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Tom Paxton proved to be one of the most durable of the singer/songwriters to emerge from the Greenwich Village folk revival scene of the early '60s. In some ways, he had more in common with the late-'50s generation of folksingers such as Dave Van Ronk (who was 16 months his senior) and even older performers than with the new crop of singer/songwriters with whom he tended to be associated, such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs (both of whom were several years his junior). But like Dylan and Ochs, and unlike Van Ronk, Paxton was a songwriter caught up in the left-wing political movements of the time and inspired to compose topical and protest songs. In general, his tended to be more lighthearted than theirs (the musical satirist Tom Lehrer was at least as much of an influence on him as Woody Guthrie), though he could be just as witty and just as harshly critical of his opponents. Like such mentors as Pete Seeger, and unlike Dylan, he never cared to make much of a transition to the mainstream, never picked up an electric guitar and tried to play rock & roll. (None of his many albums ever reached the Top 100, and he never scored a chart single as a recording artist.) Nor did he burn out in the '70s like Ochs. Instead, he kept on, year in and year out, writing and singing songs that commented, often humorously, on the state of the body politic. He also contributed more than a few love songs, some songs of joyous celebration, and especially later in his career, many children's songs. In fact, his biggest successes as a songwriter, the songs that became hits for others and were covered over and over, proving to be his most valuable copyrights, fit into these respective categories: "The Last Thing on My Mind" (by far his most popular work), "Bottle of Wine," and "The Marvelous Toy." But other artists were also attracted to such socially conscious compositions as "What Did You Learn in School Today?" and "Whose Garden Was This?," as well as reflective, melancholy songs like "Ramblin' Boy" and "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound."
Born in Chicago on Halloween in 1937, Paxton moved with his family to Bristow, OK, in 1948, when he was ten; his father died soon after. His first musical instrument was the trumpet, but he next took up the ukulele, and in the summer of 1954 an aunt gave him his first guitar. In 1955, he matriculated at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, initially as a drama major. There he became interested in folk music and began writing songs. He graduated in 1959 with a BFA and acted in summer stock, though his main interest had shifted to singing. He went into the army reserve early in 1960, and that spring was stationed at Fort Dix, NJ, which allowed him to begin going into New York City and performing at the amateur-night hootenannies in Greenwich Village clubs. When he finished active duty in September 1960, he settled in New York. He began making his name both as a singer in such clubs as the Gaslight and the Bitter End, and as a songwriter, publishing songs in the folk magazines Broadside and Sing Out!. When Mike Pugh left the Chad Mitchell Trio, Paxton auditioned to replace him; Joe Frazier eventually won out instead, but the group and its music director, Milt Okun, were impressed by Paxton's songs, resulting in his association with the song publishing company Cherry Lane. On March 19, 1962, the trio sang his composition "Come Along Home (Tom's Song)" at an appearance at the Bitter End recorded for their album, The Chad Mitchell Trio at the Bitter End, which was released on Kapp Records that summer.
In the fall of 1962, Paxton recorded his debut album, I'm the Man Who Built the Bridges, at the Gaslight, and it was issued by Gaslight Records, which pressed 2,000 copies. Included on the album were the original versions of such songs as the romantic ballad "Every Time," "The Marvelous Toy," and another children's song, "Goin' to the Zoo." In early May 1963, at a reunion concert by the Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Pete Seeger performed Paxton's song "Ramblin' Boy." The song was included on an album drawn from the show, Reunion at Carnegie Hall 1963, released by Vanguard Records. The following month, Seeger played a solo concert in the same venue and sang three Paxton songs, "Ramblin' Boy," "A Little Brand New Baby," and the satirical "What Did You Learn in School Today?" This show also was recorded, and an LP drawn from it was released on Columbia Records in the fall of 1963 under the title We Shall Overcome, including "What Did You Learn in School Today?" (In 1989, a double-CD of the show was released by Columbia/Legacy, We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert, featuring all three Paxton songs.) Also that fall came the next Chad Mitchell Trio album, Blowin' in the Wind, which contained two Paxton compositions, both from his Gaslight LP, "Willie Seton" and "The Marvelous Toy." "The Marvelous Toy" was released as a single, and it peaked at number 43 in January 1964.
Paxton, meanwhile, had increased his profile as a performer, appearing at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, which was recorded by Vanguard. His army experience was reflected in the song Vanguard chose for its Newport Broadside LP, "The Willing Conscript," a comic conversation between a drill sergeant and a recruit who has "never killed before" and is seeking advice on how to do so. A month after the Newport concert, on August 5, 1963, Paxton married Margaret Ann Cummings, known as Midge. The couple had two daughters. Paxton also performed at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, which Vanguard again recorded, but the label didn't issue any of his work from it until the release of its Paxton compilation Best of the Vanguard Years 36 years later. Paxton's success as a performer and songwriter led Vanguard's main rival for the title of leading folk label, Elektra Records, to sign him in 1964, and his label debut, Ramblin' Boy, appeared that fall. In addition to the songwriter's version of the title tune and "What Did You Learn in School Today?," it contained two career-making songs, the romantic ballad "The Last Thing on My Mind" and "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound." The latter song was released simultaneously by the Chad Mitchell Trio under the title "I Can't Help But Wonder" on their Mercury Records album Singin' Our Mind; the short-lived Au Go-Go Singers (featuring Stephen Stills and Richie Furay) also covered it on their sole album, They Call Us Au Go-Go Singers, released on Roulette Records in 1964. The following year, the Kingston Trio put it on their Stay Awhile LP (an album that also featured Paxton's rowdy drinking song "Bottle of Wine") under the title "Where I'm Bound," and after that the covers multiplied, with a wide variety of artists, including Dion and even Tiny Tim, taking their turns.
