Tom Paxton was in New York at the beginning of the folk music movement in the early 1960s, and he’s still making music five decades later.
As part of his final tour pass through Texas, Paxton, 78, will be in concert on The Bowery Stage at Winnsboro Center for the Arts Saturday, April 23.
“Tom Paxton has been on his ‘farewell tour’ for most of 2015,” said WCA board member and booker Jim Willis. “We decided that if we’re ever going to ask him, now was the time. We were ecstatic when he said, “Yes!” We agreed on the date and he booked the Dallas, Austin, and Houston stops around that. It’s very gratifying to have such a legend come to Winnsboro at the end of his long road.”
After graduating with a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma in 1959, Paxton joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
“I would go into Greenwich Village [New York] every weekend and haunt the coffee houses,” Paxton said during a recent telephone interview. “I got to know a lot of people there. I was performing most weekends, so when I got out of the Army, I just stayed.”
Paxton first picked up a guitar when he was in junior high school, with an aim to sound like one of his folk singer heroes.
“The person I wanted to sound most like was Burl Ives,” he confessed. “He played very simple guitar, but it was perfect for the songs he was singing.”
While he was at OU, he heard Woody Guthrie for the first time. He was not impressed.
“This guy can’t sing a lick,” he thought at the time. “But I got over that. I got to where I understood what he was all about and he became one of my heroes.”
Paxton arrived in New York at precisely the right time.
“It was just beginning when I got there,” he explained. “It was amazing to watch it all unfold.”
One of his roommates was Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Of course, the group wasn’t famous at the time. Paul was just another struggling musician.
“They were putting Peter, Paul and Mary together,” he said. “Peter would come over and he and Noel would sit until three in the morning working on guitar parts, driving me slowly batty. They worked on ‘Lemon Tree’ over and over and over. I hate that song now.”
Wavy Gravy was also one of Paxton’s roommates.
“He was a great counter-culture hero,” he noted. “He still lives in Berkley. For all these years, he’s run a free summer camp for disadvantaged kids. He’s quite extraordinary.”
Extraordinary is a word often linked with Paxton.
He penned standards like “The Last Thing On My Mind,” “Bottle of Wine” and “Ramblin’ Boy.”
He’s recorded 61 albums and written more than two dozen books.
His songs have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Mel Torme, Pat Boone and Placido Dominguez.
He was honored with the ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award in Folk Music in 2002. In 2009, the Grammys gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award on their annual telecast in 2009.
In addition to his musical career, he has been involved in human rights, civil rights and labor rights.
WCA is happy to welcome Paxton to town.
“Tom Paxton is a legend among songwriters,” said WCA President Mary White. “We are very excited to have him perform here on the Bowery Stage and feel honored that he has included Winnsboro on his farewell tour.”
Perhaps the greatest honor he’s earned was having the Martin Guitar company name a model after him.
“It was stupefying,” he confessed. “It’s literally the kind of thing you don’t dream of. When they told me they were going to make a signature model, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Paxton remains, at his core, that kid from Oklahoma who just wanted to make folk music.
“None of us had any idea that this was going to be something that people would talk about and write about,” he confessed. “For us, we were all young and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and in love with music and performing and friendship and girls, of course. It was flawless timing on my part. I was there through the whole thing.”
Tickets to the Tom Paxton show are on sale for $50 (reserved) and $40 (general admission) through the arts center’s website.
For more information on Tom Paxton, click here.