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Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!

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PHJim 04 Oct 19 - 12:35 PM
GUEST 04 Oct 19 - 08:45 PM
Mrrzy 04 Oct 19 - 10:52 PM
PHJim 05 Oct 19 - 12:20 AM
Joe Offer 05 Oct 19 - 02:47 AM
gillymor 05 Oct 19 - 06:58 AM
StephenH 05 Oct 19 - 01:46 PM
Joe Offer 05 Oct 19 - 02:31 PM
StephenH 05 Oct 19 - 05:49 PM
keberoxu 08 Oct 19 - 04:35 PM
Joe Offer 08 Oct 19 - 05:18 PM
PHJim 09 Oct 19 - 01:25 AM
Stringsinger 09 Oct 19 - 11:25 AM
GUEST 09 Oct 19 - 04:11 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 09 Oct 19 - 04:49 PM
GUEST,Rev Bayes 09 Oct 19 - 05:04 PM
Stringsinger 10 Oct 19 - 01:15 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 12 Oct 19 - 01:18 PM
Joe Offer 12 Oct 19 - 07:12 PM
Stringsinger 13 Oct 19 - 01:47 PM
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Subject: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: PHJim
Date: 04 Oct 19 - 12:35 PM

I was just reading an article on Toshi Seeger and recall a pull no punches critique, written by Toshi in an old Sing Out! magazine on the work of Pete Seeger. I haven't read it in a few decades and would like to read it again, but I can't seem to locate the magazine. Does anyone recall this article and does anyone still have a copy?


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Oct 19 - 08:45 PM

You can find it in Pete's Incomplete Folksinger.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Mrrzy
Date: 04 Oct 19 - 10:52 PM

I thought you meant Peter Tosh. I need new glasses.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: PHJim
Date: 05 Oct 19 - 12:20 AM

Thanks Guest.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Oct 19 - 02:47 AM

I looked in the index of Incompleat Folksinger for Toshi and Sing Out!, and didn't find it. Can somebody point it out?


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: gillymor
Date: 05 Oct 19 - 06:58 AM

I remember reading somewhere that Pete actually wrote the critique and credited it to Toshi.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: StephenH
Date: 05 Oct 19 - 01:46 PM

I don't know if this came from the "Sing Out!" article, but I remember
seeing this quote somewhere, attributed to Toshi Seeger:

“I hate it when people romanticize him,” she said. “He's like
anybody good at his craft, like a good bulldozer operator.”

Thought it quite affectionately funny.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Oct 19 - 02:31 PM

Here's the quote about the bulldozer:It's in the How Can I Keep From Singing? book about Seeger.
Still can't find the piece written by Toshi.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: StephenH
Date: 05 Oct 19 - 05:49 PM

Thanks, Joe, that's where I must have seen it.
(I keep a document of quotes that I like but don't always remember to
note the source.)


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: keberoxu
Date: 08 Oct 19 - 04:35 PM

The piece may be found in
Pete Seeger in His Own Words edited by
Rob and Sam Rosenthal. I managed to see the first page of same
at Google Books but it would not let me read the entire thing.

Some more info:
from Sing Out!, March 1965, issue 15.1

Opening sentence:
"Pete Seeger will be forty-six this year."

Original title:
"A Record Review."

Takeaway quote:
"This review is not of any one of his discs, but
makes some general comments on all of them
-- the forty or fifty solo LPs
he has done for Folkways [Records],
and the five he has done for Columbia [Records] in the last three years."

In Pete Seeger in His Own Words, this piece is reprinted in
"Reflections on a Life in Music,"
starting on page 285.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Joe Offer
Date: 08 Oct 19 - 05:18 PM

Thanks, keberoxu. I had the piece in Sing Out! and in Pete Seeger: In His Own Words. I just couldn't find it.

    PETE SEEGER
    (by Toshi Seeger)

    Pete Seeger will be forty-six next year. He has been singing professionally for twenty—five years, and as an amateur for many years before that. His first recording was made in 1941 (with the Almanac Singers). This review is not of any one of his discs, but makes some general comments on all of them, the forty or fifty solo LPs he has done for Folkways, and the five he has done for Columbia in the last three years.

    Taken all together, they form one of the most horrendously uneven bodies of recorded music that any performer could boast of, or perhaps be ashamed of. Now, it is true that some songwriters have written thousands of songs, and let posterity decide which few dozen of them were worth singing. But does a performing artist have the same right to spew out thousands of recorded performances to the commercial market, without being judged for the poor ones as well as the good ones?

