"Pete Seeger was the person who inspired me to play 5-string banjo, 12-string guitar and to achieve my life long dream of becoming a troubadour. It was his guitar and banjo style that I carried over into the instrumental sound of the BYRDS. I will always admire his positive influence on the world and on my life. We will all miss him." Roger McGuinn, January 28, 2014
always wakes me every morning with a song and a cup of tea. Today, after he
sang the morning song, he said, “Pete Seeger quietly passed away last night.”
morning walk was filled with our Pete Seeger memories.
I fell in love with Roger, my pathways were filled with some impressive
individuals. I worked with George Burns on a TV show. I sat next to Frank Sinatra at an intimate
dinner gathering of friends. But, it wasn’t until Roger introduced me to Earl
Scruggs and then Pete Seeger did I become speechless.
Presley was Jim’s inspiration for picking up a guitar. He was fascinated with
the rock-a-billy sound he heard on his transistor radio. Music consumed his
every thought and school was just a drag. Getting kicked out of study hall for
playing his guitar was so normal that the headmaster of the Latin School of
Chicago was mildly amused at how often Jim McGuinn was sitting in his office.
were only two classes Jim enjoyed; physics and Miss Ganter’s music class. His
music teacher changed the direction of Jim’s life when she invited her friend,
Bob Gibson to perform at the school.
Gibson entered from the side of the stage with his instrument head stock first.
Immediately Jim perked up. He thought it was a guitar but his heart sank when
he realized it was a banjo. The teenage sulking moment lasted until Bob Gibson
began his innovative banjo picking and telling of stories. Then Jim’s posture
changed in his seat and his attention didn’t swerve for a second. He was
Gibson left the building. Jim eagerly ran to Miss Ganter with a new born quest.
He had to find out what was that kind of music he had just heard. She smiled.
One of her star pupils wanted to know more about something. “That is folk music
and there is a new school opening up close by called the “Old Town School of
was at the Old Town School under the tutelage of Frank Hamilton, where Jim
learned about Pete Seeger. He even bought a Pete Seeger long neck banjo to learn
the intricate picking styles that he carried into the sound of the BYRDS.
the years, Jim rode the rocket of rock and roll with the techniques and songs
of Pete Seeger.
1980s were quiet years. In 1982, Roger began his lifelong dream of being a
troubadour just like Pete Seeger and Bob Gibson. He made me his road manager
and we traveled the world.
the end of the 80s, Roger decided to quit performing two shows a night. He didn’t
feel two shows in one night were fair to the audiences. He had to hold back
some of his energy on the first show to be ready for the second. Because of
that decision, the Bottom Line in New York City was now off his touring roster.
Pepper, the club owner, really wanted Roger to play in commemoration of the
Bottom Line’s twentieth anniversary since Roger was one the first acts to
perform on his stage. Roger played the Bottom Line one more time for Allan.
After the two concerts I went to Allan’s office. That often felt like going to
the principal’s office. After finishing the business side of the evening, Allan
told me that he really wanted Roger to be part his Songwriter Series. Without even much thought, I said, “If you can
get Pete Seeger, Roger will do it.” I knew there was nothing more in the world
that Roger wanted but to be on the same stage with Pete Seeger. He almost had a
chance several times, but somehow the opportunity was always withdrawn.
following Monday, I picked up the phone and it was the crusty Allan Pepper, but
he sounded as excited as a high school kid. “I just called Pete’s house and he
answered! I asked him if he would do the series with Roger McGuinn.” Pete told
him, “He is a good kid. Sure I’ll do it.” Allan and I were both laughing with
then got very serious. “I want this to be special. Give me time to think about
the other two songwriters I will invite. I’ll let you know.”
walked into the Bottom Line around 4pm for the sound check, or maybe I should
say, we floated into the Bottom Line. Our excitement was so intense that Roger
had stage fright the minute he opened his guitar case. The other performers
came in after us. Ted Hawkins, a street busker from Los Angeles who received
fame in Europe but never in the United States, Joe South, a renowned songwriter
and Pete Seeger, the consummate folk singer. Roger was very humbled to be on
the stage with these men.
sound check was short and we were hungry. I was standing at the foot of the
stage with Allan Pepper when I motioned to Roger to ask Pete if he would like to
join us for dinner. Pete said yes! Allan and I couldn’t contain the look of
happiness on our faces, we felt like the audience in a moment of history.
Roger and I walked to Minetta Tavern where we were meeting Don DeVito, Roger’s
old friend from Columbia Records and producer of “Thunderbyrd.” As we walked,
Pete told Roger that Frank Hamilton, Roger’s guitar and banjo teacher and Pete’s
replacement in the Weavers, was the arranger on “We Shall Overcome.” He also
stopped and talked to a young man about a tree in the park.
were already sitting at the table when Don arrived. He broke into a big grin
when he saw Pete. It was before cell phones, so we didn’t have a chance to tell
him of the special guest we were bringing. The dinner hour was spent with all
three men telling stories. I was again a member of the audience. Don picked up
the dinner check that night with great joy.
It began to drizzle when we left Minetta’s. We
had only one umbrella. I ran to a shop and bought the biggest umbrella I could
find for $10. It was huge and grey. We still have it and immediately began calling
it the Pete Seeger memorial umbrella. The evening was already a wonderful
memory. I felt like I just had dinner with Santa Claus.
|Ted Hawkins, Joe South, Pete Seeger, Roger McGuinn|
Scelsa, the moderator, began the evening introducing all four gentlemen as they
took seats. Ted Hawkins was stage right. Joe South and Pete Seeger were stage
center and Roger was stage left. Each songwriter took turns singing some of the
songs they had written. When Joe South sang, “Games People Play” Pete jumped
out of his chair and hugged him saying, “I always wanted to know who wrote that
close the show, Vin asked each writer to sing a song they wished they had
written. Roger sang “Turn,Turn, Turn” to end the first concert but he surprised
everyone at the end of the second concert. He sang, “Bells of Rhymney.” Two
songs Pete Seeger had penned from
at the Bottom Line was small. There were two dressing rooms. We shared a room
with Joe South and his wife. After the final concert while chatting with them about the joys of train
travel , Pete came to the door and quietly said, “ ‘Bells
of Rhymney.’ I've never heard it sung so well.” Roger and I both had tears rolling
down our faces when Pete left the room.
Rush called and told me a man from the program “Kennedy Center Honors” wanted
to have Roger on the show. I had never heard of the show, but called to find
out what they wanted. What they wanted was for Roger to appear with Joan Baez
and Arlo Guthrie to give tribute to Pete Seeger. Once again, I didn’t even have
to check with Roger. The answer was, “He would be most honored.”
was one small problem for us. I had just gotten out of surgery. Standing for
long periods would be impossible and the recording of the show in Washington DC
consisted of three days of receptions and dinners, but to be in the presence of
Pete Seeger again was worth all the discomfort.
were met at the airport by a volunteer. She was a lobbyist and not the first
one we were to meet. During the three day affair, she was responsible for us
getting to where we needed to be on time.
is very hard to explain the amazing moments we spent in those three short days.
We knew this was different from our normal rock and roll events when at the
first morning brunch we found ourselves in the midst of the “A” list.
people were being honored: Kirk Douglas, Aretha Franklin, Harold Prince, Morton
Gould and Pete Seeger. Their families and friends were all there. You can just
imagine some of them. Michael Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Garrison Keillor, Alan
Alda and Walter Cronkite to name a few.
sound check was scheduled for the afternoon. Since I needed to sit down, I
decided to go into the auditorium and watch the proceedings. I was the only one
sitting in the whole place. Our hostess came walking up to me with a funny look
on her face. I imagined I had already done something wrong. She stood next to
me looking down at a ticket in her hand with a perplexed look on her face, then
she laughed, “You are sitting in the exact seat you have for the ceremony!” Out
of 2350 seats, I found my place.
first night was a dinner at the State Department. We were excited to see Pete,
but Toshi his wife quickly intercepted us and said that he wasn’t supposed to know
who was paying tribute to him. It was to be a surprise! We found our table about
the same time Joan Baez did. As we were looking at the place cards, she
mentioned to me that she didn’t know the people sitting next her and she seemed
concerned. I told her I would fix that. I moved the place cards and surrounded
her with Arlo and Roger. Now I probably will be black balled from all State
Department dinners after they find out about this, but hey, I haven’t been
invited back in 20 years, so maybe I have been!
turned out to be a good thing, me switching those name cards, I ended up
sitting next to another lobbyist. But this wasn’t just any lobbyist. She was
the first female lobbyist in Washington, DC, Ann Wexler. I thoroughly enjoyed
the evening. I didn’t realize how fortuitous sitting next to Ms. Wexler was
until the next evening.
the Honors ceremony we were all invited to the White House, where President
Clinton would present the honorees with a medal. Our lobbyist driver took us to
the gate of the House, told us that a bus would take us to the Kennedy Center
and after the ceremony she would meet us at the dinner reception. We got out of
the car in our finest clothes and she drove off. The guard at the gate asked
our names. He looked and looked, but Mr. and Mrs. Roger McGuinn was not on any
list. It began to drizzle and we didn’t have the Pete Seeger memorial umbrella
with us. Our driver was gone, lines of cars were pulling up and I really wanted
to sit down. It seemed our only alternative was to walk to the street, hail a
taxi and go straight to the Kennedy Center. Just as we made the decision, Ms.
