Merle Haggard, Dave Alvin & Emmylou Harris – Kern River

‘I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By the worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.’

(T. S. Eliot – ‘The Dry Salvages’)

The river is a strong brown god.

In our lives we all have many rivers to cross. And, so often, we can’t seem to find our way over. Over to the land of milk and honey. Over to the land of lost content. Over to the home we are sure is there waiting, waiting.

So filled now with hope, now with faith, now firm in resolve, now lost and abandoned without hope or faith or resolve we stand silent and shivering on the river bank. Wondering will I ever cross over and what will await me when I do?

The river is a strong brown god.

Beside a river man is a paltry thing despite all the majesty of our boats and bridges. The river ran before man ever drew breath and will run and run long after our last breath.

The river is a strong brown god.

And, we are attracted to the power and mystery of rivers even as we fear their mystery and power. And, sometimes the river, in spate and flood, asserts its power and authority and reminds us brutally that beside a river man is a paltry thing.

A river, in flood and spate, can, in a moment, sweep away our idle dreams of the future and leave us chastened, bereft, beached and fearful of rivers for the rest of our lives.

The river is a strong brown god.

Merle Haggard know this. Merle has always seemed to me have the far away look of a man who knows how unfair and brutal life can be. A man who learned hard lessons in youth which he can never dismiss or deny.


A man who does not flinch to tell uncomfortable truths. A man who honed his craft as a songwriter so that his songs seem like the folk takes or fables we use to illustrate the wisdom of the race.

And, being the great songwriter and performer he is in 1995 he recorded my favourite river song, ‘Kern River’, a song as deep and mysterious as a river. A song filled with flinty, implacable power.

A song which has eddied and swirled through my imagination since the first time I fell under the current of its spell. It still runs through my dreams.

In a few short verses of spare telling detail delivered with a measured, dry-eyed, rueful tone Merle sums up a life stalled and cauterised by sudden trauma. Sudden trauma, when a river’s swiftness swept the love of a man’s life away.

On one side of the river life on the other death. Oblivious the river, Kern River, flows on. And, when your life has been cleft in two; into before and after what can you be sure of now?

Only that a river can be mean, meaner than you ever imagined. All you can be sure of now is that you will never, never, swim Kern River again. Oh, it may be that drowning may still be your fate for a man can’t escape his fate wherever he is, wherever he escapes to.

We all have an appointment in Samarra or Lake Shasta and you can drown in still water just as you can drown in a raging torrent.

Now, he is alone, a shattered survivor, weightless like chaff in the wind to be swept up into the mountains. Now he stares ahead remembering the town he grew up in where the oil flowed though his gusher never came in.

Now, as the hours and days fall like soft sift through the hourglass he remembers his lost love, his best friend, who he must live without for all the hours and days his life has left. All the hours and days he has left.

All around him the mountains remind him that beside nature man is a paltry thing. And that the river is a strong brown god. So he may cross, with care on the highway but he will never swim Kern River again.

Merle Haggard’s, ‘Kern River’ is a masterpiece from an American master. A song whose depths can never be sounded.

It takes up its place on The Immortal Jukebox as A15

Though nothing can match the Homeric authority of Merle’s own take on, ‘Kern River’ the song has attracted fellow songwriters and singers who know that it is a song of rare power.

Listen here to Dave Alvin’s meditative live in the studio version which has a lovely flow.

Dave Alvin, a mighty songwriter in his own right, has always listened closely to the masters of American song and it is clear that he has learned how to allow the power of a true song to flow through his guitar and his voice.

Emmylou Harris has spent decades mining the songbook of American roots music. To each of these treasures she brings the tender beauty of her voice and her unerring knack of finding superb musicians to make the songs come alive in performance.

Below, with The Red Dirt Boys she brings a dreamy, revival meeting by the river, passion to the song. You might believe for an instant that the river would be lulled and stilled.

 

Yet, we know the river can never really be propitiated. It will flow and flow on no matter how lovely the song sung on its banks.

The river is a strong brown god.

Notes:

Kern River was the title track of a CD Merle issued in 1995.

