TOM PAXTON: troubadour
plus news of Ribble Valley Jazz And Blues Festival, 2022, starting today.
by Norman Warwick
A Tom Paxton performance at The Free Trade Hall in Manchester (left) was the first concert I ever saw. He stood centre stage in front of what felt like a thousand and more people. I´d never really heard of him, other than knowing he was American because it said so on the poster that described him as the American folk and protest singer. That sounded pretty exciting but my girlfriend of the time hadn´t heard of him either, so we weren´t too sure what to expect. My girlfriend swooned when he sang Wild Flying Dove and I loved the poetry of The Last Thing On My Mind and the linear narrative of My Rambling Boy. By the time he sang Jennifer´s Rabbit he was the father I wanted to become and when he had us all delivering a chorus of the mechanical but magical sounds of his Marvellous Toy I had become a died in the wool folkie.
Within a few weeks of that concert my life had changed. I discovered the folk community. I found out that there was a different club to visit every night of the week within a five mile radius of my house, and that in any one of those clubs you could hear a dozen different acts on the night, and deliver your own floor spot of two or three songs, or poems in my case, and you could hear the guest artist (usually a local musician), deliver a half hour gig and marvel at how everyone in the room knew all of the words to each of the Tom Paxton songs and would sing along in what at the time sounded like sublime harmony. Those nights drew me like a magnet and a couple of years later, after I had married my wife, and who´s mum loved The Spinners, we moved into our first home and met my new neighbour playing his guitar on his doorstep.
This was another eye-opening experience, as Colin (right) was singing a song called Fishes And Coal, which I immediately realised was a folk song. However it was not a Tom Paxton song, but instead was a new song Colin was creating as he played. He could really play guitar, which has never been part of my skill set, and we shook hands, rehearsed over the weekend, and visited a folk club the following week with a three song set of original contemporary folk material, touched with an air of nostalgia. The songs were about playing football in the streets when we had been kids, remembering our first visit to the strangely grown up arena of a barbershop and the song Colin had been composing when we first met.
Our first visit to a folk club was to The Gallows in Milnrow (left) , run by an Australian multi-instrumentalist and good guy Steve Jones. and somebody (almost certainly Pete Benbow) sang Last Thing On My Mind by Tom Paxton. As Lendanear, and with Pete as an occasional member, we would tour the folk club circuit for the next ten years or so. I remember the thrill of being given our first ´big spot´ (for two pints of beer each) though I left the floor black and blue as Pete and Colin elbowed me to pieces to stop me singing along tunelessly (couldn´t sing, couldn´t play an instrument: some folkie I was!). I think it might have been Jack Lee at The Fisherman´s Inn who gave Lendanear our first booking, taking quite a risk on two guys who cobbled together poetry and song in an unusual and theatrical manner.
It was after studying at The University of Oklahoma and serving in the U.S. Army that Paxton joined the folk music scene in New York City, singing and playing acoustic guitar in small folk clubs. Despite a substantial following as a performer, he became more widely known as a composer. Paxton’s work ranged from sorrowful ballads (The Last Thing on My Mind, Ramblin’ Boy) to topical, political and social protest songs (Whose Garden Was This, Peace Will Come, a song as relevant today, fifty years after it was written, and let´s hope that Peace Will Come soon In Ukraine) to children’s tunes (The Marvellous Toy, Jennifer’s Rabbit). He was particularly noted for his perceptive lyrics and for his use of insightful humour and satire. Paxton continued to perform and record into the early 21st century. He received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2009.
A web site About Tom Paxton says he has become a voice of his generation, addressing issues of injustice and inhumanity, laying bare the absurdities of modern culture and celebrating the tenderest bonds of family, friends, and community.
In describing Tom Paxton’s influence on his fellow musicians, Pete Seeger (right) has said: ´Tom’s songs have a way of sneaking up on you. You find yourself humming them, whistling them, and singing a verse to a friend. Like the songs of Woody Guthrie, they’re becoming part of America.” Pete goes on: “In a small village near Calcutta, in 1998, a villager who could not speak English sang me What Did You Learn In School Today? in Bengali! Tom Paxton’s songs are reaching around the world more than he is, or any of us could have realized. Keep on, Tom!´
´The late Guy Clark (left, another name featured regularly in these pages) described how ´thirty years ago Tom Paxton taught a generation of traditional folksingers that it was noble to write your own songs, and, like a good guitar, he just gets better with age.´
Paxton has been an integral part of the song-writing and folk music community since the early 60’s Greenwich Village scene, and continues to be a primary influence on today’s “New Folk” performers. The Chicago native came to New York via Oklahoma, which he considers to be his home state. His family moved there in 1948, when Tom was 10 years old, and he graduated from Bristow High School and The University of Oklahoma, where he majored in drama while his interest in folk music grew and eventually predominated.
