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Seeger, Mike

Seeger, Mike

Seeger, Mike, folk-revivalist, multi-instru-mentalist, folklorist, and record producer, son of ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger and composer Ruth Crawford Seeger , and half-brother of folk revivalist Pete Seeger ; b. N.Y, Aug. 15, 1933. Seeger has played a seminal role in the preservation and popularization of old-time country music for nearly 40 years. He began performing as a bluegrass-styled banjo player in the Washington, D.C., area in the mid-1950s. He produced for Folkways Records one of the first albums of bluegrass music in 1957, an important anthology because Folkways catered to a Northern, urban audience who were unfamiliar (at that time) with the diversity of bluegrass styles. About the same time, he formed The New Lost City Ramblers with Tom Paley and John Cohen, a band dedicated to performing the old-time music of the 1920s and 1930s in almost literal, note-for-note recreations.

Seeger made his first solo LP in 1962 (Old-Time Country Music, Folkways). By using an Ampex multi-track tape machine, he was able to play all of the parts, creating in effect his own stringband. The sound of the album was not much different from the style of the Ramblers at that time. Perhaps most interesting was his recreation of both Monroe Brothers on the tune “Rollin’ On.”

In this same period, he began making a series of field trips to the South. One of the first artists he “discovered” was blues guitarist Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, who had worked as a maid for the Seeger family. It turned out that she was a talented guitar player in the country-blues style, as well as a skilled songwriter. (Her “Freight Train” became one of the hits of the folk revival.) Seeger also sought out performers of the 1920s and 1930s who had stopped recording; one of his most important finds was banjoist Doc Boggs. He was also a champion of the autoharp, introducing the country-picking of Maybelle Carter and other important autoharp players to a new audience. His anthology Mountain Music on the Autoharp introduced several fine players, including Kilby Snow.

Seeger recorded a second solo album in 1965 for Vanguard, a more low-keyed affair than his first, while continuing to perform with the Ramblers through 1968. Although the Ramblers never officially “disbanded,” they were less active from 1968 onwards. Seeger made two excellent solo albums for Mercury in the mid-1970s, Music from True Vine, featuring the charming autoharp song “I Rambled This Country from Early to Late,” and The Second Annual Farewell Reunion, that featured Seeger performing with traditional performers and revivalists; the most interesting cut on this was his eery recreation of “The Train that Carried My Girl from Town” by Frank Hutchinson, featuring Seeger on fiddle, harmonica, and vocals along with the slide guitar of Ry Cooder.

In the early 1970s, Seeger formed with Ramblers bandsmate Tracy Schwartz, then-wife Alice Gerrard, Hazel Dickens, and bluegrass banjo player Lamar Grier a bluegrass-country group called The Strange Creek Singers. This short-lived band played an amalgam of country and bluegrass sounds. Seeger also performed as a duo with Alice Gerrard, and the pair recorded an album for Greenhays Records, and with his sister Peggy Seeger. (The two made a 1968 duo recording for British Argo records, and also performed songs from their mother’s collections of children’s songs for Rounder records,

Through the 1980s and early 1990s, Seeger continues to perform as a soloist and sometimes member of The New Lost City Ramblers. He also was the main force behind the old-time music “exercise” record, A-Robics and the Exertions (Flying Fish). He continued his field work, producing the videotape Talkin’ Feet in the late 1980s, a documentary on traditional flat- foot dancing of the upper South.

Dlscography

Old Time Country Music (1962); Mike Seeger (1965); Peggy ‘n’ Mike (with Peggy Seeger; 1968); Music from True Vine (1972); Second Annual Farewell Reunion (1973); American Folk Songs for Children (with Peggy Seeger; 1988); Third Annual Farewell Reunion (1997); Fresh Old-Time Stringband Music (1988); Southern Banjo Styles (1999); Retrograss (with David Grissman and John Hartford; 1999). field recordings by mike seeger: Close to Home Old Time Music from Mike Seeger’s Collection 1952–67 (1998).

—Richard Carlin

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