My Brother, Mike Seeger:
Peggy Seeger Talks to FolkWorks
Part 2

By Ross Altman


SEEGER: Hello?

ALTMAN: Peggy. This is Ross Altman. Are you home?

SEEGER: Yeah, it looks like it. You called home. You've called my home and I've answered. So I guess I'm home.

ALTMAN: Okay. Well, welcome back.

SEEGER: Thank you.

ALTMAN: Well, how was the tour?

SEEGER: It was fine. We were a little bit later than I thought we would be, but there's no hardship in that.

ALTMAN: Okay. When you say "we," am I correct in assuming you're talking about Irene?

SEEGER: Yes, I am.



ALTMAN: All right. Let me see - let me throw out -

SEEGER: Spit it out.

ALTMAN: Well, you're not exactly in the closet, but I don't know to what extent you're out of the closet.

SEEGER: I'm out of the closet.

ALTMAN: Have you taken any public role as an advocate? For example, Massachusetts has a gay marriage law, and I think it might have even preceded California's. Have you . . .

SEEGER: They're busy trying to repeal it.

ALTMAN: In Massachusetts, too?


ALTMAN: Because they are in California.

SEEGER: Yeah, they're trying to repeal it here.

ALTMAN: I see.

SEEGER: We had our civil union in England.

ALTMAN: Oh, you did?

SEEGER: Yeah, sure.


SEEGER: I'm on the record. I don't think Irene minds. Just a second. Irene, we're out of the closet, aren't we? I suppose people are interested in it, because it's a huge issue in this country. We're a long time out of the closet, she says.

ALTMAN: All right. Let me ask you then, because you know California and Massachusetts are in roughly similar positions, except that California passed a ballot proposition that basically repealed gay marriage. So, all right, so you had already . . .

SEEGER: Oh, good lord, 20 years ago I was on the front page of "The Guardian."

ALTMAN: In England?

SEEGER: Yeah. Not the front page, one of the internal pages. Huge, took the whole page out.


SEEGER: Person for whom First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was written, you know, now has a female partner. Oh, what a bit of news. It's almost as good as Angelina Jolie having a baby. Ridiculous.

ALTMAN: Have you written - I don't have - the songbook I have of yours and Ewan's, way predated this stuff. I have your original folk songs of Peggy Seeger and then I have the song book that you and Ewen both . . .

SEEGER: You don't have my personal song book or Ewen's personal song book?

ALTMAN: Not the new ones. Not the ones . . .

SEEGER: Good lord, they're not new. They're 11 years old.

ALTMAN: It takes me awhile to . . . so what I'm asking may already be covered in the book, but have you written songs about gay marriage?

SEEGER: I've written love songs that could be sung by any gender, any age.

ALTMAN: Uh huh.

SEEGER: They're not female specific.

ALTMAN: I see.

SEEGER: Because I don't think love is gender specific.

ALTMAN: Well, that's interesting. All right, at any rate, let's put that on hold for the time. What I'm going to ask is from an answer you gave in the first interview. Where you said that when he got involved with playing for colleges and playing for middle class audiences, which is what mostly Pete and I do, and Mike, in the end did, because that's where the folk scene is now. It's among middle class people.


ALTMAN: I didn't say anything at the time, but it strikes me in the light of Pete's and Ewan MacColl's view of folk music, and the effort they made to make it working class music, that you really said a mouthful there because all of your and MacColl's occupational ballads had to do with working class people in the traditional sense, not the way in which it's sometimes conflated today with middle class people, and certainly when Pete was putting People's Songs together in New York and singing . . .

SEEGER: That's a long time ago.

ALTMAN: . . . singing for unions and so forth, it was very much associated - I mean folk music was very much associated with the workers, not with middle class, college people. But I think what you said is absolutely true because, you know, I sing for people too, and you wind up singing for intellectuals, for students, for schools.

SEEGER: Well, it's a sad thing. But I think it's true. I think the virus of pop music has captured huge working class audiences and I think if anybody, Mike probably played in more working class places than Peter or me, but I'm not sure exactly where Pete plays anymore. I know that my concert in England on the folk music movement was at its height with a lot of folk clubs. There were two or three thousand folk clubs in England. I know that I've sung in mining communities, textile communities, where the people who came actually were working class people. This is a long time ago, but they came to the clubs because these were sometimes the only bit of entertainment that was within miles and miles. But it was generally, I think, the more clued in members of society that came to folk clubs. It seemed more working class at the beginning to me, but recently, for the last 20 or 30 years, I would have said we sang for more privileged groups of people.

