Way Out There

This was the lead song on one of my favorite Pete Seeger albums, 3 Saints, 4 Sinners and 6 Other PeopleSeeger 3 saintsthough when I recorded the video I misremembered it as being on Favorite American Folksongs. I also remembered the parenthetic note “yodel learned from the Sons of the Pioneers” as being attached to this title, though it was actually how he labeled the same yodel on his recording of “The Goofing-Off Suite.” Such are the vicissitudes of memory.

In any case, I always liked this one, and tried for many years to do the yodel at least competently, but failed… so I never performed it, because the yodel is kind of basic to the arrangement. But, damn it, I like the song, so I picked it up again for this project and decided to play the yodel sections as instrumental breaks — not a perfect solution, but better than dropping the song completely.

The rest of my spoken introduction is accurate: When I was learning songs from Pete’s records, I had no idea who the Sons of the sons of the pioneers - way out therePioneers were, and when I first heard them I didn’t appreciate them. I liked Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston (who apparently taught this song to Pete), and their Hollywood cowboy sound was too slick for my taste. (My film tastes were similar, since I had grown up in the later era of westerns, when cowboys no longer harmonized between gunfights.) I still don’t have any of their records and can’t think of a mood when I’d toss one on if I had it, but they harmonized beautifully and Bob Nolan, who formed the group with Tim Spencer and Leonard Slye, wrote some classic western-pop songs, including “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Cool Water,” and this one. Plus, I just found out that he spent his middle school years in Boston, en route from his Canadian birthplace to high school in Tucson.

There are a couple of nice videos online of Pete singing this, including one where he and Arlo Guthrie do harmony yodeling, and I still really like the way he does it.  But if you want to go back to the roots, here’s a clip of the Sons themselves doing the yodel and a couple of verses  in one of their earliest films, just before Leonard Slye left the group to make a solo career as Roy Rogers: