William Bell: the passion and stoicism of a quiet man!

There is little in life as impressive and convincing as the voice of a quiet man telling the truth.

William Bell a sage songwriter and stoic soul balladeer told us heartfelt, hard won truths about the eternal trials of love in an incandescent series of records issued from Memphis in the 1960s on the mighty Stax label which still resonate.

These records, especially those contained on his magnificent, ‘Soul of a Bell’ album have become boon companions during the trials and triumphs of my own life.

Wherever I go William Bell goes with me.

During my second year at college I grew weary of the role of ninja intellectual and withdrew to the quiet of my room overlooking a Cambridge meadow. There, largely heedless of my official studies, I obsessively read St Augustine, Dante, Raymond Chandler, Seamus Heaney and Russell Hoban.

My engagement with these profound truth tellers was accompanied and reinforced by a soundtrack largely composed of Schubert, Aretha Franklin, Laura Nyro, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and William Bell.

And, it might surprise you to learn that if all the hours of listening were collated it was William that I turned to most often for wisdom and solace.

Wisdom and solace told in the voice of a quiet man telling the truth. In William Bell’s songs and singing there’s no hectoring, no over emoting, no grandstanding. Instead it’s as if someone looks you dead in the eye before saying .. this is how its been for me brother – maybe you know the feeling.

You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry. Tell it to me William! Tell it to me!

In contrast to the urgent, urban, industrial beat from Motown the beat from Stax was measured, agrarian, heavy with Southern heat and shimmer. This is music which seems to beckon you in to share a grown up tale of life as it is lived by folks just like you.

The introductory gospel piano says, ‘listen up!’ I’ve got something important to tell you. The stately tempo laid down by mournful horns, dead man walking drums and enveloping organ frames William Bell’s reflective, rueful vocal.

It’s the sound of a man finally understanding and coming to terms with the consequences of the arrogance of his mistaken choices. The bravura of the playboy falls away revealing the shamed penitent who must walk on alone without the one who really did love him. There’s no going back now. Walk on knowing that some lessons have to be learned the hard way – you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry. Till your well runs dry.

There is no trace of self pity in William Bell’s vocal. Rather, this is a man who is singing this song gently to himself or the silent moon above. ‘Listening to ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ you know it’s true and that it carries a folk wisdom that will always be true. Attend to your well.

A year later William Bell, with, ‘(I wouldn’t have it) Any Other Way’ once again elegantly captured one of the perpetual dilemmas of love – how do you cope with being rejected and discarded by the one who held your heart? I have to admit I’ve sung this more than a few times to the moon myself back in the day.

Haven’t we all, bruised and reeling from a break up adopted the pose of the couldn’t care less lover airily declaiming, desperate for the message to be reported back, now that I think of it (not that its been much on my mind) I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Any other way.

It’s obvious here that William and the team at Stax were aware of the exquisite charm of the records of the late 50s/early 60s Drifters as well as the tender, heartfelt outpourings of Arthur Alexander. The result is a glorious record that has soul staying power and pop gloss.

Next another of William’s songs that never fails to stir the heart, ‘Private Number’

Private Number is one of the great soul duet records of the 1960s ranking with Marvin and Tammy and Otis and Carla. The song tells the story of the lover who has been,’away’ seeking to rekindle the flames of love with the one whose memory has perhaps been all he has had to hold onto in their time apart. Where is, ‘away’?

William Bell was a Vietnam veteran so it may well be that, ‘away’ was his way of alluding to shattering experiences of war. Many, many soldiers struggling through the days and sleepless at night must have wondered who now had their baby’s precious private number. And, arriving home intact but forever scarred who wouldn’t be chastened to learn that the private number had been changed?

The sense of dread this sets up makes the relief of hearing, ‘Welcome Home, nothing’s wrong’ overwhelmingly powerful. To collapse, safe, into the arms of the one you love after an ordeal is one of the most emotionally nurturing and reassuring experiences of our lives. Life will go on and all will be well no matter how terrible the events of the past.

As the 1960s ended there was a deep sense of foreboding in the air. An uneasy sense that the days of sunlit hope were now overshadowed and that something terrible was coming – a bad moon on the rise.

William Bell, in his characteristically personal and understated way caught this feeling in his most mature inquiry into the challenge of keeping love alive as the grinding years grind on.

His song, ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ is the soliloquy of a man, a wounded soldier on the battlefield of love, summoning up all his depleted energies in one last attempt to save his marriage.

We open with looming strings evoking glowering rain heavy clouds about to unleash a deluge.

Then tolling, Curtis Mayfield like, guitar appears before William’s at first meditative and later rueful and anguished vocal proceeds as he examines his conscience and identifies with painful honesty how he has failed to combine the roles of companion, lover and husband.

In moments of revelatory clarity he understands that love not endlessly renewed must wither and will die. Somehow, taking her for granted, he has lost his way and fallen into romantic lethargy. Simply he forgot to be a lover.

Now he knows the depth of his transgressions he can only beg for forgiveness and the chance to show that the love he forgot to offer still lives in his heart.

