I have written about my love of collecting vintage magazines via my pieces chronicling the motherlode of copies of Life that I lucked into last year as well as the issue of Maclean’s that was synchronous with a Season Four Mad Men episode. While it’s always great to find single-issue periodical gems, it’s even better to find a clustered clutch of a specific publication from a particular era.
At this year’s Friends of Library and Archives Canada's Annual Book Sale — one we try to never miss — I hit a mini-jackpot when I came upon seven vintage copies of Sing Out! Spanning the years 1964-66, each is in superb condition and was inexpensively priced (they were $2-3 each; so far I’ve found them selling online for $20-30 a pop).
Sing Out! is a folk-focussed journal that was inaugurated in 1950 and survives until this day. But it was in the mid-60s, at the height of the folk music boom, that Sing Out! reached its circulation peak and had its greatest cultural impact. Suffice it to say, as a magazine collector, student of social history, and music nut who has a big love for a lot of the 1960s folk music and artists, it was one sweet treat to stumble onto multiple copies from this core era.
Things went from regular, unsalted "Cool" to "Super Cool, Daddy-o" once I started examining the actual contents and realized that two of the issues at hand are among the most referenced in Sing Out!’s history.
The November 1964 issue (see above) looks back at that year’s Newport Folk Festival – one of the headiest and best-attended editions of the festival.
Above: Peter, Paul, & Mary’s Mary Travers and Bob Dylan (inset) at Newport ‘64. Below: Paul Nelson’s feature report on that year’s festival.
Most significantly, however, is that this issue features the infamous "Open Letter to Bob Dylan" from SO! co-founder and then-editor, the late Irwin Silber (below).
The letter scolds Dylan for moving away from his previously oft-topical material and into writing songs that were not only more personal, but "maybe even a little maudlin or a little cruel on occasion." Silber felt that the "paraphernalia of fame" was getting in Dylan’s way, aiding him to lose "contact with people." Dylan responded by distancing himself from Sing Out!, instead investing himself in his newly developing electric sound and increasingly abstract lyrics, the results reaching full fruition with his classic 1965 releases, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.
"A little cruel"? "Ballad in Plain D," anyone?
Well, if Irwin was a wee miffed with Bobby in 1964, he worked himself into a right state over Dylan’s electrification in ‘65. The Bobster unleashed his new sound and approach, backed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, to the 1965 Newport Festival folks, the response deeply dividing the folk community between the booing purists and applauding futurists.
Dylan is conspicuously absent from the cover of the November 1965 edition (above) ... although he gets a page all of his own on just inside (below).
The November 1965 issue recaps that year’s Newport Folk Festival, an historic event owing to Dylan’s controversial plugged-in set and the range of reactions it provoked. Inside the magazine, both Silber and then-Managing Editor Paul Nelson present radically different interpretations of the festival in general, and Dylan’s performance in particular.
Nelson had long been a Dylan booster, dating back to their days when they were both living in Minnesota. As a lynchpin in a publication that was about to start panning Dylan over his new sound and songs, Nelson wanted no part of it. He saw the writing on the wall.
While Silber writes that Newport ‘65 was like a "carnival gone mad" in general, and that "disappointed legions did not think (that Bob Dylan's set) was very good Dylan," Nelson instead penned a prescient condemnation on those wanting to keep the status quo vs the new world that he saw Dylan inaugurating. He stood firm, countering with "I choose Dylan. I choose art. I will stand behind Dylan and his ‘new’ songs, and I’ll bet my critical reputation that I’m right."
Once published, Nelson resigned as Managing Editor, spending the next 20 odd years as a behind-the-scenes visionary: working for Mercury records, signing the New York Dolls and Rod Stewart, and eventually becoming one of Rolling Stone’s best writers during it’s 1970’s heyday.
Upon closer examination, a third issue of SO! — from January 1966 (see below) — also proved noteworthy as it was the final one to be published in its smaller, digest size before debuting in its new 8"x11" dimensions.
Advertising 1: Instruments and Accessories
As with all magazines, I often have a particular interest in the advertising, from semiotic, historical, and visual perspectives. Being a publication aimed at the folk community meant that ads for instruments, especially for guitars, are plentiful throughout each issue.
She needs to start ironing that hair if she’s going to be a real "folk music-maker."
Maybe Mr. Kingston Trio Jr. is looking for "an action that’s fast and easy" with that Beatnik chick salaciously lurking behind him.
Wanna sign up?
And here all along I’d been thinking it was diamonds. Check out those knee socks.
Harmony should be glad they weren’t trying to flog guitars during the Sousaphone era.
Folk Stars in Advertising: The Serendipity Singers lay it down for Guild guitars.
This is my favourite: I love the graphic and the ad’s overall composition.
Ta da! Banjos are instruments too! There's also a nice dulcimer or six to be had through the ads.
Simple yet terrific graphic, lettering, and layout for this ad for La Bella strings.
Advertising 2: Records and Stores
As a music collector, I especially enjoy the many ads for then-contemporary new album releases, in particular from two of the key folk labels of the day: Elektra and Vanguard.
While a contemporary pop/rock label since the later 1960s, Elektra was predominantly an independent folk label prior to that. I love seeing the original Elektra guitar player logo in a print ad.
Phil Ochs’ 1964 debut album: All The News That’s Fit To Sing.
Another Big Debut: Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965), from the band who had backed Dylan during his controversial set at Newport that year. Ads and articles about more traditional blues artists were plentiful in SO!, but advertising Butterfield’s album must have felt like heresy to some Sing Out! readers.
BTW, I’ve heard this fine album, and I agree with its tagline.
Okay, if you schlepped up with the $1 for this set, I’ll bet you’ve long thought it was a dollar well spent. What a line-up of talent on a single disc! Almost 50 years later, this ad is selling me on going out and buying the album, and it’s long out of print. Now that’s persuasion.
Meanwhile Vanguard were releasing albums by ...
... Canadian legends Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, better known simply as Ian and Sylvia. Their third LP, Northern Journey, features Sylvia’s "You Were On My Mind," later a big hit for We Five. **FACTOID**: I have an aunt who was involved in an amateur theatre company in Chatham, Ontario in the 1950s, which Sylvia was also part of. My Aunty J said that even then Sylvia really stood out as different, and that she liked her. "Sylvia was so unhappy in Chatham," she told me.
Celebrations for a Grey Day, the 1965 debut album by Mimi and Richard Farina. As for Mimi’s sister ...
... Joan Baez was releasing Farewell, Angelina. She and Dylan may have been through, but she still included four of his numbers on the LP.
Out of all the majors, Columbia was probably the most invested in the folk scene, signing Dylan, Pete Seeger, and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, among others. Columbia placed several cluster ads in almost every issue, highlighting a number of their most recent folk or folk-related titles.
The backpages are loaded with nifty smaller ads for independent record stores, labels, and publishers (below).
Advertising 3: Etc.
Other types of advertisements in Sing Out! cover include ...
Hermes Nye (???) pens the age’s Folksinging For Dummies ...
... an early, low budget ad for the fledgling rock magazine, Crawdaddy ...
... It’s a Radio! It’s an Amp! It’s $24.95! It’s a piece of crap ...
... meanwhile, Folklore Productions and legendary folk agent Harold Leventhal promotes talent rosters, Leventhal via where his acts are playing next (below). That's one impressive lineup of gigs!
Of course, you can always subscribe if you don’t want to miss an issue.
One of the magazine's other mandates was to help disseminate songs, both traditional and new, to the emerging folk community and its musicians. Here are two typically topical tunes of the day: Tom Paxton’s "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation" and Malvina Reynolds’ "Napalm."
