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He has done over fifty concert tours of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and has recorded over fifty albums of his own songs. Recordings of his songs by other artists number in the hundreds and include artists such as Bob Dylan; Johnny Cash; Willie Nelson; Dolly Parton; Judy Collins; John Denver; Joan Baez; and Peter, Paul & Mary, to name just a few. Paxton began his performing career in Greenwich Village, New York City, in 1960, coming in on weekends from Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was toiling away in the army’s clerk-typist school. He used his typewriter one day to compose his famous song for children, “The Marvelous Toy,” which later became a hit for the Chad Mitchell Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary. Upon his honorable discharge from the military, Paxton stayed in New York and put in several years playing in now-legendary coffee houses such as the Gaslight and befriending other singers such as Dave Van Ronk (nicknamed “The Mayor of Macdougal Street”), Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Eric Andersen.
His shows with the Don Juans have him on his toes, he says. “These guys are long-ball hitters and if I don’t want to get smoked I’d better do a little rehearsing. I probably need to do that anyway,” he says, laughing. “It certainly couldn’t hurt.”
Grammy Award–winning songwriter Jon Vezner is a tunesmith of rare sensitivity and dry wit. His catalog of recorded songs, topped by the poignant “Where’ve You Been,” reflects his straight-to-the-heart sensibility and emotional awareness. The Nashville-based composer weaves the particulars of his own feelings with the lives of people he has known into universal themes that deeply touch listeners’ emotions.
Vezner was honored with a Grammy Award for Best Country Song and the Nashville Songwriters Association Song of the Year award in 1990 for “Where’ve You Been”—the true story of his grandparents—cowritten with Don Henry and recorded by Kathy Mattea. “Where’ve You Been” was also honored as Song of the Year by the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Vezner was voted Songwriter of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
In Morgan Hill, California, in the early 1970s, records such as The Band by the Band and Honky Château by Elton John prompted Don Henry to begin writing his own lyrics to Jim Croce melodies. Then Henry learned to play guitar with a Paul Simon songbook. After that, it was an education in the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Harry Nilsson, Carole King, Cat Stevens, and Joni Mitchell.
Then Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys and Guy Clark’s changed his life. In April 1979, at nineteen, Henry made his way to Nashville, Tennessee. After spending four years as the copy librarian for Tree Publishing Company, cataloging some of the best songs by some of the best songwriters in Nashville (Sonny Throckmorton, Bobby Braddock, Harlan Howard, and Curly Putman), Henry’s own songs started getting recorded and he was moved to full-time staff songwriter. Ray Charles, Conway Twitty, the Oak Ridge Boys, T. G. Sheppard, John Conlee, and Kathy Mattea are just a few who recorded Henry’s songs during this period.
Thirty years ago Tom Paxton taught a generation of traditional folksingers that it was noble to write your own songs, and, like a good guitar, he just gets better with age.
Jon Vezner writes about the ‘details,’ the details of our hearts and feelings. His gift is in speaking to these ordinary things which connect us to one another, and in recognizing their simple beauty, he transforms them into something extraordinary.
—Mary Chapin Carpenter
The crowd was won over by this guy and his guitar. Long may he write.