The sixties songs of William Bell amount to a kind of pilgrims progress taking us into the joy of winning love, the pain of losing of love and the desperate struggle to hold onto love in the face of our inevitable human weaknesses.

Through our stumbling missteps and mistakes most of have all foolishly taken for granted that the the well of love will somehow be endlessly replenished. We forget too easily that love needs nurture. That we must be a lover as well as the one who is loved.

The course of love necessarily involves doubt and struggle as well as growth and contentment. William Bell, with his insistent quiet voice telling the truth, is just the companion you need beside you on your journey

Notes:

I regard, ‘The Soul of a Bell’ as an essential record. Order it today.

In addition to the songs considered above look out for:

Share What You Got … ‘
‘Everybody Loves A Winner’, ‘
Everyday WIll Be Like A Holiday’
and his original of the now blues standard, written with Booker T, ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’.

After leaving Stax William had a major US hit with, ‘Tryin’ to Love Two’

All his albums reveal a singer who digs deep into a ballad to bring forth beauty.

William Bell is a very fine songwriter and his songs have been memorably covered by Otis Redding, Joe Tex, The Byrds, Albert King and Cream among many others.

If you search YouTube you can find William performing with masterful ease before President Obama and bringing in the new year on Jools Holland’s UK TV show.

John Lennon, Van Morrison, Ricky Nelson & Dr John follow Fats!

‘I said oh – ooh- oh Domino!

‘I said oh – ooh- oh Domino!’ (Van Morrison – Domino)

A true message always gets through. And, there was a powerful, danceable, message about common humanity and the joy of being alive in the music of Antoine Fats Domino.

Of course, it don’t hurt none if the message gets a push. And in 1950s America the best vehicle for spreading the message to the wider, white, public was national TV and the cinema.

So 19 November 1956 was a great day for spreading the good word from New Orleans. For, on that day, Fats Domino sang his glorious version of, ‘Blueberry Hill’ on show 9, Season 9 of the fabled Ed Sullivan Show.

The Sullivan Show broadcasting on Sunday Nights since 1948 had become an institution of American popular culture. Millions of Moms and Pops must have seen and heard Fats for the first time and concluded that this fellow with the broad beaming smile and the undeniable melodic gift wasn’t really one of those awful Rock ‘n’ Rollers like that hips swivellin’, lip curling, clear threat to civilisation Elvis Presley.

Their sons and daughters moving beyond their command weren’t interested in Fats’ position on the threat to civilisation spectrum (the Elvis Index!). No, they just felt in their guts that Fats with his sly N’Awlins tones and piano was talking directly to them and inviting them to come on over for one fine, fine time.

As 1956 closed the message was more than redoubled when the movie, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ opened. No one cared about the slight, hackneyed story and Jayne Mansfield’s impressive blonde pneumatic charms were only a mild diversion in an age of impressive pneumatic Blondes.

What really turned heads, upturned seats, launched careers and set the world ablaze was the Rock ‘n’ Roll! Little Richard did what only Little Richard can do with his crazed, don’t try to follow me buddy, assault on the movie’s title track. His later takes on, ‘Ready Teddy’ and, ‘She’s Got It’ proved beyond peradventure that the Quaser most definitely had got it!

Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps added a southern surreal touch simultaneously seductive and menacing as they cruised through, ‘Be Bop A Lula’. Eddie Cochran took no prisoners with his rythmic attack on ‘Twenty Flight Rock’.

And Fats? Fats just leaned into the piano, grinned mightily and permanently lodged, ‘Blue Monday’ into the memory of everyone fortunate enough to hear it. The Sullivan show was massive in America but movies travelled the globe!

So when in the summer of 1957, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ arrived in Liverpool it was a very big deal for Merseyside would be Rock ‘n’ Rollers – a chance to see and hear at high volume the real people behind the names inscribed on their treasured 45s.

Of course, one of these proto rockers was none other than the 16 year old John Lennon. Seeing his idols projected on the screen was an overwhelming experience crystalising his desire to join their company. Rock ‘n’ Roll for John Lennon was an anchor in his troubled life and a rope ladder of escape. Obsessively Listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll and daring to dream about about a future as a bona fide rocker who would write his own songs helped to forge his identity as he tested out a series of performance personas.

And, in a troubled time in the early 70s he went back to the persona of the slicked back rocker when he recorded his tribute record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’. John’s memories of, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ were obviously deep and true because he set down versions of, ‘Ready Teddy’ and, ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ as well as honouring Fats with his version of, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’.

Now it would not be an overstatement to call the sessions which produced , ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll shambolic. Too many musicians, too many drugs, too much alcohol, too many egos in overdrive – not to mention Phil Spector firing his gun off in the studio to impose order!

Nevertheless! On, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ I hear, poignantly, the shade of the unknown sixteen year in love with rebellion and Rock ‘n’ Roll music who was desperate to forge a new world sharing the microphone with the world weary superstar who had conquered every known world.

Maybe, all that held the two John’s together was his core deep love for the music of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Fats Domino. All I am sure of is that John Lennon lived and died as an unregenerate Rock ‘n’ Roller. Rock on John! Rock On!

Meanwhile on 10 April 1957; back in the good old USA not long after Fats appearances on Ed Sullivan and, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ a very handsome young man with perfect hair and a beguiling smile sang Fats’, ‘I’m Walkin’ on his parents TV show. The show was the wildly successful, ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ and the young man was their son Ricky Nelson.

This was the first time that Ricky had sung on the show. It soon became obvious that the legions of young women who were already enamoured due to the show would have no hesitation in rushing to their local record store to buy any record that bore Ricky’s name.

While the above history might suggest that Ricky would turn out to be an ersatz rocker the glorious truth was that instead he turned out to not only to have perfect hair but also a seductive and surprisingly supple vocal style that beautifully blended country crooning with harder edged Rock ‘n’ Roll. He also surrounded himself with brilliant musicians like guitarist James Burton whose solos were pored over endlessly by six string scholars the world over.

I’m going to write much more extensively about Ricky here on The Jukebox later in the year. For now all I will say is that Ricky Nelson was a much more considerable figure than generally allowed and that at every stage of his career he made wonderful, heart-piercing records that continue to cast a spell decades after they were issued.

Now, if there’s one musician who is unimpressed by reputation and definitively knows, when it comes to music, the difference between the ersatz and the authentic that musician is George Ivan Morrison. So, when he records a tribute track to a master musician like Fats Domino you know he means it.

Of course, Van being Van, his tribute is not a recreation of Fats’ sound but rather a superbly played (listen to John Platania’s magical guitar and Jack Schorer’s scorching sax work) and sung celebration of the redemptive joy that music can make present in our hearts.

Oh, ooh, oh Domino! Oh, ooh, oh Domino. Dig it!

Bringing it all back home to the Crescent City my last example of the deep mark Fats has left on the musicians who followed him is a funkier than funky version of, ‘Walking to New Orleans’ by a true native son Mac Rebennack AKA Dr John.

You might well wear out two pair of shoes getting down to that one!

A true message always gets through.

Oh, ooh, oh Domino! Oh, ooh, oh Domino!

Fats Domino – Pharaoh of The 1950s! King of New Orleans!

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

Earl Palmer

I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo. I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.

If you have enjoyed this post please share it widely and tell your friends! Remember:

The doctor told me, Thom you don’t need no pills.
The doctor told me, Thom, you don’t need no pills.

Just a handful of nickels -Jukebox will cure your ills!

Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels burn rubber and inspire Bruce Springsteen!

Whatever gets you through the night. That’s right John. Whatever gets you through. Gets you through.

The days. The days you don’t own. You’re a prisoner of the days. A prisoner uniformed, numbered and defined by your family history and name.

A prisoner marked out by race, class, Zip Code, bank balance and Grade Point Average. And, if you ain’t no fortunate son one day you might wake up to find you’ve been drafted to fight in a war halfway around the world against folks you never heard of.

Everyone thinks they know everything about you from the way you look, the way you walk and of course the way you talk. Because your folks old country was Ireland or Italy or Poland you’re, ‘one of them’ and bound to act just like the way expected of one of them.

And you? Who do you think you are? Looking down the checklist on offer you only know you have to tick the box for, ‘None of the above’.

Sometimes, most of the time, it’s hard to breathe. It feels like you are being suffocated and thrashing about in a steel mesh net that’s tightening, tightening.

The only time you feel you are really breathing, not gasping for breath, is when you follow Grand River Avenue all the way down to the shore.

Down to Walled Lake. Down to the Casino.

To dance, dance, dance, dance until finally you’re breathing clear. Until, miraculously, you feel electrically alive and wholly free. Free.

Now you’ve had your radio tuned permanently to Lee Alan who hosted his show from right here in The Casino. And, you know that music legends have played here. Louis Armstrong himself, Sinatra and Chuck Berry as soon as he got out of the slammer.

Detroit is the home of Motown so here at The Casino Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and The Miracles all strut their stuff. The British invasion bands come out to the shore too to see if they can cut it in front of an audience that really knows. Really knows.

And, one thing above all the thousand or so regulars know. Really know. There’s only one band that will hit the stage at a hundred miles an hour and just be warming up. One band from right here in Detroit that will play and play until they drop.

Until they and the dancers circling the floor under the Mirrorball in a haze of smoke and sweat communally become transformed beings. That band, the unchallengeable monarchs of The Casino, are Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels.

Ah Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, won’t you come along with me!

Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels – now that’s burning rubber!

They had been Billy Lee and the Riverias. After producer/songwriter Bob Crewe saw them at Walled Lake they became Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels and in a New York studio in 1965 they achieved an almost impossible feat – to recreate the frenzied glory of their live show and capture it on vinyl.

You can imagine Mitch prowling the floor, doing the splits and knee dropping as he tears into the inspired medley of Little Richard’s, ‘Jenny, Jenny’ and, ‘C.C Rider’ the blues standard which probably came to them through Chuck Willis.

Jim McCarty on the lead guitar, Jo Kubert on rhythm guitar, Earl Elliott on bass and Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek on drums whip up a tornado of sound that laid waste the idea that the spirit of Rock n Roll was dead or alive only in bands from across the Atlantic Sea.

