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Tom Paxton

Singer-Songwriter Q&A

How old were you when you started playing guitar?

About sixteen.

What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself?

No-name from an aunt’s closet. She gave it to me.

Do you still have it?


Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play?

Grandpa played accordion as a young man but quit for religious reasons.

Did you ever get a chance to play with them?


What are the guitars that you play?

I play a Martin M-38 acoustic guitar.

What strings do you use (brands and gauges)?

John Pearse light gauge.

How often do you change your strings?

Not enough. ;o)

Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?

John Pearse thumb pick (the best I have ever used).

Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?


Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech?


Do you have a favorite guitar shop?


At what age did you start writing songs?

19 or 20.

What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?

Usually the lyrics, always with a feeling of melody in the mix but not leading the way. I write in notebooks and only go electronic when it is finished. My notebooks are at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa.

Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?

Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives.

Photo credit: Steve J. Sherman

If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

John Prine

What are your top three “desert island” albums?

The Weavers at Carnegie Hall

The Beatles or the Stones?

Beatles Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?

The Norman, OKLA. Transcript Christmas party. Ten bucks. What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

The Farewell to Woody Guthrie Concert in Carnegie Hall, Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday in Madison Square Garden and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969.

What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most?

The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, The Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA, The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

How do you work out your setlist?

Painfully. What songs from decades of writing are most deserving? Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?

Write every day, work harder.

Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?

Write from the newspaper from the point of view of an eyewitness or a participant in the event.

If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?

Probably journalism.

Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.


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