Legendary folk music patriarch Pete Seeger (above) died Monday at age 94. As people across the country he loved so much pay tribute, none are more fervent than those who’ve had personal encounters with the songwriting, banjo-plucking activist. The Hooters’ Eric Bazilian is one of those fortunate individuals; he recalls the brief but memorable moment for PW:
Having grown up when I did, Pete Seeger was a big part of my life: singing “If I Had A Hammer” in elementary school; learning his songs from my Uncle Bob, who taught me my first guitar chords; stumbling my way on the twelve-string through his virtuosic bear of a song, “Living In The Country,” at 12 or 13.
My personal contacts with Pete were few but quirkily memorable. The first was when we performed at the Harry Chapin Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall in 1987. Though I’d previously had no compunction at all about asserting myself on Paul McCartney at “Top Of The Pops,” I was too intimidated to force myself upon Pete that evening. But five years later, I found myself at New York’s Penn Station scrambling to make the train to Philadelphia; I grabbed the last remaining window seat in the car and, seconds later, an equally hurried traveler came and sat beside me on the aisle. I glanced at him—and was taken utterly aback to see that it was none other than Pete Seeger himself.
I maintained a respectful quiet for the most part, but did mention to him that I’d performed with him at Carnegie Hall, was a fan, and had struggled to learn “Living In The Country” all those years before. He gave a pleasant smile, but was obviously not in the mood for small talk—a right he had long since earned.
Somewhere along the line, our train was delayed. Fifteen minutes, twenty, thirty, and Pete seemed to be getting edgy. Finally, as we approached Philly, he asked if I could do him a favor and call the person who was picking him up in Wilmington and tell them that he would be late. (This was before we all carried cell phones, remember.) Upon my arrival at 30th Street, I ran to the nearest pay phone on the platform and made the call—saving the day, as it were, for Pete and his Delaware host.
In this small way, I helped Pete Seeger. And I’d do it again, darn it.
Eric Bazilian is the Grammy-nominated songwriter of “One of Us” and co-founder of the Philadelphia rock band The Hooters. Follow him on Twitter at @ericbazilian.