Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens : The Streets of Bakersfield

‘I came here looking for something I couldn’t find anywhere else’.

Note – The YouTube clips below all play in the UK. If corporate powers block them where you are i am sure you can find alternative clips for the songs.

Where you headed?

The answer is sometimes geographical, sometimes metaphorical and sometimes aspirational.

Down the road a piece.

Over the hills and far away.

Off these corkscrew hillbilly highways to the broad Freeway.

I might need two pair of shoes but I’m walking to New Orleans.

Kansas City – they got some pretty little women there and I’m gonna get me one.

High over Albuquerque on a jet to the Promised Land.

New York, New York – if I can make it there I can make it anywhere!

Sometimes you move for the most basic of reasons – to find a job that pays well.

Especially if you’ve grown up somewhere where the jobs are few and everyone treats you like a nobody.

Get yourself a good job that pays real folding green and you get a chance to be yourself.

Write your own story.

So, pack your grip (who did you ever know who had a trunk) and head off for the desert heat and the oilfields of the San Joaquin Valley.

Head out for the Streets of Bakersfield!

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Bakersfield.

Now, if you’ve got a broad back and two strong arms and plenty of nerve there’s work a plenty in the Oil Fields.

Work a plenty.

Guys here from Oklahoma, Arkansas and The Appalachians.

Guess it’s a new migration.

And, when your days work is done, with a bulging wallet, you can take those sore muscles down to a Bar or Roadhouse where the beer flows freely and dive into that Whisky River any time you feel like it.

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Now, you’ve come to drink and dance and it won’t be you who starts a fight .. but if it starts you ain’t gonna be hugging the wall.

Mister, I don’t care if you don’t like me.

Yea, I’ve spent a night or two in the can and I ain’t proud of everything I’ve done.

But, better not think that you can judge me – not unless you’ve walked these streets of Bakersfield.

No, turn the music up good and loud and let’s have ourselves a real fine time!

Drop a coin into The Jukebox and clear the floor.

Don’t want any of that weepy, air conditioned Nashville Sound.

No, something that’s got drive and bite.

Telecasters and Drums, Fiddle and Steel, enough to really shake a hard wood floor.

Songs that move and tell a story you know is true.

Don’t worry about tomorrow’s hangover – it’ll be worth it for the time we’ve had.

The Bakersfield Sound and no one is more Bakersfield than Buck Owens.

Buck and The Buckeroos – now that’s a blazin’ Band!

 

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Hell, you could fill a Jukebox just with Buck Hits and dance without stoppin’ until the Sun comes up again.

‘Act Naturally’, ‘My Heart Skips a Beat’, ‘Tiger by the Tail’, ‘Together Again’, ‘Buckaroo’, ‘Waitin’ in the Welfare Line’, ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass’.

Jimmy, the Bar Keep, who knows everything about Buck says he’s racked up 20 Number One Country Hits and he ain’t done yet.

Funny enough the Buck song that I punched more than any other on The Jukebox barely made it to the Charts under his own name.

Maybe by ’73 the caravan had passed Buck by.

Still, if I’ve got to pick one Buck song it’s always gonna be, ‘The Streets Of Bakersfield’.

That’s a true Workin’ Man’s Song!

I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’

I’ve worn blisters on my heels

Trying to find me something better on the streets of Bakersfield

You don’t know me but you don’t like me – you care less how I feel

But how many of you who sit and judge me ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

The Streets of Bakersfield?

Sing it Buck.

Sing it good and loud!

Now, there’s quite a story about how the song came to be recorded.

It was written by Homer Joy in November 1972 when he came to Buck’s Bakersfield Studio hoping to record some of the songs he had written after he had churned out a Hank Williams tribute disc.

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Except, after the Hank record was done he found that the Studio was blocked booked by Buck himself rehearsing for a tour.

Though Homer turned up every day at 8am ready to record he was told, day after day, ”Come back tomorrow’ and there was nothing for it but to grow even more blisters walking the streets of Bakersfield!

Eventually Homer’s patience snapped and the taken aback Studio Manager said:

‘OK, OK, play me one of these songs you think are so great and I’ll see what I can do’.

Fired up, Homer launched into a new song, written in sheer frustration at his current situation, ‘The Streets of Bakersfield’.

Now, some songs just hit you right between the eyes and this was one.

That very night Homer played the song to Buck and before you know it Buck had recorded it – featuring it on his 1973 Album, ‘Is Not It Amazing Gracie’.

But, though everyone recognised this was one damn fine song it didn’t make the wide world stand up and applaud.

So, it seemed Homer wouldn’t get the fat payday every struggling songwriter hopes is just around the corner if only a big star would record one of your songs.

Yet, as The Jukebox will never tire of saying:

 ‘A true message always gets through – sometime it just takes a while’.

And, this message, got through some 15 years later through the intervention of Jukebox favourite, Dwight Yoakam.

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Dwight, as a proper classicist, had always been a big fan of Buck’s music and had derived much inspiration from the straight to the heart and gut twang of the Bakersfield Sound.

