Home / Arts & Life / Tom Paley, Folk Music Revivalist, Dies at 89

Tom Paley, Folk Music Revivalist, Dies at 89

Bob Dylan, in his 2004 memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” cited Mr. Paley as an important influence on his music. Mr. Paley also taught the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and the young Ry Cooder some of the finer points of the acoustic guitar.

Mr. Paley played with the Ramblers from 1958 to 1962, a prolific period during which the group released 11 albums and made more than 150 public appearances.

But even before those years, he played a vital role in introducing urban audiences to Depression-era rural music. In 1952 he made his solo debut as a recording artist with the album “Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachian Mountains,” on Jac Holzman’s fledgling Elektra label, on which he performed staples of the genre like “Little Maggie” and “Shady Grove.”


Tom Paley performing with the New Deal String Band in 2014.

Laurie Lewis

He also released a pair of albums with the folk singers Jean Ritchie and Oscar Brand in 1955. Before that, he played at schoolhouses and union halls with Woody Guthrie and at a memorial concert for Lead Belly, with whom he had performed at the Town Hall in New York in early 1950.

Allan Thomas Paley was born in the Bronx on March 19, 1928. His parents, David Paley, a newspaper editor, and the former Sylvia Leichtling, a physician assistant, were left-wing activists who exposed him to progressive politics and music.

He moved to California with his mother after his parents divorced, then returned to New York as a teenager and began playing banjo and guitar.

He also began collecting vintage country and blues recordings, as well as performing himself. He received his bachelor’s degree from City College of New York, then earned a master’s in mathematics at Yale in 1953.

The New Lost City Ramblers made their concert debut at Carnegie Hall in 1958. Mr. Paley left the group four years later and started another trio, the Old Reliable String Band. The group released an album in 1962.

He also taught mathematics at the University of Maryland and married one of his students, Claudia Lingafelt.

He and his wife traveled to Sweden in 1963 and decided not to return to the United States. An opponent of the Vietnam War at the time, he could have been drafted had he returned. Three years later, the couple, who later divorced, moved to London, where Mr. Paley also taught math.

While in Europe Mr. Paley formed the New Deal String Band and played with it, on and off, for decades. The group released albums in 1969 and 1999; the second, “Dealing a New Hand (From the Same Old Deck),” included contributions from Mr. Paley’s son, Ben, on the fiddle. Mr. Paley also taught himself to play the fiddle and in the 1990s played it with his son on two albums of traditional Scandinavian music.

In addition to his sister, Mr. Paley is survived by his son and three grandchildren.

Mr. Paley’s death leaves only Mr. Cohen as a surviving founder of the New Lost City Ramblers. Mr. Seeger died in 2009.

The band was the subject of a 2009 documentary, “Always Been a Rambler,” directed by Yasha Aginsky.

New Lost City Ramblers – Always Been A Rambler, Trailer Video by Arhoolie2

The Ramblers were enjoying considerable popularity and influence when Mr. Paley decided to leave the group in 1962 under circumstances that were fraught with the politics of the day.

In a 2016 interview published online, he said attributed his departure to fallout over his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating Communist influences in American life. He feared incriminating fellow musicians, he said.

But he came to believe that his silence may have harmed the group’s prospects.

“Slowly, over the next year or so, many of our gigs dried up,” he said. “It became more and more difficult to find work. Eventually, Mike Seeger, who had no political affiliation in reality, blamed me for this and more or less asked me to leave. So I did.”

Continue reading the main story

About admin

Check Also

Hear the Best Albums and Songs of 2023

Dear listeners, In the spirit of holiday excess and end-of-the-year summation, we’re about to make …