ALTMAN: Do you have any idea why that would be? And are you talking about England still, or both England and America?

SEEGER: In England and here.

ALTMAN: Because when I think of working class music in America, I think of country music basically.

SEEGER: Yes, country music, but also the working class people - they - I think folk music has sometimes gotten rather elitist and a bit precious, and it's also gone a lot more new age. A lot of the singer/songwriters are . . .


SEEGER: . . . more concerned with personal growth and with consciousness raising and they're less concerned with wages and unions.

ALTMAN: Uh huh.

SEEGER: And wages and unions, and whether they're going to have the next meal might seem to be more for lower income people.

ALTMAN: But it's the - but intellectuals --I mean, the songs that you and Ewan MacColl wrote and Woody Guthrie wrote, and Phil Ochs and Joe Hill wrote, those are, you know, prized by people who were not, and never have been, in that actual economic situation.

SEEGER: Yes. But it's a strange phenomenon, middle class people writing - singing songs as if we were in that position. In a way, it's a need for community that an awful lot of middle class people have. I suppose it's a need for something more real than going out and shopping. I'm not really - it's possible I may be too tired for this, but I don't think I'm qualified to say who listens to what.

ALTMAN: Uh huh.

SEEGER: I just know that I'd go to festivals. Well, now, we've just been up to Northern Ontario and I would say it's quite possible that some of the people who came to the Summer Folk Festival were working class people, but what happened at the Summer Folk Festival is that where the actual folk music was being played, there were not terribly many people in the tents, but where there was a whoop-to-do pop music being played, they were crammed in.

ALTMAN: So they had both at the festival?

SEEGER: Yeah. They did. Yes, they did and it was very loud music, where people were crammed in. Folk music and the singer/songwriter thing are not high decibels.


SEEGER: And I think the large majority of people have got this idea that unless there are heavy decibels, they're not enjoying themselves.

ALTMAN: Uh huh.

SEEGER: And it's kind of - can sometimes feel like a mob music at the festivals. And maybe that's what people need, because that's simulated joy.

ALTMAN: Well, did you do any themed programs or . . .?

SEEGER: Yes, I did and there were a reasonable number of people at them.

ALTMAN: Uh huh.

SEEGER: At both of the camps, one was a camp for about 70 people though, so that's hardly - and it cost a reasonable amount for people to come back to the woods camp in Northern Ontario. I think it cost $600 or $700 to come for a week. Now that's not something that the average working class person is going to even think about. It seems to me that folk music has to be dressed up a bit to appeal to large masses of people now.


SEEGER: We have to appear on - it has to appear in the top 20 for people to listen to it. Country music, probably you're right, is probably the closest that comes to working class music as a . . .

ALTMAN: And it tends to be . . .

SEEGER: . . . genre.

ALTMAN: . . . politically right wing, flag waving, everything Pete was not.

SEEGER: Yes. Pete can draw big audiences. It would be interesting to know who was at his 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden. The tickets were going at a very high price.

ALTMAN: Well, there were tickets for $19.19 which I thought was rather charming. That was the basic price, I think.

SEEGER: Is that . . .?

ALTMAN: Yeah, for the year he was born.

SEEGER: Yeah. Oh my gosh, isn't that interesting?


SEEGER: Gosh, okay.

ALTMAN: I thought that was very charming.

SEEGER: Uh huh.

ALTMAN: And I was wondering if - and I know that you read a letter that you have written, I believe that's how it was described.


ALTMAN: When I looked at it, about - it was called Beacon Days or something of that sort.


ALTMAN: Is it possible - do you have that in some sort of a form that you could send me a copy of it?

SEEGER: I don't - possible.

ALTMAN: How long did it take to read?

SEEGER: Four minutes.


SEEGER: That's all I was allowed. I wanted it to be longer than that, but it - that's what they wanted me to do, so that's what I did.

ALTMAN: Huh. Well, do you have it anywhere where you could take a look at it and read it to me?


ALTMAN: Because I'd love to hear it.

SEEGER: I can do it now. Do you want it?

ALTMAN: Sure. I'd love to hear it.

SEEGER: It's the whole thing. Are you recording this?




SEEGER: Dear Pete. Dear Brother. I have an entire gallery of nourishing pictures in my head, snapshots from the past, 74 years. You are in so many of them. There's only time for one. I've chosen a summer in Beacon when I was 16 and you and Toshi were building the cabin. Friends, fans, and family came to help. New York City greenhorns and tenderfeet arrive, unprepared for Copperhead snakes, bears, mosquitoes, and crowds of biting insects. No eensy-weensy spiders here. Beacon spiders were gargantuan. Not one of them less than six inches across. They crept into your tent during the day and fell out when you shook your sleeping bag, clump, clump, clump, so the spiders fell on the wooden pallet floor. They make dents in it, rattat-tat-tat-tat. That's the spider's feet running away. I swear they wore boots, those spiders. You sweep the flashlight around in the dark and hear their descending fifths on the piano. There they are, staring at you balefully with eyes like signals on a railroad line. Some of the newcomers leave on the morning train. Another lot come on the afternoon train. Lots of them stayed and stayed and stayed. Toshi's feeding everybody. Cooking in an enormous pot over an open fire. Her children around her feet. Tree-felling, log scraping, ring of axes, buzz of saws, hammer, hammer, hammer, the work didn't stop even after you couldn't see what you were doing. Dear Pete. Thanks for the speakers you put all over the hillside so that we could have music while we worked. Mostly Folkways Records. Lots of what's now called world music. But you also had world noises. Dear Pete and Toshi, do you remember the night you put on a record of the sounds of the African Desert and the Amazon Jungle at three o'clock in the morning? You turned the volume up to maximum. Howler monkeys, tigers and lions, bird calls reminiscent of pterodactyls. We pour out of our tents, terror stricken. And there you are with your banjo singing, ‘wake up, wake up, lazy people. What makes you sleep so sound?' Of course, we all joined in, ‘cause when you sing with Pete, it's like the angel choir's sittin' in your seat. It's the absolute truth. I don't tell a lie. I'll make you want to sing till the day you die. ‘Cuz I knew this guy thought he couldn't learn a tune and the words of Turn, Turn, Turn, well, he died just the other day. They buried him in the usual way, six feet down, grass on top, the way they do when your clock has stopped. Well, I passed his grave, the one with the urn, and he was underground singing Turn, Turn, Turn. I'll bet he's down there singin' it yet. Pete Seeger's songs are hard to forget.  Dear Pete, brother, you didn't change my life. You were a deep, formative part of it. A guiding force. You helped set me on a good path and walked a good part of it beside me. You were what brothers should be. I'm proud to be your sister, privileged to have been part of your life, and to help carry the message on. I love you, Pete. I love you. The glorious indelible memories are my thanks.


SEEGER: That was the letter.

ALTMAN: That is just so beautiful.

SEEGER: I'm working on - I'm sitting at the computer, so I have just brought it up.

ALTMAN: Oh, I see. Oh, my God, that is such a beautiful statement.

SEEGER: Well, good.

ALTMAN: Absolutely, and you were - so you were 16 at that time.

SEEGER: Uh huh. And I'm 74 now.

ALTMAN: 74, okay.

SEEGER: Uh huh.

ALTMAN: So, did you chop any wood and lay any foundation?

SEEGER: Oh, my lord, yes. I laid several paths. I was the water girl. I was Sylvie, "Bring me a little water, Sylvie." Because you had to trot about a quarter of a mile down to the brook to bring any water up, because they didn't have a well. So you were constantly up and down, and up and down, or up and down, or up and down to the brook, with two - with a yoke over your shoulders and pails on each side.

ALTMAN: Well, I slept one night in it.

SEEGER: You did.

ALTMAN: I went to see him when I was a student at SUNY Binghamton, in upstate New York, and I had just started writing songs, so I wanted to sing a song for him that I had written, and when I got to - I came to the Beacon Sloop Club, and he was - they had a hoot after the meeting, and he was sitting there with his banjo, and he sang - and I'd never heard it before - he sang, My Rainbow Race.

SEEGER: Oh, it's a wonderful song.

ALTMAN: I know, and I learned it pretty much the first hearing, the first time I heard it, and I put the songs I had been writing quietly back in my guitar case and . . .

SEEGER: Oh, that's a shame.

ALTMAN: Decided they needed a little more work.

SEEGER: That's a shame. He probably would have liked to hear it.

ALTMAN: I'm sure he would have.

SEEGER: Now, I need to know how long you want - you think you're going to talk, and then I'll tell you how long I think we should talk because I just got home. I want to know what the focus is here.

ALTMAN: Well, I wanted to have some more time about Mike and I also wanted to ask you a couple questions about Ewan MacColl, particularly having to do with-I just found out that he was born Jimmy Miller. I actually read everything on your web site. And born in Lancashire.

SEEGER: Lancashire.

ALTMAN: Lancashire. So I had a couple questions about that, and I also wanted to have you give some recounting of the two stories that have almost become folklore-from the composition of The First Time Ever, and also the first time of hearing Elizabeth Cotton sing Freight Train.

SEEGER: Which do you want to hear first?

ALTMAN: All right. Well, let me ask you - let me ask you the story about Elizabeth Cotton and the first time, I guess, I don't know - I think you and Mike were both there.

SEEGER: We were very young and it was at 7 West Kirk Street in Washington, D.C. We always had a guitar hanging in the kitchen and Libba came to work when, oh, I was probably about 9 or 10 or 11. She'd been with us for quite awhile. She came on Saturdays, because my mother was teaching six days of the week.

ALTMAN: And did she come into your life because she had - the story I read, was that you had gotten lost at a department store?

SEEGER: Yes, that's what happened. So I came into the kitchen one day and she was sitting at the kitchen table playing the guitar the wrong way around, playing Freight Train, which I thought was rather wonderful. And that's how we found out and Pete was coming down the next week, and we took him in to listen. That was the beginning of Freight Train, Libba Cotton, the whole story.

ALTMAN: Oh, I see.

SEEGER: She'd apparently been playing - she played until she married, and then they told her she couldn't play anymore, and she married fairly young. Okay now on to Mike.

ALTMAN: Okay. Well, didn't Mike record her actually around that time?

SEEGER: I don't know if he recorded her then. I'm sure we must have, but I think all we had at that time was a little wire recorder. I don't know if there was a recording back then.

ALTMAN: Well, let me ask you to complete the following sentence, and see where it goes. My brother, Mike Seeger.

SEEGER: Oh, well, he was my bro, my buddy, from the time I was born. I've known him longer than anybody in my life. We were practically inseparable until I was about 15 and he was 17. And on and off, over the years, between the time when I was about 20 or 21, and the time I was, let's see, 60 or something like that, at which point I was in England, so we didn't have much contact. But in those early years the tradition, as he had recorded it, and as we had learned it as children-Mike adhered more to it than I did, but I was very aware every time I met him that - of the ways that I had gone away from the tradition. Most of it on purpose. We were working on a CD of some of these songs together. We recorded last summer and in November, last November. It's nearly finished.

ALTMAN: These were the songs that you learned as children?

SEEGER: As children, yeah.

ALTMAN: Now you did one before with him, that's just called Mike and Peggy.


ALTMAN: What were some of the songs on that one?

SEEGER: I can't remember. We did those in England.


SEEGER: So he's been my musical buddy for a long time, for all my life.

ALTMAN: Well, it struck me that he - that between Pete being in New England basically, or upstate New York, and then you being in actual England, and Mike being in the South, you really covered three utterly different musical territories.

SEEGER: Yes, we did. Yes, well, we did.

ALTMAN: And in a sense. . .

SEEGER: That was purposeful on Mike's part.

ALTMAN: Oh really?

SEEGER: I think so. Mike's interests were something totally different from Pete's.

ALTMAN: I know.

SEEGER: And the whole performance style of the three of us is very different. Okay, next subject.

ALTMAN: Well, let's pursue this one a little bit.


ALTMAN: In the South, Mike described the music that he was devoted to as music of the true vine, and from what I've been able to gather, he was most attracted to songs that in some way brought the inherited Elizabethan, English, Anglo-American ballad and song and instrumental tradition in contact with the Afro-American, or African-American tradition, because I have just what I took off of his web site of a sample program and almost half of it, it's got 22 songs, and close to half of them are African-American songs.

SEEGER: I'm not surprised.

ALTMAN: We're Stolen, Sold from Africa, an abolitionist song, Freight Train, Walking Boss, a 19th century African-American song about railroad construction, Rolling and Tumbling Blues. I mean, he really did - and he did the music that was not overtly political; he didn't sing freedom songs in the way that Pete did.


