Thursday, September 17, 2009
A little piece of my fabric is missing. It was woven tightly, but now it has come unraveled. It was a piece that I didn’t even think twice about, because it has been there for more than 40 years. It was integral. I learned that Mary Travers died today.
My dad played guitar. When he was a teenager, he and two other guys played on WRR AM in Dallas. He tells me that the grandparents who raised him in the country out in Navarro County were afraid that he might become a musician. He did for one summer. Then, he went to business college in Dallas. He became a successful businessman, but he passed the love guitars and music on to me. He still has a couple. I have his first guitar, the one that he played on the air.
He was influenced by “Pappy” Lee O’Daniel and the Light Crust Dough Boys, predecessors of Bob Wills. They played the songs of the day in the early 1930s. We might even those songs “folk songs” today. Some of them were. Others were, of course, the songs that people loved to hear, the precursors to Texas Swing.
My dad and his band would set up on a flatbed trailer and draw a crowd in the small downs of Navarro County. Once the crowd was warmed up, politicians would speak. It sounds like something we should try again in this era. Perhaps it would result in more civil discourse. I digress.
I need to ask him how his band drew the attention of WRR Radio. The radio station paid them for their gasoline and oil to drive up from Corsicana and play for 15-minutes or so every Saturday. I don’t think that they got much more money than that.
It was my dad who taught me my first chords on the guitar and songs that went with them. “Down in the Valley” can be played with only two chords, although I rearranged it in later years. “You Are My Sunshine” has three chords.
He and another man who used to have a band played their music often on Sunday afternoons after church and lunch in Dallas. I watched, sang, and learned. It wasn’t long before I was playing along with them.
The Kingston Trio and Simon and Garfunkel got my attention first in the folk music explosion of the 1960s, but it was Peter, Paul, and Mary who captured the era before the Beatles. Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey were the musicians. Mary’s only instrument was her voice. They were never afraid to sing about civil rights and injustice. For that generation, they made it OK to bring a rational discussion of a whole list of subjects to the table.
Further, their music was approachable. High school kids could pick up a guitar and learn the songs and harmonies in a matter of hours. I’d read the album jackets and learn who wrote the music. I’d follow those leads to the record store to discover the source of those lyrics and melodies. Those lyrics and melodies, picking patterns, and themes led me to write my own stuff.
Peter, Paul, and Mary played Bass Concert Hall at UT some 20 years ago. I bought two tickets, one for me and one for my son. He’d grown up listening to the records and listening to my versions. He needed to see them in person.
Now, we may hear Peter Yarrow. He is a sometimes Austin resident and a regular at the Kerrville Folk Festival. When I was on the air in the 1980s, I did a story with Yarrow on the occasion of this 50th birthday at the folk festival. We may also hear Noel Paul Stookey. Yarrow brought him to the festival several times too. As I recall, Mary Travers came once, but she won’t come again.
I still have the vinyl. I have CDs and MP3s. I have my guitars. I don’t have Mary. That piece of my fabric is missing.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Posted by NewsMcNabb at 12:28 AM