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The folk process and songwriting

Jerry Rasmussen 28 Nov 09 - 08:40 PM
Tim Leaning 28 Nov 09 - 08:57 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 28 Nov 09 - 09:13 PM
GUEST,Bert 28 Nov 09 - 09:19 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 28 Nov 09 - 10:47 PM
dick greenhaus 28 Nov 09 - 11:17 PM
Jack Blandiver 29 Nov 09 - 03:52 AM
Spleen Cringe 29 Nov 09 - 04:21 AM
stallion 29 Nov 09 - 04:48 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 29 Nov 09 - 05:29 AM
Mr Happy 29 Nov 09 - 06:18 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 29 Nov 09 - 07:43 AM
Tim Leaning 29 Nov 09 - 12:28 PM
Stringsinger 29 Nov 09 - 01:12 PM
Waddon Pete 29 Nov 09 - 01:37 PM
Spleen Cringe 29 Nov 09 - 02:05 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 29 Nov 09 - 02:19 PM
stallion 29 Nov 09 - 02:27 PM
Spleen Cringe 29 Nov 09 - 02:34 PM
dick greenhaus 29 Nov 09 - 03:01 PM
Amos 29 Nov 09 - 03:15 PM
Bert 29 Nov 09 - 03:29 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 29 Nov 09 - 05:10 PM
McGrath of Harlow 29 Nov 09 - 05:49 PM
Valmai Goodyear 29 Nov 09 - 06:03 PM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 29 Nov 09 - 06:14 PM
stallion 29 Nov 09 - 06:16 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 29 Nov 09 - 07:43 PM
olddude 30 Nov 09 - 12:44 AM
olddude 30 Nov 09 - 12:54 AM
stallion 30 Nov 09 - 03:27 AM
Paul Davenport 30 Nov 09 - 11:17 AM
Amos 30 Nov 09 - 11:22 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 09 - 11:45 AM
Paul Davenport 30 Nov 09 - 12:04 PM
henryclem 30 Nov 09 - 12:10 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 09 - 12:12 PM
McGrath of Harlow 30 Nov 09 - 01:25 PM
stallion 30 Nov 09 - 02:26 PM
theleveller 30 Nov 09 - 02:58 PM
Stringsinger 30 Nov 09 - 03:05 PM
Stringsinger 30 Nov 09 - 03:20 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 09 - 03:38 PM
Tim Leaning 30 Nov 09 - 05:20 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 09 - 05:29 PM
McGrath of Harlow 30 Nov 09 - 05:46 PM
GUEST,dodger 30 Nov 09 - 05:49 PM
olddude 30 Nov 09 - 06:10 PM
Stringsinger 30 Nov 09 - 07:49 PM
olddude 30 Nov 09 - 08:34 PM
Bert 30 Nov 09 - 11:26 PM
Tim Leaning 01 Dec 09 - 04:14 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 01 Dec 09 - 04:49 AM
GUEST,Mr Red 01 Dec 09 - 07:26 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 01 Dec 09 - 08:22 AM
McGrath of Harlow 01 Dec 09 - 08:31 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 01 Dec 09 - 09:18 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 01 Dec 09 - 09:31 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 01 Dec 09 - 10:42 AM
Paul Davenport 01 Dec 09 - 11:43 AM
Tim Leaning 01 Dec 09 - 04:49 PM
McGrath of Harlow 01 Dec 09 - 05:38 PM
Ian Fyvie 01 Dec 09 - 10:45 PM
Nathan Moore 02 Dec 09 - 12:25 AM
Sailor Ron 02 Dec 09 - 05:49 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 02 Dec 09 - 06:23 AM
Ian Fyvie 02 Dec 09 - 08:08 PM
GUEST,snittepheft 28 Jan 10 - 06:47 PM
Tim Leaning 29 Jan 10 - 05:10 AM
GUEST,matt milton 29 Jan 10 - 05:59 AM
GUEST,matt milton 29 Jan 10 - 06:14 AM
Tim Leaning 29 Jan 10 - 06:20 AM
BobKnight 29 Jan 10 - 06:34 AM
GUEST,matt milton 29 Jan 10 - 06:51 AM
Mr Red 29 Jan 10 - 09:58 AM
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Subject: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 28 Nov 09 - 08:40 PM

I keep trying to figure out how to carry on a conversation on here about the process of writing, or learning and adapting music that respects the folk tradition. I always get shanghied by endless discussions about what is folk, and what is tradition, and what is traditional. Those topics have been discussed ad nauseum on here, from my perspective, but apparently there is still a desire to argue definitions. That's not what this thread is about.

Whether you are a singer, singer-songwriter, or instrumentalist you are a part of a continuum. Folk music refuses to be locked in a cabinet. I'm not here to make a point or pontificate. I'd just like to have a conversation about how we make music... how the traditions that we love shape the music we create. There are many examples. Here is a simple one.

Olddude started a thread about a version of Blues in the Bottle that I recorded. It's touched off a lot of interesting observations about how we make music. Back in the early 60's Ed Denson sent me a real to reel tape of old-time music, which for many years was the richest source of material I've drawn from. One of the songs was Blues in the Bottle by Prince Albert Hunt. I had no idea who Ed Denson was. He wanted to get a tape to Luke Faust, and Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders and someone told him to send the tape to me, because their mailing addresses were too ephemeral. Luke and I learned the song and did it together. I have a recording we did of the song at a concert in the mid 60's which is very different than the version I did on my own after Luke and I stopped performing together. In the meantime, The Holy Modal Rounders recorded their own version that didn't resemble anyone else's. Nothing the Holy Modal Rounders did resembled anything anyone else did. Part of that may have been a lack of discipline to actually learn the words from a record, but part was because they were into pyschedlia. They even sang in How Long Blues that they had Pyschedlic shoes. They changed the name of the town of Chillicothe to Silly Puddy. They just got a kick out of the sound and the idea, I guess. At the same time, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band did the song with similar lyrics to the Holy Modal Rounders, probably for similar reasons. Then the Loving Spoonfull did it, mostly with the Holy Modal Rounders changes and that started to become the standard version of Blues in the Bottle.

When I go back to Prince Albert Hunt's original recording which was the catalyst for all these versions of the same song, I was the most loyal to the original words. Even then, I didn't sing half of the verses, because I didn't like them. I sang what I liked to sing... not all that different from The Holy Modal Rounders. From my perspective all these versions are "right" because I don't believe songs are written in stone. They grow and change whether you want them to or not.

As a songwriter, I draw from the well of traditional music, but there's a lot of rhythm and blues, gospel, old country music and blues mixed in that well. Like everyone else, I can only write what I know and love. The best I can do is write what is me. Or at least a part of me. That's true of all of us.

When I learn an old folk song, like Whoa Back Buck, it becomes a mixture of several versions. Most of the verses come from Lonnie Donegan, who "learned" it from a recording of Leadbelly. Not that you could tell. I loved Donegan's wildness and over the top exuberance, but that's not who I am. I ended up adding a verse from the song as Dave Van Ronk did it, because I liked it. I didn't do it anything like Dave did.

I mention these things because I've experienced my share of crinkled noses, and "ewwwws" over the years from people who think a particular version is "right." If I sing it, it's right. If someone else sings it, it's right, too. Different but the same.