    Some of Seeger’s earliest discs, such as DARLING COREY (1948), have the nearest to traditional folk music on them, although a still earlier one, TALKING UNION, (1941) is the most frankly propagandistic.

    Scattered throughout the discs, you will occasionally hear some passable ballad singing. (Pete’s sister Peggy is a much better ballad singer. But if you really like ballads, why not listen to the master balladeer, Horton Barker, on Folkways and Library of Congress LPs?)

    As for banjo-picking, Pete only occasionally does some good traditional picking. His brother Mike can play rings around him, not only on the banjo, of course, but on guitar and half a dozen other instruments which Pete mercifully does not attempt. But much of P.S.’s banjo accompaniment Is tasteless whamming.

    If community singing is your meat, you can probably learn a lot from him, since he has been at this game for a long time-—according to his own account, since his mother gave him a ukelele at the age of eight. But if you prefer your folk songs less noisy, better performed, and with a smaller number of voices, best steer clear. He also has a disturbing habit of singing harmony to his own songs, when the crowd is warmed up. On the stage, perhaps he can get away with it. Over a loudspeaker in one’s living room, it can be just plain annoying.

    If you like blues, don’t even bother listening to him. He doesn’t know how to sing or play blues, though he occasionally tries to.

    If you like spirituals and gospel songs, he does a little better here — in fact, better than most white musicians. But still his voice tends to get tense and hard, and he rarely achieves that full, relaxed, but powerful tone that most good Negro singers have naturally. No, if you like spirituals, listen to Vera Hall (Folkways) or Blind Gary Davis, or the Gospel Keys, or the modern commercial singers such as Mahalia Jackson (her early discs, for Apollo, are some of her best).

    Pete Seeger’s concerts are a different matter. I will not mention them in this article except to say that while there’s hardly a song he sings which couldn’t be sung better by someone else, his concerts —— most of them deft improvisations upon program themes he has developed through the years -- are often masterpieces of programming.

    This is probably why his records are rarely criticized properly. People like the guy, and hesitate to slam his discs as they should.

    Sometimes the intensity of his performance can pick you up and carry you away, especially if you agree with what he is saying (not all do, of course). Jimmy Durante, the old-time comedian, is supposed to have said once, “When I face a crowd, I give ‘em all I got!” and Seeger, when he walks out on a stage, often seems to follow this philosophy. Probably it is for this reason that some people wildly applaud him, and try to recapture the excitement by listening to his records. Others, who know what kind of music they like, will not join in on the chorus, and feel more and more repelled. You’re either with it or you’re not, honey.

    It is probably because of his indefatigable concertizing that he has made so many records. Any recording company knows that sales follow personal appearances. Probably a number of readers of this article were first introduced to folk music through a Seeger concert at some college. They can be a lot of fun, and if you let your guard down, a deeply moving experience.

    But that doesn’t mean one has to like his records. Really, I don’t think the guy listens to them himself. In between two pretty good songs is sandwiched a sentimental little piece of nothing. If someone recommends a Pete Seeger record to you, the standing rule should be: don’t buy it sight unseen, or sound unheard. You might like it. You might not be able to stand it. The discs range from children’s songs through standard American Folk Repertoire to modern composed songs by people like Malvina Reynolds and Bob Dylan, and to songs from a dozen different countries. Which prompts one to say that Seeger would probably do a better job generally If he didn’t spread himself so thin. Perhaps he has opened up Young America's ears to new sounds and songs, but he has also given them a bad example: “You, too, can sing in sixteen idioms.”

    It’s not true. He can’t, and you can’t. He is known to go out on a stage before a thousand people (who have paid hard-earned cash for tickets) and, sticking the words of a song with scotch-tape to the microphone, sing them for the first time in his life. You may be able to get away with it on a stage, but do you have to record it, Peter?

    To sum up, if one could dub onto a tape a few songs from here and there on his many LPs, one might have quite good half-hour or one—hour tape of Pete Seeger. The trouble is, no two people would make the same selections. And therein lies his only defense.