He was therefore immensely pleased to learn that Buck approved of his sound and was keeping a watchful eye on his fledgling career.

Buck, by the late 80’s was seemingly more or less retired never having fully recovered from the tragic death of his right hand man, Don Rich.

The lightning and thunder that they had created together was gone.

But, talking with Dwight and listening to his sound convinced Buck that maybe, just maybe, there might be one more rumble and bolt yet.

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So, get in the Studio, crank up the voltage, have Pete Anderson pick that Tele fast and sweet,  have those drums really kickin’, add some norteno accordion (no one better than Flaco Jimenez), swop charismatic vocals and I do believe we got ourselves a monster Hit!

That’ll be the 21st Number One for Buck and the very first for Dwight!

Alright Dwight! Thank You Buck!

Jukebox devotees will know I love my Boots and I gotta say my Dan Post Okeechobee Westerns got to do some serious stompin’ there!

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The respect and admiration Dwight and Buck had for each other was real and enduring giving a fillip to both their careers.

Looking at the live clip below you can’t not be swept away by the sheer joy of music making.

Both of them being themselves and having a real fine time.

I came here looking for something …..

In memory of Buck Owens 1929-2006 and Homer Joy 1945-2012.

Buck Owens :

Buck was a great singles artist so I always have the 3 Volumes of his Capitol Singles covering the period 1957 to 1975 close at hand.

Satisfaction absolutely guaranteed!

Thank You Buck – always.

Note :

Check out Youtube for a fabulous live version featuring Dwight and Ry Cooder.

 

Celebrating Charlie Watts : Certainty in an uncertain world – Get off my Cloud!

All around it seems like anything can happen including so many things we thought could never happen.

Ice caps melting.

Tornadoes and typhoons out of nowhere.

Forest fire raging, raging, raging.

High water everywhere.

Is there nothing you can absolutely rely on?

Well, a glance at today’s calendar reminded me that the great Charlie Watts was born on June 2nd 1941 and is thus now 78 years old.

And, while, who knows, the Pyramids may tumble tomorrow there can be no doubt that when The Rolling Stones Hit the stage in Chicago in June they and everyone in the audience can be sure of one thing – the majesty of The Stones Sound will be founded on the utter reliability of Charlie Watt’s glorious drumming.

So, I am reblogging my tribute from the very earliest days of The Jukebox (with a birthday bonus track).

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Charlie Watts, gentleman, scholar and drummer at large was 73 this year. Here’s a short tribute.

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Famously, at the live show captured on Get Your Ya Yas Out Mick Jagger informs the patrons that,’Charlie’s good tonight ain’t he!’. Well yes Mick he certainly was and then some.

Charlie Watts has been the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones for half a century and more providing calm craft in the midst of all the hoopla and madness.

While he has surely seen about everything a man can see he has remained steadfastly and stoically himself.

A wry, unimpressable observer who loves to listen to his beloved jazz and play the drums with the scratchy rhythm and blues band who somewhat to his amazement transformed themselves into the greatest rock and roll band the planet has ever produced.

Charlie’s role in the band is crucial to the DNA of the band’s unique sound.

Keith is released to sway and swagger to his heart’s content because Charlie is always there behind him urging him on and on while being ready to catch him if like an over ambitious trapeze flyer it looks like he might fall.

Whatever else has changed that partnership has endured and thrived through the years ensuring the distinctive leery vitality of the band remains in rude good health

One of the many glories of the Stones is the majestic way in which they build and hold tension in their rockers – say Tumbling Dice or Brown Sugar.

You’ll notice how groups covering the Stones almost always rush and ruin the songs because they can’t match the rhythmic control marshalled by Charlie.

While he is the engineer driving the awesome power of the Stones streamliner in full flight he is also the brakeman making sure they make it round the sharp turns safely and arrive on time at their destination.

The listening audience are taken up, held and thrilled as the band, anchored by Charlie, progress through their set taking care to pace themselves – allowing ballad breaks before the celebrated avalanche ending sends everybody home exhausted and elated.

Charlie Watts is the zen master of rock drumming.

His inherent restraint, informed by the jazz heritage he so treasures, allows him to play what needs to be played and nothing more.

He is at the service of the music, the sound and the dynamic shape of the individual song. No band has been better served by its drummer than the Rolling Stones.

So, as the Rolling Stones embark on one more last hurrah Charlie will endure the travelling, the media and the endless waiting for the wonderful pleasures of those few hours on stage when he can just play the music along with his faithful companions of so many years.

Charlie was fabulous in the 1960s, fantastic in the 1970s,  fervour filled in the 1980s and 1990s and  unflashily fluent in the new milenium.

Things will be no different in 2019.

So, if you’re in the audience make sure that you really put your hands together for the drummer!

George Harrison, James Ray : Got My Mind Set on You

‘It’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time ….’ (Rudy Clark/James Ray)

‘A true message always gets through – sometimes it just takes a while’ (Immortal Jukebox)

On 7 February 1964 Pan Am Flight 101 took off from London’s Heathrow Airport bound for New York City.

