Milton Bass: Pete Seeger great with an ax, as well as a song



Although the late Pete Seeger and I spent several years traveling in concentric circles around each other, we were never formally introduced, never held a conversation or an interview or discussed world events and I never joined in singing "If I had a Hammer" or "Wimoweh" (Which was, by the way, a South African hit named "Mbube," but Seeger didn't get the native pronunciation quite right when he heard it for the first time. In any case, it stood him well over the years.)

The Lenox Music Inn was owned in that era by the late Stephanie and Philip Barber who fervently presented jazz and folk concerts in the courtyard of their barn. They were good friends with Seeger and used him for many years in their concert presentations. Seeger had not yet reached the heights of his second coming so most of the concerts were in the afternoon rather than the evening and usually drew enthusiastic but fairly sparse crowds.


It was my bounden duty to cover all the concerts each season so I would be there almost religiously to detail the proceedings. I must admit that there were songs that kind of wore themselves out and to me Seeger's voice was short of certain qualities that kept the magic from becoming permanent.

There was one interesting phenomenon that intrigued me for years, Seeger was fascinated with logging songs and had worked out a dramatic scenario for one of them. He would haul a small log from off stage to the center and go at it with a big ax while singing the words, using ax strokes for emphasis. This was no sissy boy ax but a big banger that had been sharpened to the nth degree, And since he cut his own firewood, Seeger knew the way of the ax and was capable of chopping large chunks as he worked his way to the bottom.

So there we would have this song of the jolly woodsman plying his trade with large chunks of green timber flying out at the people in the first four rows. It was kind of like watching an auto accident about to happen. I never saw anybody injured, but there were close calls as brave men batted away wood projectiles to protect their loved ones.

As for the rest of it, you have heard it to the nethers by those who loved him for the good he did and for the good he tried to do. Pete Seeger was an entertainer who spent his life trying to protect others and preserve the world and foster peace and tranquility. His efforts for the Hudson River alone were a brave feat.

He accomplished more with a song than any of the politicians in Washington could with all the governmental facilities available to them. "We Shall Overcome" is one of the legacies he left us, and no one can ever drown that out.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle contributor.


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