Show #2: PAUL STOOKEY #1 of 2 - Full Audio & Transcript
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The following interview with folk music legend Noel Paul Stookey was broadcast May 7 & 11, 1963 from New York City on worldwide short-wave radio. This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide hosted by newsman Alan Wasser. This is interview #1 of 2 with Mr. Stookey. (The second interview can be found here.)

Featuring four song performances: "Early in the Morning"; "It's Raining"; "Take Off Your Old Coat"; and "Samson and Delilah".

peter paul mary
Self Titled Album by Peter, Paul & Mary
Recorded at The Bitter End, NYC (?)

photo: Alan Wasser


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MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): Here is Radio New York Folk Music Worldwide. A program devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world. Showcasing the top performers and authorities in the field. Now your host for Folk Music Worldwide, Alan Wasser.

ALAN WASSER (HOST): With us today is Paul Stookey of the famous folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary.

Paul, let me ask you first, how did you three get together?

NOEL PAUL STOOKEY (GUEST): Actually ours is somewhat unusual. I think most of the groups that get together today have known each other in high school or have known each other in college and sung together.

We were "put together" by our manager [ Albert Grossman ], who discovered Joan Baez and has worked with Odetta and the group called The Knob Lick Upper 10,000. He's very active in the folk music field and also one of its leading innovators.

He was responsible for the Newport Folk Festival, 1961.

ALAN: I remember that well. Did any of you sing folk music before you were put together?

PAUL STOOKEY: Peter and Mary were very much involved in folk music and had been all their lives. I hadn't realized, until I was 21 years old, that I had been too.

Because I was born in Maryland, lived there for 13 years. When you're a tree, you never know you're part of the forest. It took me 8 years to get away from Maryland to go to high school and to college and to move to New York to go down to The Village to discover that the country and western songs that I'd been singing in Maryland were very much a part of folk music.

ALAN: Have you recorded any of those songs you used to sing?

PAUL STOOKEY: No, but there is a song on our first album that I wrote. As a matter of fact, it takes 10 hours to write and 1 minute, 31 seconds to perform. I've somehow wondered if it would be as good the other way. If it took me 1 minute, 31 seconds to write and 10 hours to perform, it would be a bit lengthy.

But it has influences of the Baptist Shout and the Maryland environment in which I grew, and that is called "Early in the Morning".

ALAN: Let's hear that song now.

peter paul mary
"I'd Hammer Out Danger, I'd Hammer Out a Warning"
New York, N.Y. - April, 1967
Vietnam War protest march

flickr / Penn State Special Collection

[Song performance 1 of 4: "Early in the Morning" by Peter, Paul & Mary]:


Well early in the morning,
About the break of day,
I ask the Lord,
"Help me find the way!"

Help me find the way
To the promised land
This lonely body needs
A helping hand

I ask the Lord to help me please
Find the way.
When the new day's a dawning,
I bow my head in prayer.
I pray to the Lord,
"Won't you lead me there?"
Won't you guide me safely
To the Golden Stair?
Won't you let this body
Your burden share?
I pray to the Lord,
"Won't you lead me please,
Lead me there?"

When the judgment comes
to find the world in shame
When the trumpet blows
Won't you call my name?
Won't you call my name?

When the thunder rolls
and the heavens rain
When the sun turns black,
never shine again
When the trumpet blows,
Won't you call me please,
Call my name!

(end of music)

ALAN: Now, which are the influences in that song from the Maryland countryside when you grew up?

PAUL STOOKEY: The shout and the answer is probably the most widely used form in gospel music... the shout by the minister, the answer by the congregation.

Also, the music builds not only as far as the lyrics are concerned but also builds musically. The key, the register, gets higher and higher and higher. I start off an octave lower than I end, which was generally customary in most of the church music in The South.

ALAN: You write a lot of your music, don't you?

PAUL STOOKEY: As a matter of fact, there's another song on the album that people have said, "Gee I see you wrote this song," but it's funny I actually cannot claim credit for writing many of the tunes rather than shall we say collecting them and putting them together in some sort of coherent musical form.

I know there's a song, or at least rhymes, you've sung when you were a child and that most of the people listening have sung, "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring, bumped his head and went to bed." And then "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home", and "Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight."

I put these all together in a song that we did on our first album that we had the nicest response to. It's called, "It's Raining".

[Song performance 2 of 4: "It's Raining" by Peter, Paul & Mary]:


It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring
Bumped his head
And he went to bed
And he couldn't get up in the mornin'
Rain rain, go away,
Come again some other day.

"I got an idea ... we could all play hide and go seek inside,
now everybody hide and I'll be it!"

