Pete Seeger: The Power of Song – A Review

The documentary film on the life and work of Pete Seeger appropriately entitled “The Power of Song” is currently playing in New York City and at Upstate films in Rhinebeck, NY. I saw it when it premiered last Spring at the Tribeca Film Festival, and as it has now come out in the theaters I thought it time to write my own review.

The short answer – Its great!! See it right away.

The film was done by Jim Brown with empathy, knowledge and insight – it will move you. Brown has a history with Seeger – he first met him as a boy when he was Lee Hayes’ gardener. He is a skilled and experienced documentary film maker in the field of folk music and leftwing politics, 25 years ago he did film on the Weavers, he also did a film on the song “We Shall Overcome” as well as many others.

Interview with The Peach Colored Jug Smugglers

PCJS On The Roof

This week Eli talks with The Peach Colored Jug Smugglers. They’re a great new string band from California who came East this summer and are currently working their way through the South and back across the country using a combination of buses, hitching rides and hopping on freight trains. They inhabit a place in California called the Chad Shack, a structure which they have build on an open piece of land. They pay no rent! They all come from a punk music background but have started playing old-time music in the last year or two.

Peach Colored Interview

Historic and Contemporary Protest Songs Links

Little Red Song Book

Here’s some notes from the show I just hosted on KPFK in LA about the history of protest songs and contemporary protest songs and singers:

By the way, the interview I did with Pete Seeger is not yet posted up, I will be posting it on the night of Friday, October 5th, so check back for that.

Lots of Links, etc. below-

The Songs:

Here’s a blurb for each song. I see the program as being a bit of history and then bringing it up to date with great contemporary stuff. We’ll start at the beginning of the 20th century with the IWW, a One Big Singing Union who liked to parody Salvation Army bands because they had good familiar tunes. And if the Salvation Army band tried to drown out the IWW singers with their brass bands, the Wobblies could just sing along. “The Preacher and the Slave” is a song written by Joe Hill in 1911. It was written as a parody of the song “In The Sweet Bye and Bye.”

1. Preacher and the Slave by Harry “Mac” McClintockHarry McClintock was a singer associated with the IWW. He is the composer of the song Big Rock Candy Mountain, but here sings a song by Joe Hill, of whom he was a personal associate, one of very few the reclusive Joe Hill had. They, along with T-Bone Slim were the main composers of the IWW, International workers of the world. I think they had the best songs of any labor movement in America. This recording is taken from a remarkable one of a kind interview with McClintock, conducted by Sam Eskin in 1950. Click the above link to got Smithsonian Global Sound where you can buy the track, read the liner notes, etc.

Jesse James Feature Episode

What with the release of the movie “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” we thought we’d get with the program and do a special 1/2 hour Down Home Radio episode featuring different versions and permutations of the song Jesse James. James is an early and pervasive figure in American folk and popular culture and there are many references to him in contemporary pop/popular music, but on todays show we concentrate on some old, great!!, and rather obscure versions. Vilified, sainted and shot in the back, Jesse James lives on.

Jesse James Feature Episode

Women’s Blues

This week Henrietta, Eli and Bob Malenky play classic blues sung by and about women. Where as many times women sing songs that are from a male perspective, these songs are from their own perspective and detail their own lives. This is music created and recorded in the years after World War I, during a time of women’s liberation when they got suffrage, threw away their corsets and danced the Charleston! The show features the music of Victoria Spivey, Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, Lil Green, Sophie Tucker and others. The show also features a live performance by Bob Malenky of Bessie Smith’s “Black Mountain Blues.”

Women’s Blues

Rufus Crisp Feature Episode

Rufus and Lulie
Rufus and Lulu Crisp

This week we focus on the music of Eastern Kentucky banjo player Rufus Crisp. About 10-20 years before the “Folk Arrival” of the early 1960’s when old time musicians such as Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley or Dock Boggs came to New York City, a few aspiring New York banjo players, including Pete Seeger, went to Allen, Kentucky and found Rufus Crisp. Crisp’s cousin was Margot Mayo, head of the American Square Dance Group (ASDG) in NYC, an important early group in the modern folk revival movement. In 1946 Mayo and fellow ASDGer Stu Jamieson traveled to Allen, KY and made extensive field recordings of Rufus Crisp, his son Palmer and fiddler Farmer M. Howell which were influential in the early Greenwhich Village scene. Today we draw heavily from these unpublished Library of Congress field recordings. We also play tracks by Stu Jamieson, heavily influenced in his own music by his contact with Crisp, and by Woody Wachtel, another New Yorker who studied with Crisp.

Rufus Crisp Feature Episode

Interview with Prof. J. Woodford Howard Jr.

This is an interview Eli conducted with Prof. Howard, nephew of Rufus and Lulu Crisp, at his home in Baltimore, MD. He grew up in the same area and provides first hand recollections of the family and regional history, social context, as well as Rufus’ music.