John Gorka : Semper Fi

There are no ordinary lives.

Take the time to attend to an ordinary life and you will find; dramas and disasters, triumphs and terrors, hope and horror and stories more fantastical than Dostoevsky ever imagined.

Solar systems of fascinating and moving stories.

Stories just like yours.

Stories entirely different to yours.

Stories which will make you laugh and cry and shake your head at the wonder of it all.

The wonder of it all.

Sometimes you’ll hear a story and think – well, that’s a story I can identify with even though  it never happened to me.

That’s a story that needed to be told.

And, stories that need to be told need attentive listeners.

John Gorka is a songwriter who ponders stories in his heart so that the songs that emerge carry an enormously powerful emotional charge.

Soldiers fight and soldiers die
Soldiers live to wonder why

Semper fi fe fo fum
Look out peacetime here we come
*
*

A Family story.

One man’s Father and a story he carried within him for silent decades.

My father joined the leathernecks
To stay out of the mines

The new marine was just fifteen
In 1939

A story of a nation and its leaders.

My father met Eleanor Roosevelt
In 1945
The war at last was over then
And they were still alive
*
Her husband was the President
Till he ran out of time
Her Franklin D. was history
And they’d put him on the dime
*

A story of a War which left a bloody trail all over the world.

There were medals and malaria
The south pacific war
Through jungles that were paradise
And were paradise no more

A story that excavates buried torments

Some of the men who did survive
Were not the lucky ones
My father lay recovering
The hurt was all inside

Sometimes the wounds that never heal
Are easiest to hide
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A story that tells you hard truths.
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Soldiers fight and soldiers die
Soldiers live to wonder why
War is only good for those
Who make and sell the guns
*
A story that reminds us that in the midst of terror and chaos what saves us is kindness and love.
*
When Eleanor came bearing gifts
To San Francisco Bay
She gave my dad a blanket
In the hospital that day
*
That blanket meant alot to him
My mother has it still

*
Some forget the kindnesses
That others never will

A story that’s a nightmare and a hard won blessing.
*
Soldiers fight and soldiers die
Soldiers live to wonder why
Semper fi fe fo fum
Look out peacetime here we come
*
 
Soldiers fight and soldiers die
Soldiers live to wonder why
Semper fi fe fo fum
Look out peacetime here we come
*
*
In the interviews I have seen with John Gorka he appears charmingly modest and hesitant.
*
But playing live, having pondered the story he is about to tell, when his fingers encounter the guitar and he sings a voice emerges which is deep, rich and resonant.
*
In Semper FI  John has been faithful to the lived experience of his father.
A 15 year old boy who grew up during a dark depression only to travel thousands of miles to grow up faster than anyone ever should among shot and shell and death.
*
John Gorka has also been faithful and done honour to the craft of song writing.
*
Semper Fi.
*
Semper Fi.
*

Billy Fury, Nick Lowe & Ben E King : Halfway to Paradise

‘Strange how potent cheap music is.’ (Noel Coward)

‘I like pure pop moments with a lot of vitality; songs that are supposedly disposable but which you end up loving for ever.’ (Bryan Ferry)

A Winter morning here in the South Downs can be a glorious experience.

Hedges stiff with frost and the sky gleaming blue as if proudly polished by a benign deity.

Trusty running shoes laced up I begin my four circumnavigations of the lake.

As my pace increases with each lap I find snatches of poems and songs skimming across my mind :

‘ … And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.’

‘… The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops.’

‘  … under the ocean at the bottom of the sea
You can’t hear the storm, it’s as peaceful as can be
It’s just the motion, it’s just the motion.’

And, as I was about to collapse at the end of my final sprint clear as a midwinter bell the song I would be singing for the rest of the day –

‘ .. So put your sweet lips next to my lips And tell me that’s where they’ll stay ..

Don’t leave me halfway to paradise …So near yet so far, so near yet so far, so near yet so far away.’

‘Halfway to Paradise’ by Carole King and Gerry Goffin who may well be the ne plus ultra makers of moments of pop perfection.

