Rare Breed: The Songs of Peter La Farge
CD Executive Produced by Sandra Hale Schulman
“Of the new songwriters I’m the oldest and most evil with my past. I have no lies to tell about my past and sometimes it strangles me like a black dog putting his foot down on my throat. Someone once said to me ‘I envy your heart, but I couldn’t stand your hangover.’ I'm alone now and filled with lonely pain. Pain always sends me home to write.” -Peter La Farge, 1964
For Native Americans life is a circle. My young Cherokee uncle Cecil Hale was killed on Iwo Jima Feb 21st, 1945, two days before another Indian, Ira Hayes, raised the American flag there. Ira was hailed a hero, but to him the victory was hollow as hundreds of his fellow soldiers, like 22-year-old Cecil, never made it back.
Twenty years later Ira was memorialized in The Ballad of Ira Hayes by Peter La Farge. La Farge was a shooting star -- an unsung hero at the crossroads of folk, protest music, country, blues and love songs. He was a rodeo cowboy, an actor, a singer and songwriter. He was a husband, a father, and a drug user. He was a pioneering folk singer in 1960s Greenwich Village and the first to gain national prominence as a songwriter on Native American issues. He was friends with Bob Dylan, Rambling Jack Elliott, Buffy Sainte Marie, and Pete Seeger. Johnny Cash made the Ira Hayes song famous in 1964, a year later Peter died a mysterious death at age 34, leaving behind his 3-month old daughter, Karen Wanden; destitute girlfriend Inger Nielsen; and wife, Suzan Becker, in a mental institution. He also left behind a remarkable catalog of songs that have been buried and forgotten along with much of the truth about his life.
Thanks to the courage and undying love of Peter’s family, his peers, and a selfless group of artists, Peter’s life and music are being brought full circle.
Many of the songs here have not been heard for 40 years, others have been recorded dozens of times. They show the full range of Peter’s music - from flowers to fury, drugs to delirium, stumbling to resurrection. As Peter’s beloved playwright poet Shakespeare wrote:
Every thing that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.
In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.
Sandra Hale Schulman, June 2010
“Peter was a genuine intellectual, but he was also very earthy, very proud of his heritage, and very aware of the wrongs done to his people and other Native Americans. The history he knew so well wasn’t known at all by most white Americans in the early 1960s – though that would certainly change in the coming years – so to some extent, his was a voice crying in the wilderness. I felt lucky to be hearing it. Peter was great. He wasn’t careful with the Thorazine though.” -Johnny Cash, Cash
Vocals Johnny Cash
Produced by Don Law and Frank Jones, Nashville, TN 1964
Peter LaFarge: " I was helped and guided by Cisco Houston. Cisco worked hours with me, teaching me not only music and how to use words, but giving me a whole philosophy of life. He convinced me to write Ira Hayes in 1960."
Peter’s best friend Ramblin Jack Elliott says he was there when Peter wrote Ira.
“He was all fired up about it,” Jack recalls. ‘I may have helped with a line or two, but that was him through and through.”
This is the All-Star track – with John Densmore (founding member of The Doors) on percussion and first time ever vocals; Floyd Westerman – singer, activist and the Indian spirit in The Doors movie, Keith Secola on guitar and chants; Martha Redbone – beautiful soul skin singer; and Dave Roe – Johnny Cash’s doghouse bassist for 13 years.
Produced by Keith Secola
Co-Producer John Densmore and Harlan Steinberger
Engineer: Harlan Steinberger
Vocals: John Densmore and Floyd Westerman
Bass: Dave Roe
Backing vocals: Martha Redbone
Organ: Harlan Steinberger
Acoustic guitar: Harlan Steinberger
Mixed by Harlan Steinberger and John Densmore
Recorded at Hen House Studio,s December 2005
Recorded June 2005 at MadDog Studios, Los Angeles
“A tribute to Peter LaFarge? Wow.” John Trudell – poet, activist, actor.
