Pete Seeger

Cover notes from "Rainbow Race"

by Gene Lees

( CBS 64445 Stereo LP 1971 )

We live in a world of pervading hypocrisy.

In Sunday School we were inculcated with stories about magic, miracles, and the sudden suspension of natural laws. But, later on, tell any clergyman that you believe what he and his confreres taught you and he'll probably give you a really funny look.

You were taught in other schools to believe in free speech. Try practicing it. You were taught that elected officials are your servants. Try convincing them of that. Shakespeare spoke of "the insolence of office" as one of life's burdens. It hasn't grown lighter.

As a child you were taught to tell the truth. Try telling it. Some people will dismiss you as a nut, and others will set out on an active campaign to destroy you. For if there's one thing most men do not want to hear, it's the truth. Ask them, of course, and they'll tell you they just love the truth. But they don't.

Pete Seeger is a man of almost breathtaking naiveté. He still believes all that stuff they taught us as kids. Things like the freedom of the individual and his right to express it and the dignity of man. And he has a horrendous habit of telling the truth, which upsets almost everybody. And gets him into all sorts of trouble. Happily, he looks on a lot of it with amusement.

Take, for example, his adventures in the army in World War II. Pete's fiancee (now Mrs. Seeger) wrote him a letter on the stationery of the Japanese-American Committee for Democracy, an organization dedicated to the belief that the only hope for japan lay in replacing its Fascism with Democracy. But the incomparable military mind saw only that word Japanese on the letterhead. So Pete was confined to base at Biloxi, Mississippi, while military intelligence investigated him. Also confined to base was a young Mexican-American who played guitar in duets with Pete's banjo.

"Thanks to the military intelligence," Pete recalls, "I learned a lot of new songs."

Pete wrote most of the songs in this album. One of those he didn't write is Hobo's Lullaby, an old Country-and-Western hit which Woody Guthrie taught to him in the 1940s. "When Arlo and I went to visit Woody in the hospital," Pete says, "that's the song we sang. Not the one they did in the movie."

Go to sleep you weary hobo,
Let the towns drift slowly by
Can't you hear the steel rails humming
That's the hobo's lullaby
I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to Heaven
There'll be no policemen there

© Harmony Music Ltd.

The songs in this album range from the biting to the amusing to the romantic and tender. So does Pete Seeger. He was born in New York City. His father was, and is, a professor of musicology. His mother was a violin teacher. She retired at the age of 83 in 1970. Pete began singing when he was a small boy, and, aside from his encyclopedia knowledge of folk songs he has an astounding memory for the pop songs of the 20's and 30's.

When Pete was 16, his father's research into American folk music caught Pete's fancy. His father took him to Bascom Lunsford's Square Dance Festival. "That changed my life."

Pete dropped out of college - he had intended to be a journalist - and hitchhiked through the South, picking up songs along the way. "I used to get some old farmer to teach me licks on the banjo . . . anything that would make a racket, I liked to play on."

Thus one of America's greatest troubadours - in the old, old sense of the word - came into being. Where did his passion for the truth come from? From the soul. Where else can it come from?

Thinking over the album with it's wide range of moods and messages, Pete said with somber humor, "I've let my schizophrenia hang out in these songs."

One blue sky above us,
One ocean lapping all our shores
One earth so green and round,
Who could ask for more?

© Harmony Music Ltd.

He calls it schizophrenia, the rest of us call it insight.

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