Gary James' Interview With
Burl Ives

The Magic Balladeer. A Master Craftsman. That's what critics consider Burl Ives. Burl Ives has been singing and playing guitar now for some 50 years. Songs like "The Blue Tail Fly" and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" have helped establish the Burl Ives sound throughout the world. His influence is such that he really did affect the course of popular music as we know it today. In 1952, Burl Ives played at the Royal Festival Coronation Concert in England. The audience included two kids who were so impressed with his performance that they went out and bought guitars. Those kids were John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Q - Where do you see the new Folk Singers coming from today?

A - Well, that term is a little ambiguous because you have to make some definitions. And when you start defining these things it's a little bit tough. It has always been, this kind of singing, since man arrived on this planet, and I think it will always be. It just keeps changing as the times change.

Q - How did you come to learn that two of the Beatles saw you in 1952?

A - I think they wrote it in a book or an interview. I heard it oh, some years ago, but I never paid much attention to it.

Q - One Rock group has stated you can't move a large number of people with acoustic material, it has to be electric. What do you think?

A - Well, then we have to define one thing more. They were probably referring to a state of near hysteria when they get the audience really rolling. You really create a tribal near hysteria, which is a wild and wonderful thing to see and marvel at. I don't think any single artist with an acoustic guitar can do that, but I don't think he's trying to do it. What I try to do with an audience is not that. I try to touch their hearts.

Q - What do you look for in a song?

A - I don't look for anything. It has to look for me, and move me, and I have to like it. I respond.

Q - How do you sing a song with meaning when maybe you've sung it 200 times before?

A - Every song I sing is a song of quality. It's not a frivolous affair. Even "Jimmy Crack Corn" is a song of content. I love them. When I am singing them in front of an audience it is as if I'm singing them for the very first time. That is the excitement I feel for what I do. It's not a matter of words. It's a matter of pictures, imagination, and drama.

Q - And the audience can see that picture you're creating as you sing those words?

A - Yes, or else they wouldn't stay. You see in this day and age of sophistication if there wasn't something, a man couldn't walk on with a guitar and a lone microphone and bare faced say, "In sky lit town where I was born, there was a fair maid dwelling," unless he meant it. Unless it was so.

Q - As you look around the world today, are you more optimistic or pessimistic?

A - I don't really let that bother me too much although I'm obviously interested and concerned. I have a great sense that man will solve his own problems and if he doesn't, then it is the Divine Plan for him not to do it.

Q - What would you do if tomorrow you couldn't sing or perform?

A - I would be sorry in one-sense because I think everyone should in his life "serve." And I think my ballading is the way I have served and if I don't do that, I would manage to serve in some other manner.

Note: Burl Ives passed away on April 14, 1995 at the age of 85.

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