14 Sep 2010
Folk music icon Tom Paxton was born on October, 31, 1937 in Chicago, IL. When he was 11, he moved with his family to Bristow Oklahoma and he got his first guitar when he was 17. He majored in drama at the University of Oklahoma and played folk music in an off-campus coffee house. In 1960, Paxton was in the Army Reserves outside of New York City when he joined the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. It was the height of the folk revival, and he made friends with the scene’s movers and shakers, including Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs, and Noel “Paul” Stookey. Paxton performed regularly in Greenwich Village, including The Bitter End and the Gaslight, the latter of which released his debut album “I’m the Man That Built the Bridges” in 1962. In 1963, Pete Seeger sang Paxton’s “Ramblin’ Boy” at the Carnegie Hall Weavers reunion concert. Another Paxton song recorded by Seeger, “What Did You Learn in School Today?” was released on Columbia that same year. Also that year, Paxton’s “The Marvelous Toy” was recorded by The Chad Mitchell Trio (for which he had unsuccessfully auditioned) and was the group’s only hit.
Paxton’s songs were published in “Sing out!” and “Broadside,” and soon other artists were recording his songs. Paxton performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and the performance was released on Vanguard. In 1964, Paxton started recording for Elektra, with “Ramblin’ Boy” in 1964, “Ain’t That News” in 1965, “Outward Bound” in 1966, “Morning Again” in 1967, “The Things I Notice Now” in 1968, and “#6” in 1970. He left Elektra in the early 1970s.
Paxton has released more than 50 records. Although he has been successful in writing music and books for children, he is best known in the folk music world as a protest singer. And while Paxton never recorded a hit song for himself, he wrote many, including “The Last Thing on My Mind,” recorded by dozens of artists including Judy Collins, Peter Paul and Mary, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. Other popular songs include “The Marvelous Toy,” “Ramblin’ Boy, “I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” and “Bottle of Wine.” Paxton’s topics include satirical commentaries on societal and political issues, serious musings about the environment, killing and war, and topical songs about Attica, Lorena Bobbitt, Spiro Agnew, and Lyndon Johnson.
Paxton and wife Midge moved to England in 1970, where he signed to the UK branch of Warner Brothers, which released “How Come the Sun” on its Reprise imprint in 1971. Paxton’s first children’s album, “The Tom Paxton Children’s Song Book,” was released in 1974 on the British Bradley label. For the British MAM label, he recorded “Something in My Life” in 1975 and Saturday Night (1976). He recorded two albums for Vanguard, then several for the Mountain Railroad label, Hogeye Records, Flying Fish, and Appleseed. Paxton launched his own label, Pax Records, in 1986. In the early ’90s, Sony Kids released a series of children’s albums. In 1994 he signed with Sugar Hill.
The Paxtons moved to Old Town, Alexandria, VA in 1996. In 1997, Rounder Records released two children’s albums, “Goin’ to the Zoo” and “I’ve Got a Yo-Yo.” Several collections were released around 2000. Paxton received his first Grammy nomination for a children’s album, “Your Shoes, My Shoes” in 2002. Also in October 2002, Appleseed put out Tom’s first new studio album for grownups in eight years, “Looking for the Moon,” which was nominated for a Grammy, as was “Tom Paxton Live in the UK,” which included DC’s own Cathy Fink and Marcey Marxer in 2006.
Since 1997, Tom has received 10 Wammie awards, including one for his 2001 recording, “Under American Skies” with Anne Hills, and another for his 2008 studio recording “Comedians & Angels,” which was also Grammy-nominated.
Tom Paxton received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2009. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from ASCAP, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC in London.
Ernest “Pop” Stoneman was a pioneer in country music recording and The Stonemans rank among the nation’s prominent country families. Music shaped his life, and subsequently, his life indelibly shaped our American musical heritage. Pop Stoneman was born in 1893 in what would later become Galax, Virginia. He was proficient on the guitar, autoharp, harmonica, and banjo. Pop met and married Hattie Frost, whose father was a luthier, fiddler, and banjo player. Bill Frost had taught his daughter Hattie to play the banjo and fiddle, and she became a fine musician in her own right. Pop and Hattie were the parents of 23 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood and many of whom were members of The Stonemans.
In 1924, Stoneman went to NYC to record his “The Sinking of the Titanic” for Okeh records. It quickly became number three on the Billboard/Variety charts and remained there for ten weeks. This solo recording sold over one million copies. Stoneman helped convince record producer Ralph Peer to look for talent in the Appalachian region and Peer set up a recording studio in eastern Tennessee for the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1925, Pop and Hattie were the first of five acts to record for the famed Bristol, TN Recording Sessions, the so-called “big bang” of country music, which led to the discovery of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Country music historian Eddie Stubbs said that if those sessions were indeed the catalyst for the commercialization of country music, “then Ernest Stoneman lit the match for it all.” It is interesting to note that Pop Stoneman recorded 22 cuts for Thomas Edison in 1928.
Between 1924 and 1929 Stoneman recorded about 200 songs, but the Depression wiped him out and he had to go back to being a carpenter. He moved his family to Washington, D.C. in the early 1930s. After being a solo artist, Pop began to include his wife and adult family members in his performances, thus making the Stoneman name the longest continuously active name in country music. They started playing steadily in the DC area, including Constitution Hall as well as the many country bars cropping up around the city. In 1941, Pop bought a lot in Carmody Hills, MD, and worked at various jobs, including at the Naval Gun Factory. As many as 10 Stoneman children performed with Pop during the 1940s, and he called The Stoneman Family “the largest family of hillbillys (sic) on radio, television, and stage in the country.” In 1956, Pop won $10,000 on the NBC-TV quiz show “The Big Surprise.” That same year, the Blue Grass Champs, a group which included six Stoneman children, won on the CBS TV show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Mike Seeger also recorded Pop Stoneman for Folkways around this time.
Pop and Hattie Stoneman’s children were born musicians. Every member of the family has made recordings, many under labels such as MGM and RCA Victor. They had no musical training, but when their names are mentioned in the country music circles, e.g. – Donna, mandolin; Roni, banjo (and former member of “Hew Haw”); Scott, fiddle; Gene, guitar; Jim, bass; Van, lead vocalist & guitar – they are legendary.
The family first appeared nationally on the “Jimmy Dean TV Variety Show.” “The Grand Ole Opry” followed in 1962. In 1965 they moved to Nashville, where they got a contract with MGM Records and the next year hosted a syndicated television program, “Those Stonemans.” The group had a country music Top 40 hit in 1966 with “Tupelo County Jail” and a Top 30 hit the next year with “Five Little Johnson Girls.” In 1967 they received the Country Music Association’s “Vocal Group of the Year” award. At the height of their popularity, Pop Stoneman died in 1968 at age 75, but the family band continued for many years. On February 12, 2008, Ernest “Pop” Stoneman was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2009 he and his wife Hattie Frost Stoneman were enshrined in the Gennett Records Walk of Fame.
Patsy, Donna, and Jim Stoneman were on hand along with Doc Watson, Mike Seeger, and members of the Carter Family for a concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions on Sept. 5, 1997. Three of The Stonemans, Patsy, Donna & Roni, are still recording and performing.