Christmas Alphabet I for In The Bleak Midwinter : Shawn Colvin & Bert Jansch

We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.

But, for millennia it was not so.

We lived in a world lit only by Fire.

Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.

The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.

By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).

We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.

No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.

At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.

In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.

The light comes once more to the dead.

Heaven and Earth are joined once again.

In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the 2013 Winter Solstice at Newgrange. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

‘First light like share-shine in a furrow

 Steadily deeper, farther available,

Creeping along the floor of the passage grave

To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle

Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’

At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)

Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.

The light returns.

Hope returns.

Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.

Shawn lets the Mystery Be.

Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.

His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.

His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.

Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.

If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.

The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t miss One!

 

Christmas Alphabet : R for Rickie Lee Jones & Ramsey Lewis

At Christmas Time we have a tradition that the honour of placing the Star atop the Tree falls to the youngest in the family.

For the last 15 years this has been my son, Tom.

Now, since August when my granddaughter was born, he is an uncle and no longer the youngest.

So, I was especially proud of him when he said the other day as we put up the Tree, ‘Now, Dad, it will be Heather’s turn to put the Star on – I know she’s really small so I’ll lift her up so she can do it.’

So it goes on.

Adding to the store of memories from those golden days of yore.

Hanging that shining Star on the very highest bough so that we are all lit up by its radiance.

And, if the fates allow that’s what we will do at Christmas next year and the year after and the year after ….

Gathering near, with friends and family dear to us, we will sing with lightness of heart:

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

And, for that blessed time, all our troubles will be as nought, miles away, out of sight.

May it be so for you.

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

Rickie Lee Jones, in her inimitable way, makes the radiance of that shining Star real for us all.

 

Now, time to kick up our heels and breeze down Santa Claus Lane because here comes a very hep Swinging Santa in his Jazzy Sleigh driven by Ramsey Lewis.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, not to mention Rudolph will surely be inspired to put on enough speed to circle the globe on Christmas Eve so that Santa can put a present under every tree!

Did someone say, ‘Pass the Eggnog’?

The Alphabet Series will continue on 11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

Christmas Alphabet : H for Emmylou Harris & Francoise Hardy

Christmas is a time when memories cascade – especially for those of us steeped in age.

Christmas, if we surrender to its spell, opens the door for the Child within to breathe again.

Music, in the form of songs we learned in our youth, when we had no sense we were learning them, invites us to be once more, once more, the wide eyed Child of days long past as counted by the turning of the Calendar’s pages.

So, let’s call upon a Jukebox favourite, Emmylou Harris, to stir that Sense of Wonder once again.

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Oh, play it please.

Play it please, Emmylou.

 

Now, when I was a teenager, I became, in the way that a certain sort of teenager does, a deep dyed Francophile.

If you had asked me why I would have said, with proper teenage pomposity, it was naturellement, because of the visionary poetry of Rimbaud, the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the mind of Blaise Pascal and the mystical beauty of the films of Robert Bresson.

I would have said less about the allure of the Disque Bleu Cigarette Packet and the taste of Pastis 51.

But to tell the truth, the heart of my devotion to French Culture was to be found in my prized collection of records by the Yé-yé girls of the 1960s – France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and above all, far above all, the divine Francoise Hardy!

I could definitely hear her calling me across La Manche.

And, when she sang, in her uniquely seductive plangent tones, about the falling snow and the north wind blowing, the cool of the evening sky and the falling star, I had my own Christmas Anthem, whether anyone else recognised it as a Christmas Song or not!

It may be, after the two selections above, that some Jukebox Readers, will think the criteria for an appearance on The Alphabet Series is having a melancholy voice combined with being extremely photogenic.

Long time Readers will know that my taste is somewhat broader than that!

And, to prove it, here’s the wonderful Stanley Holloway, with one of his inimitably great recitations – masterpieces of comic character and timing.

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At the same time as I was assiduously practicing the Yé-Yé Twist I was learning by heart party pieces like, ‘The Lion and Albert’, ‘Sam, Sam, Pick oop thy Musket’, ‘One Each Apiece All Round’ and ‘It’ll All be the Same (A Hundred Years from Now).

Of course, when Christmas rolled around, with a hat cocked on the side of my head and fortified by some fine fortified wine, I would launch, unstoppably into, ‘Sam’s Christmas Pudding’ in homage to the great Stanley.

I might well do it again this year!

Come on! Join In!

It was Christmas Day in the trenches
In Spain in Penninsular War,
And Sam Small were cleaning his musket
A thing as he’d ne’re done before …

 

Now, weren’t that reet grand, Reet Grand.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

Christmas Alphabet 2018 C for : John Cale & Chet Baker

Who knows where the time goes?

A couple of blinks since the start of another year and suddenly, shockingly, it’s Christmas Time again.

That distant train in the distance is now gliding into the station – ready to go!

And, for The immortal Jukebox, where Tradition is prized, another celebration of the Season in song.

So, without further ado, let’s start another Christmas Alphabet with a Welsh Wizard and one of the most intriguing figures in popular culture – Mr John Cale.

John Cale was, of course, a founder member of The Velvet Underground which alone would ensure him an honoured place in History.

But, the fearless avant garde seeker, the manic viola player, was, is, also the singer in the Chapel Choir, the organist lifting the old hymns to the celestial rafters.

The devotee of William Burroughs and John Cage was also steeped in lyrical Welsh Poetry.

John Cale knows the power of mystery expressed in rhythm, rhyme and ritual cadence (perhaps intuited from hearing the stories in the great Welsh treasury of Mythology and Romance, The Mabinogion).

‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ is a signature Cale song from his 1973 masterpiece record, ‘Paris 1919’.

 

Now, a Christmas we can all recognise is in there :

‘With mistletoe and candle green’

‘The cattle graze bold uprightly’

‘The hallelujah crowds’

‘The prayers of all combined’

‘Good neighbours were we all’.

But, this is John Cale!

So, we also have the ten murdered oranges, the references to Sebastopol and Columbus and the long legged bait.

There’s a fevered dream here as well as nostalgic memory.

The child, the adult and the dreaming psyche containing both, uniting to produce glowing beauty.

Continuing the theme of glowing loveliness and dream let’s invite the seductive Horn of Chet Baker to still our hearts and set us all waltzing towards Christmas.

Did ye get healed?

Chet’s Trumpet is joined here by Wolfgang Lackerschmid on Vibes, Nicola Stilo on Guitar and Flugelhorn, Gunter Lenz and Rocky Knauer on Bass, Peri Des Santos on Guitar and Edir Des Santos on Drums.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 7/9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

As a special gift for this initial offering here’s a standout solo Live version of, ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ to fortify us all.

Onward!

 

The Band : It Makes No Difference

The Heart, like the Mind, has cliffs of fall.

Any one of us can find ourselves tumbling head over heels down those sheer cliffs.

Prostrate at the foot of those cliffs; bleeding, broken, the Heart yet beats on.

Beats on.

Though the dawn no longer beings a sliver of hope still less the promise of joy the Heart beats on.

Night or Day, though the shadows never fade away – the Heart beats on.

The Sun, former friend, don’t shine anymore and the rains, the rains!

They fall and fall on your sodden door as the Heart beats on.

Oh, it makes no difference how far you go.

The Heart beats on.

It makes no difference who you meet.

They’re just a face in the crowd on a Dead End Street.

The Street where you live.

Without that love what are you?

Footsteps in an empty hall.

A scarred Heart still beating on though the battle is lost.

Lost.

Who can sing your broken heart’s Song?

Who can match in their musicianship and the harmony of their voices the depth of your loss?

 

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Four Canadians and one American, veterans of the roadhouses and Honkytonks, the white heat of Bob Dylan’s 1966 Tour and the restorative retreat of Big Pink.

Never a band better named – The Band.

They all played a plethora of instruments with loving skill and three of them sang with haunting grace.

Levon Helm – the Life Force.

The one with the leery vocals and the drummer beating out the animating rhythms.

Robbie Robertson – the Hot Shot.

The one with the gift of writing haunting songs and the guitarist who knew what you leave out is as important as what you put in.

Richard Manuel – The Holy Ghost.

The one who played the piano with gleeful brilliance and whose voice sounded like it had knowledge of those lands beyond the Styx.

Garth Hudson – The Professor.

The one who could play any instrument you put in front of him and who could conjure soundscapes from them (especially from the Lowery Organ) that no one else could begin to imagine.

Rick Danko – The Heart.

The one who played the bass like his life depended upon it and who sang with a keening country soul that could make you feel that he was saving your life and his with every word.

 

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And, when they had a great song to live up to they lived up to it.

A song for those who are hurt and scarred and whose hearts yet beat on.

 

The original version comes from The Band’s 1975 Album, ‘Northern Lights – Southern Cross’ a record that was shot through with autumnal elegiac solace.

Robbie said that the song was written specifically for Rick to sing and that as they rehearsed it the levels of emotion he brought forth demanded they all plumbed the depths of their musical instincts and empathy to match the magnificence of his vocal.

There is pain and loneliness in Rick’s voice but there is also a passionate determination for that battered heart to beat on.

Though he is aflame with torment he has not surrendered to final despair.

For despair is silent.

The supporting anguished harmony vocals of Levon Helm and Richard Manuel along with the fellow pilgrim guitar of Robbie Robertson and the soul cry of Garth Hudson’s final saxophone together with Rick’s peerless vocal make the Song a luminous triumph.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1976 The Band gave a, ‘Farewell’ Performance at The Winterland in San Francisco to which they invited famous friends like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Eric Clapton.

The concert demonstrated their ability to be brilliantly sympathetic accompanists switching styles with seamless ease.

Amongst many stellar moments there are two transcendent performances.

First, Van Morrison and The Band taking, Caravan’ right into the very heart of The mystic.

Second, a grand, stately, version of, ‘It Makes No Difference’ that rattles the walls of every Heart that hears it.

Rick’s vocal has the quality of an abandoned penitent refusing to believe, despite the rains falling all around him, that there is no hope left in Prayer.

Garth Hudson’s saxophone is a lambent lament fully equal to the line :

‘I Love you so much that It’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you’.

 

 

In the years after The Last Waltz while Robbie went all Hollywood Levon, Richard, Garth and Rick initially struggled to find their way.

It was in live performance that they found themselves again.

While they would never fill the stadiums anymore those who saw them were privileged to be in the presence of a group of musicians of surpassing craft who could yet cut to Heart’s core.

Below, a performance from 1983 in Japan.

The intensity of Rick’s vocal and the interplay with the wraithlike Richard Manuel sears the soul.

If you have tears ….

 

Rick Danko died, worn out by life on the road and the ravages of drugs and alcohol in December 1999.

He was 55 years old.

When a musician takes to the stage he stands in the spotlight surrounded by pools of darkness.

It takes a truly great musician, in the way he plays and the way he sings, to respect in performance, and present to the audience the truth of both the darkness and the light and do so with a full heart.

Rick Danko was such a musician.

His performances, with his Brothers in The Band, especially of ‘It Makes No Difference’ will always flame, night and day, year after year, as long as there are human hearts that though broken stubbornly beat on.

Beat on.

 

John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood, Amos Milburn : One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer

These days my alcohol take is very modest.

On celebratory occasions (my birthday, the birth of my Granddaughter) a decent measure of Malt Whiskey (no water, no ice).

Nothing to touch the Lagavulin 16 Year Old.

When Ireland recently magnificently beat The All Blacks at Rugby only a healthy slug of Bourbon seemed appropriate.

Given this was only the second victory over them in 111 years I felt justified in removing the racehorse stopper from my prized bottle of Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Kentucky Straight.

 

Blantons

There’s also my tradition of sipping a fine Pale Ale immediately I hit the WordPress Publish Button and launch a new Immortal Jukebox Post towards the waiting World!

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Bishop’s Farewell always hits the spot as I wait for the Likes and Comments to flow in.

So, if you ask me what I drink these days I answer – not much but when I do : One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

Now, back in the days when I was to be found at my favourite Honkytonks three or four times a week it was often the case that as I approached the bar its custodian would say, ‘A Rudy T as usual Thom?’

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and I would sing out, ‘Of course, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer’.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer in honour of Rudy Toombs who wrote the greatest drinking song of all time.

I don’t want no soda nor bubble gum.

You got what I want just serve me some.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

 

Now didn’t that go down smoothly!

Amos Milburn, of course, a master of the relaxed groove at the piano and a singer who invites you to lean in and listen to a story you’re gonna want to retell more than a time or two – especially when you’ve had a drink or three.

‘Please Mister Bartender, listen here … I ain’t here for trouble so have no fear.’

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This high proof beauty came out as a 78 in August 1953 and was credited to Amos and His Aladdin Chickenshackers (must get that T Shirt made up for Christmas!).

The name of the backing band was, of course, a nod to Amos’ immortal Number One Record, ‘Chicken Shack Boogie’ from 1948.

That, ‘I ain’t drunk, I’m just real loose, real loose’ guitar comes via the magic fingers of Mickey Baker.

The public took shot after shot taking the record to Number 2 in the R&B Charts during a 14 week residency on the listings.

If you want another nip of this song, as you surely do, I think we should up the proof level considerably and make it strong, real strong.

And, as we all can surely agree, when it comes to Electric Blues no one, no one, packs more punch than The Solid Sender – Mr John Lee Hooker!

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John Lee is your go to guy if you want to be sure to get high, be sure to get mellow, be sure to find yourself feelin’ good, be sure to emphatically, absolutely, categorically Knocked Out!

On his high octane take John Lee benefits from the support of Lafayette Leake on the rippling piano, Fred Below on the pounding drums and Eddie Burns on the slashing guitar.

John Lee gives the song drive and spirit with his patented combination of voice, guitar and foot.

John Lee bent every song he ever played to his own will and the unique metre and tempo of his profound musical imagination.

He had a personal and musical presence that was genuinely awesome.

No use in trying to play like John Lee – you had to BE John Lee to play that way.

When it comes to shaking the floor and rattling the walls John Lee reigns supreme.

Supreme.

 

 

I only got to see John Lee four or five times and I treasure the memory of every one.

But, this next take comes from someone who I’ve seen on at least a score of stages, the unforgettable, irrepressible, unstoppable, Delaware Destroyer, George Thorogood.

You’re gonna need to drink a fair few pints when you go to see George just to replace the sweat you’ll exude as he puts the pedal to the metal.

George just loves The Blues and he brings every ounce of energy at his command to bringing his beloved music to life night after night all over the world.

This is a man who did 50 gigs in 50 States in 50 days and never missed a beat!

He’s on a kick and he sure as hell ain’t ever gonna get off until they screw down the casket.

Maybe your baby’s gone and it seems everything is lost.

They been out all night.

Never came back at the break of day.

What can you do?

What can you do?

Well, I don’t like to give advice to the love-lorn but if ol’ George was in town I’d down One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer and station myself right in front of the stage and let the music work its magic.

 

That Jersey audience struck lucky to see George on such fine form with the added bonus of a special appearance by none other than Elvin Bishop.

Wow, that’s some twin carburetor guitar power!

As I said at the outset I don’t really drink now like I did in the old days.

But, I have to admit, blasting Amos, John Lee and George out time after time as I wrote this Post made me work up one hell of a thirst.

Nothing for it but to line up The Lagavulin, The Blanton’s and The Bishop’s and join the party.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.

Slainte!

 

Notes :

Rudy Toombs – was a Louisiana native who became one the most able and prolific songwriters of the 1950s.

His songbook includes such classics as:

‘Teardrops from My Eyes’. ‘One Mint Julep’, ‘5-10-15 Hours’, ‘I’m Shakin” and, ‘Lonesome Whistle Blues’.

Amos Milburn – from Houston made a magnificent series of records for the Aladdin Label in the 40s and 50s.

My favourite tracks include – ‘ Down the Road a Piece’, ‘Rooming House Boogie’, ‘Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby’ and’Bad, Bad, Whiskey’.

Being the completest I am I have the Mosaic Label Box Set but there are many fine compilations of Amos available for those who want only the hits.

Creedence Clearwater Revival : Bad Moon Rising

‘Creedence were never the hippest Band in the world – but they were the best!’ (Bruce Springsteen).

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‘I know that buried deep inside me are all these little bits and pieces of Americana. It’s deep in my heart, deep in my soul.’ (John Fogerty)

 

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Gutta cavat lapidem non vi sed saepe cadendo.

A water drop hollows a stone – not by force but by falling often.