Dave Alvin has recorded the song on a lovely multi artist tribute CD to Merle called, ‘Tulare Dust’ and also on his own wonderful, ‘West of the West’

Emmylou Harris’ version can be found on her, ‘All That I Intended To Be’

The Boss, The Band & Buddy Holly blitz Bo Diddley!

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

A true message, a strong signal always gets through. People are waiting. People are always waiting for a true message. And, especially when you are in your teens you seem to spend your life waiting. Waiting for the person, the thing, the sound which will release you from the prison you seem to have been entombed in for so long.

Oh, you don’t know what it is you are waiting for, exactly. How could you? You just know as you stare for hours and hours at the walls of your bedroom that something, something big, something important, something meant just for you, is on its way.

Something, out there somewhere, is coming. And, you know, you just know, that when it comes you will recognise it and fall upon it like a hungry wolf. It is bound to take you somewhere you’ve never been before opening up a whole new life. A whole new world.

There is always a Promised Land to long for, to believe in with all your heart. Whatever sensible people, older, wiser people tell you, YOU know that the Promised Land is real and just over the horizon.

In 1950s America the musical message, the true musical message came through the ether on radio waves. Border radio stations with 50,000 watts of power sent the message to distant parts of the land. And, in distant parts of the land people were waiting. People were waiting.

Sitting in his car, late at night, in Lubbock Texas with his friend Sonny Curtis, Charles Hardin Holly always and forever after to be known as Buddy Holly, tuned in to stations playing Blues and Rhythm and Blues music and had an epiphany.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

‘Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring …..’

And that was it! If a smart young musician who already knew his Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Louvin Brothers and who knew the young Elvis Presley could incorporate this thunderous rhythm into the songs he was writing (oh yes, this was a young man who was going to write and record his own songs and play the hell out of them on the Fender Stratocaster he had bought for the princely sum of $249.50) then surely the world beyond Lubbock would sit up and take notice.

So, when he got to Norman Petty’s Clovis, New Mexico studio in 1956,’Bo Diddley’ was one of the first songs he tried out with the ever faithful Jerry Allison on the drums.

That version didn’t see the light of day for many a year but Buddy now had THAT RHYTHM in his bones. And, so when he came up with a song called, ‘Not Fade Away’ it was pounded out to Bo’s immortal Rhythm.

Gathered, in Clovis, on May 27 1957, Buddy now a certified star, turned to the Rhythm and with Joe Maudlin on bass and Jerry Allison on cardboard box drums he laid down a record which was a great tribute to Bo and one which would perk up the waiting ears of Paul McCartney and John Lennon in Liverpool and in the outer reaches of London, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard (and we know what they then did!)

Listening to Buddy here you hear the sound of someone entirely present in their work. Present in the mixture of choppy propulsion and gleeful, aint it grand to be alive lyricism of his guitar work. Present in the distinctive alluring timbre of his vocal style.

Present in the easeful assurance of his lyric which characteristically combines assertiveness and romantic sweetness. Buddy Holly had one of the most vivacious sounds ever achieved in Rock n’ Roll and his blend of instrumental flow and aggression with tough yet tender songs set a template for generations of musicians that followed him. Few have ever caught up with Buddy.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Fast forward to 1963. Up in Canada, the big lonely, Arkansas native Ronnie Hawkins has found his niche purveying prime rockabilly and rock ‘n ‘ roll to the denizens of the toughest bars in Toronto and any other town where there’s an audience ready for a band filled with crack musicians led by a natural showman.

Ronnie Hawkins is a figure out of myth. A bear of a man, a larger than life hustler, a supreme tall tale teller some of whose juiciest takes may even be true no matter how outrageous they seem. Ronnie has been down all the blue highways and seen just about everything a man can see and not go blind.

One thing about Ol’ Ronnie; he may not be even close to being a great musician himself but he sure as hell can spot one when he hears one. And, given that Ronnie helmed the hottest band in Canada which offered a young musician a full date book, the opportunity to hone their musical skills and the promise of unlimited carnal delights, there was no shortage of would be members of The Hawks.

Joining The Hawks was like a raw recruit being sent to the toughest possible military base for intensive training. If you survived there was no other band’s ass you couldn’t kick to kingdoms come.

And, by 1963 when Ronnie and the latest vintage went into the studio to record Bo’s classic, ‘Who Do You Love’ Ronnie had assembled the best band he would ever have. A band that had talent to burn, fire and finesse and the stamina to play all night long, night after night after night.

On drums and vocals the only American in the troupe, Levon Helm (the eldest at 23). On rhythm guitar (soon to switch to bass) and vocals Rick Danko, on piano and vocals Richard Manuel and on guitar, a prodigy, Robbie Robertson. Completing the line up for this record was another stellar axeman, Roy Buchanan, here on bass.

Waiting in the wings was the greatest musician of them all the mighty Garth Hudson who was a revelatory master of the organ, the accordion and a bunch of saxophones. On that day in 1963 as they launched into, ‘Who Do You Love’ they brought all Bo’s ominous pealing thunder to the song while adding strike after strike of earth scorching lightning which lit an unquenchable match in the hearts of anyone who ever heard it.

This set of Hawks, as we know, would go on to collaborate with the greatest popular music artist of the 20th Century, Bob Dylan, accompanying him on epochal tours and making distinguished contributions to his recordings.

As, ‘The Band’ their first two albums would be certified masterpieces melding all the traditions of American music into a glorious seamless whole in songs of depth and fervour. The whole project of Americana music might be seen as trying to explore the territory opened by The Band.

But, in 1963 they were not Rock aristocrats – they were hot as hell sons of guns and their playing on, ‘Who Do You Love’ has rarely, if ever, been matched for incendiary passion. Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing here is simply astounding.

It’s as if Ronnie Hawkins had chained him up for a month, without his beloved guitar and then given it back saying, ‘You don’t get to keep it unless you set this studio ablaze!’

Robbie Robertson conjures more magic out of his guitar here in under three minutes than most guitarists manage in a lifetime. Out front Ronnie intones Bo’s lyric with lip smacking relish conscious that this record must be his finest hour.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

The message certainly got through to a kid growing up in Freehold, New Jersey. The songs Bruce was drawn to, enraptured by, were songs filled with drama. Songs that swept you up and away with their passion. Songs that were emotional twisters. Bruce got Bo.

Bruce Springsteen has always understood that it’s essential power of rhythm that holds a song together. And as a writer and performer he has always understood, in a way that few others have, that a great artist performing on stage is invoking timeless ritual energies that have to have their being confirmed and released through rhythm now controlled, now unleashed, now controlled, now unleashed until the ritual is complete and artist and audience are elated, exhausted and free.

Bruce gets Bo. In particular he gets, the howling past the graveyard depths of ‘Mona’ which in some mysterious fashion called forth his own song, ‘She’s The One’. So often in concert he runs the two songs together doffing his cap to Bo and proving his devotion to tradition by adding to it not merely copying it.

The version I’m featuring here is from a spectacularly intense concert he and The E Street Band gave at LA’s Roxy in July 1978.

You’d think Bruce and the band would have needed to take an ice bath to recover after that! This is Bruce using every muscle and sinew to inhabit the spooked landscape of Bo’s song. Bruce shape shifts to become a shamanistic vessel for THE RHYTHM. Listening to this I would never quibble with his honorary title as, ‘The Boss’.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Over in Britain and Ireland in the 1950s and early 60s just knowing the name of Bo Diddley showed that you were one of the musical elect. He wasn’t exactly a household name and was very rarely played on the radio.

His records had to be tracked down in record shops like Dobells in London, NEMS in Liverpool or Belfast’s Atlantic Records who might stock or might order for you those precious 45s of Bo Diddley or Mona.

These singles issued on the black and silver London label and later on the yellow and red Pye label were fetishistic objects for a core group of fanatical rhythm and blues fans who included such future luminaries as Dick Taylor of The Pretty Things (named after a Bo Diddley song), Eric Burdon of The Animals and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. Being an R&B devotee was akin to joining a secret confraternity. Once you had heard Bo you were a changed being.

The hallmark of being an R&B band that really knew their stuff was that you could lock into THE RHYTHM you had learned from Bo and through ecstatic dance take your audience to a whole new level of consciousness. So, if you were in the know and danced at The Cavern, The Marquee, The Flamingo or Club A Go Go you wouldn’t go long without that Bo Diddley Rhythm starting to take you over.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Now, it’s undoubtedly the case that the 1960s represents the high water mark of the Blues Boom in Britain and Ireland. But, the signal, the Rhythm never went away. The signal continued to be sent and received.

In the 1970s out of the Thames Delta and the extraordinary landscape of Canvey Island came a cutthroat crew, Dr Feelgood, who committed themselves 100% to the rhythm every time they launched into their tempestuous version of Bo’s I Can Tell.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen lead singer Lee Brilleaux’s eyeballs out attack on the song or stood open mouthed in amazement as Guitarist Wilko Johnson ricocheted across the stage strafing everyone with machine gun lead and rhythm licks.

Dr Feelgood will get their own post here soon!

The signal still gets through.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

As the 20th Century came to a close far from hip metropolitan Dublin four boys were born in Cavan who destined to be nothing less than mojo men. By 2012, while still schoolboys, Ross Farrelly (harmonica, vocals), Josh McClorey (lead guitar/vocals), Peter O’Hanlon (bass, vocals) and Evan Walsh (drums), bursting with energy, home recorded a debut EP which featured a series of R&B rave-ups on songs by Billy Boy Arnold and Slim Harpo with the killer cut being their 100 miles an hour down a dead end street take on Bo’s, ‘You Can’t Judge A Book ..’

The Strypes get Bo. You can see that as they strut their stuff on stage. You can hear it in every note they play.

When you get down to it, when you really get down to it, Rhythm rules. And you either get the rhythm or you don’t. You’ve either got it or you haven’t got it. The Strypes have definitely got it! If you get a chance to go and see them Go!

A true message, a strong signal always gets through. People are waiting. They will always be waiting. And, Bo Diddley’s message and signal will always be out there – waiting to be picked up.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Hey, Bo Diddley!

P.S. If you havent read the previous post on Bo himself – what are you waiting for!

 

Bo Diddley : Rhythm rules! Rhythm rules!

When you get down to it, when you really get down to it – rhythm rules.

Before you can utter a sound you can feel and respond to the rhythm of your mothers beating heart. And it’s your first and dearest tune; the lullaby a part of you will always live by. Rhythm rules.

You are then born suddenly into a world of seeming blooming and buzzing confusion where you must learn again to tune in to the essential rhythms of life. Heat and cold. Hunger and thirst. Night and day. Summer and Winter. Spring and Autumn. Rhythm rules.

Meanwhile the planets and the stars rotate in their ancient dance while the tides of the sea rise and fall, rise and fall, obedient to the imperial moon as they beat, beat, beat, rhythmically on the shores of the waiting land. Rhythm rules.

Rhythm rules. It always has and it always will. You don’t need to be able to read and write. You don’t need to speak a particular language. All you need is a beating heart.

And to demonstrate the utter primacy of the power of Rhythm there is only one man to turn to: he was born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi in the dying days of 1928. As a boy he became Ellas McDaniel but the world will always know him as The Originator, the one, the only Bo Diddley.

In March 1955, as I rocked safely in my mother’s womb, Bo Diddley took his Guitar and went into Universal Studios in Chicago in the company of Otis Spann (piano), Jerome Green (maracas), Frank Kirkland (drums) and Lester Davenport (harmonica) and laid down two tracks, ‘Bo Diddley’ and ‘I’m A Man’ that would be issued as a 45 in April on the Chess Records subsidiary label Checker with the serial number 814. I will brook no argument that this is the greatest debut single of all time!

Listen here to Bo announcing himself to the world with the supreme confidence of a man who knows, absolutely knows, that he has found and can incarnate the rhythm which will sweep the globe and revolutionise popular music.

A primordial, irresistible Rhythm which will lift listeners out of the everyday world reconnecting them with their essential physicality and, as the beat pounds relentlessly on, a door to a buried collective unconscious is opened and bodies drenched in sweat discover a reinvigorated sense of their animal and numinous nature.

Now we can call up the musicologists (there’s usually a brace or two of them in a dusty corridor of your local university!) and learn that the, ‘Bo Diddley rhythm’ melds elements from Latin America, West Africa and the Southern States of America.