"The Last Thing on My Mind" dwarfed that success, however. A song of regret over the loss of a relationship possessing some of the emotional distancing of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (though none of that song's bellicosity) and the later hit "Always on My Mind," it finds a lover telling his departing companion that "I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind/You know that was the last thing on my mind." It quickly became a standard. In 1965 alone, covers appeared on chart albums by the Mitchell Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary (another Milt Okun act), and Marianne Faithfull. After that, "The Last Thing on My Mind" spread to country artists, earning recordings by Charley Pride and Hank Locklin in 1967 before the duo of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton released it as a single that peaked at number seven in the country charts in early 1968. Rock acts such as the Move and the Vejtables tried their hands before Neil Diamond put it on his 1971 MCA album Stones, and after Diamond left MCA in 1973, the label belated released it as a single that peaked at number 56 on the pop chart. The list of other artists who have recorded "The Last Thing on My Mind" includes Bill Anderson, Chet Atkins, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, José Feliciano, Flatt & Scruggs, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, the Seekers, and Hank Snow.
But if Paxton had created some copyrights that would be valuable over the long term, he had not sold many records himself. By the fall of 1964, the Beatles and their British Invasion had swamped the commercial folk field along with the rest of American pop music, and folk musicians were on their way out as national stars unless, like Bob Dylan soon would, they adapted to rock music. Ramblin' Boy did not sell well enough to reach the charts, and neither did Paxton's second Elektra album, Ain't That News, released in the fall of 1965. Here, Paxton reflected liberals' increasing opposition to the Vietnam War, which had seen escalated U.S. involvement during the year, particularly in "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation." Paxton also recorded his version of "Bottle of Wine." He may not have expected that song to become one of his evergreens, but two years later, the Fireballs cut a rocking cover of it for Atco Records that peaked in the Top Ten in March 1968. Five years after that, Doc & Merle Watson's version made it into the country charts.
Paxton's third Elektra album, Outward Bound, was released in September 1966 and found him ignoring the folk-rock trend, employing as usual just a couple of backing musicians. His fourth, Morning Again, did not turn up until the spring of 1968, by which time the Sgt. Pepper era of pop psychedelia had come and largely gone, but had encouraged him to try the same sort of chamber pop style being used by his labelmate Judy Collins. He finally broke into the pop charts with The Things I Notice Now in the summer of 1969 and also charted with Tom Paxton 6 in the spring of 1970, a strong collection that featured the satiric "Forest Lawn" (a Los Angeles cemetery) and the environmental lament "Whose Garden Was This." Both songs were quickly taken up by former Mitchell Trio singer (and Milt Okun client) John Denver, who even titled an RCA album after the latter tune. Denver was a major Paxton booster who also recorded his songs "The Ballad of Spiro Agnew," "Bet on the Blues," and "Jimmy Newman," among others, over the course of his career.
Paxton, meanwhile, had become dissatisfied with the state of his career in the U.S.; he seemed to be more popular in Great Britain, where Tom Paxton 6 had made the Top 25. After performing a June 1970 show at the Bitter End that Elektra recorded for a final release, the two-LP set The Compleat Tom Paxton (issued in the spring of 1971), he moved his family to England. There he signed to the U.K. branch of Warner Bros. Records, which released his next album, How Come the Sun, on its Reprise imprint in the summer of 1971. The album gave him his highest chart ranking in the U.S., but that ranking was only number 120, and Peace Will Come, released in the summer of 1972, barely reached the charts at all. Once again, Paxton completed his label commitment with a live album, New Songs Old Friends, recorded at the Marquee Club in London and issued in the summer of 1973. (Among those new songs was "Wasn't That a Party?," which was covered by the Rovers for a Top 40 hit in 1981.) He moved his family back to the U.S., where they settled on Long Island.
Paxton's departure from Warner Bros. marked the end of his working for major record labels, where he had never felt well treated, anyway. (He was known to joke that his Warner albums were released at midnight and out of print by dawn.) He signed to the Bradley label in the U.K. and recorded his first children's album, The Tom Paxton Children's Song Book, in 1974. (Ten years later, Flying Fish Records reissued the album in the U.S. under the title The Marvelous Toy and Other Gallimaufry.) For the British MAM label, he made Something in My Life (1975; released in the U.S. on Private Stock Records) and Saturday Night (1976). Then, he signed with Vanguard, and on March 1, 1977, he recorded live in the studio, backed by Steve Goodman, for New Songs from the Briarpatch, released that summer. The album included "Did You Hear John Hurt?," Paxton's tribute to the blues singer he had known in Greenwich Village, a song taken up by Doc & Merle Watson. Heroes (1978), Paxton's second Vanguard album, was a particularly strong collection including the harrowing "The Death of Stephen Biko," an account of the murder of the South African civil rights leader, and "Phil," about Phil Ochs, who had killed himself in 1976.
Paxton next moved to the Mountain Railroad label, working with longtime friend Bob Gibson, who produced 1979's Up & Up, which featured the baseball song "My Favorite Spring" and the lovely "Home to Me (Is Anywhere You Are)," and 1980's The Paxton Report, containing many topical songs, among them the humorous comment on the government's bail-out of one of the major automotive companies, "I Am Changing My Name to Chrysler." (In 1982, Paxton enjoyed a surprise hit in the U.K. when the Fureys revived his 20-year-old song "Every Time" under the title "I Will Love You" and reached the charts with it.) Bulletin, released on Hogeye Records in 1983, also had a high quotient of satiric and topical songs, among them "A Little Bitty Gun," which tweaked First Lady Nancy Reagan, and "There's Something Wrong With the Rain," about pollution. The same year, Paxton signed to the larger independent folk label Flying Fish and issued Even a Gray Day, a strikingly nonpolitical collection of the love songs he had written over the years.
