ROGER McGUINN’S FOLKDEN- THE FIRST FIFTEEN YEARS.
A young singer songwriter from Springfield Illinois, Ben Bedford who has two fine albums to his name ( Lincoln’s Man and Land Of The Shadows ) played at my mate Gerry’s folkclub Twickfolk in London earlier this year. He played a decent set of his own songs and then encored with the old traditional number, Shenandoah. While he was packing up, I got to speak to him and mentioned that I knew the song from Roger McGuinn’s Folkden ( http://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/ ), a wonderful web resource that provides the history of the songs, the lyrics and tabs and allows you to download free McGuinn’s interpretations of old traditional folk songs. Ben was intrigued, had no idea it existed and made a written note to look it up when he got back home.
Its hard to believe that this month marks the 15th anniversary of Rogers quest to ensure that the old traditional songs handed down from generation to generation were not lost in the modern age. Little did he know back in November 1995 that there would be a huge roots music renaissance on the back of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou movie a few years later and a whole plethora of new young arists would revive this music and put their own stamp on it.
Back in 95, he recorded his first number Old Paint and made a commitment to record and make available on his website one song a month thereafter. Having followed McGuinn’s career closely since his days as the main man in the Byrds and been disappointed by the almost total absence of new material over the previous decade ( one solitary release, Back To Rio in 1991 ), I really thought that the most we could hope for was a couple of dozen songs. To my amazement, here we are 15 years on with approx 180 songs available at the website and he shows no sign of stalling.
Even if you are only remotely interested in our incredible musical heritage, this website is manna from heaven and you will find everything there simply categorised by genres like Mountain / Southern USA ( 53 songs ), Seafaring ( 36 ), Irish/ British ( 27 ), Cowboy ( 13 ), Spiritual ( 27 ) and Blues ( 25 ). There is even 17 seasonal songs should you wish to make a Christmas compilation !
Of course there are songs that are way too familiar ( do we really want to hear Greensleeves, Waltzing Matilda or Whisky In The Jar again ) and a few pretty banal kid’s songs but believe me this is more than compensated for by literally dozens of fantastic songs. Personal favourites are many but include Buffalo Skinners, Brisbane Ladies, East Virginia, Springfield Mountain, Wayfaring Stranger and Lilly Of The West and a bunch of seafaring songs like Spanish Ladies, Haul Away Joe and The Handsome Cabin Boy. If you’re a long term Byrds fan and crave a bit of Rickenbacker jangle then try Silver Dagger and The Cruel War.
Roger McGuinn is of course something of an expert in the folk field, having attended the still thriving Old Town School Of Folk Music in Chicago ( http://www.oldtownschool.org/ ) as a teenager. During his time there, he witnessed and learnt from some of the veteran greats like Bob Gibson, Frank Hamilton and Pete Seeger. He performed many of these songs there in his youth and filed them away until recent times when the technology allowed him to record and distribute these songs cost effectively.
In addition to the recordings, lyrics and tabs, there are also illuminating human stories attached to these songs. This is the introduction to Buffalo Skinners :
At four o’clock in the morning when the bars all closed in Chicago, a few of us would go out for breakfast. There were musicians, singers and people who worked at the various bars and nightclubs along Rush Street. Herb O’Brian was a tall fellow with a mustache and a big bass voice who worked as the bartender at Easy Street. He liked to drink 151 proof rum and sing one song acappella, over and over as we ate steak and eggs.
I think Roger McGuinn has created a quite amazing web resource and because he prefers to keep a low profile, there has been little recognition. Not only are there all these fantastic songs free to download but he’s created a huge teaching resource that can be dipped into whenever any aspiring musician wishes to know the background to or play one of these songs. I just want to give a big vote of thanks to Roger not only for what’s there now but also for anything he adds in the future. Here’s to the next 15 years Roger. (http://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/ ).