Pete Seeger still strumming ‘At 89’


Frank Franklin II, The Assoicated Press

By Scott Bauer

At 89, folk music legend Pete Seeger still has more to say.

His latest release, aptly titled “At 89,” is Seeger’s first record of new material in five years, and by Seeger’s own account, it will be his last.

He doesn’t expect to be playing many more concerts, either.

“My brain is definitely, definitely going,” Seeger says at one point out of frustration during a phone interview from his Hudson Valley home in Beacon, N.Y. He often stops midway through a story, apologizing for not being able to remember the rest of it.

Even so, both over the phone and on the new record, Seeger sounds strong and full of life. He still manages to chop trees and shovel gravel at his home that he shares with his wife, Toshi, of 65 years. Before coming to the phone, he has to be summoned from out of the barn, where he’s repairing a washing machine.

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Seeger is happy to talk about everything from the new swimming pool in town to folk music history to his latest record.

A number of friends, singers and musicians from Seeger’s beloved Hudson River Valley join him on “At 89,” a mixture of old and new songs. He turns over vocal duties on several songs, but contributes on nearly every track by playing guitar or banjo. He keeps up the folk music tradition on “Or Else! (One-a These Days),” singing about a future where schools get the money they need, and the Navy has to hold a bake sale to build a battleship.

Seeger says he hopes those who listen to the record, out Tuesday, will walk away with a message of hope.

“The human race is still here, and if we use the brains God gave us, we just may still be here in 100 years,” he says.

A singer since the Great Depression, Seeger is most known for the hits “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” ”If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” He’s received the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the Kennedy Center Award, a Lifetime Legends medal from the Library of Congress and a lifetime achievement Grammy. He’s also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Seeger’s committed to playing a handful of shows this fall including the annual Seeger and Guthrie Thanksgiving Concert on Nov. 29 at Carnegie Hall. He says he doesn’t anticipate playing many more.

“I always like to get people singing with me,” Seeger says, recalling how when he was 8 years old, he got his friends to sing along with him to the song “Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia.” And, not surprisingly, Seeger breaks into song himself while telling the story.

Asked to reflect on his legacy and how he will be remembered, Seeger says he considers himself a link in a chain of musicians from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.

“Can’t prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa,” Seeger says. “There’s not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands … The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place.”