I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this topic. If I ramble, it's because I'm really interested in the way music evolves.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 28 Nov 09 - 08:57 PM

Not a folkie myself but do write a few.
I have noticed that even in the short time i have been trying to make music,my own renditions of my songs changes.
Also been sitting in t'pub and enjoyed joining in songs where some one has taken a song and modified it to draw a link to events,avoid giving offense or to try for a few extra laughs.
I would say that in my opinion music does get changed and altered undoubtedly.
I do have a habit of assuming the the person who just performed a song I never heard before had written it.
If they then explain that no, it was by ......
I tell them that as they were the first to play it in my universe theirs is now the definitive version for me and any other subsequent performance will be measured to some degree against that memory.
My point being that if they have not performed a cd perfect copy of the song I dont know that.
Nothing that rely s on one person observing the performance of any task or ritual,will ever be faithfully repeated. So if you then add in the second part where the observer tell what he saw to another and so on /////.
Sometimes it enhances the song,sometimes not.
The ones in the sometimes not pile probably end up being researched in a library,the others being sung in pubs.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 28 Nov 09 - 09:13 PM

That's a healthy attitude, Tim. And your right that it's often the first version you hear of a song that becomes the definitive version for you. I love Leadbelly's music but I was greatly dissappointed when I heard his recording of Whoa Back Buck. He couldn't touch Lonnie's version, for my ears.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Bert
Date: 28 Nov 09 - 09:19 PM

Every song I sing I have to make my own, maybe just a different emphasis here and there or a variation in timing. But often I change words because the ones I've heard before don't seem to fit or make sense.

Then there are those songs which everybody sings differently. I don't think I've ever heard two people sing Seven Dear Old Ladies the same way.

When I write songs, my limited musical knowledge forces me to borrow a lot from existing tunes and styles. Sometimes it is blatant and deliberate as in Silicone Cindy, but other times I will have a tune in my head and it ends up in a song that I am writing. The tune for Bathing Angel is derived from The Eton Boat Song for that reason. Often by the time I get to the end of the verse I will change the tune of last line or two so that it will scan with my lyrics.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 28 Nov 09 - 10:47 PM

Hey, Bert: I find that sometimes long after I've written a song I recognize where part of the melody came from. The last few notes of the last line of one of my songs are identical to Oh What A Beautiful Morning. Even weirder, last night Ruth and I went on a tour of the historic churches on the Green, here in Derby (Connecticut.) As we were leaving the Congregational Church which goes back to Colonial Times, the organist was playing a hymn I don't ever remember hearing. The melody was very close to a song I wrote about losing my reverse gear while driving in Kansas. I had to laugh, wondering if perhaps at some time I had heard the melody and it had lodged somewhere in the back of my mind, only to slip out writing a song about losing my reverse gear. Could be.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Nov 09 - 11:17 PM

There are lots of traditions. It helps being familiar with the one you wish to write in.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 03:52 AM

The only real musical traditional is people doing the sort of music they are moved to do - as they have been doing for thousands of years. Let wilful individualism be the wellspring of all cultural (and indeed folk) process; and Do What Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law.

I sing something I call Same Old Man initially picked up from the Holy Modal Rounders on account of it being one of the most amazing melodies I'd ever heard. No two performances are ever the same, as I might use the Rounders' verses with random verses from Leatherwing Bat, Mutton Pie, The Maid and the Magpie and The Twa Corbies or whatever other verses might fit. Rarely do I perform this, it's just something I do when I'm mucking about at home, but I regard as a crucial part of my musical ID.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 04:21 AM

I think it's quite important when people are singing either traditional songs or songs written by others, that they resist the temptation to simply act as a human jukebox. If I listen to singer A singing a song written by singer B, I would hope singer A was bringing something of their own personality and unique vision to the song - including making changes to the words, the melody or the arrangement, if that works for them. Otherwise I might as well sit at home with a CD of singer B's original version.

I wonder if a situation sometimes arises where people feel it is disrespectful to use someone's else's music and words as a springboard for something else? To use an obvious example, there is so much deification of Bob Dylan as a lyricist, that maybe people become a bit daunted by the idea of "folk processing" his work, and instead feel as if they should just copy him verbatim?

On the other hand, I suppose some audiences want what they are already familiar with from elsewhere, rather than an alternative take...

I guess it's also about the difference between interpretations and cover versions.

Great idea for a thread, by the way, Jerry. Hope you get some good responses.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: stallion
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 04:48 AM

Jerry like you I think songs are for the singing a and singer finds their own "voice", the two things I am not happy with are people who sing irish, scottish, american and english songs mimicking the accent of that country switching from one accent to the other, I think it is sad because they haven't yet found themselves, the other is someone who changes it for the sake of being different. We change songs because it is what we see and feel in a song not because we want to be different. sometimes we sing, what to all appearances, seem like a rip off of someone elses arrangement but on at least two songs we had never seen performed the way we had done them before, a case of like minds. Sticks in my craw when we get criticised for not being "true" to the writer, like it's an insult to them. It's just we can see different meanings in songs by the odd tweak and just maybe discover the subliminal message in the song, more like a puzzle that the writer has set!


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 05:29 AM

Just endorsing Stallion's point of view from the writer's perspective. I almost never heard versions of my songs because people never sang them in my presence - but Bruce Bailley's version of The Violin (on YouTube) is fascinating - still my song but with a whole different mood and therefore interpretation, and last week a brave lass chirped up with a version of Four Foot Track at the Chemic session in Leeds. Again, still my song, but made very much her own (fitting with her own writing and guitar style) - and all the better for it. I noticed things I'd missed when I made it up (and was so engrossed I could barely play along ;-)


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Mr Happy
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 06:18 AM

Jerry,

Thanks for a most intriguing topic.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 07:43 AM

Man, there's a lot of good stuff to respond to on here. And I'm getting ready to go out. Just a few:
SoP: Same Old Man Living At The Mill has remained fresh for me all these years, probably more than any other song. My version is like yours in that it comes from more than one source. Most of it is from a recording by Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson from one of my very favorite albums, Old Time Music At Clarence Ashley's. I picked up a couple of verses from Leatherwing Bat out of the Burl Ives Songbook.

Someone singing my songs: I've had songs I've written performed in my presence on many occasions, and I consider it a wonderful honor to hear how people have made them their own. In one instance, I even had someone write another verse to a song I'd written. Sally Rogers called me many years ago, asking where I'd learned the song Levi Kelly. She was doing it and had added a final verse. When I told her I'd written it, she was a little embarassed because she thought it was a traditional song. I had no problem with her adding a verse, but I did ask her to mention that the last verse was hers, not mine.
She had her reason for adding the verse and it made sense to her, but not to me. That was fine.

Another example of someone changing my lyrics: my friend Susan Trump, who does many songs I've written and has recorded at least four, most recently recorded May My Heart Find Rest In Thee. She does the song very differently than I do (I usually do it unaccompanied,) and I love the way she does it. Before she recorded the song She called me and said she had changed a line. The verse is:
   I take cold comfort in the ways of man
   I see no justice in this land
   I feel the anger of the un-stayed hand
   May my heart find rest in Thee
She wasn't comfortable with the line "I see no justice in this land," and sang it as "I see injustice in this land." That was fine with me. She couldn't say that she doesn't see ANY justice. It was a matter of emphasis, and how we feel at times. Certainly, there is some justice in every land. I'm not that cynical. At the same time,
saying I see injustice in this land isn't strong enough. It feels like I'm saying, "Sure there is SOME injustice in this land, but on the whole, this is a just society. It's like saying life isn't fair (although it often is) or saying, there are times when it's unfair.
Susan sings what she feels, and in the context of the song I sing what I feel. And that's the way it should be.

The list of performers who've sung songs I've written while in my presence is long, and nobody seemed uncomfortable with it. There is no need for them to. They bring something new to the song. The only exception is people who haven't taken the time to bother to learn the words and sing lines that are awkward because of that. But hey, we've all been guilty of that, me included.