Moments, Immortal Moments, which generations upon generations end up loving forever.

The song was originally recorded by Tony Orlando in March 1961 but the version I was remembering was that by the one and only Billy Fury.

Billy’s vocal and stylistic amalgam of the bravura and the vulnerable always cuts deep to the heart.

The arrangement by the brilliant Ivor Raymonde, best known for his work with Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers, provides a wonderfully dramatic setting – those sweeping strings! the heart stopping percussion! – which Billy takes full advantage of.

There is always something wistful in Billy’s delivery, as if he can never be sure that the emotions he feels so deeply aren’t just about to overwhelm him leaving him, for a reason he can never fathom, finally, abandoned and bereft.

Billy Fury will always find empathetic fond hearts.

Now, whenever the phrase Pure Pop appears I inevitably turn to the veritable professor of the genre – Nick Lowe.

Nick’s version was issued in October 1977 as Buy 21 on The Stiff Label.

This was a compulsory purchase for me as I had already bought the first 20 singles put out by Stiff and I had made it a point of principle to be the first in the queue when any record by Nick Lowe appeared.

The sharp eared among you might recognise Dave Edmunds backing vocals and the pianistic playfulness of Steve Naïve (from Elvis Costello’s Attractions).

This is a much denser sound than Billy’s with nods to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

This is much more of a defiant complaint than yearning lament.

Another decade passed before I found another version I could stand to listen to alongside Billy’s.

This came from the great Ben E King whose take on Halfway to Paradise surprised me by its three o clock in the morning tenderness.

Sometimes when thinking about music you can get lost in abstraction and dissection of form.

Whenever I fear I might be falling into that trap I turn to Pure Pop where what the heart responds to is performances which though based on simple material can be truly sublime and wholly unforgettable.

Billy Fury died at 42 having been afflicted all his life with a serious heart condition.

The performance below from 1976 was his first for many years after seemingly successful surgery gave him a new lease of life.

Billy walked in shadows throughout his life yet few singers give such comfort to the broken hearted.

It hurts me some, to know your heart’s a treasure … that my heart is within reach to touch.

Oh, Oh, Oh, bonny Billy!

So near yet so far away.

John Hiatt, Charlie Sexton : Tennessee Plates

The ‘All Hail The King’ Series (1)

Embed from Getty Images

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Summer of 1988 and I was going 90 miles an hour down a dead end street.

So, I walked one block from my office to the Tourist Centre for Greece and asked them to recommend an Island without an airport and with as little tourist infrastructure as possible to ensure the three week holiday I had just awarded myself would be as peaceful as possible.

The next day I was on my way with no suitcase in the hold.

Just a carry on bag with the minimum changes of clothes, one book (Virgil’s The Aeneid) and one music tape (John Hiatt’s Slow Turning).

I loved every song on Slow Turning but the song I played the most and the one that accompanied me to the beach and kept the throttle on my hired moped wide open was Tennessee Plates – probably the most oblique and powerful tribute song to Elvis Presley ever composed.

The marriage of words, rhythm and wit are worthy of Chuck Berry (and when it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll song writing there is no higher praise).

Woke up in a hotel and I didn’t know what to do
I turned the T-V on and wrote a letter to you
The news was talkin’ ’bout a dragnet up on the interstate
Said they were lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
*
Since I left California baby, things have gotten worse
Seems the land of opportunity for me is just a curse
Tell that judge in Bakersfield that my trial will have to wait
Down here they’re lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
*
It was somewhere in Nevada, it was cold outside
She was shiverin’ in the dark, so I offered her a ride
Three bank jobs later, four cars hot wired
We crossed the Mississippi like an oil slick fire
*
If they’d known what we was up to they wouldn’t ‘a let us in
When we landed in Memphis like original sin
Up Elvis Presley Boulevard to the Graceland gates
See we were lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
*
Well, there must have been a dozen of them parked in that garage
And there wasn’t one Lincoln and there wasn’t one Dodge
And there wasn’t one Japanese model or make
Just pretty, pretty Cadillacs with Tennessee plates
*
She saw him singing once when she was seventeen
And ever since that day she’s been living in between
I was never king of nothin’ but this wild weekend
Anyway he wouldn’t care, hell he gave them to his friends
*
Well this ain’t no hotel I’m writin’ you from
It’s the Tennessee prison up at Brushy Mountain
Where yours sincerely’s doin’ five to eight
Stampin’ out my time makin’ Tennessee plates
*

Ok – let’s press the pedal to the metal and drive!

A complete movie with; a love story, criminality, cultural commentary, eyeballs out playing from the band (especially Sonny Landreth on guitar) and a twist at the end – all in under three minutes.

What more could you possibly want!

Hard to pick out favourite lines when every verse gleams with brilliance.

Still :

Three bank jobs later, four cars hot wired
We crossed the Mississippi like an oil slick fire
*
has a thrilling propulsive power that takes some beating.
*
Mind you :
*
If they’d known what we was up to they wouldn’t ‘a let us in
When we landed in Memphis like original sin
*
matches it all the way.
*
And :
*
Well, there must have been a dozen of them parked in that garage
And there wasn’t one Lincoln and there wasn’t one Dodge
And there wasn’t one Japanese model or make
Just pretty, pretty Cadillacs with Tennessee plates
*
is both emotionally apposite and laugh out loud funny.
*
While :
*
She saw him singing once when she was seventeen
And ever since that day she’s been living in between
*
is as good a summary of the Elvis’ impact on our lives as anything ever written.
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John Hiatt has been writing superb songs for decades and all those, ‘in the know’ from Ry Cooder to Bonnie Raitt to Bob Dylan are in no doubt about the magnitude of his abilities.
*

John’s bank balance got a welcome boost when, ‘Tennessee Plates’ was featured in an iconic film of the 1980s, ‘Thelma and Louise’.

There is a great additional pleasure in that the film version was by Charlie Sexton later to be famed as the stellar guitarist in Bob Dylan’s touring band.

Embed from Getty Images

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Let her rip Charlie – let her rip!

 

A song with such wild fire power is always going to attract cover versions.

The one that I’ve chosen to present today introduces Samantha Fish to The Jukebox.

She sure can burn it up!

I am going to leave you with John burning down the barn with The Goners – listening to this we are all Kings and Queens of The Wild Weekend!

Now, when I make my pilgrimage to Graceland as I drive down Elvis Presley Boulevard let me assure you that I won’t be driving a Lincoln or a Dodge or heaven forbid any Japanese model make.

No. No. No.

I will be driving a Cadillac (Hell he gave ’em to this friends!) and blasting out in tribute to The King will be Tennesse Plates.

All Hail The King!

Tom Waits : What’s He Building?

During the Christmas festivities a couple of balls of malt into a serious philosophical discussion a friend of mine suddenly asked – if you had the time to write another Blog not themed around music what topic would you choose?

The question took me aback but my answer was immediate and as surprising to me as it was to him.

’I would write a Blog called ‘Tom, Tom, Tom’ celebrating the wondrous achievements of those who share my forename including, of course, those Toms formally called Thomas, Tommy, Tomas and indeed Thom.

Toms have been prominent in every field of human endeavour throughout history so I’ll have no shortage of engaging subjects.

Here’s 10 off the top of my head :

Thomas The Apostle – How can we know the way?

Thomas Jefferson – “The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”

Thomas Hobbes – Because waking I often observe the absurdity of dreams, but never dream of the absurdities of my waking thoughts, I am well satisfied that being awake, I know I dream not; though when I dream, I think myself awake.

Thomas Hardy

At once a voice arose among The bleak twigs overhead,
In a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited.

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
With blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

Tom Mix – King of The Cowboys, 291 Films and a violent death!

Tom Finney – A Football Genius : Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age .. even if he had been wearing an overcoat.”Bill Shankly.

Thomas Tallis – Listen to Spem in allium if you want a foretaste of the sound of Heaven.

Tommy Farr – The Tonypandy Terror who went the full 15 rounds with Joe Louis in his prime.

Thomas Sudhof – Nobel Prize Winner, Professor of molecular and cellular physiology.

Oh .. And Tom Waits – Singer, songwriter and performer  extraordinaire :

You won’t believe what Mr. Sticha saw
There’s poison underneath the sink
Of course…

But there’s also
Enough formaldehyde to choke
A horse…

What’s he building
In there.

What the hell is he
Building in there?

Tom. Tom. Tom.

Tom Waits whether he’s right or whether he’s wrong Lord ain’t we gonna miss him when he’s gone.

But, if you have created and curated one of the great songbooks you will never, ever, be gone.

Tom has studied the old masters – Hank Williams, Gershwin, Mississippi John Hurt, Kerouac, Hemingway, Bukowski, O’ Hara and Bob Dylan.

He has drunk deep of their influence and then mixed up a miraculous confection tipping the hat to them all while remaining obstinately and magnificently the one and only inimitable Tom Waits.

Ain’t no kind of song Tom can’t write.

Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards.

Drunk Songs.

Sober Songs.

Lullabys and Vampire Venom.

Philosophical Songs.

Sociological Songs.

Songs you won’t forget for the whole of your life.

Songs as innocent as dreams.

Songs as guilty as your worst waking nightmare.

Songs that, damn it, can make a grown man or woman break right down and cry.

Songs that make you scratch your head and then say with a grin – well I guess that’s true I know someone with a story just like that (often because it’s your story).

Songs that can spook you and give you the shivers.

What’s he building in there?
What the hell is he building in there?
*
He has subscriptions to those magazines
He never waves when he goes by
And he’s hiding something from the rest of us
He’s all to himself, I think I know why
*
Songs that are plain as day and cranky as Hell.
*
He took down the tire-swing from the pepper tree
He has no children of his own, you see
He has no dog, he has no friends
And his lawn is dying
*
Songs that betray a deep knowledge of the crooked timber of humanity.
*
And what about those packages he sends?
What’s he building in there?
With that hook light on the stairs
What’s he building in there?

I’ll tell you one thing, he’s not building a play
house for the children.
*
Songs that can make you laugh out loud one minute and silence you with dread the next.
*
Now what’s that sound from underneath the door?
He’s pounding nails into a hardwood floor
*
And I swear to God I heard someone moaning low
And I keep seeing the blue light of a TV show

He has a router and a table saw

What’s he building in there?
What the hell is he building in there?
*
I. heard he has an ex-wife in some place called Mayor’s Income, Tennessee
And he used to have a consulting business in Indonesia
*
Songs that Nobody else could write.
*
But what’s he building in there?
He has no friends but he gets a lot of mail
I bet he spent a little time in jail
*
I heard he was up on the roof last night, signaling with a flashlight
And what’s that tune he’s always whistling?
 
What’s he building in there?
What’s he building in there?
*
We have a right to know
*

Songs that Nobody else could write.

Nobody.

Nobody.

Tom. Tom. Tom.

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

Van Morrison & Mark Knopfler : Last Laugh (Happy Birthday Van!)

You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

Presence.

Some things you just can’t buy.

Presence.

Coaches and Gurus and Snake Oil salesmen will portentously promise to reveal the secret to you.

Better save your money and your time and learn the things that can be taught – vocal exercises, relaxation, the whole assembly of skills that adds up to Technique.

But Presence?

No way.

You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

The gods or muses dispose as they will.

Hard to define but easy to recognise.

Greta Garbo.

Marlon Brando.

Rudolph Nureyev.

Maria Callas.

Miles Davis.

Muhammad Ali.

Van Morrison.

Intensity.

Impact.

Cultural, emotional and spiritual impact.

You’ll recognise it when you confront it.

Mark Knopfler is a gifted songwriter and as a guitar player has undoubted Presence.

He is also canny enough to know that some songs require an extra ingredient that he does not possess.

A voice with Presence.

So, for his Song, ‘The Last Laugh’ he called up Van Morrison.

