My dad was from Yellowknife so I grew up with Robert Service’s poetry. So when I saw this, I had to grab it. As a side note, it is autographed on the back, made out to one Janet to whom Larry Beck wised for the best. The date of the autograph was Aug 13, 1975. This was $3.00.
Robert Service (1874-1958) was the Bard of the Yukon. Born in Lancashire, England, Service left for the Great White North of Canada when he was 21, in search of adventure. After roaming around North America, Service found himself in the Yukon town of Whitehorse in 1904. When a local newspaper editor asked Service to compose a poem for a function, instead of offering recital, Service took up the challenge. While thinking of this poem and roaming around the streets of town at night, he ran into “a bunch of boys whooping it up”. From there “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was born.
Other poems followed until he had enough for a book, Songs of Sourdough, which proved to be a success, which Service parlayed into more writing as well as a comfortable life. Despite being somewhat despised by the literary set, his poetry was the most commercially successful prose of the last century. He left the Yukon in 1913 and bounced around the globe until his death in Monaco, where he had been living for 11 years.
Larry Beck (1935-1990), on the other hand, was born in Oregon, but bred in Alaska, where he lived and worked in his teen days. If I am reading the back cover right, he was the Vice President of the Pacific Northwest’s largest outdoor sign company and stationed in Seattle, when found himself on a business trip in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here the back cover segways from that trip to this album so I am not sure how it happened but with the blessing of Service’s widow Germaine (who was 30 years younger than Service), Beck made this album and apparently a Volume 2. From here, Beck left the sign business and worked to promote Alaska tourism until his death.
This is a pretty decent collection of Service classics. From a shootout between two hard men, to the cremation of a southerner, to the sawing off of a corpse’s arms, to the amusement at the expense of city slickers, all the big poems are here. Beck’s grizzly voice, brings these stories to life. There is also a Beck original ” Ballad of The Bad And The Good” on here as well.
When choosing a sample, I really tried hard not to go with the one that is best known, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”. However, i found it so captivating with Beck’s narration. When the stranger plays the piano, you can hear the music in your head. It is gripped with emotion and feeling. Also, it is pretty strange that we learn really nothing about the man who the ballad is named for. So here is “Dan McGrew”. And for good measure, I included my favorite, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.