The Dady Brothers recall meeting Pete Seeger
05:25 PM, Jan 28, 2014
Joe Dady got the word late Monday night: One of the most-important voices in the history of folk music had been stilled. He immediately called his brother, John, with the news about Pete Seeger’s death.
“I told Joe, ‘You know what, it’s a sad day,’ ” John says. “But look at that life he led, look at how many people he touched.”
The Dady Brothers, Rochester’s best-known folk performers, were among those profoundly influenced by the legend. They shared an intimate few hours with Seeger in his final years.
Joe Dady, the banjo-picker of the pair, even wrote a song about him. “The Man With the Banjo” appears on the duo’s 1991 album Singing From the Heart. As a biography, it is as much about such an accomplished human being as can be squeezed into five minutes.
Joe Dady was 5 or 6 years old when he first saw Seeger on Rainbow Quest, an educational music TV show from the mid-1960s hosted by the folk icon.
Through the years, Seeger’s style wound its way through the Dadys, as it would through nearly all folk singers. It can be heard in the Dadys’ picking, and in the gentle yet firm tone of the songs they write.
Like Joe, John also remembers first seeing Seeger on television, on one of the old variety music shows, perhaps Hootenanny.
“Just the power that he possessed as a singer, as a performer onstage, the inclusiveness of getting people together and singing together, he had an incredible knack of for that,” John says.
“Just last night I was playing at an old folks home, and I had about 60 of them together singing ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ Sixty old people singing ‘Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.’ I don’t think I would have had the ability to do that without seeing Pete,” he says. “He used to say, ‘Everybody can sing. Some people can sing better than others, but we can all sing.’ That was his thing.”
The Dadys sent a copy of “The Man With the Banjo” to Seeger, and he wrote back, expressing his appreciation. And he assured the Dadys that they would meet some day.
That opportunity took years and was nearly squandered. Then Joe almost died from a ruptured aorta in 2005.
“After I went through that whole experience of going to the other side,” he recalled a couple of years ago, “I thought, ‘Damn, I’ve got to reach out to this guy, because either he’s gonna go or I’m gonna go.’ “
Joe wrote another letter and Seeger wrote back, sending his phone number.
Joe waited again, until 2011, before calling. Someone answered and put Seeger on the phone. Dady responded with, “Hayumana, humana, humana. …”
That fall, a producer who was assembling a tribute to Seeger had spotted the Dadys playing at a festival and recruited them for the project.
They spent a weekend at a studio in the Hudson Valley town of Beacon, where Seeger lived. Before returning to Rochester that Sunday, they stopped at the Beacon Town Days parade on Main Street, where the legend was playing, hoping to meet him.
Seeger was there, early, and eager to chat. He described marching with one of the Occupy groups in New York City, a protest the Dadys could relate to, as they’ve done some anti-war marches themselves.
Joe Dady pulled out his banjo and crooned “The Man With the Banjo,” a private little concert. Then Seeger decided it was time to fetch his banjo.
John walked the block with Seeger to his car. He was 92 at the time, but still driving, an environmentally friendly hybrid.
Seeger had two banjos with him, not even in cases. Woody Guthrie’s guitar was known for the phrase “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on the body. Seeger had toned down the rhetoric a bit; both of his banjo heads bore the inscription, “This Machine Surrounds Hate And Forces It To Surrender.”
Seeger asked if he could sing Dady a song, right there in the parking lot. He played “When I Was Most Beautiful,” translated from a Japanese poem about how World War II brought so much death and destruction upon Japan, but at the same time created a vacuum in that male-dominated society that liberated Japanese women.
Then Seeger apologized to Dady.
“He said, ‘My voice is shot,’ but it was still melodic,” Dady says. “It was a whisper. But the music still came out of him.”