Meanwhile, here's Dylan's classic "All I Really Want to Do," appearing in print several months before turning up on Another Side of Bob Dylan. Of course, that’s the album that got Irwin Silber’s knickers in a twist, and following the Open Letter, Dylan forbid any further songs of his from appearing in Sing Out!
Otherwise, Sing Out! Features Focus On ...
... the civil rights movement ...
... contemporary folk, country or blues performers, such as Ramblin’ Jack Elliott ...
... overviews covering scenes of varying geographies, with the above piece on Toronto from 1965, noting that "Local hero Gordon Lightfoot is achieving wider and wider acclaim for his songs" along with a review of that year’s Mariposa festival ...
I was stoked to read a piece on the Donnelly family, or The Black Donnellys as they were/are better known. This family-as-gang were a nefarious mid-18th Century crew in the Biddulph Township, not too far from where I grew up. When I was younger, I read many books about the Donnellys, fascinated with this dark, violent chapter in Canadian history, that only took place about a 20 minute car ride away. Here is an article on the Donnelly’s history (above) along with a song, "The Black Donnelly Feud" (below).
The Emergence of Folk Rock and the Wane of the Folk Boom
The line in the sand that Dylan drew at Newport ‘65 had fully polarized an audience within a year, with the more purist folk community now receding in the shadow of the Folk Rock explosion.
Silber demonizes the movement with foot-stomping effluvia like "Folk Rock: Thunder Without Rain" ...
... while the somewhat appropriately named Cipher Guitar ads played up this new culture war ...
... or simply portrayed it as the ginchiest, lauding its "free ridin’ beat" in this Hagstrom ad. Seriously, have you ever seen a happier group of people?
And, In the End ...
Silber did ultimately have just cause for worry, in his own respects. While the early ‘60s boom solidified folk enclaves around the world and provided a stage for some brilliant later performers, it’s moment of being the "alternative" music was succeeded by the emergence of folk rock, garage rock, and psychedelia in the 1960s second half. By 1968, Silber was no longer editor, and the heady 1965 subscription peak of 25,000 was decimated, Sing Out! barely hanging on. Despite these and other setbacks, it has stood its ground and endured, celebrating its 60th anniversary last year.
Sing on, Sing Out!
Craft Corner: Here is a double CD compilation I made a few years back for myself and a few others — Folk Off! — featuring some of my favourite folk or (folk-ish/influenced) songs and performers from the late 1940s until 2003, but with a substantial focus on the 1960s. I’ve played the dickens out of it over time, particularly at this time of year. That 52-song CD is now a 100+ song iPod playlist.
Click on the photo to see a short film made for Sing Out!'s 50th Anniversary, about the history of the magazine.
To conclude, here are a couple of songs from some of my favourite, lesser known folk singers from the 60s:
Judy Henske, "High Flying Bird." What an incredible voice and delivery on this bluesy classic from 1963.
Tim Hardin’s "Reason To Believe." Rod Stewart of course did a famous cover of this track, but I have a big fondness for the succinct, understated original.
Okay, I freakin’ love Fred Neil. He only recorded a few albums but damn he was good. His self-titled Capitol Records debut from 1966 was thisclose to being on my Top 15 LPs Open Call shortlist. From that album, here is "I’ve Got A Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)."
And finally, someone when they were unknown. It’s the Canadian TV show Let’s Sing Out, this evening featuring a singer, one Joni Anderson. She of course went on to become Joni Mitchell. Here she is, all fresh faced and pink cheeked in 1965, performing the early song "Born to Take the Highway."
Next On Stage in the My Life — In Concert! series à From Folk Festivals past to this year's Ottawa Folk Festival, curated by the Bluesfest crew ...
168. Trees Outside the Academy: 2011 Ottawa Folk Festival with Thurston Moore, Bright Eyes, Tom Morello/The Nightwatchman, and The Little Stevies, Hog’s Back Park, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, August 25-28, 2011.
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© 2011 VariousArtists