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Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger

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Joe Offer 30 Sep 14 - 12:43 PM
Stilly River Sage 30 Sep 14 - 12:51 PM
maeve 30 Sep 14 - 12:55 PM
GUEST,leeneia 30 Sep 14 - 03:21 PM
Rapparee 30 Sep 14 - 03:34 PM
Don Firth 30 Sep 14 - 06:14 PM
Larry The Radio Guy 30 Sep 14 - 08:51 PM
Ebbie 01 Oct 14 - 03:07 AM
Teribus 01 Oct 14 - 09:40 AM
Leadfingers 01 Oct 14 - 07:40 PM
Mrrzy 02 Oct 14 - 12:52 AM
Stewart 02 Oct 14 - 12:26 PM
Joe Offer 02 Oct 14 - 01:08 PM
The Sandman 02 Oct 14 - 01:14 PM
GUEST,Alice 02 Oct 14 - 07:44 PM
Deckman 02 Oct 14 - 07:59 PM
Don Firth 21 Oct 14 - 06:42 PM
Deckman 22 Oct 14 - 01:30 AM
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Subject: Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 12:43 PM

Here's an article by Mudcatter Bob Nelson (Deckman), published in The NW Hoot, online magazine of the Pacific Northwest Folklore Society.
    SEATTLE FOLKSINGERS
    THOSE WHO LED THE WAY
    DON FIRTH
    By Bob Nelson

    In these articles titled “Those Who Led The Way,” I want to bring to you the stories of five folksingers who were very influential in the Seattle folk music scene of the 1950’s and 60’s. The first article presented Walt Robertson and now I present Don Firth as I know and love him.


    I first met Don at a crafts show held on the U.W. campus in November of 1953. This fortunate meeting happened because Walt Robertson, who had a weekly television show on KING TV, had made an open invitation for his viewers to come down and enjoy a live concert. He was also spearheading the founding of what was to become The Pacific Northwest Folklore Society.

    When I arrived at the show, I found this very large building that was crowded with many people and display booths. After some searching, I found a booth labeled The Pacific Northwest Folklore Society and sure enough, there was Walt Robertson shaking hands and working the crowd. Seated behind a table I also noticed a strikingly handsome man who turned out to be Don Firth. Little did I know then that we were to become lifelong friends

    I met him again just a few weeks later when he invited me to meet him at his regular morning workout at the Greenlake Swimming Pool. As I entered the pool area, I was astounded to see him speeding across the top of the water like a charging water buffalo, using only his arms in the butterfly stroke. He legs had been damaged by polio as a child and this\led to a lifetime of carrying himself bodily using two arm crutches and a heavy steel and leather leg brace. When he climbed out of the pool I was impressed with his upper body physique. He had the perfect body build of a merman. This upper body physique was to serve him well through a lifetime of robust singing with his well-trained bass voice. Beyond his athletic swimming ability, he also was a renowned fencer, participating in many matches and competitive demonstrations of his swordsmanship.

    His early awakening to the world of folk music came from listening to a Burl Ives radio broadcast in the late 1940’s. He often says that he learned more about American history by listening to Burl Ives sing the Erie canal than he ever during his school days.

    Then along came his fateful first meeting with Walt Roberson, who was performing to a small audience at “The Chalet” in the “U” district in Seattle. From that first exposure to the power of live performing, Don began a serious study of voice, guitar and folk music. He took formal voice lessons from the best available teachers, studied classical guitar, and began to submerge himself in the books and records available of traditional folk music. He also began a serious study of classical and Flamenco guitar. Here is a sample he played at a Seattle hoot in 1957 …

    This was at a time when the weekly “hoots” were catching on in many living rooms in the Seattle area. By the mid 1950’s, a hoot could be found almost every weekend. These legendary events soon became a way of life for many of us as a place to listen to, and learn from, the best performers, as well as a place to hone our own performing skills. Don was a very familiar sight as he carried his guitar up and down the avenue and various haunts of the “U” district in Seattle, going from one hoot to yet another gig.

