Weaving a folk revival
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 10, 2004) -- The Weavers – an unassuming quartet of folksingers -- were arguably one of the most influential performing and recording groups of the 20th century. When Pete Seeger and Lee Hays teamed with Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert in 1948, they could have had no inkling of the snowball effect their work would have on several generations of listeners and performers. Anyone familiar with songs including “Goodnight Irene,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Wimoweh,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” – songs that just seem to have been around forever, yet all songs first popularized by the Weavers – has been touched by the group’s legacy.

Fans of doo-wop music owe a debt of gratitude to the Weavers for the Tokens’ smash hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which was a remake of “Wimoweh.” And when the Beach Boys play Tanglewood in August, their show will undoubtedly include a version of their smash hit, “The Sloop John B,” adapted from the Weavers’s “Wreck of the John B.” The Weavers’s success in the 1950s spurred the folk revival of the late-‘50s and early-1960s, with groups like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary scoring pop hits inspired by Weavers-style arrangements. The Weavers example also set in motion the careers of people like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Band, subsequently steering rock ‘n’ roll toward a more literary and political approach.

As heard on its live concert CD, the quartet Work o’ the Weavers revives the sound of the original folk quartet with faithful versions of songs including “Tzena Tzena,” “Sinner Man” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The group, featuring David Bernz, James Durst, Mark Murphy and Martha Sandefer, performs at the Guthrie Center (413-528-1955) in Great Barrington this Friday night at 8 as part of the Troubadour Series.

On Saturday night, the weekend devoted to the folk revival continues with a show by Oscar Brand, the legendary folksinger and popularizer who played a key role in midwifing the careers of people like The Weavers as a radio host on New York’s WNYC. Among those who performed on Brand’s “Folk-Song Festival” over the years were Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, the Weavers, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Harry Belafonte, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon and Harry Chapin. Brand’s radio show launched his own career in folk music, which would grow to encompass live performing, songwriting, TV, film, theater and teaching. Brand has over 90 albums to his credit, including collections of presidential campaign songs, songs about cats and dogs, drinking songs, bawdy songs, western songs, satirical songs, sports car songs, courting songs, holiday songs and armed forces songs.

Incidentally, the Work of the Weavers’s attractive, ingenious, three-panel CD jacket was designed by the Berkshires’ own Adam Michael Rothberg.

Mungo Jerry’s endless summer

Of all the one-hit wonders, Mungo Jerry may have the longest-running career of all. The English group started off with an explosion shortly after it was formed by Ray Dorset in the summer of 1970, when its first single, “In the Summertime,” went to number three on the American pop charts, going gold in the process and staying in the Top 40 for 11 weeks. The song, a throwback to the late-1950s skiffle sound, has reportedly sold 30 million copies worldwide since that time and continues to be a perennial, summertime crowd-pleaser. The original group had a jug-band style and included washboard, kazoo and upright bass. Subsequent albums, including “You Don’t Have to Be in the Army” and “Memoirs of a Stockbroker,” failed to produce a mammoth-selling follow-up to “In the Summertime,” but Dorset refuses to give up the ghost. He recently released “Adults Only,” a blues album, and brings his current “Mungo Jerry Re-exports the Blues” tour – his first American appearance in over a decade -- to Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) in Great Barrington on Wednesday, June 16.

Backstage bits

The addition of the Bob Marley Roots Rock Reggae Festival to the Berkshire Music Glen’s lineup at Bousquet in Pittsfield on August 15 adds some creative ballast to the series as well as tying it more directly to the legacy of the Music Inn -- where the late Bob Marley performed in the mid-‘70s -- that the founders claim inspired the series. The festival boasts Ziggy Marley and his brothers, Toots and the Maytals, Common, Slightly Stoopid, and Looner….Next Thursday, friends of the late, great Berkshire singer-songwriter Ed Kohn will gather at the Water Street Grill in Williamstown – the former home of the Acoustic Brew song-swap where many were introduced to Kohn and his terrific songs for the first time -- to celebrate his legacy and the release of his new, posthumous CD, “Times Gone By”….The North Carolina-based Milagro Saints return to the Dream Away Lodge in Becket for their annual residency over the July Fourth weekend….Women’s music pioneer Holly Near has been added to the Guthrie Center’s summer Troubadour Series on July 16….Comic songwriter Christine Lavin is at the Sandisfield Arts Center on July 17.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 10, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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