Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Old Guys Still Rock

Bob Dylan comes to Washington a couple of times a year, once to play a concert and once to pick up an award. This latest trip was for a Medal of Freedom award (the nation’s highest civilian honor) and the picture of the occasion stopped me in my tracks when I saw it on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. An African American President of the United States hanging a medal on the quintessential protest singer of the 1960s for his civil rights songs. SPIN magazine called the shot “amazing.” For me, it’s more like: “Never thought I would live to see the day.”

While the peripatetic troubadour continues his victory laps (Did you see the Life Magazine tribute issue in your grocery? Or see this exhibit in Paris?, he is one of many seniors still going strong. Last year was a good one for Paul Simon, Emmy Lou Harris, and Sir Paul McCartney. This year Bonnie Raitt is back with a new CD, as is Neil Young and even Tom Jones looked stellar performing at the Queen’s Jubilee concert.

Someone else going strong after sixty is Grandpa Elliott Small who is a New Orleans street singer catapulted to international fame when Mark Johnson took his cameras and audio recorders to the French Quarter several years ago. “Stand By Me” was first a hit for Ben E. King, then a popular movie and finally this viral video that put You Tube on the map.

The smash hit launched Playing for Change as a music business (CD’s, DVD’s and a film) a philanthropic foundation (music schools and programs in seven countries) and solo careers and group tours. Opening singer Roger Ridley died in 2005 but Small and others have kept the tradition and the music alive. The latest CD, “PFC #2,” is a blend of young and old voices and classic songs from “Try A Little Tenderness” to “Gimme Shelter” and “Imagine.”

Grandpa Elliott recently toured for PFC, performing along with Clarence Milton Bekker and Jason Tomba. Bekker’s solo album is called “Old Soul” and Grandpa’s is “Sugar Sweet.” One of their songs, called “Music is My Ammunition,“ includes the following lyrics:

Peace and dignity are not very far out of reach
It just comes down (it just comes down) to what I and I choose to teach
Truth and honesty will free our hearts
And free our minds (and free our minds)
So then our children can live together as one
Until the end of time.

Not a bad anthem for a foundation ( whose motto is “Connecting the world through music.” That is certainly something to which both Bob and Barack can relate. By the way, the original "Stand By Me" video has recorded some 43 million hits and counting.


  1. Nice historical context. Back in the days of "Blowin' in the Wind" who could have imagined the scene?
    Thanks for the update on PFC.

  2. Frank, I couldn't resist. Had to post this video to Facebook. (Again.)