More than a million copies were sold as Jenny became a top 10 pop hit and, especially pleasing to the band, Number 1 on the R&B chart.

When you find the secret to capturing the intensity of live performance on record you just gotta do it again! Listen here to Mitch and the boys fire up and lift off like a Saturn 5 space rocket as they make an immortal anthem out of, ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’ written by Bill Medley of Righteous Brothers fame (track down their version too).

What’s it all about? Your guess wins the prize! What it’s about is the exhilaration of Johnny Bee’s drums sound and the adrenaline rush of Jimmy McCarty’s guitar solo and the ecstatic abandon of Mitch’s vocal.

It’s about being 100% alive and throwing your head back and laughing at the sheer wonder of it all.

Growing up in Detroit Mitch and The Wheels developed a deep love and understanding of the music of the black community all around them – Rhythm and Blues.

So, whatever historians or sociologists might think it was entirely natural for them to turn to the work of a great luminary like Little Richard and a, ‘You gotta be in the know to know’ artist like Shorty Long and in a blast furnace of energy meld, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and, ‘Devil With A Blue Dress On’ into an outpouring of ferocious joy.

Find 11 on your dial and keep it there throughout!

Taking on songs like these is high risk strategy. If you don’t pull it off you dishonour music you love and look ridiculous. But, once Johnny Bee kicks things off with an awesome drum tattoo and Mitch pours his heart and soul into the vocal you know that you’re never gonna tire of this record.

Additional musical brilliance here courtesy of Mike Bloomfield on guitar and Barry Goldberg on the organ. They were rewarded with a top 5 hit.

Someone else plugged into the primal source, Bruce Springsteen, recognised this and characteristically doffed his cap with his own tribute in the, ‘Detroit Medley’

Bruce a head and heart scholar of the music knew that for mainline energy and commitment to the Dionysiac essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels have rarely, if ever, been matched let alone outdone.

Good Gumbo from New Orleans! Frankie Ford, Huey Piano Smith & Bobby Marchan

The Mississippi River is a wonder of nature. From its source in Lake Itasca Minnesota it flows 2320 miles all the way to Plaquemines (love the sound of that name!) Parish Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.

On its epic journey it courses through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The citizens of Minneapolis, St Paul, St Cloud, La Crosse, Dubuque, St Louis, Cape Girardeau, Memphis, Baton Rouge and New Orleans can gaze in awe as it majestically passes them by.

Songs and stories, tall tales and twisted tunes have always been an essential part of the freight and traffic carried by the mighty Mississippi.

No city (with all respect to Memphis) has contributed as much to the creative ecology of the river than New Orleans. Especially when it comes to players of the 88 keys of the piano.

With a roll call of keyboard saints and sinners including Jelly Roll Morton, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr John, the lately departed Alan Toussaint and the piano man I’m featuring today, Huey Piano Smith, it’s obvious that New Orleans wears the laurel wreath when it comes to piano stylists. I feel a ‘New Orleans Piano Masters’ series coming on!

Now, each of the great musicians above has their own personal touch and tone: their own rhythmic fingerprint to charm our senses. What they share from their New Orleans heritage is profound immersion in the traditions of gospel, blues and jazz (not forgetting the concert music of the salon).

Sitting down at the keyboard a New Orleans Master can slide and shimmy through an encyclopaedia of piano styles calling up the distinctive rhythms of ragtime, stride and boogie-woogie as required.

The left hand lays down earthing bass lines while the right adds the melodic decoration. Listen closely and you will hear the interplay of rhythms from West Africa and Cuba giving what Jelly Roll Morton called a, ‘Spanish Tinge’ to the music.

And, all this is done with unhurried authority. New Orleans piano has marinated flavour. Tunes, at all tempos, swing. Each player their own River Boat Captain announcing their arrival in Town with proper swagger.

With all that dutiful history and exposition in mind let’s just glory in the absolute delight of Huey Smith’s ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu’ from 1957.

No system can resist this musical virus!

Johnny Vincent is credited with the novelty lyric (I have to admit that whenever anyone asks me do I have a cold I always answer, ‘No, but I do have the Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu!).

The record sold over a million copies and became a Jukebox favourite in any self respecting Honky-tonk.

The irresistible vocal is by Bobby Marchan. Commanding the keys Huey plays with gorgeous fluidity adding flashing filigree flourishes to the rock solid bass line. His years spent listening to Albert Ammons, Professor Longhair and Fats Domino all summoned up into 135 seconds of piano paradise.

Huey is a New Orleans native whose musical apprenticeship included several years as a teenager working with the superb showman Guitar Slim (see earlier Jukebox post). Specialty Records recognised his piano prowess and he was soon playing sessions for Earl King, Little Richard, Lloyd Price and Smiley Lewis.

It was 1957 when Huey formed, ‘Huey Piano Smith and His Clowns’ and signed a record deal with Johnny Vincent at Ace Records. Bobby Marchan, a flamboyant female impersonator with show-stopping vocal chops took the centre stage role.

Together in 1958 they made one of the most infectious records of all time with a lyric which defies certain transcription (I’ve had numerous arguments, on licensed premises, as to how the lyric should be reproduced phonetically!).

However you spell out the lyric you won’t be able to resist singing along to, ‘Don’t You Just Know It’.

Now that I think about it the song may well be founded and draw its immense energy from memories of childhood skipping games and adult excluding nonsense rhymes. Sometimes, nothing makes more sense or is more satisfying than to chant with all your heart:

… Ah, ha, ha, ha, hey, eh, ho, Dooba, Dooba, Dooba! Dooba, Dooba, Dooba!

There’s a tangled tale behind the next great record made by Huey. ‘Sea Cruise’ from 1959, the most famous song he was ever involved with, was written by Huey and recorded by him and The Clowns with Bobby Marchan (or by some accounts) Geri Hall on vocals.

There’s a fantastic paddle steamer surging tidal rhythm throughout the song that just sweeps you along before depositing you breathless and elated on the shore after three minutes of unalloyed joy.

Johnny Vincent smelled a hit. But, he thought (correctly) that the hit would be bigger and the dollars flow more freely if the track was speeded up, given some added sound effects and fronted up by a charismatic white singer.

After all Huey was a somewhat reticent figure and while Bobby Marchan’s transvestism raised few disapproving eyebrows in anything goes New Orleans it was hard to imagine them appearing on American Bandstand with Dick Clark!

Enter from stage left, Frankie Ford!

While the ethics of Johnny Vincent’s decision to superimpose Frankie on the original track are problematic to say the least it’s also undeniably true that Frankie Ford, given his shot at Major League status, hit the ball right out of the park for a huge home run!

Ooh – Wee Baby! You got nothing to lose . . Won’t you let me take you on a Sea Cruise!

Frankie was from Gretna across the river from the Crescent City. He was a campy show bizz kid who jumped at joining high school bands and entering talent competitions showcasing his piano and vocal skills.

Listening to DJs like, ‘Poppa Stoppa’ and hanging around music clubs gave him a liking and feel for rhythm and blues. One of New Orleans connected music fixers Joe Carrona took a liking to Frankie and introduced him to Johnny Vincent and thus was history made!

The final record featured here today, another fine Huey Smith composition originally titled, ‘Loberta’ was transmuted into, ‘Roberta’ when Frankie took up the mike to sing.

Notwithstanding Frankie’s heroic vocal it’s already a hit for me before he opens up because of Huey’s bravura piano intro and the immediate foot to the floor entry of the band. Beautiful New Orleans ensemble musicianship.

Huey Smith was never one to demand the spotlight.

Maybe he knew that there would always be those who would recognise and delight in a truly fine piano player and note that ‘H. Smith’ was the writing credit on some of the most cheering and enduring records of the 1950s.

Notes:

Huey Smith – there are numerous collections of his 50s classics. The one on my shelves which is full of treats is, ‘Don’t You Just Know It – The Very Best of 1956-1962, Singles As and Bs’ issued by Jasmine Records. Cue up, ‘High Blood Pressure’ straight away!

Frankie Ford died in 2015 aged 76. There is a compilation on Fuel 2000, ‘Sea Cruise’ which is a fitting memorial to a real trouper.

Bobby Marchan died in 1999. In addition to his wondrous performances on ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia’ and, ‘Don’t You Just Know It’ there are a number of fine records in his later career. Chief among these is his epic take on Big Jay McNeely’s, ‘There Is Something On Your Mind’

Philip Chevron (The Pogues) & Francis Ledwidge – The Music of longing

One of the roles of a true writer is to bring all the gifts of their being to the task of creating art which though conscious of history and artistic tradition demands that you attend to how it feels to be alive NOW in this particular society and culture in all its messy complexity.

And, if you can accomplish this task by creating songs, lyrical ballads, which speak urgently to their time while having depth of humanity and beauty of composition you will find that such songs do not wither and die.

Rather, they take on a life of their own and become beloved by audiences and fellow artists from different eras and cultures who will find universal truths emerging from these particular songs. Songs, filed with the quick life of the day, if they are good enough, find entry into the hallowed treasury of traditional song. Such songs will always find an audience and always find singers to sing them.

Philip Chevron wrote such songs.

Ireland was fortunate to find, in Philip Chevron from his 70s days with Ireland’s pioneer punk heroes,’The Radiators From Space’ through to his solo work and triumphs with The Pogues, a songwriter who wrote with fierce aching truth about the life he lived and the times he lived in.

Philip Chevron (born Philip Ryan) in 1957 grew up in Santry, Dublin. In his writing he chronicled with deep feeling, literary finesse, puzzlement and pain the realities of growing up in the Dublin of the 1970s. Few punk bands anywhere had a singer and writer with the ambition and artistic scope of Philip Chevron.

The Radiators 1977 debut record, ‘TV Tube Heart’ was filled with urgent songs displaying the frustrations and anger of urban youth in a society that seemed in many respects ossified and coldly indifferent to all those who in any sense lived lives which crossed the borders of catholic propriety.

The Radiators second album, ‘Ghostown’ produced by Tony Visconti is simply a great record including two songs, ‘Kitty Ricketts’ and, ‘Song of the Faithful Departed’ which demonstrated beyond argument that Philip Chevron was a world class songwriter.

Critical acclaim came plentifully but this was not reflected in record sales. Moving to London Philip found a home in the expatriate community and became friends with Shane McGowan of The Pogues and became a member of the band at the time of their second album, ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’.

His abilities as a guitarist, singer and songwriter became crucial especially in view of the increasingly erratic behaviour of Shane McGowan.

To celebrate Philip Chevron on The Immortal Jukebox I’m going to feature three wondrous songs. The first, ‘Under Clery’s Clock’ is a miraculous song which finds heart rending beauty in a situation where a young gay man struggles to find dignity and love in a world which stonily refuses to admit that love has never been limited to that between men and women.

The use of Dublin districts like Burgh Quay and the cultural landmark of the department store clock – for generations a meeting place for trysting lovers anchors the song in time and place.

The regretful melody adds poignancy to the protagonist’s situation; living with urges he can’t fight wanting to be able to meet a lover in the light not in a dark and stinking place. The sense of outraged dignity and desperate longing in this song is palpable and overwhelmingly moving.

Let’s turn now to ‘The Song of the Faithful Departed’, which may be Philip’s masterpiece. A compendious song which, without strain, artfully and compassionately invokes the literary, religious and historical crosses and legacies that Ireland stumblingly shouldered in the 20th century.

No better man to take on such a song than the eminence grise of Irish music, Christy Moore, whose radar always picks up on songs which speak with power and humanity.

The version here is from a July 2013 live performance – a benefit for Philip in the last months of his life. Christy introduces the song by reading a letter from Philip Chevron which shows the measure of both men.

A line like, ‘The graveyard hides a million secrets’ resonates with increasing power with every passing year as the sins and scandals of Official Ireland have been brought shamefully into the light. But, impressively, this is not a finger-pointing song it’s a song of empathy and fellow feeling. Its a song from a writer at the height of his powers.

There will be no end to the singing of this song.

The emigrant ballad is one of the staples of Irish song. Philip Chevron with The Pogues produced in, ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ a deeply felt and formally sophisticated song which yearningly evokes the shared experiences of Irish emigrants to America over two centuries.

Again the song does not hesitate to face up to the painful realities that spurred emigrants to leave home and the challenges they faced when arrived in the long dreamed of America.

It was one of the signal hallmarks of Philip Chevron songs that they beguile rather than batter and that while conscious of the painful realities of life in the end they urge us to sing out the darkness and dance into the light.

Philip Chevron’s funeral service in October 2013, attended by family, friends, fellow musicians and artist in their hundreds, saw his coffin carried in accompanied by ‘Faithful Departed’ and borne out to the strains of ‘Thousands Are Sailing’.

Among the tears there must have been enormous pride.

For poetry today I turn to a lesser known Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge who died at the third battle of Ypres in 1917. Sometimes referred to as the poet of the blackbird or as a peasant poet he was, as all true poets are a protean figure always remaking himself to write the poetry demanded of him. Contradictions prove creativity. I urge you to seek out his work.

To One Dead

A blackbird singing
On a moss-upholstered stone,
Bluebells swinging,
Shadows wildly blown,
A song in the wood,
A ship on the sea.
The song was for you
and the ship was for me.

A blackbird singing
I hear in my troubled mind,
Bluebells swinging,
I see in a distant wind.
But sorrow and silence,
Are the wood’s threnody,
The silence for you
and the sorrow for me.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Derek Bell (The Chieftains) and Samuel Beckett – As good as it gets!

Posts for Paddy’s Day 2

My dad, God rest him, was sparing with praise. Only those truly outstanding in their fields got the nod. Sportsmen such as jockey Lester Piggott and Hurler Jimmy Doyle were credited as being, ‘As Good as it got’.

The other accolade, very rarely bestowed, on someone considered unique in character and achievement was, ‘Now, he’s a one to himself’ which I remember him saying only about the actor Robert Mitchum and Muhammad Ali.

Taking up these terms I now use them myself though characteristically with more profligacy than he ever did! Even so it’s rare for me lavish both terms on an individual no matter how high my esteem for them.

But, the exception proves the rule. So, today’s post concerns an extraordinary Irish artist, Derek Bell; harpist, harpsichordist, pianist, oboist, arranger, composer and conductor and bona fide eccentric. If ever any man deserved to be called, ‘As good as it got’ and, ‘One to himself’ it is Derek Bell.

He was born in Belfast in 1935 and before he was a teenager he was an accomplished pianist and the composer of a concerto. He had rigorous classical training at The Royal College of Music before taking up a series of prestigious posts with classical orchestras as an Oboist.

Incredibly, given his virtuoso status, he did not take up the harp until he was in his 30s. Searching through the harp repertoire in the Irish Tradition he inevitably came upon the work of the great 17th/18th century Harper, Turlough O’ Carolan.

O’ Carolan is a mythic figure in Irish music and history. A bard, blind from the age of 18, who equipped with harp and horse roamed Homerically throughout Ireland composing and playing exquisite tunes that have immense melodic charm.

