Big Bill Broonzy & Pete Seeger – In Concert (1956)

FrontCover1.JPGAs part of its deal with Verve Records, Folkways Records has provided this tape of a joint concert by Big Bill Broonzy and Pete Seeger, performed at Northwestern University in 1956 and recorded by WFMT radio. Broonzy, in his early sixties, was two years away from his death; Seeger was in his mid-thirties. Each singer was clearly accustomed to performing as a solo, and their banter in this informal song pull was both friendly and also a bit awkward, with Seeger getting the worst of it, if only because his typical affected casualness came to seem a little more affected than usual. Nevertheless, after joining together on “Midnight Special,” the two managed some representative individual performances from their repertories, ranging from Broonzy’s mixture of old folk songs and old pop songs (“The Glory of Love,” “Why Don’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”) to Seeger’s politically oriented folk (the anti-war “Mrs. McGrath”), and borrowed classical material (“Goofin’ Off Suite,” with its Beethoven arranged for banjo). The editing of the tape is sometimes abrupt, and as the singers reach the end of the disc, they make it sound like they’re just breaking for intermission. But both come off effectively before an appreciative audience. (by William Ruhlmann)


This LP comes from a 1956 concert at Northwestern University, at a time when Broonzy had returned to his rural roots and was playing the folk circuit. (He would die two years later at age 55.) Like a lot of folk shows of that time, it includes several old chestnuts that we have by now heard too many times – “Midnight Special” (the only real duet by Broonzy and Seeger), and “This Train Is Bound for Glory”, “Crawdad Hole”, and “Why Don’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”, all performed by Broonzy. On “This Train” (perhaps most notable for the inclusion of some civil-rights lyrics) and “Crawdad Hole”, Broonzy basically limits himself to rhythm guitar, employing a sort of do-wacka-do pattern; on “Bill Bailey”, he adds a lot of fills. There’s also a play-party song attributed to Leadbelly, “Green Corn”, led by Seeger, that doesn’t really get anywhere. Other than that, though, the material is pretty interesting. Seeger contributes “Mrs. McGrath”, an uptempo Irish traditional song with antiwar lyrics, and “Goofin’ Off Suite”, an instrumental on banjo that includes his interpretation of “Ode to Joy”.


Broonzy plays three blues. The first, “Backwater Blues”, is a 12-bar blues written by Bessie Smith about a late-1920s flood in Mississippi, and is the only slow blues on the record; it gives him the chance to stretch out some on both guitar and vocals. The other two are originals – “Willie Mae”, another 12-bar blues but one on which Broonzy varies the length of the lines greatly, and “Alberta,” featuring a dramatically drawn-out a cappella intro (a device he uses on a number of tracks). But the real surprise is “The Glory of Love”, an old Tin Pan Alley song that Broonzy gives a Piedmont-blues treatment and on which he really shows off his prowess on guitar. The LP also has a couple of distinguishing characteristics that go beyond the music itself – the between-song patter, and the sense of listening in on a moment in history when the folk song revival was, in the words of Studs Terkel (who supplied the somewhat-overwritten liner notes), in its infancy. (fatpidgeon)


Alternate front + back cover

Big Bill Broonzy (guitar, vocals)
Pete Seeger (banjo, vocals, flute)


01. Midnight Special (Traditional) 6.07
02. Backwater Blues (Smith) 3.19
03. Green Corn (Ledbetter)  4.25
04. This Train Is Bound For Glory (Traditional) 4.25
05. Mrs. McGrath (Traditional) 5.41
06. Crawdad Hole (Traditional) 3.51
07. Medley 5.34
07.1. Hillel (Seeger)
07.2. The Glory Of Love (Hill)
08. Goofin’ Off Suite (Seeger) 5.11
09. Willie Mae (Broonzy) 3.23
10. Why Don’t You Come Home Bill Bailey (Traditional) 3.30
11. Alberta (Broonzy) 3.06