season 1 episode 10 The Golden Ring Transcription
That’s the voice of famed journalist Bill Moyer asking Joseph Campbell about the powerful symbol of the circle. Here’s Dr. Campbell’s response…
I am a professional musician—that is I make the bulk of my income playing music in front of people, on some kind of stage, for a fee. I am also a community song leader. Most of that work is done in a circle. In fact, there is an underground network of informal song and jam circles all across the continent where folks wait their turn to share a song or a play along.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics there are just over 24,000 professional musicians in the USA. In 2020, 2.7 million guitars were sold to the tune of about 1.6 billion dollars. That’s just guitars. I think it’s safe to say that most of the people who play and sing are not professional musicians. They make their music on front porches and around campfires. They sing in places of worship and in kitchens. They populate open mics in restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. They struggle with on-line and in-person lessons—all for the sheer joy of making their own music and then sharing what they’ve learned in their community. This has been going on—in one form or another, well, forever.
This episode of No Root, No Fruit will focus on the kind of music we make in these informal song and jam circles. Folk music never goes away. Sometimes it’s popular, sometimes it’s not, but it never goes away. The so called folk revival of the 1950s and 60s was about the brief popularity of the music—folk music flourished before the spotlight hit it, and continued after, in the dark. Mothers and fathers continued to sing their babies to sleep, songs and tunes continued to be sung and picked on porches after supper, and thousands of kids learned and will learn all kinds of songs at summer camp.
In many ways, those singing summer camps of the 1950’s built the enthusiasm that led to the folksong revival. This episode is dedicated to Ed Trickett. Ed learned those songs at camp and that inspired him to continue learning and sharing great songs throughout his entire life. He played music professionally, but his main job was as a PHD and college professor in the field of Community Psychology. Ed was a founding member of the Golden Ring—the informal group of friends and music makers that are the focus of this episode.
I interviewed Ed for this podcast back in January, 2022 for a future episode on an album by Bob Gibson called Come For To Sing. Ed picked this record because so many of the songs on it ended up being sung around the campfire of the summer camp he regularly attended in New Mexico as a kid. Ed died on May 10 at the age of 81. While I had my old friend on the line, I also asked him to comment on his time with the Golden Ring. The Golden Ring centered, at first, around Chicago. The first recording, A Gathering Of Friends For Making Music was released by Folk Legacy Records in 1964. Folk Legacy Records was based in Connecticut and was the brainchild of Sandy & Carloine Paton and Lee Haggerty. The early Chicago sessions included George & Gerry Armstrong, Win Stracke, Herb Nudelman, Ed and the four he mentions meeting at the New Mexico summer camp. Here’s Ed…
I was looking over the Golden Ring album cover before I spoke with you today and there are nine people on it. Five of those people are related to this summer camp I went to: Howie Mitchell, me, Steve white, Shannon Smith, and Ruth Meyer—five of the nine, four campers and one counselor from that summer camp. But one time we just showed up at the Armstrong’s and they said, ‘well, I just got off the phone with Sandy Payton and he wanted me to ask you if it be okay if we just recorded what you did. He said, it sounds like the kind of music that should be represented somehow. And we said, well, you know, why not? You know, we had nothing to lose. We, at least didn't think we had anything to lose. So we just, we just got together a bunch of songs that we'd been doing in different degrees and went down to WFMT where Norm Pelegrini spent a couple days with us just singing stuff into the microphone. And we had no idea what Sandy was gonna do with it. We certainly didn't see this as a stepping stone to anything, you know, it was just something else, you know? Okay. Well, tonight we're gonna have dinner at the Armstrong’s and tomorrow night we're gonna go record. I mean, it's one of those kind of very matter of fact things, at least from my perspective.
As spontaneous and informal as this group was, the songs and performances on A Gathering of Friends For Making Music inspired thousands of singers and musicians to learn and share these songs. It also inspired Folk Legacy Records to invite an expanding circle of Golden Ring music makers to their home and recording studio in Sharon Connecticut in the Summer of 1970 to record two volumes of songs and tunes under the title The New Golden Ring Five Days Singing. Many of these performers were on their way to the Fox Hollow Festival in Petersburgh, New York—a popular traditional arts festival held on the estate of trad musicians, Bob & Evelyne Beers. This episode will focus in on these three releases. They didn’t go platinum or gold, but they did quietly ripple out to influence the repertoires of professional and amateur folk singers everywhere.
