All of us at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and thousands more throughout the folk scene, have been saddened to hear of the death of Tom Paley at the age of 89.
One of the great figures of the American folk revival, Tom was a regular at Sharp’s Folk Club on Tuesdays at Cecil Sharp House, and at Islington Folk Club. He was an enthusiastic and supportive presence at uncountable gigs and sessions.
In his earlier years in New York Tom was a founder member of the legendary New Lost City Ramblers and a leading light of the Greenwich Village folk scene. He performed with and learned from Woody Guthrie, and his influence has been credited by Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead amongst many others. Tom lived in London from 1965 with his wife, Claudia.
A fine musician, he was inspired to add fiddle to his repertoire of banjo, guitar and singing and took delight in the fiddle playing of his son, Ben, with whom he performed. He was increasingly influenced by the music of Sweden, and would often play tune sets combining favourite Swedish polskas and American fiddle tunes.
Mike Norris, EFDSS Chair 2006–2011, writes: ‘Some time ago I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Tom Paley in his London flat to record a chat for my weekly ‘Classic Folk’ radio show. I’d known Tom for many years of course through Sharp’s Folk Club, but this was the first time I’d spent with him one to one. The whole session was an absolute joy – Tom was charming and hospitable and his reminiscences were absolutely fascinating. New York childhood, Greenwich Village, New Lost City Ramblers, McCarthy witch-hunts and an initially reluctant move to Sweden and then the UK. Totally honest and with clear recall, it was a great insight into the development of post-war roots music. Goodnight Mr Tom – you’ll be much missed.’