activist music old, new, and original

Hudson Valley Sally's CD
Diamonds and Pearls (2017)

Liner notes: everything there'd be room for with a vinyl album!

1. The FM Band

Comments by Mike Lavery:

In January, 2002, a Canadian Pacific Railroad train hauling tanker cars filled with anhydrous ammonia derailed near Minot, North Dakota. A deadly cloud of gas was released from at least one of the cars.

Minot police sought to warn citizens of the town and called radio station KCJB, the designated Emergency Broadcast System station for the area. But no one answered. KCJB was airing programming from Clear Channel Communications, a giant communications conglomerate which owned 6 stations in the Minot market. It was licensed locally but operated nationally.

Hundreds of persons were injured. One died.

At the time Clear Channel owned 1150 stations out of the 13,000 licensed in the United States

In 1945 the FCC reserved a portion of the FM spectrum, from 88.1 to 91.9 megahertz, for non-commercial educational purposes. And for the most part, even in today's media consolidation reality, the stations at the lower end of the FM band, are locally owned and operated. They are willing to take chances on challenging music, challenging issues. And they'll answer the phone when an emergency threatens the community.

Local radio is fighting for its life. Losing local radio could put the life of our nation at risk.

-- Mike Lavery broke into local radio by hosting a weekly show for his high school. He built a news department for the campus radio station at the University of Missouri. He served as news director for stations in Missouri and Illinois and hosted syndicated interview programs on international issues focusing on the developing world. Discussions with Mike started the train of thought that led to the song The FM Band.

2. Power and the Glory
More coming soon. To learn more about Phil Ochs, here's a good place to start:

3. Diamonds and Pearls
More coming soon.

4. Our Soup of Many Lands

Comments by Ruth Indeck:

"Our Soup of Many Lands" © 1995 was a track on Ray's 1997 album A Friend Like You.

In the current climate of immigrant-bashing, this song takes on new relevance with its story of people of many cultures working together. It was written in the context of one of Ray's favorite things - a gourmet dinner! Ray was an amazing cook himself - his favorite cuisine was Chinese and he sometimes would spend a whole weekend shopping, prepping and cooking a Chinese banquet.

In 2007 the lyrics were published at the beginning of the "Soup" section of the "New Jersey Peace Action 50th Anniversary Cookbook: Ordinary People Making History and Soup."

Ray wrote many empowering, socially relevant songs that activists can sing today. He passed away in October, 2014, but his songs continue to be performed by the Ray Korona Band, Hudson Valley Sally, and others, and many are on YouTube. You can watch videos, order CDs or tracks, and learn much more about Ray's life, his songs, the Ray Korona Band, and more at:

The Ray Korona Band at the People's Voice Cafe; Ray at center with guitar.

5. Song About A Miner
More coming soon.

6. A Spider's Web/Tomorrow Is A Highway

A Spider's Web and Tomorrow Is A Highway are two songs that Pete Seeger co-wrote that never became widely known. The first is based on a poem that E.B White wrote as an anniversary present to his wife. Pete set it to music to make it a love song to his own wife Toshi, a mutual passion of six decades. For Pete, "love" was both personal and political.

In the spring of 1948 Pete Seeger and Lee Hays got together to write songs of hope as the cold war and the McCarthy era loomed. Pete and Lee thought Tomorrow Is A Highway was exactly the song to warn of the danger. The other was just a little ditty they tossed off casually - so when The Hammer Song became famous Pete slapped his forehead in wonderment and said "Gosh, I guess we wrought better than we thought." Indeed! And Tomorrow Is A Highway is another fine song that can help us through this new time of peril.

7. The MacKenzie-Papineau Brigade

Notes from band-member David Tarlo, native of Quebec:

The Canadians who fought in Spain organized themselves into The MacKenzie-Papineau Brigade. Probably the best known of them was Dr. Norman Bethune, who in Spain created the first ever mobile blood transfusion units, treating the soldiers on the front lines. The Mac-Paps, as they were called, included English and French Canadians, but in Spain they spoke one language "¡No Pasaran!"

A little more background. We started singing songs from and about the Spanish Civil war partly because John's father was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade - Americans who went to Spain to fight fascism and try to stop Hitler and Mussolini before what became WWII. I knew John's father - he was a fine man. His two books - Comrades, about his time in Spain, and Legacy, about the rest of his amazing life fighting for social justice, should be required reading.

My parents were also involved in support work for the Mac-Paps up in Montreal, where I was born. My mother told me about working with Dr. Bethune in a kids program. He was a big hero for us growing up.

In Sally we also sing songs about this fight against fascism from Ireland, Russia and Italy. So naturally I was interested in singing something about the Mac-Paps. I did some research, including contacting some people in Canada who had been involved in that struggle and others who sang songs from that period, and could not find a single one about the Mac-Paps.

So the job fell to me, and this song is the result. More about Dr. Norman Bethune here:

8. Annie
More coming soon.

9. When I Sing My Song
More coming soon.

10. Not Another Gun

Notes from band-member John Fisher:

In June of 2001 James Durst and I travelled to Germany with the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus to sing at a Festival in Dortmund, Germany. My father, Harry Fisher, was there also to give a presentation about the recently published German Edition of his book "Comrades, Tales of A Brigadista In The Spanish Civil War."

