Jon Waterman Press



December 27th, 2013

Songwriter compiles album of famous and forgotten tales of tragedy

By Tamara Sone

While there's no shortage of songs about inspiration, love, loss, despair, happiness, and "putting a ring on it", there aren't very many tunes written about historical disasters.

Singer/songwriter Jon Waterman is changing that and putting a new twist on how historic events are told.

"It's an odd little project that turned into a big project," Waterman said, laughing.

Waterman, an Arizona native who lives in Boston, came up with the idea of compiling songs about historical disasters after he uncovered some long forgotten parlor tunes while enrolled in a self-designed graduate program at Prescott College.

"Half of the stuff is my own original stuff and the other half is old parlor songs from the 1800's," Waterman said. "These songs and old sheet music is buried in the Library of Congress. Nobody plays them anymore. But my feeling is that songs should last forever and there should be ways to make them relevant to new generations."

The CD is comprised of 20 songs all based on various real-life disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the Station Nightclub fire in Warwick, R.I. in 2003.

"It is really fascinating stuff. I was really interested in the obscure songs," Waterman said. "I couldn't not have a song about the Chicago fire or the Galveston Hurricane. These were major events."

The CD also features a poem written and recited by Elizabeth McKim, a survivor of the Hartford Circus fire in 1944.

"I wanted it to be entertaining. I know that's counterintuitive, but entertainment is a key component. Tragedy is a form of entertainment," Waterman said.

Included with the CD is a booklet that gives a brief overview of each disaster.

"The Nov. 28, 1942 fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston was the second worst building fire in American history... Attendance exceeded legal capacity. Four hundred and ninety-two people died. The club owner, Barney Welansky, whose political and mob ties enabled him to violate safety regulations, was convicted of 19 counts of manslaughter," read the description for the Cocoanut Grove Fire song.

Aside from the stories of the disasters, many of the songs have unique histories of their own, Waterman said. A singer that wrote an 1871 hymn inspired by the Chicago Fire died in the Ashtabula Railroad disaster five years later.

While he didn't have a chance to pen a song about the 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots, Waterman did dedicate 19 of the 20 songs to the fire fighters.

"These songs were collected or written along a road that at one point took me through Prescott for some work with Prescott College. As the recording was nearing completion in June of 2013, a wildfire claimed the lives of 19 Prescott firefighters," the dedication on the back of the CD jacket reads.

For more information on Jon Waterman's "The Disaster Song Project" or to purchase a CD, visit

Follow Tamara Sone on Twitter @PDCtsone


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From the THE NOISE

October, 2010

New Roots Records
Waterman (13-song CD)

By Julia R. DeStefano

There is something incredibly refreshing about a singer-songwriter who, despite being subjected to the fabricated, overly synthesized music of his peers, remains true to good ol’ Americana roots. It is this “retro” quality that transports the listener to a simpler time, one of Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. A good-hearted, God-fearing Christian (“Baptize Me in the Mississippi River”), the protagonist of Waterman’s saga is continuously led astray by the Devil. His beliefs and perceptions are challenged by the lure of moonshine (“Satan’s Own Still”), the promise of fame and fortune (“Jersey Blues”), and a torrid love affair (“Error of My Ways”) in which he sings, “And she was what I thought I wanted/ Calling out for me/ And I got lost in that sultry, smoky haze/ And now too late, I see the error of my ways.” A natural-born storyteller, one can easily envision Waterman crooning these songs by a blazing campfire, interjecting every now and then personal anecdotes and historical tales similar to those told throughout “Radiator Booze” and “Sultana,” the Civil War steamship. Of the do-it-yourself approach in every sense of the word, Waterman has put forth an edgy, bluesy, and compelling creation that is every bit heartfelt.


Green at Lexington


1 track with illustrated booklet

Now this I like. A simple DIY illustrated booklet with tale of a Revolutionary battle and a folk song to match. S.F. Salmon drew the illustrations that look like something out of Mad magazine, though the content is serious: men dying in battle. The song is simple but real with instrumentation that gives it a slightly older period flavor, probably because of the use of a citern (I would have guessed it was an autoharp) accompanying a guitar, flute, and light drums. Jon Watermanís easy-going voice takes you though this folk tale that reminds me of ìThe Night they Drove Old Dixie Downîóthe version by Joan Baez. The whole project has a nice innocent homemade quality to. (T Max)