Carnegie Concert: Bob Gibson

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Bob Gibson. Though he never made it big, he was a constant presence all through the revival. His transcriptions and arrangements formed the basis for other musicians’ hits. And he’s credited with bringing Joan Baez up for her first set at the Newport Folk Festival. This record gives some clues as to how he was both a product and influencer in the revival.

On side A, Gibson plays the folk interpreter. He sets the scene, provides background and context and leads the audience on a journey of folk music. He’s equal parts raconteur, jokester and teacher. The banjo work suffices, but it doesn’t detract from the music and lyrics, which is clearly fundamental to Gibson’s approach. The jokes are a bit silly and self-effacing but they help to break the tension with the more serious songs. These stories and asides are a precursor to the studied patter of the folk acts that followed. A good-natured story with a comedic button can put the audience at ease. Of course, later imitators will lose the “good natured” bit of affability and just try to cram in jokes.

His musical influence is most apparent in his rendition of “Mighty Day” which the Chad Mitchell Trio recorded a few years later. It’s the exact same arrangement, and indeed Gibson’s vocal timbre matches Chad Mitchell’s rendition note for note. Mitchell ripped off Gibson is what I’m saying.

In the second half of the record, Gibson leads several sing-alongs to varying degrees of success. The record includes extended sequences of Gibson trying to get the audience to sing differing harmony parts. It’s a nice window into the world of live folk performance at the time, but how many times do I need to sit through someone else’s choir rehearsal? Once is how many.

Anyway, that brings up an interesting aspect of this release. The recording is not broken up at all across each side. Each song leads into the next, complete with applause, turning, and some moments of utter silence. It feels like they just switched the machine on at the beginning and at the end hit stop.

The sing-along side ends with a rendition of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”. Here it’s most apparent that Gibson is a kind of product of this moment of the revival. If you slipped this track into a record of Pete Seeger sing-alongs, I don’t think you even would notice it was a different singer. The harmonies that Gibson takes over the top, the banjo playing, the dynamics of the songs, are all straight from Seeger.

I think this record is a clear bridge between the revival of the 1940s, and the coming revival of the early 60s. Gibson was the right guy in the right place at the wrong time, and later acts capitalized on his approach.

Album essentials:

Title: Carnegie Concert

Artist: Bob Gibson

Label: Riverside

Released: 1957