I’m old. I’ve hit the point in my life that when I hear of someone passing who made an impression on me, I stop and think about the first time I saw or heard them. I know this is a little morbid, but I regularly check the obituaries just to see if someone I know has died.
Pete Seeger passed away on January 27, 2014. I remember seeing him on an American Masters episode on PBS, singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” I really like folk music and he was one of the greats.
As part of my responsibilities at the Press, I had the chance to work with Pete to reprint the book Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People, compiled by Alan Lomax. Pete called me on the phone a few times to say that he was proud of the book and felt it was as relevant today as when it first appeared in 1967 and anything he could do to get the book back in print was well worth the effort. Who am I to argue with Pete Seeger, a fixture of the music scene since the 1940s? I did a little research, checked on the book that UNP had originally reprinted several years ago, and agreed to reprint this wonderful book. We wanted Pete to add a little more to the book and he sent along the following: “When Alan Lomax in May 1940 handed Woody and me a big pile of records and union song sheets, and said ‘Why don’t you two make a book out of this?’ we hoped we’d get a book of songs that hardworking folks and their families would like to sing.” He signed the note “Old” Pete Seeger and drew an image of his signature longneck banjo. Is that cool or what? That book, which is selling well, is one project that will always hold a special place.
One last thing: once the book was published, I spoke with Pete one last time. “Tom,” he said, “we’ve done a good thing.”