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
Wish I may, wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring
Bumped his head
And he went to bed
And he couldn't get up in the mornin'
Rain rain, go away,
Come again some other day.

Five Ten Fifteen Twenty.
Twenty-five Thirty. Thirty-Five Forty.

Lady Bug, Lady Bug,
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire,
And your children,
They will burn,
They will burn.

It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring
Bumped his head
And he went to bed
And he couldn't get up in the mornin'
Rain rain, go away,
Come again some other day.

Forty-Five Fifty. Fifty-five Sixty.
Sixty-five Seventy. Seventy-five, eighty.

Won't be my father's Jack,
No I won't be my mother's Jill,
I'll be a fiddler's wife
And fiddle when I will.

It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring
Bumped his head
And he went to bed
And he couldn't get up in the mornin'
Rain rain, go away,
Come again some other day.

Eighty-Five, Ninety. Ninety-five, a Hundred.
Anyone round my base is it!
Ready or not, here I come!

Ollee Ollee In Free!

(end of music)

ALAN: Have you ever had any complaints from people who feel it's sort of dishonest for a folk music group to write songs?

PAUL STOOKEY: As a matter of fact, I think one of the leaders of our century's folk music entourage, Mr. Pete Seeger...

ALAN: We had him on last week, by the way.

PAUL STOOKEY: Is that right? Well, Pete once said to a woman who was complaining about the very thing you were just talking about, Pete said, "Let them write songs. Please don't interfere with the folk process."

Because the songs that are being written today do necessarily reflect what is happening today. As a matter of fact, there is a gentleman by the name of Robert Dylan (Bobby Dylan) who really is writing contemporary folk music.

He's writing music that not only reflects what is happening today but also attitudes of a certain group of people. There is no way of saying now, these people who complain, really because it is being foisted on the American public as folk music now. It is not folk music now.

paul stookey
Paul Stookey, performing at the
Music 2 Life, Stand Up and Sing event,
Penn State, 6 Sept 2012

flickr / Penn State

However, nobody can say whether anything is folk music until 100 years from now. Until they can look back and say, this song lasted because...

A very similar parallel can be drawn with a song called "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?" written during the Depression and which was "Tinpan Alley".

Nobody said, "What a folk song. Are you kidding me?". Now, "Scarlet Ribbons", maybe, which really is not a folk song, was composed as well.

A folk song is not necessarily a song that is transmitted only by the folk process, that is by verbal usage, by singing. It is composed from time to time, but it does necessarily have to reflect a period of time or certain characteristics of that era.

Only in retrospect, 50 or 100 years later, can you really judge whether it is a folk song. I maintain that "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime" is a pretty accurate reflection of what the '30's were.

ALAN: You do do some songs that were collected, purely how they've been done for hundreds of years.

PAUL STOOKEY: Yes, we do. I know the point you're driving at, but "that ain't the way it is." Because unfortunately songs go through such a change, because of the oral tradition, because folk music is a continuously moving process.

There is a song on our second album that was originally from England, came to the United States, was changed in the hills of Kentucky, was sent back to England, underwent another change, and then came back, and then has been changed since then. It's called "Take Off Your Old Coat".

[Song performance 3 of 4: "Take Off Your Old Coat" by Peter, Paul & Mary]:


Take off your old coat
And roll up your sleeves.
Life is a hard road to travel,
I believe.

I look to the east,
I look to the west,
A youth asking fate
To be rewardin'.

But fortune is a blind god,
Flying through the clouds,
And forgettin' me on this side of Jordan.

Take off your old coat
And roll up your sleeves.
Life is a hard road to travel,
I believe.

Silver spoons to some mouths,
Golden spoons to others,
Dare a man to change the given order.

Though they smile and tell us
All of us are brothers,
Never was it true this side of Jordan.

Take off your old coat
And roll up your sleeves.
Life is a hard road to travel,
I believe.

Like some ragged owlet
With its wings expanded,
Nailed to some garden gate or boardin'.

Thus will I by some men
All my life be branded
Never hurted none this side of Jordan.

Take off your old coat
And roll up your sleeves.
Life is a hard road to travel,
I believe.

(end of music)

ALAN: They call you a "cosmopolitan" folk group. What, precisely, is a cosmopolitan folk group?

PAUL STOOKEY: A lot of people, I think because of the success of Peter, Paul & Mary, have said, "Well, they're not really folk singers. They're too commercial."

To me, commercial is a very ridiculous term to apply to the era, to folk music. Whether something is commercial or not indicates that it is successful on a mass basis. In other words, whether it is selling to a large number of people.

Which means that Lightnin' Hopkins is pretty commercial. This is, as I've said, I was trying to point out the fallacy in this thing.

To me, there are two types of music. The rural, or the ethnic, the person who has been brought up in one specific type of music and heard only that music all his life. Or maybe only a couple of other forms and has been influenced only slightly by these other forms.

He basically reflects his environment, the place where he grew up, the type of music he's heard all his life. He, too, carries this tradition along by generating this kind of music, by writing it, by originating it.

The second type of singer, which is just as valid, is the urban or cosmopolitan folk singer. This singer, necessarily because of his upbringing, his awareness of nearly all forms of music, naturally has to reflect this.

There's only one criteria to being an urban folk singer. And that is taste, and honesty, and involvement with the material. And a realization of what the material is really trying to say.

Because it can be musical but miss the point entirely. You have to understand why the song was originally conceived.

It would be inane for us to sing a song, for instance, "If I Had My Way," which is a song about Samson and Delilah, in the original way it was sung by a blind street singer named Reverend Gary Davis, who sang it... [Stookey mimics Davis' singing style].

I can do it. I can duplicate his voice pretty well, and I know that Peter and Mary could come very close to it. But this is imitation. And this is one case where imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

It is a misrepresentation, because we don't really belong, we don't belong to this ethnic group, we're not blind street singers.

So we bring to the music, naturally, a sophistication or an awareness of other forms that we have gleaned, and therefore what we have to do is retain the essential core, the meaning of the song, and present it tastefully, musically.

ALAN: I think our listeners would like to hear the way Peter, Paul & Mary do that song.

[Song performance 4 of 4: "Samson and Delilah" by Peter, Paul & Mary]:


You read about Sampson,
You read about his birth.
He was the strongest man
That ever lived on Earth.
One day Sampson
Was walking alone
He looked down on the ground
And he saw an old jaw-bone.
He lifted up that jaw-bone
And he swung it over his head,
And when he got to moving
Ten thousand was dead.

If I had my way,
If I had my way
In this wicked world,
If I had my way
I would tear this building down.

Sampson and the lion
Got in attack
Sampson he crawled up
On the lion's back.
You read about this lion
he killed a man with his paw
Sampson got his hands
around that lion's jaw
and he ripped that beast
The lion was dead
And the bees made honey
In the lion's head.

If I had my way
In this wicked world,
If I had my way
I would tear this building down.

Delilah she was a woman,
She was fine and fair
She had lovely looks,
God knows and cold black hair
Delilah she climbed up
On Sampson's knee
And said "Tell me where your strength lies,
If you please"
She talked so fine,
She talked so fair,
Sampson said
"Delilah, cut off my hair,
Shave my head
Clean as your hand
And my strength will be
Like a natural man."

If I had my way
In this wicked world,
If I had my way
I would tear this building down.

If I had my way
In this wicked world,
If I had my way
I would tear this building down.

(end of music)

PAUL STOOKEY: There's a very amusing story connected with this song. When we first began, we sang in The Village at a place called The Bitter End, and we sang, "If I Had My Way." And the chorus of "If I Had My Way" is "If I had my way in this wicked world, I would tear this building down" which is what Samson did.

the bitter end
The Bitter End club, New York City
flickr / Wally Gobetz

When we were performing one night, the stage upon which we were standing decided to go along with the act. When we got to the part when we sang "tear this building down" the stage collapsed, and we had to finish the song at about a 45 degree list.

ALAN: Of all the songs you've recorded, which is your favorite?

PAUL STOOKEY: You see, we're essentially a performing group, not a recording group. The songs necessarily reflect what we perform, therefore any of the singles that come out are singles taken from the album, which is a recording of what we perform.

So, a favorite song will vary from night to night depending on how involved we are with that particular aspect of feeling. I think there are, of course, songs on the album that we are very involved in, just lyrically, from looking at the words, that convey - how shall I say - a feeling that all people share.

Again, I couldn't narrow it down to one. They run from "Old Goat" to "Man of Constant Sorrow" to "Five Hundred Miles" to "If I Had a Hammer."

"If I Had a Hammer" was a single which, I think, really reflects a feeling of the three of us in unanimity with a lot of other people. As a matter of fact, that's probably what accounts for the success of the single.

ALAN: I'm afraid we're out of time. But do you think you could come back next week, and we'll play "500 Miles" and "If I Had a Hammer"?

PAUL STOOKEY: Certainly.

ALAN: Fine. I want to thank you very much for coming in this week, and I'm looking forward to seeing you again next week.

PAUL STOOKEY: Thank you very much.

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): This has been Folk Music Worldwide. Devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world and spotlighting top performers and authorities in the field. If you have any suggestions, request requests or comments why not write in to Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York WRUL, New York City 19 USA. This has been a Music Worldwide presentation of Radio New York Worldwide.

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