Ry Cooder and the Seegers


Ry Cooder, Mike Seeger, and Pete Seeger play “J. Edgar.”

from http://www.stopsmilingonline.com:

Ry Cooder: I took lessons from Mike Seeger when I was a kid — also from one of the other Ramblers, Tom Paley. The Ramblers used to play the Ash Grove all the time. I learned a lot of songs from those guys, sure did.  I’ve known Pete Seeger a long time, too, because I used to see Pete Seeger everywhere.

I saw him when I was six, and then at folk festivals later on. It’d be just like you’d think. You’d go up to him and say, “Hi, Pete, how ya doin’?” And he would say, “Well, I’ll tell you something.” And off he’d go on a long speech.

Mike, Pete and I recorded Pete’s song, about a pig named J. Edgar at Pete’s house in Beacon. Pete doesn’t travel to LA — hell, he’s pushing 90. We had lunch, and Pete wanted to talk about how there are too many people in the human race and they’re pressing down on the earth and here’s how you measure that force, and I’m like, “Man, we have to record. You’re wearing me out. Let’s play this song, and then we can get back to this.”

Which he did when the tune was done. Pete didn’t understand it. He said, “What’s all this about J. Edgar?” “It’s a pig, Pete,” I said. “Well, I… I just don’t understand,” he said. So I wrote out the words for him on a piece of paper. Then he understood. “Oh, I see,” he said. “This is a joke, it’s a gag.” Very literal-minded cat.

SS: Recently you said that those old union songs meant a lot to the movement at the time, and they can mean a lot to us now.

RC: Well, songs empower people. Civil rights certainly needed music on the spot, like an injection. Pete Seeger’s theory is if you sing you become unified — within minutes. It’s an amazing phenomenon. So we’d better utilize it, because we need to do something to overcome this terrible isolation of people from one another today, and the misunderstanding and the ignorance.

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