Brought to New York courtesy of the US Army, Tom remained there following his discharge. His early success in Greenwich Village coffeehouses, such as The Gaslight and The Bitter End, led to an ever-increasing circle of work. Then in 1965 he made his first tour of the United Kingdom — the beginning of a still-thriving professional relationship that has included annual tours over a log period
He and his late wife, Midge, have two daughters, Jennifer and Kate. All three women have served as inspiration for many songs, and now three grandsons, Christopher, Sean, and Peter are adding to the sources of inspiration.
He has performed thousands of concerts around the world in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada. That these fans still enjoy his work is a testament to the quality of his latert songs, and to the enduring power of modern standards like The Last Thing On My Mind, Ramblin’ Boy, Bottle Of Wine, Whose Garden Was This?, Goin’ To The Zoo and The Marvelous Toy. Paxton’s songbooks, critically acclaimed children’s books (available from HarperCollins – see the page for children), award-winning children’s recordings, and a catalogue of hundreds of songs (also recorded by many renowned artists including Willie Nelson, Placido Domingo, Paul Simon, Townes Van Zandt and Tiny Tim), all serve to document Tom Paxton’s 40-year career.
Tom received a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy during the 51st Annual GRAMMY® Awards. He was nominated for a GRAMMY for Comedians and Angels in 2007, and Live in the U.K. in 2006. He was also nominated for GRAMMYS in 2003 for his Appleseed Records CD, Looking For The Moon, and in 2002 for his children’s CD, Your Shoes, My Shoes. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from ASCAP, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC in London.
Tom Paxton’s place in folk music is secured not just by hit records and awards, but by the admiration of three generations of fellow musicians. An internationally recognized and loved cultural figure, he has always chosen goodwill over commercial success. His generosity has taken the shape of a benefit concert performance for a little girl fighting leukemia, or a personal note of encouragement to an up-and-coming songwriter. This is the man who wrote and lives the words, “Peace will come, and let it begin with me.”
He is one of the great songwriters of the last century and remains highly regarded as we move towards the quarter mark of this 21st century. He is a man we have come to regard as our friend.
´Tom Paxton’s songs are so powerful and lyrical, written from the heart and the conscience, and they reach their mark, our most inner being. He writes stirring songs of social protest and gentle songs of love, each woven together with his personal gift for language. His melodies haunt, his lyrics reverberate. I have sung Tom’s songs for three decades and will go on doing so in the new century, for they are beautiful and timeless, and meant for every age´, said singer Judy Collins (left). Her words that ring true among music industry professionals and all those of us who love to sing along to well loved songs.
Ani Angela Maria, “Ani” DiFranco, is an American singer-songwriter. She has released more than 20 albums. DiFranco’s music has been classified as folk rock and alternative rock, although it has additional influences from punk, funk, hip hop and jazz. She has released all her albums on her own record label, Righteous Babe
Ani DiFranco (right) has said, ´Tom Paxton embodies the spirit of folk music in the most beautiful sense. Not just in his song crafting, his work ethic, his politics and his dedication to people’s music, but also in his kind and generous heart. When I first started playing folk festivals, I was all of eighteen, shaved headed and politically outspoken. Many people in the folk community at that time seemed defensive and threatened by me, but I remember Tom was a notable exception. He was nothing but warm, welcoming and supportive to me from the get-go. He’s the coolest´.
Holly Near (left) was born in Ukiah, California, United States, and was raised on a ranch in Potter Valley, California. She was eight years old when she first performed publicly, and she auditioned for Columbia Records when she was ten She sang in all the high school musicals, talent shows and often was invited to sing at gatherings of local service groups, such as the Soroptimist Club, Lions Club, and Garden Club. Her senior year she played Eliza Doolittle in the Ukiah High School production of My Fair Lady. In the summer Near attended performing arts camps such as Perry-Mansfield in Colorado and Ramblerny Performing Arts where she studied with jazz musicians Phil Woods and his wife, Chan Parker (Parker was married to Woods but retained the name Parker from her earlier marriage to Charlie Parker), and modern dancer/choreographer Joyce Trisler.
After starting high school in 1963, Near began singing with three boys who called themselves the Freedom Singers, a folk group modelled after The Kingston Trio. When Near joined, they began to sound more like The Weavers, with three male voices and one female. Near learned later of the original Freedom Singers who sang as part of the Civil Rights Movement. Unbeknownst to her, Near would soon meet one of the founding members of that group, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, an artist who would be a great influence for the next 40-plus years. She would also meet and work with the female singer in The Weavers, Ronnie Gilbert.
On completing her education, Near enrolled in the Theatre Arts program at UCLA; her freshman year she got the lead in the UCLA production of Guys and Dolls playing soprano Sarah Brown. Because Near was trained in a lower range she got nodules on her vocal cords and had to leave the show. She entered in to a long period of silence until her voice healed. After one year, she left UCLA and began to work in film and television as well as with anti-war groups such as Another Mother for Peace.
´Every folk singer I know has either sung a Tom Paxton song, is singing a Tom Paxton song or will soon sing a Tom Paxton song´, says Holly. ´So, either all the folk singers are wrong, or Tom Paxton is one hell of a songwriter.´
I would have been in my mid teens when I saw my first Tom Paxton concert , and I have seen several since. I remember my wife and I took our young son Andrew, when he was about six years old, to a Tom Paxton concert that, incredibly, took place in The Gracie Fields Theatre in Rochdale UK (left)
Andrew was already word perfect in songs like Marvellous Toy and Jennifer´s Rabbit and, if my chronology is correct, Fred, the dog that could scratch itself in a musical manner ! At the end of the gig, we waited like scores of others, for an autograph and a chat and photo opportunity with Tom Paxton. Andrew, the young boy you see in the photograph on our cover and at the top of this article is forty two years old now, with an eleven year old daughter of his own. She knows a Tom Paxton song selection, too, and can sing along with her dad as he plays his guitar or banjo to Tom Paxton´s greatest hits.
Andrew and his family live in South Korea where they own a private school and over the last twenty years he and his wife Sue have ensured that there is a new generation of South Korean children singing Paxton songs like Katie, The Thought Stayed Free, Going To The Zoo and, ironically in a country where domesticated dogs all seem to be miniature, My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog.
Colin Lever and I, as Lendanear (right) followed the Paxton route of writing a song, And Time, for my son as Tom had done for his daughter Jennifer. Colin, my song/writing partner, wrote Matthew’s song for his first/born, and quickly wrote one to celebrate the birth of his second son, Aiden. We even included these songs on a live recording we made at Leigh Folk Club for Lendanear´s second album ! visit www.lendanearmusic
Tom Paxton (left) used to explain in his concerts that the problem with writing a song for your first child was that a second child would quickly reach the age where he & or she could talk and ask ‘what’s going on Dad? Where’s my song?’
I seem to have reached a natural close to this article, but haven’t mentioned many of Paxton’s gently angry protest songs like Give Me A Job Of Work To Do, or the scaringly vivid anti war song Wake Up Jimmy Newman.
I haven’t even mentioned my favourite Tom Paxton song Outward Bound with a line ‘remember when the wine was better than ever again.that has stayed with me, serviong sometimes as as an aphorism and , dependiong on my mood I suppose, as the realisation that things might never be as good again.,throughout my life,’remember when the wine was better than ever again.
Thinking about it, though, my favourite Tom Pasxton song might be Fare The Well Cisco, his memory of. and tribute to. an earlier folk singer Cisco Houston.
What I would give to be able to write a love song like Behold, I Give You The Morning,
Whether writing a song like that, about eternal love, be it the love of a man for his woman of the love of a God for his believers, or writing a song like About The Children which deals with the heartbreak of custody negotiations between a couple heading for divorce, Paxton always got to the ‘broken’ heart of the matter.
All of the above have memorable melody lines but his lyrics always stand up, and You Came Throwing Colours even reads off the page like a poem I wish I had written. I also love, and listen to every day, When We Were Good and When You Shook Your Long Hair Down, all of which capture the moments that last forever in a life long love affair.
His ‘Annie’ pairing of When Annie Took Me Home and Annie’s Going To Sing Her Song are disturbing and moving at the same time, and Cindy’s Crying took a sufficiently horrifying look at drug dependency to ensure the sixteen year old I then was when first listening to the song would avoid pills and powders and instead would make music his drug of choice for the rest of his life.
Tom Paxton (left) gave us so many wonderful songs, and my generation and my son´s generation ´´told them to our kids as a fairy tale !´
RIBBLE VALLEY JAZZ AND BLUES FESTIVAL this weekend
Meanwhile, remember there is a major jazz festival taking place in the UK over this bank holiday weekend, as you can see on the poster (right), in The Ribble Valley.
We have carried details of the line up in previous issues but we can now even update on what the weather might be like over the duration of the event with the current weather forecast, because the organisers of The Ribble Valley Jazz And Blues event think of everything! Apparently its going to be a bit cloudy sometimes but with lots of sunshine popping out especially around the many festival venues listed below.
The Grand / Ale House / Aspinall Arms / Beer Shack / Calf’s Head / Clitheroe Market / Corto / Green Theory / The Shop of Hope / Inn at the Station / Jungle / Clitheroe Library / Maxwell’s / Old School Rooms / Red Pump Inn / Rose and Crown / Trinity Community Hub / Spread Eagle, Sawley / United Reformed Church.
|You will be able to buy tickets at the door but with a slight increase in price.|
You can buy tickets online and pick them up at the door.
|Please come and listen to some fantastic musicians and help support as many venues as you can!|
We will have charity buckets available at most of our venues.
If you love the music, love the venues and value all the time and effort the festival volunteers have put in over the last eight months to make this weekend happen, then please show your appreciation by donating what you can to the Ukrainian appeal (see left).