The Kitchen Musician ~ Sept. 2009

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Hello Friends!

Thank you for dropping in for a visit. This month I share “The Last Folksinger”, my new song about an encounter between a young musician and an old man with a guitar.

Taking a break at Keene Music Festival
Taking a break at the Keene Music Festival.

This Month’s Music:

The Last Folksinger © 2009 Tom Smith
Thanks to Ira Grollman for recording the audio.
Thanks also to Dave Carter‘s Cowboy Singer for inspiration.

Click the above image to play the video.

Last month, in the wake of all of the adulation honoring the life and music of Michael Jackson, I learned of the death of two special folksingers – Sandy Paton and Mike Seeger. Their passing in relative quiet reminded me of Bill Bonyun, another folksinger who strongly influenced my love for traditional folksongs. Thinking of Sam Hinton, Pete Seeger and other living national treasures of folk music, I imagined a time when there are no more ‘real’ folksingers… a time when rumors persist about an old folksinger who still lives but can not be found. (Ed: The day after I posted this song, Sam Hinton died. The irony is painful.) This song imagines a young musician of that time, perhaps someone like Billy Bragg or Bruce Springsteen (pictured on the wall behind me as I performed this song at Savoury Lane in West Acton, MA.) Both of these popular contemporary musicians were strongly influenced by the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. In my song, I describe an encounter between this imagined young musician and an old man with a guitar. In some ways, this song is also an allegory for my personal experiences as I came to know Bill, Sandy, Mike, Sam, Pete and other folksingers.

Sandy Paton, 1929-2009

“Come Love Come”
Performed by Sandy Paton, with his wife Caroline and son David.
Thanks to Ed McKeon for sharing this video.

With his wife Caroline, Sandy Paton co-founded Folk Legacy Records. He was a great advocate for folk music and musicians, and he had a huge repertoire of folksongs. I had the good fortune to meet Sandy several times at folk festivals. Our conversations and his performances occupy a warm place in my heart. My very first memory of Folk Legacy Records was driving down the road on Westport Island Maine, sitting next to Bill Bonyun. Bill dropped a cassette tape into the slot. It was New Golden Ring – Five Days Singing. Sandy and Caroline Paton with many of their friends sang for five days while a recording machine listened. These recordings produced this wonderful two-volume record. I agree with Victory Review when they wrote “This is what folk music heaven will be like.” For the next decade I may have bought sufficient Folk Legacy records to pay their electric bill.

There are some good memories of Sandy Paton at Caterwauled, Sing Out! and Mudcat.

Mike Seeger, 1933-2009

“Walking Boss”
Performed and discussed by Mike Seeger.

In 1958, Mike Seeger, with John Cohen and Tom Paley (and later, Tracy Schwarz) formed The New Lost City Ramblers. Their recordings are hugely influential among musicians interested in old-time music. Mike also had a long and illustrious solo career. As the younger half-brother of Pete, Mike was less well known by the general public. He spent his entire musical life helping us to know the old-time music and musicians that inspired him. He seemed to deflect personal fame favoring to reflect the music of others.

You can learn more about Mike Seeger at Wikipedia and The Telegraph.

I send my condolences to the families of Sandy Paton and Mike Seeger. Now that they are gone from this earth, I take comfort in singing the songs they taught me.

“I pass my guitar. It’s the bell, you’re the ringer.
Ring on! is the hope of the last folksinger.”


(I invite you to leave a comment. Just scroll down to the end of this page.)

Upcoming Shows

Sept. 12, Saturday 8:00 pm at the Lizard Lounge, “Main Event”, Cambridge, MA. $10 cover, 21+. Doors open at 7:00 and I am told this show typically sells out so you may want to arrive before the show starts. Also performing is my daughter, Mally Smith. (See below)

Some interesting shows coming up in the fall and winter. Click to view these and all upcoming shows.

Featured Charity: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

LLS LogoPlease help my son, Andrew Smith, reach his goal of $2100 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training. Andrew is training for his first marathon and dedicating his effort to support this worthy organization. Andrew says, “All of us on Team In Training are raising funds to help stop leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma from taking more lives. I am running this marathon in honor of all individuals who are battling blood cancers, and my friends and family who’s lives have been touched by cancer.”

Please click to contribute.

If you have a charity to suggest for an upcoming issue of The Kitchen Musician please send me an e-mail.

Never Too Old

This Saturday, Sept. 12 at 8:00 pm I will join about two dozen other winners of the Lizard Lounge Open Mic Competition for a single-elimination sing-off. The phrase out of my comfort zone comes to mind; and since my daughter Mally Smith is also in the same competition, there is also the possibility that she and I may be paired up against each other in the random draw. Fortunately, host Tom Bianchi keeps the competition very light hearted and friendly. If you are in the Cambridge area, come on down and say hi! This is a 21+ event, but I am hoping to stack the crowd with 50+ folks… folks with gray hair and a predisposition to applaud for old folksingers.

  • Tom
    September 9, 2009

    “The Last Folksinger”
    © 2009 Tom Smith
    All Rights Reserved

    On my way home, after playing a show,
    Driving alone, I crashed in the snow.
    I climbed from the car, thanked God that I could
    My electric guitar, lay crushed where I stood

    I didn’t know then, but that was a sign
    Was it fate, omen, luck or design?
    I met old man, he stood at his door
    He gave me his hand, I took so much more.

    I sat by his fire, he went to the hall
    Took down his guitar, that hung on the wall
    He sang of the past, like a saint to a sinner
    I knew that this must be the last folksinger

    The magic was plain, it was wrapped in his song
    I can’t explain, but as I sang along
    To his songs about sailors, farmers and such
    Mill workers and tailors, I swear I could touch

    Their calluses, sores, and the sweat on their brows
    As they pulled on their oars, and pushed on their plows
    It’s true that my plow has a different name
    As I push on it now, I sweat just the same

    Then our eyes met, I knew he could see
    I was in debt, his songs were in me
    Songs that will last, in my soul they will linger
    As they live in the soul of the last folksinger

    He sang of the future, of peace love and light
    And how we can get there, if we just sing it right
    To a world that is waking, to the words and the chords
    Of his songs for the making, of plowshares from swords

    The thought came along, what will become
    Of all of his songs, when the old man is gone?
    For nothing I made, ever gave my heart wings
    Like those songs that he played, on six humble strings

    I awoke the next day, the old man had died
    His sad guitar lay, right there by his side
    Seeming to ask, for the touch of his finger
    And the sound of the voice of the last folksinger

    I found a note, tucked under the strings
    With words that he wrote, “A new bell must ring
    I pass my guitar, it’s the bell you’re the ringer
    Sing on! is the song of the last folksinger.”

  • Dan Cloutier
    September 9, 2009

    Kick some arse at the Lizard!!

  • Susan Noble
    September 10, 2009

    Tom, whether your songs make me chuckle, cry, or both; they always touch my heart. You’ve done it again. I have to believe that with people like you who have passion and talent as folk singer/songwriters there never will be a time when there is a”last folksinger.”
    Love, Susan

  • Tom
    September 18, 2009

    I just learned of the death of Sam Hinton whom I mentioned above as a major musical inspiration. He passed away on Sept 10th, the day after I posted “The Last Folksinger”. The irony is painful. You can view his obituary in the LA Times. Rest in peace.

  • kat from Mudcat
    September 18, 2009

    Beautiful song, Tom. Thanks so much for sharing. Very poignant. I hope Caroline Paton gets to hear it.

  • tracy grammer
    January 26, 2010

    tom, very nice. thanks so much for sharing this one ~ that last part certainly resonates with me. best wishes to you. 🙂

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