One of the engines of the folk process is laziness.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 12:28 PM

I have had a few people sing my stuff while I have been there,I Know one or two have said they felt a bit "funny" about it .
My own feelings are embarrassment for getting a credit for the song and
gratitude that someone thinks the song worth singing.
Like you Jerry I have had someone change the words to something a little less strident than the way I feel,but we are all different and it was still a boost to me ego.
I think I would would feel accepted as a writer if I went to a place I never visited before,with no one who I knew there and heard one of mine sung.
It was great to sing one at a club and have the audience join in from the off in a very definite way as if it was an old and well known song.
Purely because Ian Swinburne had taken it on in his set and sung it around the area.
I Dont suppose I will ever make a penny at it but I have a wealth of friends and good memories and that is worth more to me.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Stringsinger
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 01:12 PM

I sense a Mudcat megaphone resounding in an echo chamber.

Songwriting is a craft and the best songwriters always want to improve in the craft.

All the people mentioned above as cited as examples of what is called "folk" here are
professional entertainers or performers.

Leadbelly's recording of "Whoa Back Buck" in my opinion is infinitely superior to anything Lonnie Donnegan has done. Why? Because Leadbelly is a carrier of a folk tradition that has been vintaged by the process of background and community in the African-American folk tradition. He also is more powerful aesthetically, in my opinion.

The folk process is not self-conscious. People can write songs that are in a "folk style"
but they aren't folk songs precisely because they are conscious efforts based on a personal agenda. Traditional singers carry the songs forward as they learned them and in some cases inadvertently change them. It's an evolutionary process and it's not about scaling a large cliff in the creative process, but a distillation of that process over time with imput from a folk community. It's the other side of the cliff, a sloping hill to the top.
(Some of you might be familiar with this quote as an analogy from another source.)

So before many songwriters congratulate themselves on the fact that they write folk music,
it would be good for them to study folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology and sociology and do their homework in songwriting. That way, there would be better songs out there.( I can qualify what I would consider a better song but no one asked me). But to claim that they are traditional folk singers to me is the height of arrogance and ignorance.

There are those from a specific folk tradition who have done their homework and have learned to appreciate why they do what they do. You don't have to be stupid and uneducated to be a traditional folk singer.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Waddon Pete
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 01:37 PM

Hello Stringsinger,

You need to track down what Utah Phillips had to say on this very matter.

Best wishes,

Peter


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 02:05 PM

Following on from Waddon Pete's post above:

Interviewed in the Progressive in 2003, Utah Phillips said:

"Folk music isn't owned by anybody. It is owned by everybody, like the national parks, the postal system, and the school system. It's our common property. There is nobody's name on it. Nobody can make money on it. It's not copywritten.

"A song has many different versions as it is passed through the generations. But this deep well of our people's tradition loses songs at the bottom. They are irrelevant. They are forgotten. Nobody knows how to sing them. So the well is going to run dry unless people are adding songs at the top to our common treasury."


And interviewed on the Unlikely Stories website in 2005:

"Folk music (is)... part of the common consciousness. Folk music or a folk song can be the definition of a particular group of people, but it's still part of the collective consciousness. It's very seldom these days that a song enters the consciousness, loses its identity, the identity of the person that created it, and enters the consciousness anonymously. That's a laudable goal for anybody who makes songs. To have it embraced by the people and taken into their consciousness and used, changed, adapted, but where, eventually, nobody knows where it came from. I don't see many people trying to do that. I think that most of the music that's being created today is part of the properterian culture. That's why I really liked Napster. I really liked this assault on properterian culture, which turned all music loose and threw it up in the air and up for grabs. I liked that. That charmed the socks off of me."

Anarchists? Can't beat 'em!


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 02:19 PM

Hey, Stringsinger: Not all songwriters, and perhaps not even most write songs that are "conscious efforts based on a personal agenda." Personal experiences, usually, but not agendas. Forced to guess, I'd think that most sonwriters write songs because they enjoy writing songs. At least the songwriters I know. And yes, the folk process is not self-conscious. Why do you assume that all songwriters who sing in the folk idiom are consciously trying to write "folk songs?" That's not been my experience. I write songs. They have a lot of the flavor of folk music because I love folk music and have been deeply immersed in it for most of my adult life. But I never consciously try to write a "folk" song. I also don't know any folksingers who characterize themselves as traditional folksingers. I know of what I speak because I ran a folk concert series for 27 years. The few people I was able to book who I thought of as true traditional folk singers would never call themselves that. They also tended to throw in a popular song now and then, or a recently written song that wasn't a "folk song" at all. They didn't label each song as to it's authenticity before singing it. And who thinks you have to be stupid and uneducated to be a traditional folk singer? No one I know.

You must be hanging around with the wrong folks. :-)

Besides, this thread is NOT about the definition of folk music or traditional music. It's about the process by which new songs are created, and old ones changed. A folk song printed in a collection is one version of a song. There were probably a dozen others equally traditional being sung at the same time.

Finally, I love Leadbelly's music and agree that he was a prime force in folk music. That said, I think it's allright to enjoy a particular song by someone else who wasn't traditional but was having a Damn good time singing.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: stallion
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 02:27 PM

I did a double take at Stringsingers last post, first post in the thread asked not to go down the path "what is folk music" I think the idea of the thread was to explore the "folk process" on new material and see how it works or doesn't work.
But since you mention it, we are not comparing like with like, one cannot compare the folk process of an illiterate society with the folk process of 2009 the whole world has moved on, we no longer have to strain to listen and try to make sense of the phonics and remember what we hear, we have everything at our fingertips amd mouses...ok mice! So whinge about the bygone age if you want but one cannot criticise, with any authority, those who are making music in this genre now, be thankful.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 02:34 PM

I think, Stallion, that's why the quote from Utah Phillips above about how the well will run dry unless people keep topping it up is so pertinent.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 03:01 PM

The folk process has been likened to someone throwing his socks against the wall---if they stick, they become part of the tradition.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Amos
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 03:15 PM

Pete Seeger said something very assertive at the end of a video on the New York State lumberjack-fiddler Lawrence Older [1912-1982] (video here) to the effect that if you are not writing new songs germane to the struggles of the present, why you are not honoring the real tradition.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Bert
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 03:29 PM

Songwriters who come from a background of singing folk songs are part of the folk process. Though the songs that they write will rarely become folk songs.

And here's an example of ...the process by which new songs are created...

Well at least of how I often create songs. I was sitting in traffic one day singing Utah Phillips' song The Goodnight Loving Trail when a woman walked by which inspired this song. And of curse the first three lines of the verse pretty much follow the tune of The Goodnight Loving Trail.


She was dressed in the Sixties as she strode along
her hair freshly colored in copper and bronze
beads and sandals and a faded sarong
and I didn't catch the song she was humming

Some different drummer was marking her tune
this woman of the sun this child of the moon
just a glimpse of her face she was gone so soon
and I didn't catch the song she was humming

Why is she living in a time long gone?
why is she wearing that faded sarong?
what is she singing, what is that song?
what is the song she is humming?

Way back in the sixties did she lose her man
maybe some hippie who took off and ran
or a soldier buried in Vietnam
and was that a dirge she was humming?


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 05:10 PM

Great contributions, and thanks for the posting of Utah Phillips' comments. All I have to add is if us songwriters are writing for commercial gain we are collossal failures. At least I am. When people ask me how long I'm going to keep playing and singing, I tell them "as long as I can afford to lose money." Making money for 99% of us who are singing, playing traditional songs and writing our own songs for pleasure making money isn't even a goal. I set out not to make any money on my music and I must say, I've succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Now, back to the process.

Having led countless songwriting workshops, I know that there are many ways in which songs are written, and each individual songwriter writes songs in several different ways. I rarely sit down and say to myself, *I think I'll write a song about..." for me, songs are a side effect of living. Most of my songs have pushed themselves out after I've had a good time, somewhere. There should be a song, How Can I Keep From Writing. I've had major portions of songs come from dreams (as have many other songwriters I know) and on occasion I even set out to write one. Some flow out of a new tune I've been picking on guitar or banjo, but the majority of my songs seem to come either when I'm driving or going for a walk. Once I wrote a song about the history of the town my mother grew up in. Because so much of what I write just emerges, it grows out of all the music that has become a part of who I am. And because most of the songs I carry inside me are from the folk tradition, the stuff I write often reflects that. There's a flip side to garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out. Most of the time.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 05:49 PM

Good thread. As I read it through I kept on wanting to say something about some point - and a couple of posts along and someone else had done it for me.

One sentence that leapt out at me was when Tim Leaning wrote: "I do have a habit of assuming the the person who just performed a song I never heard before had written it."   Because that's exactly what I find myself doing.

Anyone else ever have the experience of not being sure whether they changed something in a song or learnt it that way? Or for that matter, whether they wrote a song or learnt it from someone else?

I think faulty and failing memory can be a key element in the way songs get knocked into shape.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 06:03 PM

On Sunday 6th. June 2010 there is an all-day workshop on songwriting in traditional style with Mike O'Connor at the Lewes Saturday Folk Club .

On the day before, Saturday 5th. June, Mike O'Connor and Barbara Griggs lead a workshop on dance tunes from Cornish manuscript sources; Mike has studied these and published a large and splendid collection of them under the title Ilow Kernow (Lyngham House).

Mike's songwriting is distinctive and informed by the traditional music and song in which he is steeped.

Valmai (Lewes, Sussex, UK)


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 06:14 PM

"So before many songwriters congratulate themselves on the fact that they write folk music, it would be good for them to study folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology and sociology and do their homework in songwriting. That way, there would be better songs out there."

Stringsinger - I think you're being unreasonably confrontational - specially given Jerry's request in the OP.

I learned long ago not to call my songs 'folk' when in the presence of people who'd decided (unilaterally) that they owned that word and would allow only one use of it.

But when in the presence of others I've often accepted the title, because I understand they're using it to mean something completely different - as indeed they have every right to do.

Actually I wasn't even thinking of any 'folk' process (I doubt my songs will ever qualify under your definition). I was merely saying that as a writer I welcomed the organic changes that take place naturally when others take on a song.

If that eventually proves, with hindsight, to be the first step in some 'folk process' then all well and good. But it's not claiming that my songs are therefore already 'folk' (by your definition).

As to how people should go about writing new 'folk songs,' your suggestion makes no sense at all. By your definition, no amount of study could make a new song instantly 'folk' - that can only come about through time and multiple usage by many over time. And by the other meanings of the f word, (there are quite a few - all legitimate), study of those topics would be unlikely to produce 'better' songs. Passion, objectivity, brevity, a talent for words, stories, chords and music is all that's necessary.

I happen to have put a fair bit of the topics you mention into some of my songs, and can think of many others far better informed than me who also do so, but it's not a prerequisite.

You personally may prefer new songs that have that sort of depth, but I hope you'd agree that it's not healthy to expect everyone to like only the style that you prefer.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: stallion
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 06:16 PM

Ah Spleen Cringe i should have acknowledged your contribution as an inspiration to the piece, a re-iteration.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 29 Nov 09 - 07:43 PM

Writing a good song is like doing something good for someone. You may never know that it was appreciated or had a positive impact on someone's life. If that impact is just having a good time at the moment listening to the song, that's enough. I've been surprised to discover that a song I wrote so long ago I don't even remember it made a connection with someone who heard it. I wrote a song titled The Words Of A Bum in my sensitive, socially conscious period (which only lasted a few weeks, thank God.) I think I sang it once at a Ceilidh in Pittsburgh that Howard Glasser taped. I had successfully forgotten all but a few words of the song and hoped that everyone else had forgotten it, only to discover that someone in Pittsburgh was performing the song... I thought it was trite and self-conscious... to paraphrase Pooh Bear, I could have said, "I wrote that song.. that's the kind of bear/person I am." Man was I sensitive. In truth, songs don't care who wrote them. It's much like saying something kind and encouraging to someone when they are in a hard place and having them tell you years later how much it meant to you. By then, you don't even remember talking to them. No matter.

The song's the thing. Or is it the play?

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: olddude
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 12:44 AM

Awesome thread Jerry,
My 2 cents

What makes the folk process so different is what you said. Commercial music is exactly for money. The execs know what will sell to the 16-30 year old generation who spends a lot of money on CD's. Hence the music tends to be very cookie cutter. If one artist has a success others will follow the style so close that one thinks it is the same exact song. A guy I met is a big gun Nashville song writer and promoter. He said "Dan, music is money ... matters not if the song is really good or really bad ... matters if it will sell and hence the market needs to be completely tested before invested"

The folk process is from the heart. Jeri's wonderful comment
that when we hear what comes out of a heart, we tend to listen with the heart. While many songs will exists for a time due to the commercial success from a targeted population, some may, but most won't, stand the test of time. We have seen it many many times in our life with one hit wonders. Yet our children still sing "the Erie Canal" in grade school. They all Know the Wabash Cannonball.   
a song will determine its own staying value because a great song will evolve like the old wabash with 50 different lyrics and they are all great. Why will it evolve, cause people love it and make it their own. If they don't make it their own, It will cease to exist.

From a song writing standpoint, I don't think a person has to live the blues to write the blues. Nor do they need to work on a railroad to write a song about a railroad. Imagination, dedication, research, and talent will create either a great song or a not so great song. It comes from the artists gifts and their heart. Likewise if one experienced the blues or worked on a railroad it doesn't make them a better songwriter since it has little to do with melody and phrasing and song construction. Again that all exists in artist or doesn't exist ..

A talented artist would certainly find it easier to write a railroad song if they worked on a railroad but I don't think it matters much in quality if the dedication to the topic is there.

Most people will write, however, what the know about because it is easier to do. I would not want to write a sea song, I been on one boat in my life and it was a canoe ... But I suppose I could , but then I would have to hit the books talk to sailors and spend the time trying to feel the sea in my mind instead of experiencing it and it would take the fun out of it - a lot of work.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: olddude
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 12:54 AM

Oh and I could be wrong but I don't think Oscar Hammerstein II worked on the river at anytime in his life, but Ol' Man River is one heck of a song and it stands the test of time so far. It is a song that came from the mind and the heart of the composer.

I also bet it was a bear to write for that reason also


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: stallion
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 03:27 AM

Jerry , this is the best thread for some time, all songwriters are different, in my mind, and I am not a songwriter more an assembler, it's like letting go of a ballon and watching where it goes, I have met some very precious writers who get rattled when their song is done without their exact arrangement. I think I would be proud if something I had done had a "life" after me, indeed I have my tweaks repeated in songs by others and it makes me feel a little warm that at least someone has been listening!


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 11:17 AM

I absolutely agree with 'Spleen Cringe', I reckon you're pretty much duty bound to make a song your own no matter what the source. A few years ago Liz and I recorded, 'Under the Leaves' a song written by our song Gavin and myself. I was lucky enough to heare Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman's version on two occasions and their rendition is so different that I found myself discovering meanings in the song that I'd not thought about previously. Later Crucible recorded a rather Balkan sounding four part harmony version and again I found myself meeting the song for the first time. What a joy! I think people should be brave with what they sing. If the writer didn't want you to sing it then why did they place it in the public eye?


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Amos
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 11:22 AM

A song, as an architecture of thoughts with some beauty added in, should not be too precious; I would think it should be enough to have the thrill of seeing what happens to it when it goes into the world and then comes back out to greet you, changed but clearly the same, like a teenager leaving home and coming back after a few years. The first time this happened to me was when Bert picked up my Incandescent Pickle song and sang it on Mudcat Radio in his own inimitable style. It was a hoot for me to see it coming back tome in someone else's voice.


A


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 11:45 AM

A songwriter never truly hears a song he's/she's written until they hear someone else sing it.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 12:04 PM

Dead right Jerry. Of course this means that, to understand your songs you have to keep writing them and sending them out there. Isn't this a kind of therapy?


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: henryclem
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 12:10 PM

My song "Needle and Thread" has certainly travelled much further thanks to Tom Bliss's championing of it, and undoubtedly it is his version which is most likely to have been picked up by others who now sing it. My live rendition differs not only from his, but also from my recorded version. I have been performing this song for nearly 20 years, and it is always an intense experience - the absolute silence of the audience adds immeasurably to the effect on me as performer, often leaving me totally drained emotionally (I can only ever sing it at the end of a set).   It has been a real privilege for me to hear both Tom Bliss and Tom Napper sing my song, in particular because they share its emotive heart - so even if there are noticeable variations, the song in essence remains spiritually the same, as does its impact.

I've heard a few more of my songs done by others and generally (being a words rather than music man) they get made more tuneful!

Henry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 12:12 PM

Having others sing and record my songs makes me feel humble, more than proud. Songwriting is a gift. I could never take too much pride in gifts. It is only when they do something for someone else that they have value.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 01:25 PM

...it's like letting go of a balloon and watching where it goes...

Great image. And you can play with it - if you didn't tie a knot in the neck of the balloon, it won't last too long, but it gets around at jet speed before it falls to the ground. And then someone else can pick it up and blow it up once more.

There's the makings of a song there...


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: stallion
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 02:26 PM

up up and away.... rats someone's done that one!


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: theleveller
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 02:58 PM

There are some interesting points here. Speaking from my own experience, many of the songs I write have, in some repect, undergone a "folk process" before they were created - by which I mean that they are stories with tunes and are based on local legends or things that have been told to me.

To illustrate what I mean: I wrote a song based on a converation I had over 40 years ago with an old Yorkshire Wolds farmer about his early days working on his father's farm with heavy horses, and the transition to using a tractor. Parts of this almost exactly mirrored my grandfather's experience of being taken out of school at the age of 12 to work the land. The bloke who told me this story also loved to sing "We're all jolly fellows who follow the plough" so I incorporated that into the song.

You can listen to a rendition of it here (with thanks to Pete for the video):

Jack and Jill

As a postscript, we sang this song a few months ago in a pub up in the Wolds (appropriately called The Chestnut Horse)in the next village to where my grandfather's family had lived and, after we'd finished, a huge elderly man who had been sitting in front of us turned round with tears running down his face and told us that the experience was exactly what had happened to him on his father's farm. His reaction was one of the most rewarding things that has happened in my musical life.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 03:05 PM

Hey Jerry,


" Not all songwriters, and perhaps not even most write songs that are "conscious efforts based on a personal agenda." Personal experiences, usually, but not agendas."

Some try to be folkier-than-thou. It sounds phony.

" Forced to guess, I'd think that most sonwriters write songs because they enjoy writing songs."

Butfor some, there is a hidden ego-driven agenda. Some of this may be a latent wish that their songs will become popular or even somewhat commercial.

" At least the songwriters I know. And yes, the folk process is not self-conscious. Why do you assume that all songwriters who sing in the folk idiom are consciously trying to write "folk songs?"

I assume that they want to redefine what traditional folk songs are to fit their agendas.
That is the point.


" That's not been my experience. I write songs. They have a lot of the flavor of folk music because I love folk music and have been deeply immersed in it for most of my adult life. But I never consciously try to write a "folk" song. I also don't know any folksingers who characterize themselves as traditional folksingers."

This is done all the time on Mudcat. They claim their "tradition".

" The few people I was able to book who I thought of as true traditional folk singers would never call themselves that. They also tended to throw in a popular song now and then, or a recently written song that wasn't a "folk song" at all. They didn't label each song as to it's authenticity before singing it."

Sure. They don't want to be locked in to doing just one kind of song. But the question becomes when do they stop singing folksongs and start doing pop stuff?

" And who thinks you have to be stupid and uneducated to be a traditional folk singer? No one I know."

They are out there but not overt in their prejudice. Try playing an Almeda Riddle
example for a class of young popular music students.

You must be hanging around with the wrong folks. :-)

You must be hanging around with a clique of your own.

"Besides, this thread is NOT about the definition of folk music or traditional music. It's about the process by which new songs are created, and old ones changed."

Since Mudcat states that it is folk music or traditional music, the process can't
be separated here. New songs are created and old ones changed in the realm of
folk music too. The definition is important toward discovering the process that you describe.

" A folk song printed in a collection is one version of a song. There were probably a dozen others equally traditional being sung at the same time."

A printed song is really not definitive of the process by which a folk song changes.

"Finally, I love Leadbelly's music and agree that he was a prime force in folk music. That said, I think it's allright to enjoy a particular song by someone else who wasn't traditional but was having a Damn good time singing."

Of course but this is not the issue. The thread is entitled "The folk process and songwriting". If you make an assumption that any recent song is part of the folk process just because someone claims it is, this is incorrect.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 03:20 PM

"Stringsinger - I think you're being unreasonably confrontational - specially given Jerry's request in the OP."

No, I'm trying to shed some light as why traditional folk singing and material is being conflated with the contemporary/singersongwriter output. Remembeer the thread mentions the "folk process" so I don't think I'm being confrontational.

"I learned long ago not to call my songs 'folk' when in the presence of people who'd decided (unilaterally) that they owned that word and would allow only one use of it. "

That's fine. But there is a use for this word otherwise it wouldn't have been coined.

"But when in the presence of others I've often accepted the title, because I understand they're using it to mean something completely different - as indeed they have every right to do."

Of course. It's like Alice in Wonderland. "I mean what I say and I say what I mean".

"Actually I wasn't even thinking of any 'folk' process (I doubt my songs will ever qualify under your definition). I was merely saying that as a writer I welcomed the organic changes that take place naturally when others take on a song."

The question remains, is this really a part of a folk process?

"If that eventually proves, with hindsight, to be the first step in some 'folk process' then all well and good. But it's not claiming that my songs are therefore already 'folk' (by your definition)."

Or a part of any significant folk process.

As to how people should go about writing new 'folk songs,' your suggestion makes no sense at all. By your definition, no amount of study could make a new song instantly 'folk' - that can only come about through time and multiple usage by many over time.

The point is that in order to understand traditional folk songs, you do have to do some study. There seems to be a resistance to this. A new song can't become instantly folk.
That's an oxymoron.



" And by the other meanings of the f word, (there are quite a few - all legitimate), study of those topics would be unlikely to produce 'better' songs. Passion,"
objectivity, brevity, a talent for words, stories, chords and music is all that's necessary."

Again, back to Alice. "I mean what I say and I say what I mean". This is still not the
"folk process". Writing better songs requires some homework too.

"I happen to have put a fair bit of the topics you mention into some of my songs, and can think of many others far better informed than me who also do so, but it's not a prerequisite."

No, writing a good song doesn't mean you have to study folk music. Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Paul Simon and many others wrote great songs. But these are not part of any
folk process.

"You personally may prefer new songs that have that sort of depth, but I hope you'd agree that it's not healthy to expect everyone to like only the style that you prefer."

