(See Episode #1, below, for the full history of this ongoing undertaking.)
Check back weekly for more songs from Peter's pandemic "Sing Out the Darkness" efforts, singing out to his Seattle neighbors. Peter's recordings of each song are found at the bottom of each posted episode.
(See Episode #1, below, for the full history of this ongoing undertaking.)
[NOTE: This episode was originally sent out as an email two days after the attempted coup and storming of the US Capitol Building on 1/6/21 by Trump supporters]
I prepared this next episode of "Sing Out the Darkness - Virtual Edition" a few days ago. I recorded the song and wrote what follows last Monday. Waking up today, Thursday morning, after witnessing Donald Trump's attempted coup and terrorist assault he unleashed on our nation's capitol, I thought the seeming simplistic idealism of the song I had chosen just might not fit the time in which we now find ourselves. But then I remembered the quote I have on the door to my music room, from Sojourner Truth, the former slave who became a central leader of the abolitionist movement and later the women's movement from the 1840s until her death in 1883:
And so I have now decided that this episode's song is both timely and one that I will keep singing as we all continue to struggle in the "good fight" to preserve and protect our liberties. Endure. - Peter
The Song: “Keep on the Sunny Side” - by the Carter Family
Hopefully this song will guide us in the coming year.
For those of you who may not know the history of The Carter Family, many have said that they are the true foundation of what became both country and folk music. In August 1927, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara Carter, and her pregnant 18-year-old cousin Maybelle spent 8 hours traveling 25 miles, fording three creeks, while having three flat tires in a borrowed car. The were traveling from their home of Mace Springs in the Poor Valley of Western Virginia to the big city of Bristol, Tennessee. A.P. was responding to an ad in the local paper that the Victor Talking Machine company would have a representative in Bristol that week, recording local musicians who wanted to audition for Victor .
(A.P. standing, Maybelle on guitar and harmony vocals, Sara on autoharp and lead vocals, 1927)
As a result of the 6 songs they recorded on August 1 and 2, 1927, they were signed to the Victor Company and became the first stars of a genre of music which would later become known as County Music. Their first recordings, along with those of Jimmy Rogers, who also auditioned for Victor in Bristol that week, became known as the foundational “Big Bang” of Country Music. Before the Carter Family, there was not reference to this type of music as “country”. If it was called anything, it was referred to as “hillbilly” music.
It is not a stretch to say the songs of the Carter Family were also the foundation for the later folk revival of the 1940s -1960s. The Carter Family songs such as “It Takes a Worried Man (Worried Man Blues)”, “Wildwood Flower” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, deeply influenced the music and lives of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan and countless more.
“Keep on the Sunny Side” became the Carter Family’s signature song. A.P. had known this song since he was a boy, as it likely appeared in his church hymnal, originally written in 1898. When some of my generation rediscovered the music of the Carter Family though the seminal recording of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, the second song on that album was “Keep on the Sunny Side”, led by Mother Maybelle Carter. It is a great version.
Here is a link to the original recording made by the Carter Family for Victor on their third recording session, in New Jersey in May 1928. Sara was the distinctive high lead singer. Maybelle is playing her signature guitar style which later became known as “The Carter Scratch”. (A.P. would wander in and out, providing low vocal harmony as he was so moved.)
My version of this Carter Family song is found at the bottom of this posted episode. Careful listeners may detect that I changed the last two lines of the last verse of the song. Not raised in the Carters’ fundamental Southern Christian traditions reflected in the original1898 hymn, I changed the original lines:
And let us trust in our Savior always
He’ll keep us everyone in His care.
As we sing, may the clouds drift away
Let our voices as one fill the air.
(I believe Pete Seeger would have called this “the Folk Process”)
In July 2015, Judy and I took a week-long trip down what is now called “The Crooked Road, a designated route in Western Virginia that takes you though many of the towns and locations where Country Music and bluegrass music first arose. We attended the 41th annual Carter Family Fold musical gathering in Maces Spring, where AP was born, and Carter family members still live. We traveled down the little rural road, named the AP Carter Highway, to the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church and the Carter family burial plot, just a couple miles south of Maces Spring. On a very hot July day, I sang the song to A.P.’s grave:
Embedded into both A.P. and Sara’s gravestones is a replica in bronze of the Victor record, “Keep on the Sunny Side”:
Sara’s grave: (While Sara is buried here with the Carter family, she and A.P. divorced in 1936, after which she married A.P.'s first cousin, Coy Bayes. Sara moved to California where she lived for the rest of her life. Amazingly, she continued to perform and record as The Carter family with A.P. and Maybelle until 1943. In the 1960s and early 1970s she had occasional reunions and made some recordings with Maybelle):
(Maybelle died in 1978 and is buried in Henderson, Tennessee, where she lived.)
Here is my recording of "Keep on the Sunny Side" (Click "Download File" to listen):
The Song: "Six Feet Away" by John McCutcheon, 2020.
This was the last song Judy and I sang to our neighbors on October 2, 2020 during our "Covid Caroling" version of my Friday evening "Sing Out the Darkness" sessions. By October, the weather had gotten colder and rainy, and it was getting darker by 7:00 PM when we sang, so I had to end the "season". In April when I began my Friday evening singing out to our neighbors, I never imagined the weekly singing would go on for so long.
This song seemed like an appropriate song to finish with. I believe bandmate Pat McIntyre sent me the link in September to John McCutcheon's great rendition of his newly written song. I was immediately taken with the song and began working on trying to learn it from his recording. The song is, sadly, perfect for these times.
In my recording, Judy joined me on the harmony for the last two choruses and the bridge. Also, I just realized that things sound better if you have the ability to listen with speakers, headphones, or ear buds - the tinny speakers on our iPads and iPhones are worse than the old speakers on transistor radios. (Boy, does that reference date me!)
Here is the version that inspired me, performed on his recently released CD by its author and great folk performer of the last 40 years, John McCutcheon:
It occurred to me that next week, when I normally would send out the next episode on Thursday evening, and the following Thursday evening, are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. My guess is that folks will have many other things on your minds besides reading emails, so I think I will take a two week break from sending out these emails.
Season's Greetings, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Back at you in 2021!
Here is my version of "Six Feet Away" - (Click "Download File" to listen)
The Song: “Well, Well, Well” – written by Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp, 1961.
This song has been covered by many people, most notably Peter, Paul, and Mary. But I became interested in it only fairly recently when I heard the writer of the song, Bob Gibson, perform it with his singing partner Hamilton Camp on their live album recorded in 1961 at the legendary Chicago folk club Gate of Horn. I decided to learn it from their recording and our band Clallam County was working it up before we had to stop our weekly rehearsals in late February.
My attached recording (below) is done making a multi-track recording of myself singing each part separately. I loved the three-note ending that Gibson and Camp do but could never get that down. With Judy’s help, the band figured out our three vocal parts to that ending, but we never finalized our version. Just today, I finally worked on that ending and spent a few hours trying to record those last three vocal notes.
And here is Bob Gibson’s original version on YouTube. Amazing what music they got from a single guitar, a bass and their voices:
About Bob Gibson:
I am embarrassed to admit that it was only in the last 5 years that I fully realized the important role Bob Gibson played in the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. If you are interested, you can Google him (just make sure you don’t get directed to the famous baseball player, Bob Gibson.) One of the many things that he was known for was introducing Joan Baez to the world. In 1959, Gibson was a big name in the folk scene and was one of the headliners performing at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959. Without the permission or knowledge of the festival organizers, he brought the unknown 18-year-old Joan Baez up on stage to sing two songs with him. Here is a recording of the first song they sang:
Bob Gibson with Joan Baez at Newport, 1959:
Needless to say, after that performance, the rest is history.
I also like this YouTube video clip of Gibson performing on the TV show “Hootenanny”, from 1963. While it is definitely a period piece (check the college students he is performing before!), the ease of his performance inspires me.
Here is my version of Bob Gibson's great song, "Well, Well, Well": (Click "Download File" to listen.)
As many of you know, at the start of the global pandemic, from April until October, I decided to play my banjo and sing out to our Seattle Jones Avenue neighbors every Friday night at 7:00 PM for a half an hour at a safe distance from the top of our entryway steps. As the pandemic had precluded our band, Clallam County, from getting together for our weekly rehearsals and cancelled our plans for a 40th Anniversary concert in November, I realized I needed some motivation to keep practicing and singing. Judy joined me on several songs over the months and did couple of kids' performances on Saturday afternoon for the neighborhood kids. Fellow bandmate Pat joined us for a few songs one Friday evening in late June. But in July, our governor needed to impose further restrictions on public gatherings and our weekly “Sing Out the Darkness” gatherings had to end. Judy and I continued on with “Covid Caroling” – walking around our block each Friday evening, singing two songs to those families that requested it. But by October, the weather was changing, and it was getting darker sooner, so “Sing Out the Darkness” closed for the season.
A new idea
Since early October, I have realized that I still need to keep practicing; having a goal/deadline is a good incentive for me. I have come up with the following idea: Each week, by Thursday at midnight, (yeah, I know - I missed the deadline by an hour this first time out!!) my plan is to send an email to those who are interested which will have an attached recording of me singing one of one of the 79 different songs I played during our “Sing Out the Darkness” gathering. (Now I am posting these prior emails to this blog.)
My new plan is requiring me to relearn several of the songs I sang back in the Spring. It also is leading me to make some home-grown recordings of each of the songs in my Rube Goldberg mini-recording booth/studio that I have set up. In future weekly emails, I may include a brief paragraph about that week’s song, and at times, I might include a link or two to other versions of the song, should you be interested. So here it is …
Song: “In This Time” - Peter McKee
I wrote this song early in the pandemic, on March 19, 2020. It is a reworking/rip-off of a great song by Arlo Guthrie that I had recently come across, called “In Times Like These”. Arlo’s original lyrics included a couple of verses that focused on some other issues, so, in the long tradition of the “folk process”, I rewrote some of Arlo’s lyrics to fit our current situation. (I have attached the recording of my rewrite of the song to this email.)
Right after I recorded the song, I decided to post it to YouTube, but to do that, I needed some video content to go along with the song. Here is a link to what I came up with. (Looking at the video now, I am somewhat disheartened at how accurate the images were that I had selected back in March about Trump and his response to the pandemic. )
Finally, here is a link to Arlo’s original song that inspired my rewrite. (To skip Arlo's monologue introducing the song, you can scroll ahead to 2:40 in the video.)
Here is my version of this great song: (Click "Download File" to listen.)