We can talk artfully about the influences of latin clave and body slapping, ‘hambone’ performers. We might refer to the beat as three stroke/rest/two stroke or say, ‘Shave and a hair cut (pause) two bits’ or bomp-ba-domp–ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Now, that’s all very well but what really counts is that unless you are being forcibly restrained by experts once you hear that Bo Diddley Beat you won’t have the inclination to think about any descriptive terms for the beat that you must get in sync with, must get down to. The beat that you feel in the soles of your feet, in your loins, in the pit of your stomach, in the very chambers of your heart.

A beat that is and was a musical earthquake and which continues to produce aftershocks in the work of those who listened hard to what Bo was laying down.

People like Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Pete Townshend, Eric Burdon, Jeff Beck, Bob Seeger, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and Bruce Springsteen all fell under Bo’s spell and wrote and recorded songs with Bo’s Rhythm flowing through every bar and every line. Look out in a few days time for a further post illustrating Bo’s astounding influence on popular music.

Now, though it’s time to return to the original source. Here’s Bo from April 1957 with the spooky, hypnotic mantra, ‘Mona’.

Well you sure can hear the field holler here. And, you can feel, have to feel, the sweet agony of the longing and the lust. Some say Bo wrote this in homage to an exotic dancer who piled her trade at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit. If true, she must have been some dancer!

Mona is music stripped down to the barest elements needed to carry its message; like a rope bridge strung over a chasm that somehow stays in place when it seems it must fall into the depths below.

Listen to the eerie, I will not be denied vocal. Listen to the febrile, I just don’t know how much of this I can stand guitar, and tell me you are not shaken and stirred. Tell me that your heart is not going bumpety-bump! Mona, Oh Mona!

Bo was by no means a prisoner of his own Beat. He was a very fine songwriter with storytelling flair able to write lines that invoked the well known tropes of folk tales with wit and wisdom.

Musically he knew all about what Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry were doing in Chicago as well as the what was coming out of New Orleans from Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. His youthful training as a violinist had given him a feeling for melody and harmony that he brought into play when needed.

In 1956 he had written a song, in a rockabilly style shuffle rhythm which was immediately recognised as a classic – ‘Who Do You Love?’

I remember laughing out loud with pleasure the first time I heard the opening lines:

‘I walk forty-seven miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra snake for a neck tie,
I got a brand new house on the roadside, made from rattlesnake hide,
I got a brand new chimney made on top, made out of a human skull,
Now come on baby let’s take a little walk, and tell me, ‘Who do you love?’

Indeed! Why wouldn’t Arlene go for a walk with Bo- given the entrancing, hucksterish, nature of his lyrical come-on and the scintillating excitement of the lead guitar played here by Jody Williams.

You’re sure to have a fine, fine, time with a man who just rode a lion to town using a rattlesnake whip. A man with a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind who’s just 22 but don’t mind dying. Sure, he will probably be gone in a puff of smoke tomorrow morning. But, today’s the only day that counts Arlene – Carpe Diem!

Bo must have had an ear cocked to the rippling rhythms emerging from the interplay of musicians in dance bands from New Orleans and Caribbean. You can hear this loud and clear in a lovely, slyly humour filled record he cut in December 1958 – ‘Crackin’ Up’

Bo’s marvellous reading of the phrase, ‘What’s buggin’ you?’ on its own would have me happily laying down my cash to buy this one! Add to that Bo’s pretty, shimmering, glitterball guitar and the virtually DooWop backing vocals and you have a perfect pop confection that hits the spot every time.

In 1962 the Eminence grise of Chess Records, Willie Dixon, presented Bo with a guaranteed hit with the charming cracker-barrel philosophy treatise, ‘You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover’. Once Bo and the band lock in you are going nowhere till the song ends! Like Bo says … Come on in closer… Turn it up!

Bo Diddley was a radical innovator who respected the tradition he was heir to. He was a primitive artist and an avant garde artist. He was thoroughly modern and post modern before his time.

Imagine him here strapping on his square bodied guitar and sending everybody reeling with the so good you’re going to have to keep this one on repeat for an hour or so, ‘Mumblin’ Guitar’.