Or, if you want to really master a craft you need to put in the hours.

Consider The Beatles in Hamburg forgoing sleep and comfort to play set after set until they were a band that had deep trust in each other and their abilitiy to hold and move an audience.

Consider, today, Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In 1969/1970/1971 there was no doubt who the top singles Band in the World were; how’s this for a sequence of classics:

Proud Mary/Born on the Bayou,

Bad Moon Rising/Lodi,

Green River/Commotion,

Down on the Corner/Fortunate Son,

It Came Out of the Sky/Cottonfields,

Travelin’ Band/Who’ll Stop the Rain?,

Run Through the Jungle/Up Around the Bend,

Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Long As I Can See the Light,

Have You Ever Seen the Rain/Hey Tonight.

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

Boy Howdy!

That’s a streak of inspiration and connection with your audience on a par with Chuck Berry or Lennon & McCartney at their peak.

Their omnipresence on the radio and on the charts was the result of years and years of unheralded toil.

Their emergence on the national and world stage only came after a full decade of slogging up and down the Pacific Coast, round the punishing circuit of military bases, small town clubs and dingy dance halls following their formation by Tom Fogerty in 1959 as The Blue Velvets.

Thousand of miles and thousands of hours binding Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford and John Fogerty together into a potent Rock ‘n’ Roll force.

Stu Cook and Doug Clifford forging a Zen rhythm section with Tom Fogerty.

Sometime, Somewhere along those endless highways, John Fogerty, the 14 year old kid who joined his big brother’s band transmogrified into a world class singer, songwriter and guitarist with a sound and vision of his own that resonated deeply with the society he lived in and zeroed into the heart of the Zeitgeist.

This was a young man who had been electrified by the visceral power of the 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll Masters and who wouldn’t settle for any music that couldn’t match that power – live up to that challenge.

He worked out a recipe for making sure fire great Rock ‘n’ Roll records and then with the fullest measure of inspiration and perspiration set about matching his idols.

First : You just gotta have a great title.

Think, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Great Balls of Fire!’.

So, he carried a notebook and every time a title popped up in his head that sounded like the title of a classic song, he carefully wrote it down and set his mind to writing the rest of the song.

Titles in John’s Notebook – ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Born on the Bayou’, ‘Up Around the Bend’, ‘Green River’ and, yes, oh Yes – ‘Bad Moon Rising’.

Second : The Song has to connect with the real lives of your audience.

Think, ‘Schooldays’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘Dead End Street’.

It should seem so true that once you heard it the first time you could sing it to yourself or a friend (you’d want to share it with a friend) even if the record wasn’t playing in the background.

So, John Fogerty songs are true and resonate whether you’re looking up at the stars in California, Calcutta, Carlisle or Khe Sanh.

Everyone has times when they wonder, for themselves and those around them, Who will stop the Rain?

Everyone has times when they hope, sometimes against hope, that they will be able to hold on and come through as long as they can see at least a glimmer of the light.

Everyone knows one of those Fortunate Sons who is protected by wealth and influence from the grim realities the rest of us have to endure.

Everyone, for humans are a Lunar People hungry for auguries, has at some time looked up into the night sky and said to themselves and to those around them, with dread :

I see a bad moon a-rising … I see trouble on the way … Don’t go ’round tonight
It’s bound to take your life … There’s a bad moon on the rise

 

Third : You just Gotta have a great Guitar lick.

Think, ‘Johnny B Goode’, ‘Hello Mary Lou’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Gloria’.

So, John Fogerty spent hours and hours with his, ‘Black Beauty’ Les Paul custom searching for that Lick, That Lick, the one that would come roaring out of the radio or Jukebox speakers and turn every head, set every toe tapping, get every heart leaping.

And, time after time, time after time, John Fogerty found that magic Lick – the one you can’t argue about, can’t deny.

The Lick that thrills the first time and still thrills the thousandth time.

Nunc, if you get a great title that resonates with the real lives of your audience and you craft a great Guitar Lick and have a Band who will support you through every bar as you sing that Song with irresistible power you are going to make a great Rock ‘n’ Roll Record.

And,if you are John Fogerty with Creedence Clearwater Revival you will make a  Record in, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ that enters the very DNA of Rock ‘n’ Roll.