James, my father, and I spent a lot of time on the trip talking about an intriguing contradiction. My father, by temperament and belief, was a lifelong pacifist. And yet he took up arms to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and then was a B-26 turret gunner in WWII. My father thought that despite his loathing for violence, stopping fascism was a moral obligation.

But he kept coming back to the fact that despite doing what he felt needed to be done, he hated guns. Hated them! In fact he said that unlike the fictional warriors portrayed in popular culture, every veteran-friend who had actually experienced violent combat, hated guns and wanted nothing to do with them after the war. It's insane that we spend so much money to kill people and so little on what people really need.

We never resolved the contradiction, but the thought lingered. In September, right after September 11, the issue became much more emotional. We couldn't think of a way to write a song to address 9/11 directly, but my father's hatred of guns inspired a different approach, which wound as the song Not Another Gun.

It's interesting that right at the same time Pete Seeger must have been going through a similar thought process because at the same time we were writing Not Another Gun, Pete was writing Take It From Dr. King, with an anti-gun message. James was having frequent conversations with Pete during that period, so it's possible there was some cross fertilization. We'll never know.

11. The Ballad of William Worthy
More coming soon. To learn more about Phil Ochs, here's a good place to start:

12. Gracias A La Vida
More coming soon.

13. Magic Penny

Comments by Nancy Schimmel, Malvina Reynolds' daughter:

It was the usual junior high school dance - a few boys gathered the courage to cross the vast expanse of green-and-black asphalt tile between their side of the cafeteria and ours to ask a few of us to dance to "Slow Boat to China" or "Little White Lies". When fast numbers came on, we danced with each other because the boys didn't know how.

My father picked me up. When we got home, my mother had a new song ready to try out on us. It must have been in 1948 or 1949. The joyous dancing till the break of day in the song was a figment of her imagination, no relation to the dance I'd just taken part in.

Here's the original lyrics:
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more

It's just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won't have any
Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many, they'll roll all over the floor


They said don't play with fire, once burnt twice shy
But now I've played with fire, and all I want to do is fry


So let's go dancing till the break of day, and if there's a piper, we can pay
For love is something if you give it away, you end up having more


©1958 Northern Music
At first it was called "Love Is Something," then "Magic Penny." Malvina had planned to put the song in her first little songbook, "Song in My Pocket," put out by the California Labor School in 1954. But she reconsidered, and wrote this letter to the illustrator and designer of the book
Dear Irving: ...I am afraid we'll have to make another shift in contents. Discussion with a number of people, independently, has convinced me that "Magic Penny" is liable to a sexy interpretation that we cannot afford in a book of this kind. Perhaps without the "bridge"... it would be all right, but I do not think we can chance it. Sometimes you get so close to a thing you cannot see it as well as the casual eye...

Yours, Malvina
I believe her hesitation to include "Magic Penny" was due to the political nature of most of the songs in the book and of the California Labor School itself. She wouldn't have wanted the book or the school attacked for a side issue.

Universal Pictures wanted the song for a 1958 teen movie called "Summer Love," but they too were wary of that bridge, and asked Malvina for a re-write. She substituted another verse:
Money's dandy, and we like to use it, but love is better if you don't refuse it
It's a treasure and you'll never lose it, unless you lock up your door
It was sung by Molly Bee in the film and on a sound track album released the same year.

In 1964, the song was included in the book of Malvina's songs put out by Oak Publications. In her notes on the songs she wrote:
Magic Penny: A love song. I do not recommend it as a model of locution. The phrase should probably be, 'Love is something which, if given away...' I prefer the living language.
"Magic Penny" has been used in Girl Scout songbooks (sometimes without attribution), church services, and school assemblies all over the country. It has been recorded by over fifty singers, mostly in albums for children. This probably would not have happened with the original bridge. With kids, I often sing the song without either the old bridge or the new verse. If I do use the new verse, I sing it Judy Fjell's way, "Money's dandy if you like to use it" rather than "Money's dandy and we like to use it." It doesn't make assumptions about the audience that way, and sounds more natural to me.

Pete Seeger pointed out that the shape of tune is similar to "Buffalo Gals," though the details are different. I didn't think the song had inspired any parodies, but here is a verse learned from Young Friends (Quakers) and sent to Malvina by Betsy Cazden (musicologist Norman Cazden's older daughter).
Food tastes better when you give it away, give it away, give it away
Food tastes better when you give it away
It always seems like more

It's just like a loaf of rye bread
Hold it tight and it ends up dry bread
Share it around and it's all inside bread
Till everybody is full
For food tastes better, etc.
At the request of Beth and Scott Bierko, I wrote a substitute verse for the one my mother added for the movie:
Money doesn't have magic in it
Things we buy might break in a minute
Love's a circle so let's begin it
And bring it to every door
-- Nancy Schimmel is a teacher, author, and storyteller. Learn more about her: HERE.

14. Sister Moon
More coming soon.

15. National Anthem: Arise! Arise!
More coming soon. To learn more about Jean Rohe's music, here's a good place to start: