Peter La Farge – On the Warpath – 1965 – Folkways

Peter La Farge - On  the Warpath - 1965 - Folkways

I was initially aware of Peter La Farge from listening to Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan cover his songs and from reading about him in biographies on those two artists. The first recordings I heard of his were this album and As Long As the Grass Shall Grow which I bought when I was about 19 years old from Yesterday and Today Records, a shop that was in Parramatta which specialized in country records but also had some folk, blues and 60s psycedelia. They were both on one CD released by Bear Family Records.

There was a precision to Peter’s writing that I liked immediately, the songs were so well crafted. There was also something in his voice I could immediately relate to and that I have never heard before or since. Listening to Peter taught me a lot as a singer. I liked his rough hewn playing style too.

It took me about 18 years to get a copy of this on vinyl. Peter La Farge records aren’t exactly easy to find in Australia. In all my years of trawling through second hand record shops, op shops and specialty record stores I only ever found one album on of his on vinyl (a reissue of ‘Sings Women Blues’ on Verve) at Yesterday and Today Records back in the 90s and one album that had a track of his (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow on An Anthology of North American Indian and Eskimo Music, Folkways) at Discovery Records in Hornsby, again back in the 90s. In both of those instances I didn’t have the money to buy them at the time so I just looked at the covers and had a read of the song titles and wished I could afford them and in both instances I went back a couple of days later to buy them when I had the money but they were sold already. It’s funny when I can remember exactly where I saw records that I didn’t even get to buy.

Ebay has altered my record buying habits lately and I now mainly shop online. I found this album there. It took about three weeks to ship to me and I was so happy to see that the cover was in mint condition and that the record had hardly been played. This is probably my favourite album cover. The photograph by David Gahr and the design by Ronald Clyne is striking. It hits the right balance of anger, defiance and pride. Like all Folkways LPs it is cheaply manufactured but it is designed really well and it comes with a nice booklet packed with notes, lyrics and musical notation of the songs.

This was the final album from Peter La Farge. He made five albums in five years. His first was on CBS and the rest were on Folkways. They are all good. He was an actor, a playwright, a rodeo rider, artist and a Korean war veteran. He committed suicide in October 1965. He was 34 years old. He packed a lot into a short life.

If you want to hear his recordings, four of his albums are available from Smithsonian Folkways and if you want to find out more about Peter, film maker Sandra Hale Schulman has made a documentary about him,┬áThe Ballad of Peter La Farge and she’s written a biography Don’t Tell Me How I Looked Falling: The Ballad of Peter La Farge.

Buffy Sainte-Marie – Little Wheel Spin and Spin – 1966 – Vanguard Records

Buffy Sainte-Marie - Little Wheel Spin and Spin - 1966

I first heard Buffy Sainte-Marie on ABC Radio National in a documentary on Native Americans. It was the title song to this album. It was about ’92 or ’93. I was about 19 years old. For a year or so I couldn’t get the song out of my head but I had no idea who the artist was. I hadn’t caught her name. I wanted to know so I could get her records. Her voice was extraordinary, simultaneously other-worldly and earthy. Finally I heard a repeat of the same doco on the radio and this time I caught her name. I first bought this, her third album and It’s My Way! her first album together. I ordered them in on CD through a record shop that was next to the second hand bookstore in Epping, NSW, where I worked at the time. I was completely blown away by how good she was, great voice and a really great writer. She was every bit as good as Dylan. Why hadn’t she become equally as well known? Back in 1997 all my CDs were stolen when someone broke into my home. That was tragic, a couple of hundred albums gone. Luckily back then there was little point in thieves stealing LPs as there was nowhere to sell vinyl plus it was heavier to cart around. There just wasn’t a market for it anymore, not like there is now that there has been a resurgence, so my 2000 LPs went untouched. But all my Buffy Sainte-Marie albums back then were on CD so they were gone. It took some time but thankfully I now own most of her records on vinyl. Some of the guitar on this album is by Bruce Langhorne, one of my favourite players. He has a nice, pared down, organic style. Standout tracks from this record are the title track and My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying. Buffy is one of the best.