For all my American readers and devotees of the American music so frequently featured on The Immortal Jukebox a Thanksgiving tip of the hat and toast from England (fuelled by more than a few shots of Maker’s Mark!)
I hear America singing in lone fiddlers and second line marching bands. I hear America singing through the blazing genius of Louis Armstrong’s horn and Bill Evan’s piano. I hear America singing in the guitar evangelism of Gary Davis, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, James Burton and Duane Allman.
I hear America singing in the eerie moans of Robert Johnson and Skip James. I hear America’s song echoing through the years in Jimmy Rogers’ blue yodels and in Hank Williams’ long lonesome laments. I hear America’s song ringing out in Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie.
I hear America singing in Ray Charles as he makes a congregation of us all. I hear America singing in the gut strings of Willie Nelson’s guitar and voice. I hear America singing in the nobility of Arthur Alexander’s stoic meditations, the glory and the fury of Nina Simone and in the stratospheric ascents to glory of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson.
I hear America singing proudly and tenderly in Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday and Loretta Lynn.
I hear America singing sweetly in Jesse Winchester, Bill Withers, Irma Thomas and Bonnie Raitt. I hear America singing clear as a bell in Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, John Fogarty, Otis Redding, Steve Cropper, Booker T Jones, Al Jackson and Duck Dunn.
I hear America’s song being carried thousands of miles all the way down Highway 61 from Minnesota to New Orleans and on around the world in Bob Dylan’s harmonica and in his treasury of songs.
And today, right here, right now, I hear America singing up in all its beautiful humanity in the voice of a son of Arkansas, Levon Helm. For me Levon Helm’s over proof, burnished voice and warm, inviting drum sound brings the soul of America’s people, its rivers and mountains, prairies, swamps and deserts to tear swelling life.
I hear the life and love of life of America singing clear and true in Levon Helm’s life loving voice. I hear America singing in his joy of making music in company.
You want to hear what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness sounds like? Well to me it sounds exactly like Levon Helm – the shining pride of American music. Listen to his lovely, leery vocal here on, ‘Cripple Creek’
And here to the almost prophetic candour he brings to, ‘The Weight’