Peter, Paul and Mary

TrackAlbum
Where Have All The Flowers Gone?Peter, Paul and Mary
Blowin' In The WindIn The Wind
Puff, The Magic DragonMoving
A' Soalin'In Concert
Gilgarra MountainA Song Will Rise
For Lovin' MeA Song Will Rise
Brother (Buddy) Can You Spare A Dime?See What Tomorrow Brings
Early Mornin' RainSee What Tomorrow Brings
The House SongAlbum 1700
Leaving On A Jet PlaneAlbum 1700

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Contributor: Roger Woods

I can’t be the only one for whom Peter, Paul and Mary were the introduction to folk music. In my case, I heard Blowin’ In The Wind in October 1963, probably on Radio Luxembourg. That was a life changing encounter with the work of Bob Dylan.

PPM have been roundly and often justifiably criticised for sounding twee and over-pretty. Folkies hated Puff, The Magic Dragon. Children loved it.

It’s only just occurred to me that PPM gave me my first taste of many others apart from Dylan: Woody Guthrie (This Land Is Your Land on Moving, 1963); Pete Seeger (Where Have All The Flowers Gone? on Peter, Paul and Mary, 1962); Tom Paxton (The Last Thing On My Mind on See What Tomorrow Brings, 1965); Gordon Lightfoot (Early Mornin’ Rain – same album); Tim Hardin (Reason To Believe on Late Again, 1968); John Denver (Leaving On A Jet Plane on Album 1700, 1968, and also a singles #1 in the US and #2 in the UK).

I saw them live at The Winter Gardens in Bournemouth on 2nd October 1965. I waited round by the stage door until they came out after the show. They were generous with their time, particularly given that most of my questions were about Bob Dylan and their meetings with him. Dylan contributed a poem for the sleeve of In The Wind which at the time was a marvellous piece of writing (I reread it a few minutes ago and it seems a tad overblown but still good).

Less prolific in the second half of the sixties and with much more competition, they faded somewhat and released less. They’d still get a mention in dispatches now and again in the music press but they’d had their day. They’d been figureheads of the civil rights movement in the US (singing at the march on Washington in ’63) and they’d helped change popular music for ever. In one way or another they’d been folk royalty and had been in the game from the start of the New York folk club period with Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk and the rest.

Albert Grossman was their manager and mentor. He’d brought them together in the New York of Inside Llewyn Davis in 1961. Together they played for a decade and then separated around 1970. Mary had a string of solo albums. Noel got a bad case of born again christianity and Peter worked on albums and projects in Woodstock and New York.

They reformed in ’78. Mary Travers died in September 2009 from chemotherapy side effects having overcome leukaemia. The others – Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow – still perform together but haven’t toured outside the US.

They have a special place in the music world and I’ll be forever grateful to them for bringing folk music and Bob Dylan to me. They have a great website (see below) full of detailed accounts of their lives and times.

 
Peter, Paul and Mary official website

Peter, Paul and Mary biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #217

3 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Mar 8, 2014

    Amen, Roger. A lovely piece on PPM and I’m delighted you have Puff The Magic Dragon in there. The four songs I sang to my kids as babies to get them to sleep were Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, Lemon Tree, Blowing In The Wind and Puff The Magic Dragon. The astute observer will see that the first three all came from the same EP, and that’s where I first heard Blowing In The Wind too – I think my introductions to various songwriters were the same as yours here. I still sing Puff The Magic Dragon to my grandkids. The folkies may have hated it, kids may have loved it, but the hippies thought it a very fine subversive song about dope.

    I’ve used authentic songs for various English Language Teaching projects and we have to re-record them. When I said I wanted to use “Leaving on a Jet Plane” the publisher was delighted because they’d already re-recorded it for another textbook series. I rejected that version because it had altered the words, and did not have the wonderful bass line of the PPM. They’d followed the inferior John Denver original. We re-recorded it again with a Mary soundalike and the bass part.

    I’d be happy enough with your ten, though I’d like Lemon Tree, Don’t think Twice It’s Alright and most importantly, Too Much of Nothing. Because of the shared management of Albert Grossman with Dylan & The Band, apparently PPM got first pick from the basement acetate and picked Too Much of Nothing. It’s a bit chirpy, but I think it was the first basement song to see the light of the day.

    I also have a penchant for their gospel stuff: Go Tell It On The Mountain and Very Last day.

  2. Bert Wright
    Mar 9, 2014

    You’re right to give PPM their due. Not only were they a sort of gateway into folk music for so many people, they were, corporate sheen notwithstanding, no slouches in the talent and performance areas. Like The Weavers and The Clancy Brothers, they sang covers and traditional material, unlike the angry young men who wrote their own songs. This places them on a lower rung on the creative ladder, I think we should acknowledge, but there is no denying them their place. As fledgling folkies, my sister and cousin and I tried to BE PPM, nicking all their material and aping their harmonies. A good wedge of their songbook is locked into my musical memory and will stay there.

  3. Ilkka Jauramo
    Mar 9, 2014

    Radio Luxembourg as a gateway to folk music and Bob Dylan is an interesting point. Mainstream pop and hootenanny versions made the expressionist Dylan more simple to understand and easier to like. And how many basic chords and elementary bass lines were learned from these songs?! The same way Voice Of America was an important source of jazz music here in Northern Europe even if many of us didn’t like the political view. Another interesting point is the Biblical, even if I didn’t think of it because in my own language this trio would have been as strange as “Petteri, Paavali ja Maria” – all known as central figures in the Bible.

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