ittle Richard, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis were the people I listened to before I got into folk music. But their scene wasn't happening anymore. It was over. The Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte stopped having hits in the late-Fifties. I heard Leadbelly somewhere and that's what got me into folk music, which was exploding. To me, it seemed like the only thing to do. I had never heard much of it growing up, except country stuff like Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Hank Williams.
New York was the center of activity for folk music, the mecca. Everything was coming out of New York, but I didn't go there as quickly as I could. I managed to get there in a roundabout way. It was all that I ever thought it was supposed to be. It was happening. It was a learning process because there were so many people there who knew more than I did. I picked up on what I could and I worked at it. When I got to New York, there was a small crowd of people my age, but most of the people I met were five to ten years older than I was. As far as I could remember, the scene there stayed that way until the middle-Sixties when things started to turn toward more professional-type things.
When I began to record, with the early records, there used to be people in the hallways with songs for me to record. I never used any of them, but I met people who could just sit down at a piano and bang out original songs. I already had my own material, but people were always surprised to find that I was doing only folk songs and my own songs. At that point, I didn't even consider myself a songwriter. Back then I was just carrying on.
All those early songs were first drafts that I never even sang other than when I began to record. Recording was so new to me that when the sessions were scheduled, you had to deliver. You couldn't go into the studio without the songs. So whenever my sessions were scheduled to happen, I would just hole up and write songs on the road, or even at the sessions themselves. Today you write a song and think about it and change a few lines. In the old days, you wrote them up in ten minutes and that was it.
I felt passionate about all those songs because I had to sing them. They were written for me to sing. To stand in front of people and sing, I have to care about the songs. As I remember, I cared about all the stuff I wrote about.
I would meet the Top 40 people when I was out on the road, and it was surprising to me that they knew my work. All the club singers who had hit records that I knew of in the late-Fifties or early-Sixties crossed paths with me, and I knew my work was being perceived out there. To what degree I never knew. I knew my work was appreciated on a pure level, but I didn't know how long these songs would be around. I never really could imagine way back then that I'd still be singing the same songs in the Eighties.
I wasn't surprised by the reaction I got in 1965 at Newport. Going electric was a natural progression. I had been hanging around with different people, playing different material in small gatherings and at other festivals. Newport got more media attention because it was larger that the other festivals. The way people reacted was nothing I could have prepared for, but by that time I knew pretty much what I was doing onstage.
Anytime there's a change there's a reaction. I'm conscious of criticism. It always bothers you when you think you've been treated unfairly, and I felt I received a lot of unfair criticism from the so-called rock music press. It hurts, but I always managed to get through all that and come out the other side. You get used to it after a while. Music isn't one thing or another. With most good performers you can hear all kinds of music in their music. With most good performers who are rock solid you can hear country or gospel in their voices or their instruments. I don't feel anybody is really bound down by one thing, unless you're George Jones.
People think they know me from my songs. But my repertoire of songs is so wide-ranging that you'd have to be a madman to figure out the characteristics of the person who wrote all these songs. I don't bother much with how people view me. It's hard sometimes to live up to their expectations. I like my audience a lot, and whether it's 50 people or 50,000 there's immediate feedback on both sides. So I've never really been bothered by preconceived expectations because right there that night the truth always comes out.
Some people want to lock me into the Sixties, and that's OK. It's like Paul Kantner of the Airplane said, "If you can remember anything about the Sixties, you weren't really there." And that's pretty much correct. I can't imagine people making such a big fuss over the Sixties unless things are so dull now that they have to think of some time when things were better. If you think back, it really wasn't that much better. It was tougher in so many ways. I'm not really a nostalgic person so I don't buy into the Sixties thing like a lot of people seem to do.
People ask me if it's hard being me. I answer, "To a degree, but it's not any more difficult being George Michael." You can't really complain about who you are, whoever you are. You just have to make the most of it, and that's all that can be expected of you.comments powered by Disqus
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