Artist Spotlight: Patrick Sky

inArtist Storyon December 27, 2016

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Pat Sky’s biography reads like fiction. He’s a man of extraordinary gifts. A Southerner of Creek Indian heritage, he helped establish the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s—observers and critics often mentioned him in the same breath as Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk. Around that time, he produced Mississippi John Hurt’s Vanguard recordings which are revered to this day by blues fan. He showed himself to be way ahead of his time as a politically-charged comedic songwriter with his scathing Songs that Made America Famous. He founded the renowned Irish Music label Green Linnet Records, opened a penny whistle factory, and literally wrote the book on Uilleann pipes, sparking an Irish piping renaissance.

Sky also earned an MA in folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill, which is where he met Tim Duffy. When Duffy was getting Music Maker off the ground, he turned to Sky for guidance. Being a music business veteran, he introduced Duffy to a renowned lawyer who helped Music Maker navigate the thorny legal terrain of the music world. Sky also mentored Duffy, offering general advice and warnings about common pitfalls. The older musician knew all too well that many artists, even those at the top of their game, struggle to get by. So he was enthusiastic about an organization that could work to alleviate some of that struggle, and he was eager to offer whatever expertise he could.

As uniquely and diversely talented as Sky is, he’s seen his share of struggle as well. He’s no stranger to the charlatans, bloodsuckers, and swindlers that populate the many shadowy places of the music industry. These days, Sky’s health does not allow him to tour or stand for long periods of time in his workshop, so it has become even harder for him to make a living. Music Maker has stepped in to offer him some assistance. His story sets into relief how important Music Maker’s Musician Sustenance Program is. Pat Sky has given the world so much: songs, recordings, instruments, a rekindled passion for past musical traditions—not to mention the mentorship that he offered Tim Duffy. It’s great to know that he can receive a little help with basic living expenses when he needs it.

One of the songs that Pat Sky recorded on his first album was the Peter La Farge-penned “Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Although Johnny Cash had a top ten hit with the song, his version is marred by kitschy production and an overabundance of pathos. Sky’s version is better. He sang the song straight, calmly relating the story of the Pima Indian who raised the flag in glory at Iwo Jima only to return home to a life of poverty and alcoholism, where he “died drunk one morning / alone in the land he fought to save.” Because he doesn’t force any bitterness or anger, Sky’s version rings truer. The world where people can accomplish great things and get nothing in return is not a fictional place in some imaginary song-land. It is the real world; the place where we all live together.

The Music Maker Musician Sustenance Program works to counteract that harsh reality. And every contribution to Music Maker helps make it possible for great artists who have given us so much to receive a little bit in return.

— Will Boone

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