O’Carolan’s music has had no better champion than Derek Bell. His perfectly paced performance of the haunting, ‘Farewell To Music’ has a limpid beauty that pierces to the soul.

Here Derek puts me in mind of the great jazz pianist Bill Evans’ playing on, ‘Blue in Green’ ; only musicians of the highest order, secure in their craft and selfless before their music, can play with such simplicity.

It was a 1972 St Patrick’s Day concert of the music of O’Carolan that first brought Derek into contact with The Chieftains (referred to by one of his orchestral colleagues as a, ‘Tatty Folk Group’). The ever alert Paddy Moloney, the ringmaster of The Chieftains, recognised Derek as a great musician and knew that the the addition of a brilliant harpist would give the group an even more distinctive sound and expand their repertoire

So from 1975 Derek was a full time Chieftain, an inveterate tourer and a beaming collaborator with musicians running the gamut from Ry Cooder to Chinese Folk Orchestras. Beyond his musical genius he brought a wholly individual character and impish sense of humour to The Chieftains.

Derek cut a distinctive figure on stage: attired as he invariably was in a crumpled suit, tie and pullover with the short legs of his trousers allowing view of cartoon socks! He was often forgetful of the mundane elements of life. He was once arrested at Moscow airport for carrying a ticking alarm clock in his jacket pocket as he was about to board a flight!

Listen to him here with The Chieftains as they hymn O’Carolan and demonstrate their eminence as traditional musicians – individually brilliant and collectively harmonious.

For Derek what really counted was the music. Like Van Morrison he was a dweller on the threshold who devoted his life to his art with an open heart, an elevated spirit and religious fidelity .

His death in 2002 at the age of 66 was an incalculable loss to music. Ones to themselves don’t come along very often.

Ireland in the 20th Century was blessed with a dazzling gallery of Poets, Playwrights and Novelists who won critical acclaim, popular success and serial Nobel Prizes. To my mind the most eminent of them all was Samuel Beckett.

I freely admit that I have been obsessed with the man and his work ever since I first encountered, ‘Waiting For Godot’ as a teenager. I have a zealot’s conviction that the tender Irish musicality, humour and precision of Beckett’s prose combined with the rigour of his thought and the scarifying uniqueness of his dramatic vision mark him out as the greatest writer of his era.

Beckett found in the actress Billie Whitelaw a muse who responded with dedication, wholehearted courage and endless commitment to the enormous technical and emotional challenges involved in the roles written for her by Beckett.

He acted as a composer/conductor and she as a brilliant instrumentalist determined to play a seemingly impossible piece perfectly. The work they did together, just to cite, ‘Happy Days’ and, ‘Not I’ must constitute one of the most significant partnerships in the history of the theatre.

Today I’m sharing a film which showcases one of Beckett’s most intense and poignant late works, ‘Rockaby’. The artful structure and deep musicality of this short play reflects Beckett’s immense theatrical craft and imaginative daring.

The play expertly deploys rhythmical language in descending loops to evoke a dreamlike state where buried memories swirl around a mind and being that is closing down.

Rockaby faces head on some of the deepest questions in human life? Who am I? How do we know ourselves and how do we know another? What moves the rocking chair? How do we come to terms with our extinction?

Billie Whitelaw found the play, ‘very frightening to do’ yet trusting to the truth of Beckett’s vision she produced a performance which is note perfect and almost unbearably moving.

Now, as they say, for something completely different. There was a time when the humour was on me and pints of porter were freely flowing when I would stand up, whatever the company and launch into the mock epic ‘Sucking Stones’ speech from Beckett’s novel, ‘Molloy’. A wondrous performance of the speech can be found on YouTube embedded in Barry McGovern’s legendary one man Beckett show, ‘Beginning to End’

I would suggest you read the text below out loud to catch the full brilliance of its humour. Only Samuel Beckett could have written this. After all, he was one to himself and as good as it gets.

I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of
sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on
this occasion I laid in a considerable store. I distributed them
equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn
about.

This raised a problem which I first solved in the following
way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these
being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my
greatcoat.

Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and
putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my
greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I
replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I
replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I
replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had
finished sucking it.

Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets,
but not quite the same stones. And when the desire to
suck took hold of me again, I drew again on the right pocket of my
greatcoat, certain of not taking the same stone as the last time.
And while I sucked it I rearranged the other stones in the way I
have just described. And so on.

But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that,
by an extraordinary hazard, the four stones circulating thus might always be the same four.

In which case, far from sucking the sixteen stones turn and turn about, I was
really only sucking four, always the same, turn and turn about.

But I shuffled them well in my pockets, before I began to suck, and
again, while I sucked, before transferring them, in the hope of
obtaining a more general circulation of the stones from pocket to
pocket. But this was only a makeshift that could not long content a
man like me. So I began to look for something else …

I might do better to transfer the stones four by four, instead of one
by one, that is to say, during the sucking, to take the three stones remaining
in the right pocket of my greatcoat and replace them by the four in the
right pocket of my trousers , and these by the four in the left pocket
of my trousers, and these by the four in the left pocket of my greatcoat,
and finally these by the three from the right pocket of my greatcoat,
plus the one, as soon as I had finished sucking it, which was in my mouth.

