Posted by: suek2001 | November 16, 2016

“Now, the time has come to leave you..”

Last night, I watched an unremarkable episode of the new season of NCIS..I couldn’t tell you about the plot ..only that Mark Harmon still looks cute…but I do recall one thing..a commercial…for Google Home…their version of the Amazon Echo…and there was an instrumental playing throughout it…and I KNEW it right away…and the moment I heard it..I smiled..and cheered…the song was Country Roads…by John Denver…

..and then I woke up today, to find John’s long-time producer, Milt Okun has died…and Milt produced the album the song came from…”Poems Prayers and Promises”..so on the night Milt passed away…his work still filled the airwaves..45 years after it was released…

 

That song has a distinct echo-chamber feel..and Milt was a part of that sound…That album was not John’s first album..it was his fourth solo album..before that Milt worked with John  during his stint with the Chad Mitchell Trio…

If there was anyone who contributed to the folk music scene of the 60’s…it was Milt Okun…aside from Albert Grossman’s management of Peter Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan and the Kingston Trio chart and culture dominance…Milt was the one that had his finger in a lot of folk music….

Here Milt is in a clip explaining his beginnings….apparently, he was fired from playing with Harry Belafonte..

 

So, in Milt’s world..being fired was a rebirth of sorts…and there are lot of people grateful for that rebirth….

Milt had a hand in producing albums for The Brothers Four..some of the smoothest sounds in folk music…Peter, Paul and Mary…a voice of conscience during the civil rights era….and The Chad Mitchell Trio…a witty, socially aware folk group that altered the life of  one particular performer..(more on that in a moment)…

As many who read this blog know, I am a huge fan of The Kingston Trio..almost to the exclusion of all other folk groups from the Folk era…but even I must admit, that Peter Paul and Mary changed the landscape when they released this song…

 

..that song was released at the height of the Vietnam war…written by John Denver…..spoke to so many of the anxiousness of a nation…and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” wasn’t the original title..It was “Oh Babe I Hate to Go” but Milt begged John to change the title…and the rest is musical history…

Milt’s musical touch can be found in the Chad Mitchell Trio…and some of their early songs are too stellar to ignore…

 

This is a recording with Chad…..Chad would go on to a solo career..and that would open the door for John Denver…he won the lead spot over 250 other people…I wrote of the audition process in another blog as a tribute to a member of the group now gone..

https://suek2001.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/a-voice-to-sing-and-move-the-world-joe-frazier/

 

The sound and the name of the Chad Mitchell Trio would change…and the sound wasn’t quite as tight with John as it was with Chad..but John was meant for a solo career….and Milt knew that…

John would go on to partner with Milt on a number of records for RCA….the first three solo albums were duds for RCA..but the fourth one..containing “Country Roads” changed history….Milt actually admitted that he might have overproduced John’s first three albums….and I agree..as the studio versions of some songs contain way too much noise and drown out John’s voice and guitar..

Eventually, Milt would learn that John’s voice and guitar were worth preserving in it’s most natural state….and then it would lead to some amazing compositions…

Here’s a rare version of Annie’s Song..from the 1974 album “Back Home Again”..this is without the orchestra but with simple guitar..and mandolin…easily one of my favorite versions of this song.

 

 

Milt would work with John on so many great albums..growing up a John Denver fan…there was a sense of joy and familiarity whenever I received a new John Denver album..seeing Milt’s name on the back was a source of comfort and musicianship..

That all ended abruptly when RCA fired Milt in 1981…They wanted John Denver’s sound to be more commercially viable and made John go to Nashville with a producer named Larry Butler…the album was called “Some Days are Diamonds”…Any JD fan listening could tell John was not happy with this new direction….

The amazing thing  is Milt didn’t give up..just as he didn’t when he was fired by Harry Belafonte earlier in his career….Milt pursued a passion for opera and produced an album for Placido Domingo….and John Denver was a huge part of that….

So, I will close this blog with a song that I know Milt was proud to work on..with two of his musical heroes…John and Placido…..

…and it also contains a great lyric..”If I should live forever and all my dreams come true, my memories of love will be of you….”

Here’s John and Placido singing one of the greatest love songs ever performed..”Perhaps Love”….Thank you Milt Okun for your incredible gift of music….we will miss you..but thanks to you…we are changed as well…

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