While Pete Seeger topped the charts with the pioneering folk group The Weavers in 1950 with “Goodnight, Irene,” his cover of Malvina Reynolds “Little Boxes” was his only pop hit as a solo artist, reaching No. 70 in 1964.
His composition “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” however, fared better, topping the charts for The Byrds in 1965 as the titletrack single of the folk-rock group’s second album.
“[Byrds frontman] Roger McGuinn showed it to me on the road during one of our early tours--Summer of ’65,” recalls Chris Hillman, who played bass and sang in the legendary group. He still includes its signature song, which Seeger adapted from the Book Of Ecclesiastes, in his current shows with his revived country band Desert Rose and his long-running duo with Herb Pedersen.
“Roger had worked with Judy Collins prior to forming The Byrds, and I believe she recorded a version much closer to Pete's original arrangement,” Hillman continues. “Here we were at the back of the tour bus and he's playing this incredible song! Maybe I said, ‘We need to record this when we get back to L.A.’”
As for Seeger himself, Hillman says, “Pete Seeger was a hero to me and such an inspiration to all of us in The Byrds. I remember seeing him perform in 1961 in San Diego; going backstage with a friend of mine and meeting him was something I'll always cherish. He took the time to talk with us and his encouraging words that night still ring in my ears: ‘You boys practice real hard and sing like you mean it!’ What an amazing man!”
Besides still playing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” at his concerts, “I've played it at church and a few funerals over the last 40 years,” Hillman notes. “Roger so graciously played and sang it at my wedding 35 years ago. There is magic in those old verses from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3.”
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