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Curious about 'The Washington Squares'

Bob Pacquin 21 Jun 00 - 01:40 PM
GUEST,Mrr 21 Jun 00 - 01:59 PM
Art Thieme 21 Jun 00 - 02:51 PM
Mini Me 21 Jun 00 - 03:02 PM
Bob Pacquin 21 Jun 00 - 03:37 PM
GUEST,Skylarking 21 Jun 00 - 04:33 PM
Art Thieme 21 Jun 00 - 09:03 PM
Bob Pacquin 22 Jun 00 - 01:53 PM
Tom Square 29 Jun 00 - 03:07 PM
Art Thieme 01 Jul 00 - 09:24 PM
John Hardly 25 Feb 10 - 06:51 PM
Art Thieme 25 Feb 10 - 07:30 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 25 Feb 10 - 08:42 PM
M.Ted 26 Feb 10 - 12:54 AM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 26 Feb 10 - 01:51 PM
John Hardly 26 Feb 10 - 03:07 PM
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Subject: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Bob Pacquin
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 01:40 PM

I just cam across a tape by this group in a bargain bin, and I loved it. They are the perfect 60's folk rock group, complete with high minded, naive, and idealistic song lyrics. Then I checked the copyrights, and the recordings were made in the late 80's.

Anyone know anything about them? They seemed so perfect a caricuature of the way that people used to talk, think, and write in those days, that I couldn't help wonder if they were an anachronism, or just an incredible simulation--

Do they still perform? Anything you can tell me would be appreciated.

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: GUEST,Mrr
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 01:59 PM

My firm was having a trade show in DC a year or so ago and we tried to get them to perform, but no go. They DO still perform, though, they just didn't want to do it for as little as we tried to offer... I'll see if I can't chat up the individual in charge and see what she knows about them.

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 02:51 PM

Dear Bob,

You shouldve SEEN THEM ! They wore pseudo beatnik beards and berets and dressed stereotypically to say the least. They were 3 young people trying to sort of recreate their ideas of the 'good old days' of beat folkie coffeehouses where everyone (the media said) wore shades, man, and cool dingy work clothes and there were dripping candles on all the tables and it was cool and way out and all the gals were enigmatic as hell and had long and very black straight Baez hair. I think one of the guys was named Tom Goodkind. The gal and the other fellow I can't recall. They came out of New York I think. I met them in Tulsa if I'm recollecting correctly. We were doing a WOODY GUTHRIE FESTIVAL as a part of May Fest in the middle of downtown Tulsa. At the time it seemed nice that Oklahoma was recognizing Woody at all. Now they see his value, but back then---well, even his home town of Okema, Oklahoma wouldn't own up to Mr. Guthrie; they called him a communist wouldn't ya know and dismissed him. Oh, there were 3 water towers in the middle of Okemah. One said "HOT". Another said "COLD. and the third one had "HOME OF WOODY GUTHRIE" written around the bulging top of the tank. I've still got the photos I took that day on the way to Tulsa and Oklahoma City to do gigs. I picked up a brick at the foundation hole of the old Guthrie house and eventually mailed it to Charlie Maguire in Minneapolis. It was pretty expensive to mail a brick !

But the Washington Squares were sort of "PUNK FOLK" and it was the first time I ever realized that what "we" called folk was changing---and not necessarily into directions I wanted things to go. I tried to like them and made room in my head for the changes taking place--like I try so unsuccessfully to do here at Mudcat too when things seem to be leaving me in the dust.

Say, I think I did an article on them for COME FOR TO SING a great magazine out of Chicago back then. I was doing a monthly column for them then called "Links On The Chain". Let me see if I can find that...

I found it. It was Vol. 11--#3 -- The summer of 1985 issue. Later I'll post the whole thing, but for now suffice it to say that my remembrances are accurate. Another member of the group was Lauren Agnelli and for some reason I never mentioned the other guy in the column. I think he played bongos and looked "real cool, man"...

Look here later for the whole article. Got a doctor apointment right now.

Hope this helped.

Art Thieme

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Mini Me
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 03:02 PM

Art, You are really cool mannnnnnnnnnnn.........I'll look forward to the article. Mike Strobel

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Bob Pacquin
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 03:37 PM


What a vivid picture! I've got to see them! As to your comments on Woody--I was once acquainted with a woman by the name of Guthrie, we worked on a newspaper together(This being thirty years ago) On day, we were chatting about this and that, and I asked the obvious question. Long, cold silence.

Finally, very tersely, she said,"Yes, he was part of the family, but a part of it that they didn't like to talk about."

I found it a bit strange, because she was certainly on the right side politically. Many years later, when the myth of Woody Guthrie started to fray a bit, I discovered that, on the personal level, he wasn't the paragon that he was musically, and it occurred to me that this, more than politics, was why her family didn't like to talk about him.

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: GUEST,Skylarking
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 04:33 PM

One of the members died a few years back, and I think they permanently disbanded after that.

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 21 Jun 00 - 09:03 PM

I'm back. Here's the column from 1985--summer.

The cruel reality of punk folk
by Art Thieme

I saw a great quote the other day: "Just when you think you know some of the answers, they go and change all the questions."

I guess I should've seen it coming, but somehow I didn't see any of the signs.Who would've guessed that the next surge in the folk revival would go by the name of PUNK FOLK? We used to jopke about punk folk, but I'm here to tell you that it's a fact. It's gaining momentum and it's coming your way.

Will wonders never cease? And here's the kicker: I kind of enjoy it. There, I said it. I'm getting a big kick out of the fact that a new generation of young people will have access to this music I care so much about. They're picking it and singing it and, in general, having a great time discovering for themselves what we "old folkies" have professed to know for several decades now---that this is the people's music and it's a lot of fun to play it yourself.

How did this strange phenomenon come about? How did this newer generation of young people find this music? Who are their heroes--the ones THEY want to copy? And why have they chosen to take from and listen to some parts of the early folk revival singers repertoirs while choosing to ignore others?

Maybe it would be a good idea to look at who influenced the early revival singers themselves. Maybe there's a pattern to this thing--a cycle. As my old uncle used to say, "History repeats. It just costs twice as much every time around."

It was 1958 and there was a new group appearing at the Gate Of Horn--a great Chicago folk club/bar. This group (Mike Seeger, John Cohen and Tom Paley) called itself the New Lost City Ramblers . They were playing the music of the old-timey southern string bandsthat had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Here we were, 30 years after the fact, listening to urban bred young peoplewho had fallen in love with the Carter Family, Charlie Poole and Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers. The ramblers taught an entire generation to listen intelligently to the great sounds the mountain musicians had made 30 years earlier. It was happy, real, energetic, hard-hitting topical music that really told us quite a bit about the people it came from.

Shortly after this revival of interest in the cities in this old-time music came a revival in old jug-band-music, blues, bluegrass, clog dancing, square dancing, contra dancing, Morris dancing, dulcimer playing, (and building), and even unaccompanied ballad singing. Alongside this interest in traditional art forms came what some derisively called "the folk scare of the 1960s". Within this framework, the older traditional songs were spruced up and presented with a more urban style by some very good (and some very bad) performers.

Every kid with a guitar and who knew 3 chords got a record contract. Dollars were miled from the folk revival and when there were no more dollars the music business dropped the music like a hot potato. This left those of us who really loved this music to carry on (albeit on a lesser level) as best we could. Many of us are still doing it.

Thirty years passed by. Chicago, Cambridge and a few other cities were where the music survived. The old-timey pickers kept playing TUNES. We waited. We wondered. Will there ever be another real revival of interest in this music? What form will it take? Will it mean some mor work for those of us who stuck with this music all through the years?

Last month, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I met the Washington Squares. we were all there to be part of May Fest and to take part in a tribute to Woody Guthrie. I came down to the lobby of the up-scale hotel to see a fellow wandering around the foyer (under the crystal chandelier)wearing all black, shades, a beret and picking s Pete Seeger long-neck Vega banjo. I thought I'd gone back to the beatnik era. Not the real beatnik era but the scene the way the media painted it. I stared for a while, and then introduced myself.

Tom Goodkind was his name. He and the other members of his group had selectively chosen those physical and musical aspects of the early revival that they wanted to emulate. Tom was playing a banjo that Dave Guard had given him. The banjo head was autographerd by Bob Gibson.

The group called itself the Washington Squares after that New York City p[ark where so many Sunday sings were held way back when. Then I met Lauren Agnelli, another group member. They told me they live in New York around the corner from the old Almanac House, where Lee Hays and Pete and Woody picked and sang. Tom was ecstatic when I told him I had a copy of the Almanac Singers' So0s Buster Ballads album.

Then Tom and the group proceeded to inform me (as if I should've known) about other "music groups" with national stature that performed folk music: The Violent Femmes is a Milwaukee-based group. Malcolm McLaren of the Sex Pistols sings folk tunes in rock clubs. There's a group called the Knitters who have reworked the name of the Weavers. There's David Alvin and the Blasters as well as the San Francisco-based group called the Muskrats.

For a while I was in shock ! Then I heard the Squared perform and I was simply stunned. I felt like the fellow in the Bob Dylan song: "Something is happening here and you don't know what it is..." The group's arrangements were from the Limelighters, the Kingston Trio, Peter,Paul & Mary, and the Almanacs. The sound ? Well, it IS loose; they've got a lot to learn.They've picked up the glitter and the glitz of the 60s and are tossing it back at us 30 years down the pike. (There's that cycle again.)But the enthusiasm they exhibited was a joy to see. They really like to sing these great songs.and the audience seems quite enthusiastic too.

