Your crusty chronicler is generally a shy, innocent white boy in real life. You know the Clark Kent type . . . a “mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan (online) newspaper who fights a never-ending battle for truth. . . Well, you get the idea.
On the internet, however, he occasionally manages to converse. In fact, in one rare conversation with California-based, croonin’ cutie Natasha James, the singer-songwriter came up with an idea for an Examiner article. She said “(James Taylor is a) seminal songwriter, maybe you could do a piece on a collective of seminal songwriters too?” Your rascally writer inquired: “Maybe . . . anyone special in mind?”
At this point she brought out a list of recording artists including both guys and gals. It seemed that maybe a list of said singer-songwriters with brief intros might very well be of interest to someone. So welcome to another new series here on Examiner thanks to the inspiration of the lovely Natasha James.
(Please view the list to see the first line-up of seminal singer-songwriters.)
American folk singer-songwriter/musician Joan (Chandos) Baez is up first this edition. She was born on born January 9, 1941. The vibrato-voiced vixen is also an activist and to this day her tunes are topical and often deal with numerous social issues.
She began her career performing in Boston coffeehouses and got her big break as an unknown, unbilled act at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. Her career took off the next year. She scored three gold records in a row with her platters Joan Baez, Joan Baez, Vol. 2, and Joan Baez in Concert .
Her hits include: “Diamonds & Rust” her versions of Phil Ochs’s “There but for Fortune” and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” as well as “Farewell, Angelina”, “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word”, “Joe Hill”, “Sweet Sir Galahad” and “We Shall Overcome”. Baez played Woodstock in 1969 and helped bring attention to Bob Dylan’s songs. She has played live for over 5 decades, put out more than 30 albums and also recorded interesting interpretations of songs by such acts as The Allman Brothers Band, Violeta Parra, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Natalie Merchant, The Rolling Stones, Steve Earle, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.
The late Steve (Benjamin) Goodman was a Chicago-born folk singer-songwriter who was born on July 25, 1948. He was active in the music industry from 1968 until late 1984 when he died of Leukemia. Perhaps is most well-known song is “City of New Orleans” which was made famous first by balladeer Arlo Guthrie and later by Country star Willie Nelson. Goodman’s accomplishments also include scoring two Grammy Awards.
His daughter, Rosanna, issued the disc My Old Man in 2006. This was a tribute album that compiled various acts playing their versions of her father’s compositions. Goodman’s music was again thrust into the spotlight in 2007 when Clay Eals published his detailed biography titled Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. That was also the year that Goodman’s beloved Chicago Cubs began playing his 1984 tune “Go, Cubs, Go” after each home game victory. His discography includes almost 20 albums and he worked with such other artists as John Prine, Kenneth C. “Jethro” Burns, Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Koloc, Steve Martin, Tom Paxton and David Allan Coe.
American singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris was born on April 2, 1947. Her career truly began after her marriage to songwriter Tom Slocum in 1969. It was then that she recorded her premiere platter, Gliding Bird. She is currently known as a solo artist, a bandleader and as a backing vocalist or duet partner. Harris has worked across genres including folk, country, bluegrass, country rock, pop and alt-country.
She has worked with an assortment of other artists including Gram Parsons, Mark Knopfler, John Denver, Guy Clark, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Rodney Crowell, The Band, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Currently she has released 26 studio albums, three live releases, 11 compilations, three video albums and 70 singles. Some of her most successful and/ or popular songs include “Together Again”, “Beneath Still Waters”, ”Thanks to You”, “The Road” and “The River’s Gonna Run” with Sam Bush.
Townes Van Zandt
Last but not least, is yet another American singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Born on March 7, 1944, he never had a commercially successful; LP or single. Van Zandt had but a small, devoted fanbase while still alive. In fact, he struggled to keep his releases in print because of that.
He was mainly a folk and country composer. His song, “Pancho and Lefty”, was made popular by Emmylou Harris in 1977 and made it to number one on the Billboard country music charts in 1983 after being recorded by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He mainly toured dives and was known for his alcoholism and drug addictions.
Many of his tunes, including “If I Needed You,” “To Live Is to Fly,” and “No Place to Fall” are considered standards. He died on January 1, 1997 due to health issues caused by years of substance abuse. The last decade witnessed a resurgence of interest in Van Zandt due to the publication of two books and a documentary. His music has been covered by such artists as Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Cowboy Junkies, Andrew Bird, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
So there you have it, music fans, the second song-filled edition of this new series inspired by none other than seminal songstress Natasha James. James, you may recall, composed cuts such as “Angel With Broken Wings”. Hopefully, you enjoyed it. Feel free to submit your favorite seminal songwriters–male or female–for inclusion here. It’s all about sharing the music.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.