The key to be­ing folk roy­alty is to main­tain the com­mon touch

Af­ter al­most six decades on the scene, Tom Pax­ton is still hav­ing fun as he and Jon Vezner and Don Henry – aka The DonJuans – roll into Kitch­ener’s Registry The­atre for a Sun­day af­ter­noon con­cert

The Woolwich Observer - - THE ARTS - STEVE KANNON

TOM PAX­TON IS EN­JOY­ING life on the road again. The folk icon thought about hang­ing up his tour­ing shoes a few years ago, but since team­ing up with Jon Vezner and Don Henry, he’s been hav­ing too much fun to think about such things.

“I’m hav­ing more fun than I’ve had in years,” he says on the line from Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia.

Af­ter com­plet­ing a tour with Janis Ian three years ago, he was pretty much done with the road, a per­haps-not-sur­pris­ing choice for a man who’ll be 81 come month’s end. Then he met up with Vezner and, through him, Don Henry, a pair of award-win­ning song­writ­ers with a se­ries of their own hits who were per­form­ing as The DonJuans.

“Right from the be­gin­ning, I thought ‘this is a trio,’” says Pax­ton of the en­ergy from writ­ing and per­form­ing with the pair of multi-in­stru­men­tal­ists.

Re­tire­ment isn’t on the ta­ble any­more.

“It’s more fun than I’ve had in years. I’ll do this un­til I quit. You don’t re­tire from folk mu­sic; you might stop per­form­ing, but you never re­tire.”

Just how much fun he and his com­padres are hav­ing will be on dis­play Sun­day af­ter­noon at The Registry The­atre in Kitch­ener. There’ll be a col­lec­tion of Pax­ton, Vezner and Henry songs on of­fer, along with those they’ve writ­ten to­gether.

Af­ter 58 years in the busi­ness and dozens of al­bums un­der this belt, Pax­ton has a large cat­a­logue to draw on. His own story is in many ways the very his­tory of the folk re­vival that be­gan in the 1960s.

Pax­ton be­gan his per­form­ing ca­reer in Green­wich Vil­lage in 1960, play­ing along­side the likes of Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dy­lan, Phil Ochs and Eric An­der­sen. His wasn’t a front-row view of the move­ment, but up on stage for its evo­lu­tion. He’s seen the ebbs and flows of the folk scene, in­clud­ing its cur­rent in­car­na­tion as part of the roots re­vival. In fact, he and his peers of the ‘60s are seen as the tra­di­tion­al­ists by to­day’s young folkies, a source of some amuse­ment to the vet­er­ans.

When he started out, he and his peers drew on the roots mu­sic of Ap­palachia and the early story songs, the tra­di­tional bal­lads for which the lyrics evolved with the years and the times.

“Songs like The House Car­pen­ter and The Golden Van­ity, that’s roots to me. That was our source ma­te­rial. That plus Woody Guthrie in­formed my own song­writ­ing,” he says.

“Now, the younger per­form­ers think of us as the tra­di­tional stuff,” he adds with a laugh.

Pax­ton does take a tra­di­tional ap­proach to craft­ing songs to this very day.

“I don’t think my song­writ­ing has changed – three chords and a capo,” he chuck­les. “I’m ba­si­cally the same song­writer I was in 1960 – chil­dren’s songs, love songs, po­lit­i­cal songs. Though I hope I’m a some­what more com­plete writer than I was.”

Top­i­cal songs that re­flect the here-and-now of the world are very much part of the tra­di­tion, a pur­suit that should live on de­spite the risk of a song be­com­ing dated or not stand­ing up to the test of time, he main­tains.

“I’m a big de­fender of top­i­cal songs. What makes a top­i­cal song last is not so much the topic, but if it’s a good song,” says Pax­ton, though those with a story to tell should just write the song and see how it res­onates, with­out wor­ry­ing about its fu­ture.

“You can’t go wrong writ­ing about the world you see.”

Top­i­cal is­sues still very much in­form his song­writ­ing, as wit­nessed by the likes of his in­dict­ment of U.S. gun cul­ture in What If, No Mat­ter from ear­lier this year.

He ad­vises as­pir­ing song­writ­ers, in­clud­ing those who at­tend folk fes­ti­val work­shops where he teaches, to sim­ply keep writ­ing, no mat­ter what the sub­ject mat­ter. He rec­om­mends writ­ing a thou­sand songs, know­ing full well most of them are likely to be not great ... or even bad.

The first song of his that got recorded – The Mar­velous Toy in the sum­mer of 1960 – came af­ter at least 50 be­fore it. He thought the ear­lier ones were good, but came to see that they weren’t. The next record- able song came sooner, how­ever, as he worked to hone his craft.

“I still have to write 10 songs to get a keeper,” he laughs.

Sun­day af­ter­noon’s show will be full of keep­ers, his own and those of the DonJuans, Grammy Award win­ners all. A Nashville­based song­writer, Henry has writ­ten songs for Ray Charles, Con­way Twitty, the Oak Ridge Boys, John Con­lee and Kathy Mat­tea. Henry and Vezner re­ceived song of the year awards for co-writ­ing Mat­tea’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed hit, Where’ve You Been, as well as from the Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic, the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion, and the Nash­ville Song­writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

Col­lec­tively, their songs have been cov­ered by Harry Be­la­fonte, John Mel­len­camp, Neil Di­a­mond, Ray Charles, Nancy Grif­fith, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Janis Ian, John Den­ver, Faith Hill, Blake Shel­ton, Pe­ter, Paul & Mary, and Bob Dy­lan, among oth­ers.

“There’s a pretty good gamut that we run,” says Pax­ton of the mu­si­cal of­fer­ings on this tour.

Tom Pax­ton and The DonJuans take to the stage at 3 p.m. on Oc­to­ber 14 at The Registry The­atre, 122 Fred­er­ick St., Kitch­ener. Tick­ets are $35, avail­able by call­ing 519-578-1570, on­line at www.reg­istrythe­ or at the door.


Part of the folk scene since 1960, Tom Pax­ton has found a re­newed pas­sion for tour­ing since team­ing up with The DonJuans. The three com­padres per­form Sun­day at 3 p.m. in Kitch­ener.

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