Wexler arrived and came over to us. She asked why were we standing in the wet
night air. We told her our dilemma. She walked over to a very important looking
man who lowered his head in respect to listen to her. Ms Wexler returned to us
and said everything would be all right in just a moment.
minute later, the important looking man, came up to the gate keeper and in a
desperate voice, said ”Ask them if they have a driver’s license.” The gate
keeper turned to us with an odd look of shock on his face and asked, “Do you
have a driver’s license?” We pulled them out and without even examining them, he
turned and hollered to the important man, “Yep they got one.” “ Well, let them
waiting in the entrance, Roger noticed a sign, “No Cameras”.
do you see that sign?”
I wasn’t about to give up my pocket camera. He just shook his head, not the least
entire “A” list were ushered into a room for the medal ceremony. We were among
the last, and I was standing on my toes to see. A beautiful lady I had met at the
state department dinner because I complimented her on the stunning dress she wore, noticed
me in the back. She motioned for me to come up front with her. I was now right
by the platform. Another beautiful woman, a renowned actress, was standing
there too and she had a camera like mine. I told her I was so happy to see her
camera and she immediately admonished me. She said that if she got into
trouble, she was going to blame me. So you understand why I’m not mentioning
her name. I think she would find me to this day.
the ceremony, President Clinton had to leave in the helicopter for an important
international meeting. Roger and I watched from the window of a small red room.
Wexler saw us. ”Have you already gone through the reception line for Mrs.
We didn’t want to tell her we hadn’t planned on it.
you should. The Christmas Tree is beautiful.”
then, we would do anything Ms. Wexler told us to do.
got into the reception line just behind Joan Baez. Roger’s admiration for Joan
goes way back, so he is always honored to talk with her. While standing there,
the lady behind me got very excited during her conversation and her wine glass
spilled onto the back of my dress. Within moments, two stylishly dressed ladies
whisked me away to a powder room and began attending to my wet evening gown.
was turning out to be another interesting blunder. It was fascinating to listen to the ladies,
who worked in the White House, explain to me that this type of accident is the
very reason no red wine is served in White House receptions. The carpets are
too precious to be harmed by the tip of a glass.
got back to the reception line just I time to watch Joan Baez talk to Mrs.
Clinton. I felt that maybe Mrs. Clinton was a bit in awe of Ms. Baez. Joan was
totally serene. It was the only time I ever got to watch the First Lady up
close and she surprised me with her charm. She was gracious.
the reception, I was ready to sit. Roger and I found the bus for the trip to
the center and sat in the front seats by the door. Once again, it was hard for
us to keep our jaws shut as the “A” list boarded the bus like a college
marching band. Joan got on, smiled at Roger and said “Rolling Thunder.” Wow... and
all this because Pete Seeger lighted the path for Roger to become a folk
Roger began the “Folk Den” in 1995, Jim Musselman became intrigued and
approached Roger to record some songs on disc for the folks who didn’t know how
to download music. That was the moment when the idea to record the “old guard of folk music”
in their homes became a reality. We packed our van and drove around the country to record the masters of folk for "Treasures From The Folk Den." Jim, the founder of Appleseed Records, was
friends with Pete Seeger. He took us to Pete and Toshi’s home in Beacon, NY.
|The original Seeger home built by friends with a hammer.|
showed us around the property and explained that he and Toshi wanted some land,
but they didn’t have much money. They bought this parcel overlooking the Hudson
and began building their home. I smiled when Pete said that every visitor they
had was given a hammer. I began humming in my mind, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning…”
was a pioneer wife. They met at a square dance in New York City. Pete proudly
told us the story of how she put the baby on her hip, walked down the hill with
a bucket to the creek and bought the
bucket splashing with water back up the hill.
|Roger recording Pete Seeger for "Treasures From the Folk Den"|
recorded Pete in his living room on his laptop computer. I managed to hold the
video camera reasonably still during one of the songs. Toshi walked in, looked at our setup and
declared, ”You have a half a million dollar recording studio in a box.” As Roger loves to say, "She got
lunch, which Toshi prepared for us, we packed the computer, camera, microphones
and headed to Jean Ritchie’s house with a jar of homemade jam that Toshi had
given us to give to Jean.
We returned to the Seeger homestead several times. The
last time we were there, I was a bit traumatized driving up the rutted road to
their house in our van. Pete and Toshi came out to meet us. Then Peter jumped
in his car to pick up some foreign reporters at the train station who were
interviewing Roger and Pete together. Pete looked at his watch and told us to
time him. He liked setting records.
|The road to the Seeger homestead|
I asked Toshi
if she ever drove that road. She replied,” I drive it every day.” She was in
“Wow. I’ve always
wondered how long I will be able to drive Roger around the country for
She touched my arm, looked into my eyes and softly
said, “You will do it as long as you need too.”
Roger and I have been blessed to be in the presence of
a great couple. We will miss both of them
but we will always have their inspiration to light our paths.