There must have been a moment in the studio as they listened back when Mark exhaled and smiled deeply as the sound of Van’s voice at the beginning of the second verse lifted the work to a wholly new level.

Presence.

Emotional and Spiritual impact.

Van Morrison.

Sing it Van!

Games you thought you’d learned
You neither lost nor won
Dreams have crashed and burned
But you’re still going on
Out on the highway with the road gang working
Up on the mountain with the cold wind blowing
Out on the highway with the road gang working
But the last laugh, baby is yours
And don’t you love the sound
Of the last laugh going down

Very few singers merit the Bold and the Italics.

Van Morrison always has and always will.

Don’t you love the Sound!

Presence.

Cultural, Emotional and Spiritual Impact.

Demonstrated time after time in studios and on stages from Belfast to Buffalo.

Hey Girl! Baby Blue. Brown Eyed Girl. Sweet Thing. Moondance..

Linden Arden.

Listen to The Lion.

The Healing has begun.

No Guru. No Method. No Teacher.

Just Van and that Voice.

It ain’t why, why, why, it just IS.

A voice capable of transcendence as only the rarest voices are.

A voice that reaches up to the Moon.

Don’t you love the Sound!

Van is 74 this week.

So, Happy Birthday Van!

A heartfelt thanks for all the Songs and all the Singing.

 

May your Song always be Sung.

if this is your visit to The Immortal Jukebox you are very welcome!

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There are more Posts about Van than any other artist here on The Jukebox so, in case you missed one or would like to be reminded of an old favourite here’s the Van Compendium for your delectation and delight!

Brown Eyed Girl’.

An introduction telling the tale of my headlong plunge into obsession following my first hearing of Van’s best known song.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-2L

Don’t Look Back’.

A meditation on Time featuring 2 astounding versions of John Lee Hooker’s tender Blues Ballad. One a reaching for the stars take of a teenager the second the work of a fully realised master musician.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3k

Carrickfergus‘.

A meditation on family, friendship and loss. How the shadows lengthen! Sung with infinite tenderness and bardic authority.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

A miraculous meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of the radio and the post war world as seen by a young Irish mystic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

Tupelo Honey’.

A rhapsodic meditation on the nurturing, redemptive power of Love. A Hallelujah!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr

All in the Game‘.

A meditation on the carousel we all ride. It’s been sung by many singers but never like this!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-jY

Domino’ .

A Founding Father joyously celebrated by a Master from the next generation.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-pH

Sometimes We Cry‘.

Bringing it all back home to singing on the street corner Days. The sweetness of Doo-Wop seasoned with wry maturity.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sf

I Cover the Waterfront’.

Van and John Lee Hooker, Blues Brothers and Soul Friends, conjure up ancient tides.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-tq

Buona Sera Signorina‘.

Van puts his party hat on and romps through the Louis Prima classic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Xg

Hey Girl’.

Van takes a stroll along the strand and suspends Time.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1cA

Gloria! Gloria!’

Once, Now and Ever.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1dh

Coney Island 

A Pilgrim’s glimpses of Eternity in the everyday.

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-1OQ

Brand New Day

Born again each Day with The Dawn.

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-1kL

And It Stoned Me

A mystic dweller on the threshold shows us the wonder ever present everywhere.

Happy Birthday Van!

Ry Cooder : Maria Elena, Secret Love (lazy, hazy, days of Summer)

We drove West.

We drove past the sacred mysteries of Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury.

We circled the Standing Stones.

We crossed the forbidding Moors.

We drove as far as we could go only stopping at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was late when we arrived.

The Moon was silvering the waters.

Dazzled and drowsy we settled into familiar surroundings and breathed the salt tanged air as deeply as we could before sleep beckoned.

I woke, as always, at 6am and joined the joggers and dog walkers patrolling the golden sands.

The surfers in their camper vans were already readying themselves for the fabulous waves the tides would surely provide today.

Later on the whole family including our grand daughter, now almost 1 and an enthusiastic paddler, established camp on our own stretch of the beach.

That lucky old sun rolled around heaven all day as we intermittently swam and sprawled under its reviving rays.

