Posts Tagged ‘Peter Yarrow’

What Was That Song?

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

While I was writing earlier this week about spending Sunday evening at a Peter Yarrow performance (and sing-along), one of the songs Yarrow offered was running through my head. But since I wasn’t sure what it was, I didn’t mention it in the post.

Nor did I mention one of the nicer things about the show. During a twenty-minute intermission, Yarrow took song requests from members of the audience. He said as the first half of the show ended that he wouldn’t be able to perform them all, but with only a few exceptions, the second half of the show would be all requests. (The exceptions he mentioned were “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and I thought, “Yeah, like no one would request any of those . . .”)

Anyway, as he left the stage, I talked with him briefly and made my request. A while back, while looking for a CD of Yarrow’s 1972 solo album, Peter, I came across the last track from the album, and “Tall Pine Trees” was, for a few days, playing pretty regularly in the Echoes In The Wind studios. He nodded and smiled and said he’d see what he could do.

Twenty minutes later, as the second half of the show began, Yarrow held up a sheet of typing paper covered with scrawled titles and began to share the list of requests. “Well, for the first time ever, someone requested ‘Tall Pine Trees’,” he said. “And someone mentioned ‘Too Much Of Nothing’, and that one almost never gets requested.” He shook his head in mock bafflement, and the audience laughed.

As I expected, he did not perform “Tall Pine Trees,” but midway through the second portion of the show, he looked at the list of requests and said, “Let’s do ‘Too Much Of Nothing’, but let’s combine it with something else.” And he took off into a song that I knew I’d heard but that I couldn’t place, and after that song’s chorus came up – “Line of least resistance, lead me on” – he (and his son) would toss in the chorus of “Too Much Of Nothing.” It was a great combination, but the source of that vaguely familiar first part of the medley puzzled me.

Still puzzled Tuesday morning after writing that day’s post, I began to dig, and I soon learned that Yarrow and folksinger Chris Chandler had recorded a track titled “Isn’t That So/Too Much Of Nothing/Whoop” for Chandler’s 1999 album, Collaborations. I listened to an excerpt of the track and nodded in recognition. I didn’t care for Chandler’s (I’m assuming) spoken wisecracks during the track, so I didn’t buy it. But now I had a title for that vaguely familiar song. So I searched my own collection, and I found “Isn’t That So” as the first track of Jesse Winchester’s 1972 album, Third Down, 110 To Go.

If I were a tech wizard, I’d combine that track with the choruses from Peter, Paul & Mary’s 1968 take on “Too Much Of Nothing” from their Late Again album. That’s not going to happen, but here’s “Too Much Of Nothing”

And finally, yesterday I found a listing at Amazon for a box set of Peter, Paul & Mary’s 1972 solo recordings – Peter, Paul & and Mary – but I’m not ready to shell out sixty bucks for a used copy. I imagine that sometime soon, I’ll buy the three albums as mp3 downloads (the price is much more reasonable). But until then, I do have the closer to Yarrow’s album, the Russian-influenced “Tall Pine Trees.”

Dragons (And Music) Live Forever

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

“If you ask me who I am,” mused Peter Yarrow for a moment Sunday evening, “well . . .” And he paused as he looked out at the audience in St. Cloud’s Pioneer Place. “As I always have been, I’m the one who carries forward the tradition of Peter, Paul & Mary.”

And then, with his son Christopher playing a wash-tub bass and supplying vocal harmony, he launched himself into another song recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary. It might have been “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” or “Lemon Tree.” It could have been “All My Trials” or “Jesus Met The Woman.” It could have been the final pair of the evening: “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

I don’t remember which tune it was that followed Yarrow’s statement. I wasn’t taking notes. Rather, I was sitting in the front row, flanked by my mother and the Texas Gal. We were just to the right of center stage, as close as I’ve ever been for a performance by a legend. I watched Yarrow’s left hand play with his picks as he talked between songs. I saw his eyes get a little misty as he talked about his family – many of whom live in Willmar, Minnesota, about sixty miles away (and many of whom, along with other friends from the Central Minnesota city, were at the performance). I saw the slight tremors in his seventy-three-year-old legs as he moved to sit on a stool instead of stand several times during the performance.

But mostly, I just watched and listened as a giant of folk music worked the room and turned what I expected to be a concert into a three-hour sing-along. From the opening tune, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” through the two closing songs mentioned above, Yarrow encouraged the two hundred or so folks at Pioneer Place to join in.

After all, he said, as he introduced his second tune – “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” performed in memory of his long-time friend and partner, Mary Travers, who passed on in 2009 – “You’ll sing along anyway, or at least mouth the words, so you may as well sing.” And sing we did, sometimes pretty confidently – as on the medley of “This Little Light Of Mine,” “Down By The Riverside” and “This Land Is Your Land” – and sometimes a little more tentatively, as in the case of “Stewball” and “Have You Been To Jail For Justice?”

And sometimes, we just listened, as we did when Yarrow sang the potent anti-war song he and Travers wrote, “The Great Mandala.”

Yarrow remains unabashedly liberal and spoke a few times about the causes he supports. He mentioned his marching at Selma, Alabama, during the early 1960s civil rights movement and the performance of Peter, Paul & Mary at the 1963 rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Yarrow noted that he and his children – Christopher and Bethany – have visited and performed at several of the Occupy sites in the past year. And he told us about his current project, Operation Respect, an educational program aimed at “creating compassionate, safe and respectful environments.” The theme song for Operation Respect is “Don’t Laugh At Me,” a song that first showed up on PP&M’s final studio album, 2003’s In These Times.

When Yarrow introduced the tune Sunday evening, he said, “You’ll all know some of the people in this song. You might have been some of them. And some of you will weep.” He was right. And the performance – during which, of course, we sang along on the chorus – earned Yarrow a mid-concert standing ovation.

I’ve listened to Yarrow’s music – the massive catalog of PP&M and his own, more slender catalog – for years, but I’ve never dug very deeply into the history and lore of the group and its three members, so I was intrigued to learn Sunday evening that Yarrow’s wife, Mary Beth, was the niece of the late U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy. The two met during McCarthy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. And I was even more intrigued when Yarrow told us that not only was Noel Paul Stookey – “Paul” of PP&M – Yarrow’s best man when he and Mary Beth were married but that Stookey sang during the ceremony a song written specifically for the wedding.

It took a lot of talking, Yarrow said, to persuade Stookey to record and release “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which turned out to be a No. 24 hit and was, Yarrow said, the No. 1 sheet music seller for ten years. And as Yarrow then sang “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” the rest of us joined in on the choruses.

Yarrow’s most famous song is likely “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Addressing the myth of the song’s reference to drugs, Yarrow told us Sunday evening that he and co-writer Leonard Lipton never had any thought besides writing a song about the loss of childhood. And he called up to the stage the younger folks in the audience – which meant, Sunday evening, those under thirty-five – and those folks (many of whom, I presume, were friends and family from Willmar) helped Yarrow and the rest of us sing that great song.

As he led us through the song, there were a few changes: The line “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is now “A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys.” And the final chorus is now sung in present tense: “Puff the magic dragon lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist in a land called Hona-Lee.”

Puff lives forever. So will Yarrow’s music.

(Here’s a similar performance of “Puff the Magic Dragon” from Fairfield, Connecticut in 2007.)

Revised slightly after first posting.

‘I’d Give Anything To See You Again . . .’

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

A few weeks ago, I dug lightly into the song “Love Has No Pride” and promised a few more covers in a few days. Those days stretched into these few weeks, but now I’ll take a look at some more versions of the song.

In that earlier post, I noted that the song was written by Eric Justin Kaz and Libby Titus, and I added: “The song was first recorded, according to the website Second Hand Songs, by Bonnie Raitt for her 1972 album Give It Up, with numerous cover versions following. The best known of those – and ‘the only version that matters,’ according to the Texas Gal – was Linda Ronstadt’s cover, which went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1974.”

Here are links to the original by Bonnie Raitt and the album version of the tune from Linda Ronstadt.

Some of those other covers are versions I can pass by. I generally enjoy Tracy Nelson’s work, but her cover of the Kaz/Titus song – from 1974’s Tracy Nelson – falls flat for some reason. I don’t know Billy Bragg’s version, nor that done by Celtic-British singer Ron Kavana, so I can’t comment on those.  And I have little interest in the covers of the song done by Rita Coolidge and John Paul Young, so those can wait for another day. On the other hand, county singer Michelle Wright did a nice version on her 1996 album, For Me It’s You. And there are, of course, other covers out there.

The one cover I was truly interested in hearing is the cause for the delay in writing this post. As I was rummaging through the catalog of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, I noticed that he’d covered “Love Has No Pride” on his 1972 album Love Songs, recorded at Muscle Shoals. Unable to find the album on CD, I went off to Ebay and ordered a copy of the LP. The record, when it arrived, was essentially unplayable, so I got my money back and tried again. The next copy was better, and I’m slowly making my way through the record, ripping songs to mp3s as I listen. Unfortunately, I’m not all that impressed with Yarrow’s version of “Love Has No Pride.” Even the great studio pros at Muscle Shoals don’t seem able to get the track going.

So I went back and looked for versions by the song’s two writers, Libby Titus and Eric Kaz. It turns out I had both. Titus included the tune on her self-titled 1977 album, and she does a pretty good job of it.

As for Kaz, he’s evidently never recorded the song on his own, but in 1976, he was a member of American Flyer, a country rock band with some serious lineage – Kaz was in the Blues Magoos, Craig Fuller had been in Pure Prairie League, Steve Katz was in Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Doug Yule had been a member of the Velvet Underground – and “Love Has No Pride” showed up on the group’s self-titled album.

Of the two from the writers, I prefer Titus’ version. I also still like the Grady Tate version I shared here earlier, but having sifted through the various covers and Raitt’s original in the past few weeks, I have to finally agree with the Texas Gal and with reader Yah Shure – who left a note at the earlier post – in their assessment that the only version that matters is Ronstadt’s.