"Part of the tentativeness when we got back together in '78 was to be wary that we weren't sucked dry again. We kind of tiptoed around each other and we gave up the kind of hands-on involvement that we had prior to that album because we didn't want to make waves with each other. The material chosen was great, but I don't think our execution was all that great."
The year 1986 saw the far-better No Easy Walk to Freedom; the trio has stuck together ever since. Phil Ramone, who produced the group's Album 1700, is back on board the brand-new Lifelines, which takes a page from the highly successful Duets albums Ramone produced for Frank Sinatra. Though nearly every cut features a different celebrity pal, these duets were--with the exception of the Weavers track--all recorded live and in person, unlike the sterile, fiber-optics mode employed by Sinatra and his partners.
B.B. King and his beloved guitar Lucille duet with Mary on "House of the Rising Sun." Stookey gets to sing with Emmylou Harris on his pretty "For the Love of It All." Elsewhere, Stookey pushes the envelope into the Nineties with "Old Enough," in which the aging rock star of "I Dig Rock 'n' Roll Music" is finally at peace with his elder-statesman status ("My generation's rediscovered me/'Cause I'm on the cover of Modern Maturity"). He also cleverly introduces rap into PP&M's repertoire by utilizing the Weavers' "Talking Union Blues."
Because PP&M didn't limit themselves to one vein of folk at the outset, they continue to entertain a wide spectrum of ages to this day.
"If you look at the eclectic factor, we had children's songs as well as political songs. We felt we really owed a recognition to the fact that folk music had such a broad scope, and we draw a broad group. Our first concerts were mostly college kids and their parents; as we moved to municipal auditoriums, those college kids would bring their babies and parents who were now grandparents. Now those babies have grown up and they've had babies." Regardless of what you may think of PP&M or folk music in general, their contributions to the music world are significant and numerous. Stookey prefers to let folk music have the last word.
"The real impact folk music had was that it broke down the barriers to subject materials. Folk music came in and said, 'You can sing about anything.' It's a medium where we can talk about a lot of things." A lot of things indeed--war, social injustice, racial inequality. And lemon trees, hammers, jet planes, and manic-depressive dragons, too.
Peter, Paul and Mary are scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 18, at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe. Showtime is 8 p.m.