Pete Seeger is one of those heroes who set the tone for everything good. In the forties and fifties he stood shoulder to shoulder with Woody Guthrie in the Almanac Singers which helped establish Folk Music as a force. He wrote his songs for the unions, equality and civil rights, and in support of minorities. He got blacklisted by McCarthy and refused to bow down under pressure. He had his principles. At one point he was a card carrying communist. In later years he was a staunch environmentalist and spoke out against the Vietnam War. Pete was a voice for freedom, a voice against fascism and a voice for common sense. He was an expert player and advocate of the banjo which he played in the traditional Appalachian style.
Pete wanted the same world as me; a world full of love, harmony and equality where all people of whatever colour or creed were respected and treated equally, where people were paid a fair wage for a fair piece of work and not exploited by the bosses and corporations, where there was no poor third world and no destruction of the world we live in for selfish greed. He sang about freedom and justice, the environment and bad bosses. He sang against fascism and he sang against war. Pete stood up and sang his songs and activated to put his beliefs into effect. No cause was to big; not power too strong. If it was wrong and needed putting right Pete was there putting in his songs to good effect. It did not make him popular. Like Guthrie he had a motto painted on his banjo ‘This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender’. He, like me, believed that music can be a driving force to change people for the better. You don’t kill fascists with bullets; you change them into caring, loving people.
I love some of his songs like ‘Which side are you on?’, ‘Union Maid’, ‘Dear Mr President’, and ‘Banks of marble’. They were among the first protest songs and never has there been a greater need to protest. We need our Woody Guthries, Bob Dylans and Pete Seegers more than ever we did. I also liked the way he covered brilliant songs by Malvina Reynolds, Richard Farina and Bob Dylan. He brought them to a wider audience.
I was not so keen on his sing-a-long style and some of the rather twee material that he often incorporated on to his albums and into his live act though.
Pete was often slandered for his response to Bob Dylan’s electric appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. He claimed that it was not so much the electric that he was objecting to so much as the distortion. I’d give him the benefit of doubt.
Pete often played with other musicians and one of those was Arlo, Woody’s son. They made great music.
Pete is remembered for a lot of things; his musicianship, song-writing, singing, sensitivities, as an activist and a caring environmentalist. He was one of those characters who are remembered not just for what they did and achieved but what they stood for.
Pete stood tall for a better world. He did not flinch. He championed every cause and individual who was also fighting for that better vision. He took on governments, the Klu Kux Klan, the music business, and the media. My admiration knows no depth. He made the world a better place.