We had a vicious ice storm last night so I forwent my planned swim early this morning to remain safe and stay off the roads. Of course, this also meant I got to sleep in a bit which wasn’t a bad thing either. So in between training classes this morning I’m listening to another album I found at this past Sunday’s record fair, an instructional album entitled ‘The 12-Strong Guitar as Played by Leadbelly: An Instructional Record‘ by Pete Seeger.
Now, as you can see, the record is in pretty rough shape. Normally this is a bit of a turnoff for me (as it is with most record collectors I suspect), however, but both records are still in good shape and I felt that given the uniqueness of the album itself and the fact that it was an album by folk legend Pete Seeger (not to mention based on the guitar playing of a noted master bluesman) that it deserved better treatment and loving home beyond the dusty box in which I found it. After all, it is a recognized album by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (Folkways Records)…meaning, this is an important piece of music history.
Perhaps no single person in the 20th century did more to preserve, broadcast, and redistribute folk music than Pete Seeger, whose passion for politics, the environment, and humanity earned him both ardent fans and vocal enemies ever since he first began performing in the late ’30s. His battle against injustice led to his being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, celebrated during the turbulent ’60s, and welcomed at union rallies throughout his life. His tireless efforts regarding global concerns such as environmentalism, population growth, and racial equality earned him the respect and friendship of such political heroes as Martin Luther King, Jr., Woody Guthrie, and Cesar Chavez, and the generations of children who first learned to sing and clap to Seeger’s Folkways recordings must number in the millions.
Here, however, there is none of that on this album. Well, as far as Pete’s songs go anyway. Instead, as the title suggests, the album features Pete Seeger teaching the 12-string guitar as played by the virtuoso Leadbelly through a detailed breakdown of both the instrument itself (how to tune it, steel vs. silk strings etc.) and step-by-step explanations of Leadbelly’s songs. Basically, with help from some of Leadbelly’s actual recordings, which are heard only in excerpts, it pays homage from one noted folk master to his friend and mentor by teaching us his songs. In other words, it’s not something you would put on to groove to. It does however provide some interesting and cultural background white noise as I try to get some work done between training sessions in my basement office.
I’m also not likely going to pick up the guitar any time soon, but it’s still easy to pick up on the passion and love that Seeger has for both his instrument and his mentor through this double album. Seeger also discusses the influence Leadbelly has had on him, notably in his song ‘Bells of Rhymney‘, which came about from his experimenting with Leadbelly-like tunings.
So on this personal note, this is a very welcome addition to my collection indeed.