When Pete Seeger signed to the major label Columbia Records in 1961, the tiny independent label Folkways Records, for which he had recorded prolifically until then, retained the right to release albums assembled from its stockpile of his tracks. As Seeger and folk music became more popular during the ensuing years, Folkways put out several "new" albums and, in 1964, branched out to license material to a competing major, Capitol Records, for the LP Folk Songs by Pete Seeger, a development that cannot have pleased Columbia executives. They are likely even less happy with Folkways' 1965 deal with the Verve Records subsidiary of another major, MGM Records, for a series of albums by various Folkways artists to be released on the Verve/Folkways imprint. Pete Seeger's On Campus is one of these. "Good evening, students," he says at the outset of this live recording, then proceeds to perform a set of familiar folk standards from traditional sources ("Kumbaya," "The Water Is Wide"), along with songs by the folksingers who influenced him, including Joe Hill ("Pie in the Sky"), Woody Guthrie ("Pretty Boy Floyd"), and, particularly, Leadbelly, four of whose songs are included, among them "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" and "Goodnight Irene," both of which were hits for Seeger's old group the Weavers. During another Leadbelly number, "Bring Me Li'l' Water, Silvy," Seeger provides a hint to the date of the recording by noting that it's been 11 years since Leadbelly died. Since he died on December 6, 1949, that would place the performance in late 1960 or early 1961, around the time Seeger was signing to Columbia. This album does not compare with, for instance, Columbia's well-recorded We Shall Overcome, which was full of contemporary songs. Here, the recording quality is mediocre and repertoire old. But, as usual, Seeger demonstrates considerable rapport with his audience, and they willingly sing along on a set of folk classics.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann