Michael

Album: The Highwaymen (1961)
Charted: 1 1
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Songfacts®:

  • This is an adaptation of a 19th century folk song "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." Slaves, who lived on islands just off Georgia, sung the song as they traveled to the plantation on the mainland each day by boat.
  • The Highwaymen were a college folk group, which originated at Wesleyan University. Their version of this song was arranged by lead tenor Dave Fisher and reached #1 in the US, selling over one million copies. The song's success spread around the world, to the tune of five million sales making it a pop culture phenomenon, like another folk tune of the same era, "Tom Dooley." The Highwaymen followed it up with another slave song "Cotton Fields, " this time written by blues musician Leadbelly. "Cotton Fields" peaked at #13 in the US and was later a hit for The Beach Boys.
    The Highwaymen disbanded in 1964 and Fisher was the only member of the band to continue to make music his profession, working as a songwriter, arranger and producer for movies and television shows. The group came together again in 1987 for a concert for their 25th college reunion. Since then, they have performed 10-12 concerts a year until Fisher's death on May 7, 2010.
  • Steve Trott, who played mandolin and guitar for the group and later made a career as a federal appeals court judge, explained that "Michael" was such a big hit because Fisher "put a couple of minor chords into it that hadn't been there before, and that made all the difference." Fisher told banjo player Steve Butts to whistle "and that was it. It took about 15 minutes," Trott added in a tribute to their lead singer after he passed away. "He did that all the time. He had this touch for folk music that was remarkable."

Comments: 3

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NySixty years ago today in 1961 {September 4th} "Michael" by The Highwaymen peaked at 1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, it spent seventeen weeks on the Top 100...
    "Michael" also reached #1 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart and on the United Kingdom's Single chart...
    Sadly, three original members have passed away; Chan Daniels at age 36 on August 2nd, 1975, Dave Fisher at 69 on May 7th, 2010, and Bob Burnett on December 7th, 2011 at the age of 71...
    And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of Billboard's Top 10 on September 4th, 1961:
    At #2. "Wooden Heart" by Joe Dowell {the #1 record for the previous week}
    #3. "Tossin' and Turnin'" by Bobby Lewis
    #4. "You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It)" by Ral Donner
    #5. "School Is Out" by Gary 'U.S.' Bonds
    #6. "Take Good Care of My Baby" by Bobby Vee
    #7. "My True Story" by The Jive Five
    #8. "Hurt" by Timi Yuro
    #9. "Don't Bet Money Honey" by Linda Scott
    #10. "As If I Didn't Know" by Adam Wade
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 29th 1963, "Michael (Part 1}" by Steve Alaimo entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a one week stay at position #100...
    Between 1962 and 1972 he had nine records make the Top 100 chart; his biggest hit was "Every Day I Have to Cry", it peaked #46 {for 1 week} on February 24th, 1963...
    He co-host and co-produced the ABC-TV program 'Where the Action Is' in 1965 and 1966...
    Mr. Alaimo will celebrated his 75th birthday in three months on December 6th {2014}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 3rd 1962, Bob Burnett, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels, and Steve Trott, four fifths of the Highwaymen, graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT...
    The fifth member of the quartet was Dave Fisher, he was the lead singer...
    A year earlier on July 10th, 1961 their version of "Michael (Row the Boat Ashore)" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #100; and on September 4th it peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 9 of those 17 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
    They had four other records make the Top 100 chart; "The Gypsy Rover" (#42 in 1961), "Cotton Fields" (#13 in 1962), "I'm On My Way" (#90 in 1962), and "The Bird Man"* (#64 in 1962)...
    * This song was from the movie 'The Bird Man of Alcatraz' with narration by actor Burt Lancaster.
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