Tom Paley passes

Tom Paley, guitarist, banjo and fiddle player, best known for his being a member of the New Lost City Ramblers, passed away in Brighton, England, on Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2017. He was 89 years old and had been in a care facility for about a week.

Allan Thomas “Tom” Paley was born in the Bronx, New York City, on March 19, 1928, a pioneering figure in the traditional music revival, being a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers with two other singers and multi-instrumentalists, Mike Seeger and John Cohen.

Paley played with the New Lost City Ramblers from 1958 to 1962, a prolific period during which the group released 11 albums and made more than 150 public appearances. During those years he helped spearhead an old-time music revival.

Paley’s son Ben told British fRoots magazine …

“He [died] peacefully, surrounded by family, after a brief decline in health. He was active and independent until only three months ago, pursuing to the full the sociable and musical life he had lived for so many decades; visiting his friends, folk clubs and sessions, playing and listening to the music he loved, at the heart of the musical life of so many of us.”

As well as being a member of the New Lost City Ramblers, Paley enjoyed a solo career during which he collaborated with others on various recording sessions.

He became interested in folk music from attending left-leaning summer camps, and learned to play guitar in his teenage years.

New Lost City Ramblers

Paley graduated in 1950 from City College of New York and received a master’s degree in mathematics from Yale in 1953. He taught the subject for many years.

In 1952, at the age of 24, he made his first solo recording with the subsequent release of Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachian Mountains on the newly-started Elektra label. By that time, he had already introduced urban audiences to Depression-era rural music, sharing what have become staples of the genre like Little Maggie and Shady Grove.

A passionate enthusiast and promoter of folk music, Paley also worked with other American folk music legends, Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter).

Paley moved to England, from Sweden in 1965 shortly after which he formed the New Deal String Band.

Also, he influenced Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and the young Ry Cooder, teaching the last two some of the finer points of the acoustic guitar.

In recent years Paley performed and recorded with his son Ben, a fiddle player.

Paley’s death leaves only John Cohen as a surviving founder of the New Lost City Ramblers. Mike Seeger passed away in 2009.

R.I.P. Tom Paley

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.