Folk Singer Glenn Yarbrough, the Real Most Interesting Man in the World

Baby the Rain Must Fall A certain beer commercial gives viewers glimpses of the life of “the most interesting man of the world.” If the commercials were to choose a famous singer, a good choice for the most interesting man would be folk singer Glenn Yarbrough, who passed away recently on August 11, 2016 in Nashville at the age of 86.  Yarbrough, who was born in Milwaukee on January 12, 1930, had quite an interesting life outside his music career, which included the hit song, “Baby the Rain Must Fall.”

The Limeliters

As the New York Times obituary reported, Yarbrough was someone who “found fame and fortune . . . but who walked away from it all for a life at sea.”  Yet, there is more to the story.

Yarbrough first turned to music while in college after hearing and meeting Woody Guthrie.  The next day, he went and bought a guitar.

During the Korean War, Yarbrough worked as a codebreaker and then went on to entertain troops.  After his service, he opened a club in Aspen, Colorado called the Limelite.

The club name provided the foundation for the folk group Yarbrough formed in the late 1950s with Alex Hassilev and Louis Gottlieb.  The Limeliters released their first album in 1960.

During the folk revival of the 1960s, the Limeliters achieved significant success selling records, performing, and in TV appearances.  They performed both traditional (“John Henry”) and contemporary (“Charlie, the Midnight Marauder”) numbers.

Below, you may see the Limeliters performing in 1963, starting with “Wabash Cannonball.” Yarbrough is the singer on the right who is playing guitar and has a wonderful tenor voice.

“Baby the Rain Must Fall”

Yarbrough left the group in 1963 with the intent to spend the next decade sailing.  But the record company convinced him to continue recording as a solo artist.

In 1965, Yarbrough had his biggest hit with “Baby the Rain Must Fall,” the song from the movie of the same name starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick.  The song was written by Elmer Bernstein and Ernie Sheldon.

Below, Yarbrough performs “Baby the Rain Must Fall” on Hollywood Go Go.  Before he starts singing, you may hear him talking about his love of the sea.

Other Music in the 1960s

In the mid-1960s, Yarbrough collaborated with poet and songwriter Rod McKuen on several albums, including The Lonely Things: The Love Songs of Rod McKuen (1966).  That album featured the song “People Change.”

Yarbrough also sang the title song from the holiday TV special, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966). You may hear his voice toward the end of this commercial for the American-Italian film.

Helping Others . . . and Sailing the Sea

Yarbrough remained restless as he built his successful music career. For example, in the mid 1960s, he became frustrated performing for the well-off people who could afford tickets to his concerts.

So, by the late 1960s, Yarbrough sold many of his possessions — including several fancy cars and real estate holdings. And he started a school in the mountains outside Los Angeles for disadvantaged children, most who were African-American. The school lasted until it had to close for lack of funds in the early 1970s.

By then, Yarbrough returned to the sea for the most part of five years. He rented out his home and traveled with his second wife and their baby aboard a 57-foot sailboat he had helped build.

For the next three decades, Yarbrough spent much of his time at sea.  He returned to dry land periodically to make money recording and performing both as a solo artist and at Limeliters reunion concerts.

If you saw the 1977 animated Rankin/Bass television version of The Hobbit, you may remember Yarbrough’s recognizable voice. He sang musical numbers for The Hobbit, including “The Greatest Adventure.” He also recorded songs for The Return of the King (1980).

Until Yarbrough moved to live with his daughter six years ago, he lived on Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara, Mexico. There, he grew fruit and vegetables that he gave to the poor.

Restlessness and Meaning

Although Yarbrough suffered from dementia at the end of his life, he seems to have been one of the most perceptive and grounded entertainers in history. He once commented how success is “meaningless,” where a performer is loved not for his music but for his fame.

Yarbrough’s life seems to have been a constant struggle to give meaning to his restless life. From what we know, he never seemed completely settled, being separated from his fourth wife at the time of his death. But through the various left turns, he constructed a fascinating life.

Yarbrough gave to others in a number of ways.  But I hope as he sails the heavens that he realized how much he also gave with his voice.

What is your favorite Glenn Yarbrough song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Jack Ingram Returns to Roots: “It’s Always Going to Rain”

    Jack Ingram It's Always Going to Rain Jack Ingram is releasing his first album since 2009’s Big Dreams and High Hop. On the new album, Midnight Motel, Ingram reasserts his position as an outstanding roots singer-songwriter. Midnight Motel covers a range of topics, including real-life farmers in “It’s Always Going to Rain.”

    Ingram recently explained to Billboard how his album hiatus came about. After some popular country music chart success in the early 2000’s with songs like “Wherever You Are” and “Love You,” Ingram felt a need to go in a different direction than the record company wanted him to go. Thus, some listeners may find that Ingram’s new album is more like some of his early albums.

    Ingram’s Early Work and Returning to Roots

    I had been a fan of Ingram’s early work before he started appearing on mainstream radio. While I was happy for his success and enjoyed songs like “Love You,” he had been recording and performing for more than a decade before the Academy of Country Music awarded him the “Best New Male Artist” award in 2008.

    I prefer Ingram’s work that predated his mainstream discovery, slicker sound, and that “new artist” award. If you only know him from his work in more recent years, you should listen to his earlier albums like Livin’ Or Dyin’ (1997) and Hey You (1999). So, I am excited to hear that he is going his own direction on the new album.

    Ingram explained that one reason for the recent break from recording was to allow him to “be whoever the f— I wanna be. I can make music my way and be the best me possible. I can tell you who I am, and you can decide whether you like me or not.”

