Tag Archives: Music et al

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Walker’s “Improv in A-minor” live in the Bronson Caves Griffith Park, LA

When my son recommended that I listen to Karen Dalton, I didn’t realize how much I’d like her and (again) be disappointed with myself that I hadn’t known of her already.

As often happens, the “discovery” of one thing leads to another and Dalton led to Peter Walker, someone who was also part of the folk revival of the early 1960s.

With Peter Walker the wonderful thing is, beside his own peripatetic story, is how many other well-known 60s musicians he crossed paths with.

This little blog post isn’t meant to be a biography, but merely an overview. I will include several links in this piece if you’re interested in more.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Boston > San Francisco

Walker was born in Boston in 1938 into a musical family. His father played folk guitar, his mother a classical pianist. He didn’t play guitar in public until 1959, when he traveled to San Francisco.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Intersections

Here is an example of one of those musical intersections. In San Francisco, he taught some guitar to Jim Gurley who later became guitarist with Big Brother and the Holding Company.”

And it was there that Walker first heard Ravi Shankar play and became fascinated with raga.

Walker later he studied with Ravi Shankar (alongside George Harrison and Donovan–more intersections) and with sarad virtuoso Ali Akbar Khah.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Flamenco

A musician with his ears open to all sounds, Walker “discovered” flamenco. He traveled to Spain to learn. He found that the Indian raga and the flamenco had similarities.

In a Jennifer Kelly interview for the Dusted Features site, Walker said,  In both raga and flamenco, the music creates an effect. If you play a predetermined series of notes, it will have a predetermined effect. So it was the process of creating that effect that fascinated me,” he says. “You get a drone, you get a wall of sound going, and then you play melodies into it, which are entertaining or rhythmically changing.

Islam’s influence in both places also connects the styles.  Muslim conquerors in Delhi sent musician captives back to their outposts in Granada.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Timothy Leary

Another intersection was Timothy Leary.  In 1965, Timothy Leary felt that Walker’s music would dovetail nicely with the LSD experience and Walker became the music director at a the estate Leary rented in Millbrook, NY.

The site was 2,500 acres and included a 64-room Bavarian baroque mansion and gatehouse that wealthy William “Billy” Mellon Hitchcock (benefiting from a trust fund that in 1963 was giving him $15,000 a week) had bought for $500,000

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Rainy Day Raga

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Vanguard released Walker’s first album, Rainy Day Raga, in 1966.

Matthew Greenwald’s AllMusic review states, “Exploring a tonal range that would be best described as the perfect L.S.D. soundtrack, this album is a gentle, evocative affair, and often recalls some of the passages that Stephen Stills would use for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” among others. Aided by Dylan session veteran Bruce Langhorn on percussion (and by others as well), this is a fine document of a space in time when ragas were just becoming popular in Western music. In a certain way, Walker was a visionary, and this album shows it.”

Second Poem to Karmela or Gypsies Are Important album came out in 1968.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

FBI

As is too often the case, activists come under the undercover scrutiny of government agencies. In the aftermath of the Robert Kennedy assassination, Walker had volunteered to be the caretaker of the White House photo collection that that Jacques Lowe had done for the Kennedy family. At the same time, Walker was involved in the “Americans for Biafra Relief” committee formed by Ted Kennedy.

At one point, an overly ambitious agent looking to score some points planted drugs in the loft. Luckily, Walker found them (and flushed them) before anyone else did and Walker’s friendly connections vouched for his integrity when the planted accused Walker of the drug stash anyway.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

William Kunstler

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

In 1970, Walker was living (insert briefly again) in Detroit where he lived at the Garwood Mansion. He met radical lawyer William Kunstler who was in town to speak about in injustices of the American justice system, particularly as it related to the then-recently imprisoned John Sinclair who had been given a 10-year sentence for giving an undercover agent 2 joints.  (At the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Abbie Hoffman had famously bolted on stage during the Who’s set in an attempt to rouse the crowd to Sinclair’s cause.)

In 2013, Delmore Recording Society released Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms?, a album Walker had recorded in 1969, but “lost” for decades. Kunstler and Walker appear together on the album cover in a picture taken at Garwood Mansion.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Family

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Getting out of the counter-cultural limelight, Walker moved to Woodstock, NY. He married and began to raise a family. He left the traveling performance scene behind, only playing locally, particularly Ron Merians’s the Joyous Lake.

A “few” others played at the Joyous Lake as well…

Walker did not leave the learning scene, particularly the flamenco.

Jennifer Kelly again quoted Walker: So much of music is an expression of feeling. You tell a story with the music but you really, unless it’s an empty character study, it’s more about your feelings. Some guy in Mexico told me, ‘You make me feel the way you do when you play.’ Well, that’s part of the magic of it. That’s what makes it so worthy of pursuit, to be able to do that.

And traveling didn’t end. He designed campers for pick up trucks and with one drove through out the country and often into Mexico.

Using those same mechanical skills, at another point, he lived in Aspen, Colorado in charge of a taxi fleet.

When his children were school age, he moved to NYC. He also went to school and earned a paralegal certificate.

He went to Spain to continue to improve his guitar skills.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

2008

Fortunately for Walker, he was still alive forty years after his second album and Tompkins Square Records released his third album, Echo of My Soul. So many other “unknown” master guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho had died.

Pat Sullivan’s AllMusic review said that the album “… represents a break with the eastern influences of Walker’s ‘60’s output and heralds his latest obsession with flamenco. With the same dedication he brought to earlier collaborations with Ravi Shankar, the New Yorker has immersed himself in the Spanish guitar idiom and has come to be accepted by its vanguard musicians. This new-found mastery resonates throughout ECHOES OF MY SOUL, a beautifully played opus perfect for any fan of flamenco or avant acoustic music.”

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Karen Dalton/2015

As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was Karen Dalton’s story that led me to Peter Walker. They had met in Greenwich Village. Dalton’s story is a sad one.  One that ended with her dying of AIDS, but being cared for by Peter Walker at his Woodstock, NY home in  1993.

Dalton gave Walker intellectual property rights, among which was Dalton’s books of lyrics, which was also stuffed with illustrations. It took a long time before her writings found voices, but in 2015 Tompkins Square Records released Remembering Mountains. On it several songwriters put Dalton’s haunting words to music.

Walker wrote the liner notes.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Catastrophe

On October 22, 2018 fire destroyed Walker’s home, the Ark. Despite trying to rescue his dog (and nearly dying in the attempt), the dog died. The fire destroyed all his belongings including guitars and memorabilia.

Investigators determined an overturned candle caused the fire.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist Walker.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker
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Mid 20th Century News Music

Mid 20th Century News Music

Mid 20th Century News Music

This is the second post on 20th century songs that I’ve come to call “News Music.” As the name hopefully implies, the songs’ intent  was to implicitly or explicitly comment upon, challenge, or simply point out a social problem.

These examples are from 1941 up to the more famous 1960s.

“Freedom’s Road”

In 1942…Langston Hughes wrote the lyrics, Emerson Harper wrote the music, and Josh White sang “Freedom’s Road” in which they attempted to link the war abroad to the struggle for racial justice at home. (next BH, see Jan 17)

Mid 20th Century News Music

This Land Is Your Land

In 1944…Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to This Land Is Your Land (initially titled God Blessed America for Me) in 1940, but not record it until 1944. It was Guthrie’s parody of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America (1938), a song Guthrie felt didn’t express the right sentiment. Guthrie stated: “I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world…that make you take pride in yourself and your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.”

Mid 20th Century News Music

The House I Live In

Abel Meeropol, writer of “Strange Fruit,” was an active member of the American Communist Party. [In 1953, he and his wife would adopt Michael and Robert Rosenberg, the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were executed in 1953.]

Meeropol taught at the De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx for 27 years, but continued to write songs, including Frank Sinatra’s 1945 hit, The House I Live In with Earl Robinson.

The House I Live In” was a 1945 short film written by Albert Maltz and made by producer Frank Ross and Frank Sinatra (as an actor) to oppose anti-Semitism and prejudice at the end of World War II.

It received a special Academy Award in 1946.

Mid 20th Century News Music

People’s Songs

December 31, 1945: Pete Seeger wrote in the People’s Songs newsletter No. 1: “The people are on the march and must have songs to sing. Now in 1946, the truth must reassert itself in many singing voices. There are thousands of unions, people’s organizations, singers and choruses who would gladly use more songs. There are many songwriters, amateur and professional, who are writing these songs. It is clear that there must be an organization to make and send songs of labor and the American people through the land. To do this job we formed People’s Songs, INC. We invite you to join us.”

Mid 20th Century News Music

I Wonder When I’ll Be Called A Man

In 1946…even though serving in World War I, Big Bill Broonzy (1903 – 1958) realized his country was not yet ready to treat him equally. He wrote, “I Wonder When I’ll Be Called A Man.”

Mid 20th Century News Music

We Shall Overcome

In 1947…Zilphia Horton (1910 – 1956) was music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee, an adult education school that trained union organizers and a place committed to democratic principles. Seeger learned “We Shall Overcome.”  there. Seeger included it in a People’s Songs booklet. Martin Luther King, Jr used the phrase in several of his speeches. (see December 10, 1964)

By the mid-1950s, the support of unions and pro-socialistic ideals had so fallen from public disfavor that artists like Seeger looked for another cause to support and effect changes. They found that cause in the civil rights movement.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Finian’s Rainbow

January 10, 1947: Finian’s Rainbow opened on Broadway. Among its songs was “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich” written by Yip Harburg.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Talking Atom (Old Man Atom)

In 1948…Pete Seeger recorded the 1945 Vern Partlow song “Talking Atom (Old Man Atom)” which expressed a fear of atomic energy and its possible consequences based.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Deportees

In 1948: Woody Guthrie  wrote the words to “Deportees” or “Plane Wreck At Los Gatos” in response to an airplane crash which resulted in the deaths of 32 people: 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported to Mexico from California. The news media reference to the workers as simply deportees, never mentioning their names, outraged Guthrie. The Mexican victims were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. There were 27 men and one woman. Only 12 of the victims were ever identified. In deteriorating health due to Huntington’s Disease, it is considered Guthrie’s last great song. In 1958 Martin Hoffman added a melody to Guthrie’s words.

Mid 20th Century News Music

If I Had a Hammer

In 1949: Pete Seeger wrote and the re-assembled Weavers sang “If I Had a Hammer.” Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes first sang it in New York City at a testimonial dinner for the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States, who were then on trial in federal court. In 1962 Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version became a top ten hit.

During the 1950s, protest was coupled with Communism and suppressed particularly during the McCarthy hearings which investigated the purported infiltration of Communism into all areas of American life. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) held these investigations from 1953 to 1954. In 2003, his hearings’ transcripts were released. At that time Carl Levin (Chairman) and Susan Collins (Ranking Member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations), wrote in their Preface to the release of the investigation’s transcripts:

The power to investigate ranks among the U.S. Senate’s highest responsibilities. As James Madison reasoned in The Federalist Papers: ‘‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels governed men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.’’ It is precisely for the purposes of government controlling itself that Congress investigates.

They continued: The phase of the Subcommittee’s history from 1953 to 1954, when it was chaired by Joseph McCarthy, however, is remembered differently. Senator McCarthy’s zeal to uncover subversion and espionage led to disturbing excesses. His browbeating tactics destroyed careers of people who were not involved in the infiltration of our government. His freewheeling style caused both the Senate and the Subcommittee to revise the rules governing future investigations, and prompted the courts to act to protect the Constitutional rights of witnesses at Congressional hearings. Senator McCarthy’s excesses culminated in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, following which the Senate voted overwhelmingly for his censure… These hearings are a part of our national past that we can neither afford to forget nor permit to reoccur.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

In July 1951: folk-music magazine “Sing Out!” published Ed McCurdy’s song, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” McCurdy had written the song in 1950 and Pete Seeger first recorded it on his 1956 album “Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

It has been recorded in seventy-six languages (including covers by The Weavers in 1960, the Chad Mitchell Trio in 1962, Simon & Garfunkel in 1964, Cornelis Vreeswijk in 1964 (in Swedish), Hannes Wader in 1979 (in German), Johnny Cash in 2002, Garth Brooks in 2005, Serena Ryder in 2006, and Charles Lloyd in 2016.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Get That Communist, Joe

In 1954: the Kavaliers sang “Get That Communist, Joe” in which they poked fun at McCarthy’s passion to find Communists everywhere.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Sixteen Tons

In 1955: Tennessee Ernie Ford released “Sixteen Tons,”  a song about the hardships of coal mining. The song’s author is generally credited to Merle Travis who first recorded it in 1946.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

In 1956: Alice Wine wrote lyrics called “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” based on “Old Plow,” a traditional song. It is another example of a musician applying a new meaning to an old song.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Oh Freedom

In 1956: Odetta recorded a Civil War era song called Oh Freedom. The song would become one of the many songs that civil rights activists sang during the 1960s.

Mid 20th Century News Music

Tom Dooley

November 17, 1958: the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart. While not a protest song, protest folk probably owed its commercial success to the Kingston Trio, three guys in crew cuts and candy-striped shirts who honed their act not in Greenwich Village cafes, but in the fraternities and sororities of Stanford University in the mid-1950s. Without the enormous profits that the Trio’s music generated for Capitol Records, it is unlikely that major-label companies would have given recording contracts to those who would challenge the status quo in the decade to come. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, for instance, may have owed their musical and political development to forerunners like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, but they probably owed their commercial viability to the Kingston Trio.

Mid 20th Century News Music
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101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

The military is not for everyone and thinking about the incredible places Jimi Hendrix took playing guitar, it is easy realize that Jimi was one of those ill-suited people.

Jimi’s music was never as political as other musicians of his time, though many call his iconic rendition of the  Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock a counter-cultural anthem.

True. And his 1970 “Machine Gun” is an equally powerful alternate perspective of the times.

Becoming Jimi Hendrix

In 2010, DaCapo Press published Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius by Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber. [NYT review]

The musical part of Jimi Hendrix’s sadly short life is well known, but less known is his path to fame, particularly his time in the military.