Thousands of young women, barely controlled by massed ranks of British Bobbies in blue, screamed and sobbed as the plane took off.

For this was no ordinary flight.

No, for Pan Am 101 was carrying a very special group of passengers whose arrival in America that day would change the course of History.

Those passengers were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – The Beatles!

When they touched down at JFK they were greeted by scenes of pandemonium as fans and the media pushed and shoved to get their first glimpse of the Fab Four.

The ‘British Invasion’ had begun and from that day on for the rest of the decade there was no question about who the most popular and successful group in the world was and who were the most famous and instantly recognisable faces on the entire planet.

But, before an invasion there is usually a reconnaissance.

You send a scout ahead.

And, for The Beatles, the scout was George Harrison.

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For though The Beatles didn’t land on the soil of the Promised Land until February 1964 George had spent two weeks there in September 1963.

How come?

Well, George was the youngest of the three Harrison siblings.

Brother Peter was three years older than George but Sister Louise was 12 years older and long before The Beatles were even a madcap dream in the minds of John and Paul she had left the grim austerity of post War Liverpool to travel the world with her mining engineer husband.

And, in September 1963, she was living at 113 McCann Street, Benton, Illinois a coal town with a population of under 10, 000 souls.

After the release of ‘She Loves You’ in Britain in August 1963 Brain Epstein decided that in view of the immense workload they had already completed and the even more taxing plans he had for their future it was time The Beatles took a break.

John went to Paris while Paul and Ringo jetted off to Greece.

George, with brother Peter, went to Benton to visit Louise, arriving there on September 16th.

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His time in Benton would be for George, as Paris and Greece would be for his fellow Beatles, the last time they could ever walk the streets of any town or city without being instantly recognised and/or mobbed.

George would always remember his first, incognito, exposure to American culture and wonder at the freedom of being able to wander at will wherever he pleased.

On that trip he bought a Rickenbacker at the Fenton Music Store at 601 South 10th Street, Mt Vernon, IL for $400.

He would play this on the pioneering UK TV Show, Ready, Steady, Go’ on 4 October.

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Along with Louise he hitchhiked to Radio Station WFRX and presented them with a mint copy of, ‘She Loves You’.

He also hooked up with a guy called Gabe McCarty a member of a local group called the Four Vests and on 28 September George took the stage with them at The Veterans Hall in Eldorado.

The patrons that night were the first Americans to hear George rip into, ‘Johnny B Goode’, ‘Matchbox’ and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’.

George flew back to England on October 3rd.

In his luggage, along with the precious Rickenbacker, was more treasure in the form of vinyl.

George, a true fan of music as well as a musician, had haunted the record stores in Illinois and NYC looking for gems that were hard to find at home.

No one in the stores had ever heard of The Beatles but the shelves groaned with records that George had only ever read about in magazines or heard about from American musicians he had met in Hamburg.

He bought a lot of premium Blues and R&B sides by the likes of Booker T and the MGs and Bobby Bland.

His eye was particularly caught by an LP bearing the name of James Ray on the Caprice Label.

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He knew the name because The Beatles had been regularly featuring Ray’s hauntingly other-worldly, ‘If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody’ since Paul had found a copy at Brian Epstein’s NEMS Record Shop.

Spinning the platter back at 113 McCann he became especially fond of one track in particular – ‘I’ve Got My Mind Set On You’ and his love and admiration for the song would survive the madness of Beatlemania and the glory days of his solo career.

George could instantly recognise that there was a keening, spiritual, quality in James’ voice that gave a profound allure to everything he sang.

Sing it James!

 

The song was written by Rudy Clark who had written, ‘If You Gotta ..’ and would go on to write, ‘Good Lovin’, ‘Its in His Kiss’, and, ‘Everybody plays The Fool’ among other Hits.

The, ‘Let’s try everything we can think of’ arrangement was by Hutch Davie who had played the piano on, ‘Green Door’ and arranged Santo & Johnny’s wonderful guitar instrumental, ‘Sleepwalk’.

What lifts the track beyond a novelty of its time is James Rays’ stunning vocal.

James can really sing.

There is a yearning, as long as I’m singing this song I can make it through, quality to James’ voice which makes me hit the repeat button repeatedly every time I play any side he ever cut (and tragically there are probably less than 30).

You get the sense that there are ghosts hovering round James whispering secrets from beyond the veil and that James can’t help but hear even though he knows those voices are calling him to follow to the lands across the Styx.

We know so little about this wonderful artist.

It seems he was born James Ray Raymond in Washington D.C in 1941 and that he served some time in the Military.

He first appears on record in 1959 as, ‘Little Jimmy Ray’ (he was all of 5ft tall on tip toe) but it is not until he hooked up with Rudy Clark and Gerry Granahan at Caprice Records that he made anything that stirred the airwaves or set the nickels flowing on The Jukeboxes.

‘If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody’ has been recorded by Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Ben E King, Lou Rawls and Bobby Gentry – superb artists all – yet not one of them has approached the spectral grace of James’ version (I plan to write a dedicated Post on the song later this year).

It seems that James had a drug problem and that when he was, ‘discovered’ by Rudy Clark he was homeless and finding such shelter as he could on apartment block rooftops.

He only recorded one LP and even the date and place of his death and where he is buried are unknown.

It seems likely that he was already dead when The Beatles landed at JFK.

In a business filled with tragic tales James’ tale is among the most tragic.

Yet, thanks to George Harrison and the other luminaries his name lives on at least for those who read sleeve notes and song writing credits.

George recorded his take on  ‘I’ve Got My Mind Set On You’ some 24 years after he first encountered it back in Benton.

His version is considerably more upbeat in tone than James’.

The song was recorded in George’s home studio within Friary Park his 120 room neo-gothic mansion.

Stellar musicians like Jim Keltner on Drums and Jim Horn on Saxophone feature on a characteristically multi layered production by Jeff Lynne who also provides creamy backing vocals.

This record is very much a 1980s record with a big sound that along with the winning video demolished all hesitation in the record buying public.

A Number One Hit!

It is not inconceivable that many seeing the song on MTV did not know this George Harrison fellow’s History!

Certainly not one in 10,000 who bought the record knew anything about James Ray.

But George did and I can’t help but think he had a thought for James as he recorded it and when he played it live.

 

 

Talking of live action here’s George giving the song the full lash in Japan backed by Eric Clapton’s ensemble.

Now, I love George’s version but it’s not the one I sometimes wake up singing.

No, it’s James Ray’s version which lingers like morning mist in my imagination.

James Ray’s voice was stilled some sad day in the mid 1960s but the eerie sound of his voice will always echo on and on.

Sing it James.

 

Notes and Call for Information!

There’s an excellent website toppermost,co.uk (Twitter @AgeingRaver) which publishes highly informative and entertaining top 10s on many artists beloved by The Jukebox.

The entry on James Ray written by the learned Dave Stephens (Twitter @DangerousDaveXX) is excellent.

The only CD I can find for James Ray is, ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody – Golden Classics’ on the Gotham Label. Only 12 tracks and poorly presented but every track demands your attention.

If anyone knows anything more about James Ray’s life and death please let me know.

Also there’s surely a great documentary to be made about George’s time in Benton and about the fellow passengers on Pan Am 101 – again anyone who has any stories let me know!

The Immortal Jukebox’s Greatest Hit : Mary Gauthier (I Drink), Iris Dement (Easy Getting Harder) Ordinary/Extraordinary Stories

I was downing a couple of bottles of Mr Whitehead’s excellent cider at the, ‘Pub With No Name’ the other evening and fell into conversation with one of the hostelry’s regulars who commented (approvingly) on my most recent post on, ‘The Third Man’.

He told me that he’d been following The Jukebox since 2017 and must have by now read more than a hundred posts.

I asked him did he have any favourites and he replied :

‘Well, I’m a major Van Morrison fan and can see he is your specialist subject so I always look out for those. And, I always think there’s never enough written about The Blues so I especially enjoyed your Post on Little Walter.

Still, I would also have to say some of the Posts I’ve found most intriguing have been about artists I had never heard of previously like Arthur Alexander, Toussaint McCall and Paul Brady’.

He added, ‘How many Posts have you written since you started?’

I quickly looked up my Stats and said to my own astonishment, ‘I can hardly believe it but it seems I’ve published more than 320 Posts since March 2014’.

As he ordered up another round of drinks Declan mused, ‘I suppose your most popular Post must be one about one of the classic Baby Boomer artists like Van or Dylan or Carole King?’

‘Actually, you’d be surprised’ I said.

‘The most popular Post ever, by a significant margin, is the Post I wrote on Mary Gauthier and Iris Dement – who are not exactly household names!’

‘And, its a Post that every week, in countries all over the globe is being discovered by new readers’.

He immediately looked it up on his iPad (other tablets are available) and when he had finished reading said:

‘Well, those are two great songs and I like the way you’ve introduced the theme of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of all our lives. How many followers did you have when you wrote this?’

‘ A couple of hundred then and more than 10,000 now’ I replied.

‘That’s a lot of people who probably haven’t read your most popular post – you ought to ReBlog it!’.

So for Declan and all of you who haven’t yet read it here’s my Greatest Hit!

‘It’s just an ordinary story about the way things go … Round and round nobody knows but the highway goes on forever’ (Rodney Crowell)

‘It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.’ (Raymond Carver)

I live an ordinary life.

So do you.

Yet, I guarantee that if we sat down and talked honestly about the lives we have led, the people we have met, the narrative arc of our lives; including the successes, the mis-steps, the fulfilled and broken dreams, the regrets and the wonders, that we would each think the other has led a truly extraordinary life.

All our lives contain experiences we struggle to understand and come to terms with: unresolved longings, fault lines, tender wounds, hidden scars. In a very real sense we will always remain mysteries to ourselves.

I believe that our attraction to art – to stories and songs – is because the best of them resonate with and go some way to help explain the eternal mystery of why we exist and why we have turned out the way we have.

