Tom Paxton: The Old Familiar Sound

“You’re after a song that when people hear it, it sounds like they’ve always heard it.”

[caption id="attachment_199945" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Photo by Michael G. Stewart[/caption] If anyone is qualified to teach songwriting, it’s Tom Paxton. The veteran folksinger, who turned 80 last October, has released more than 60 albums since 1962 and has seen his compositions recorded by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Marianne Faithfull, Flatt & Scruggs, Gram Parsons, Neil Diamond, Blitzen Trapper and Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton. Paxton still tours in his eighth decade, but he carves out some time every summer to teach 15 aspiring songwriters during the Swannanoa Gathering at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College. So it seems to fair to ask him: What can you teach about songwriting and what can’t you teach? “Bob Gibson, a great friend of mine, had a good line about teaching songwriting,” Paxton says over the phone from his home in Virginia. “He said, ‘You can’t steer a sailboat until it’s in motion.’ What he was saying was, ‘You can teach rewriting, but you can’t help a song until after it’s left harbor.’ Now and then a miracle occurs, and your first draft works, but more commonly, your first draft shows promise. When I teach songwriting, what I’m really teaching is self-editing.”…

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