2010-05-13 01:58:49 UTC
Dave Fisher dies at 69; founding member and lead singer of the 1960s
folk group the Highwaymen
His recording of the Civil War anti-slavery song 'Michael, Row the Boat
Ashore' became a surprise pop hit in 1962.
By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
May 13, 2010
Dave Fisher, founding member and lead singer of the 1960s folk group the
Highwaymen, whose recording of the Civil War anti-slavery song "Michael,
Row the Boat Ashore" became a surprise pop hit in 1962, has died. He was
Fisher died Friday at his home in Rye, N.Y., of myelofibrosis, a rare
blood disease, family friend Nicole Fiftal said Wednesday.
"The original Highwaymen, along with the Kingston Trio and, later,
Peter, Paul and Mary, were among those responsible for popularizing
original American music - call it folk, blues, country, whatever," Kris
Kristofferson told The Times on Wednesday. "Those of us who were able to
walk through the doors they opened are grateful."
David Louis Fisher was born July 19, 1940, in New Haven, Conn., and
while in high school developed his singing and arranging talents in a
doo-wop group called the Academics.
He formed the Highwaymen in 1958 with other students at Wesleyan
University in Middletown, Conn., during the height of the folk music
renaissance that had been spurred by Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, the
Kingston Trio and others.
It was there that Fisher met Bob Burnett, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels and
Steve Trott, and started the Clansmen, a name they picked for the Irish
and Scottish folk music influences they drew upon.
They were unaware of the racial connotation the name carried in the
American South, and as soon as their music started to build a following
in the Northeast, their manager came up with the name the Highwaymen, a
nod to the early 20th century poem by Alfred Noyes.
It was a choice that led to a brief scuffle years later with the country
music supergroup born when Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kristofferson
and Willie Nelson decided to record and tour together under the same
After the original Highwaymen sued the country quartet in 1990, Jennings
suggested that Fisher and his mates open for them on their tour stop in
Los Angeles, extending them the recognition and exposure before a crowd
of several thousand fans they wouldn't have otherwise had access to.
Trott, who ultimately became a judge for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals, praised Jennings' solution. "With a single swipe, he eliminated
all the usual things that go with the resolution of this kind of thing,"
Trott told The Times at that time. "Maybe we should turn the legal
system of the U.S. over to Waylon."
The Highwaymen's melancholy 1959 recording of "Michael," abbreviating
the original title for their version, was released as the B side of a
single, and only became a hit two years after it had been issued, well
after the group had been dropped by United Artists Records because its
music had failed to connect in a big way like that of the Kingston Trio.
Disc jockeys, however, belatedly homed in on "Michael" and began playing
it in 1961. It eventually went to No. 1 nationally, and spent two weeks
atop Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
The Highwaymen's only other release to make the Top 20 was "Cotton
Fields," at the time a nearly forgotten song by folk-blues musician
Leadbelly. Because of the Highwaymen's version, the song worked its way
into the folk-rock lexicon and later was treated to versions by
Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys, among others.
The Highwaymen recorded eight albums before disbanding in 1964 amid the
British Invasion. The various members of the group finished their
undergraduate degrees and went on to nonmusical careers.
Fisher, however, remained in music and, in 1969, moved to Los Angeles,
where he spent many years as a composer, arranger and music producer in
film and television, having contributed music to TV series including
"The Fall Guy," "Glory Years," "Pensacola" and, fittingly, "The
The Highwaymen reunited periodically over the years for occasional
performances, and recorded several more albums after a national tour in
1987. Fisher's only solo album, "Love's Way," came out in 2002.
He is survived by his wife, Elaine Haagen; a son, Casey; a daughter,
Charlotte; a stepson, Jed Burgess; and a sister, Joan Fare.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times