Thursday, February 24, 2011
February's Forgotten Music: THE WEAVERS: REUNION AT CARNEGIE HALL 1963
In 1963, to mark their 15th anniversary as a performing unit, nearly all the Weavers (and all seven who'd recorded together...one Jackie Gibson had apparently tapped out almost immediately after formation in 1948) came onstage at Carnegie Hall for a second series of concerts, the first after a 1955 reunion concert to spit in the face of a McCarthyite blacklist of the diversely leftist band...after being the biggest hitmakers in the history of pop-folk music from 1948 to 1952, the unabashed Communist affiliation of Pete Seeger and Fred Hellerman was a very useful means of chasing them out of their Decca Records contract, off the charts and off the scene. But reform they did, and began recording for Vanguard Records, to their mutual benefit, both live and studio albums, and then Pete Seeger decided he wanted to leave the band, strike out on his own again...leading to his first replacement, the relatively slick but also rather dull Erik Darling, who would soon leave to be a solo act, then form The Rooftop Singers (their one hit being the bowdlerized "Walk Right In"), then the rather more congenial Frank Hamilton, and then for the final year of band's run, young Bernie Krause came in. The 1963 concert is thus almost the end of the band as a regular working unit as well as We're All Together Again for the First Time, and a fine set of songs it is, except for Darling's fairly dull solo "Train Time" (the man had chops on his instrument, but not a whole lot of charisma nor apparently much sense of the importance of the band he joined...to be fair, to be the New Seeger in the band was probably a bit more daunting than being, say, the New Pete Best). Despite such impressive predecessors as the Almanac Singers (which had included Seeger and Hays at times, along with Woody Guthrie and others), the Weavers basically created the commercial space for folk music in the marketplace, and the folk "revival" and efflorescence of the 1950s and later owes at least some debt at every level to what the Weavers did...
The Weavers in the first flush of their commercial success: the "Around the World" suite:
Also, no film or video footage exists of the 1963 concerts (as far as I know), but one of their best gospel numbers throughout their career is this:
Meanwhile, Pete Seeger, seeing that his old songwriting partner (and occasional Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine contributor) Lee Hays was going into a final spiral, gathered the original four together again for another reunion concert, an album and film, Wasn't That a Time, which will also be popping up again on PBS stations in early March in the US as a pledge-drive incentive:
Meanwhile, you can do worse than to gather these albums, and the documentary footage...few people, certainly few bands, have had such an epochal influence on those who followed.
For more of this month's "forgotten" music choices, please see Scott Parker's blog.