As I said earlier, the original Golden Ring centered around Chicago—a really important and often overlooked scene of the folk revival. Here’s Ed Trickett to talk a little about that…
I don't remember which campfire it was around, but it was in New Mexico in the late 1950s, sitting around a campfire and several of the fellow campers came from the north suburbs of Chicago from Wilmette, Winnetka. but there was a lot of folk music going on in the late 1950s in Chicago. And part of the task of all of us summer campers was to bring really good songs to the next summer summer camp so we could share them with other people.
I do think it's important though, to remember that that time in Chicago was a very, very hot time in terms of the revival music. The Old Town School started in 1957 and Win Stracke, who was one of the people on the Golden Ring who was one of the co-founders of the old town school was very active in left wing music, Studs Terkel was there. Frank Hamilton was around and was part of the staff of the Old Town School. George and Jerry Armstrong were in town and doing a lot of things, and they gathered around them a number of people who I met through them during the late fifties and early sixties.
So the nine musicians of the original Golden Ring gathered at the studios of WFMT and sang songs into the microphones.
A Gathering Of Friends For Making Music opens with The Blind Man’s song—the tune is by Howie Mitchell and the text is from a play he put on in one of those summer camps. He sings it with a 23 year old Ed Trickett.
A ballad about the outlaw Jesse James is next, led by George and Gerry Armstrong with two dulcimers, guitar, washtub bass and, of course, everyone singing on the chorus.
Instrumental pieces, including the haunting sound of the bagpipe practice chanter, a pirate ballad, a four part round and this version of the popular ballad Barbara Ellen made the cut for the 16 tracks on A Gathering of Friends For Making Music…
All of the songs on the original Golden Ring record sprung from a group of friends who loved singing, playing, and sharing traditional music. They weren’t professional musicians. The community that surrounded the music was as, or more important than the music itself. I asked Ed Trickett how important community was to the forming of the Golden Ring…
This may sound like a setup, but I'm glad you asked . And I'm glad you asked because that was really, that was one of the main reasons that I found myself getting more and more totally absorbed in it over time. The purpose of being a musician of folk music at that camp was primarily, I think, a sense of community purpose. It Wasn't a show-off purpose. It wasn't a, I can play faster than you can play faster than focus. It was really sort of meant to be what folk music traditionally had been, which was not a performance art, but a way that sustained memories, a way of life, traditions, social gatherings—informal and informal. That was really what made me one of the main things that made me gravitate to it.
According to folksinger and co-founder of Folk Legacy Records Sandy Paton quote,
”The "Golden Ring" has never been an established group of specific individuals; it has always been more a concept, an approach to informal, non-competitive music-making by a gathering of friends, often solo performers in their own right, who simply enjoy singing and playing together”
With that in mind, Sandy asked the ever growing circle to spend five days making music and recording at the home he shared with his wife Caroline and the offices and recording studio of Folk Legacy Records. The Golden Ring included 9 friends. The New Golden Ring included 26. That’s 26 folks living and singing together under one roof for 5 days before heading over to the Fox Hollow Festival in New York State. The group recorded 28 tracks. Those tracks were divided evenly between Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Five Days Singing by the New Golden Ring.
The spirit of the original recording sessions in Chicago remained, In fact, 5 of the original members made it to the the house in that summer of 1970. George & Gerry Armstrong, Ruth Meyer, Howie Mitchell, and Ed Trickett. Here’s how Ed remembered it over 50 years later…
First of all, there were more, quote, professional musicians there than there were in the Golden Ring. Nobody in the Golden Ring made music as a primary source of income. Nobody. I mean, George and Jerry performed some. Howie performed a little bit. I performed a little bit. Steve White sang at that hotel St. Bernard in, Taos, New Mexico during ski season for ski tickets, but when we got together for the five days singing, I mean, Michael Cooney was there. I mean, Joe Hickerson was doing a lot of performing, Sarah Grey. Gordon was there. It was the same spirit, but there were a lot more polished professional, or quasi professional musicians. But it was exactly the same kind of—it had the same kind of feel to it.
