For over 50 years, well-traveled singer-songwriter Tom Paxton has remained steadfast in his mission to keep folk music alive, releasing over 60 albums.
Even at 77, the singer's resolve and resolution to keep making songs about everyday real life issues — folk's bread-and-butter — is as strong as ever. Although Paxton vows this will be his final tour, he has no plans to stop creating music and no doubt he still has plenty to say.
That includes the recent release of his latest album, "Redemption Road." "I think redemption is something we can all use," Paxton said in a recent interview. "There's something about the title that says I've been doing this a long time and I still believe in it."
It's a desire that has roots in Paxton's journey to Greenwich Village in New York in the 1960s, where he found his musical footing and voice among the community of folk musicians that gathered 24/7 at coffee shops.
Prior to his performance at the Stoughton Opera House with Janis Ian, the Cap Times talked with Paxton:
How are you feeling about the release of your new album?
I'm very happy with this album. They tell me it's my 62nd album but I have no idea if that's correct or not. I know I've made a great many albums, a couple of which I wish I had never made. I like this one very much.
In the linear notes you dedicated the album to your wife Midge, who sadly passed last June. It's no doubt been an emotional past year for you. Could you talk about the impact she's had on your career?
Midge and I were just two months shy of 51 years of marriage and it's not an exaggeration to say that I owe my career to her. If she had not been my wife, I'm not sure I would have done half of the things I've done. She was a great inspiration to me and she was a great support, a terrific editor. She could pick holes in my songs and show me the weak spots. It's impossible for me to think of getting along without her, but somehow I'm trying.
What do you remember about the first time you met her?
She came in the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, early in January of 1963, and I was so attracted to her that I asked her out immediately. I proposed to her in two weeks and we were married in six months. And everyone on the street gave us six months but we fooled them and lasted over 50 years.
How has the past year shaped your decision to tour for the last time?
It just became obvious to me that it was time for me to stop touring. I've been doing it for 55 years and touring has become very hard for me. Airports are just awful places for me now, they're exhausting. And I'm just tired of the physical strain of touring. So in November I'm going to say goodbye to it. I'm not going to retire. I'm still going to perform, but it'll be one-off deals. No more touring.
What are your plans to do after the tour? Are you planning to keep recording?
Oh yeah, I'm still writing. There will be another album down the road. I'm going to be spending more time in Nashville. I have friends down there that I write with and I want to go and write with them some more.
The album has a nice mix of fun, humorous songs and serious ones. Could you talk about that and why it's been important to have that balance?
Well, I've suspected I've been wrong all these years to do it this way. But I just record the songs that I have available to record. And I don't try to plan it with a single theme to it. Having said that, I do think there is a unifying theme to this album of retrospect. There is a home stretch feel to this album.
How do you think your songwriting now compares with when you first started?
I think it's clear that the songs I'm writing now are written by the same guy who wrote "Ramblin' Boy." I don't think I've changed as a songwriter but I hope I've grown. I still have the same values that I had when I began. I still have the same musical tastes that I had when I began. But I can at least hope that I've added some depth.
You also had Janis Ian on the album and she's playing with you on this tour. What's it like working with her?
I've known Janis since she was 13 years old and I was on stage with her the very first time she performed. So we go way, way back together.
In a way you could say things have gone full circle musically with her.
Yeah, it does feel that way. After all this time we're doing all these shows together and having a lot of fun doing it. This is not a split bill. We do the whole show together. 85 percent of the time we're on stage together singing on one another's songs and having a lot of fun.
You've seen and been part of the many transitions of folk music. Could you talk about what you've learned being part folk for so long?
My ambition from the very start was to be a part of the American folk tradition. It was always important to me and I valued it and I just wanted to join it. So I feel very grateful that I have been part of it all these years. I've known a great many folk artists and shared stages with them and friendships with them. I've sung at their weddings and funerals. It's been my life, this music. And I don't regret a day of it.
Why do you think folk music still has relevance today?
Because it's simple and addresses the lives we really live. Really good country music is like that as well. It tells stories of people's actual lives. And it does it in a very unadorned way. For me just a couple acoustic instruments and a couple voices, that'll do it for me.
Greenwich Village in the ‘60s had a significant impact on folk and you. What was it like being part of that folk community?
It was a perfect place for me to be at the time in my life. It was exciting that we were out making folk music every night. We were learning from each other and competing with each other and laughing with each other and having a high ol' time together. It was folk music 24/7 and none of us could get enough of it. It was a lot of laughter and a lot of fun. And some of us actually stuck around.