    Here is a fine example of Don’s masterful song presentation, Notice how he introduces “The Ballad of Giddings Fall
    It was about this time that Don met Richard Dyer-Bennet when he performed a concert in Bellingham. That experience was a lesson to Don about the necessity and value of deep research of the ballads he was performing. He began a lifetime study of folksongs by taking classes from Dr. David Fowler, U.W. as well as studying voice with some of the best teachers in the Seattle area.

    He also continued his classical and Flamenco guitar studies and became active in the Seattle Classical Guitar Society. As a classical guitarist he insisted on keeping his instruments at concert pitch. He was the first musician most of us knew that owned a tuning fork, let alone knowing how to use it. The standard joke at local hoots went like this: “Don’t bother tuning up until Don gets here. We’ll all just have to re-tune anyway!”

    In January of 1959, Don and friend Patti McLaughlin were approached by the Seattle Public Library to perform on a series of shows of folkmusic. This resulted in the six shows broadcast by KCTS TV titled “Ballads and Books.”

    Don’s classical guitar playing was featured in the opening and closing of each show...


    While the series included several prominent singers and guests, such as Ivar Haglund and James Stevens, the show held true to its library roots by promoting the literary side of folk music roots.

    Don Firth “Wandering Angus”
    Later that same year, Don and I took our guitars and traveled to the San Francisco Bay area looking for fame and fortune. We performed in clubs, bars, speakeasies, strip joints and various concert venues. Fortune eluded us, but our adventures, and misadventures, became the stuff of legend. We were often invited to parties and gatherings that included many of the best of the touring folk musicians of the day. As Don often said, how can you NOT learn things when you’re swapping songs with the likes of Rolf Cohn and Bob Gibson.

    It was in 1962 that Seattle made its mark on the world with the Seattle World’s Fair. One of the more memorable events from the fair was the weekly public concerts that were held at the United Nations exhibit. Every Sunday, for the six month run of the fair, many of the best of the Seattle Folksingers would gather at the pavilion and sing to crowds of fairgoers. Here is Don singing at the World’s Fair...

    Don FIrth singing "The Swapping Song"
    Over the years Don’s trained voice led to radio work as an announcer and program host with KING F.M. the premier classical music station of the day. From there he went on to many years employment with “Ma Bell.”

    He was also an early supporter of the Seattle Song circles, back in the days before the dreaded “blue book” was allowed to dominate the music. Here is a fun example of Don leading a group song in the early 1970’s

    Don Firth leading "Clear Away In The Morning"
    This is followed by Frances James Child’s ballad #10, “BINNORIE”

    To this day, Don Firth remains the finest example I have ever known of tenacity and perfection.
    The next issue will present Seattle Folksinger John Dwyer.


Note: Not all links are working yet. Go to the original article to see the whole shebang.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 12:51 PM

Thanks Joe and Bob!

Maggie


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: maeve
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 12:55 PM

Thanks, Joe. Good music here!


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 03:21 PM

Thanks, Bob and Joe, for info on one of the kindest and most helpful catters, Don Firth.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Rapparee
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 03:34 PM

Thanks. I'm glad to know both Don and Bob...great people.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Don Firth
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 06:14 PM

Thank you, Bob Nelson, for the many kind words….

Just a note to identify the folks in the third picture down, which was taken by Ross McLaughlin (Patti's husband) in the KCTS-TV studios on the set of "Ballads and Books," 1959.

In the background, from left to right: Mike Reedy, a medical student at the University of Washington and enthusiastic singer of folk songs; Bob Clark, former proprietor of "The Chalet," a U District restaurant that often hosted folk music activities; Ron Ginther, a quiet lad who tended to murmur songs but enjoyed playing back-up guitar; Sally Ashford, who had one of the strongest, loveliest voices in the area, but who, tragically lost her voice some years ago; and her husband, John Ashford. John grew up in a folk singing family. His father knew a number of folk singers before they became well-known, including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, who had visited Seattle early on.