ALTMAN: He sang the songs that actually - that were not really advocacy songs, but documents of how people actually lived.

SEEGER: Yeah. You've got it right.

ALTMAN: And that was his way of saying how important that tradition was.

SEEGER: Well, Pete used to sing those songs.

ALTMAN: That's true.

SEEGER: He stopped and I think some of that was when he shifted from the working class to the college circuit.

ALTMAN: I see.

SEEGER: The colleges were the ones that said, "To hell with McCarthy. We're going to hire you."

ALTMAN: I see.

SEEGER: Whereas, a lot of the working class community did not - and of course the union movement has greatly diminished since Pete and Woody Guthrie were singing for it.


SEEGER: Don't forget civil rights. Pete sang for the civil rights people, too. And he sang for the Vietnam things. It's not only colleges that he sang in. He's espoused every issue that's come up.

ALTMAN: Oh, I know. I mean, I've written - you know, I write for FolkWorks, as you know, and I've written quite a number of things about Pete, and I think I have at least half of the . . .

SEEGER: I don't think you - I'm not sure that you need to ask me about Mike and Pete because you seem to know an awful lot about them. You know? Is that necessary?

ALTMAN: Well, it's your opinions that . . .

SEEGER: Well, I approve of what both of them did.

ALTMAN: All right. Let me ask - let me read you the question that I wrote out here.


ALTMAN: And see if there's anything else you care to add about that. What I'm really - I'm hoping that one or more of these questions will prompt you to share something personal about your brother, i.e., Mike, with our readers. I've read a number of official accounts of his life now, etc. What I'm really looking for is a way of appreciating who Mike was by someone who knew and loved him as her brother, something you might say in the backyard or quiet room among a circle of friends who you wished had been able to know him better.

SEEGER: Well, what do you want me to say? It breaks my heart that he's dead. You know, I mean what personal thing are you looking for? He's my brother. You know, what else can I say?

ALTMAN: I guess that may say it all.

SEEGER: I mean, I admired totally what he did. It was fantastic what he did. Especially from a person who was deemed to be unmusical when he was in high school.

ALTMAN: Really?

SEEGER: Yeah, he was.

ALTMAN: Isn't that incredible?

SEEGER: Yeah, he didn't do - he didn't study music. He didn't, you know, both my parents were trained musicians. Mike didn't train himself as a musician. I mean, he did an incredible - it's just that we were different people. I don't think I need to say anymore than I've said.

ALTMAN: Well, one thing struck me about the fact that I didn't know he was a conscientious objector and that struck me that that's not a bad metaphor for his approach to music as well.

SEEGER: Isn't that on - it's not on his web site. I take it there's no reference to that in his biographies? Because it's not that extraordinary.

ALTMAN: Pardon?

SEEGER: There's no reference to that in any biographies of him?

ALTMAN: I'm sure there might be, but I didn't know about it until you told me.


ALTMAN: And it strikes me as a very significant . . .

SEEGER: Yeah, it is.

ALTMAN: . . . fact.

SEEGER: He didn't advertise his politics they way Pete and I did. If he had, that probably would have made him ‘persona non grata' in the south.

ALTMAN: Oh. I'm sure you're right.

SEEGER: But he took a good stand on all the things that mattered.

ALTMAN: Well, I just loved his stuff.

SEEGER: So did I.

ALTMAN: Do you know - let me ask you, your sister Penny was married to John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. Is he still alive?

SEEGER: Yes, I saw him yesterday.

ALTMAN: Oh, really. And how about Barbara?

SEEGER: Well, I saw her yesterday.

ALTMAN: Okay. Did they - they were on one record with you. Have they done more music themselves?

SEEGER: I don't think John Cohen was. I don't think John Cohen was, was he?

ALTMAN: No, just Penny. Just Penny. But I want to ask if you've had any exposure to the New Lost City Ramblers and . . .?

SEEGER: Not much. No, not much.

ALTMAN: And the role that they played in Mike's life.

SEEGER: No, they rose up while I was in England.

ALTMAN: Oh, I see. What was it that took you to England in the first place?

SEEGER: Oh, good lord. Look, this is getting to be too long

ALTMAN: Let me just ask you one more thing then. Because I know that - I know you've told this story more times than you care to. But we started it last time and you said you'd finish it. The story about The First Time Ever is that I heard it was actually composed while you were talking to . . .

SEEGER: Oh, that's what Ewan said, but I'll bet you he'd been working on it before that.

ALTMAN: Oh really?

SEEGER: I should think he probably was. He was a talk merchant. And he - it's possible that he composes over the phone. I took him at his word.

ALTMAN: Oh. But that was the first time you had heard it.

SEEGER: Oh, yes. Oh yeah. It was on the phone.

ALTMAN: And you were recording an album, and as I understand it, you said you had only room for a short song at the end.

SEEGER: No, I was singing for a program in - I think it was on radio in Los Angeles. And I was living in Santa Barbara at the time.  And I said they wanted a new love song that wasn't very long. So he just sang it over the phone.



ALTMAN: Did you record it? I mean, how did you learn it?

SEEGER: I don't remember when I made my first recording of it. But I worked up an accompaniment and then he never sang it again. He never sang it again. He gave it to me to sing.

ALTMAN: Oh really? Oh my goodness. He didn't record it?

SEEGER: I don't think so. Somebody recently wrote to me, telling me they had a recording of it, but - and then I wrote back, said, "Send it to me," and they haven't.

ALTMAN: Son of a gun.

SEEGER: Yeah. Exactly.

ALTMAN: I mean, that's like Woody never singing This Land is Your Land.

SEEGER: No. Sometimes people give songs to other people who sing them better.

ALTMAN: Well, I've sung it many times.

SEEGER: Uh huh.

ALTMAN: And I've also sung, I'm Gonna Be An Engineer many times.

SEEGER: Oh, my God. You poor man.

ALTMAN: Well, it's an audience - it's a real crowd pleaser.

SEEGER: Hey now, what is this article that you're writing actually about?

ALTMAN: Well, the first part is already done. It's called "My brother, Mike Seeger. Peggy Seeger talks to Folkworks."

SEEGER: Okay, it's essentially about Mike, the whole article.

ALTMAN: Well, that was the first part, but the second part is - could - I'll take it wherever it goes. I'm just happy to . . . but that was the first part. The first part was mostly about Mike.

SEEGER: You know one thing about Mike that was extraordinary. I never saw him falter on stage. I never saw him lose it on stage. He was cool on stage. Now not with the modern sense the way people use it. It's cool as a cucumber. I know he got nervous and I know that sometimes he felt he wasn't worthy of being on stage, but he never - he just sat up there stoically. The first time I saw him on stage was when we were living in Washington. We'd just learned the banjo and he found out that there was a competition. We found out there was a competition somewhere down in Virginia for banjo playing. Neither of us knew really how to play. So we went down there.

ALTMAN: This was in Galax?

SEEGER: No, no. It wasn't as far down as Galax. It was within two or three hours driving of Washington, D.C. So we went down there with our little banjo. We were sharing a Stewart Banjo at the time.

ALTMAN: My goodness. How old were you then?

SEEGER: I would have been about 15 or 16. Mike was driving the old 1938 Chevy and he went up on stage and just sat there and played. And it was ridiculous, because there were people who could play rings around him at that time. I didn't have the courage to go and do it, but he did it. He didn't win a damn thing, but he met some of the players and he listened to them, and I just was sitting there shaking in my shoes. And I've fallen apart on stage. I never saw him fall apart on stage. And then the next time I saw him on stage was when I came back in 1960 and was at the Newport Festival and saw him with the New Lost City Ramblers, and my mouth dropped open. He was so cool and so well dressed and everything so beautifully rehearsed and totally professional.

ALTMAN: Wow. Did you play at that time?


ALTMAN: At the festival?

SEEGER: At Newport? Oh yes. I was there with Ewan MacColl.

ALTMAN: Oh my goodness.



SEEGER: So you know, he really - he worked very, very hard, and he practiced every day. He played every day.

ALTMAN: Well, it struck me - I saw you altogether by the way at UC Riverside, the Barn Folk Concert Series.

SEEGER: Oh lord.

ALTMAN: You, Mike and Pete.

SEEGER: Was it any good?

ALTMAN: It was - are you kidding? It was the greatest concert they ever had there.

SEEGER: Oh gosh.

ALTMAN: Oh, the woman who . . .

SEEGER: When was that?

ALTMAN: Well, it could have been 1992, because I have Mike's signature on his Tipple, Loom and Rail record and I might have brought it out there at that time, because I didn't know when I'd see him again. So it could have been 1992, but Dot Harris produced it. She ran the series.