    The album sounds great, so hopefully both old and new fans will give it a listen. As Ingram has explained, in working on the new album, he wanted to focus on writing songs that he wanted to sing and that he would play for his heroes like Guy Clark and Johnny Cash. And he succeeded in creating one of the best albums of his career and one he should be proud of.

    “It’s Always Going to Rain”

    Ingram drew inspiration from real-life working people on one song on the new album, “It’s Always Going to Rain.” As Ingram explains in the video below, the title for the song came from an elderly woman interviewed in Texas Monthly.

    The woman explained about the cycles of droughts faced by Texas farmers. Her line about believing it is always going to rain gave Ingram the inspiration for the song, and he worked with singer-songwriter Lori McKenna to finish the track.

    Check out this 2014 performance of “It’s Always Going to Rain.”

    Regarding the woman who uttered the expression that inspired Ingram to write the song, she appears to be Sandy Whittley.  She grew up in San Angelo and is the executive secretary of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association.

    Although Ingram remembers Whittley being 94 years old, she actually was 74 years old at the time of the interview. Her quote in Texas Monthly that inspired the song came from her discussion of the droughts: “It was so disheartening because we needed it so bad, and everybody kept saying, ‘It’s gonna rain. It always rains. One of these days it’s gonna rain.’ Well, after seven years you’re still telling yourself the same old fable: ‘God won’t let you just die of thirst. I know he won’t.'”

    Midnight Motel hits stores and the Internet on August 26, 2016. Currently, you may listen to the whole album over at The Boot.

    What is your favorite Jack Ingram song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Dee Snider’s Acoustic “We’re Not Gonna Take It” For a Good Cause

    Dee Snider Acoustic

    In a moving video, Dee Snider sings “We’re Not Gonna Take It” accompanied only by piano for Criss Angel’s HELP (Heal Every Life Possible) charity.  In the video, Snider belts out the rebellious song from his Twisted Sister days intercut with scenes of cancer patients.

    The magician Criss Angel directed the video featuring Snider dressed in white in the desert outside Las Vegas showing he still has a great voice.  Check out the new version of the Twisted Sister classic song that was first released in 1984.

    Criss Angel’s HELP organization also plans a star-studded fundraiser. See HELP’s website for more information.

    Snider also has been working on an upcoming album, We Are the Ones, which he describes as an album that breaks from his past. He explains the album as “part Foo Fighters, part Imagine Dragons, part Thirty Seconds to Mars.” We Are The Ones hits stores and the Internet on October 28, 2016.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

    Frank Black & Marty Brown: “Dirty Old Town”

    Dirty Old Town On Frank Black’s 2006 Nashville album Fast Man Raider Man, a hidden gem features singer-songwriter Marty Brown joining Black on Ewan MacColl‘s classic “Dirty Old Town.” The duet combines two singers known for different types of music.  But the rock sound of the former front man of the Pixies blends well with the Kentucky twang of Marty Brown on the English song.

    MacColl originally wrote “Dirty Old Town” for a 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys. Yet, the song about Salford, Greater Manchester, England, has become something of a standard in its own right. In addition to MacColl’s own recording, the song has been covered by such folks as the Dubliners, the Pogues, Rod Stewart, and Townes Van Zandt.

    The gritty recording of “Dirty Old Town” by Frank Black and Marty Brown makes me wish they had done more work together.  Brown contributed in other ways to Black’s album Fast Man Raider Man, where Brown also played bass and provided backing vocals. They could have named their band “Black & Brown.”

    Frank Black, who also plays under the name Black Francis and with the group Frank Black and the Catholics, continues to make music. Marty Brown, who made a comeback on America’s Got Talent, recently recorded Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” and performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

    Ewan MacColl, the folk singer and songwriter behind “Dirty Old Town,” wrote a number of songs including “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” He passed away in October 1989.  But the song about his dirty old home town lives on.

    What is your favorite version of “Dirty Old Town”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Max Yasgur, the Farmer Behind Woodstock

    Woodstock Farmer

    One of the important people of the rock era, Max Yasgur, was born to Jewish immigrants from Russia on December 15 in 1919. Yasgur’s place in rock history came nearly five decades later. He was the owner of the dairy farm that hosted the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which was held between August 15 and August 18, 1969.

    After other towns in upstate New York rejected the idea of hosting the festival, Yasgur leased a field in Bethel, New York to the concert organizers. The 49-year-old farmer was paid for the lease. But he also proved his generosity.

    When Yasgur saw that such a large number of kids showed up for the concert, he worked to make sure there was enough free water. Also, he told his own kids to give away all of his milk and dairy products to feed the concert-goers.

    At one point during the concert, Yasgur addressed the crowd. He began by saying “I am a farmer.” Then, he explained he did not know how to address a crowd of young people. But as you may see in the video below, he did.

    Many of Yasgur’s neighbors were angry at him for allowing his land to be used for the concert. Some of them sued him. And his own land suffered damage from the concert.

    In 1971, Yasgur sold his land and moved to Florida. A year and a half later on February 9, 1973, he died due to a heart condition. But as Brian Doyle recently wrote in “The Sudden City” in the April 2016 issue of The Sun magazine, “Max had a great heart.” Doyle uses Yasgur’s acts of generosity to remind us in today’s cynical world that there are people everywhere doing good things to help others.

    Yasgur’s kindness reminds us to be nice to others. On top of that, he also helped set the table for a concert that emerged as a symbol of people coming together in peace and love.

    There was great music. But as Doyle writes, “perhaps the deeper story, the better story, the more substantive story, is how a sudden city of young Americans arose briefly on a hillside for one summer weekend, and no one got beaten up, and hundreds of people . . . handed out water and sandwiches and blankets.”

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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