Linda Ronstadt, Mike Nesmith, P P Arnold : Different Drum

It seems like music has always been in the air around you and in your head.

Folk Music, Country Music, Rock ‘n’ Roll.

And, you write poems, lyrics if you will, that maybe could be songs.

Along comes the Guitar and those poems really do sound like songs.

There’s something about the sound of the 12 string especially that frees up the spirit.

Listened to a lot of music in Texas growing up and in the Service the radio was always a lifeline.

Now you’re back in civilian life it’s time to see if any of these songs have a life outside your head.

Head West Young Man!

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Los Angeles has quite a scene.

There’s a club, The Troubadour, in West Hollywood that has a Monday night Hootenanny where all kinds of songs get played by folks desperate to get their songs sung and heard.

Some of these singers are really building a following and some have even got record deals.

Now if I could just get someone like that to sing and record one of my songs I’d be launched as a songwriter and maybe people would take the time to listen to me singing my other songs.

Might even make a few bucks!

There’s this guy, John Herald, heads up a bluegrass outfit, The Greenbriar Boys, and we get along fine – play each other our songs.

He thinks, ‘Different Drum’ has got that something a song has to have so that it sticks in people’s minds and has them singing along before they even realise they are doing it.

Well, praise be!, John only went and recorded, ‘Different Drum’ and put it out on their album, ‘Better Late than Never!’

Now I have an official song writing credit!

But, I wont be needing a truck to haul away my royalties!

John and the Boys slowed the song down and their version sounds a little worthy to me; a hit for the Hoot crowd but nowhere else.

But, all songwriters will tell you, once a song is out there on record and on the radio, its like a message in a bottle and there’s no knowing whose feet it will wash up at.

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Turns out there’s this group called The Stone Poneys and that the girl in the group, Linda Ronstadt, heard the Greenbriar Boys take on, ‘Different Drum’ and thought here, finally, was a song that would suit her.

I got to say that anyone who has ever seen The Stone Poneys knows that while Kenny Edwards and Bobby Kimmel love their music they are very low watt bulbs in comparison to the brilliance that surrounds Linda.

She’s hotter than Mojave and she has a true voice that pierces the heart.

So, one day, I turn on the radio and Hallelujah!

Different Drum blasting out and no doubt about it a sure fire hit.

Got to say Linda has given the song a sweetness and sensuality that even surprises me.

Amazing how good a song can sound when its sung by a singer like Linda supported by musicians who can really play directed by a Producer who can make a song fly off those vinyl grooves.

I did some research and it seems Linda was the only Stone Poney on the record.

Nick Venet, the Producer, twigged that the song shouldn’t be one more of the thousands of pretty acoustic ballads out there.

Give it a stylish arrangement, add in the chops of first rate musicians to match Linda’s shining vocals and you’ve got a record that will have people turning up their radio’s and saying, ‘Who is that?’ and hot footing it to their nearest record store.

So, Jimmy Bond plays the hell out of the Bass – he’s got all that Jazz training and he knows the studio – how else did he get to be part of the Wrecking Crew!

Al Viola and Bernie Leadon played those sweet guitar parts.

Jim Gordon, the Jim Gordon, made the song swing from the Drum stool.

Add in a little magic from Sid Sharp’s strings and Don Randi’s Harpsichord and I defy anyone not to sing along with gusto!

This time the royalties really did flow in!

Now, some of you might know, that for a few years in the late 60s, I became something of a celebrity, heard someone call the group I was in, ‘The Monkees’ a Pop phenomenon indeed!

Of course, all the while the TV Show and the recording and  tours were in full spate I never lost track of the fact that at heart I was a singer songwriter and that when all this frenzy finished (as it always must sooner or later) I would pick up the 12 String and find a new audience.

You know, ‘Different Drum’ has been pretty good to me so I figured let’s see how it sounds with Red Rhodes on the pedal steel and me taking a mellow meander through the song.

Now songwriters love all their songs and I ain’t no different but Different Drum is close to my heart and it seems to keep finding new singers who want to put their own stamp on it.

Listen here to Susanna Hoffs (wasn’t she in a group that was something of a modest pop phenomenon in the 80s?).

Don’t she and Matthew Sweet charm us all!

That’s my kind of Hootennany right there.

One of the greatest gifts a songwriter can ever get is to hear one of their songs completely reimagined so that it comes up anew shining bright and dazzling a new audience.

That happened to me when I heard P P Arnold take on Different Drum with a bunch of English musicians.

Most everybody knows her as a backing singer or for cutting the original of Cat Stevens’ ‘First Cut is the Deepest’ but the more you investigate her career you realise she’s a magnificent soul singer and that any writer ought to be real proud to have her cover one of their songs.

Once heard you won’t forget this.

She can flat out sing!

Compared to Linda and Susanna and P P Arnold I can’t sing at all.

But, Over the years I have learned how to tell a story and make co-conspirators of an audience.