For a year and a half starting in 1984, Paxton toured with Bob Gibson and Anne Hills as a trio under the name Best of Friends. They never recorded an album, but their shows were heard on radio, and in 2004 Appleseed Records released one of those performances under the title Best of Friends. Paxton's 1985 Flying Fish LP One Million Lawyers and Other Disasters was a return to satiric form with the title song ("In ten years there's gonna be one million lawyers/How much can a poor nation stand?") and "Yuppies in the Sky" (a parody based on the 1949 hit "Riders in the Sky [A Cowboy Legend]"). In 1986, Paxton launched his own label, Pax Records, issuing A Folk Song Festival (an album of covers of traditional folk songs), A Paxton Primer (re-recordings of his own songs), Balloon-alloon-alloon (a children's collection), and A Child's Christmas. He was, however, still contracted to Flying Fish, which issued 1986's And Loving You, the live album Politics (1988), and another collection of re-recordings, The Very Best of Tom Paxton (1988). He finished off his commitment to Flying Fish with It Ain't Easy in 1991.
In the early '90s, Paxton issued a series of children's albums through Sony Kids: A Car Full of Songs, Peanut Butter Pie, and Suzy Is a Rocker. Then, in 1994, he signed to Sugar Hill Records and returned to adult concerns on Wearing the Time; Live: For the Record, released in June 1996, was a concert recording that found him back to writing satiric songs about topical subjects like the scandal involving controversial ice skater Tonya Harding. He pacted with Rounder Records for two 1997 children's albums, Goin' to the Zoo and I've Got a Yo-Yo. At the turn of the century, retrospective collections began to appear, including Rhino's I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound (1999) and Vanguard's Best of the Vanguard Years (2000), while his performances on the Mountain Stage radio series, 1994-2000, were collected on Blue Plate's Live from Mountain Stage (2001).
By 2001, Paxton had moved operations to the Appleseed label, which issued a duo album with Anne Hills, Under American Skies, that July. Red House Records released a new children's album, Your Shoes, My Shoes, in February 2002, and it earned Paxton his first Grammy nomination. In October 2002, Appleseed put out his first new studio album for grownups in eight years, Looking for the Moon, and it too was rewarded with a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. At that time, Paxton, still performing on a regular if limited basis in his mid-'60s, was living with his wife of 40 years in Alexandria, VA, and had become a grandfather. 2006 saw Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop, drawn from a 1991 live performance, issued by Shout! Factory. Paxtons next new studio recording, Comedians & Angels, was released by Appleseed in January 2008.
Thomas Richard "Tom" Paxton (born October 31, 1937) is an American folk singer and singer-songwriter who has had a music career spanning more than fifty years. In 2009, Paxton received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Paxton's songs have demonstrated enduring appeal, including modern standards such as "The Last Thing on My Mind", "Bottle of Wine", "Whose Garden Was This", "The Marvelous Toy", and "Ramblin' Boy". Paxton's songs have been recorded by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, The Weavers, Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Harry Belafonte, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Seekers, Marianne Faithfull, The Kingston Trio, The Chad Mitchell Trio, John Denver, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Willie Nelson, Flatt & Scruggs, The Move, The Fireballs, and many others (see covers). He has performed thousands of concerts around the world.
Paxton's songs can be emotionally affective and cover a wide range of topics, from the serious and profound to the lighthearted and comical. "What Did You Learn in School Today?" mocks the way children are often taught lies. "Jimmy Newman" is the story of a dying soldier and "My Son John" is a moving song about a soldier who comes back home and cannot even begin to describe what he has been through. "Beau John" is a civil rights era song about taking a stand against racial injustice. "A Thousand Years" tells the chilling tale of Neo-Nazi uprising, and "Train for Auschwitz" is about the Holocaust. "On the Road to Srebrenica" is about Bosnian Muslims who were killed in a 1995 massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "The Bravest" is a song about the firefighters who gave their lives while trying to save others on September 11, 2001. Then there are Paxton's "short shelf life songs", which are topical songs about current events and things in the news. They include: "In Florida", about the 2000 election; "Without DeLay", a song about the former congressman; "Bobbitt", about John and Lorena Bobbitt; "Little Bitty Gun", which lampoons Nancy Reagan; "I'm Changing My Name to Chrysler", about the federal loan guarantee to Chrysler in 1979 (which was rewritten in 2008 as "I Am Changing My Name to Fannie Mae" about the 700 billion dollar "bailout of the U.S. financial system"); "The Ballad of Spiro Agnew", and "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation" (which became "George W. Told the Nation" in 2007).Tom Paxton Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Announcement (brief video clip from the 51st Annual Grammy Awards telecast) on YouTube Power Of Just Plain Folk, Tom Paxton Humbly Garners Life Grammy, J. Freedom du Lac, Washington Post, February 7, 2009, p. C01 "Short Shelf-life Songs". Tom Paxton. Retrieved 2012-04-04. "Short Shelf-life Songs". Tom Paxton. Retrieved 2012-04-04.
Paxton was born on October 31, 1937 in Chicago, Illinois to Burt and Esther Paxton. His father was "a chemist, mostly self-educated", and as his health began to fail him, the family moved to Wickenburg, Arizona. It was here that young Paxton began riding horses at the numerous dude ranches in the area. It was also here that he was first introduced to folk music, discovering the music of Burl Ives and others.
