Robert Cray - Biography

By J Poet

Tom Paxton was one of stars of New York City’s Greenwich Village singer/songwriter revolution of the 1960s, a friend of Dylan, Dave Van Ronk and Phil Ochs. He wrote topical and protest songs, but also penned tunes with a more pop/mainstream approach. He never “went electric” like Dyan and Ochs, sticking to his folk and blues roots, even at the height of the folk rock boom. Despite that, he was one of the first folkies to write songs that became pop hits. His first album Ramblin’ Boy (1964 Elektra) included “I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’ and “The Last Thing on My Mind” recorded hundreds of times by folk, pop and rock artists including Peter, Paul & Mary, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, the list is almost endless. His other chartbuster was “Bottle of Wine” from his second album Ain’t That News (1965 Elektra). The Fireballs took it to the Top 10 in 1968. While he never achieved the fame and fortune of his peers, Paxton stayed busy recording and touring. Since 1974 he has released several children’s albums, but his bread and butter continues to be his more adult, finely crafted songs of love, loss and the struggle for justice. He finally got some recognition for the music business when Your Shoes, My Shoes (2002 Red House) got a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s album. The next year Looking For the Moon (2003 Red House) got a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Paxton was born and grew u in Chicago where he was more interested in sports than music. His family moved to Oklahoma after his father died, and while Paxton learned guitar in his teens, we was more into theater and majored in Drama at the University of Oklahoma. Hearing an album of Ed McCurdy singing folk songs inspired him to start writing his own tunes. In 1960, after a hitch in the Army he moved to Greenwich Village, which was becoming a center for the new singer/songwriter/folk movement. He performed all along US folk circuit as a solo act from 1960 – 1963. He auditioned for the Chad Mitchell Trio and while he didn’t get the gig, the group recorded his songs “Come Along Home (Tom's Song)” and “The Marvelous Toy.” The Weavers included “Ramblin’ Boy” on Reunion at Carnegie Hall, 1963 (1963 Vanguard); Elektra signed him in 1964.

His Elektra albums contain many of his best-known tunes. Ramblin’ Boy (1964 Elektra) had “I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound,” the title track and “The Last Thing on My Mind,” Ain't That News! (1965 Elektra) had “Bottle of Wine,” Morning Again (1965 Elektra) includes “Mr. Blue” and Tom Paxton 6 (1970 Elektra) has the mordant “Forest Lawn.” As the folk audience turned its attention to rock, Paxton saw his album sales diminish, but his creativity never dimmed. He lived in England for most of the 70s, where he remained more popular after the folk bloom faded, but was back in the US touring by 1977. In the 70s and 80s he released How Come the Sun (1971 Reprise), New Songs Old Friends (1971 Reprise), which included “Wasn’t That a Party?” later a hit for The Rovers, Heroes (1978 Vanguard), which included a scathing put down of Anta Bryant’s anti-gay campaign “Anita O.J.” and the chilling “Death of Stephen Biko,” The Paxton Report (1980 Mountain Railroad) one of his most political albums with “I Am Changing My Name to Chrysler,” and And Loving You (1986 Flying Fish) with the title tune co-written with folk legend Bob Gibson.

Paxton started his own label, Pax, in 1986 and released several children’s record that did well enough to get a contract with Sony Kids for Balloon-alloon-alloon (1987 Sony Kids) a reissue of his Pax children’s album, Suzy Is a Rocker (1992 Sony Kids) and Peanut Butter Pie (1992 Sony Kids). He continued making children’s albums for Rounder Goin’ to the Zoo (1987 Rounder), Delta Fun Animal Songs (1999 Delta) and Red House Your Shoes, My Shoes (2002 Red House.) Your Shoes got a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s album. The next year Looking For the Moon (2003 Red House) got a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It includes “The Bravest” possibly the best song written so far about the 9/11 tragedy, a harrowing tune that’s neither angry nor maudlin. Paxton’s most recent effort, Comedians & Angels (Appleseed 2008,) is a tribute to his friends from the Greenwich Village days who have died, a strong set that shows Paxton hasn’t lost any of his humor or emotional intelligence over the years.



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