Tom Paxton Biography

Thomas Richard Paxton, 31 October 1937, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Paxton’s interest in folk music developed as a student at the University of Oklahoma. In 1960 he moved to New York and became one of several aspiring performers to frequent the city’s Greenwich Village coffee house circuit. Paxton made his professional debut at the Gaslight, the renowned folk haunt that also issued the singer’s first album in 1962. Two topical song publications, Sing Out! and Broadside, began publishing his original compositions which bore a debt to the traditional approach of Pete Seeger and Bob Gibson. Paxton also auditioned to join the Chad Mitchell Trio, but although he failed, the group enjoyed a 1963 hit with ‘The Marvellous Toy’, one of his early songs.

The following year Paxton was signed to Elektra Records for whom he recorded his best known work. Ramblin’ Boy indicated the diversity which would come to mark his recording career and contained several highly popular performances including ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’, ‘Goin’ To The Zoo’ and ‘I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’. Subsequent releases continued this mixture of romanticism, protest and children’s songs, while ‘Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation’ (Ain’t That News) and ‘Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues’ (Morning Again) revealed a talent for satire and social comment. The Things I Notice Now (1968) and #6 (1970) enhanced Paxton’s reputation as a mature and complex songwriter, yet he remained better known for such simpler compositions as ‘Jennifer’s Rabbit’ and ‘Leaving London’.

Paxton left Elektra during the early 70s and although subsequent recordings proved less popular, he commanded a loyal following, particularly in the UK, where he was briefly domiciled. How Come The Sun (1971) was the first of three albums recorded during this period and although his work became less prolific, Paxton was still capable of incisive, evocative songwriting, such as ‘The Hostage’, a track from Peace Will Come (1972) that chronicled the massacre at Attica State Prison. This powerful composition was also recorded by Judy Collins.

Paxton has latterly concentrated on writing songs and books for children, with his 2002 album Yours Shoes, My Shoes earning a Grammy nomination. The same year’s Looking For The Moon, his first ‘adult’ album in over five years, also received a Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Folk Recording category. Although never fêted in the manner of his early contemporaries Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Eric Andersen, Paxton’s body of work reveals a thoughtful, perceptive craftsmanship.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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