Tom Paxton

“Once in 1961, Bob Dylan and I were walking up 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village and Bob said something that spoke for me. He said, ‘I sometimes feel like I’m not writing a song, I’m writing it down’.”

When you sit down with folk legend Tom Paxton you’re bound to hear stories like that. As the author of songs as diverse as ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’, ‘Ramblin’ Boy’, ‘The Marvelous Toy’ and ‘Wasn’t That A Party’, the 86-year old has been that and done that. In that time he’s released close to 70 albums, the most recent being 2023’s Together.

The collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter John McCutcheon came out of a Zoom conference initiated by their agent Jim Fleming.

“I didn’t even know about Zoom until then.”

The idea for the online get together of Jim’s clients was to figure out how to deal with the pandemic shutdown. What it turned into was a weekly meeting to share new songs.

“I saw some people on the Zoom I didn’t know were on Jim’s roster so I looked them up on YouTube.”

Amongst that group was the Michigan duo The Accidentals who started writing with Tom and then released a couple of albums of their co-writes.

“John McCutcheon and I always said we were going to write together but he lives in Atlanta so we never got around to it.”

But through the magic of Zoom they met (and still meet) every Monday at 2 o’clock. Soon enough they had 75-100 songs of which 14 made it onto Together.

“I rank it as one of my 5 or 6 favourite albums I’ve ever done.”

While Tom has had occasion to write with other folks in the past, using Zoom he’s collaborated with John, The Accidentals, Cathy Fink, Dan Boling of The Limeliters and others, resulting in around 300 songs.

So given that Tom’s written so many songs for so many years, is there a “trick” to being so prolific?

“There are no tricks, no shortcuts,” he says. “I wish there were, I’d pay a lot of money for a good shortcut!”

Instead what you do get is what Ernest Hemingway called “a bullshit detector”. It’s the ability to look at a verse and know the song isn’t going to develop any further. This saves you from chasing a bad song.

“That’s about the only trick I know! I call it ‘cracking the code’.”

Tom's main philosophy of songwriting is that the songs are out there in the universe just waiting for someone to extract them and translate them into written form.

Besides Tom’s numerous albums, he’s also written many music books of his songs and non-musical story books, some of which feature various Aesop’s Fables, and Engelbert The Elephant, the subject of one of his songs.

Coming up this year is a new tribute album of Tom’s songs, Bluegrass Sings Paxton, spearheaded by Cathy Fink.

“I’m absolutely tickled by that album. I can’t wait for it.”

What continues for Tom is his performance schedule. Upcoming tours include dates with The DonJuans (Don Henry and Jon Vesner), Dan Boling of The Limeliters and John McCutcheon.

“There’s not too much of it though. I’m 86, it’s time to get realistic.”

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