Spoken Word Vocals John Trudell
Guitar and Vocal Mark Shark
Guitar Billy Watts
Bass guitar and Drums Ricky Eckstein
Arrangement Ricky Eckstein
Produced by John Trudell and Bad Dog
Engineer Glen Nashita
Recorded at Pacifica Studios, Culver City, January 2005
I Will Bring You Flowers
I Will Bring You Flowers was written for Peter’s love Inger when she was mentally ill and pregnant in a NYC hospital.
“Woody Guthrie was a vast influence on me. Me and Bobby used to visit him in New Jersey.” – Peter LaFarge
“This is a beautiful song, and we have a thing for songs about flowers.” - Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Produced by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion
Sun Studio, Memphis, TN, December 2005
Vocals: Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion
Backing vocals: The Burns Sisters
Acoustic guitar: Johnny Irion and Tim Sears
Piano: Abe Guthrie
Mixed by Abe Guthrie
Recording Engineer: James Lott
Post recording special guest storyteller and Peter's best friend: Rambling Jack Elliott
"Most of us wish to be raw and direct with our art and music. Peter
LaFarge was." - James Intveld
Produced by James Intveld and Michael Turner
Vocal and all instruments James Intveld
Los Angeles February, 2006
“Look at all these big names paying tribute. Hell yeah I relate to this song. Hope you like it.” - Hank III
Produced and arranged by Hank III
All instruments – drums, acoustic & electric guitar, and noises by Hank III
East Nashville, TN, October 2005
“Peter was such a pioneer, his music still gets a big reaction. It’s long overdue to pay tribute to him.” – Keith Secola
Produced by Keith Secola
Musicians: Sand Creek Band
Tempe, AZ 1992
I’m an Indian/ I’m an Alien
Blackfire has been performing this all over the world. Mother manager Berta Benally knew Peter when she was a 15-year-old waitress in Greenwich Village in the 60s.
Produced and arranged by Blackfire
Flagstaff, AZ, January 2005
“The passing of Peter LaFarge saddens me as an artist. It makes me wonder, what would he say today about the state of the world, what body of work would he continue to produce? As Bob Marley so beautifully wrote “you could be loved.” – Felipe Rose
Felipe Rose is Lakota Sioux/Taino from Brooklyn, NY, though most know him as the original Indian from The Village People. He has been hiding in plain sight for 30 years.
Produced and arranged by Felipe Rose and Frosty Lawson
Haskell, New Jersey, February 2006
Micki Free & Shea
Free is Comanche, Shea is Cherokee. They stepped in to sing this when Karen La Farge was unable to after her assault.
Produced by Micki Free, 2009
“I remember when protest songwriting was really big, but there was never any such thing as a protest movement. The guy who was best at that was Peter LaFarge. He was a champion rodeo cowboy and sometime back he’d been a boxer. He had a lot of his bones broken. I think he’d also been shot up in Korea. Anyway he wrote “Ira Hayes,” “Iron Mountain”, “Johnny Half-Breed”, “White Girl” and about a hundred other things. There was one about Custer “the general he don’t ride well anymore.” We were pretty tight for a while. We had the same girlfriend. Actually, Peter is one of the unsung heroes of the day. Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of his songs. When I think of a guitar poet or protest singer, I always think of Peter, but he was a love song writer too.”
--Bob Dylan, CBS Biograph
Povy La Farge Bigbee for the love, John Pen La Farge, Grant La Farge, Karen Wanden La Farge – I’m so sorry you never got to sing - and Alex Gomez for breaking the sad chain. Keith Secola my brother and rock, John Densmore and Jeff and Cory for opening the Doors, all the artists who made Peter’s songs their own, James and Carol Mullins for their invaluable accidental find, NMAI and Chris Turner for rescuing the project, Craig Havighurst, Molly Secours, Kevin Welch, Delores Smith, and Micah Levin for making the story move, the Hale and Schulman families for the roots and wings, and Davis for everything always.