    Collected, adapted and arranged with additional new material by Toshi Seeger. Copyright 1965 by Toshi Seeger.

from Sing Out!, Vol 15, No. 1, March 1965, pp. 85-87

Also in Pete Seeger: in His Own Words, this piece is reprinted in the chapter titled "Reflections on a Life in Music," starting on page 285.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: PHJim
Date: 09 Oct 19 - 01:25 AM

Many thanks Joe and keberoxu. That's the one I was after.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Stringsinger
Date: 09 Oct 19 - 11:25 AM

You gotta' love Toshi for her honesty and her opinions. I've known Pete for over sixty years and Toshi maybe about forty or so. She has always been outspoken, no nonsense and beneath that tough exterior a very compassionate human being.

I think she's wrong about Pete's musical effect, though. The "tasteless whamming"
was used in a skillful way with dynamics to get large audiences to sing with vigor and passion. His banjo accompaniments were highly musical, interesting and unique.
Darling Corey is one of his best albums for this reason.

I'll have to read the rest of the article to comment.

Toshi and Pete referred to themselves, and Pete generally, as "cultural workers".

They both were a profound influence in my life and many others.



They were both wonderful human beings and the world is richer for their being there.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Oct 19 - 04:11 PM

Well I've read Toshi's criticism. I believe that most artists can be accused of uneven work in recordings if they have done many. I'm not sure that Pete's recordings on Folkways would constitute commercial recordings as they have been found on major labels but his approach as was Mo Asch was as a documentarian. For this reason alone, they are valuable. A lot of these songs would not have surfaced if Pete hadn't recorded them first.

Darling Corey might be the definitive Pete Seeger solo recording because of his innovative
and musical accompaniments. I once asked Pete about this and his reply was, "It was all downhill from there." I'm not sure that I agree with that assessment, however. He made some notable recordings especially of his own songs.

Talking Union was propagandistic but my view is so what. It was good propaganda as far as I'm concerned. Unions have been so denigrated that something has to be said to bolster their value. I think the Almanacs did that. Artistically, I guess it's up for grabs. I liked it and thought it was artful but these were not trained voices or redolent of the concert hall. Yet, there was a refreshing honesty about them that side-stepped the slick popular recordings of the period.
I felt that way about the Weavers, too. And I feel that way about many of the Library of Congress or Folkways recordings as well.

I'm not sure what "passable ballad singing" is. Most voices who sing traditionally are untrained and require a different set of ears to appreciate them. One of Pete's gifts is to let the song speak for itself rather than clutter it up with gaudy production values. When the legendary John Hammond tried to do that for Pete, it was over the top and Pete got lost in the process.
I'm referring to the original recording of "Turn Turn" for Columbia on which I played guitar.
In folk music, less is more often.

Horton Barker is certainly one of the great American balladeers but there are many who wouldn't appreciate him. I attended a class in commercial music consisting of young rockers and would-be industry types where I brought in a recording of Almeda Riddle and members of the class erupted in cat-calls. Even music industry people don't understand American or English for that matter, traditional folk music.

Pete is not a traditional banjo player and never has been one. He has perfected his own unique style (Seeger-style) and is an innovator on that instrument. He learned much from Pete Steele, the coal miner from Hamilton Ohio and his first exposure to the instrument was the playing of Aunt Samantha Baumgartner at the Asheville Folk Festival under Bascom Lamarr Lunsford's leadership. Pete's accompaniment on various songs reflect his own personal musicality. His rendition of the songs of the Lincoln Brigade (Quince Brigada) which prompted him to add the frets to his banjo so he could properly sing it, his rendition of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" or "Living in the Country" on 12 string, and our recording of Nonesuch for Folkways are IMHO gems. His banjo playing spawned a generation of banjo pickers both from the cities and the
forgotten traditional ones from the Southeast.

Mike Seeger was undoubtably a wonderful exponent of traditional banjo playing but I doubt he could have ever done the style of his half-brother. I find Mike's banjo playing a little mechanical but I'm sure there are others who won't agree with me. He was a marvelous performer, nonetheless and did a lot for the revival of trad American music. I think he invented the term "Old Timey". But playing rings around someone else misses the point. Every player is unique.

Peggy is equally a great performer and singer, banjo player extraordinaire. She exhibits the subtle musicality that Pete does. I think she lost a little of her lovely singing voice when doing topical numbers with Ewan. It became a little strident in my opinion. However, Folk Songs of Courting and Complaint is a classic folk recording. Her "I wish I was a Single Girl Again" has a brilliant subtle and simple but musical accompaniment that is unique.

I've commented earlier about "tasteless whamming". Pete uses it to engender musical dynamics in the way a gospel organist or pianist entices an audience to be involved. His accompaniments are layered from basic picking interspersed with three finger style to whamming and is reminiscent of how a jazz musician will approach his improvisation.

His ability to harmonize with an audience and to engender audience harmonizing is sometimes surreal. He can occasionally get his audience to sound like a chorus.

I don't think Pete ever intended to be a blues singer. Why should that be a prerequisite for singing the blues? I believe he understood the medium fairly well unlike say Eileen Farrell who on her record of "I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues" may not. Pete sings it his way.

A major problem for Pete's vocals is that he had this habit of tilting his head back putting a strain on the vocal cords. I think he might have been imitating Woody, who was shorter than the other members of the Almanacs and looked up to them while singing. Pete paid the price later vocally. I think Wimoweh about did him in. Mike's reaction was after his standing ovation, "At least I didn't have to sing Wimoweh."

Toshi correctly cites Vera Hall, one of the great folk African-American singers as well as the legendary Gary Davis, Gospel Keys or Mahalia. No question about their talents. It is true that
African-American singers have a warm quality and less strain then their white counterparts.
I had a heated argument with Alan Lomax about this. My view that there was a physiological basis for this whereas he maintained that it was cultural only.

I'm not sure Toshi is right about some songs that could be better sung by others. Pete was like a jazz musician and continually improvised in his songs and programming. As for "You're either with it or you not", this is applicable to any artist. As to scotch taping a new song to the microphone, this makes a Pete Seeger concert spontaneous and less studied then many concert artists. There was an excitement about hearing a new song that Pete had discovered.

I'm surprised that Toshi was a "purist" in the sense of not being able to sing a song outside of the singer's tradition. His "spreading himself too thin" afforded audiences to hear music they would not have heard otherwise and this is also true not only of his concerts but his recordings. A bad example? I'm not sure that this is true if it gives pleasure to so many.

Toshi's remarks are a little rueful. She was isolated in her home with growing children under pioneering circumstances while Pete was on the road. She had a tough life.

Since I knew them, stayed with them in their home and observed them at close range, I feel qualified to make the preceding assessment.

I consider Pete to be a musical journalist. He uncovers history and tells an untold story.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 09 Oct 19 - 04:49 PM

One controversial aspect of this critique is
the question of who really wrote it.

I observe numerous assertions that
Toshi Seeger's name is on the article,
not because the writing is her work,
but because Pete Seeger wrote it himself
and then put her name on it instead.

I guess we can't ever straighten that one out?


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: GUEST,Rev Bayes
Date: 09 Oct 19 - 05:04 PM

I remember reading this many years ago, probably on here, and I thought the same thing then as I do now - it is very obviously written by the man himself, presumably with Toshi's blessing.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Stringsinger
Date: 10 Oct 19 - 01:15 PM

I doubt that Pete would denigrate his accomplishments in this way. He might have
helped Toshi write her opinions, I don't know. But this does sound an awful lot like Toshi.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 12 Oct 19 - 01:18 PM

Just my two cents' worth,
but the Jimmy Durante comparison
sounds more like the professional entertainer wrote it himself,
rather than his better half.


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Joe Offer
Date: 12 Oct 19 - 07:12 PM

I get the impression that Toshi viewed herself as somewhat of a curmudgeon who loved Pete very much but wasn't all that impressed by him. The humor in this piece is quite subtle at times, but it's always present. My guess is the piece was written by Toshi, but I wouldn't discount the theory that Pete wrote it. Whatever the case, it's a fascinating thing to read.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Toshi's critique of Pete in Sing Out!
From: Stringsinger
Date: 13 Oct 19 - 01:47 PM

I think that it's a personal critique that may not totally correct in that it's always a matter of opinion. I have observed first hand of their relationship and that Pete had complete respect for Toshi's ideas. She would denigrate anyone who attains a "star" position in the entertainment field. She didn't like it if Pete evinced any evidence about "being too big for his britches" (trope mine not Toshi's).

The interesting thing about Jimmy Durante is when I attended his radio program in the Fifties at NBC. He was the only entertainer that I knew of from attending many of the radio broadcasts that would come out and converse pleasantly with the audience standing in line asking about them in an interested manner. He was truly a man of the people.

I attended Toshi's memorial service in New York City. A bone of contention was that Pete was on the road quite a bit leaving Toshi to raise the children a lot by herself. It's not clear to me that they agreed or disagreed with this arrangement.

Toshi was a female curmudgeon. She, however, was a truthful person with great
integrity. She showed compassion when it was needed.


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