“Things weren’t that organized in those days, everything was very spontaneous. When it came time to record this stuff, we went in the studio, relatively sober (at least Pete was), sang the songs, and then hit the road for California.” – Millard Lampell
Forget Dylan’s postmodern Woodie Guthrie charlatanism. The Almanacs were the real thing. In 1940, the folk revival began with the plunk of a banjo and a soaring three-part harmony. Pete Seeger, Millard Lampell, and Lee Hays were close friends who shared leftist political views and had a bone to pick with the American government whose corporate leanings were shortchanging the working man (some things never change). They played at rallies, union halls, streetcorners, and anywhere where folks would stop and listen to three young songsters. Despite their urbane upbringing, the trio instantly struck a chord with contemporary rural audiences of the day. Seeger’s poignantly topical lyrics, grafted onto traditional folk melodies, validated the earth shaking potential of folk music and introduced the form to an entire generation of new listeners. The role of folk music in society would never be the same.
It wasn’t until 1941 that the great hobo troubadour Woody Guthrie rolled into New York city with a beat six-string on his shoulder, a knapsack on his back, and a wealth of music in his heart. Guthrie immediately recognized both the musical prowess of the Almanacs as well as their politics. If anything, Guthrie was more leftist than even Seeger. Over the course of the next few years the Almanacs lived fast, played countless shows, and just as quickly disbanded – but not before the likes of Leadbelly and Burl Ives joined their ranks for impromptu Greenwich Village hootenannies.
Their output was certainly limited, but their impact is impossible to ignore. They ignited the fuse…folk would never be the same.