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Joan Baez

An innovator of protest folk music that leant on early PETE SEEGER, BAEZ was an inspiration to the likes of DYLAN, OCHS, et al. Her defiant protest anthems made her the darling of the intellectual beatnik scene developing in America at the time. Although her early material concentrated on traditional folk fare delivered in a crystal pure vocal style, BAEZ became a figurehead for the protest movement in the 60s with her anthemic `We Shall Overcome’.
Born Joan Chandos Baez, January 9, 1941, Staten Island, New York, USA, she developed her soprano vox by singing at Boston bars and other venues. After a successful 1959 Newport Festival appearance, Veritas Records released, FOLKSINGERS ‘ROUND HARVARD SQUARE {*3}, a shared set recorded in a basement with other folkies (Bill Wood & Ted Alevizos) and later re-issued as THE BEST OF JOAN BAEZ in November 1963, much to the annoyance of Joan herself, who filed a lawsuit against its publishers even though it hit the Top 50.
With the folk revival movement on the rise, she signed to the Vanguard label, delivering her debut album proper, the eponymous JOAN BAEZ {*8} towards the end of 1960.
Accompanied by her acoustic guitar (and a few others, notably Fred Hellerman of The WEAVERS), teenage songstress BAEZ presented her versions of traditional folk songs from both sides of the pond, including `East Virginia’, `Wildwood Flower’, `Silver Dagger’, `Mary Hamilton’ and the stunning `House Of The Rising Sun’, while others sources came by way of BOB GIBSON (`John Riley’), Sholom Secunda & Aaron Zeitlin (`Donna Donna’) and David Gude (`Fare Thee Well (10,000 Miles))’.
Recorded in the same traditional vein, JOAN BAEZ VOL.2 (1961) {*7}, was her major league breakthrough, reaching Top 20 (her debut repeated the chart pattern a few months later).
Augmented by bluegrass back-up the GREENBRIAR BOYS and inspired by fellow C&W legends the CARTER FAMILY, BAEZ shone on `Engine 243’, `Pal Of Mine’, `Banks Of The Ohio’, `The Trees They Do Grow High’ and `Lily Of The West’.
JOAN BAEZ IN CONCERT (1962) {*7}, was her first of two live sets, selections here included trad “campfire” fave, `Kumbaya’, alongside `Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair’, `House Carpenter’, the 7-minute `Matty Groves’, MALVINA REYNOLDS’ `What Have They Done To The Rain?’, Alfred Beddoe’s country nugget, `Copper Kettle’, Herbert Buffum’s `Gospel Ship’, blues gem `Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ (soon to be snapped up by LED ZEPPELIN, among others) and WOODY GUTHRIE’s `Pretty Boy Floyd’.
Following it into the Top 10, JOAN BAEZ IN CONCERT, PART 2 (1963) {*7}, was distinctive in the fact that it housed two DYLAN covers, `Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ and `With God On Our Side’, plus DERROLL ADAMS’ `Portland Town’, bossa nova nugget `Manha De Carnaval’ (penned by Luiz Bonfa), Danny Dill’s `The Long Black Veil’ and PETE SEEGER’s aforementioned `We Shall Overcome’.
On JOAN BAEZ /5 (1964) {*6}, she showcased her move towards interpreting more contemporary artists, covering PHIL OCHS’ `There But For Fortune’ (a Top 50 hit), RICHARD FARINA’s `Birmingham Sunday’ and DYLAN’s `It Ain’t Me Babe’, alongside aged sources JOHN JACOB NILES’ `Go ‘Way From My Window’, RICHARD DYER-BENNETT’s `So We’ll Go No More A-Roving’, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ `Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 – Aria’, Alfredo Nascimento’s `O’ Cangaceiro’, famed LEADBELLY tune `Stewball’ and JOHNNY CASH’s `I Still Miss Someone’. As well as becoming a celebrated interpreter of DYLAN’s work, BAEZ and the bard became lovers, the King and Queen of folk, as the couple were dubbed (their relationship was well documented in the subsequent film Don’t Look Back).
The aforementioned album went Top 5 in the UK as did her sixth set, FAREWELL, ANGELINA (1965) {*6}, a record featuring a further four DYLAN covers in `It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’, `A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, `Daddy, You’ve Been On My Mind’ (also covered by her folk adversary, JUDY COLLINS) and the opening title track, as well as others from the quills of WOODY GUTHRIE (`Ranger’s Command’), CLAN McPEAKE’s `Wild Mountain Thyme’, DONOVAN’s `Colors’ and Joe Hayes & Jack Rhodes’ `Satisfied Mind’.
The same year, BAEZ founded the Institute For The Study Of Nonviolence in Carmel Valley, California, her increasingly political activism directed mainly against US involvement in the Vietnam war. This would lead to a little respite for Joan, with only a non-charting festive release, NOEL (1966) {*5}, hitting the shops for the holidays; Schubert’s `Ave Maria’ (sung in German) and NILES’ `I Wonder As I Wander’, were of particular interest to folkies.
1967 saw her back to the fore. Arranged by conductor, Peter Schickele and simply titled JOAN {*5}, this set found her in a contemporary/MOR mode courtesy of pop & folk covers from The BEATLES (`Eleanor Rigby’), JACQUES BREL (`La Colombe’), SIMON & GARFUNKEL (`The Dangling Conversation’), DONOVAN (`Be Not Too Hard’ & `Turquoise’), TIM HARDIN (`The Lady From Baltimore’ and `If I Were A Carpenter’), RICHARD FARINA (`Children Of Darkness’) and Don Dilworth’s `Annabel Lee’. It was also a launching pad for her own songwriting prowess, albeit the two songs as collaborations with Nina Dusheck (`Saigon Bride’ and `North’), poignant if not overtly effective.
BAEZ then married fellow peace activist David Harris (DYLAN had long since departed), although he was subsequently jailed for several years resisting the draft; they divorced in ’72 after his release.
Joan’s most ambitious album to date, BAPTISM (1968) {*5}, wherein she turned her head to reading/performing spoken word poems, etc. (accompanied by Schickele and orchestra), was for many fans a step too far, resulting in a below-par chart position. Interpreting the works of Henry Treece, Walt Whitman, Arthur Waley, Federico Garcia Lorca, Jacques Prevert, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Wilfred Owen, Norman Rosten, John Donne, E.E. Cummings, Countee Cullen and James Joyce, many of the entries were ultimately too short.
Recorded in Nashville with a host of the area’s finest studio session musicians, a whole double set of DYLAN songs, ANY DAY NOW (1969) {*7}, rewarded her with a return to the Top 30. From `Love Minus Zero – No Limit’ to `The Restless Farewell’ (with an 11-minute reading of `Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’, minor hit, `Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word’ and an a cappella take of `Tears Of Rage’ in between), her voice it seemed was made for these songs.
Dedicated as a gift to her husband, Harris, DAVID’S ALBUM (1969) continued her commercial and critical resurgence, while it also expanded her musical horizons through country fare such as GRAM PARSONS’s `Hickory Wind’, Curly & Claude Putnam’s `Green, Green Grass Of Home’ (made famous by Porter Wagoner, then Tom Jones), Clarence Ashley’s `My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains’ and Roy Acuff’s `Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ (with the Jordanaires); there was also room for traditional tune `Poor Wayfaring Stranger’, gospel gemstone `Just A Closer Walk With Thee’ and her rendition of UTAH PHILLIPS’ `Rock Salt And Nails’.
Although it sold relatively poorly, her post-Woodstock ONE DAY AT A TIME (1970) {*7}, was another fine album, a record that saw two of her own compositions, `Sweet Sir Galahad’ and `David’s Song’, saddle up beside Willie Nelson’s `One Day At A Time’, GIL TURNER’s `Carry It On’, EARL ROBINSON’s `Joe Hill’, Delaney & Bonnie’s `Ghetto’, STEVE YOUNG’s `Seven Bridges Road’, `Long Black Veil’ (again!) and er… JAGGER-RICHARDS’ `No Expectations’.
1971’s BLESSED ARE… {*7} found the folk veteran covering material by more mainstream artists such as The BEATLES (`Let It Be’) – another Top 50 hit, The ROLLING STONES (`Salt Of The Earth’), Ron Miller’s `Heaven Help Us All’ (a hit for STEVIE WONDER), alongside Nashville hipsters MICKEY NEWBURY (`San Francisco Mabel Joy’, `Angeline’ and `The 33rd Of August’), JESSE WINCHESTER (`The Brand New Tennessee Waltz’), KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (`Help Me Make It Through The Night’), Gene MacLellan’s `Put Your Hand In The Hand’ and The BAND (`The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’), her interpretation reaching the Top 3. BAEZ, herself, discovered a need to write, with the inclusion of several of her own songs, the best of which being `Three Horses’, `Gabriel And Me’ and `Outside The Nashville City Limits’.
Well intentioned and historically insightful, the political harangues, interview snippets and intellectual musings which punctuate the soundtrack to her movie, CARRY IT ON (1971) {*5}, get tired pretty quickly – BAEZ is more convincing when she’s communicating her sentiments in song. Surprisingly, given the fact that most of them are lifted from benefit gigs, the “organising” songs, as she terms them, are kept to a minimum here. Instead, folk’s grande dame plays a selection of her recent covers, with the same country slant which had characterised her releases since the late 60s (hubby David Harris was a keen country fan, apparently). There’s a revisit to `Hickory Wind’, TOM PAXTON’s `The Last Thing On My Mind’, the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ `Oh Happy Day’ and a gamely shot at the Dan Penn/Chips Moman classic, `Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’. As ever, both in diction and atmosphere, she sounds much more comfortable on the DYLAN material, bringing her unequivocal interpretative faculties to bear on both `I Shall Be Released’ and `Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word’. Likewise, while BAEZ’s relatively narrow stylistic reach precludes her from possessing a song in the manner of say, NINA SIMONE, she brings her own brand of glacial elegance to LEONARD COHEN’s `Suzanne’. And if the likes of `Joe Hill’ and `We Shall Overcome’ were inevitable inclusions, BAEZ’s most politically charged – and impassioned – work of the early 70s was actually hidden away on another soundtrack: ENNIO MORRICONE’s `Sacco E Vanzetti’ (1971).
Her commitment to humanitarian protest remained steadfast and indeed, throughout the first half of the 70s, the singer’s political activities (she was a high-profile opponent of the military coup in Chile) overshadowed her recorded output.
Her inaugural release for A&M Records, COME FROM THE SHADOWS (1972) {*6}, maintained her country fixation, once again her self-penned tracks (from `Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose)’ and `To Bobby’ and `Song Of Bangladesh’) were scattered among covers like Donnie Fritts & Dan Penn’s `Rainbow Road’, her sister MIMI FARINA’s `In The Quiet Morning’, Marly & Zaret’s `The Partisan’ (better known as a LEONARD COHEN song), KENNY ROGERS’ `A Stranger In My Place’, Doug Van Arsdale’s `Tumbleweed’ and JOHN LENNON’s `Imagine’.
Not frightened to express her feelings towards the Vietnam War, WHERE ARE YOU NOW, MY SON? (1973) {*5}, features one side of U.S. bombings over spoken word/poetry, while on the flip side there were seven proper songs, best examples being HOYT AXTON’s `Less Than The Song’, MIMI FARINA’s two `Mary Call’ & `Best Of Friends’ and her own mini-classic, `A Young Gypsy’.
Her all-Spanish GRACIAS A LA VIDA (or HERE’S TO LIFE) (1974) {*5}, was lost on many fans not of Hispanic/Latino persuasion, a poor chart showing was testament to its adventurous attempts – but her political affiliations to the people of Chile (and their recently assassinated folksong spokesman, Victor Jara) were once again clear beyond recall. Many will still recognise such as `Guantanamera’, `No Nos Moveran’ (aka `We Shall Not Be Moved’) and the partly-spoken `El Preso Numero Nueve’ (aka `Prisoner Number Nine’ revamped from her debut LP).
With DIAMONDS & RUST (1975) {*8}, BAEZ re-emerged as an important figure in the American singer/songwriter movement, the album making the US Top 20 and becoming one of her best-loved works. Together with her usual array of covers (JACKSON BROWNE’s `Fountain Of Sorrow’, STEVIE WONDER’s `Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer’, JOHN PRINE’s `Hello In There’, JANIS IAN’s `Jesse’, Dickey Betts/ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND’s `Blue Sky’ and DYLAN’s `Simple Twist Of Fate’), it was her own songs that proved to be the strongest, the opening hit title track written about her misty relationship with bard Bob.
The mid-70s also saw a belated reunion with DYLAN, the pair hooking up in the Rolling Thunder Revue, while her own solo live effort, FROM EVERY STAGE (1976) {*5}, a double-set blessed with her best-known cues plus five from the pen of DYLAN including `Blowin’ In The Wind’, `Forever Young’ and `Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts’. From protest/trad fare such as `(Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody) Turn Me Around’ to `Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ to John Newton’s `Amazing Grace’, this 1975-recorded set also housed her versions of KENNY LOGGINS’ `Please Come To Boston’, EMMYLOU HARRIS’ `Boulder To Birmingham’ and SHUSHA’s `Natalia’.
Autobiographical efforts such as the totally self-penned GULF WINDS (1976) {*3}, the partly-penned BLOWIN’ AWAY (1977) {*4} and HONEST LULLABY (1979) {*5}, marked the end of BAEZ’s career for almost a decade as she found herself without a record label. The second and third sets were issued by CBS’s Portrait imprint, the former polished with glossy AOR such as The SUTHERLAND BROTHERS’ `Sailing’, Traffic’s `Many A Mile To Freedom’, STEVE GOODMAN’s `Yellow Coat’, Arthur Hamilton’s `Cry Me A River’ and Eric Kaz’s `I’m Blowin’ Away’, the latter featuring Larry E. Williams’ `Let Your Love Flow’ (a hit for the Bellamy Brothers), BOB MARLEY’s `No Woman, No Cry’, JANIS IAN’s `Light A Light’, JACKSON BROWNE’s `Before The Deluge’, Coots-Lewis `For All We Know’ (a hit for RITA COOLIDGE) and Pierce Pettis’ `The Song At The End Of The Movie’.
She nevertheless continued to perform throughout the 80s, playing benefit concerts for Amnesty International and, of course, appearing at Live Aid in 1985; there were also the release of a few concert LPs including LIVE EUROPE ’83 (1983) {*5}.
Perhaps inspired by the new wave of young female troubadours (SUZANNE VEGA, TRACY CHAPMAN, etc.), BAEZ returned to the recording front via “comeback” set RECENTLY (1988) {*7}, an album with only a few of her own songs (and one trad, `Let Us Break Bread Together – Freedom’) separating half a dozen reinterpretations of worldly pop-rock fare such as DIRE STRAITS’ `Brothers In Arms’, Johnny Clegg’s `Asimbonanga’, PETER GABRIEL’s `Biko’, U2’s `MLK’ and another take of `Do Right Woman…’.
Unlike her previous concert sets, DIAMONDS AND RUST IN THE BULLRING (1989) {*5}, a part English-sung, part Spanish-sung album chronicling a gig in Bilbao, Spain – and not just simply the similarly-titled previous long-player recorded live; check out her versions of STING’s `They Dance Alone’ (as `Ellas Danzan Solas’) and LEONARD COHEN’s `Famous Blue Raincoat’.
Goldcastle records also issued SPEAKING OF DREAMS (1989) {*6}, an eclectic, political folk-pop set, ranging from her own Tiananmen Square-inspired cut, `China’ (she’d raised awareness for the brave students) and VAN MORRISON’s `Carrickfergus’ to Greg Copeland’s protest stance, `El Salvador’ (a duet with JACKSON BROWNE) and DAVID MESSENGILL’s `Fairfax County’; others numbered `Rambler Gambler – Whispering Bells’ (a trad medley with PAUL SIMON and his band), `A Mi Manera’ (aka `My Way’ – featuring The Gipsy Kings) and GEORGE MICHAEL’s thought-provoking, `Hand To Mouth’.
Now signed to Capitol Records, PLAY ME BACKWARDS (1992) {*5} saw her court a contemporary country/AOR audience, showcasing her song collaborations with producers Kenny Greenberg and Wally Wilson (plus Karen O’Connor). Covers this time around were borrowed from:- JANIS IAN (`Amsterdam’), MARY-CHAPIN CARPENTER (`Stones In The Road’), JOHN STEWART (`Strange Rivers’), JOHN HIATT (`Through Your Hands’) and RON DAVIES (`Steal Across The Border’).
Predictably, another live set filled in time. RING THEM BELLS (1995) {*5} – recorded at New York’s Bottom Line – featured duets with Mary-Chapin, INDIGO GIRLS (on their own `Welcome Me’) and MARY BLACK, while new reinterpretations comprised DYLAN’s title track, MIMI FARINA’s `Swallow Song’, DAR WILLIAMS’ `You’re Aging Well’, TIM HARDIN’s `Don’t Make Promises’, KATE & ANNA McGARRIGLE’s `Willie Moore’, ERIC BOGLE’s `And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and TISH HINOJOSA’s `Pajarillo Barranqueno’.
BAEZ completed her final studio set of the 90s, GONE FROM DANGER (1997) {*6}, a record embracing a wealth of new songwriting talent such as Sinead Lohan (on `No Mermaid’ and `Who Do You Think I Am’), RICHARD SHINDELL (on `Reunion Hill’, `Fishing’ and `Money For Floods’), BETTY ELDERS (`Crack In The Mirror’ and `Longbed From Kenya’), Mark Addison (`Mercy Bound’) and DAR WILLIAMS (`If I Wrote You’ and `February’), all topped off by another take on PAUL SIMON’s `Dangling Conversation’.
Instead of collecting her pension, DARK CHORDS ON A BIG GUITAR (2003) {*7}, meanwhile, built on the achievements of its predecessor, bravely taking on material by such free alt-country spirits as JOSH RITTER (`Wings’), RYAN ADAMS (`In My Time Of Need’), CAITLIN CARY (`Rosemary Moore’), JOE HENRY (`King’s Highway’), GREG BROWN (`Sleeper’ and `Rexroth’s Daughter’) and GILLIAN WELSH (`Caleb Meyer’ and `Elvis Presley Blues’). Bringing the whole weight and depth of her considerable talent and experience to bear on the likes of STEVE EARLE’s `Christmas In Washington’ and NATALIE MERCHANT’s `Motherland’, BAEZ succeeded in infusing them with the kind of crackling emotional charge their original authors had perhaps only partly realised.
2005’s BOWERY SONGS {*6} featured many of the same songs in a live performance context at New York’s Bowery Ballroom the previous November, although there were exceptions such as Jean Sibelius’ `Finlandia’, WOODY GUTHRIE’s `Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)’, DYLAN’s `Seven Curses’, EARLE’s `Jerusalem’ and a freshly cut trad cue, `Dink’s Song’.
Now with the aforementioned EARLE as producer (and writer on `God Is God’, `I Am A Wanderer’ and `Jericho Road’), DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2008) {*7}, was quality BAEZ once again. An inspirational covers set, it garnered songs like ELIZA GILKYSON’s `Rose Of Sharon’ and `Requiem’, PATTY GRIFFIN’s `Mary’, THEA GILMORE’s `The Lower Road’, ELVIS COSTELLO and T-BONE BURNETT’s Cold Mountain movie song `Scarlet Tide’, DIANA JONES’ `Henry Russell’s Last Words’ and Tom Waits’ title track.
To commemorate fifty years in the music business and nigh-on seventy years on the planet, film director Mary Wharton (with music producer Mark Spector) pieced together an autobiographical documentary, HOW SWEET THE SOUND (2009) {*6}, and accompanying OST of rare live footage and interviews with the likes of DAVID CROSBY, David Harris, Reverend Jesse Jackson and of course, her old mucker and beau, BOB DYLAN.
Absent in part ever since, 2015’s Ambassador of Conscience Award winner BAEZ returned to the fray in 2016 with a star-studded, PBS-sponsored double-CD/DVD combination concert set, 75TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION {*7}. Recorded with superstar friends at the Big Apple’s Beacon Theatre on January 27th, the likes of DAVID BROMBERG, DAVID CROSBY, DAMIEN RICE, MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER, EMMYLOU HARRIS, MAVIS STAPLES, INDIGO GIRLS, RICHARD THOMPSON (on his own `She Never Could Resist A Winding Road’), JACKSON BROWNE (on his `Before The Deluge’), PAUL SIMON (`The Boxer’), Nano Stern and JUDY COLLINS were only too happy to spice up her career highpoints; DONOVAN’s `Catch The Wind’, for instance – dedicated to late sister MIMI FARINA – was truly enhanced by MCC.
Whilst DYLAN had forsaken his folk (or rock) allegiances of late, his evergreen former muse JOAN BAEZ was still making records affiliated to her protagonist/protest values. 2018’s WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND {*7} guaranteed curiosity at least, and in songs from the pensive pens of TOM WAITS and Kathleen Brennan (`Last Leaf’ and the title piece) and JOSH RITTER (`Be Of Good Heart’ and `Silver Blade’) among producer JOE HENRY’s `Civil War’, MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER’s `The Things That We Are Made Of’ and TIM ERIKSEN’s `I Wish The Wars Were All Over’, the twilight BAEZ conjured the past – and the future!
© MC Strong 1994-2010/BG/MCS-GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Jun2018

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