Pete Seeger's acknowledged major influences are Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and he performed their songs frequently. In 1968, Folkways Records combed through its extensive catalog of Seeger recordings to compile two collections, Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly and Pete Seeger Sings Woody Guthrie. The Leadbelly album consists entirely of live performances, including ones drawn from Seeger shows performed with Big Bill Broonzy ("Midnight Special"), Sonny Terry ("Pick a Bale of Cotton"), and the team of Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon ("New York City"). Seeger is an expert at re-creating Leadbelly's playing style on the 12-string acoustic guitar (he has even made an instructional record on the subject), and that can be heard particularly on the later selections here. In terms of the lyrics, however, Seeger necessarily comes at the material from a sympathetic remove, if only because he's not a Southern black man and must offer songs like "Bring Me Little Water, Silvy" and "Bourgeois Blues" as stories involving someone other than himself. The biggest popular hit of Seeger's career is "Goodnight Irene," a song of Leadbelly's that concludes the disc, and his audience willingly sings along. The album constitutes Seeger's tribute to a performer who helped to shape his musical sensibility.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann