Wednesday, July 29, 2009

RIP Sandy Paton (1929 - 2009)

News of Sandy Paton's passing reached my household shortly after his death on Sunday evening.

From the Sing Out news service:
Folk-Legacy Records founder Sandy Paton passed away on Sunday July 26 around 6:30pm. He had been hospitalized the last few days after becoming extremely fatigued. Sandy had been in poor health in recent years, suffering from emphysema which required that he was constantly connected to oxygen. About a month ago, Sandy & Caroline’s grandson died tragically – drowning in a river in Connecticut. Friends have said that Sandy took the loss extremely hard.

Sandy, with his wife Caroline and the late Lee Haggerty, founded Folk-Legacy Records as an independent recording company specializing in traditional and contemporary folk music of the English-speaking world in 1961. Over the 48 years Folk-Legacy has existed, they have produced over 120 recordings with Sandy doing the actual recording and taking cover photographs.

Sandy was a terrific singer in his own right, as well. He and Caroline were designated as the Official Connecticut State Troubadours for 1993-1994.

Sing Out! editor Mark Moss adds: “In a world where meeting your “idols” rarely works out very well, Sandy Paton was an inspiration. His love, dedication and vision for traditional music was unwavering … but he was never strident, pushy or rude about his impressive knowledge. This was a guy who was all about loving the music and wanting to share his love for the songs and singers. And each Folk-Legacy release exuded that passion. Once I “met” my first Folk-Legacy release (the original Golden Ring recording), I was hooked … and am proud to own almost every release from the label. Hardly “hi tech,” but the music Sandy captured, made and shared was the real thing in the truest sense of the words. It was an honor to have known him. My heart was already breaking for the family (after the loss of his grandson Kaelan in June) … I can’t imagine the pain the family is feeling now. A sad, sad day.”

Information about a memorial service is forthcoming.
Sandy and Caroline have been fixtures on my folk music radar ever since I was a small child. At the Old Songs Festival, the Connecticut Family Folk Festival, the Champlain Valley Folk Festival and (for a long time before it just became too far removed from the type of music that they cared about) the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, I can remember walking up to their record booth with my father to shoot the breeze, hear about current recording projects and learn a bit about obscure Child Ballad variants.

I have memories of seeing them on stage at Old Songs and at coffeehouses in Connecticut. Sometime in the late 1990s at Old Songs, Sandy sang a song with the repeated lyric "My Old Man Was a Lot Like Lincoln"; the song stuck in my head, and I waited to hear him sing it again. A few years later -- back at Old Songs, presumably -- he did, and I scribbled down the lyrics to one verse, and then somehow I went back and checked my notebook from that original time at Old Songs and discovered that I had scribbled down the exact same verse.

Perhaps even more than on stage, I remember them during the after-hours song swap in the Dutch Barn at Old Songs, always ready to lead a song but also looking joyfully around the room, ready to hear what others might have to sing.

Another memory that stands out is being with them at a diner following a performance at the Branford Folk Music Society: it was late, and they had a drive ahead of them, but they were going to share a cup of coffee and some conversation with friends. At that diner, Sandy described a scene from E.L. Doctorow's Waterworks, and something clicked in my head about this being a guy who knew about a lot more than just folk music.

In fact, as I've thought about Sandy this week, I've thought less about the music and more about what it was like to interact with him as a person. The word gentle comes to my mind. All of those conversations held from opposite sides of record bins have left me with that impression above all others.

My father will pay tribute to Sandy Paton this Friday night from 10:00 p.m. to Midnight on Profiles in Folk on WSHU-FM.

There also are many memories being shared over at The Mudcat Cafe.

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