Goodnight Irene: The Weavers, 1949-1953

Goodnight Irene: The Weavers, 1949-1953

by The Weavers

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There are great records, and then there are records like this one, which is an adventure as well as incomparable listening. And don't be repelled by the 100-plus dollar price tag -- this five-disc set manages to be a hootenanny, a history lesson, a light-hearted voyage through pasts musical, political, and cultural, and a pop-culture travelogue all in one, and an… See more details below


There are great records, and then there are records like this one, which is an adventure as well as incomparable listening. And don't be repelled by the 100-plus dollar price tag -- this five-disc set manages to be a hootenanny, a history lesson, a light-hearted voyage through pasts musical, political, and cultural, and a pop-culture travelogue all in one, and an investment that will pay off five or ten times that amount in smiles and a few tears. The usual assumption is that the Weavers started their recording career with Gordon Jenkins at Decca Records, adapting their folk sound into an early-'50s popular style, but disc one dispells this notion, going back to the quartet's true recording debut, for Charter Records in 1949. We walk in on them singing in blues and gospel styles, freely injecting elements of country music and also going for some of the kind of four-way acrobatics that one more commonly associated with pop ensembles of the era -- in other words, doing all of the stuff that they made their names with in their reunion years of the middle/late '50s, except that these sides have mostly been unheard for 51 years. Some of this music is topical and might have come off as dangerously confrontational in the reactionary political climate of 1949, but most of it would probably have slipped by on its sheer beauty and inventiveness, and much of it, if it could have been issued during the 1960s, would surely have found an audience. At least one song, "Dig My Grave," would even have qualified as "world music," had such a term existed at the time, drawing on a Bahamian source. Lee Hays' "Love Song Blues" and the group's original version of "The Hammer Song" (co-authored by Hays and Pete Seeger), which were never even issued by the Charter label, are worth a quarter of the price of this box, and they're only two of the highlights on the first disc. A March-April 1950 demo filled with more topical songs shows some of the material that they abandoned in favor of safer songs when they began recording for Decca the following month, so there is a bit of lost history here -- and the disc is rounded out by eight live performances from WNYC radio from 1949 and 1950, hosted by Oscar Brand, opening with the broadcast on which Lee Hays announces that the quartet have finally selected a name; these recordings preserve the sense of humor that put the quartet over the top with audiences at the Village Vanguard; the broadcast performance of "Love Song Blues" is, if anything, even more impressive than the unissued Charter recording; and despite a few technical flubs, Hayes' "Washington Square Blues" is also a highlight, featuring some killer harmonizing (in a blues idiom) and fascinating acoustic guitar and banjo flourishes. Discs two and three are given over to their history with Decca Records, which is usually maligned by folk purists --regardless of the pop music elements added by Gordon Jenkins, however, the quality of the singing and the care that went into it resound far more loudly than anything else on those records; they might not be ideal representations of what the Weavers were about, but the 54 Decca sides are mostly good and even occasionally superb recordings, displaying a wide-ranging array of musical influences in an era when most pop artists were looking for the safety of Tin Pan Alley and novelty tunes; those two discs include half a dozen previously unissued tracks. Disc four is made up of sides that the group cut for non-commercial release, most notably "The Peekskill Story," recorded in conjunction with Paul Robeson, telling of the riot that greeted the legendary black singer/activist in Peekskill, NY, at a 1949 rally, rounded out by solo and duo recordings by Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert. Disc five is a DVD (playable on many computers) of five "telescription" performances done by the quartet in the early days of television -- performing live in front of the camera, the group is spontaneous and charming in their straight-laced, straightforward appeal, the 1950 equivalent of MTV Unplugged performances. The box also includes an accompanying hardcover book by Dave Samuelson (with addenda by Richard D. Cohen) that's about the most detailed account of the quartet's pre-1955 history ever published, with the usual thorough Bear Family discography as well.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Bear Family


Disc 1

  1. Wasn't That a Time
  2. Dig My Grave
  3. Freight Train Blues
  4. Love Song Blues
  5. The Hammer Song
  6. No Irish Need Apply
  7. The Hammer Song
  8. Banks of Marble
  9. When the Saints Go Marching In
  10. Rock Island Line
  11. Lonesome Traveler
  12. I Don't Want to Get Adjusted
  13. Wasn't That a Time
  14. The Johnson Boys
  15. Goodnight Irene
  16. Lousy Dime
  17. Every Night When the Sun Goes Down
  18. Talking Blues
  19. East Virginia Blues
  20. Love Song Blues
  21. Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
  22. El Quinto Regimento
  23. Wimoweh
  24. Around the World
  25. Poor Howard's Dead and Gone
  26. Dig My Grave
  27. Love Song Blues
  28. Washington Square Blues
  29. Freight Train Blues
  30. The Johnson Boys
  31. Lousy Dime
  32. The Fireship