This post uses information gathered from Roby and Schreiber’s book.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

Guitar fascination

Growing up in a disruptive, disheveled,  and often overwhelming life, the child Jimi had found solace with a broom stick that was his make-believe guitar.

Later he made a guitar out of a cigar box.

Jimi’s first actual instrument was a broken worn down one-stringed ukulele his recalcitrant  father had found.

Then a friend of his father cajoled a still stubborn Al Hendrix to buy a used acoustic guitar for $5.

Eventually Jim was able to purchase an electric guitar and played in various bands. He, like many musicians before him, faced the dilemma of playing popular covers or playing his own compositions.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

The law steps in

May 2, 1961:  police stopped a car with four black kids in it. Among them was  18-year-old high school dropout Jimi. The car was stolen. Jimi said he didn’t know that. Police released him to his father.

May 5, 1961:  similar arrest. Jimi locked up for 7 days.

On May 16, 1961, at his hearing, Jimi accepted the judge’s plea bargain: a suspended 2-year sentence in exchange for enlisting in the military.

May 29, 1961: looking forward to a change, Jimi departed Seattle on a southbound train toward Fort Ord, near Monterey, California for eight weeks of basic training. He decided he wanted to earn the 101st Division Screaming Eagle patch.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

Fort Campbell

November 8, 1961: having gotten through Basic, Jimi arrived at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

Billy Cox

Jimi wrote to Betty Morgan, his girlfriend and apparent fiance, requesting she send his Danelectro guitar: his true love and what kept him from developing any camaraderie with his fellow soldiers .

Except one.

Billy Cox who heard Jimi playing and was instantly enthralled. Billy knew how to play bass. Together they began to play local gigs–still in the Army Airborne.

Billy and Jimi’s constant search for time to play and practice obviously interfered with their military obligations. Despite cleverly designed maneuvers they used to evade military duties,  late night gigs often meant sleeping on the job.

In January 1962, Jimi and Billy formed the King Kasuals. Gary Ferguson (drums) and occasionally Major Charles Washington on Sax. The played at service clubs and occasionally in Clarksville, Tennessee.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

GED & some military successes

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

January 11, 1962: a proud, but increasingly homesick Jimi received his 101st Division Screaming Eagle patch.

Because he’d dropped out of high school, Jimi had to take the General Equivalency Diploma exams. He began on the 11th.

January 12: Jimi took the second round of GED.

January 15: the third round.

January 16: the fourth round.

January 22: the fifth and final round of the GED.

January 30: Hendrix is promoted to private first class.

February 7: Jimi has a successful parachute jump.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

Military reversals

February 16, 1962: Captain Gilbert Batchman requested an evaluation of Hendrix. Part of that report read that, “Individual is unable to conform to military rules and regulations.”

The warning that the Army might discharge him did not worry Hendrix.

March 22:  another successful parachute jump.

March 31: Jimi missed bed check after a late night gig. Rank reduced to general private status. His excuse was: “delay due to payday activities and weekend.

April 14: another late gig, another missed bed check. Restricted for 14 days from April 16 to 29.

May 22: a mental hygiene consultation done. Report included that Hendrix “There are no disqualifying mental defects sufficient to warrant disposition through medical channels…”

May 23: Hendrix missed bed-check. Again restricted. May 24 – June 6. That same day, Pvt. James Mattox, a fellow soldier, filed a report on Hendrix alleging dereliction of duties.

May 24: Jimi’s platoon Sgt James C Speers filed a report which included: He has no interest whatsoever in the Army.

May 28: Sgt Louis Hoekstra filed a statement against Hendrix for missing bed check and being obsessed with his guitar.

May 31: Capt. John Halbert wrote in a report that, “The individual’s behavior problems are not amendable to hospitalization and or counseling. Unit punishment has no effect…”

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

Discharged

June 1: supply officer Lyndon Williams filed a report against Hendrix for lack of interest and inability to concentrate.

June 2: Sgt William Bowman filed a report against Hendrix for sleeping on duty, masturbating in the latrine, and owning money for a laundry bill.

June 27: Jimi received his general discharge certificate. The reason given was “unsuitability–under honorable conditions.”

June 29: the honorable discharge approved.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

Gone

July 2: Jimi left Fort Campbell with $400 in his pocket. He decided to go to Clarksville, TN and visit the Pink Poodle, a place he and Billy Cox had played.

He bought drinks for himself and others and enjoyed himself.  He rented a room nearby and started to work odd jobs.

October 18: Billy Cox was discharged and joined Hendrix in Clarksville.

November 13: Hendrix meets guitarist Larry Lee.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

2,470

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged

2,470 days later Hendrix, Cox, and Lee played together at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

101st Airborne Jimi Hendrix Discharged
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