CULT CLASSIC: BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE-MANY A MILE.

Cult Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie-Many A Mile.

Although Buffy Sainte-Marie started out as folk singer in the early-sixties, her career was transformed when she cowrote Up Where We Belong with Jack Nitzsche for the 1982 film An Officer and A Gentleman. The million selling single topped the charts in America, Australia, Canada and South Africa and went on to win Buffy Sainte-Marie an Academy Award, Golden Globe and  an Oscar. This was by far the most successful song that she had written and was a game-changer for  the educator, social activist and visual artist. 

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on February 20th 1941, on the Piapot Cree First Nation Reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada. Sadly, she was abandoned as an infant and was later adopted by Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie.

She was brought up by her adoptive parents in Massachusetts where Buffy Sainte-Marie was first exposed to music. This became her passion and she would later make a career out of music, and in 1965, released Many A Mile on Vanguard Records. Even then, it seemed almost inevitable that Buffy Sainte-Marie would make a career out of music.

Growing up, Buffy Sainte-Marie taught herself to play both  piano and guitar and by the time she was a teenager was already writing songs. However, when she left high school, she didn’t embark upon a career in music straight away. Instead, she headed to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Buffy Sainte-Marie  studied for a degree in Oriental philosophy. After graduating, she decided to enrol for a second degree. This time, it was a teaching degree. When she finally left the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she had two degrees to her name. By then, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s musical career was underway.

From the early sixties, she was touring around Canada and America playing everywhere from coffee houses and concert halls to folk festivals. Two places Buffy Sainte-Marie played frequently were the Yorkville district of Toronto and Greenwich Village in New York. They were the focal points of the Canadian and American folk scenes. Just like Greenwich Village, the folk scene in Yorkville was vibrant. Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young would often play there and use like Buffy Sainte-Marie they would go on to enjoy long and illustrious careers. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

In 1963, she suffered from every singer’s worst nightmare, a throat infection. The doctor prescribed Codeine and unfortunately, she became addicted to the drug. However, Buffy Sainte-Marie eventually beat her addiction and and wrote a song about her experience, Cod’in. It would later be covered by numerous artists, included Janis Joplin, Donovon, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Gram Parsons. By then, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s recording career had begun. Before that, she was about to become the homecoming queen.  

1964 saw Buffy Sainte-Marie return to a return trip to where she was born, the Piapot Cree reserve in Canada. She was warmly welcome to her spiritual home. So much so, that she was “adopted”  by the youngest son of Chief Piapot, Emile Piapot and his wife. This reinforced Buffy Sainte-Marie’s interest in her people. She would make them proud a year later.

It’s My Way.

By 1964, Buffy Sainte-Marie found herself signed to Vanguard Records, which by then, was folk’s premier label. Although she was just twenty-three, she was more than ready to record her debut album, It’s My Way.

For It’s My Way, Buffy Sainte-Marie had penned twelve tracks. Some she had written many years previously. Others, including Cod’in and Universal Soldier were recent compositions. Buffy Sainte-Marie was inspired to write Universal Soldier when she saw the first injured veterans arriving back from Vietnam. The US government were denying that their injuries had happened in Vietnam and this prompted her to pen Universal Soldier in The Purple Onion coffee house in Toronto. A year later, in 1965, Universal Soldier gave Donavon a hit single. However, in 1964, Buffy Sainte-Mariewas hoping that her debut album It’s My Way would be a commercial success.

When It’s My Way was released later in 1964, it was to widespread critical acclaim. The songs were a scathing inditement on modern society and were variously powerful, moving and disturbing. Buffy Sainte-Marie seemed to have struck a nerve. Sadly, this didn’t result in a commercially successful album.

It’s My Way failed to chart and was only much later that Buffy Sainte-Marie’s debut album found the audience it deserved. Since then, her much heralded debut album is regarded as an important musical document which marked the arrival of a singers-songwriter who would provide a voice for those that didn’t have one.  Buffy Sainte-Marie continued to do this on her sophomore album Many A Mile.

Many A Mile.

Despite the commercial failure of It’s My Way, Buffy Sainte-Marie was regarded as one of the rising stars of folk music. By 1965, she was playing in Canada, America and occasionally abroad. Other artists were beginning to cover her songs, including Donavon, who covered Universal Soldier in 1965. However, what Buffy Sainte-Marie wanted was to release a successful album.

Just like her debut album Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote most of the songs on Many A Mile. She penned a total of seven songs, including what would become her most famous song, Until It’s Time for You To Go. It would be covered by everyone from Elvis Pressley to Françoise Hardy and Neil Diamond. However, in 1965, it was just one of seven songs Buffy Sainte-Marie had written for her sophomore album Many A Mile. The others were cover versions.

Among the cover versions were adaptations of traditional songs, including Must I Go Bound, Los Pescadores, Groundhog, On the Banks of Red Roses, Maple Sugar Boy, Lazarus and Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies. Other tracks included covers of Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die and Patrick Sky’s Many A Mile. These tracks were recorded with producer Maynard Solomon.

When recording of Many A Mile began, Buffy Sainte-Marie was accompanied by bassist Russ Savakus. Daddy Bones played guitar on The Piney Wood Hills. Patrick Sky made a guest appearance on Many A Mile. Once the fourteen tracks were recorded, Many A Mile was released later in 1965.

Before Many A Mile was released, critics had their say on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s sophomore album. They were impressed by the mixture of traditional songs, cover versions and original material that she had chosen. They were brought to life by Buffy Sainte-Marie and producer Maynard Solomon.

For Many A Mile, producer Maynard Solomon decided less is more and his productions are sparse and understated. It’s just bass, guitar and with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s vocal taking centre-stage. Maynard Solomon’s arrangements aren’t polished. This is deliberate. Instead, they’re roughly hewn and this is fitting given the material on Many A Mile. 

Five of the tracks on Many A Mile are traditional songs which were arranged by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Some of these songs have been passed from generation to generation and  when they were first sung didn’t have a lavish arrangement. Instead, it would be just traditional instruments, and later a guitar that would accompany the songs. That was why decided to Buffy Sainte-Marie stay true to their roots with the roughly hewn, sparse arrangements accompanying her vocal. This proves to be captivating combination.

That was the case on Groundhog, where Buffy Sainte-Marie plays a mouthbow.  It’s a traditional stringed instrument from South Africa. Mostly, though, it’s just guitars and a bass that accompany Buffy.

That’s the case on the seven tracks she wrote. The standout track is Until It’s Time For You To Go. It oozes quality and it’s no surprise that numerous artists covered this track. Another of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s compositions on Many A Mile would become a familiar song. That’s The Piney Wood Hills. She later rewrote the song which became I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again. It became a favourite of country artists, and is another of Buffy’s most famous songs. However, each and every one of the songs she wrote for Many A Mile are brought to life by Buffy Sainte-Marie.

She doesn’t so much deliver lyrics, she lives them, breathing life, meaning and emotion into them. This she does on each of the fourteen tracks including the ballads and five traditional songs. Stylistically, she veers between folk, country, blues and Americana, proving that she’s a versatile and talented singer. One of the many highlights is her reading of Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die and this blues took on new meaning in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s hands. Given the quality of material on Many A Mile many thought that it would become Buffy’s breakthrough album.

On its release in 1965, Many A Mile failed to chart. This was disappointing for Buffy Sainte-Marie and everyone at Vanguard Records. However, success wasn’t far away for Buffy Sainte-Marie.

In 1966, her third album, Little Wheel Spin and Spin reached number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. This was Buffy Sainte-Marie’s breakthrough album and introduced her music to a wider audience.

A year later, and 1967s Fire and Fleet and Candlelight then stalled at number 126 in the US Billboard 200. This was a disappointment for Buffy Sainte-Marie. It was a case of one step forward and two back.

By 1968, Buffy Sainte-Marie had rewritten That’s The Piney Wood Hills and the newly rewritten song became I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again. It lent its name to Buffy’s fifth album, which reached just number 171  in the US Billboard 200. It was  a huge disappointment for Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Three year later in 1971, I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again was released as a single and gave Buffy Sainte-Marie a minor hit single in Britain, Canada and America. It reached eighty-six in Canada; ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-four in Britain. By then, Buffy was an experienced singer-songwriter who had featured on  American Bandstand, Soul Train, The Johnny Cash Show and The Tonight Show.

She had already released seven studio albums and the soundtrack to Illuminations by 1971. Other artists were covering her songs and enjoying hit singles. Many were signed to bigger labels than Vanguard Records which maybe, was the wrong label for Buffy Sainte-Marie? Maybe she had outgrown the label and needed to move to a bigger label to enjoy the commercial success that her talent warranted? 

Buffy Sainte-Marie released nine albums on Vanguard Records and moved to MCA after the release of Duffy in 1974. Maybe she had been too loyal to the label that signed her and released her critically acclaimed sophomore album Many A Mile?

It’s without doubt  one of the finest albums that Buffy Sainte-Marie released on Vanguard Records. It finds her breathing life, meaning and emotion into new compositions and taking traditional songs in a new direction on Many A Mile which is a cult classic, and the perfect introduction to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Vanguard Records’ years.

Cult Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie-Many A Mile.

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