SEEGER: Oh yes, I remember. How is Dot by the way?

ALTMAN: She has Alzheimer's, so she . . .

SEEGER: And is Bill still alive?

ALTMAN: Bill, no, no. Bill passed away. He had Parkinson's.


ALTMAN: Passed away a few years ago, and I tried very hard to get back in touch with Dot Harris, but she was in a home and I just had no luck making contact.

SEEGER: So she doesn't remember anybody?

ALTMAN: It's very likely, because that's how my mother - my mother passed away last year with Alzheimer's, so I kind of know the story of it.


ALTMAN: But she produced that concert, and at the time, it was not - it was considered a pretty rare thing to see all three of you on stage together. And somehow she managed to pull it off.

SEEGER: We never managed to work together easily because our ways of dealing, of relating to the audience are so different.

ALTMAN: Well, that's what I was going to say. That when Pete's on stage, he grabs the audience.


ALTMAN: You know. You can't ignore it. He reaches out to the audience and pulls them in, in every way.

SEEGER: And they come knowing that.

ALTMAN: They - yeah, that's part of why they are there. Mike was completely the opposite.

SEEGER: Uh huh.

ALTMAN: You had to come to him.


ALTMAN: And he was there for the music, not to make some communal experience with a thousand people or something.

SEEGER: Yeah. What does Peggy do?

ALTMAN: So let me ask you what you do?

SEEGER: I do both.

ALTMAN: You do both?

SEEGER: I'm not as good as Pete at that. But I'm as good as Mike at that...

ALTMAN: I see.

SEEGER: what he does. I don't play the same material, but I can draw the audience in, but I also do chorus songs and teach the choruses.

ALTMAN: Yeah. Well, it took me a much longer time to admire that way of performing.

SEEGER: That's all right. You don't have to.

ALTMAN: Because Pete, you know, you're a kid. You grew up going to kids concerts, and it's all there.

SEEGER: Okay, now Ross, I'm afraid I have to probably cut this short now.


SEEGER: I'm on turnaround time for the next four days and usually an interview is about 15 minutes.

ALTMAN: Oh really?

SEEGER: So we've gone way over on this.


SEEGER: It's been major. I'm glad if it's about Mike. I really am. Because...

ALTMAN: Can I ask you just one more thing here?

SEEGER: Very quick.

ALTMAN: All right. This simple question: How do you feel about Mike's musical legacy and his role in preserving and popularizing what he called the true vine of American music?

SEEGER: Well, what do you think?

ALTMAN: I don't think there was anybody quite like Mike. I think that he was, in some way, an emissary from another time and if he hadn't done what he did, I think those songs would still be sitting in the Library of Congress somewhere.


ALTMAN: So I think he's one of America's essential, one of the very few essential. . .

SEEGER: He's a one off...

ALTMAN: Musicians.

SEEGER: Absolutely a one off. Because he could have chosen another road. He was good enough to choose another road, but the road he chose made him into what he was. You know?


SEEGER: And we've had a number of those in our lifetime, Ross. We've had people like Pete, we've had people like Alan Lomax, who was another, big, big, big one. And they cared for more than just reproducing what they heard. Mike really cared about - not only about the music, but about the people who made it. Personally, about the people who made it.

ALTMAN: Well, I think that's a good note to end on...

SEEGER: I'm sorry if I've been abrupt, but . . .

ALTMAN: No, I'm sorry I caught you at a time when I'm sure you just want to relax.

SEEGER: We've been talking for about 50 minutes.

ALTMAN: Oh really? That's a reasonable amount of time. I can't thank you enough. And I hope you enjoy what I'll be sending back to you in the next couple of weeks. Thank you, Peggy.

SEEGER: Okay. Thank you so much...

ALTMAN: Bye, bye now.

SEEGER: I mean for doing the article, because I think that's a great thing to do.

ALTMAN: Well, I was really inspired by the few times I got to see Mike. He was just a complete joy. He really was.

SEEGER: He was wonderful.

ALTMAN: Again, thank you so much.

SEEGER: All right, bye.

ALTMAN: Bye bye.

Ross Altman has a Ph.D. in English. Before becoming a full-time folk singer he taught college English and Speech. He now sings around California for libraries, unions, schools, political groups and folk festivals. You can reach Ross at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..