by Bob Oakes
My blogger friend Susan Harris asked me to write a piece on the role of music in my life. I knew Susan in the midst of my formative musical decade: 1963-1973. She and I attended college in Ohio and we backpacked around Europe in the summer of ’69. We were on the other side of the Atlantic when Woodstock shook the American consciousness. I was running from the draft.
A baby boomer born in 1949, I was introduced to folk music via my siblings in the early sixties. My sister taught me some chords on ukulele so I could play “Tom Dooley” and “Scarlet Ribbons”. Soon I was playing guitar and strumming Peter, Paul & Mary tunes. I even played “The Times They are a-Changin’” at a hootenanny. But it was the British invasion – The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, The Kinks – that truly reached my teenage core. It took two Canadians – Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – to bring my attention back to music happening on this side of the pond– along with The Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. I went back and caught up with Bob Dylan’s music after seeing his Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 and being completely blown away. There was Dylan playing “It Ain’t Me Babe”, then he was singing duets with Joan Baez and hey, here was Roger McGuinn just walking out on stage to play some tunes!
I made some good music back in my teens and twenties. After a few high school bands, some of my buddies and I spent a couple years writing songs and playing venues in Southern New England. We really didn’t get too far, but no matter. It was just so exciting to be part of the Sixties culture, contributing to the perpetual soundtrack of the civil rights movement, the peace movement and the women’s movement. Cultural changes were coming fast and my basic world view was solidifying. It’s there in my heart right now, forever intertwined with “All You Need is Love”, “Ohio”, “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “I Shall Be Released”.
Of course there were many other musicians whose music touched me throughout the years: The Band, James Taylor, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, the Roches, Rosanne Cash, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris, the Grateful Dead and U2. But what do I listen to now from today’s music? Steve Earle has a heartfelt folk-rock repertoire. Donna the Buffalo has a cool Cajun/retro sound. Ben Harper has great vocals and guitar licks. Gillian Welch is the queen of folk revival. Did you hear her this year enriching the Decemberists’ “The King is Dead” with killer harmonies? There’s still a world of great music out there, but admittedly, I now only stay marginally current with new songs and artists.
In recent years, I’ve cranked out a handful of original songs about issues close to me. My wife and I wrote songs that celebrate adoption and recorded them with friends from church. I work at a school, so I wrote our school song. I wrote a good song just last year, inspired by my daughter’s struggle with religious intolerance (performed in the video below). My favorite music in the past five years has come from playing with family and friends in living rooms or gatherings around a campfire. I ushered in my 60th birthday singing and dancing with friends and family around a bonfire out in the woods. What a kick! You should hear us jam on “Summertime”, “Shady Grove” or “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”. My colleagues and I also spread our love of music at the charter school where we work, leading weekly song circles with our students. Several school staff meet weekly for “guitar group” in the guidance counselor’s office (dubbed the Zen Den) where I teach guitar skills and we share songs. We visit Creedence and Dylan regularly. I also give some private guitar lessons.
Ready for some lists? Here are some of my all-time favorites in no particular order.
10 Albums I Never Get Tired of
Rubber Soul – The Beatles
Out of Our Heads – The Stones
Blue – Joni Mitchell
After the Goldrush – Neil Young
Greatest Vols. 1&2 – Bob Dylan
Spy Boy – Emmylou Harris with Buddy Miller
We Three Kings – The Roches
Europe ’72 – The Grateful Dead
Rosanne Cash – The List
10 (okay, 11) Songs that Touch my Soul at Each and Every Listening (links to Youtube)
“Beeswing” - Richard Thompson
“I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Bonnie Raitt with Bruce Hornsby
“John Walker’s Blues” – Steve Earle
“Bell Bottom Blues” – Derek and the Dominoes
“The Wind Cries Mary” – Jimi Hendrix
“Somebody to Love” – Jefferson Airplane
“Dreamland” – Mary Chapin Carpenter
“This is Us” – Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler
Here’s Bob and Ann Oakes singing a song that Bob wrote. Videography by Jade Oakes.
Thanks, Bob~! See you in Asheville soon (for the next Gardenblogger Fling). And readers, that’s Bob and I in the collage top right, in a field somewhere in England, 1969.Tweet