Listen To Bernie Sanders, Folk Singer

Listen To Bernie Sanders, Folk Singer

There's something about this I just love:

In 1987, while serving as Burlington’s mayor, Sanders recorded an album of folk classics for the defunct BurlingTown Recordings label. We found it in the archive search for "Bernie Beat," the new digital guide to Sanders' colorful political career that launched today on the Seven Days website. Find it at Berniebeat.com.

Behold, our man in Washington’s take on "This Land is Your Land."

We here at Seven Days have long believed that the dulcet tones of Sanders’ voice would prove an asset to the recording industry. But even we were impressed by the heights to which his guttural, Brooklyn-strained-through-a-wood-chipper accent elevated the classic "We Shall Overcome."

While savoring these songs, the listener might wonder, you know, how the hell something like this ever happened.

Todd Lockwood, a Burlington-based author/photographer/musician, remembers sipping coffee at Leunig's Bistro one morning in 1987 when he came up with the idea of recording then-mayor Sanders at his White Crow Audio studios. (Phish recorded early albums there.)

“I’m not sure where it came from,” Lockwood said of his brainstorm. “I thought, ‘You know, there’s an idea.’”

On a whim, he called the mayor’s office — he didn’t know Sanders — and left a message with a secretary. Before long, he got a call back — Sanders wanted a meeting.

“I was surprised he said, 'Yes,'” Lockwood said. “When I first went to his office he said, ‘I have to admit to you this appeals to my ego.'’’

Sanders gave Lockwood a list of songs, mostly from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he would be willing to record.

The plan was for Sanders to sing relatively straightforward renditions of a handful of them. And that apparently seemed like a good idea to everyone. Until Sanders stepped into the recording booth for the first time.

“As talented of a guy as he is, he has absolutely not one musical bone in his body, and that became painfully obvious from the get-go,” Lockwood said. “This is a guy who couldn’t even tap his foot to music coming over the radio. No sense of melody. No sense of rhythm — the rhythm part surprised me, because he has good rhythm when he’s delivering a speech in public.”


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So they had to come up with a plan B. Lockwood decided to turn the event into a “We Are The World"-style recording session: He called in a couple dozen Vermont musicians to serve as backup singers, while Bernie more or less read/preached the key lyrics with as much rhythm as he could muster.

Sanders spent several hours over a few days in the recording booth.

The resulting album was among the more popular ones that the label produced that year. They sold a few hundred cassette tapes at record stores throughout Vermont, Lockwood said — many to conservatives who bought them as gag gifts.

Lockwood, a Sanders supporter, said his personal favorite is, "This Land is Your Land." And while acknowledging the strangeness of the whole saga, he believes Sanders should be proud of his brief musical career.

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