In 1948, the family moved to Bristow, Oklahoma, which Paxton considers to be his hometown. Soon after, his father died from a stroke. Paxton was about fifteen when he received his first stringed instrument, a ukulele. Paxton was given a guitar by his aunt when he was sixteen, and he soon began to immerse himself in the music of Burl Ives and Harry Belafonte.
In 1955, Paxton enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where he studied in the drama school. It was here that he first found other enthusiasts of folk music, and discovered the music of Woody Guthrie and The Weavers. Paxton would later note, "Woody was fearless; he'd take on any issue that got him stirred up ... and he became one of my greatest influences." In college, he was in a group known as the Travellers, and they sang in an off-campus coffeehouse.Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p. 12 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p. 13 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p.14 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) pp. 14-15 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p. 17 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) pp. 18-19
Upon graduating in 1959 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, Paxton acted in summer stock theatre and briefly tried graduate school before joining the Army. While attending the Clerk Typist School in Fort Dix, New Jersey, he began writing songs on his typewriter and spent almost every weekend visiting Greenwich Village in New York City during the emerging early 1960s folk revival.
Shortly after his honorable discharge from the Army, Paxton auditioned for the Chad Mitchell Trio via publisher Milt Okun in 1960. He initially received the part, but his voice did not blend well enough with those of the group members. However, after singing his song "The Marvelous Toy" for Okun, he became the first writer signed to Milt's music publishing company, Cherry Lane Music Publishing.
Paxton soon began performing at The Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, where he became a mainstay. In 1962, he recorded a privately produced live album at the Gaslight entitled, I'm the Man That Built the Bridges. During his stay in Greenwich Village, Paxton published some of his songs in the folk magazines Broadside and Sing Out!, and performed alongside such folksingers as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, Dave Van Ronk, and Mississippi John Hurt. Paxton met his future wife, Midge, at the Gaslight one night in January 1963 after being introduced to her by David Blue.
Pete Seeger picked up on a few of Tom Paxton's songs in 1963, including "Ramblin' Boy" (which Seeger performed at The Weavers reunion concert at Carnegie Hall) and "What Did You Learn in School Today?" Paxton increased his profile as a performer, appearing at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, which was recorded by Vanguard Records. A month after Newport in 1963, Paxton married Midge. He began traveling the country on the coffeehouse and small-venue circuit before returning to New York. Paxton became involved with causes that promoted human rights, civil rights and labor rights. In 1963, Paxton and a group of other folk musicians performed and offered moral support to striking coal miners in Hazard, Kentucky.
After returning to New York, Paxton signed with Elektra Records in 1964, a label which at that time featured a distinguished roster of folk musicians. He would go on to record seven albums for Elektra. As the folk revival hit its peak, Paxton began getting more work outside of New York City, including benefit concerts and college campus visits. In 1964, he took part in the Freedom Summer and visited the Deep South, with other folk musicians, to perform at voter registration drives and civil rights rallies. His civil rights song "Beau John" was written after attending a Freedom Song Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia, and the song "Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney" was written about the murders of three civil rights activists (Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney) in the summer of 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Numerous musicians of various musical genres began recording Paxton's songs as the 1960s progressed.
Of the songwriters on the Greenwich Village scene of the 1960s, Dave Van Ronk said, "Dylan is usually cited as the founder of the new song movement, and he certainly became its most visible standard-bearer, but the person who started the whole thing was Tom Paxton ... he tested his songs in the crucible of live performance, he found that his own stuff was getting more attention than when he was singing traditional songs or stuff by other people ... he set himself a training regimen of deliberately writing one song every day. Dylan had not yet showed up when this was happening, and by the time Bobby came on the set, with at most two or three songs he had written, Tom was already singing at least 50 percent his own material. That said, it was Bobby's success that really got the ball rolling. Prior to that, the folk community was very much tied to traditional songs, so much so that songwriters would sometimes palm their own stuff off as traditional."
In 1965, Paxton made his first tour of the United Kingdom. The tour was the beginning of a still-thriving professional relationship that has included yearly performances there. He met Bruce Woodley, one of the founding members of the Australian folk group The Seekers and they collaborated on the song "Angeline (Is Always Friday)" which The Seekers recorded and featured in their concerts, TV shows and a DVD. In 1967, the rock group Clear Light recorded a menacing and lengthy psychedelic version of Paxton's song "Mr. Blue" on their only album Clear Light. Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton's recording of "The Last Thing on My Mind" reached the top ten on the U.S. country singles charts in December 1967. Then in 1968, Paxton scored a Top 10 radio hit when The Fireballs recorded his song "Bottle of Wine". In the 1960s, Paxton licensed one of his songs, "My Dog's Bigger than Your Dog", for use in a Ken-L Ration dog food commercial. Not too fazed by the success of some of his songs, Paxton continued writing and performing. He was not interested in jumping on the folk rock (or, as he once joked, "folk rot") bandwagon though, and continued his folk singer-songwriter style on albums like Outward Bound (1966) and Morning Again (1968). On January 20, 1968, three months after the death of Woody Guthrie, Paxton and a number of other prominent folk musicians performed at the Harold Leventhal produced "A Tribute to Woody Guthrie" concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall.
