NEWS FLASH: Pete Seeger’s new At 89 CD on Appleseed nominated for 2008 “Best Traditional Folk Album Grammy” Award!
When lifelong music fan Jim Musselman was searching for a different way to affect social change after years of working with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, inspiration was as close as his record collection. Not only was it studded with Pete Seeger’s albums and songs, combining activism and art, but Jim and Pete had actually known each other for years from working on environmental issues and sharing membership on the advisory board of Sing Out! magazine. The two men talked about how few artists were singing traditional folk songs or political songs, and this became Jim’s leading motivation to start a music label. He decided to “involve ten or twelve artists to perform Pete’s songs for a single CD” that would be released on his new label, Appleseed Recordings (named, in part, after Pete’s longtime “Appleseeds” column in Sing Out!).
To Musselman, Pete was the obvious candidate for a musical tribute. As Jim explained in the liner notes to Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger, released in 1998 as a 2-CD set featuring mostly exclusive versions of Pete-related songs by 39 solo artists and groups, “This celebration of Pete’s songs was a labor of love. I have been listening to Pete’s songs for years, as well as their permutations and combinations. . . . His songs have been inspirations to the union movement, and to the struggle for civil rights and world peace. Where there is a fight for social justice, Pete’s songs are there,” sung in over 150 languages, empowering those who hear them.
The response by the musicians Jim approached to the concept of a Pete Seeger celebration on CD was positively overwhelming. The proverbial “Who’s Who” of classic and contemporary folk singers and singer-songwriters raised their hands for inclusion and eventually provided enough material for three Seeger tribute sets, with Flowers followed in 2001 by the single CD If I Had a Song: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2 and in 2003 by a second double-CD set, Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3, credited to Pete Seeger & Friends and including Pete’s first new album since 1996 and a second disc of all-star versions of Seeger songs. In late 2003, Seeds was voted a Grammy finalist in the “Best Traditional Folk Recording” category. The entire trilogy required seven years, 85 songs, and hundreds of musicians. True to Pete’s spirit and Musselman’s own idealism, the Seeger CDs have generated well over $100,000 donated to various social justice and environmental charities by Appleseed.
Among the musicians who donated their versions of Pete-related songs: Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Steve Earle, Bruce Cockburn, Ani DiFranco, Judy Collins, Donovan Arlo Guthrie, Billy Bragg, John Wesley Harding, Nanci Griffith, Eric Andersen, Richie Havens, Roger McGuinn, Sweet Honey in the Rock, John Stewart, Kim and Reggie Harris and many more, some of whom would sign with Appleseed to release their own CDs or would contribute to additional projects.
Springsteen’s participation in the Flowers project was a major coup for Appleseed (see “Bruce Springsteen and Appleseed Recordings” item) and, in the long run, led to a revival of interest in Pete Seeger and his remarkable repertoire and an enduring relationship with the label. In 1996, Jim Musselman approached Bruce with an armload of Seeger albums and some suggestions for a song to record for Flowers. Springsteen recorded a handful of Seeger-related tracks, mostly traditional adaptations, donating a somber, powerful version of the gospel/civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” and shelving the other songs for the next decade. In 2005 and 2006, he recorded additional Seeger songs with a large acoustic band, issued with the original 1997 sessions as We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions by Sony, undertook national and international tours featuring the material and releasing a live CD and DVD from the “Seeger Sessions” tours.
In the latest happy chapter of Pete’s relationship with Appleseed, his new CD, At 89 (released September 2008), was nominated in December for a “Best Traditional Folk Album” Grammy. He shares this honor with two fellow Appleseed artists – his half-sister Peggy for her Bring Me Home CD and Tom Paxton for his Comedians & Angels release.. The winner will be announced in early February 2009. Pete has said that this will be his final album of new recordings, but we can always hope…