And in the foreground, the lovely Patti McLaughlin—and me (not quite as lovely).

A note on Bob Clark. You will note that he plays his guitar left-handed. This was because, due to an accident early on, he lost the thumb, first, and second fingers of his left hand. Not deterred, when he took up the guitar, he strung it backwards and learned to hold a pick between the remaining fingers of his left hand. Did right well.

Incidentally, Bob Clark wrote "The Ballad of Gidding's Fall." He was there at the time and saw the whole thing. Right up there with the best of the "Come all ye—" ballads.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Larry The Radio Guy
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 08:51 PM

Thanks Bob and JOe for those links to Don's guitar playing, raconteur-ship, and singing. Now I can get a bit of an aural picture when I read Don's posts.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Ebbie
Date: 01 Oct 14 - 03:07 AM

Thanks, Bob, the Deckman. Great article, Don, and good music. You're having a remarkable career.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Teribus
Date: 01 Oct 14 - 09:40 AM

Thanks I enjoyed that well done.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Leadfingers
Date: 01 Oct 14 - 07:40 PM

Don is high on my list of Catters I want to meet !


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Mrrzy
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 12:52 AM

Great article!


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Stewart
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 12:26 PM

Bob, you did a good job. As I told you, I really liked the way you presented Don. Those were great times starting in the '50s, particularly for a couple of budding folksingers. Don is a dear friend. What a wonderful rich voice and guitar-playing skill to go with it. And just a fine and gentle person.

Thanks, S. In Seattle


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Joe Offer
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 01:08 PM

You know, somebody should do an article like this on Bob Nelson...or is there one already, Stewart?


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 01:14 PM

thanks


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: GUEST,Alice
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 07:44 PM

The links take me back to Elmar's cozy house with a fire burning in the fireplace, laughter, good wine and cheese, friends and fine folk music until the wee hours, sometimes beyond.


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Deckman
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 07:59 PM

Alice ... I think I recorded that Flamenco piece in Elmar's living room. I can still see the white picket fence and the gate hanging by one hinge. And like you ... I can still feel the warmth of the room from the fire and the friends ... bob


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Don Firth
Date: 21 Oct 14 - 06:42 PM

I pulled up the posting of the article that Bob (Deckman) Nelson wrote about me for the PNW Hoot to take a bit of a nostalgia trip—and I noted that, even though, in a previous post, I had credited the various people in a photo of the final show of the "Ballads and Books" TV series, I didn't credit the fine, resonant speaking voice of Buzz Anderson, who acted as MC of the shows and asked Patti and me the questions that we assumed the viewers might have asked. Buzz was a broadcasting student at the University of Washington School of Communications, and, although I lost track of him after the show was over, I'm sure he went on to do great things.

He introduced each of the shows, with me doing an instrumental arrangement of "Greensleeves" on the guitar in the background, and he did the reading introducing Yeats's "The Song of the Wandering Aengus." I'm the guy with the frog in his throat, singing the song.

Nervous!!??? Who!? Me!?? Nervous!!???

These were the days before many TV stations had videotape recorders, and we went on the air live! Live TV will do that to someone who, at the time (1959), was not all that experienced as a performer.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Article - Don Firth: Seattle Folksinger
From: Deckman
Date: 22 Oct 14 - 01:30 AM

Don ... I'm pleased that you remembered and mentioned Buzz Anderson. What a grand voice and style! In 1963, I moved to California for five more years of adventuring. While I lived in the Santa Cruz mountains, I did occasionally wander north up to the S.F. Bay area. While up there, I often watched Buzz Anderson KGO TV. He went on to quite a spendid career in TV work.

At the time that we did those "Ballads and Books" shows for KCTS TV, I didn't know that he was a fledging student at the U.W. He was so polished that he intimeadated me! bob(deckman)nelson


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