A great song can be our pilgrim’s companion and staff as we navigate through life’s slalom ride of fate and happenstance while attempting to fashion a connected, meaningful life.

The singer-songwriters featured on the Jukebox today; Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier, share the ability to look compassionately, honestly and unflinchingly at ‘everyday lives’ illuminating them with sharp eyed, flinty, observations and heart rending detail.

These are songs about the dignity and indignities of real lives not adverts for ‘lifestyles’. Popular culture, as these artists demonstrate, can offer far more than mere consumer branding: it can offer us the insights and balm of art we yearn for as we struggle to make it through, or knock off, another ordinary day.

Iris Dement’s early childhood was spent, as the youngest of fourteen children on a tiny island in rural north eastern Arkansas before her father moved the family to California, as millions had done before, in search of work and a better future.

Crucially, she was also raised in the bosom of the Pentecostal Church with a mother who daily sang its sweet consoling hymns as she went about her domestic tasks – a process Iris recreates with tender love in her song, ‘Mama’s Opry’.

The influence of those hymns pervades all of Iris’ songs though her own relationship with faith has been troubled.

Her songs seem to me always to be charged with a sense of the sublime, a conviction that every life, however small, burdened and disregarded, carries a light that shines through the darkest hours.

Above all, the gospel influence is felt by the listener through her voice: a gloriously cracked country voice that throbs with yearning passion. It’s a voice made to embody intense emotions, a voice that cannot and will not be denied.

At the end of an Iris Dement song I always feel both uplifted and exhausted no matter what the subject of the song because her vocals are freighted with a humanity of heart, flesh, blood, bone and spirit that hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

A punch that takes away the breath while reawakening you to the miracle of every breath you take.

‘Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day’ is Iris Dement’s finest song and one of the best songs ever written about the passions, dreads and torments involved in living a seemingly ‘everyday’ life’.

The song steadily, plainly and without hysteria or pity presents us with a portrait of a mature, self aware woman struggling to come to terms with the sense of strangled entrapment she feels in her marriage, her job and her community.

The beauty and art of the song lies in the dry eyed simplicity with which the weight of accumulating straws on the back of the protagonist are evoked: the rain, the buzzing alarm clock, the marital conversations and lovemaking reduced to mechanical routine.

The radio mast lights blink on simultaneously highlighting and mocking her dreams of another life with a different name in another town. She knows she will never make it to Couer d’Alene. And yet, though Easy’s getting harder every day she carries on.

She carries on.

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Mary Gauthier writes songs of bright boned shocking intensity.

Before she took up songwriting in her thirties she had lived a life filled with more drama and incident than Dickens himself would have dared invented in a multi volume novel.

She has been; an orphaned foundling, a teenage runaway and a street and college student of philosophy. She has known the degredation of addiction and the unremitting daily struggles of recovery. She has been arrested and jailed and also triumphed as a highly successful Cajun Cook and Restaurateur.

All the while with her keen intelligence and moral rigour she was storing away these experiences so that when she came to write her own songs she could have no truck with dishonesty or glib sentimentality.

There is an almost brutal matter-of-factness in many of her songs.

She is able to honestly describe desperate lives lived the gutter because she has been there. There is respect but no romance in her descriptions of such lives.

It is the test of a true artist to be able to present recognisable living characters but not to idly judge them.

The reader or listener can do that if they feel comfortable casting a stone.

‘I Drink’ was played by Bob Dylan on one of his Theme Time Radio Hour radio programmes – an accolade given to very few contemporary songwriters.

Bob, the Keeper of American Song, would have recognised the spare elegance of the song and the craft involved in creating a wholly believable genealogy of alcoholism.

This is not the testament of someone who has won through.

It is the confession of someone anchored in addiction unblinkingly reporting on the history and daily realities of that condition.

The slowly dropping hours and self absorption of the habitual drinker are superbly evoked as the narrator relates the banal details of how he cooks his TV dinner and the flatly acknowledged realisation that the face in the mirror is the same as that of the father silhouetted in the lighter flame a generation earlier.

Mary Gauthier’s words, sung carefully with a court reporters calm and measured clarity, move beyond prose into the realm of folk poetry especially in the nursery rhyme chorus which hits home with the keening knell of pure truth.

As the silence descends at the end of the song you are left bereft and sadly aware of the terrible imprisoning and yet alluring power, for the prisoner, of such cycles of defeat and pain.

Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier with immense skill show us lives that but for fortune any one of us might have led or might be on the way to leading.

Their visions are not comfortable to confront but to avoid such visions is to impoverish our humanity and our moral imaginations.

So Pilgrim, as you listen remember that everyone you meet today and tomorrow is almost certainly in the middle of a much harder battle than you can see.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure that, wherever it comes from, I need a little mercy now.

Further Listening:

You can’t go wrong with these artists. All their CDs will repay your time with compound interest.

With Iris Dement I would start with, ‘My Life’ before moving on to, ‘Infamous Angel’, ‘Lifeline’ (a deeply moving gospel set), ‘The Way I Should’ and her comeback classic, ‘Sings The Delta’.

I was both impressed and moved by her CD, ‘The Trackless Woods’ from 2015 which Takes the Poems of the great Anna Akhamatova as the foundation for a  series of engrossing Songs.

With Mary Gauthier I would start with, ‘Drag Queens in Limousines’ and then move on to, ‘Mercy Now’, ‘The Foundling’, ‘Filth and Fire’ and ‘Trouble and Love’.

Mary’s latest project from 2018 is the very powerful, ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ which she wrote in collaboration with US Veterans and their families.

They are both well represented on YouTube and other sharing sites.

 

Gordon Lightfoot, Nanci Griffith, Ricky Scaggs & Tony Rice : 10 Degrees & Getting Colder

Where you headed?

East to the Sunrise or West to the setting Sun?

South to the Jungles or North to the Forests?

Where you headed?

One time I was sheltering from the wind outside of Medicine Hat and when the 18 wheeler pulled to a halt the driver asked, ‘Where you headed?’ so I said, ‘North to Alaska, through the woods and the frozen lakes. I’m trying to find the straight path again’.

‘Hop in – I hope you like Gordon Lightfoot ’cause I got nothing but Gord on these tapes and we sure got a ways to go to get you to Alaska.’

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Where you headed?

It can be read as a very specific question or as a very general question or as both – like all the really interesting questions.

We are all headed somewhere or away from somewhere endlessly redrawing the map of our lives.

We all have miles to go before we sleep – we just don’t know how many miles we still have left on the clock.

Where you headed?

Sometimes the world falls on your shoulders and wherever you’ve fetched up, for whatever reason, you find it’s time to head back to where you were raised up to lick your wounds and get ready to ramble again.

And, if you want a true voice to accompany you down the road as you try to find that straight path let me tell you that you’ll struggle to find a truer one than that of Gordon Lightfoot.

Gordon knows all about the ramblin’, about the taverns, about the gamblin’, about the lovin’ and all the extremes of temperature we encounter on the road.

You know this is a man who has been places and seen things and heard all kinds of stories from all kinds of men and women.

Stories you can’t help but recognise when they’re told in Gord’s rich baritone croon.

‘He was standin’ by the highway with a sign that just said ‘Mother’ ….’

Now I don’t usually find the citations issued by august bodies when inducting an artist to the company of the great and good worth quoting but in the case of Gordon Lightfoot’s elevation to a companion of The Order of Canada I’m gonna make an exception :

‘A singer-songwriter, musician and poet, Gordon Lightfoot has been telling our stories for over five decades. He possesses a unique ability to blend contemporary urban music with our traditional roots. Genuine and reserved, he has a down to earth style that defies categorization’.

Where you headed?

Down the road a piece?

Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Santiago de Compostela?

Rain fallin’ on your shoes?

Feet almost frozen?

World fallin’ on your shoulders?

Where you headed?

Keep on keepin’ on.

Someone might just pull off on the shoulder and you’ll be on your way again.

But, remember people don’t usually stop if you don’t put up a sign.

‘Won’t you listen to me brother ….’

Nanci Griffith has always had a very good ear for Songs.

She’s a troubadour like Gordon Lightfoot and knows that some songs bloom every time they’re played – season after season after season.

You just have to respect ’em, sing ’em right and let ’em fly!

Nanci sings, ’10 Degrees ..’ just right.

Where you headed?

Rome? Jerusalem? Mecca? Kedarnath?

I’d advise you to travel light – you’re carrying enough baggage in that heart of yours.

Where you headed?

Wherever it is you might never get there.

You might turn back.

You might find the road you set out on takes a turning you couldn’t have imagined from looking at the map.

You might find your steps matched by another’s and decide to set off together on another path altogether.

Where you headed?

Now, let’s turn to the high lonesome sound of Bluegrass aces Tony Rice and Ricky Scaggs.

When it comes to pickin’ clean and singin’ sweet you can’t, just can’t, beat Tony and Ricky.

They’ve logged up sideman credits with marquee names but I always like the taste of the pure drop myself so let’s hear their clear as a mountain stream version of, ’10 degrees …’

‘ .. he held the sign up higher where no decent soul could miss it .. It was ten degrees or colder down by Boulder Dam that day ..’

 

Where you headed?

Even if you’re following a path that’s been trod a million times before you’ll leave only your own footprints and no one can walk the way for you.

Where you headed?

Arcadia? Atlantis? Camelot? Elysian Fields?

Wherever you set out for you’ll find you’re changed by the journey even if you never reach the fabled destination.

Accept the wind – at your back or in your face.

Where you headed?

Lift your eyes to the sunny hill far ahead.

Walk on Pilgrim!

Walk on!

Where you headed?

‘Now he’s traded off his Martin but his troubles are not over ..’.

Sing it Gordon.

Where you headed?

Listen.

‘He was standin’ by the highway with a sign that just said ‘Mother’ when he heard a driver comin’ ..’

Where you headed?

Bon Voyage.