In any universe that I can imagine Bo Diddley will always be out in front of the pack. Bo Diddley is and was as cool as cool can be.

Notes:

‘The Story of Bo Diddley’ double CD on Chess/Universal should be a corner stone of any collection of the best of 20th Century music!

As stated above, my next post, due very soon will showcase the depth of Bo’s influence on the generations of musicians who followed him. Don’t you dare miss it!

Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Elvis all knew how great Joe South was – So should you!

‘A need to hear and tell stories is essential to human beings, second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter,’ (Reynolds Price, Novelist of the American South)

‘In the South people talk in rhyme and clap on the offbeat’ (Robbie Robertson)

Growing up in the American South in the post World War Two era a boy with attentive ears and a curious mind would have had access to a rich, loamy diet of inspirational songs and stories. Tall tales, fables and folk tales at the kitchen table and the store. Gossip and rumour outside church and school.

The heavy air all around you was suffused with Hymns and Murder ballads, work songs, cheating songs, songs of exile and songs longing for home. Tuning the radio dial in Georgia you could hear scarifying Black Gospel, parlour songs, train songs, bluegrass breakdowns, bottleneck blues, honky tonk drinking songs, waltzes, polkas and whatever was top of the pop charts.

If you were musically inclined you could start practicing with the guitar your daddy gave at 11 and while still a teenager, if you had the will and the talent, you might find yourself co- writing a hit song with a rock n roll legend and go on to be a master session guitarist, Grammy winning songwriter and singer with a string of classic songs to your name and work with everyone from Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin and Simon and Garfunkel. You might even have Elvis himself record and perform one of your songs.

You might grow up to be Joe South.

And, if you were Joe South you would write and record in 1969, ‘Games People Play’ one of the most enduringly satisfying and effective songs of the 1960s.

Now that’s a song! An unstoppable hit from the majestic sitar intro and La – Da da da da da da vocalising even before the brilliant straight from the shoulder lyric skewers the phoniness and pretensions of the movers and shakers of the 60s generation (not to mention every generation before and since!).

There is a characteristic magnificent sinewy strength to Joe’s baritone vocal and his guitar/sitar playing. In Games People Play he has turned a great song through superb performance and production into a great record. ‘Games’ features a wonderfully integrated vocal, organ, strings and brass arrangement which swells the sound to anthemic proportions.

Joe South always sang like a man who knew what he was talking about and who wasn’t afraid to tell uncomfortable truths about himself and the world around him.

‘Talking about you and me and the games people play ….’

‘Oh we make one another cry, Break a heart then we say goodbye .. ‘

‘People walking up to you, Singing glory hallelujah, And they try to sock it to you in the name of the Lord…’

‘They’re gonna teach you how to meditate, Read your horoscope, cheat your fate… ‘

‘Look around tell me what you see, God grant me the serenity to remember who I am …’

‘Turned your back on humanity and you don’t give a da, da, da da , da …… ‘

It seems to me that, ‘Games People Play’ is as accurate a summary of life in 2016 as it was in 1969 and as it will be in 2069. Cue it up again!

Joe South was an Atlanta Georgia native. Once he discovered the guitar he became an obsessive practicing round the clock and even setting up his own mini radio station to broadcast his playing.

Through DJ Bill Lowery he got involved with Atlanta’s NRC Record Label and formed musical bonds with Jerry Reed, Pete Drake, Ray Stevens and Billy Joe Royal. In 1958 he co-wrote the novelty hit, ‘The Purple People Eater meets Witch Doctor’ with the larger than life Big Bopper of, ‘Chantilly Lace’ fame (who was to die in the plane crash that took Buddy Holly)

His prowess as a guitarist won him work in Atlanta, Nashville and Muscle Shoals. In 1962 he played the Buddy Holly style guitar on Tommy Roe’s Billboard Number One, ‘Sheila’.

In the same era he had his first mainstream hit with the charming, ‘Untie Me’ by the black vocal group The Tams – a favourite on the Myrtle Beach summer sand scene.

Joe South grew up in a strictly segregated South. But like Tony Joe White, Steve Cropper, Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton his musical taste was never segregated and the influence of Gospel, R&B and Soul music as well as Country is palpable in every note he sang and played.

