I grew up listening to Paul Simon, courtesy of my Dad. He would play Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints in the car on long summer journeys to Cornwall for our summer holiday. But it wasn’t until I was around 13 that I made a kind of second discovery of Paul Simon’s music and of course Simon & Garfunkel. During those early days of discovery I knew very little about Simon and Garfunkel, it was all about the music not the men. The internet was in its early days at the time (1998) so the only information I had was on the album sleeves of my Dad’s old vinyls.
Of course all this changed when in 2010 Dan and myself decided to create a tribute show that would not only replicate the live performances of Simon and Garfunkel but also tell audiences about the duo’s rise to fame. We’ve learnt a lot about them over the years, we’ve read biographies and trawled the internet for any information we could find. We’ve spoken to audience members, some of whom remember seeing Paul Simon singing in the early 60’s at local folk clubs in England. Most people know the the story of their “overnight” success after their producer Tom Wilson of Columbia Records overdubbed electric guitar and drums to their already released song The Sound Of Silence, re-released it and it quickly shot up the charts to number one.
But in truth this isn’t the full story. Their success didn’t come overnight, but was down to years of sheer determination by the relentless young Paul Simon. As a young teenager Paul learnt to play the guitar and began learning as many songs as he could by artists of the time like of Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers, which gave him enough knowledge to write his own songs. Between 1957 and 1964 Paul wrote and recorded over 30 songs, sometimes with schoolfriend Art Garfunkel as Tom and Jerry, or under the pseudonyms Jerry Landis and Paul Kane. His song Hey Schoolgirl In The Second Row recorded by Simon & Garfunkel as Tom and Jerry, sold over 100,000 copies and reached number 49 on Billboards charts. But this success was fleeting, and many failed pop songs would follow.
Desperate for a career in music Paul landed a job at Amy Records, listening to piles demos from publishing companies who wanted them to record their songs. Meanwhile, Paul continued to write and by now in the early 60’s music was changing from “teen” subject matter to more “young adult” themes. Musicians like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were already writing in the new folk style that was emerging from Greenwich Village in New York. Paul took note of this change and began writing songs in a more sophisticated style, He Was My Brother was one of the first of these.
In the summer of 1962 Paul travelled to London where he had his first taste of the English folk scene. He enjoyed the vibe there and vowed to return the following year. On this return to New York Paul accepted a job with publishing company EB Marks. His job was to pitch the EB Marks collection of songs and convince record labels to record them, often unsuccessfully due to the fact that the songs he was pitching were dated. He felt bad that he couldn’t get the labels to record the material so he offered EB Marks the publishing rights to some of his own songs, including He Was My Brother and Bleecker Street, which he felt were better.
What surprised me most about this period in Paul’s life was the fact that he and Art weren’t in contact all that much, Art had gone off to pursue an academic career at Columbia University and they were really only old acquaintances living quite separate lives. They did bump into one another on one occasioning New York. They got talking and Paul played Art a few of his songs. Art was impressed and they decided to perform the songs together on a few occasions, but nothing really came of this.
Between 1963 and 1965 Paul made several trips to England, travelling around the English folk clubs, often feeling homesick. His song Homeward Bound gives a good insight into how Paul was feeling around this time, travelling from town to town with each place blending into one. Art Garfunkel would occasionally accompany him on breaks from his academic studies, but apart from this, Paul mostly performed alone.
During one return trip home to New York Paul continued working for EB Marks, something he wasn’t looking forward to but he needed the money. One day, he found himself in the office of Tom Wilson at Columbia Records, once again trying to pitch the dated EB Marks songs. He and Tom had previously met on a number of occasions during Paul’s rounds so he felt confident enough to suggest he play a couple of his own songs to Tom. He was impressed, and said that he’d like to use the songs for a group like The Pilgrims. But this wasn’t what Paul was suggesting, he wanted a record deal for himself. Unfortunately, Columbia Records already had Bob Dylan as their solo folk singer and so didn’t need another one, thinking on his feet Paul suggested he bring in his old friend Art Garfunkel, “the songs” Paul said, “sound much better when we play them together”. He was right, Columbia records signed the duo and in March 1964 recording for their debut album began. It was around the time of the audition that Paul left EB Marks after an argument with his boss and instead chose to publish his own songs, a move that would prove extremely lucrative for Paul. In October 1964 Columbia Records released Simon & Garfunkel’s debut album Wednesday Morning 3am. The album received little success and the pair once again went their separate ways.
Whilst in London in 1965 Paul recorded his first solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook which featured songs like I Am A Rock and The Sound Of Silence. Only originally released in the UK, it too had little success and I can only imagine that Paul must have been feeling pretty low at this point.
It wasn’t until news of a cluster of radio requests for The Sound Of Silence made its way to Columbia Records, that Tom Wilson saw potential in the song. Without Simon & Garfunkel’s knowledge, Tom Wilson drafted in musicians to create a more folk/rock sound and created the record that, for most of their fans, marked the beginning of Simon & Garfunkel. The song shot up the charts and finally reaching number 1 on January 1st 1966. It’s clear that Paul worked extremely hard to get to that point, constantly trying to create opportunities for himself, which luckily for him, and all of us as fans, eventually paid off.
Columbia Records recording schedule entry for
"The Sound Of Silence" overdubbing session,
July 22, 1965