Not all that long ago, back on the 4th of November of last year, to be exact, I chatted with Noel Paul Stookey (the Paul of Peter, Paul & Mary, the legendary folk trio formed the ’60s) concerning a livestreamed performance at Merrill Auditorium. But when I discovered that he was going to release a special album on the March 22 titled “Just Causes,” I wanted to find out all I could about it. It is comprised of 15 Stookey songs each one addressing a social concern; each track has been remixed and remastered by John Stuart and Stookey has paired each one with a designated nonprofit organization that will benefit from the album’s net proceeds. He called me from his summer home in California (he recently went over there from Blue Hill after he and his wife got their vaccine shots) and I asked him how he picked the songs used in this compilation.

Stookey: This all started with me standing in a food market and being reminded by Newman’s Own Pizza that 100% of his profits go to charity. That made me think about all the royalties of the nearly 60 years with Peter, Paul & Mary and how that could be used to do some good. Well, I thought, I don’t have many new tunes or that many that are focused on just causes, so I looked at my catalogue and was stunned to see that my production of songs suited to particular causes was spread over a career of like 50 years. Now, I was never the most political person in the trio. I think Peter took that role; Mary came in a close second, and then I was like the “aw-shucks” kid from the Midwest. I found out pretty quickly when I got to Greenwich Village that music could have some force and significance, in terms of what we discussed between us as people of the United States, or of the world, for that matter. I was a fairly quick learner and fortunate enough to be mentored by two beautiful partners in the trio.

Q: Could you give me an example of one of the songs you chose for this release?
Stookey: Well, I went back to 1970 to get the song called “Juice,” in a sense that, yes, if we don’t watch ourselves we’re going to be faced with some shortcomings power-wise, and it’s going to interfere with our day to day — where we’re going to get our food, how are we going to make phone calls. But aren’t we glad that there’s love, which is kind of the communal energy force, if you will, that will get us through not only hard times, like the pandemic, but … become a kind of goal for life for us. So looking at 50 years of writing songs, I saw “El Salvador,” well, we know what that’s about. And then there’s “In These Times,” which is a more recent song dealing pretty directly with the environmental crisis, but also touching upon the fact that politics is a hard thing to maneuver. But we have to remember that life is a gift. (Pause) Excuse me for running off at the mouth here, but it’s been exciting to be involved with this project.

Noel Paul Stookey Photo by Sally Farr

Q: Hey, look, that’s understandable. I am intrigued by the last song on the album.
Stookey: That was the first song released to the radio, and it’s called “Revolution 1 X 1.”… It really says so much in two parts. The first verse that says, “I’m going to start a revolution and take it to the streets/I’m going to smile at every solitary person that I meet/I’m going to wave at total strangers no matter where they’re from/I’m going to start a revolution and I’ll win it one by one.” My hope being that each of us … takes unto ourselves the role of peace-keepers in this world. But I think my favorite part of that song is the bridge that says, “We’re a raggle-taggle army — got no uniform or gun/Still we been called by coincidence so maybe we’re the ones/to take this revolution to the streets and win it one by one.”

Q: Just out of curiosity, are you still writing songs nowadays?
Stookey: I am, and I’m still of a balanced persuasion (chuckle)…

Q: OK?
Stookey: … that is to say, not everything that comes out of my pen is politically driven or motivated. I will say that love with a capital L plays a distinctive part in each of the creations. I do have one new album on the back-burner that I plan to bring out before the end of the year, God willing and the COVID don’t rise, that will contain some new writings. As long as I feel that there’s something to be said and that nobody else is saying it, then I feel kind of responsible for bringing it to the public, even if it’s just as elusive as a perspective on a problem that everybody recognizes.

Q: Does the new album have a title?
Stookey: Ah, yeah, it’s kind of an intriguing title. (Chuckle) You’re an investigative reporter, aren’t you?

Q: No, sometimes I ask the wrong questions at the right time. (Laughter)
Stookey: (Laughter) You’ve got to put that in this article, that’s a great quote: “The wrong questions at the right time.” Man, oh, man, that sounds like a line from a John Grisham novel.

Q: Or the Coen Brothers, one or the other!
Stookey: (Laughter) Yeah, or both!

Q: Good point!
Stookey: (Chuckle) Yeah, and the next album is called “Fazz” — F-A-Z-Z.

Q: Oh, like “folk” and “jazz”?
Stookey: Exactly, the alternative being “Jolk,” which a lot of jazz players, including Desmond who introduced the term when Peter, Mary and I traveled with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the ’90s. Most jazz players think of folk music as a four-chord delirium — pretty unimaginative.

Q: Is there anything, Noel, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article, especially about the “Just Causes” CD?
Stookey: I think the lyrics from “Revolution 1 X 1” says it all. I hope people understand from “Just Causes” is that it only takes, really, one of us to make such a difference in somebody else’s life, and it doesn’t have to happen through music. It can happen by bringing a meal next door; it can happen by shoveling a walk; it can happen as simply as a smile. And I know it’s naïve to assume that that’s going to save the world, but you’ve got to start somewhere. www.noelpaulstookey.com

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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