Pete Seeger & The Weavers
Wasn’t That A Time? Their 28 finest 1949-1953
The Weavers: Ronnie Gilbert, Soprano (b.1926), Pete Seeger, Tenor (1919-2014), Fred Hellerman, Baritone (b. 1927), Lee Hays, Bass (1914-1981). Tracks 9 & 10 with Terry Gilkyson.
RETROSPECTIVE RECORDS RTR 4241 [77:00]
To anyone growing up in the 1950s as I was, and was involved in any way with progressive causes, the name of Pete Seeger and The Weavers will resonate strongly. Whether it was such songs as Rock Island Line made famous by Lonnie Donegan, If I Had A Hammer sung by Paul Robeson or The Wreck Of The Sloop John B which reached high in the charts thanks to The Beach Boys 1966 album Pet Sounds, the songs sung by the group became synonymous with the era. This issue is timely coming as it does so close after Pete Seeger’s death aged 94 in January this year.
The story of how the group The Weavers grew out of The Almanac Singers and later People’s Songs is the story of a bunch of people who believed that bringing the songs they sung to a wide audience was an element to be used to help make the world a better place. At the same time it is the story of the bigoted attitudes of the America of the 1950s in which an atmosphere of hysteria at the perceived ‘red threat’ lead to all kinds of injustices that affected the very lives and livelihoods of a whole host of actors, writers, film producers and directors, artists and performers, including these.
Following a breakthrough in 1950 with an orchestral version of Tzena, Tzena, Tzena coupled with Goodnight, Irene that shot them to the top of the charts The Weavers enjoyed two years of great success recording for Decca thanks to the enlightened view of some of its executives. Unfortunately that success came to an abrupt end with two members of the group, Lee Hays and Seeger being summoned by the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) presided over by the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy. Hays took the Fifth Amendment while Seeger cited the First Amendment and refused to answer the charge that he was a member of the Communist Party. Despite having his conviction overturned in 1961 his success and that of the group as a whole had already crashed since the FBI ensured that they were frozen out from any TV appearances and Decca had already ended their contract in 1953 and deleted all their records from its catalogue. Apart from a few periods when the group, sometimes augmented by some new members, re-united for the odd record or performing date, The Weavers effectively disbanded in 1955 with Pete Seeger going on to establish an enviable solo career, sometimes in partnership with his half sister Peggy.
This CD is from their successful period with Decca and includes a wide range of material, some humorous like So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh, The Roving Kind and A-Round The Corner, some ‘folk’ based such as When The Saints Go Marching In, Rock Island Line and Bring Me A Little Water Sylvie, and songs shot through with social conscience in support of working people like Hard, Ain’t It Hard, If I Had A Hammer and Follow The Drinking Gourd, but all of them are sung with genuine feeling for the words. As the poet Carl Sandburg said “The Weavers are out of the grass roots of America. When I hear America singing, the Weavers are there” and as booklet note writer Greg Gormick adds “They still are”. President Obama, in his tribute following Pete Seeger’s death in January, said “Once called ‘America’s tuning fork’, Pete Seeger believed in the power of song, but more importantly he believed in the power of community. To stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move his country closer to the America he knew it could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger”. What pride Pete would have felt hearing that a President of the United States could be moved to say all that for it means that the times have certainly changed for the better and Pete and The Weavers played their part in that change.
For all those who knew them while they were active it will be a real pleasure to hear this disc which has been cleaned up to bring the sound out as good as new and for any that have never heard them but enjoy this kind of music it will be a revelation.
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1. Wasn’t That A Time?
2. If I Had A Hammer
3. Around The World
4. Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
5. Lonesome Traveller
6. So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh
7. The Wreck Of The Sloop John B
8. The Roving Kind
9. Across The Wide Missouri
10. On Top of Old Smoky
11. Follow the Drinking Gourd
12. The Frozen Logger
13. Darling Cory
14. Easy Rider Blues
15. When The Saints Go Marching In
16. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
17. Go Where I Send Thee
18. Old Paint
20. The Midnight Special
21. A-Round The Corner
22. Hard, Ain't It Hard
23. Bay of Mexico
24. Oh! My Darlin' Clementine
25. Rock Island Line (Rock Island Shuffle)
26. Taking It Easy
27. Bring Me Li'l Water, Sylvie
28. Goodnight, Irene