Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BAEZ, Joan

(b 9 January 1941, Staten Island NY) Folk-rock singer. She sang in folk clubs and coffee houses in Greenwich Village and Boston, then at Newport in 1959. Her first eponymous solo LPs on Vanguard, accompanying herself on the guitar, were among the first successes of the folk boom 1960-1, her silvery voice and pure treatment of traditional ballads a revelation after long neglect of folk music in the USA. The next two LPs were live concerts (more of this material released '84); the fourth included Pete Seeger's 'We Shall Overcome', and she made it an anthem of the civil rights/anti-war movements. Her eighth LP Joan '67 was an unwise attempt at art-song treatment with an orchestra arranged by Peter Schickele. An early advocate of her friend Bob Dylan, she introduced him at concerts, and her tenth album Any Day Now '68 was a two-disc set of his songs: it should have been edited to one, some songs needing his emotionally naked delivery rather than her precision, but there was e.g. a nice treatment of 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right'. One Day At A Time '69 was made at Bradley's Barn (Mt Juliet TN) with an all-star cast of Nashville musicians.

She founded an Institute for the Study of Non-Violence '65, became an active opponent of the Vietnam War and was arrested at a demo, published journal Daybreak '68 and married student leader David Harris that year (he was later jailed for resisting the draft; their son Gabriel was born '69; they separated '71). David's Album included the Jordanaires and her sister, Mimi (see entry for Richard and Mimi Farina). Single 'The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down' (song by Robbie Robertson) was no. 5 USA '72, from two-disc Blessed Are; two-disc Ballad Book '72 was a compilation of her first five Vanguard LPs. Part of Where Are You Now, My Son? '73 was taped in Hanoi; then after albums loaded with political content she returned to more commercial product (confessing frankly that she needed the money), changing labels to A&M; Diamonds And Rust '75 included an electric band, dubbed strings, her own songs and songs by Mimi, Jackson Browne and others. The title song was a good one, a hit single, about the relationship with Dylan, but the album was uneven; a version of Dylan's 'A Simple Twist Of Fate' rashly imitated his style with embarrassing results. She toured with a band, issued live two-disc set From Every Stage '76; Gulf Winds contained entirely her own songs the same year. She joined Dylan's Rolling Thunder tour, appeared in his overlong home movie Renaldo And Clara; switched to CBS Portrait label (a mistake, she admitted later): LPs included Blowin' Away '77, Honest Lullaby '79, live European Tour '81.

Conservatives hated her, but only fools doubted her integrity. When the Daughters of the American Revolution would not rent their hall in Washington DC to Baez for a concert in the '60s, as they had refused it to black contralto Marian Anderson during the Roosevelt era, she appeared on Irv Kupcinet's Chicago talk show, saying hardly a word while liberal Republican Senator Chuck Percy tongue-lashed an inarticulate DAR chairperson who didn't know where to look: Baez was a heroine of terrible times without even trying, but when those times had been succeeded by the mindless Reagan era, she seemed to be irrelevant, unless you saw her in concert, where she was still cheerful, still a beacon of honesty. With no record contract for several years, she denied being blacklisted for her politics: 'I don't think they would care whether I was a communist or a fascist [if] I would commit myself to making platinum singles.' She made some tracks c'80 with Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart and other Deads, mostly unreleased; she sang at Farm Aid, Amnesty International tour '86 (songs by U2, Tears for Fears, Pink Floyd). Her first US LP in eight years Recently '87 on Gold Castle Records had songs by U2, Dire Straits, Peter Gabriel; she said, 'I haven't been a folk singer for 15 years.' She published an autobiography And A Voice To Sing With '87; album Diamonds And Rust In The Bullring '89 on Gold Coast was recorded live in Bilbao, then overproduced with synths and a choir in L.A.; six songs in Spanish were the best part. Play Me Backwards '92 on Virgin was a little more down to earth; Ring Them Bells '95 was made live at the Bottom Line, with guests including Mimi, the McGarrigle Sisters, Mary Black, Tish Hinojosa, Mary Chapin Carpenter; Gone From Danger '97 on Grapevine was a new studio set, her best for a long time and with no sense of strain. Meanwhile, a three-CD set Rare, Live And Classic '93 on Vanguard was the best compilation so far, of both Vanguard and post-Vanguard tracks, put together by her secretary, Nancy Lutzow.