Yes, it seemed to me at first that by so doing I would arrive at a better
result. But on further reflection I had to change my mind and confess that
the circulation of the stones four by four came to exactly the same thing
as their circulation one by one.

For if I was certain of finding each time, in the right pocket of my greatcoat, four stones totally different from their immediate predecessors,
the possibility nevertheless remained of my always chancing on the same stone, within each group of four, and consequently of my sucking, not the sixteen turn and turn about as I wished, but in fact four only, always the same, turn and turn about.

So I had to seek elsewhere than in the mode of circulation. For no matter how I caused the stones to circulate, I always ran the same risk. It was obvious
that by increasing the number of my pockets I was bound to increase my
chances of enjoying my stones in the way I planned, that is to say one
after the other until their number was exhausted.

Had I had eight pockets, for example, instead of the four I did have, then even the most diabolical hazard could not have prevented me from
sucking at least eight of my sixteen stones, turn and turn about.

The truth is I should have needed sixteen pockets in order to be quite easy in my mind. And for a long time I could see no other conclusion than this,
that short of having sixteen pockets, each with its stone, I could never reach the goal I had set myself, short of an extraordinary hazard.

And if at a pinch I could double the number of my pockets, were it only by dividing each pocket in two, with the help of a few safety-pins let us say, to quadruple them seemed to be more than I could manage. And I did not feel inclined to take all that trouble for a half-measure.

For I was beginning to lose all sense of measure, after
all this wrestling and wrangling, and to say, All or nothing. And if I
was tempted for an instant to establish a more equitable proportion between
my stones and my pockets , by reducing the former to the number of the
latter, it was only for an instant. For it would have been an admission
of defeat. And sitting on the shore, before the sea, the sixteen stones
spread out before my eyes, I gazed at them in anger and perplexity …

One day suddenly it dawned on me, dimly, that I might perhaps achieve
my purpose without increasing the number of my pockets, or reducing the
number of my stones, but simply by sacrificing the principle of trim.
The meaning of this illumination, which suddenly began to sing within
me, like a verse of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, I did not penetrate at once,
and notably the word trim, which I had never met with, in this sense,
long remained obscure.

Finally I seemed to grasp that this word trim could not here mean anything else, anything better, than the distribution of the sixteen stones
in four groups of four, one group in each pocket, and that it was my refusal to consider any distribution other than this that had vitiated my calculations until then and rendered the problem literally insoluble.

And it was on the basis of this interpretation, whether right
or wrong, that I finally reached a solution, inelegant assuredly, but
sound, sound.

Now I am willing to believe, indeed I firmly believe, that
other solutions to this problem might have been found and indeed may still
be found, no less sound, but much more elegant than the one I shall now
describe, if I can …

Good. Now I can begin to suck. Watch me closely. I take a stone from
the right pocket of my greatcoat , suck it, stop sucking it, put it
in the left pocket of my greatcoat, the one empty (of stones).

I take a second stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, suck it put it
in the left pocket of my greatcoat. And so on until the right pocket
of my greatcoat is empty (apart from its usual and casual contents)
and the six stones I have just sucked, one after the other, are
all in the left pocket of my greatcoat.

Pausing then, and concentrating, so as not to make a balls of it, I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, in which there are no stones left, the
five stones in the right pocket of my trousers, which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my trousers, which I replace by
the six stones in the left pocket of my greatcoat.

At this stage then the left pocket of my greatcoat is again empty of stones, while the right pocket of my greatcoat is again supplied, and in the
right way, that is to say with other stones than those I have just
sucked.

These other stones I then begin to suck, one after the other,
vand to transfer as I go along to the left pocket of my greatcoat,
being absolutely certain, as far as one can be in an affair of this
kind, that I am not sucking the same stones as a moment before, but
others.

And when the right pocket of my greatcoat is again empty (of
stones), and the five I have just sucked are all without exception
in the left pocket of my greatcoat, then I proceed to the same
redistribution as a moment before, or a similar redistribution,
that is to say I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, now
again available, the five stones in the right pocket of my trousers,
which I replace by the six stones in the left pocket of my trousers,
which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my
greatcoat. And there I am ready to begin again. Do I have to go on?

There was something more than a principle I abandoned, when I
abandoned the equal distribution, it was a bodily need. But to suck
the stones in the way I have described, not haphazard, but with
method, was also I think a bodily need.

Here then were two incompatible bodily needs, at loggerheads.
Such things happen. But deep down I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about being off my balance, dragged to the right hand and the left, backwards and
forewards.

And deep down it was all the same to me whether I sucked
a different stone each time or always the same stone, until the end
of time. For they all tasted exactly the same. And if I had
collected sixteen, it was not in order to ballast myself in such and
such a way, or to suck them turn about, but simply to have a little
store, so as never to be without.

But deep down I didn’t give a fiddler’s curse about being without,
when they were all gone they would be all gone,
I wouldn’t be any the worse off, or hardly any.

And the solution to which I rallied in the end was to throw away all
the stones but one, which I kept now in one pocket, now in another,
and which of course I soon lost, or threw away, or gave away, or
swallowed …