Paxton decided to try some more elaborate recording techniques, including neo-chamber music with string sections, flutes, horns, piano, various session musicians, as well as his acoustic guitar and vocals, similar to what his labelmate Judy Collins and his friend Phil Ochs were experimenting with around this time. Paxton finally broke into the album pop charts with The Things I Notice Now in the summer of 1969, and also charted with Tom Paxton 6 in the spring of the following year. His song "Whose Garden Was This", an environmentalist anthem written for the first Earth Day, was later recorded by John Denver and became the title track of Denver's 1970 album. The diverse "Baroque Folk" experimentation on Paxton's recordings was basically short-lived though, and he tended to think that the music was becoming too overproduced and away from the more natural acoustic roots that he loved best. Regarding this time, he said, "the acoustic guitar has always been what I loved the most ... I know I didn't have that rock mentality or anything. I was still a kid from a small town in Oklahoma. And I just wanted to hear folk songs." Paxton continued to sing and perform his songs on acoustic guitar at his live performances, and it wasn't too long before his albums would once again generally reflect his original traditional-sounding style.Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) pp. 20-21 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p.22 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p.26 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) pp. 26-29 Dave Van Ronk, The Mayor of MacDougal Street (2006) p. 197 Tom Paxton, "Folk Rot", Sing Out! (Autumn 1965) http://www.woodyguthrie.org/events/harold.htm Richie Unterberger Interview (2000) http://www.richieunterberger.com/paxton.html
Paxton, his wife and their two daughters lived in Holland Park, London for about four years in the early 1970s. After a stay in England due to professional success and love of the country, Paxton and Midge went on a tour of New Zealand and China and even appeared on a Chinese talk show. Paxton released How Come the Sun in 1971. The album gave him his highest chart ranking in the U.S. but it only reached number 120 and his next album, Peace Will Come (1972), barely even reached the charts. He soon returned to New York and the Long Island town of East Hampton before moving to the Washington, D.C. area around 1977. After recording three albums for Reprise Records and a few for "an English label that didn't pan out well", Paxton signed with Vanguard Records, with whom he recorded a live album with Steve Goodman, New Songs From the Briarpatch (1977), which contained some of Paxton's topical songs of the 1970s, including "Talking Watergate" and "White Bones of Allende" as well as a song dedicated to Mississippi John Hurt entitled "Did You Hear John Hurt?" In 1978, Paxton released his album Heroes, which contained a song, "Phil", about his friend Phil Ochs, who had taken his own life in 1976. The album also includes the song "The Death of Stephen Biko", which details the brutal killing of anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko in South Africa.
Paxton's 1979 album, Up and Up, contains the song "Let the Sunshine", which addresses issues concerning environmentalism and solar energy. Paxton has also performed at the Clearwater Festival, an annual event, started by Pete Seeger, dedicated to environmentalism and cleaning up the Hudson River. His 1983 album Bulletin includes a song about Woody Guthrie entitled "They Couldn't Take the Music."
After recording for labels such as Mountain Railroad and Flying Fish in the 1980s, Paxton started his own label, Pax Records, in 1987. It was during this time that Paxton continued to suffer from an undiagnosed and deepening depression that affected his work. With some advice from Midge, he began to look for a solution and was eventually diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, for which he received ongoing treatment.Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p. 49 ArtistDirect, Tom Paxton: Bulletin. Retrieved November 14, 2007 Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000) p. 50
As the 1990s rolled around, Paxton began delving deeply into children's music, recording nine children's albums during the decade. In July 1994, Paxton was invited to perform at a folk festival in Israel, "Jacob's Ladder", and he played there and a series of concerts around Israel accompanied by folk guitarist and harmonica player Shay Tochner. Paxton recorded a live album in 1996 with his good friend Jim Rooney, and it contained some new comical songs about current events. Eric Weissberg, John Gorka, Robin and Linda Williams, among others, also performed; and the album was titled Live: For the Record. In the mid-1990s, Paxton also began to give more workshops in songwriting.
In 2000, Paxton once again began to write more of the topical songs for which he originally became known. In 2001, he released an album with Anne Hills entitled Under American Skies, and in 2002, he released an album of all new songs entitled Looking for the Moon (Appleseed Recordings). At the time of its release, Paxton was quoted saying that it might be his best album so far. Looking for the Moon contains the song "The Bravest", which is about the firefighters who gave their lives while trying to save others in New York City on September 11, 2001. Around this time, Paxton began writing and releasing his "Short Shelf Life Songs" about current events for free download on his website. Paxton wrote a number of topical protest songs that were critical of the Bush administration's actions. In 2007, he rewrote a song of his from 1965 entitled "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation", about the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and transformed it into "George W. Told The Nation", about the surge in the Iraq war. In 2007, Tom Paxton became one of the founding members of the Copyright Alliance, whose purpose is to promote the cultural and economic benefits of copyrights.
In 2008, Paxton rewrote his song "I'm Changing My Name to Chrysler", about the federal loan guarantee to Chrysler in 1979, as "I Am Changing My Name to Fannie Mae", about the 700 billion dollar "bailout of the U.S. financial system". He continues to perform yearly tours of the United States and UK.Behind the Beat audio interview (2002) http://www.behindthebeat.net/artist.asp?sid=1&ar=320&al=315 Short Shelf Life Songs; accessed June 12, 2014.
Personal life and family
Tom Paxton married his wife Midge in 1963. They have two daughters, Jennifer and Kate, and three grandsons. Paxton described his political views in the following way: "My own politics more or less resembled Will Rogers's politics. He had said that he belonged to no organized political party — he was a Democrat ... Being young and impassioned almost automatically put me over on the radical side of most issues. Being older, I find myself still more or less there, somewhat to my surprise." Midge Paxton passed away in 2014 after a long illness.Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (2000), p. 40
Awards, honors, and nominations
In February 2002, Paxton was honored with the ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award in Folk Music. A few days later, he received three Wammies (Washington, DC, Area Music Awards); as Best Male Vocalist in the "traditional folk" and "children's music" categories, and for Best Traditional Folk Recording of the Year for "Under American Skies" (2001).
Paxton was nominated four times for Grammy Awards, all since 2002. He was first nominated in 2002 for his children's album, Your Shoes, My Shoes. The following year, Looking for the Moon received a 2003 nomination for "Best Contemporary Folk Album". Live In The UK (2005), received a 2006 Grammy nomination in the "Best Traditional Folk Album" category. Most recently, his 2008 album Comedians and Angels received a 2009 nomination, also in the "Best Traditional Folk Album" category. Paxton was honored with a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, and the formal announcement was made during the 51st Annual Grammy Awards telecast, which aired on February 8, 2009.
In 2004, the Martin Guitar Company introduced the HD-40LSH Tom Paxton Signature Edition acoustic guitar in his honor. In 2005, Paxton received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting at BBC Radio 2's Folk Awards at London's Brewery Arts Centre. In 2006, Paxton received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance. On January 22, 2007, Paxton was honored with an official Parliamentary tribute at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom at the start of his 2007 UK tour. On May 3, 2008, Paxton was honored with a special lifetime tribute from the World Folk Music Association, and a concert was held at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria Campus, in Alexandria, Virginia.Cite error: The named reference TPaxGrammyClip was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference WashPostFeb2009 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
Tom Paxton's songs have been recorded by (among others):Cite error: The named reference RUnterberger was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
ContentsList of works1.1 Discography1.2 Compilations and other recordings1.3 Music books1.4 Non-music books1.5 Videos
List of works
DiscographyI'm the Man That Built the Bridges [live] (Gaslight, 1962)Ramblin' Boy (Elektra, 1964)Ain't That News! (Elektra, 1965)Outward Bound (Elektra, 1966)Morning Again (Elektra, 1968)The Things I Notice Now (Elektra, 1969)Tom Paxton 6 (Elektra, 1970)The Compleat Tom Paxton [live] (Elektra, 1971)How Come the Sun (Reprise, 1971)Peace Will Come (Reprise, 1972)New Songs for Old Friends [live] (Reprise, 1973)Children's Song Book (Bradleys, 1974)Something in My Life (Private Stock, 1975)Saturday Night (MAM, 1976)New Songs from the Briarpatch [live] (Vanguard, 1977)Heroes (Vanguard, 1978)Up and Up (Mountain Railroad, 1979)The Paxton Report (Mountain Railroad, 1980)Bulletin (Hogeye, 1983)Even a Gray Day (Flying Fish, 1983)The Marvelous Toy and Other Gallimaufry (Flying Fish, 1984)One Million Lawyers and Other Disasters (Flying Fish, 1985)A Paxton Primer (Pax, 1986)Folksong Festival 1986 (Pax, 1986)And Loving You (Flying Fish, 1986)Balloon-alloon-alloon (Sony Kids' Music, 1987)Politics Live (Flying Fish, 1988)The Very Best of Tom Paxton (Flying Fish, 1988)In The Orchard [live] (Sundown Records, 1988)Storyteller (Start Records Ltd, 1989)It Ain't Easy (Flying Fish, 1991)A Child's Christmas (Sony Kids' Music, 1992)Peanut Butter Pie (Sony Kids' Music, 1992)Suzy Is a Rocker (Sony Kids' Music, 1992)Wearing the Time (Sugar Hill, 1994)Live: For the Record (Sugar Hill, 1996)A Child's Christmas/Marvelous Toy and Other Gallimaufry (Delta, 1996)A Car Full of Songs (Sony Kids' Music, 1997)Goin' to the Zoo (Rounder, 1997)I've Got a Yo-Yo (Rounder, 1997)The Best of Tom Paxton (Hallmark, 1997)Live In Concert (Strange Fruit, 1998)Fun Animal Songs (Delta, 1999)Fun Food Songs (Delta, 1999)A Car Full of Fun Songs (Delta, 1999)I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound: The Best of Tom Paxton (Rhino, 1999)Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard, 2000)Stars in Their Eyes (Cub Creek Records, 2000), duet with Mark ElliottLive From Mountain Stage (Blue Plate, 2001)Under American Skies (Appleseed and Koch International, 2001)Ramblin' Boy/Ain't That News! (Warner Strategic Marketing, 2002)Your Shoes, My Shoes (Red House, 2002)Looking For The Moon (Appleseed, 2002)American Troubadour (Music Club, 2003)Best of Friends [live] (Appleseed Recordings, 2004)The Compleat Tom Paxton (Even Compleater) [live] (Rhino Handmade, 2004)Outward Bound/Morning Again (Wea/Rhino, 2004)Live in the UK (Pax, 2005)Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop (Shout Factory, 2006)Comedians and Angels (Appleseed, 2008)