The Band : It Makes No Difference

The Heart, like the Mind, has cliffs of fall.

Any one of us can find ourselves tumbling head over heels down those sheer cliffs.

Prostrate at the foot of those cliffs; bleeding, broken, the Heart yet beats on.

Beats on.

Though the dawn no longer beings a sliver of hope still less the promise of joy the Heart beats on.

Night or Day, though the shadows never fade away – the Heart beats on.

The Sun, former friend, don’t shine anymore and the rains, the rains!

They fall and fall on your sodden door as the Heart beats on.

Oh, it makes no difference how far you go.

The Heart beats on.

It makes no difference who you meet.

They’re just a face in the crowd on a Dead End Street.

The Street where you live.

Without that love what are you?

Footsteps in an empty hall.

A scarred Heart still beating on though the battle is lost.

Lost.

Who can sing your broken heart’s Song?

Who can match in their musicianship and the harmony of their voices the depth of your loss?

 

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Four Canadians and one American, veterans of the roadhouses and Honkytonks, the white heat of Bob Dylan’s 1966 Tour and the restorative retreat of Big Pink.

Never a band better named – The Band.

They all played a plethora of instruments with loving skill and three of them sang with haunting grace.

Levon Helm – the Life Force.

The one with the leery vocals and the drummer beating out the animating rhythms.

Robbie Robertson – the Hot Shot.

The one with the gift of writing haunting songs and the guitarist who knew what you leave out is as important as what you put in.

Richard Manuel – The Holy Ghost.

The one who played the piano with gleeful brilliance and whose voice sounded like it had knowledge of those lands beyond the Styx.

Garth Hudson – The Professor.

The one who could play any instrument you put in front of him and who could conjure soundscapes from them (especially from the Lowery Organ) that no one else could begin to imagine.

Rick Danko – The Heart.

The one who played the bass like his life depended upon it and who sang with a keening country soul that could make you feel that he was saving your life and his with every word.

 

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And, when they had a great song to live up to they lived up to it.

A song for those who are hurt and scarred and whose hearts yet beat on.

 

The original version comes from The Band’s 1975 Album, ‘Northern Lights – Southern Cross’ a record that was shot through with autumnal elegiac solace.

Robbie said that the song was written specifically for Rick to sing and that as they rehearsed it the levels of emotion he brought forth demanded they all plumbed the depths of their musical instincts and empathy to match the magnificence of his vocal.

There is pain and loneliness in Rick’s voice but there is also a passionate determination for that battered heart to beat on.

Though he is aflame with torment he has not surrendered to final despair.

For despair is silent.

The supporting anguished harmony vocals of Levon Helm and Richard Manuel along with the fellow pilgrim guitar of Robbie Robertson and the soul cry of Garth Hudson’s final saxophone together with Rick’s peerless vocal make the Song a luminous triumph.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1976 The Band gave a, ‘Farewell’ Performance at The Winterland in San Francisco to which they invited famous friends like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Eric Clapton.

The concert demonstrated their ability to be brilliantly sympathetic accompanists switching styles with seamless ease.

Amongst many stellar moments there are two transcendent performances.

First, Van Morrison and The Band taking, Caravan’ right into the very heart of The mystic.

Second, a grand, stately, version of, ‘It Makes No Difference’ that rattles the walls of every Heart that hears it.

Rick’s vocal has the quality of an abandoned penitent refusing to believe, despite the rains falling all around him, that there is no hope left in Prayer.

Garth Hudson’s saxophone is a lambent lament fully equal to the line :

‘I Love you so much that It’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you’.

 

 

In the years after The Last Waltz while Robbie went all Hollywood Levon, Richard, Garth and Rick initially struggled to find their way.

It was in live performance that they found themselves again.

While they would never fill the stadiums anymore those who saw them were privileged to be in the presence of a group of musicians of surpassing craft who could yet cut to Heart’s core.

Below, a performance from 1983 in Japan.

The intensity of Rick’s vocal and the interplay with the wraithlike Richard Manuel sears the soul.

If you have tears ….

 

Rick Danko died, worn out by life on the road and the ravages of drugs and alcohol in December 1999.

He was 55 years old.

When a musician takes to the stage he stands in the spotlight surrounded by pools of darkness.

It takes a truly great musician, in the way he plays and the way he sings, to respect in performance, and present to the audience the truth of both the darkness and the light and do so with a full heart.

Rick Danko was such a musician.

His performances, with his Brothers in The Band, especially of ‘It Makes No Difference’ will always flame, night and day, year after year, as long as there are human hearts that though broken stubbornly beat on.

Beat on.

 

Rolling Stones, Bob and Earl : The Harlem Shuffle

There is Presence in Place Names.

There is Romance in Place Names.

There is Poetry in Place Names.

Ulan Bator. Medicine Hat. Yekaterinburg.

Valparaiso. Terra Del Fuego. Finisterre.

Spoon River. Brigadoon. Elsinore.

Kathmandu. Coeur D’Alene. Cahirciveen.

Firenze. Maratea. Vigata.

