Orleans

The first song that was “mine” – meaning I knew all the lyrics and my parents didn’t teach them to me – was probably Johnny Horton’s 1959 hit, The Battle of New Orleans. I never realized what a colorful character he was until I Googled him.

My freshman debate partner, John Mueller, owned every Kingston Trio album ever cut, so I got introduced to Tom Dooley, M.T.A, Sloop John B, 500 Miles and Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Of course, I learned later that their rather saccharine versions of those songs had been done much more robustly by earlier singers, including Pete, but it was still a nice introduction to folk music.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Marty Cearnal, a SEMO college student who worked at Nowell’s Camera shop introduced me to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to make of Dylan, but that Joan sure could sing purty.

Peter, Paul and Mary

When Mary Travers died, I pulled out photos I shot of PP&M at Ohio University. You can read the whole account on my bike blog, PalmBeachBikeTours. Much like the Kingston Trio, PP&M made songs “sweet” and non-threatening.

They make Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right sound pretty. It wasn’t until I discovered Bob Dylan’s version that I appreciated the off-hand way Bob kinda verbally shrugs his shoulders as he dismisses a relationship gone sour because “I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul.”

After I published the story, Carol Towarnicky, a college friend, reminded me that the concert had been held April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King had been killed.

The thing I love about folks singers is that they really care for the message they’re delivering and they really care for their fans. After the PP&M show, the trio stuck around for an hour or more talking to the campus reporters and their fans. You’ll see Pete is the same way.

Florida Folk Festival

I was looking to replace a color film processor for The Post and wanted to see one like it in operation. The nearest one was at The Gainesville Sun. I noticed that Pete Seeger was scheduled to perform at White Springs, not far from there. Figuring I’d get a two-fer out of the trip, I planned to look at the processor, then go to the concert.

I ended up buying the film processor, but the high point of the trip was watching Pete up close. Unlike bigger venues, we were right up with him.

This Machine Surrounds Hate

We were close enough that we could clearly read the signature motto on Pete’s banjo: THIS MACHINE SURROUNDS HATE AND FORCES IT TO SURRENDER. With all the hate speech in the news these days, we need Pete more than ever.

I like Pete’s message better than Woodie Guthrie’s banjo that read, “This machine kills Fascists.”

Pete brings the crowd along

You aren’t a spectator at a Pete Seeger concert, you’re a participant. Grandparents, parents and grandkids are all pulled into the show.  If you don’t know the song lyrics – and that’s rare for his fans – he’ll coach you along.

After the show

It’s after the show that Pete’s decency and humanity came through. There were a few reporters hanging around, but the room backstage was filled with regular folks and their kids who wanted an autograph, a photo or just to talk to the man who is a national treasure.

He took time to talk with everyone and to make each of them feel special. I didn’t see him show any impatience or try to rush anyone through.

Where’s his entourage?

When he had finally talked with everyone who wanted to meet him, he hoisted his guitar and banjo over his shoulder and walked out. This isn’t a fellow who demands a dressing room with the right color of M&Ms in it.

I’m struck by how young Pete looks in these photos, although I thought he looked old when I took him in 1977. He was born in 1919, so he was about 60 when these photos were taken. I guess when you’re 30, 60 looks old.

Pete Seeger Photo Gallery

Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.

14 Replies to “Pete Seeger & Songs of My Life”

  1. Carl Sandburg called Pete America’s moral barometer. When Mr. Sandburg was “a kid of 30” he was recording those raw, uncommercialized American Folk Songs for Mr. Edison on his new machine. “Everything that goes around comes around.” Thanks for the jolt, Ken. Good photographs of one of my personal favorite grown ups. There is no true gentleness without true strength. Thanks for the lessons, Pete. “Take it easy, but take it.” from the song Talking Union, Pete Seeger.

  2. Thank you for the memories, Ken. I am becoming YOUR most ardent groupie. Each morning I arise to see what new memory you have posted to stimulate thoughts long forgotten …..but cherished.

  3. I had the great fortune to meet Pete Seeger in the summer of 1969 aboard the sloop Clearwater. The ship had been built to help publicize efforts to clean up the Hudson River. A friend had invited me to have dinner aboard the ship when it docked in Newburgh, NY, during a cruise up the Hudson.

    Pete Seeger was there, and I had a delightful 2 hours with him. He is a delightful, funny, gentle, talented, and dedicated man. While I did not then, and still do not, agree with many of his views, I am impressed with his dedication to them.

  4. I could have sworn that I had seen Pete Seeger in concert at the Dreher Park Zoo in West Palm Beach in the early 1980s. That would have meant that you had seen him at Dreker Park Zoo in West Palm Beach in the early 1980s. Alas, I was mistaken.

    Assuming I’m even partially correct, it looks as though the concert I saw was Arlo Guthrie. At least I got the location and time correct.

    I think I cling to Pete because there is no one to replace him. Losing Woody wasn’t so bad because we had Pete. When Pete dies, who is going to take his place?

    Who else can pre-sing a song while singing a song so that everyone can sing the song, even those who don’t know the song?


    1. I think it was Arlo Guthrie we saw at Dreher Park. I’m not even close to looking at the 80s, so it’ll be awhile before I get to that film.

      I don’t think I shot much, if anything, at that concert. We were pretty far back. Your mother and I saw Pete and Arlo in Miami, once, too. I don’t think I shot anything at that one, either.

  5. Found “If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope & Struggle” on the net and into my 3rd track. Was not familiar with the name as it was just before I took an interest in music.

    The song “Which Side Are On” makes me think of my wife’s father who was a miner in Eastern Kentucky most, if not all of his life. Also “Talking Union”, I heard so many stories about unions and scabs.

    Thanks Ken

  6. When I was in the second grade, we had a talent show and me and two of my friends entered lipsyncing the song “Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton and we ended winning. We borrowed real instruments including a banjo and were very impressive to the crowd as well as the judges…..I’ve always loved Johnny Horton and the song “Battle of” My uncle used to own a jukebox co. and would give me a lot of 45’s. Johnny was special. jb

  7. Just seeing this for the first time Jan 2014…as the news that Mr. Seeger just passed away come across the interet, you graciously posted this on my site or I might never have seen it. What a great opportunity you had, Ken, in capturing a special moment/performance. And by the by, I too, had and still do have all my Kingston Trio, Brothers Four and Chad Mitchell albums/CDs.

  8. My musical heroes are people like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie who wrote and sang real songs for real people; for everyone, old, young, and in between.
    Tom Chapin

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