Disc 2

  1. Around the World
  2. Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
  3. Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
  4. Goodnight Irene
  5. Lonesome Traveler
  6. So Long (It's Been Good to Know Yuh)
  7. Wreck of the John B
  8. Midnight Special
  9. The Roving Kind
  10. Follow the Drinking Gourd
  11. Trouble in Mind
  12. Along the Colorado Trail
  13. Suliram (I'll Be There)
  14. Hush Little Baby
  15. I Know Where I'm Going
  16. Across the Wide Missouri  - Terry Gilkyson
  17. On Top of Old Smokey  - Terry Gilkyson
  18. The Frozen Logger
  19. Follow the Drinking Gourd
  20. Darling Corey
  21. Greensleeves
  22. Easy Rider Blues
  23. Along the Colorado Trail
  24. Greensleeves
  25. When the Saints Go Marching In
  26. Run Home to Ma-Ma
  27. Quilting Bee
  28. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
  29. Jig Along Home
  30. (Come on and) Join into the Game

Disc 3

  1. Old Paint (Ride Around Little Dogies)
  2. Wimoweh
  3. Midnight Special
  4. The Gandy Dancer's Ball
  5. Around the Corner (Beneath the Berry Tree)
  6. Hard, Ain't It Hard
  7. Bay of Mexico
  8. True Love
  9. Clementine
  10. Down in the Valley
  11. Rock Island Line
  12. Benoni
  13. Taking It Easy
  14. Slyvie (Bring Me Li'l Water, Sylvie)
  15. We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  16. Burgundian Carol
  17. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  18. Go Tell It on the Mountain
  19. Twelve Days of Christmas
  20. Lulloo Lullay
  21. It's Almost Day
  22. One for the Little Bitty Baby (Go Where I Send Thee)
  23. Poor Little Jesus
  24. The Seven Blessings of Mary
  25. Joy to the World
  26. Masters in This Hall
  27. Goodnight Irene
  28. The Roving Kind
  29. Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
  30. Around the World
  31. So Long (It's Been Good to Know Yuh)

Disc 4

  1. Trenton Six, Pt. 1 & 2
  2. Peekskill Story, Pts. 1 & 2
  3. Train to the Zoo, Pt. 1 & 2
  4. New York City
  5. We Shall Not Be Moved
  6. Old Man Atom
  7. Pity the Downtrodden Landlord
  8. (Ma Come Bali) Bella Bimba
  9. Calla, Calla (The Bride)
  10. Flamenco
  11. Just One More Chance
  12. Goodnight, Sweet Dreams
  13. November 24, 1950, Interview

Disc 5

  1. Goodnight Irene
  2. The Roving Kind
  3. Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
  4. Around the World
  5. So Long (It's Been Good to Know Yuh)

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Weavers   Primary Artist
Oscar Brand   Guitar,Vocals
Pete Seeger   Banjo,Recorder,Vocals
Paul Robeson   Narrator
George Barnes   Guitar
Gordon Jenkins   Leader
Norman Rose   Narrator
Terry Gilkyson   Vocals
Howard Fast   Narrator
Cliff Bruner   Vocals
Robert Alexander   Trombone
Sue Allen   Vocals
George Berg   Saxophone
Ralph Brewster   Vocals
Mac Ceppos   Violin
Sidney Edwards   Cello
Ronnie Gilbert   Vocals
Lee Hays   Piano,Vocals
Julius Held   Violin
Fred Hellerman   Guitar,Vocals
Cliff Leeman   Drums
Jack Lesberg   Bass
Joe Mondragon   Bass
Harry Melnikoff   Violin
Louis Mucci   Trumpet
Jimmy Nottingham   Trumpet
Richard Perissi   French Horn
Samuel Rand   Violin
Sylvan Shulman   Violin
Vic Schoen   Leader
Sid Weiss   Bass
Vincent DeRosa   French Horn
Alton Hendrickson   Guitar
Felix Orlewitz   Violin
Thomas Parshley   Saxophone
Harry Hoffman   Violin
Ezelie Watson   Saxophone

Technical Credits

Lead Belly   Composer
Woody Guthrie   Composer
Carl Sandburg   Composer
Pete Seeger   Composer
Weavers   Composer
Cliff Bruner   Illustrations
Junior Blankenship   Illustrations
Clyde Brewer   Illustrations
Paul Campbell   Composer
Milt Gabler   Producer
Sonny Geraci   Composer
Ronnie Gilbert   Composer
Lee Hays   Composer,Producer
Fred Hellerman   Composer
Jimmy Hilliard   Producer
Dave Kapp   Producer
Steve Lasker   Mastering
Harold Leventhal   Illustrations
John A. Lomax   Composer
Mitchell Parish   Composer
Vic Schoen   Producer
Isaac Watts   Composer
Leo Raley   Illustrations
Leon Selph   Illustrations
Lowell Mason   Composer
Doc Lewis   Illustrations
Lee Bell   Illustrations
Bob Pinson   Illustrations
R.A. Andreas   Illustrations
Richard Weize   Producer,Reissue Producer,Re-Release Producer
Sylke Holtrop   Artwork
Dave Samuelson   Liner Notes,Reissue Producer,Biographical Notes,Re-Release Producer
Irwin Silber   Producer
Holger Von Bargen   Art Direction
Kevin Coffey   Producer,Liner Notes,Illustrations
Nick Tosches   Illustrations
Deacon Anderson   Illustrations
Solomon Linda   Composer
Achim Elsner   Mastering
Wolfgang Taubenauer   Artwork
Traditional   Composer
David Banner   Illustrations
Isaachar Miron   Composer
Julius Grossman   Composer
John W. Work   Composer
Mario Casetta   Producer
Ernie Lieberman   Producer

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