By Guest Blogger – Charles Lawrence
How did a kid from Battle Creek, Michigan end up at Peter Yarrow’s apartment talking to people who marched with Martin Luther King and were known by millions around the world? Well, at the time, I had been working as an aide to a Congressman in Michigan—who PP&M supported due to his work on sanctions against South Africa during apartheid. We had lost an election and I needed a job—so I contacted PP&M and asked if they were hiring. They said they were looking for an assistant tour manager and Peter Yarrow invited me to fly out to New York to meet the group. I think he shared a similar feeling. I write about this experience casually, but believe me I was wracked with nerves.
Peter was the leader of the group but I was interviewed by all 3 members for the road job. I remember them asking me if I’d had any musical experience and I told them that I was the drum major in high school and I was taking trumpet lessons (Not that there was a big demand for trumpet players in Battle Creek, but I thought I could get a job with the Tower of Power Horns and go on tour with Bruce Springsteen. A man can dream, can’t he?). I said that the only song I knew on the trumpet was, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Mary told me that that song was the first one they sang together when Peter, Paul and Mary started. I’m not sure if things are meant to be in life, but that seemed way too coincidental for someone who doesn’t believe in supernatural things.
Noel (Paul) Stookey told me that part of the job as assistant tour manager was to carry Mary’s costumes. It’s a large costume bag because she doesn’t know what she wants to wear during each show. He informed me that this bag was known to cause rectal bleeding. Every job has its hazards.
In any case, the rest of the interview went well.
At the time, each Christmas the group would head out on tour, beginning with a big show at Lincoln Center in NYC. In each city on the tour, they would enlist the help of a local choir for backing which added to the richness of the show.
Now, to digress for moment, most everyone knows back in the ‘60s, Greenwich Village was full of artists, comedians and musicians trying to get their break. They opened for each other and watched each other and went out for coffee together. Noel started out as a stand-up comic before he joined the group and emceed shows for the venues in downtown New York. Thirty years later, one of the comedians they knew then was invited to emcee their Lincoln Center Christmas show. His name was Bill Cosby.
I don’t remember much about that night’s show, except that he was escorted around by Peter’s daughter, Bethany. One moment that stands out is when I was backstage filling glasses of water for the performers. One glass overflowed and made a racket. Cos and the audience heard it and he did one of his long stares at me backstage. I think he said, “Having trouble with the help, Peter?”
When Cos came offstage, I gave him a quick, short wave and he mimicked me. It happened a few times when he left the stage. Quick short wave. Returned wave. Never a word was spoken. I felt like a Cosby kid.
I toured with PP&M for 2 years, and traveled with Mary and flew with her, and sometimes the group, from show to show around the country. I was responsible for making sure the performers got from the airport to the hotel, to the venue and back again.I was also in charge of making sure catering went okay and communicated between the group, the tour manager and the sound person. Basically, the tour manager set up the show and I helped made sure they went on without a problem.
Working for PP&M was a dream job. They believe in the issues they sing about. They talk about them to each other and they participate in causes that are close to their hearts. There was tension and conflict at times, but with artists, that’s to be expected. I was treated with dignity and respect, even though I was the low person on the totum pole. I still hear from Peter from time to time. Wonderful people. Proud to have worked for them.