SONG PREMIERE: John McCutcheon and Corey Harris Offer Rousing Tribute to Pete Seeger with “Talking Union”

To celebrate what would be iconic folksinger Pete Seeger’s 100th birthday, singer-songwriter John McCutcheon has recorded an exquisite tribute to the late artist. To Everyone in All the World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger is due from his own Appalseed Records on January 11.  In many ways, this album has been a long time coming.  McCutcheon was eleven years old when his mother insisted he watch with her the news reports from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—the historic event during which Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and during which Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter Paul and Mary helped to cement the relationship between mainstream folksingers and the civil rights movement. What McCutcheon saw that day would be seared into his memory forever. It wasn’t only the historical images and inspiring rhetoric that moved the young boy, but also the music.

The album he’s referring to was Seeger’s We Shall Overcome album, recorded live at Carnegie Hall that same year (1963). It presented the folksinger in his natural habitat, in front of an audience that was at once profoundly moved by his stirring, empathic performance, and eager to participate with him.

With To Everyone in All the World, McCutcheon invited old friends like Pete Kennedy and Tim O’Brien, with whom McCutcheon has recorded a number of times. He also enlisted the support of Suzy Bogguss, Stuart Duncan, and many more. Indeed, the spirit of the recording allowed him the opportunity not only to work with artists he’d been wanting to record with for years, but also to explore the many avenues of folk and roots music to which Seeger’s music opened his ears.

Today Glide is excited to premiere McCutcheon’s colorful rendition of “Talking Union”, one of the bluesier songs originally penned and recorded by the Almanac Singers way back in 1941. While the original version incorporated spoken word, McCutcheon takes things one step further by teaming up with respected artist Corey Harris to turn the tune into a swaggering, rollicking bluesy rap song, with lyrics spouted off while a slider guitar grooves in the background. As is the case with many of Pete Seeger’s songs, “Talking Union” tells a story that feels all too relevant as social injustice, class divisions, and a lack of rights for workers are still at the forefront of the issues we are dealing with. 

McCutcheon shares the story behind recording the song:

My friend Jim Musselman called me a number of years back asking if I’d contribute a couple of cuts to a Pete Seeger tribute album he was producing. At the time I was the president of an AFM (American Federation of Musicians) Local, Local 1000, that I’d helped found especially for traveling musicians. So he suggested “Talking Union,” written and recorded by the Almanac Singers back in 1941. The original song was a “talking blues,” a spoken word piece over a simple blues-oriented instrumental accompaniment. Pete often mentioned to me that he thought it was the earliest rap music, and that both were originally both political and humorous. When I imagined re-imagining this old song I immediately called up my friend, Corey Harris, and we blended our respective bands and styles to come up with this version. We had a ball and I think Pete would have enjoyed it. We consulted with him on contemporizing the final verse and even sampled his voice from the original recording to finish off the song.


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Photo credit: Irene Young

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