Sunday, December 29, 2013

# 15 Peter, Paul and Mary.

    In retrospect, the Folk Revival of the late fifties and early sixties seems to be about a rebellion by young baby boomers who feel disenfranchised from the post war corporate values to which the middle classes have chosen to adapt. Similar to all folk music, it is a bridge between the desires for change in the social and political expectations of the day. However, as its popularity grows, so does the opportunity to make money from the trend.

    Consequently, there is an irony to the success of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Armed with a strict criterion of marketability, artist manager Albert Grossman chooses each one of them to form a folk trio who will sing mainstream friendly folk tunes mixed with the some light protest songs. They are essentially a product manufactured by the very people the music is rebelling against. The strategy works though, because the Peter, Paul and Mary become an international success, selling millions of records. On their first six albums, they are just two acoustic guitars and three voices, but as you will see in the selections below, they did their best to adapt to changes in tastes.

    After Dylan establishes the new direction of folk music with the release of Like a Rolling Stone, and then his controversial  electric performance at Newport, most folk singers feel that if they are to survive, they need to move in the same direction. Peter, Paul and Mary are no different, they too add electric guitars, and amplified drums to their songs.

   In 1966,  twenty musicians who have successfully made the transition to folk/rock are hired to play a supporting roles for the group's new album The Peter, Paul and Mary Album. Among the personnel is Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Mark Naftalin from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Paul's harmonica can be heard on the song King of Names. The album hits #22 on the Billboard charts.

   I have heard King of Names without the funky Butterfield sound included, and I am always impressed with how much his fills, and solo add to the atmosphere of the recording.


   By the late sixties the trio's transition from acoustic folk to the new folk-rock format is complete, and sales indicate the change is a success. As they go into the studio to record Late Again you can't help but notice the diversity of the studio musicians chosen: Elvin Bishop, Herbie Hancock, Charlie McCoy to name a few. It's pretty difficult to call a lineup like that folk.

   So, in 1968 they release Late Again which is mostly originals from the trio except for Bob Dylan's Too Much of Nothing. Of all the songs on the album, this song is definitely the stand out track, and as it turns out, Butterfield is right their plugging the holes with his magic harmonica.  The album peaks at #14


   By the early 80s, so many incarnations of folk/rock have bloomed and wilted since PPM's first release in 1962. Protest songs don't get much radio play anymore, Disco is gasping for its last breath, disenfranchised kids are listening the rise of  Punk, or New Wave and techno is waiting in the wings. Even Butterfield is having difficulty maintaining a direction.

   Butterfield's last recording with Peter, Paul and Mary comes as his own career is hitting all time lows. He is hired to play live in New York for an October of 1981 show. The album, Such Is Love is released in 1982 with Butterfield playing harmonica on But There for Fortune.  The album is an attempt at returning to the original sound from the early 60's, but other than the loyalty of their own shrinking fan base, it goes unnoticed, and doesn't chart.

    I mention this for any harmonica players out there who have followed Butterfield's development of a sound over his career. I prefer the rounder tone he produces when playing acoustically, it seems to be a warmer tone, and the first two recordings above really highlight that tone well. I find that by the later 70's and into the 80's, his acoustic tone seems starker, and sometimes even a little colder.



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