Dear Partner Letter #23: This Land is Your Land

Songs & Stories From Home Episode 83



As I went walking that ribbon of highway I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley this land was made for you and me


This land is your land this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream water
This land was made for you and me


That’s The Brothers Four singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Brothers Four in my life and career beginning in 1969 and how much the group has meant to McCoy’s and my relationship after he joined in 2004.


Dear Partner,

The winter before you became part of The Brothers Four was a challenging and uncertain time for me. A couple of significant unanswered questions were hanging in the air. With John Paine retiring from The Brothers Four after 45 years what direction would Bob Flick take the group? Thinking that way made me wonder if there was going to be a place for me or what it would look or feel like if there was.

At the same time I was preparing to go into the studio and complete my first solo album in more than a decade. Ted Brancato was coming to Seattle in March to finish the project we’d started a year earlier. We were expanding our working relationship. Besides musical director, arranger, and keyboardist Ted was producing this album and we were beginning to write some songs together. Songs I was struggling to finish.

What becomes clear looking back is I was once again facing some of my biggest fears, fears about myself. Fears that I might prove to be the Imposter I had often believed myself to be. Afraid the situations I was getting or putting myself into would become defined by my anxieties somehow proving on some level I didn’t have what it takes. Which created more anxiety. As I write this, I realize that winter could be described one of those Love and Truth Moments. In this case it meant discovering I was not the imposter I feared, that I did have what it takes, maybe not for the world to see but for my own satisfaction, and in the end could be someone not afraid of loving and being loved. A couple of songs that became part of the new album spoke to that journey…


From a frightened man who’s loving to a loving man afraid
Depending where you’re standing won’t appear that much has changed
Yet a change like that’s not easy one thing is really true
I know that I’ve become a loving man because of you


A Lovin’ Man on my way to Believin’ I’m Enough.


For so long I believed there was something wrong with me
I couldn’t let anybody get too close
While that distance kept me safe it also left me afraid
That in the end I would be alone
For years those fears went unfaced unexplored and unexplained
Till that day you found a way of getting in
You held up a lighted mirror to the darkness and my fear
It was in that light I finally could begin


Believing I’m enough believing I am loved
Believing I am truly loving too
Believing I am home known and not alone
My fears could find their faith because of you


While those songs were written for my wife, Pat, I believe the only way we can truly let someone love us and love someone else is to first learn to love ourselves and somehow have faith we are loveable. How we do that can be one of life’s great mysteries and miracles. Often filled with contradictions because it’s a journey we must make for ourselves but seldom make by ourselves. I am grateful Pat was there. That you were there as well.

A few days after the album was completed, Bob Flick and I met for lunch. He told me besides John retiring Terry was also leaving. We would be adding two new guys. The news was surprising, even shocking. I sat there realizing that I not only had the gig, but now possibly even more ways to share thoughts about the group and the music we represent. I was thrilled. Bob and I agreed you would be a great addition. He said he had someone in mind for the other spot.

Bob’s choice for the fourth guy was John Hylton a retired airline pilot who had sung years earlier with the New Christy Minstrels. We started practicing in early June. We held what we called chord camps in addition to group rehearsals. You and I also got together with John Paine who showed you the way he’d been doing things for so many years. All of his old tricks. Watching you guys together was something special. You continued to work hard at home on your guitar playing. I did the same to master instrumental solos. The group became an amazing way and reason for the two of us to be together. It soon became clear how much fun we all were having. The Brothers Four had formed years ago just for that reason. (Well, and for a chance to meet girls.) The new configuration was tapping into the original spirit of the group, and we could feel it. By the time we did our first show in August the audience could feel it, too. When the show was over it was clear from their applause and their comments they felt they had spent a most enjoyable evening with the real Brothers Four. The greatest compliment we could receive.

Besides realizing how lucky we were to be able to do what we do we were also reminded that night how precious life can be. You got a call after soundcheck that Connie had been in a car accident. Someone had run a stop sign. Fortunately there was enough time before the show to go see her making sure she was all right.

We sang again the next day on Blakely Island. I will forever remember standing with you on the bow of the boat that was taking us back to Anacortes after the show. As the lights of the city came into view it was like the world was welcoming us on some grand new adventure.


It was starting to get dark city lights were coming on
We were laughing out there with the wind and waves
It was like we could sense without a word being said
We were heading toward THE BEST OF GOOD OLD DAYS


A few weeks later we were in Japan doing club dates. Two shows a night for the better part of two weeks. By the time we got home we were four voices singing as one. On that trip I also had a chance to show you some of my favorite spots in Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya. You went shopping for a black pearl, the one thing Connie asked you to bring home to her.

A few weeks later we started a nationwide tour of the US with The Kingston Trio and Glenn Yarbrough. In the Fall of 2004 the Folk Revival of the late 50’s and early 60’s was enjoying its own sort of revival. The year before a very funny and successful mockumentary of folk music called A Mighty Wind had been released to rave reviews. A song from that movie, A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow, was nominated from an Academy Award. Then there was the folk music special, This Land Is Your Land, that debuted nationwide on PBS around the same time. The show gets replayed to this day during Pledge Weeks at different local PBS stations.

All of this touring complicated by the fact that you were still teaching full time. Thanks to an understanding Principal and a sub who could fill in for you for weeks at a time, you somehow pulled it off.

The audiences loved the show. The songs and the spirit of the music awakening memories and giving voice to dreams of a time in peoples’ lives before the ghosts of assassinations and Viet Nam began to darken everything. Something somehow spiritual in that musical revival of a revival that also happened to be a whole lot of fun. The concerts would end with the three groups on stage together for one last song. I would stand between you and George Grove of The Kingston Trio. The house lights would come on. And everyone in the hall would begin to sing This Land Is Your Land and for a magical moment we somehow were young again and all that had been behind us was now in front of us waiting to be discovered.