Different Drum is an old friend now and I like to make sure I don’t rush through it pretending I was still in my 20s.

A story needs to be properly framed and told for maximum impact.

So now it goes something like this :

Long as I can make it up on stage I’m going to be singing that song.

Time to close out with a tribute to the person who sent this song soaring into so many hearts.

Linda’s health doesn’t let her sing anymore but a voice like she had will always be lifting spirits and touching souls.

Warren Zevon : Werewolves of London (Ah-hooo!)

Nowadays I live a life of quiet rural seclusion in our cottage in the South Downs.

At night the only sounds are the nocturnal scurrying of woodland animals, the call of the Owls and the music of the swirling wind.

Ah but there was a time when I lived a world away from such bucolic charms.

For almost two decades I lived and worked in the heart of London.

The nocturnal choirs there were composed of police and ambulance sirens, the omnipresent roaring traffics boom and the relentless beat, beat, beat of youthful ambition.

Millions upon millions of dreams and desires, spoken and unspoken, melding and clashing twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

And, dreams and desires are tales we tell to ourselves and the pursuit of those tales leads to public stories.

Heroic stories. Comic stories. Tragic stories.

Oh, I could tell you some stories.

Like the time, well refreshed, when I attempted to jump onto the open platform of the 159 Bus as it accelerated up Regent Street.

The Bus was travelling at about 30mph so I did well to time my approach run and very well to manage to grab the bar of the platform.

However, while it’s one thing to grab on to the bar it’s quite another to then hold on and pull yourself in to the Bus.

So, that’s how I became the first man to perform a triple Salchow Jump from a moving Bus onto tarmac and live! (though I did disrupt traffic and walk with a limp for several weeks after).

I had a number of unexpected encounters with The Metropolitan Police when I was, ‘Living  on the Frontline’.

Like the time I was walking home not on the well lit Main Street but by the route that skirted the Park as a short cut.

Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by dozens of Her Majesty’s Constabulary supported by some very vocal Dogs as a drugs raid was carried out on the Rastafarian Temple just around the corner from my flat.

They didn’t seem interested in my observation that Bob Marley had stayed there on his first visit to England!

Like the time I woke up intrigued by the unusually high volume of sirens in the night and an eerie red glow in the night sky.

This turned out to a serious riot in nearby Brixton.

I thought I might get a closer look by walking to the end of my road but found on opening my front door that the Police Control Line had been set up exactly there.

So, that was how I first met the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who wasted no words in ordering me to immediately return to my flat and on no account leave unless formally instructed to do so.

Stories. So many stories.

But I have to admit, though I like to think I tell a good story, that no story of mine can hope to match a London story that starts with these lines :

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walkin’ through the streets of SoHo in the rain

No, when it comes to London stories my favourite will always be, ‘Werewolves of London’ by the late, very great, Warren Zevon.

Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo
Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo

Warren Zevon was a complete, ‘One Off’ with a songwriting imagination that knew no bounds.

He had a blacker than black noir imagination so that many of his songs could double as screenplays for classic film noir movies.

I first saw Warren when he supported Jackson Browne and though I was a fan of JB it was Warren who I came out of the show madly enthusing about.

He was a highly charismatic performer who didn’t seem to be performing at all – just allowing the audience to spend some time interacting with his outrageous tales of love and loss and rage and bewilderment at the madness of life.

I saw and met some extraordinary characters during my time in the Big Smoke (one day I’ll tell you the story of how I won £50 from Peter O’Toole or the time Richard Harris threw a pint of Guinness all over me).

But, more’s the pity I never saw :

Lon Chaney walkin’ with the Queen
Doin’ the werewolves of London

 

Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo
Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo

Stories. So many stories.

Like the time I called in to one of the music pubs I frequented to find I was the only audience member prepared to pay to see an unknown pedal steel player called Sarah Jory.

Over a drink we agreed she would do the show and I would applaud wildly throughout.

Turned out she was excellent and my parting comment of ‘Stick with it – you never know where you’ll end up’ was proved more prescient than I had imagined when I saw her a few years later as part of Van Morrison’s Band at the grand old Albert Hall!

A great story needs a punchline that lodges permanently in the imagination and I know there is no song punchline anywhere to to top :

I saw a werewolf drinkin’ a piña colada at Trader Vic’s
His hair was perfect

 

From the first time I ever heard Werewolves of London it plays in my head as I walk through the Capital’s  storied streets.

Look – there’s where the great fire of London started.

Look – that’s where they publicly hung Perkin Warbeck!

Look – that’s the house that both Handel and Hendrix lived in!

Look – here we are in Mayfair; keep your eyes peeled for a hairy handed gent, you know the one who ran amok in Kent, because  given half a chance he’ll rip your lungs out Jim!

Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo
Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo

Yup, compare to Warren’s howling at the Moon wild werewolf imagination almost all songwriters are very domestic dogs indeed!

Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo
Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo