Mike Seeger – "Last Known Interview"

Features, Interviews — By on September 18, 2008 1:01 am

The Vine of American music grew slowly at first. Traditions were passed down from person to person. Music and musicians were relatively isolated, unique to each region. This slowly shifted as people arrived here from a wider range of countries, settled more of the country.

The advent and growth of recording, radio and the Internet, new frontiers, have helped shape American music as well. Virginian and musician Mike Seeger, brother of popular Folk singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, has recorded traditional American music for decades. His parents were among the first people to do so. He describes the impact of technology on American music:

“The whole way that we deal with music now is very different than prior to 1925, when we started recoding in earnest. The first recording was in 1922. It took off in 1925, shortly after electricity made it possible to record a guitar. Before you couldn’t, it was too quiet, too subtle.

“The whole idea of being able to hear somebody you never heard face to face was an amazing change. It sped up the development of American music. So did increasing urbanization, which was happening at the same time, the result of industrialization, which had also sped things up. It was a changing process.

“At first, radio was very much regional or local. The advent of the playing of recordings gradually changed that. This was during the 30’s and into the 40’s or so. At that time it began to expand, became less locally oriented. And it grew from there.

“Now the Internet is gradually broadening the whole thing, making it much more open to difference. Radio and recording changed the process of music into one that was commercial. In a way, the Internet is doing that a little by giving people who aren’t necessarily pro’s access to tools formerly only available to professionals. This makes the possibility of becoming a professional more or at least a professional as seen by Mr. Google, more available.”

My Grandmother: Music in the Rural South, 1930s-1950s

My Grandmother, Edith Bissette, grew up in a musical family in rural Virginia and North Carolina in the 30s and 40s as the changes Mike Seeger describes were taking place. She expands on what Mike describes above as she tells us not only what the advent of radio was like in the rural South, but what life and music were like as well.

She and her brothers played the traditional music of the rural South. Her brothers played on the radio when radio was new. By the 60s, musicians like them, every day people playing in their homes and with friends would, in part through the efforts of Mike Seeger, influence the way all genres of American music sound today. We hear echoes of the music they played, the traditional music of the Southeast in today’s most popular songs.

“When they first came on scene it was in 30s during the Depression, 1929 or 31 or something”, my Grandmother said, “my neighbors were the only people in the area who could afford one and everyone from miles around would go to their house every Saturday night to listen to it. Saturday night was only time you could get anything but news on it, and you usually got more static than anything else.

“Back then, radio was on only a short time in the morning and then in the evening. Maybe news came on at 12. There was only one station, it was local, then regional, eventually national. As technology progressed, people became more aware of what could be done with it. At first radio was just entertainment, then advertising found a place on it, now it’s used for everything.

“A lot more people played music back then. My mother ordered an organ from Sears when she was first married and I loved to play when I was big enough for my feet to touch the pedals. By that time, my brothers had almost wrecked it.

“They used to run up and down the hall with it. I don’t think it was very well constructed anyway, but they wrecked it. When I got older, I wanted a piano so badly I even promised my Daddy I’d never get married if he’d get me one. But it was the Depression, and we couldn’t afford it. I learned to love music playing the organ.

“You wouldn’t know it from that but my brothers were musically inclined too. A lot of people on my mothers’ side were. We mostly learned from our uncle, who played guitar. He would drink and then come by the house. My mother didn’t appreciate him coming by when he was drinking, but he would and he would bring his guitar and sit on the steps and play.

“I picked it up by ear. We all did. It takes more than learning from a book for anyone to be an accomplished musician of any magnitude I think it has to be somewhere in your genes. My mothers’ younger sister played guitar when she was young.

“You have to just have it somewhere in your bones to want to pick up an instrument, especially without music. Religious songs were written down but we didn’t play those. Song sheets were popular at the time but we didn’t have them. We made them up. To do that, you have the something it takes or don’t.

“People played all kinds of things back then, whatever they could make or afford; guitars, accordions, banjos, and zithers. The first instrument brother my brother had he made from gourd. It had 3 strings. He graduated to a cigar box, built a staff on the box. He went from there to being able to buy a cheap one guitar. Eventually he got a Gibson.

“My brothers started playing guitar with 2 other boys in a band called The Rambling Hustlers. They would play at parties. A friend got them on a Saturday broadcast from Rocky Mount. I practiced with them but didn’t play on the program.

“I never even thought of a woman going with 4 men to play on a radio program somewhere at that time. My Mother wouldn’t have let me. Things weren’t nearly as open they are now. It would have given me a bad reputation to go. People were old fashioned in their thinking then. There was nothing modern in my day.

“Old Man Depression didn’t start growing a full beard until 37 in the country where I was, we had an easier time than people in the city did I think. We could grow our own food. We did a lot to help each other, worked together as a community.

“We started coming out of it in the early 40s with World War II. People started thinking more about entertainment. By that time radio was national, and more people were able to buy them. Around that time, there was a barn dance in Richmond on Saturday nights called the Old Dominion Barn Dance.

“A woman named Sunshine Sue had a show there that was broadcast on the radio. She had the Carter sisters perform I think, I don’t remember who but remember seeing them. Mother Maybelle was there every Saturday. I didn’t go every Saturday but I went often.

“It seems Mother Maybelle and her daughters were living in Ashland at the time because of her husband. I remember a friend of mine pointing out their farm there. They may have went to Nashville and the Opry from there, and then June met Johnny Cash. I’m not sure of it though.

She didn’t realize when she went to the Barn Dance to see Mother Maybelle play that she was watching someone who’s guitar style, along with her families’ music would influence the way not only Country music, but other American genres would be played from that time on, but she was. The Carters were, in a sense, our first Pop stars, touring and recording songs that remain popular today; “Keep on the Sunny Side”, for example.

Not only the hundreds of songs recorded by the Carter family but many of the traditional songs my Grandmother remembers playing have remained popular. They’re mostly known now as rock or pop songs, popularized by countless musicians, including Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, and Johnny Cash.

I didn’t go into that with my Grandmother. I think she’s happier not knowing. She’d balk at the very name of The Grateful Dead, I’m certain. But I was curious to know if she’d heard any of the songs I knew before they were recorded.

She could only remember one. She said there was a man who worked with her family on their farm. On his day off, he would walk to the nearest city.

She said he sang the same song each time he went off down the road. When I asked her what it was, she started to sing what you may recognize as a Grateful Dead song:

“Goin’ down the road, feelin’ bad.

Goin’ down the road, feelin’ bad.

Goin’ down the road, feelin’ bad, bad, bad.

Don’t want to be treated this-a-way.”

The hair on my arms stood up. I felt like he’d walked to the crossroads of past and future, and sang loud enough to be heard in the present. In a sense he had, via the True Vine. And so the voice of one man walking a hard and lonely road echoes through decades of popular music.

Mike Seeger: The 60s Folk Revival to the Present:

Mike Seeger has helped bring the music of the rural South to popular attention. It is in great part through his influence on his own generation that we hear the voice of the otherwise unknown wanderer my Grandmother describes in a Grateful Dead song, for example. Though he influenced Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan, he feels that all musicians, those who play for their own enjoyment and with their friends, those of younger generations as well as his own, have equally helped shape the Vine of American music. We perhaps see this reflected in the stories of my Grandmother and Bo Bice. Here is a little of Mike’s story…

Mike Seeger? Sure, most of you probably know who he is, or have heard of him, but why isn’t he super-famous, like Bob Dylan or Jerry Garcia? Well, he reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. Ensconced in the emerald green of the Shenandoah Valley, he has been, for some time, a “’man behind the curtain”; an somewhat unseen, yet fundamental force in American music.

As the Wizard didn’t set out to change Oz, Mike didn’t set out to change music, or to be a celebrity. He just does what comes naturally to him. He was born with music in his blood and so he plays.

He’s not an average musician, he’s not even an average exceptional musician. His unique style and approach were somewhat revolutionary during an important and influential era of American music, the 60s. That’s not the type of thing even the most talented musicians achieve. But he didn’t try to do that. He just did all that by being himself.

He’s a very good example of what my Grandmother said, “to be an accomplished musician of any magnitude, you just have to have it somewhere in your bones. You have the something it takes or don’t.” There are many accomplished musicians. Some of them have it in their bones. There is, however, only one Mike Seeger.

He doesn’t keep his talent on an inaccessible pedestal as many who have reached his level of accomplishment do. He shares it by playing it every day with musicians from his own and younger generations, showing us that it can be part of our daily lives as it is of his. Because of this, he has helped shape American music.

Mike is described in ‘Rolling Stone Magazine’ as “An American artist standing forth…himself branch and root of the entwined true vine…” said of himself in our recent interview:

“These days you tend to think of personalities as being the most important thing. When I started with music I thought of that secondarily. Because I’m playing the music, the music I’m choosing says something about me, in sounds and with the types of songs I choose. But I’ve always felt I’m part of a long process, which is why I call it music from the true vine. Mine is just a part of it.”

Although ‘Rolling Stone’ seems to focus on Mike Seeger the celebrity, and Mike Seeger on himself as a part of the Vine. I see that not only is he part of the vine, but its gardener. He is not only a performer but has helped ensure its preservation by devoting himself throughout his life to recording and archiving traditional American music for both the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.

The lyrics of these songs provide a first-hand history of every day people. It is, in many instances, the only record of them we have. In them, we have a soundtrack of American life. It is part of the ever-growing American cultural tradition Mike Seeger named in his 2005 CD the “True Vine”.

The musical branches of the Vine tumble and wind from Virginia, across Appalachia onward through the territories of American music. Each culture in our country has helped to water it, so that it’s branches have become blues, bluegrass, country, rock, rap and all American genres. In it, we see generational, cultural unity. By participating in it, as listeners or as musicians, we can maintain the unity in our own generation, laying groundwork for generations to come, as Mike did and continues to do.

Bob Dylan, another underlying force of generational unity, said of meeting Mike Seeger, in his Chronicles:

“He was extraordinary, gave me an eerie feeling. Mike was unprecedented. He was a duke, a knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart…It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them. It dawned on me that I might have to change my inner thought patterns…the thought occurred to me that maybe I’d have to write my own songs, ones that Mike didn’t know. That was a startling thought.”

Though he does have a strikingly sonorous voice, Mike didn’t strike me as eerie over the phone. In fact, he was the opposite, down to earth, funny. It is a little eerie, however, that almost as if in response to the above he said in our interview:

“All music doesn’t have to be something. These days, people seem to think you either make up your own music or you’re not anything. That’s not the important thing. You can do that, as Mr. Dylan has shown, make up things on your own and show your perception of past, but also what the possibilities are. I think there’s real value in that. I think, at the same time, it’s very important to keep old songs alive.”

Why is keeping the old songs alive so important? Well, there are many answers to that, too many to explore in one feature. One reason is in the music of the True Vine we have a first-hand account of people like my Grandmother, of people who lost the battle of potential versus opportunity: railroad workers, coal miners, members of the underground railroad, those blown about in the Dust Bowl, migrant workers, and countless other minorities and those who fought for their rights throughout American history. It is these people who often have the most to say; but for their songs their voices would be silent.

Of it Mike said:

“It’s very like classical music in a way, but it’s the classical music of the people. That’s why they called it folk music. There was classical music and there was folk music. All music has, since then, built on a combination of both.”

The music of the folks has inspired countless recording artists. Many, if not most, of the songs recorded by both Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead were either traditional or tradition-based songs. Before them, Pete Seeger along with band-mates Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, along with countless others did the same, each in their own unique way. Many follow in their footsteps.

This music encompasses the entire range of human experience and emotion. The songs that speak of hardship seem to be the ones most often re-recorded by popular musicians during turbulent times. Perhaps this is because they are so straightforward about past struggles they unveil present injustices equally well. They speak the timeless truth of the experience of multitudes.

Often the heroes of the songs become archetypes, like John Henry or Stagger Lee Shelton, the first musician on record as selling his soul to the Devil. Some of the musicians who popularized the music have also become almost archetypal, like Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan and, as Bob Dylan himself pointed out, Mike Seeger.

Is this because of the singers or the songs? While the answer is both, (they are as entwined as the branches of the vine), I think the scales tip slightly more heavily on the side of the songs. They are re-interpreted, generation after generation, as they have always been.

We hear them in some of the music of Johnny Cash, who once gave Bob Dylan his guitar, a symbolic gesture that reflected his feeling that their music was connected. In addition to his popular “American” albums and the recent movie about his life, a play based on this, “Ring of Fire,” opened on Broadway in February.

Bob Dylan, up to now infamously reclusive, is breaking the silence with his recently published autobiography as well as in documentary recently aired. A Broadway show incorporating his music is in the works.

These tributes, along with the work of new and established artists have contributed to bringing the immense relevance of this music back to popular attention. Bruce Springsteen recently released a Pete Seeger tribute album. Cyndi Lauper and Bono are incorporating traditional music into their work more and more. Neil Young wrote a new set of songs for his recent protest album. Artists in younger generations are doing the same. We are having another folk revival.

Why right now? It may seem to us that these people and songs speak to us because we feel we live in a uniquely uncertain time. Maybe right now we thirst for truth yet find it too often veiled, so hear the eternal truth of the “True Vine” more clearly.

However, looking back, life has always been this way. Moving forward from 1607 through the history of all American people, decade by decade, one finds new struggles as injustice dons different masks: economic depression, the ravages of the dust bowl, the struggles for equal rights, war after war after war after war after war. In the face of each sorrow, traditional or tradition-based songs rise up and speak loudly against it.

The music of the True Vine is the heart of the struggle. New songs have grown from it, others have been adapted, the words changing as each artist reflects his or her own time in its mirror. The men and women who have written, recorded and popularized these songs have often been jailed, killed or otherwise had their lives destroyed for their efforts. It is in this light that I see Mike’s efforts to “keep these old songs alive” and the importance he places upon doing that.

For example, during the heated struggles for workers’ rights in the early 1900s, a singer, songwriter and activist named Joe Hill was jailed, tried and given a death sentence. His songs were part of the reason why. His music, traditional and tradition-based, became a sort of hymnal for those who fought against the extreme conditions of the Industrial Revolution. This led, ultimately, to the reforms that were the foundation of today’s labor laws. Some of us may know him through the beautiful song Joan Baez wrote about him in the 60s. Most of us have, probably unknowingly, heard his story in the song “Long Black Veil,” recorded by Johnny Cash, The Chieftains and others.

Another example of the force of these songs is found in the life and music of Pete Seeger. He wrote and co-wrote immortal classics like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “We Shall Overcome”. We all know that these and other folk songs were sung as riots raged in the ’60s, but did you know it happened in the ’40s, too? At that time at a music festival in upstate New York, Pete Seeger and many others were attacked in full sight of police. Worse still, the police appear to have assisted the attackers. Why? This was because their music strongly supported integration and workers’ rights, among other things. Poor people, African-Americans and unions, oh my!

Pete would not be defeated, he ‘overcame’, (just like his song) and kept on being an “unsettler” in the landscape of American music. In the ’50s, he was blacklisted by McCarthy, which drove him and much of the newly emerging pop-folk genre underground. When called before the Committee, he refused to speak against others but also refused to take the 5th Amendment, which many artists cited in attempts to avoid testifying about others when faced with the same situation. (They failed. McCarthy imprisoned many and/or had their careers destroyed.)

An unabashed Pete said he was happy to talk about his music, which was, he thought, why he’d been called before them in the first place. As a frustrated and blustering Committee repeatedly talked themselves in circles trying to get something out of him, he asked if they’d heard the music. He then offered to sing instead of speak, humorously remarking that he wasn’t sure how well he’d do without his banjo, but he’d try. The Committee declined and threatened him with 10 years prison time.

The music of the True Vine has also “disrupted” people’s lives in happier ways. An example of this is found in the life and music of Elizabeth Cotten, who worked for the Seeger family. Peggy Seeger, sister of Mike and Pete as well as a beloved folk singer and prolific songwriter, was active in the folk revival in England. Among other songs, she brought Freight Train there, which she had learned from Elizabeth.

Elizabeth won a Grammy in the ’80s for her “Live” album. She was a talented songwriter and had a guitar picking style that influenced the way the instrument is played in popular music today. Though she was obviously a quite remarkable musician, the music-laden Seegers didn’t know it for some time. Mike said:

“She worked for our family for about five years before anyone knew she played an instrument. One day my sister found her playing the family guitar. Later, Peggy sang Freight Train, which at the time I don’t think any of us even knew she’d written, when living in England. It was picked up by English folk singers who made Pop recordings of it. Then Americans made Pop recordings from there. There have been recordings of tradition-based songs ever since. All have been huge hits.”

So, Freight Train was a sort of musical “shot heard ’round the world”. Elizabeth Cotten, contrary to what one might imagine, did not become rich and famous although her song skyrocketed instantly to #5 on British Pop Charts and was recorded by countless other artists. I asked what happened and Mike said that after his brother helped her sue a publishing company she got 1/3. “After that”, he said, “sometimes they paid her and sometimes they didn’t.”

“Was she angry with this?” I asked. “Well, outside of the being angry about the money other people had made with their top 10 covers of her song?”

“I don’t know that she necessarily wanted that,” Mike said. “She was a remarkably graceful person. She didn’t have ill will and she went on being Elizabeth Cotten. She grew to love to perform for people and that’s what she did until she passed.”

What about Mike? Was his life also juggled like dice because of his music? I don’t think so, but he is definitely an “unsettler”. Perhaps he shook things up the most with The New Lost City Ramblers. Though they played traditional Southern music, they weren’t necessarily doing something new simply by doing that; urban musicians had been playing folk songs for quite some time.

The revolutionary thing about The New Lost City Ramblers was they played the music the way it was played in the rural South, whereas others before them gave it an urban sheen, smoothed it over. The Ramblers also toured with or otherwise promoted rural virtuosos like Maybelle Carter, the Stanley Brothers and the Monroe Brothers. The musicians of the urban folk-revival began to imitate them. The ever-humble Mike said of the Ramblers:

“We didn’t become influential, if we were, until the ’60s. A lot of musicians listened to our playing at that time who were folk urban, most notably Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia. We influenced them and others, not as well known, who started listening to and playing more and more traditional music. Bob Dylan continues. Jerry Garcia was going back that way.”

What did Mike Seeger, hope to find at the end of his yellow- brick road? Fame? Fortune? No. Like the Tin Man, he did it for love.

“I didn’t start out wanting to make a living doing it,” he said with graceful candor. “It just happened that it was possible to do it. We try to, in being musicians on our own, show that it’s accessible from day to day. To show that we have a lot to say, that old songs have a lot to say.”

Because of the impact he has had, in part through showing us that all musicians, of all levels and all generations, have something equally valuable to say, he has helped us to follow the winding path of the True Vine for a very long time. At the end of it, we are fortunate to still find a man, not a wizard. A man who is similar yet different from the rest of us because he most reflects the best parts of us: sincerity, humility, revolutionary boldness, and a rare, all-encompassing patriotism that embraces all Americans as equal. He tells it, or rather, plays it, like it is.

