Maine’s treasured troubador David Mallett

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

David Mallett

SOUTH CASCO — Maine’s premier singer-songwriter David Mallett graced the stage at the Maine Singer-Songwriter Weekend at Point Sebago Resort here, over the weekend, along with several other talented musicians.
Yet, because of his nearly 50 years of writing and singing songs about Maine and its people, Mallett is an icon on both the national and international stage of songwriting — and his best known tune, “The Garden Song”, has been recorded more than 150 times and sung all over the globe.
Other tunes Mallett has crafted over the years have been covered by the likes of the late John Denver, Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Hal Ketchum and Kathy Mattea.
“John (Denver) was a big supporter of mine,” Mallett said.
Yet, what truly makes Mallett “Maine’s Own Treasured Troubador” are the very lyrics and melodies he has woven together — over 14 albums’ worth now — to tell the stories of rural Mainers in song.
David Mallett writes about where he’s from — and who he knew, growing up in the countryside of Maine — about loves won and lost — and people come and gone. Mallett draws from his own deep well of human experiences and remarkably transforms them into universal themes everyone can understand — no matter what language they know and speak.
“I thought it was wonderful,” Mallett said Tuesday morning, of the Maine Singer-Songwriter Weekend held Sept. 16th through 18th that also featured Anni Clark, Don Campbell, Chad Porter and several others.
“I liked the room — it reminded me of an old-time dinner theater,” Mallett said of the Sebago Lounge where he performed with David Mallett Trio members Susan Ramsey, who plays both violin and viola, and bassist Michael Burd on Saturday night. Burd has been playing by Mallett’s side, for 30 years.
“I’m always looking for venues to expand my audience,” said Mallett. “I go back 50 years — next year is my fiftieth year.”

Mallett’s first gig

His first gig was when Mallett was just 10 years old and he went on local TV in Bangor with his older brother, Neil — they were on country singer pioneer Hal Lone Pine’s show.
“It was the first money we ever won — five bucks,” said Mallett. “Overnight, we were well known,” he said. “My father used to drive us to gigs.”
“I remember at a show in Bingham, on my 12th birthday, Hal Lone Pine brought a black and white TV set with rabbit ears backstage so he could watch his son (the late world-renowned guitarist) Lenny Breau, perform on The Jackie Gleason Show. We all watched him.”
Mallett and his brother continued playing music, and David majored in theater at the University of Maine in Orono where he wrote his very first tunes.
Then, in the 1970s, Mallett met Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, who owned a recording studio in Blue Hill where Mallett recorded his first three albums.
He later moved to Nashville, in the early 1990s.
“I did the national scene — around the U.S. — and then moved to Nashville — but they want something really slick and glossy, like Billy Ray Cyrus,” said Mallett.
Seven years later, he returned home to Maine — back to his roots.
Through the years, Mallett has performed for people whose own children and grandchildren come to hear him now.
“Someone will come up to me and say, ‘I listened to you when I was a small child,’ — that really blows me away,” said Mallett. “I don’t think of my music as ‘popular’ — I’m not ‘popular’ — I’m an entrenched Maine artist,” he said, with a chuckle.
A love for writing and singing songs seems to come naturally to the Mallett family.
Now, his sons, Will and Luke, have their own band called, what else — The Mallett Brothers Band.
“I bought a Martin guitar at Viner’s Music in Bangor, in 1971,” Mallett said. “I wrote ‘Garden Song’ on it, and all my early songs. I think now it’s time to turn it over to my sons, Luke and Will.”
David Mallett has set two goals, since he turned 60 years old and is getting ready to celebrate his 50th year in the music business in 2012 — one of which he’s almost achieved.
“I want everyone in Maine to hear me, and I want to sing in every town in Maine,” said Mallett. “I’ve almost achieved that last one — see, I just played in Casco!”
What would David Mallett like, most of all?
“I want respect and recognition for my contribution to Maine culture, and I think that’s what I have attained,” he said.
Mallett literally achieved that goal over a decade ago, when, in the millenium edition of The Bangor Daily News, he was named one of the most memorable “Mainers” of the 20th Century, along with Andrew Wyeth, Stephen King, Marshall Dodge, E.B. White, Edna St. Vincent Millay and others.
Well, of course, he is David Mallett — Maine’s Own Treasured Troubado.

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