My family moved to Bristow, Oklahoma in 1948 - just three months before my father died. I was nearly eleven then, and after the dirt and incomprehensible size of Chicago, Bristow was quite a change. It had its day as an oil boom town, but it's sleepy now and down to about 6,000 folks. It's an oven in the summer, drought-prone and dusty, but the hills are gentle, the blackjack oaks abound and the creek beds make great places to play.
I grew up. I played trumpet in the band and some football and basketball. I read Kenneth Roberts and James Oliver Curwood and some Jack London (who is still one of my idols); I talked myself into weeping over a tragic (and first) romance; and I made my share of trips to the principal's office.
When time came for college I went down to the University of Oklahoma and enrolled in the Drama School and spent four years hamming it up with a vengeance. James Dean was big then and I used to have what I thought were splended "moods" for hours at a time. Never underestimate a man's ability to make an ass of himself.
College wasn't a waste, however. I began meeting people who loved to talk, who could sit on their duffs for hours (like me) drinking coffee and arguing about the theatre, poetry and music. They made me start thinking and they soon had me asking questions, and when I stop asking questions - I'll be all through.
I met Phil Hawes and Steve Brainard and roomed with Ike Parkey; they were all folk music bugs and it soon rubbed off. I'd always liked what folk music I'd heard, but when they played Ed McCurdy's BLOOD, BOOZE 'n BONES and THE WEAVERS AT CARNEGIE HALL I was a doomed man. I had a guitar and the Burl Ives song book and began soaking up every song I could master.
The Army brought me to the East Coast and I began hitting the Village on weekends, doing guest sets whenever they'd let me. When I got my discharge in September of 1960 I started right in at The Gaslight on MacDougal Street. It's been home base ever since then and in my opinion it's still one of the best folk clubs in the country.
I actually began writing songs during Shakespeare lectures in college, but I didn't write my first "keeper" until I'd come east. I wrote THE MARVELOUS TOY during a typing class at Fort Dix, New Jersey and showed it to Milt Okun that fall. I was terribly unsure of myself and really surprised when he liked it. He gave me some badly-needed encouragement and offered to publish the song. Naturally, I started calling him at weird hours to sing new songs over the phone. He never flinched. Milt Okun is one of the best friends I have.
I was meeting all kinds of people: Ed McCurdy, Dave Van Ronk (we swapped Best Man chores), Len Chandler, Bob Dylan, Paul Stookey... I learned something from every one of them; I absorbed everything I could and it began to show in my writing. Van Ronk really turned me on to the field recordings, the real sources, and it's there you've got to go if you want to learn it right.
I kept writing and turned out a lot of pretty sticky ones, but now and then a good one. A year and a half ago I wrote three songs between shows at The Gaslight, threw two of 'em away and kept the third, which was RAMBLIN' BOY. A short time later I met Pete Seeger and sang it for him. He began singing it the whole world around and recorded it and now it's been recorded by quite a few people. I guess it's my favorite.
I'm still writing songs. I hope I'll always be writing songs. I hope I'll always have a chance to record them. I'm still learning - mostly from Woody Guthrie, who showed us how and told us why. From Bob Dylan I've learned that you can't quit, you've got to go as far as you can; from Phil Ochs I learn that a laugh can make a bloody serious point and from Gil Turner I've learned that we've all got to carry it on.
That's what we've all got to do, of course. We've all got to carry it on.
Liner notes by Tom Paxton from his 1964 Elektra release "Ramblin' Boy"
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