It is also the best of us that is reflected in his music. It is that to which we find him keeping time at the end of the vine. If we but find him and listen, we hear that the most valuable things we have are the unchanging truths we have had all along.

It is certainly a great honor for a musician to receive a Grammy Award, but it seems to me that it is Mike Seeger who has given the musicians and audiences of America the most valuable award of all. The ability to hear our own voices clearly resounding, echoing over centuries and some certainty that generations to follow will continue to do so. He gives us the heart, mind and courageous spirit of America that he so aptly calls the music of the True Vine.

So, if I ever become a rock star or whatever kind of music star, I don’t think I want a Grammy Award. I want a Mike Seeger Award.

Michael Seeger, Grants and Awards Include:

Six Grammy nominations, Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, The Smithsonian Research Fellowship Program, The Guggenheim Foundation

Via my Grandmother, we climbed a branch of the Vine through a window of the past and found ourselves carried upon its back into the present. Through the story of Mike Seeger, we found the Vine itself, past, present, and future. Now we will climb a branch of the now and perhaps peer into the future. Here we have another musician who emerged from deep-rooted Southern music traditions, Bo Bice. There is something of a prophet behind this “Idol”. How is that? Well…

While he’s a brightly burning star right now, charismatic, witty, talented, he’ll be the first to tell you stars fall and wit does not wisdom prove. But there’s more to him than that. He does not take himself too seriously, but he takes music seriously. More than just a good singer and performer, he has been a songwriter for years and plays not only guitar but also a bevy of other instruments including saxophone, piano and harmonica. Additionally, when he talks about himself and the world, he is insightful, at times profound.

Bice was influenced by the same music Mike Seeger helped popularize and preserves, the music my Grandmother played. From Alabama, he absorbed the Gospel and Blues traditions there. His mother performed at the Opry and she and her sisters had a gospel group for some time. I found, through our conversation, that he is not only influenced by but reflects the spirit of the True Vine:

“We are such an instant gratification-oriented society, wanting everything now, everything bigger better, everything better, we grab the thing of the moment.” Bo said, “Then we get mad because six months later we have to buy new one because the other has become obsolete. But music, Rock & Roll, transcends that, crosses boundaries we as human beings can’t cross. It crosses segregation, hatred and sorrow. It can bring peace.

“Behind the instant gratification of the moment, of the new, bigger and better, there is something pure. One of the things that is so pure, about Rock, Blues & Gospel as well, is love; love of poverty, of innocence. Sometimes the music sings about the turmoil of life, sometimes the misery. But it, and life, is about finding love in everything you do. Something about the South, and the music that came from the South exudes that.

“I lived for a time in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, called the birthplace of the Blues because Chicago style Blues started there with W.C. Handy. On the back of one of my first CDs I had a picture of his monument in tribute to him. I also grew up around deep-rooted Gospel traditions. I’ve always been a writer and feel all of this helped form my songwriting, my music.

“I still pay homage to bands that came before because I’m proud to be part of Americas’ rich musical heritage. I’m proud to be from the South, I think it’s cool, in part because it is such a crucial part of that.”

As Mike Seeger did, Bo described that he hadn’t set out to make a living doing music, he just did what he loved and it was just possible for him to make a living at it:

“I’m not a reluctant celebrity, I’m not reluctant to live in this lifestyle, but I’m reluctant to use the word to define myself. I’m a musician. I’ve always loved music & everything about it. I’ve played for a long time and it’s never seemed like work. It never does today.

“It can get hectic; sometimes I do three interviews a day, for example. I try to fit in a lot. I get tired but I never get tired of it because I love what I do so much. It’s fun getting the chance to do this without feeling I’ve sold my proverbial Rock & Roll soul.

“Music, what I love, why I play it, is that it’s about what life’s about, being helpful to your surroundings, to your fellow man. That’s what I want to bring everywhere. I’m not trying to change the world, but if you don’t try to make a difference you’re doing nothing and if you’re doing nothing you’re so far behind you don’t even see yourself how miserable you are. So try to do something.

“Here’s what I think is the worst thing, the one line you hear from every person that doesn’t try, “no one else is doing it”. Like the guy who didn’t even register to vote then tells you his political stand on everything, how he’d clean up the world if he were only president but he doesn’t even mow the lawn.”

Bo is not that guy. I’ve no doubt he votes and he has been in the press lately for making a political statement in one of his songs. He’s not trying to change the world, but it only takes one inspired person to change the world. Musicians are in a unique position to do this.

Is he one of those people? I don’t know. But he doesn’t take “no one else is doing it” as an excuse not to try anything he sets his mind to do. He has music in his bones, seems to have what it takes by my Grandmothers’ wisely put criteria. This sets him apart.

By participating in the Save the Music Foundation, he helps make sure as many people as possible that have musical aptitude have a chance to realize it, along with contributing to other charitable causes:

“I see this as my opportunity to shine”, he said. “While people do care what I say, do, think, I’m going to do my best to bring awareness. I can’t just go down and build a house for Habitat for Humanity, or for people who’s homes were destroyed in Katrina”, (but he offered his home to victims of the hurricaine).

“I keep things on my radar and try to keep them on other peoples minds. It’s not just New Orleans, it’s Missouri, Alabama, it’s Florida. It’s a lot more than any of us fathom because there are always more problems. The shelf life of problem is about a week and if it’s not on CNN we lose track.”

Before our conversation ended, he told me a story, his own and quite powerful story of how his own world ended, and how he saved it:

“One of coolest parts of the way all this stuff happened for me is that it happened like this. I was playing the bar scene, scratching out a living, I had ups and downs, several bands; some guys stuck it out over years. I ran into the law, had bar fights. I dabbled in drugs. I was arrested twice.

“The first time it happened I was 21 or so and I thought, that’s it. My life is over. But I got up, dusted off and kept on. I watched friends get lost. I didn’t. I was lucky. I got in trouble early and was able to straighten out and focus.

“It happened sometime around the time I was 26. I was in a weird kind of spot. I had a run-in with the law again. Again, I thought my life was over, not because of that so much as what happened next.

“I came home from work one day soon after and thought my house had been burglarized. Almost everything was gone. All that was left was a futon, my music equipment and the television. Then I realized, wait, everything of my girlfriends is gone, all my stuff is here. She’d just left and taken everything with her.

“I remember it was the time when things started changing. I met my wife soon after that. I was managing a guitar store. I didn’t feel good about the things I’d been doing so I just started living life differently, started treating people like I’d want to be treated.

“And soon after, this commercial comes on for “American Idol”. I know that, and the good things that preceded it and have come after, don’t mean everything going to be great. It’s actually harder when you try to live like that, by treating people right and doing what’s right. People try to bring you down by truckloads.

“But I learned that you have to roll with the punches. When you do that, sometimes you’re going to get hit. You’ve just got to suck it up and take it. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off and go on.”

And where, I asked, does he think he’ll go from here?

“I’m realistic.” Bo said. “There are two ways the type of scenario I’m in usually plays out. The life expectancy of most bands is about three years, one hit wonders have been out there since the beginning of Pop. I might be one. I’ll have enjoyed the ride and I’ll keep on playing music wherever people want to hear my music, bars or clubs or wherever.

“Or, I might find a way to continue, to go on, conquer the world. It doesn’t really matter to me because I’m doing what I love. Whatever turns and bends in the road are there are there because of the decisions I make and the guidance I try to follow. Where the road ends, I don’t know but if it’s good it’s good and as for the bad, it’s still good.”

And so, in each of these stories, we find a man going down the road, feeling bad or feeling good, it’s all the same because they’re singing all the while. Their songs will continue to echo in the united voice of generations that is the music of the True Vine.

Mike Seeger

Mike Seeger

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