CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life For the Years of Winter—
I learned that from the late Joe Frazier, the baritone in The Chad Mitchell Trio [CMT], the great folk group of the 1960s. We were in our special lounge on the MS Amsterdam cruise ship, late at night, with Joe and the eponymous Chad and Mike Kobluk, and the regular musicians for the trio—Paul Prestopino and Ron Greenstein and Bob Heffernan—and other CMT fans.
Helen and I are not cruise people, but the trio had reunited to do an autumn foliage cruise with their fans, up the Canadian Atlantic coastline, and we were on the cruise because Joe had asked me to help him write a book about his life in the mode of my memoir, The Strange Calling. Since Joe lived in Big Bear Lake, CA, and we lived in Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the logical way to get together was on a cruise in the Atlantic.
The trio did several formal concerts, and at night we gathered informally in our lounge to sing all the old CMT favorites. Sometimes we sang along with the trio, sometimes we just listened.
This particular night, it was late, and Joe was tired and not feeling well, and he got up to leave, just as someone called for Mike to sing his lovely version of “Four Strong Winds,” by Ian Tyson. Joe was half-way through the door and rather dejectedly turned around and took up a stance behind Mike, to sing the background harmony he had always sung on that piece.
“Go on,” Mike said to him. “You’re tired. I can do this by myself.”
“No, you can’t,” replied Joe. “You can’t do your own woo-woos.”
Those were Joe’s background sounds, sort of like the four strong winds themselves, as Mike sang. Yes, Mike can sing that song by himself, and wonderful it is when he does it, but the trio had a long history of working out arrangements that enhanced a song to its fullest, and on “Four Strong Winds,” that was when Joe did his woo-woos.
There are a lot of things we can do by ourselves, but they go better if there is someone to harmonize with the woo-woos, and you can’t do your own woo-woos.
John Robert McFarland
“Are you goin’ away with no word of farewell, will there be not a trace left behind? I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind. You know that was the last thing on my mind.” Tom Paxton wrote those words, but I always hear them in the voice of Joe Frazier.
In 1962, Milt Okun, the musical director of The CMT, heard a demo by a totally unknown kid who had changed his name to Bob Dylan. The CMT immediately recognized its potential and tried to record it as a single, but their record label wouldn’t let them—they thought it was a loser song. Next the CMT tried to use it as one song in an album, but their recording firm again refused. So Okun gave “Blowin’ In The Wind” to another group for which he was musical director, “Peter, Paul, and Mary.” It went to # 2 on the charts, and so CMT was forever trailing PPM and The Kingston Trio in popularity and record sales, even though the CMT was far better musically.