Compilations and other recordings1963 Newport Broadside [Compilation] [Live] (Vanguard, 1964)Broadside Ballads, Vol. 3: The Broadside Singers (Folkways, 1964)The Folk Box: Various Artists (Elektra, 1964)Folksong '65 Elektra 15th Anniversary Commemorative Album (Elektra, 1965)Tom Paxton: Tom Paxton (7-inch EP released in the UK)(EPK 802) (Elektra, 1967)Alive! Chad Mitchell Trio album (Reprise, 1967)Fantastic Folk: Various Artists (Elektra, 1968)Select Elektra: Various Artists (Elektra, 1968)Elektra's Best: Volume 1, 1966 through 1968: Various Artists (Elektra, 1968)Begin Here: Various Artists (Elektra, 1969)First Family of New Rock Various Artists (Warner Bros., 1969)4/71: Various Artists: Elektra EK-PROMO 3 (Elektra, 1971)A Tribute to Woody Guthrie Part One [Live 1968] (CBS, 1972)A Tribute to Woody Guthrie Part Two [Live 1968] (Warner Bros., 1972)Broadside Ballads, Vol. 6: Broadside Reunion (Folkways, 1972)Greatest Folksingers of the '60s (Vanguard, 1972)Garden of Delights: Various Artists (Elektra, 1972)Kerrville Folk Festival 1977 [Live] (P.S.G. Recording, 1977)Philadelphia Folk Festival [Live 1977] (Flying Fish, 1978)Bread & Roses Festival 1977 [Live] (Fantasy, 1979)The Perfect High Bob Gibson album (Drive Archive, 1980)CooP - Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Vol. 2, No. 1) First Anniversary (Folkways, 1983)Bleecker and MacDougal: The Folk Scene of the 1960s (Elektra, 1984)Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Vol. 2, No. 10) (Folkways, 1985)Storytellers: Singers & Songwriters (Warner Bros., 1987)A Tribute to Woody Guthrie (Warner Bros., 1989)Folked Again (Mountain Railroad, 1989)Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival 88 (Alcazar, 1989)All-Ears Review, Volume 7: Still Amazing After All These Years (ROM, 1989)The Greenwich Village Folk Festival 1989-90 (Gadfly, 1990)Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival, Vol. 2 (Alcazar, 1990)Newport Folk Festival (Vanguard, 1991)Smithsonian Collection of Folk Song America, Vol. 3 (Smithsonian, 1991)Troubadours of the Folk Era, Vol. 2 (Rhino, 1992)American Folk Legends (Laserlight, 1993)Put on Your Green Shoes (CBS, 1993)Animal Tales Bill Shontz album (Lightyear, 1993)Freedom Is a Constant Struggle (Songs of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement) (Folk Era, 1994)Folk Song America, Vol. 3 (Smithsonian Folkways, 1994)Folk [Friedman] (Friedman/Fairfax, 1994)To All My Friends in Far-Flung Places Dave Van Ronk album (Gazell, 1994)Never Grow Old Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen album (Flying Fish, 1994)Christine Lavin Presents: Follow That Road: 2nd Annual Vineyard Retreat (Philo, 1994)A Child's Holiday (Alacazam!/Alcazar, 1994)The SilverWolf Homeless Project (Silverwolf/IODA, 1995)LifeLines Peter, Paul and Mary album (Warner Bros., 1995)Makin' a Mess: Bob Gibson Sings Shel Silverstein Bob Gibson album (Asylum, 1995)One More Song: An Album for Club Passim (Philo, 1996)Christine Lavin Presents: Laugh Tracks Vol.2 (Shanachie, 1996)Treestar Revue (Beacon, 1996)A Child's Celebration of Song, Vol. 2 (Rhino, 1996)A Very Cherry Christmas [Box Set] (Delta, 1996)Kid Songs Roth & Paxton & Young (Sony Special Products, 1996)Dog Songs (Disney, 1996)Vanguard Folk Sampler (Vanguard, 1996)Vanguard Collector's Edition [Box Set] (Vanguard, 1997)Christmas Treasures, Vol. 3 (Delta, 1997)Christmas Treasures [Box Set] (Laserlight, 1997)Christmas for Kids (Laserlight, 1997)Legendary Folk Singers (Vanguard, 1997)What's That I Hear? The Songs of Phil Ochs (Sliced Bread, 1998)Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger (Appleseed, 1998)Kerrville Folk Festival - 25th Anniversary Album (Silverwolf/IODA, 1998)Kerrville Folk Festival: Early Years 1972-1981 [Live] [Box Set] (Silverwolf, 1998)Generations of Folk, Vol. 2: Protest & Politics (Vanguard, 1998)Diamond Cuts (Hungry for Music, 1998)American Pie [Various Artists] (ZYX, 1998)Around the Campfire Peter, Paul and Mary album (Warner Bros., 1998)A Child's Christmas List (Delta, 1999)Sweet Dreams of Home Mae Robertson album (Lyric Partners, 1999)Best of Broadside 1962-1988 [Box Set] (Folkways, 2000)Follow the Music: Various (Elektra, 2000)Kerrville Folk Festival (Silverwolf, 2000)Soup Happens Hot Soup album (Souper, 2000)Philadelphia Folk Festival - 40th Anniversary [Live] [Box Set] (Sliced Bread, 2001)Vietnam: Songs from a Divided House (Q. Records, 2001)Kids, Cars and Campfires (Red House, 2001)Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom, 1950-1970 [Box Set] (Rhino, 2001)Radio Shows: Greatest Mysteries (Radio Spirits, 2001)Vanguard: Roots of Folk (Vanguard, 2002)Kerrville Folk Festival: The Silverwolf Years [Box Set] (Silverwolf, 2002)Celebration: Philadelphia Folk Festival 40th Festival (Sliced Bread, 2002)This Land Is Your Land: Songs of Unity (Music for Little People, 2002)Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3 (Appleseed, 2003)A Beachwood Christmas (Beachwood, 2003)Bon Appétit! Musical Food Fun Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer album (Rounder, 2003)cELLAbration: A Tribute to Ella Jenkins (Folkways, 2004)Hail to the Thief II: Songs to Send Bush Packing (2004)Missing Persians File: Guide Cats Blind, Vol. 2 (Osmosys, 2005)Pop Masters: Early Mornin' Rain (Carinco AG/Digital Music Works, 2005)Christine Lavin Presents: One Meat Ball (Appleseed, 2006)Forever Changing: The Golden Age Of Elektra Records 1963-1973 (Rhino/Wea, 2006)Sowing the Seeds: The 10th Anniversary (Appleseed Recordings, 2007)Carolyn Hester released an album entitled Tom Paxton Tribute (Road Goes On Forever, 1999)
Music booksRamblin' Boy and Other Songs by Tom Paxton (music book) (Oak Publications, 1965)Tom Paxton Anthology (music book) (United Artists Music Co., 1971)Tom Paxton Folio of Songs (music book) (United Artists Music Co., 1972)Tom Paxton Easy Guitar (music book) (United Artists Music Co., 1975)Politics (music book) (Cherry Lane Music, 1989)I Can Read Now (sheet music) (Pax Records / Cherry Lane Music, 1989)The Authentic Guitar Style of Tom Paxton (music book) (Cherry Lane Music, 1989)Tom Paxton's Children's Songbook (music book) (Cherry Lane Music, 1990)A Car Full of Songs (music Book) (Cherry Lane Music, 1991)Wearing the Time (music book) (Cherry Lane Music, 1994)Ramblin' Boy and Other Songs (Music Sales Corporation, 1997)The Honor of Your Company (music book) (Cherry Lane Music, 2000)
Non-music booksAesop's Fables (William Morrow & Co, 1988)Belling the Cat and Other Aesop's Fables (William Morrow & Co, 1990)Engelbert the Elephant (William Morrow & Co, 1990)Androcles and the Lion: And Other Aesop's Fables (William Morrow & Co, 1991)Birds of a Feather and Other Aesop's Fables (William Morrow & Co, 1993)The Animals' Lullaby (Let Me Read, Level 3) (William Morrow & Co, 1993)Where's the Baby? (HarperCollins, 1993)Engelbert Moves the House (Let Me Read, Level 3) (Good Year Books, 1995)The Story of Santa Claus (HarperCollins, 1995)The Story of the Tooth Fairy (William Morrow & Company, 1996)Going to the Zoo (William Morrow & Company, 1996)Meet Tom Paxton - An Interview With Tom Paxton: Level 3 Reader (Good Year Books, 1996)Engelbert Joins the Circus (HarperCollins, 1997)The Jungle Baseball Game (Morrow Junior, 1999)Jennifer's Rabbit (HarperCollins, 2001)
VideosTom Paxton In Concert (video) (Shanachie Records, 1992)Other appearances:Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest (TV show) (1965)BBC's Tonight In Person (TV show) (1966)Once More with Felix – aka "The Julie Felix Show" (Dec. 30, 1967)BBC's In Concert (TV show) (1970)The Mike Douglas Show (June 3, 1970)The Val Doonican Show (July 3, 1971)Tom Jones Variety Special #5 (July 15, 1971)Beat-Club episode #1.64 (1971)Soundstage: Just Folks with Odetta, Josh White, Jr. and Bob Gibson (1980)Chords of Fame (1984)Folk City: 25th Anniversary Concert with Odetta, Joan Baez, Eric Andersen, Arlo Guthrie (1987)The Folk Music Reunion (1988)The Story of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem (1991)Peter, Paul and Mary: Lifelines (1996)This Land Is Our Land: The Folk Rock Years II (2003)Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest (2003)Peter, Paul and Mary: Carry It On – A Musical Legacy (2004)The Ballad of Greenwich Village (2005)Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007)Let's Get Together: Highlights of the 20th Annual World Folk Music Association Benefit Weekend Concert (2008)
Tom's songs have been featured in the following movies: A Time for Burning (1966), Jennifer on My Mind (1971), Demolition Man (1993), The Family Man (2000), North Country (2005), and Spike (2008).
Paxton's song "Going to the Zoo" was included in an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus entitled "It's the Arts (or: Intermission)" (Season 1, episode 13; aired January 11, 1970; recorded January 4, 1970). "Going to the Zoo" was also featured on an episode of Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show entitled "Zoo" (Season 1, Episode 9; aired, November 5, 1984). His song "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation" was included in an episode of American Experience entitled LBJ (1991). "The Last Thing on My Mind" was included on Bravo Profiles Dolly Parton: Diamond in a Rhinestone World (aired September 6, 1999). A brief clip of Paxton was shown during the 51st Grammy Awards telecast on February 8, 2009, which announced his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He contributed original music for the short drama The Price of Art (2007; released June 5, 2009).
The Cohen Brothers 2013 film "Inside Llewynn Davis" included a character named Troy Nelson who was played by Stark Sands. This was a satirical version of Tom Paxton's period of traveling from Fort Dix to Greenwich Village on weekend passes to perform in Village clubs. Troy Nelson sings Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing On My Mind" at the film's recreation of the Gaslight Cafe. Most of Paxton's fans found the portrayal of the stiff and self-satisfied Troy Nelson inaccurate. Many of the events that occur to Llewynn Davis in the film were drawn from the life of Dave van Ronk but most of van Ronk's friends and fans thought that the dour and resently Llewynn was hardly an accurate portrayal either. In the film, Llewynn clearly dislikes Troy In reality, Dave van Ronk and Tom Paxton became fast friends early on. They were best men at each other's weddings, and in 2014 Paxton introduces a recently written tribute to van Ronk with the comment "he is still the best man."Cite error: The named reference TPaxGrammyClip was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference WashPostFeb2009 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).