Image result for sennen cove images

The picnic basket was looted of every treasure and urgent patrols were sent out for relief supplies of fruit and ice creams.

As the Sun set we meandered back to our cottage with the adults fortified by just the right number of Gin & Tonics.

Perhaps it was the power of the Sun amplified by the G&Ts that led me to start humming a tune that seemed to have the, ‘Spanish Tinge’

What was that song?

I set my music library numbskulls to work as I watched the waves crash on the rocks outside our windows.

Then, praise be, I began to sing in my (very) halting Spanish :

Era la medianoche, when oimos the scream
“Se requieren cien taxis en el almeria de Chavez Ravine.

As soon as the words Chavez Ravine formed in my mind I knew the source of the sun dappled melody that held me enthralled – ‘Onda Callejera’ from Ry Cooder’s wonderful album from 2005, ‘Chavez Ravine’.

Image result for ry cooder images

Now I was able to hit the button and luxuriate in the masterly musicianship of Ry and Joachim Cooder, Mike Elizondo, Joe Rotondi, Gil Bernal, Mike Bolger, and Ledward Kaapana.

Now, I could provide the harmonies for the true vocals of Little Willie G and sisters Juliette and Carla Commagere.

I doubt the Cornish Coast has ever heard such a midnight choir before!

Estupendo!

The interplay between the musicians here is very special.

Listening it’s as if you’ve slipped into a dream state where all your senses flow together and your imagination is released to free float into the welcoming ether.

This is not a sound you can achieve by mere practice or calculation rather it is the result of inspiration grounded on vocation and spiritual immersion leading to musical bliss in the moment.

Catching such bliss on record is very rare so I lift my Sombrero high into the sky to salute Ry and his compadres!

This is the kind of performance which permanently changes the weather inside your head.

And, that’s a feat Ry Cooder has serially achieved throughout his career as he has searched the world seeking out new rhythms and textures to delight his own musical appetite and in consequence ours too.

Ry has since his boyhood has responded to the music, in all genres, that has attracted him by determining to meet the musicians who were masters of that sound and through playing with them inhabit the mystery too.

His whole career is essentially a musical pilgrimage with each record or collaboration a way station where he draws strength, nurture and inspiration for the road ahead.

From his third solo record, ‘Boomer’s Story’ here’s a song from 1932, ‘Maria Elena’ that in the care of Ry’s all star band continues to cast a tender spell.

Now was that 6 minutes or 6 Hours?

Musicianship of this quality makes a mockery of old Father Time’s supposed regularity.

When the above performance was recorded Ry’s Band was dubbed, ‘The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces’.

And, Aces they were everyone.

Attend to the gorgeous sway of Flaco Jimenez on the Accordion.

Attend to George Bohanon’s warm breeze in the night air Trombone.

Attend to the joyful elegance of Van Dyke Park’s Piano.

Marvel at the supernaturally supple rhythm section of Drum maestro Jim Keltner, Miguel Cruz on Percussion and Jorge Calderon on Bass.

Surrender and swoon as Ry orchestrates the whole magnificent ensemble as they lead us to musical nirvana.

Now, a simple miracle.

A collaboration between Ry and the great Cuban Guitarist Manuel Galbán.

There are no words of mine that can capture the glory of this take on, ‘Secret Love’.

Close your eyes, sit still and let the magic begin.

This is collaboration becoming communion.

Ry has a wonderful generosity in his musical life.

Foregrounding the talents of his collaborators through the acuity of his arrangements he creates the space for the magic to enter and bloom.

I wish Ry well on his continuing Pilgrimage for following in his footsteps has been an education and a blessing.

Notes :

As always if a particular clip won’t play for you in this Post you will certainly be able to find a playable clip via YouTube in your own region.

The Albums, ‘Chavez Ravine’ and ‘Mambo Sinuendo’ (where Secret Love features) are unreservedly recommended.

Manuel Galbán is a legendary figure in Cuba.

His work with Los Zafiros is imbued with deep joy in music making.