New York City. New York City. New York City.

Manhattan. Queens. The Bronx. Staten Island. Brooklyn.

Harlem. Harlem. Harlem.

Black and white image of a street scene in Harlem in the 1930s.

Now for profound reasons of History Harlem has felt compelled to Shout!

Now for profound reasons of History Harlem has felt compelled to Scream!

But in all ages and conditions Harlem has lived and breathed through Song.

Harlem Sings! Harlem Sings! Harlem Sings!

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Harlem sings in the photographs of Aaron Siskind.

Harlem sings in the poetry of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Georgia Douglas Johnson.

Harlem sings in the melodies captured by a Harlem Airshaft.

Harlem sings in the writing of James Baldwin, Countee Cullen and W.E.B. DuBois.

Harlem sings in the polemics of Hubert Harrison and Marcus Garvey.

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Harlem sings at Olympic Field as the Lincoln Giants win again.

Harlem sings in the words and melodies of George and Ira Gershwin.

Harlem sings in the escapades of Harry Houdini.

Harlem sings in the crazed cavorting of Groucho, Chico and Harpo.

Harlem sings through Count Basie and Coleman Hawkins.

Harlem sings in the Knockout majesty of Joe Louis.

Harlem sings in the fleet feet of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.

Harlem sings through the inescapable Joy flowing from Fats Waller.

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Harlem sings through Frankie Lymon and Garland Jeffreys.

Harlem sings through Ralph Ellison and Johnny Hartman.

Harlem sings as another winner pings off the racket of Althea Gibson.

Harlem sings in the firm Gavel of Thurgood Marshall.

Harlem sings at Club Harlem.

Harlem sings at The Alhambra Ballroom.

Harlem sings at Havana San Juan.

Harlem sings at The Lennox Lounge.

Harlem sings at Minton’s Playhouse.

Harlem sings at Monroe’s Uptown House.

Harlem sings at Small’s Paradise and The Sugar Cane Club.

Harlem sings at The Park Palace and The Park Plaza.

Harlem sings and sings and everybody, everybody, wants to sing, sing, sing at The Apollo Theatre.

You move it to the left – you go for yourself.

You move it to the right – if it takes all night.

Take it kinda slow  with a whole lot of Soul

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

The Harlem Shuffle.

 

Harlem sings through through the raise the dead glory of Bob Relf and Earl Nelson’s, ‘Harlem Shuffle’ from 1963.

Don’t move it too fast – just make it last.

How low can you go?

Yup, even Lazarus himself, when he was laying down, would have got up off the bed and on to the floor once that brass fanfare kicked in!

Barry White (yes .. that Barry White) played Piano and did the arrangement (with Gene Page?) while Fred Smith produced.

Bob and Earl sing their hearts out through every line.

Now come on – don’t fall down on me now.

Just move it right here to The Harlem Shuffle.

The Harlem Shuffle.

Ride. Ride. Ride.

And that’s what Bob and Earl do.

They ride, ride, ride, slide and swoop so that we ain’t got no choice but to shake a tail feather for all we’re worth.

The combination of the urgent vocals and the insistent rhythms intoxicatingly surrounds you ’til you feel you can’t stand it no more.

That last for about a nanosecond before you want to be out on the floor again – head spinningly lost for another lifetime encapsulated in 162 seconds.

Yeah, yeah, yeah to the Harlem Shuffle.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

Take All Night.

Make it last.

Meanwhile ….

Far across the Atlantic Ocean in England in an unremarkable place named Dartford two young men found that they shared a passion for The Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were and are true aficionados of Black Music.

Maybe they heard Harlem Shuffle on the radio or through hipper than hip Guy Stevens DJ-ing at London’s New Scene Club.

It was Stevens running the UK arm of Sue Records who first issued the record in Britain in 1965.

Keith, in particular, was taken by the horn heavy blast of Harlem Shuffle and he knew that Mick could really shake a tail feather to this one on stage.

He also knew that he had in Charlie Watts the coolest drummer in the whole wide world at his back so the song would hit the groove and stay hit throughout allowing him to dig deep.

Being the wily old bird he is Keith kept putting Harlem Shuffle on tapes of songs he gave to Mick until one fine day Mick just sang along as Keith and Ronnie Wood ran the song down in a rehearsal studio.

And, when they hit the stage – all brass and backing singers blazing there can be no resistance.

You scratch just like a monkey.

Yeah you do real cool.

Real Cool.

Real Cool.

Do The Harlem Shuffle.

The Harlem Shuffle.

Tail Feather well and truly shaken!

Notes :

Bobby Relf died in November 2007.

Hailing from Los Angeles (born 1937) he was in The Upfronts with Barry White.

Harlem Shuffle owes a lot to a West Coast tune, ‘Slausson Shuffletime’ by Round Robin.

Bobby kept in touch with Barry White and provided lucrative material for his fabulously successful Love Unlimited.

Earl Nelson died in July 2008.

He had an earlier brush with fame when he sang lead on The Hollywood Flames’ hit, ‘Buzz, Buzz, Buzz’.