But is enthusiasm enough? Let's hope they discover musical depth somewhere down the road. They haven't exactly found it yet. That's the bad news. The good news is that maybe we can get some gigs opening shows for them.

Art Thieme
(Damn, I've been listening to Bill and Alan and all for a while now and I've been wanting to call them at the radio show but can't do that while I'm on line and, worse than that, I don't have the phone number. Would somebody please send me that??? It'd be appreciated.)

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Bob Pacquin
Date: 22 Jun 00 - 01:53 PM

Thanks for the article--just what I was looking for!!!

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Tom Square
Date: 29 Jun 00 - 03:07 PM


or - to see something more current:

p.s. Art is a great guy and I am forever grateful for the cassette of the Almanacs. I still listen to it all the time.

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 01 Jul 00 - 09:24 PM

Tom Square,

Is this Tom Goodkind I'm talkin' to? Geez, there's been a ton of water over the dam since that fest in downtown Tulsa. The next year Kate Wolf and Roalie S. & I did a workshop in a Rocky Rococo store front. Totally inappropriate, but somehow "right" given the ambiance of the entire happening.

Thanks for those two sites. Glad to see all the success you 3 had. (I bet you were glad too.) But why didn't you call me to open a show or two? (only joking) Strange, I lost sight of you after Tulsa and didn't realize all that went down. Give my best to the others.

And I'm glad you are enjoying that cassette of the Almanacs. I hope you re-dubbed it as it's probably pretty brittle by now. All of those songs have been put on a CD I'm pretty sure.

Art Thieme

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: John Hardly
Date: 25 Feb 10 - 06:51 PM

I was tickled to find that there are some youtubes of this fabulous trio here and here

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 25 Feb 10 - 07:30 PM

I don't remember writing in this thread. Strange.

On we go.


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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 25 Feb 10 - 08:42 PM

This brings back great memories. I cherish my vinyl copy of their first LP.   I loved their song "New Generation" - it was sort of an anthem, at least for me, of the music that was being created in the 1980's folk scene. I recall seeing them at Folk City and Speakeasy, and if my memory serves me right - I think they appeared at a benefit we did for WFDU way back when. When Bruce Jay Paskow passed away in the early 90's it brought an end to the group, and we can only imagine what they could have gone on to do.   

I haven't played the LP on my show in years, this might be the incentive to dust off that old vinyl and give them another spin! Thanks for resurrecting this thread!!

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: M.Ted
Date: 26 Feb 10 - 12:54 AM

I great and fun group--it was terribly sad about Bruce Jay Paskow. Also sad that it's impossible to find their CD's anymore.

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 26 Feb 10 - 01:51 PM

Reading Art Thieme's take on the old coffee house scene, and the media's portrayals of it, both now and then, I had a deja vu attack. In about 1958, a former chiropractor named Dave Barber moved from Los Angeles to Fresno, California and started up a little coffee house called The Renaissance. We couldn't often travel to L.A. or "The City" to places like the Ash Grove or Purple Onion, so this was our own little version.

It had the typical period decor; flat black mostly, with some overhead lighting and a little stage along one wall. People sat on pillows or at small tables. Smells from the back were of coffee, cinnamon and cloves, hot cider, etc. Because we were near enough to San Francisco, some of the "Beat" dress and manner appeared, though that era was fast disappearing both in New York and the Bay Area. It was a real eclectic mix of locals. There was always at least one table with a chess set and a couple of faux-seedy looking fellows with beards and Trotsky hats, smoking bulldog pipes and philosophizing - we thought.

The music was mostly from us local yokel folkels, from farm kids to college students, with an occasional visit from pros like a Randy Sparks (pre-New Christy Minstrels) or a Jesse "Lone Cat" Fuller, a one man band and composer of "San Francisco Bay Blues." Ed Rush and the late George Cromarty, who wrote "Plastic Jesus," were local guys.

We'd all sit around and exchange ideas, instruments - where to get a deal on a used Martin or do a special tuning, etc. It was a second home for a lot of us and a safe place to try and fail as we learned our music. A few of the people from those days are still involved in music in that region including my old mentor, Jon Adams, one of the great natural storytellers. I wonder how many of you had similar places in your own home or college towns. New thread, or retread?

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Subject: RE: Curious about 'The Washington Squares'
From: John Hardly
Date: 26 Feb 10 - 03:07 PM

All I had was a cassette from the '80s. When I saw they had the youtubes (the ones I linked to last night), I immediately went to amazon and found that I could download the entire album in mp3. GREAT album.

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