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Bob Dylan - Joan Baez Concert Poster By Eric Von Schmidt
Bob Dylan - Joan Baez Concert Poster By Eric Von Schmidt

History of Boston Rock
     History of Boston Rock & Roll - Chapter 9 -  The Cambridge Folkies

"Parties where nobody spoke, candles stuck in Chianti bottles, mattresses on the floor, bongo drums, leather jackets. Big jugs of wine and little sugar cubes of acid, cracks in the wall that lit like neon in the faded air, smoke that you see suspended smelly cumulous ..."
- Charles Giuliano The Real Paper, Earbook II May 16, 1973

We've taken you through the Payola Trial, Timothy Leary and a recap of the local talent that would build the national music scene from 1960 to 1962. We're slowly creeping upon John, Paul. George and Ringo, and the local bands following in their wake, the Ramrods, the Remains, the Argonauts, etc. The 60's begin to evolve into a force which propelled a generation, a national attitude of major importance. So lend us an ear for the first part of this decade's episode as we watch the relay race of generations in which beatniks pass the baton to the rebelling baby boomers.

In the event of a nuclear war, the survivors will envy the dead.

It's 1960

The older boomers begin to reach puberty in record numbers. The Cold War is being fought with such intensity that the minds of teenagers as well as adults count air raid drills and fallout shelters as common currency. Kennedy defeats Nixon in his presidential bid and then faces off with Nikita Kruschev, leader of the Soviet Union. THE BOMB WAS ABOUT TO FALL - but which country would drop it?

Not only were falling bombs everyone's nightmare, but over in Southeast Asia, the government was falling into the hands of communism.

People didn't know much about Vietnam, but they were fearful that Laos would fall. And then, the Soviet Union just might decide to come and get us next.

The beatniks and the folkies, or folkniks, began to protest U.S. government propaganda, which they deemed scare tactics used to escalate weapon development and bucks for the Pentagon. They began to take this protest into clubs, an unheard of entertainment development. "Ban the Bomb" became a frequently heard cry.

This marks the entrance of popular music into politics, a trend that will snowball into a national movement for the baby boomers, and will influence every corner of U.S. culture.

Don't bogart that joint, my friend

Along with political protest and rebellion, the new movement turns to drugs to free their minds and rebel against the every day tedium of the repressive 1950's. Against a backdrop of conformity, the concept of individuality, doing your own thing, and therefore, experimentation drugs and lifestyles began to look damned good to a generation brought up to believe everyone was supposed to lead unnaturally cute little lives like the Cleavers and Ozzie and Harriet.

The #1 song on WMEX in 1963 was Puff - The Magic Dragon," a direct metaphor for marijuana, recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. Although many in the know about drugs undoubtedly caught on to its meaning, most Americans undoubtedly sang along with this song unruffled by drug awareness. Indeed, the beauty of the song lies in its simple resemblance to a nursery rhyme tune. And mass drug use was years away.

The same year, David Van Ronk, a leading folkie from Greenwich Village, paid a visit to a Brandeis coffee house. At the end of one song. he shouted, "Try marijuana, the THINKING MAN'S cigarette."

Doors of perception were opening in many people's minds. It became increasingly obvious to those capable of questioning what they were told that the U.S. government was not always telling the truth about the Cold War. The political skepticism of the decade began to swell: people grew tired of U.S. governmental scare tactics about the bomb and communism.

Oh yes. And the black man.

Four score and a couple of years after slavery had been abolished, the black man was still looking at the back of the bus, and was still segregated from whites. Coin operated laundries in the South still had machines marked whites only and that did NOT mean the color of your clothing!

But black music was exploding through the national scene, dominating it in a parallel to national politics. The civil rights movement picked up steam. Blacks began to sit anywhere on the bus, began to sit in at lunch counters in the South which prohibited them, causing a national sensation.

In 1963 Boston, WILD was THE black station and if you were hip, regardless of white or black, you'd tune into WILD Man Steve and catch the latest Motown contemporary black hit. The Miracles, featuring Smokey Robinson, and Martha and the Vandellas were examples.

Thus, at this point, black participation in U.S. white culture straddles two decades. Remember that in the late 1950's, censorship targeted sex and race, the former, Elvis' pelvis, the latter Frankie Lymon dancing close to a white woman. The 1960's encountered censorship when music supported not only sex and integration but expanded political consciousness and freedom for all groups, a direct outcome of the folkie movement.

What form did the early 60's censorship take? In March of 1963, Pete Seeger and the Weavers were kept from appearing on Hootenanny," the first national television folk singing programs, because of his radical political beliefs (he was blacklisted In the fifties by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee for leanings toward humanitarian socialism). Though he still was popular, this did hurt him, preventing the major national prominence he deserved. The Byrds went on to become more famous than he with their version of his song , Turn! Turn! Turn!

Censorship couldn't stop everyone in this movement, however. A regular of Cambridge's Club 47, Bob Dylan, walked off the set of the Ed Sullivan show when its employees tried to stop him from playing Talking John Birch Society Blues which took swipes at both segregation and the military.

A few months later, he debuted at the Newport Folk Festival.

And on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King lead marchers, including Bob Dylan and Newton citizen Joan Baez, to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to deliver his famous I had a Dream speech. Baez and Dylan lead a sing along following his speech. Busloads of Cambridge activists were there to help them out.

It won't happen here

Malcom X, another leading black activist. visited Boston's WMEX radio station for an interview with talk show host Jerry Williams in 1964. The station was than broadcast from 70 Brookline Avenue, next to Fenway Park.

As John Garabedian, currently starring on V66, Boston's new music television station arrived for his all night shift as disc jockey, he met the Boston police lined up on rooftops over the station with shotguns ready to fire. Someone had threatened Malcom's life.

Club 47, etc.

The people who were involved in the historic Cambridge folk scene are too numerous to acknowledge each person's contributions in this space. But it is important to understand how, along with Greenwich Village, Cambridge spawned a form of music that, in all its forms and translations, was probably the most influential of the entire decade, as well as the early 70's.

Of the Cambridge folk scene and Club 47, Tom Rush said, "The 47 was already going when I arrived at Harvard in the fall of '59.It was very much of a hangout place. People had their motorcycles in the basement and such. It was a very marginal operation. At that time, in '62 maybe everybody was just hanging around, you know. The Cambridge scene was quite different from New York. The New York scene was much more commercially oriented. The Boston scene was more a bunch of guys getting together and playing for the hell of it, partly because there wasn't any money to be made in Boston as there was in New York."(from an Interview with Rush by Andy Fischer, printed in The Real Paper Earbook II, May 16, 1973).

Three people stand out as the most notable examples of local contribution to the national folk scene, among them Tom Rush, Joan Baez, and Jim Kweskin.

In early 1958 there lived on the West Coast a family by the name of Baez. Its father landed a teaching job at MIT and so that Baez's packed up and moved to Newton, where Timothy Leary would unknowingly join them in a couple of years.

By 1959, their daughter Joan had enrolled in Boston University's drama department. She quickly left theatre, however, for the bigger lure of the folk music revival. In a two year span, she moved from the Club 47 in Cambridge to national prominence and great popularity.

Some of the first clubs over to see and hear beautiful long haired Joan sitting on a chair were local coffee houses Golden Vanity, the Ballad Room, and of course, Club 47 at 47 Mount Auburn Street in Harvard Square.

She quickly moved on the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959, which warmly received her. Record contract offers poured in but she declined all of them. Upon her return to the festival in the following year, she picked up on an offer from Vanguard Records. In October of that year, Folksound USA, a national CBS television show, featured Joan, coinciding with the release of her self titled album, Joan Baez.

In 1961, she toured colleges and concert halls extensively. Her voice's purity and cool, yet emotional intensity, converted many new people to the Folk Movement. In the fall of 1962, with three albums on the charts at the same time, Joan Baez appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.

The importance of Joan Baez's success lay in the fact that she was one of the first popular singers to fight for civil rights and non-violent demonstrations against US involvement in Vietnam.

She also linked up with romantically and musically with Bob Dylan, who allegedly wrote several songs about her. (She wrote about him in Diamonds and Rust"). Together, they were possibly the most influential couple of the decade, sharing concert bills and songs and politics. Later, their romance became what appears to be a lifelong friendship.

Recommended listening: Farewell Angelina, Blessed Avenue, and One Day at a Time, all on Vanguard.

Another prominent figure in the Cambridge order of rule was Now England native Jim Kweskin. After making a major contribution to the (folk?) scene as a solo artist, he put together an all-star line up called, of course the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. This group single handedly brought good timeyness back into folk music, something lacking from the Dylan Baez and Peter Paul and Mary genre, which had become a very serious, sincere folk music scene. Reviving ragtime and blues music, the band covered forgotten gems of every genre imaginable.

The band's lineup seemed to almost constantly change, but an impressive group passed through its ranks. There was Jim Kweskin on guitar and vocals. Then Bill Keith, former banjo player for Bill Monroe Blue Grass Boys (Bill Monroe is considered the father of Blue Grass). Keith also played steel guitar. Geoff Muldaur played lead guitar and did vocals while also doing his own solo albums on Vanguard in 1963. Bruno Wolf, a.k.a. Little David, was soon replaced by Maria D'Amato who married Geoff and became the famous Marla Muldaur (Midnight at the Oasis). She sang and played fiddle for the J.K. band. Richard Greene later took over the fiddle (he was in Blues Project and Seatrain). And, later on, Mel Lyman played harmonica for the band. Lyman was a self proclaimed god-figure who began his own authoritarian cult on Fort Hill. This psychedelic guru also founded a controversial newspaper, the Avatar, which was a predecessor of Boston's countercultural weeklies, The Real Paper and The Phoenix. He is credited with breaking up the Kweskin band. Kweskin became a disciple and member of Lyman's commune on Fort Hill.

Before its demise, the Jim Kweskin Jug band played constantly to sold out shows over a six year period and will pop up again in our series.

A Portsmouth, New Hampshire native, Tom Rush slipped into the coffeehouses of Boston and Cambridge during his stint at Harvard in the early sixties.

He enjoyed many different styles of music, and his work was built on elements of classical, blues, and jazz as well as folk. In late 1959 through 1963, his performances grow in importance until Prestiege Records' Paul Rothschild scooped him up in a signing rampage through Cambridge that collected all the folkies that Vanguard missed out on.

Prestiege released his debut album, Got a Mind to Ramble in December of 1963. He proved marketable and went on to popularize the work of three unknowns in future albums: Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor. His album Circle Games, for example, brought Mitchell's song the same name to national prominence. At the same time, it was one of the first pop concept albums to be put out and also heralded his outstanding No Regrets.

For further reading about this time period, we suggest you find a book that we couldn't locate but that many people recommend: Baby Let Me Follow You Down by Eric Von Schmidt. It is about the general Cambridge folk scene and Club 47.

This article originally appeared in The Beat in 1985
(c) Charles William White III

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