with my three chords and hand-painted
T-shirt, guitar case, and briefcase ...
When I was a dewy-eyed teen, I didn't want to be a rock singer, I wanted to be a folk singer.
Well, no, strike that -- I wanted to be what I thought a folk singer was, as exemplified by the pop groups who were covering folk songs in the late 1950's and early 1960's, such as the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary. I didn't know from real folk singers -- HUAC had laid low the Weavers; Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were years in my future, and the folk revival of Greenwich Village was far away and no how making it onto the local radio.
PP&M, were the faces of folk where I lived -- two bearded guys and a skinny long-haired blonde. The beatnik era had mostly faded, but still hung on in a few coffee houses, and putting on a black turtleneck shirt and spouting poetry while playing bongo drums had become a staple of comedy bits in movies and on the tube; still, the Beats were a draw for the young and restless. I can remember going to such places, cigarette smoke so thick you couldn't see the poets, and thinking how cool it was.
PP&M were an attempt to make a folk super-group, by their manager, Albert Grossman. He gathered up the three, changed Noel Stookey's name to "Paul," because he liked the sound better, and rehearsed the hell out of them in a bunch of old standards given a pop lilt. It was two guitars and the uncredited fourth member of the trio, the bass player, of which there were several -- Dick Knise was the first, I think -- and sicced them on the world in 1961.
They took off like a rocket.
They had one #1 single in their career, and only a few other songs that made it into the top ten, but their albums sold steadily and well, staying on the charts for years, and they were quite the hot trio in their time. Everybody knew who they were. They were in every piece of film footage about the civil rights movement and the anti-war rallies -- King's I-have-a-dream speech? Right there.
Grossman also managed a kid named Bobby Zimmerman, who used the stage name Bob Dylan, and Grossman took several of his songs and gave them to PP&M. First Dylan song I heard was "Blowin' in the Wind," then "Don't Think Twice," both which sounded a lot better from PP&M than they did from Bob. Bob is a brilliant writer. As a singer ... Bob is a brilliant writer ...
PP&M eventually got around to writing their own material, and those songs are among their best-remembered: Puff the Magic Dragon (Yarrow, with Leonard Lipton); The Great Mandala, by Yarrow; The Wedding Song, by Stookey, for Yarrow's marriage. I Dig Rock and Roll Music, by Stookey, and Jim Mason.
Their sole #1 hit was Leaving on a Jet Plane, by John Denver.
It was probably about 1966 that PP&M came to LSU, where I was a student. I really wanted to see them, and not just from the stands, so early that morning, I went to the cow palace where they were going to do their concert that evening. This was Louisiana State University & Agricultural and Mechanical College, and the venue for the show was in the same building used to hold livestock shows and rodeos ...
In those days, security was not as good as it is now, and I got to the place before anybody started watching the doors. I wandered around as if I belonged there, started helping the roadies set stuff up, and nobody said anything to me. Roadies assumed I was with the college crew, and the college crew figured I was a roadie. The end result of which was that I got to be back stage before the concert cranked, and somehow managed to find my way into the dressing room where PP&M were tuning up. Noel sent me and another kid out to get them some soft drinks -- the days of a fully-stocked dressing room as part of the contract were in the future -- and we did. Tipped us each a buck, and I kept that one for years until times got really lean.
I remember little of that meeting, being a star-struck fanboy. I did realize while looking at their gear that Stookey's guitar case was easily worth three or four times what I had paid for my guitar, it being hand-tooled leather and custom made. The guitar, a classical, was probably more spendy than what my parents paid for their house ...
My wife and I saw them years later on a reunion tour, and that's where the title of this entry comes from. Somebody asked them about Republican folk singers ...
Fifteen years or so ago, before the internet was so encompassing, I heard that Stookey was into computers and I tracked him down via some BBS and exchanged a couple of emails with him. Thanked him for being an inspiration, and got a nice response. I expect he had heard it before.
I saw the trio on PBS during pledge eon last week. They have gone bald -- two of the three, anyhow -- and gotten heftier -- Mary is twice the woman she was -- but they still have the musical and vocal chops.