R.I.P. Mike Seeger

A multi-talented musician, as well as a key folk music archivist and scholar, Mike Seeger died at his Lexington, Va. home at the age of 75 on Friday, August 7. He died of an aggressive form of cancer known as multiple myeloma.

He was the half-brother of folk legend Pete Seeger, but Mike Seeger carved out his own place in the world of folk music in 1958 when he and his friends John Cohen and Tom Paley formed the New Lost City Ramblers.

The Ramblers’ three-CD box set, “50 Years: Where Do You Come From? Where Do You Go?,” is slated for release on Tuesday, August 25 on the Smithsonian Folkways label. The set will feature a half dozen previously unreleased tracks.

Seeger’s recording career spanned a half century, not only as a musician, but also as a producer and engineer who recorded the likes of Dock Boggs, the Country Gentlemen and Sam McGee. He recorded and produced “American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style,” in 1957, the first long-playing bluegrass album ever released.

More recently, he played autoharp on the multi-Grammy Award-winning Robert Plant-Alison Krauss album, “Raising Sand.” And he was scheduled to perform at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Saturday, July 25, until his illness made it impossible to travel and he was forced to cancel his appearance.

  1. Mary Jane Leach says

    One of my top ten albums of all time is the Elizabeth Cotton lp he produced. His mother (Ruth Crawford) was one of the first important American woman composers, and his father was important in composition and musicology circles, especially his dissonant counterpoint. (And Cotton worked for them as a maid for a while, as well, just to connect the dots.)

  2. Greg says

    Thanks, MJ. You are a wealth of information. Which album is it? “Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs”?

  3. Mary Jane Leach says

    No, it was Vol. 2, “Shake Sugaree” on Folkways. I digitized it a while back, so if you don’t have it, let me know.

    From wikipedia, “Cotten had retired from the guitar for 25 years, except for occasional church performances. It wasn’t until she reached her 60s that she began recording and performing publicly. She was discovered by the folk-singing Seeger family while she was working for them as a housekeeper.
    While working for a brief stint in a department store, Cotten helped a child wandering through the aisles find her mother. The child was Penny Seeger, and the mother was Ruth Crawford Seeger of the Charles Seeger Family. Soon after this, Elizabeth again began working as a maid, caring for the Seegers’ children Mike, Peggy, Barbara, and Penny. While working with the Seegers (a voraciously musical family) she remembered her own guitar playing from 40 years prior and picked up the instrument again to start from scratch.”

    It’s all in Judith Tick’s book on Ruth, which came out about the time of her centennial (2001). Ruth also transcribed a lot of the Lomax tapes.

    A number of us women composers were commissioned to write short piano pieces for her centennial – Mike, Pete, and Peggy were in the audience. A little intimidating. 🙂

  4. Greg says

    That is so cool. No, I don’t know anything about Ruth Crawford, so I’ll have to do some homework.

    I don’t think I have Cotten’s “Shake Sugaree,” either, so thanks for pointing me in that direction.

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