Joe’s versatility is clear when you consider that in 1965 he was called in by Simon and Garfunkel’s producer Tom Wilson to add electric guitar punch to the ‘Sounds of Silence’ Album in the same year that he was writing and producing a country soul classic for his long time friend Billy Joe Royal with, ‘Down In The Boondocks’ a tale of the travails of love attempting to cross the tracks from the picket fenced lawns to tar papered shack poor side of town.

Apparently Joe had asked Billy to record Boondocks as a demo hoping to pitch it to Gene Pitney. However, the distinctive echoey sound and Billy’s urgent performance was recognised by a savvy someone at CBS and lo! A top 10 hit resulted.

Billy would go on to record several other Joe South songs including the lilting ballad, ‘I Knew You When’ and the irresistible, ‘Hush’ perhaps better known from the hit Deep Purple version.

In late November 1965 and through to March ’66 Joe became involved in the epochal sessions for Bob Dylan’s landmark masterpiece album, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ playing both guitar and bass. He plays bass on the sublime, Visions of Johanna’ which must be one of the defining Himalayan triumphs of Dylan’s career and of the whole rock era.

Joe was as comfortable recording with members of The Band and Nashville luminaries on Blonde on Blonde as he would later be when he played with signature brilliance along with Muscle Shoals finest on Aretha Franklin’s 1967 smash hit, ‘Chain of Fools’

That’s Joe with the E string tuned to a low C providing the spooky, something serious is gonna go down here, intro that sets things up for the majestic Aretha to slay us all. Throughout the song Joe meshes perfectly with Jimmy Johnson, Tommy Cogbill, Spooner Oldham and Roger Hawkins as they keep everything between simmer and boil following Aretha.

When it came to his own recording career Joe would never have as big a hit as, ‘Games’ but he would write and record biting songs that continue to hit home with their humanity, their moral force and their musical power.

My particular favourite is the you just can’t deny it’s true, ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’ which became a high point of Elvis Presley’s 1970 stage shows (and there isn’t a songwriter in the world who wouldn’t have whooped at top volume when learning that Elvis had done one of their songs!).

Do look up the King’s version but I have to feature Joe’s testifying version here today. What fantastic guitar too!

We all know, as surefire sinners, that we should keep the stone in our pocket rather than casting it at our neighbour for their sins. Or as Joe puts it with pithy force:

‘Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes,
Hey before you abuse, criticise and accuse,
Walk a mile in my shoes’

There’s something very cheering about the way Joe South songs come at you so directly presenting a clear eyed, dare to say this isn’t so, critique of our personal and communal hypocrisies and failings .

And, in a way that never has the whiff of pious cant about them. Rather, these are songs filled with life and hard won wisdom which you just have to sing along to. It’s a rare gift to write songs filled with righteous anger that aren’t deadening rants that win allegiance only from those with closed minds and hard hearts.

In October 1970 a song that Joe had originally given to Billy Joe Royal and recorded himself in a lovely ruminative version became a world wide hit for Lynn Anderson.

‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’ is the kind of country record that sells to people who say they can’t stand country music.

The kind of pop song that is bought, listened to and remembered by eight year olds and eighty year olds. The kind of record that wins nodding heads of agreement from all us, bruised in Love, when it says, ‘You know what I’m talking about’. So smile for a while and let’s be jolly … Come along and share the good times while we can. While we can.

Joe South’s life and career took a marked turn for the worse in 1971 with the death by suicide of his beloved brother Tommy. That and the pressure he felt trying to match the success of, ‘Games People Play’ seems to have sent him into a spiralling depression (fuelled in part by drugs) which meant that his enormous gifts were in abeyance for many years.

Though he did make later albums which have their moments he was largely content, once he had ceased as he put it, ‘Kicking myself about’ to live a quiet life in his Georgia home. He died there in September 2012 having left a deep and indelible mark on the music of his era.

I’m going to leave you with an elegy he may have unknowingly written for himself. ‘Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home’ must surely have been played by the angels, singing him home to his final rest, as Joe rode in that last limousine. Hank Williams will surely want to swop Whippoorwill references.

Joe South’s songs were built to last and last they surely will.