We didn't rehearse then anymore than the Golden Ring did.
The Five Days Singing sessions were easily as influential as the original when it came to spreading songs to song and jam circles. Little golden rings had been popping up wherever members lived across the country. These songs also showed up in the repertoires of amateur and professional performers alike. More on that when I introduce my special guest. The sessions also highlighted several artists who were beginning to tour on the traditional music circuit and take jobs that promoted the music. Joe Hickerson, for example, was a librarian and then director of the Archive of Folk Song at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Here’s Joe leading the Golden Ring in Jenny’s Gone To Ohio.
Harry Tuft started the Denver Folklore Center in 1963 and kept it going until his retirement in 2016. Here’s Harry singing the song In 1845 from his Folk Legacy release, Across the Blue Mountains
Sara Grey continues to teach and perform traditional songs at camps and stages in both the US and Europe..
Another voice in the chorus on Five Days Singing was Michael Cooney. Although retired from performing now, his influence continues to be strong on young folks picking up the baton of traditional music
Gordon Bok is another important voice in the world of folk music—for his solo work, his work with Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir, and for his enduring compositions…
And then there’s Sandy & Caroline Payton. They are both gone now, but without them, none of these sessions would ever have been recorded..
In the last episode of No Root, No Fruit we talked about the unbroken circle—sometimes it takes the form of a golden ring…
My guest for this episode is Sally Rogers. Sally has been performing traditional and contemporary folk music since 1979. Her work has taken her all over the world. She is a songwriter, a song leader, and a dynamic, enthusiastic, and effective educator. She works as a solo, with her husband Howie Bursen, and with her long time friend and musical partner, Claudia Schmidt. She was quick to pick the Golden Ring as one of her earliest and most important influences. Here’s Sally reminiscing about her first exposure to these singers and these songs…
What I remember is that I was a student at the university of Michigan in 1973 ‘74 and attended the Ark coffeehouse—the iconic coffee house in Ann Arbor. And at that coffee house, one by one, each of the people who sang on the Golden Ring came to the Ark to sing. I got to hear them and sing along, and I got to meet Ed Trickett and Gordon Bok, and I mean just all these different people and loved the singing, the group, singing everybody singing together. I don't remember if it was at Herb David’s guitar shop or the University of Michigan bookstore I found this album—the Golden Ring, and listened to it nonstop over and over and over again. Of course. And then the Five Days Singing… the two volume set. I listened to that also over and over again. I think I was introduced to the live singers first. And at the Ark, we had ballad sings and song swaps, you know, during the day and on the weekends. And Joni Brofman came a few times, Gary Gardner, different people, many of whom were on that album.
There's a kind of synergy that happens. It's just so much fun watching people play off of one another. I mean, I've had that happen to myself, you know, in performing where I think— you and I have probably been in workshops together where that's happened—where, you know, one person sings something and somebody else says, oh, I was gonna do blah, blah, blah but I've decided no, and I'm gonna do this because that reminded me of… and then the notion of harmony singing, you know, just the audience gets to sing along on just about everything that those particular people sing. You know, I have to say I ended up learning a lot of songs from those albums, but I probably heard them all live first, which is sort of a different way than a lot of people these days. I mean, you know, we we're used to hearing recordings. I, in fact, think about the way the oral tradition and how music has passed from one person to another, in the oral tradition, even though I certainly am not a carrier of—I didn't grow up singing traditional songs in my family. Although I learned a lot from records when I was a kid, you know, I’m now singing them and people are learning from me. I mean, the songs get passed along via either human beings or by the mechanical method.
Sally seemed a little astonished about how many of the songs on the first session, A Gathering Of Friends For Making Music became lifelong companions in one form or another…
Sally Clip 4
Yeah, well, I'm, I'm looking at volume one of Gathering Of Friends, you know, the Golden Ring. Jesse James—I sing with kids. Captain Kidd I sing every year with kids in a workshop for third graders on writing ballads. So I use captain kid as an example of a ballad that kids can enjoy. I recorded When Jesus Wept, I sing simple gifts all the time with different people. I recorded One Man Shall Mow My Meadow on my lullaby album. The version of Barbara Ellen on here is the one that I know. Golden Ring Around My Susan Girl was one of the first things I learned on the dulcimer. Well, there's half of the album right there. Right?
I just couldn’t stop there. I picked up Volume 2 and started going through the tracks with her…
Volume. Two opens up with Ed Trickett leading the group with Rollin’ Home.
Oh yeah. That’s… I’ve sung that a million times. Yep.
And then Angeline the Baker.
Yep. That was one of my first banjo tunes.
Me too. I think we must have learned from the same banjo book cuz I had water bound…
Uh, let's see, what else is here? Oh, Joe Hickerson leading the crowd in the great song, Sammy’s bar. Oh, oh, the last boat are leaving…
That's the one that introduced me to the music of Cyril Tawny.
Few Days I believe was led by the great Harry Tuft from Colorado.
Yep. And Harry Tuft is the one that I learned… Well, I I first heard. Ed Trickett sing the Grisley Bride at the Ark. And Harry Tuft actually recorded it on his Folk Legacy album.
It's just amazing how these songs just weave in and out of people's lives and in and out of people’s repertoires.
Sam gone away.
Oh, (sings) Sam gone away ‘board the Man o War. I mean, these are such great singable songs.
The Jute Mill song.
(Sings) Oh, dear me. That's one that I actually knew before I heard the album because the previous year I had lived in Switzerland and I went to a folk festival there and Roy Bailey was there and he sang the Jute Mill Song and I learned it.
The Galveston Flood.
Oh, yeah. That got me totally interested in Galveston and the flood. And I ended up 20 years later reading Isaac’s Storm— if you haven't read it, it's a great book about the Galveston flood.
It's it's just incredible, you know, that so many of the songs on these albums are, well, I guess it's no surprise. They chose songs that were totally singable and that they all loved singing together. Now, there has been some criticism of these albums as being too pretty, you know, that the harmonies are very pretty and everything. A group of people singing very Western, very Anglo harmonies. But, you know what? They're mostly very Western, very Anglo songs. so, you know, and the people singing them on those albums are not traditional singers. They're all sung by revival singers. I don't know that we have to try to sing like the old timers did cuz we're not them. But we do have to sing like we love them.
Another thing Sally and I shared was the love and admiration of Sandy & Caroline Payton—two of the co-founders of Folk Legacy Records
Sandy and Caroline Paton owned Folk Legacy along with Lee Haggerty rescued so much music. They went out collecting, they collected music in England and Ireland. And then they had a whole series, oh, and the music of the Copper Family, they recorded a lot of traditional music. And then they also had this other series of new people singing the old songs, you know, people like us. Those two were just, they were such a wonderful couple. Number one, I think, because they had so much in common in terms of their love of music and they were singing together all their married lives. They, for me, were a very good role model of what a marriage could look like. That takes it away from the music part. But then in terms of music, we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for putting all this music on vinyl so that we'd be able to hear it and learn it, and pass it on. I think there are probably a number of songs that they've literally saved from oblivion. You know, that, that people now will sing. Here's one of the, my favorite memories of them. I believe it was at a Folk Alliance meeting. There was a sing-around— basically a song swap where we all got in a circle and did this, you know, sang songs with harmonies and so forth.
And Caroline was on one side of the room and Sandy was on the other, and this was probably maybe five years before Sandy passed away. The two of them sang…, oh, no, it was Sandy who sang When You and I Were Young, Maggie.
I had to stop Sally there because was there as well, and it’s a story I tell often. Sandy was still recovering from some very recent heart surgery. When it was his turn to sing, he looked out at the circle and said that the only thought he had as he was being wheeled into the operating room was…and then he turned and looked directly at Caroline and finished the sentence. He said I didn’t love you enough. And then he sang the song…
We were all in tears— me too— It was, you know, here's this old… that’s the key. Here's an old chestnut that most people wouldn't think to sing. They'd say, oh, not that old thing been sung enough. Right. And then he sang it and made us all weep. The power of these old songs, you know, sometimes it's just the right moment and that's the right song for the right moment.
The choice of songs is just fantastic, you know, and I mean, you can get together with people and start singing and you could be singing for hours.