Jonathan Babcock brings folk songs to the masses
Folk music is in Jonathan Babcock’s blood and he loves sharing his songs. He has performed all over, including in Taiwan.
By JANET STOICA
Recently the Massachusetts’ Cultural Council doled out 400 individual grants totaling $20 million to the artists of our area and Jonathan Babcock was one of the successful recipients.
According to its website, the Mass Cultural Council works to elevate our rich cultural life in Massachusetts. The MCC partners with communities across the Commonwealth to expand access, improve education, promote diversity, and encourage excellence in the arts, humanities, and sciences.
Jonathan’s discipline is listed as Interdisciplinary which encompasses his musical style and talents. “My grant request showed artistic disciplines from my past,” said Mr. Babcock. “My current project demonstrates history through music. A song can be a starting point to speak with children and to tell them about historical events that have happened in their community. A good example would be the Spin Song which focuses on the mills in the area and the stories told by the people who worked in those mills. The songs make it easier to learn through music.”
Mr. Babcock has also played his folk songs at local nursing homes for residents’ enjoyment using an historical perspective. “It’s all acoustic-based with just my guitar which gives a great experience for everyone,” said Jonathan. “Just last week I played a Woody Guthrie song and a new resident had her hands up in the air and was clapping along. I thought she might’ve been someone who had actually been to a Woody Guthrie concert back in the 60’s in her younger days. Many of my songs are from the years of 1955-1970. Many pass the test of time--even if you don’t know the title, you remember the song. I sing songs like Don’t Fence Me In, Take Me Home Country Roads, and Good Night, Irene. Most of us know these songs and they are easy-going, gentle, and very comforting.
Jonathan states that his retirement mission is singing these songs along with writing a few. He has put together tunes entitled “Four Trains Crash on the Airline Trail” which refers to the Thompson CT train disaster from years ago and The Molasses Flood Song about the great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 when a 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses collapsed on Boston’s waterfront spilling its contents via a 15-foot-high wave of molasses that traveled at 35 miles an hour. It destroyed everything in its path and the number of deaths wasn’t known for days.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” said Mr. Babcock. “My family’s history dates back to the early 1800’s and they were originally from England.” The Dudley Woolen Mill was built by his great-grandfather and was sited at the current Stevens Linen building.”
Mr. Babcock is in the middle of producing a new album with 13 tracks of historical and interesting songs in the genre of folk, retro-pop, and love. He is in the mixing process and after he is satisfied with the results a master copy will be made in the next three months. Marco Giovino will be his CD producer and Jonathan was quick to note that Mr. Giovino has played drums for Robert Plant’s Band of Joy and has also collaborated with Norah Jones. “I’m very fortunate to have met him and grateful that he has assisted me,” Mr. Babcock stated.
“For my type of music, a house concert event is appropriate, when someone invites 15-20 people to their home or venue. I intro the song, give a few historical facts, and then perform. It’s a good gathering that people do appreciate.”
Writing songs like these is pure poetry according to Jonathan. When he was in college at UMass-Amherst he had the opportunity to be an exchange student in Taiwan at the University of Taiwan. “It was the only public university that offered Chinese language classes,” he said, “and I was interested in learning the Chinese language. It’s a character-based language that depends on a pictographic memory. Very different from the alphabetic languages most of us know here in the U.S.” While at the University of Taiwan, Jonathan played for 800 students at an open-air concert.
“My goal is to get these songs out for people to hear. These days even with all our internet choices there is no central site to find these types of songs. It’s all about the songs so people can listen and learn about where they live and where they came from. Lots of people go along in life without knowing their local history. I hope to have audio liner notes for my published songs to give a brief history of each. I’ll have CDs for sure,” Jonathan stated.
Jonathan’s repertoire includes a few hundred songs from pre-1975 including folk and pop songs plus pure Americana from the likes of John Denver, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Jim Croce (he does a great “Operator”), and Peter, Paul, and Mary. He also plays bass guitar with DW and the Shake Makers Band. To contact Jonathan: [email protected]