And to infer that from my statements is completely missing the point I'm trying to make.
I like all kinds of music but I know the difference between contemporary songwriting
and traditional folk music.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 03:38 PM

That's a wonderful song, Theleveller: I wasn't raised on a farm, and even if I had been my Uncles wouldn't have plowed with horses. My Mother's father had a dairy farm and delivered milk by a horse draw wagon. Here's a song drawn from my mother's family when she was a little girl:

Pile all the kids in the old hay wagon And point the horse to town
The stones are loaded on the wagon floor And the blankets all turned down
The night is cold and the moon is full, and the horse he knows the way
And it won't be long 'till we get to town and we all can hardly wait

CHORUS:
   And over in the corner there's a fiddler and the kids will all
   want to dance
   Though mom says "no," you know she'll go if you give her just
   half a chance
   
The women are whispering the ladies news, just watch those needles fly
And the young girls sit there looking so pretty, and they try to catch your eye
And the men all sit there swapping tales around the hardwood stove
And telling jokes that they've all told a hundred times before

When the fiddler's arm gets a little bit heavy, and the kids've all had their fun
Then dad will grab mom by the arm just to show 'em how it's done
And when he swings her 'round the room, you can hear those floorboard creak
And you swear they're having so much fun, it'll last 'em for a week

Load all the kids in the old haywagon and point the horse to home
The stones are loaded on the wagon floor and the blankets all turned down
The night is cold and the moon is full and the horse he knows the way
And it won't be long 'till we get back home and we all can hardly wait
Stones were heated in the stove and placed on the floor of the wagon to keep everyone's feet warm.

My mother loved this song, despite the fact that her father thought dancing was a sin and he would never have danced with her mother. Maybe that's why she liked the song so much.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 05:20 PM

""So before many songwriters congratulate themselves on the fact that they write folk music,
it would be good for them to study folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology and sociology and do their homework in songwriting. That way, there would be better songs out there.( I can qualify what I would consider a better song but no one asked me). But to claim that they are traditional folk singers to me is the height of arrogance and ignorance."
Oh well you are entitiled to your opinion I happen to disagree.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 05:29 PM

Perhaps this conversation about what is "folk" could be carried on elsewhere? Like on a new thread? I don't want to see this thread wander off into the definition of "folk." I'm not going to discuss the topic any further on this thread.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 05:46 PM

Agreed, That is one Mudcat tradition that could be given a rest, at least in this thread.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,dodger
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 05:49 PM

I think if you have feeling for the music it could happen.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: olddude
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 06:10 PM

Heck call it music by common folks who write cause they like to. None that I know sold 5 million copies of anything cause noone I know writes what the executives in Nashville want for the under 32 generation. Cause we pretty much don't like the cookie cutter music. But it is very nice is someone wants to do one of your songs.   And there ain't nothing wrong with trying to do one to sell either. Love doesn't feed the dog ... but a great song I think comes from the heart. And there is a process, whatever that process is, whatever the muse that inspires the writer is theirs alone and it won't work for everyone. I am a beginner at this stuff. Not even close to the fine writers here. I just write what I hear in my head when it decides to tell me when. The one blues song I did do as a request on a CD.. Heck I may make a whopping 50 bucks, but it was fun to try an do something deliberately in a style that was not mine as a learning tool. They are happy with it , so whats wrong with that , nothing I think.

I read some place that Frank Lloyd Wright use to stare at a blank sheet of paper for weeks or months. He would say he was looking for the paper to tell him where the lines should be drawn ... must have worked, he knocked off Falling Water in a couple of days after not making a drawing for over a year on it.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 07:49 PM

I guess it doesn't pay to continue the conversation about the folk process and songwriting because there seems to be a consistent objection to talking about folk music (which is part of the folk process).

Tim Leaning, if you have a disagreement why not spell it out? Isn't this supposed to be
a discussion about the folk process as well as songwriting?

Suddenly no one wants to talk about it much except to say that disagreements about the subject of folk process and songwriting are considered confrontational.

The reason Woody Guthrie wrote such great songs is that he was part of a rich traditional heritage and he infused them with simplicity, directness and "This Land" has become a folk song known by school children all over the world. He didn't arrive out of a vacuum.

The Carter Family re-wrote many songs including "Wildwood Flower" with different lyrics.
We know these versions of their songs because they were a part of a rich traditional heritage. The same would be true for Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly.

There appears a blandness today in many of the contemporary songs that attempt a kind of bucolic nostalgia. They are Rouseauian in nature. They are removed from the traditional folk music but attempt a kind of stylistic form that copies it.

There is nothing wrong with being a professional songwriter. If you can make money writing songs, great. But don't call them traditional folk songs.

Those are reserved for the test of time and change over generations and emanate from specific cultural traditions.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: olddude
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 08:34 PM

Sadly Stringsinger,   reserved for the test of time would be the correct way. But the music industry pigeon holes music by genre today. And when something doesn't fit they say "traditional folk" or just folk, or folk rock .. or some other made up name.   Heck look at country music listings. Nothing even close to country .... the terms today are so different. No ones fault here

But the process of song writing, no matter what anyone calls the genre it is a good discussion I think


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Bert
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 11:26 PM

Olddude, you say

...whatever the muse that inspires the writer is theirs alone and it won't work for everyone...

I find that the same muse doesn't work for every song. Sometimes I'll steal a tune for a song or other times a tune just comes to me or I'll write a deliberate parody of a well known song, and sometimes I'll just use a simple generic country style tune to start with and it just sticks to the song.

Some songs come easily and others need a lot of thought. It took me a long time to write Size Doesn't Matter because I tried to instill some kind of morality to it and it kept wanting to get really crude.

Some songs have a mind of their own and want to go off in a completely different direction. When I first started writing I just let them go where they wanted, Now I try to control them in the direction I first intended.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 04:14 AM

"Tim Leaning, if you have a disagreement why not spell it out? Isn't this supposed to be
a discussion about the folk process as well as songwriting?"

Why not spell it out?
Because this is a decent thread and and other than stating that I disagree with you I feel no urge to accompany you along that sad old road.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 04:49 AM

Stringsinger, it's not the topic which is confrontational, it was your choice of words which managed (as others have done here before) to imply some dishonesty by songwriters (including me - hence my rebuttal) in calling their work folk.

There is a completely legitimate definition of the word 'folk' which does encapsulate new material as well as old, and if you haven't noticed this by now then I can only suggest you've not been paying attention.

Just because someone refers to a new song as 'folk' does not mean they are claiming it is 'traditional'. If someone does, then I'd be right with you in asking them please not to devalue that word any faster than is strictly necessary - because we don't have any other word yet to describe the old oral process.

For most people - specially those in the USA and British people younger than 60 - the word 'traditional' now means what you choose to call 'folk.' And the word 'folk' means both 'traditional' and material that sounds a bit traditional, or is widely used within the 'folk' world (there are other uses as well). If you don't believe me, look the word 'folk' up in any online dictionary. The meaning has changed over time, and that's just a fact of life.

That said, there is a legitimate debate to be had about how new songs might in time become traditional (if ever), about how long the process may take (if ever), and about what the criteria might be (if any).

I agree it's important always to recognise the crucial difference between older material which was passed around and changed and adapted orally, (though may have come to a majority of people today through books and/or recordings), and newer material of which original recordings have been made. New songs may become much more widely known much more quickly than pre-recording era songs, but the existence of recorded versions will tend to slow down the speed at which they change. That's interesting and a valid area for discussion.

There is a second key point for debate: The way in which the old songs did first become traditional. They were written (or, some claim, emerged fully formed from some community by osmosis) and then picked up and passed around. We don't know how quickly they changed, but it's interesting for us writers to think about this and try to postulate on the process by comparing our own experiences - which is what is happening here.

There is a third point for discussion: Plenty of people will reasonably suggest that some modern songs have, in spite of the existence of original recordings, begun to enter some sort of modern equivalent of the oral tradition. Crucially different, because the world is a totally different place and the old methods have almost entirely die out, but still interesting and worthy of discussion. Examples might be Fiddlers Green and Ride On. Not the same process at that which gave is Lord Bateman or The Seeds of Love, but it's interesting and reasonable to compare and contrast.

The fourth point touches on your suggestion about research: There are plenty of writers working today who are deeply knowledgeable about old traditional songs, about folklore and the other disciplines you named. I'm not one of them but I'm no ignoramus either. These people often borrow modes, styles, phrases even whole lines from old songs when making new material. In my case you might compare the lineage of Rue (previously Oh No My Love Not I) or Gentle Maids Ashore - which is a small evolution within The Handsome Cabin Boy strand that tells a properly-researched true story from that era. Other writers go even further.

Again, its legitimate to discuss the relationship of this type of 'as new' material to the old, not least because we can be fairly sure that's exactly what 'song-menders' have been doing to old or damaged songs for centuries.

All of this is interesting and important. To come over all territorial about 'folk' and dismiss the whole idea of new material relating in any way to the various 'traditional' processes, and in insulting terms, is simply not helpful.

Tom

Sorry Jerry - but these things do need to be said. SS may not be interested in changing his/her attitude, but other more open-minded people reading might find it useful to have a better handle on the issues.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Mr Red
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 07:26 AM

Well - answering the OP.
What I found with trying to write a song that would get folkies guessing about provenance was to do with "my style" and accuracy.

We all use words that we know. People who know, you know your lexicon to some extent. What you really need is to cull your "you" words and try to substitute ones that fit the genre/time/trade/etc.

Then there is accuracy - I once wrote a song about trees and assumed that Ash was a good wood for a longbow. It is but Yew is more likely and more likely to be known to the cognicentii. There is always someone who knows something you don't so listen to the pedant and do the research. Or do the research first. It can be tedious but how badly do you want to get it right?

As for the music - if you play a lot of trad music it will usually come out trad-ish.

One trick that gets the singer/wrongciter purist riled is to take an existing song, write new words then compose a new tune to the words. It will have a lot of the flavour of the original but - hey! Thats what you are aiming for.

I am sure you knew all this already - but it is nice to be reminded &/or have it confirmed.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 08:22 AM

I don't think that method should rile anyone in the singer-songwriter fraternity, Cresby. Pete Coe and I (for two) have been advocating exactly that technique for years! (It's all in my booklet if anyone's interested).


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 08:31 AM

Why not start another thread Stringsinger, and stick a link to it here? The stuff you want to talk about is interesting enough, which is why we've had umpteen threads about it in the past - and that's no reason not to have another one, because something fresh and insightful might well turn up. But it'd be good manners to allow this thread to develop along different lines. I rather think that is what other people who have posted here would prefer.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 09:18 AM

Hey, Tom: That was one of the most cogent explanations of what the words "folk" and "traditional folk" mean to just about everyone I know. Your statement respects the value of traditional music, while valuing newer songs written with traditional songs and styles as a key ingredient in their creation.

That's all I'm adding, but you spoke much more eloquently than I could.

Back to the topic at hand. For those who write folk songs (that aren't traditional unless we die and everyone forgets that we wrote them) you've certainly had the experience that after you've written them you realize that you've unconsciously either used a similar melody or words to a traditional song. When we create something it's not out of whole cloth. It flows from the river of influences we all carry within us. Someone who is writing a rock song may discover there's a little Buddy Holly or Def Lepard in a line, but we are more likely to spot a little Doc Boggs or Prince Albert Hunt. I've never tried to write a song that sounds "traditional." If someone thinks it IS a traditional song, as my friend Sally Rogers did with Levi Kelly, I find that humorous as much as flattering. That means that I speak the same language as some of the now-forgotten writers of traditional music because it has become a part of me. I know that is true of many of you. I've never tried to imitate anyone. Imitation is the sincerest form of a lack of self. That ain't me, babe.

Whoops! I think I almost quoted Sonny & Cher! :-)

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 09:31 AM

Thanks Jerry.

The other point that might be worth mentioning is that in UK copyright civil law, at least, the word 'folk' has no meaning whatsoever. Whereas the word 'trad' does. It's not quite the famous '54' definition, but it does mean 'in the pubic domain.' That's a useful distinction, and one that both writers and singers should note.

When I listen to my old recordings I'm amazed by the amount of change that's taken place in my own interpretation of my own songs over time. And as for the 'subconscious plagiarism' thing - it helps to have an expert musical partner who can identify even a two-note reference. (but we just sang em anyway)!


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 10:42 AM

Hey, Tom: One of the awkward side effects of being a high mileage model, like I am, is that I now have songs I wrote almost 50 years ago. I wrote The Drunkard's Last Advice around 1952, and it's one of the songs that I still enjoy singing today. I'm glad I taped some of the old stuff, though. These days, a logical introdcution I could give to a song is "Here's a song I learned from an old recording of me." If I don't tell anyone I wrote it and I never recorded it, maybe it's really a traditional song? :-) Shhhhhhh!!!!! Don't tell anyone I wrote it!

Jerry

And yes, the traditional and folk arguments and perceptions are different on the two sides of the pond. We're young 'uns over here. An antique is anything over 50 years old. I find it weird when I go into a historical society museum and see a cherry pitter in a case. It's just like the one we had when I was a kid.

Folk music is so yesterday.

We's all antiques in here.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 11:43 AM

I'm sure people have encountered the following;
A level Music project - write a string quartet in the style of Haydn.
Now a successful result will be clearly identifiable as classical music. Despite the fact that it is not from the (relatively) short period in history when this style was in vogue. You can also write Baroque music even though it is a long time since the genre 'died' with J.S.Bach. (1750 for musicologists)
Similarly it is entirely acceptable to write a string quartet in the style of Bartok and nobody is going to consider it 'classical'. Surely 'folk' is in a similar tradition to the 'classical' tradition? If you write a song in the style of an early 19th century broadside (taking care in your use of words and phraseology) you are not going to create a 'pop' song or a 'blues'. Why is there such confusion over style and genre?


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 04:49 PM

Hmmmm that there bloke from The Who was on the radio recently and he said he was lifting ideas,if not words and tunes from some old composer dude.
You know the one ,he plays guitar.
Enjoyed listening to you music via another thread BTW Mr Rasmussen


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 05:38 PM

'in the pubic domain'

Maybe those songs might be the ones to suggest in the other current thread about "Attracting Young Folk to Folk."


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Ian Fyvie
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 10:45 PM

I started writing songs when playing in cover bands. Though we played a few 'own compositions, you knew what would pass as 'pop' for the audiences you were playing for. Quite quickly my efforts were too far out of the envelope for the band to consider appropriate, so the songs stayed in the file, but the file kept growing.

Between bands I discovered folk clubs. Suddenly I'd found other people writing the same sorts of songs as me.

None of the songs I'd written were intended to be 'folk' songs, they came about because I had something to say or as story to tell. Perhaps that's the secret - just write how you feel, and let others decide if your effort are folk, country or anything else.

Ian Fyvie


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Nathan Moore
Date: 02 Dec 09 - 12:25 AM

I agree with you, Ian. It's about the stories, or at least it is to me. I fell in love with "folk music" in the first place because the songs told stories that offered more substance than the music of the Top Ten. I'm not too concerned about whether the songs that have influenced me meet the narrow academic definition of folks songs or whether they are simply played in a traditional musical style. The point is whether the song moves you, makes you think, makes you feel something. It can be an anonymous traditional ballad from Appalachia or a newly-penned song by Guy Clark.

When I write songs with my wife Kate, I try to tell a story about something that I know. I've had no luck writing songs about things that I haven't experienced. I may exaggerate, change things around, but at some level I've experienced what I'm singing about. We also try to fit the lyrics to the mood of the story or to the images that I'm using. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the tune comes fist. Sometimes I hear something, see something, feel something and it gnaws at me until I write it down. There is no premeditated attempt to write a folk song beyond the fact that I play in an acoustic, traditional style. I'm not going to write a rock song because I don't play rock music.

However, a lot of contemporary folk music is influenced by rock music or other modern styles. There's simply no way for it not to happen. Most younger writers have grown up with an eclectic mix of influences. Many people that I know who call themselves folk song-writers cite influences such as Uncle Tupelo, Billy Bragg, and the Pogues along with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Hazel Dickens and other folk heroes. They first encountered folk music from this odd angle, and then sought out the original sources, the old recordings, and started exploring the traditions. All of this influences the writing.

Now there are newer songs out there that I have encountered that seem to be "entering the tradition." People sing along, know all the words, and have no idea who wrote it, and frankly don't care. John Prine's "Paradise" is one such song. I have heard more people sing it at picnics, parties, and sing-alongs without having any idea that Prine wrote it. I would love to have a song of mine have the same effect.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Sailor Ron
Date: 02 Dec 09 - 05:49 AM

As a 'wordsmith', I don't call myself a song writer as I can no more make up a tune than I can fly to the moon on a bicycle, I mainly write lyrics for themed [usually nautical] shows. So if the subject is, say, pirates, I try to write in the 'style' of the age concerned, be it'broadsheet' for events of the 17th-18th C.or 'Victorian' or a more 'free' style for songs dealing with current events.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 02 Dec 09 - 06:23 AM

Some good new posts. They only got to show how foolish it is to characterize all songwriters as writing in one particular way with a common agenda. About the only things in common are the ones that everyone seems to share: write what you feel because you feel like writing, and draw from the well of music you love most.

I liked your typo (I think it was), Nathan. Maybe we should call the songs folks songs. Reminds me of a line in a spoken introduction to Fanning Street by Leadbelly. "They were folks, sure enough."

Good to see you on here, Nathan. I'm not suprised at your comments, knowing your music.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Ian Fyvie
Date: 02 Dec 09 - 08:08 PM

Reading Nathan's post reminded me about this tuesdays singaround where Diane tried out a new song, by John Prine, which she'd just learnt from another club supporter, Fred(a). That surely must be the folk process working as it should.

On the main issue, two approaches are exemplified by Nathan writing because he wants to tell the story first hand, and Ron recreating an era by immersing himself in the the history and the musical styles of that time to create something new but faithful to that point in time.

Both must be excellent ways of enriching our Folk tradition - whether the songs are accepted as Folk immediately, 5 years time or never (would that matter?).

On the term Folk itself, our Club Vice President boldly declares "Folk is wot folk sing" whenever a heated discussion arises. We could of course debate his proposition between songs but by postponing it this way til the next Folk Club party, we get to sing more folk songs on the club night - and that's what its all about!

Ian Fyvie


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Subject: What is the best video converter to use?
From: GUEST,snittepheft
Date: 28 Jan 10 - 06:47 PM

Windows Movie Maker doesn't let me put videos from my digi cam because it's in the wrong format so what converter can I use?
I want one that's pretty decent quality, doesn't cost anything, doesn't stick the logo on my videos and it converts all of the video, not just half of it.
I used to have prism something but then my trial run ran out so yeah, I can't use that >.<
And zamzar has a limit of 100MB :l

Help please?


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 05:10 AM

Hmmm talk about misguided lol


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 05:59 AM

It strikes me that the 'songwriting' part of the title of this thread is a bit misleading.

We're talking mainly about the kind of editing and tweaking and cut-n-pasting that takes place in the folk process. I'd say that's a whole other thing to songwriting. Though in terms of the dialectic between the individual and the collective, it has quite a bit in common with it.

I read Greil Marcus' book "Invisible Republic" last summer, and it's really really good on this kind of discussion. It has some nail-on-the-head observations of the kind of collage aspect of the American folk process.

Basically he reconciles that whole false dichotomy of "individual subjective egotist songwriter" versus "collective objective egoless folk", showing it's dialectical. When a banjo player chooses which particular stock, collective folk-database line he wants to use in singing his song this time, about bats, or dead girls called Polly, or lost sailors called Willy, he is of course making a subjective decision - a 'songwriterly' one, if you will.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 06:14 AM

anyway, much to think about in this thread.

someone mentioned the word "Thee". I always feel a bit ridiculous singing this word. It's not so much that it's ancient and anachronistic (qualities that are sometimes a plus!), it's more there's a ring of pomposity to using it: for me it's almost like a word in a different accent. So I almost always change it to 'you'. Which means, if it's a rhyming word, I then have to find an "oo" rhyme for the next line. And before you know it, you're folk-processing....

Been singing 'The False Bride' around the house, and I always feel a bit ambivalent about the line "Oh, when that I saw my love sat down to meat, I sat myself by her but no thing could eat ". It has a slightly base, grotesque note in today's terms, which can make it sound faintly ridiculous. It is of course, in its historical context, entirely appropriate: eating meat would have been more of a luxury, making loss of appetite more of a big deal
And poetically, too, it's in keeping with the song: it's fitting that the *carnivorousness* of his former love is being emphasized, as if she's eating his heart.

But I'm a vegetarian. Maybe "Piled my plate high with soya-based treats/I sat myself by her but no thing could eat"....


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 06:20 AM

lol
Veggie folk process, a whole other thread perhaps?


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: BobKnight
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 06:34 AM

"Meat," may not actually refer to meat in this context. When I was younger, it just meant food. A bit like "Hoover," being a generic term for vacum cleaners.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 06:51 AM

yes, no doubt, it can just mean food in general.
also possibly the sense of 'main course', I'd imagine.

I mean, I'm joking, I wouldn't put that 'soya' line in, unless I was really really desperate for a cheap laugh on a particularly disastrous night.

It's more, I suppose, that the 'meat' line can risk rupturing a mood: melancholy and meat aren't conventional bedfellows. Quite a few performers of this song, have a line ending in 'feast', half-rhyming with meat, I notice.

A similar example might be the line "Oh cock oh cock, oh gentle cockerel", in the song 'the grey cock'. I wouldn't think of altering that line either, but you'd have to be pretty naive not to imagine that it might in the wrong circumstances provoke a snigger or two. The sexual implication is a part of the song, but it's tricky to handle: you want it to stay an implication, preserve the spooky, sombre elements of the song, not descend into Carry On-style nob joke humour.


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Subject: RE: The folk process and songwriting
From: Mr Red
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 09:58 AM

I once bought a book "How to be a Successfull Songwriter". Not Folk but it had a lot of useful tips.
One was to take a song you like (OK make it a folk song), write new words to it, then write a tune for the words.
What you end-up with is as derivative as your songwriting skills. Or as creative. What will leak through is the genre, a bit of style and the general format.

Now - one of the contributers/interviewees (one per chapter) was Neil Sedaka who just happened to have a TV programme about him recently. What he said was his first few offerings were "pretty awfull": BUT, he added, "the more you do it, the better you become". Also he said after his intial efforts were not up to the standard he demanded of himself (being at Juliard at the time) was that he surveyed every top ten song in the world (pinch of salt implied) and analysed them for common elements. Now so far so Folkie.
What he found was that they predominantly had a Girl's name in them, and were expressing male/female desire. His songs became commercial after that. And his record shows he deviated by following G.B. Shaw's maxim "The Golden Rule is that there are no golden rules".
So the survey has to reflect the genre and the results will throw-up different commonalities but the methodology is sound. It is market research on the "consumer" by one remove - what they like, is what they consume.


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