Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Emmylou Harris : You Never Can Tell

When you are young you think you know.

You know how the world works.

You know just how things are going to turn out.

But you find out the world is a much stranger place than you thought.

People – your parents, your friends, your one and only love, strangely decide to behave in ways you never expected.

The 16 year old school no-hoper strangely turns out to a world-beater by 25.

Volcanos erupt. Impregnable Walls are torn down.

True Love sometimes turns out to be exactly that.

You learn not to make such definite snap judgments.

When things happen you didn’t see coming you’re not outraged.

Instead you smile a wry smile and say ’C’est La Vie – it goes to show you never can tell’.

 

And, if you’re a great songwriter reflecting wryly on life and love you decide to write a song filled with acute observation, humour and wisdom.

At least, that’s what you do if you’re Chuck Berry – even if you’re in Prison when the inspiration strikes.

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Chuck was, of course, a writer of both inspiration and deliberation.

There’s immense craft in the song.

The story is told in four short verses.

‘C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell’ is an arresting and immediately memorable lyric hook neatly and beautifully rhythmically encapsulating the moral of the song.

The AAAA Rhyme scheme is used with finesse and wit building up rhyme by rhyme a complete picture of the situation.

Chuck delights in marrying his New Orleans Creole Rhythm with a French name for teenage spouse, Pierre, and playfully using both madamoiselle and Madame, in the correct order, to signify that the truly in love couple have indeed rung the chapel bell.

So, married life begins with a well stocked Collerator just crammed with those dinners they wolfed while watching their favourite shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if they mixed that ginger ale with something a little more potent!

I was delighted to discover that ‘Coolerator’ was a genuine brand name (see image below) and that the refrigerators were manufactured in Duluth – making it certain that they would have been known to Bob Dylan and very likely stocked in the family electricals store.

 

It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin’ worked out well
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz
But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They bought a souped-up jitney, ’twas a cherry red ’53
They drove it down to Orleans to celebrate the anniversary
It was there that Pierre was married to the lovely mademoiselle
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

 

Chuck always delighted in his references to US Car Culture and I have to admit that from the first moment I heard You Never Can Tell I sorely longed for a ‘Cherry Red ‘53’!

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I haven’t got mine (yet).

But, I surely did get me a fine Hi Fi Phono and boy, as all my neighbours will tell you, did I let it blast!

And, taking pride of place among my 700 or so 45s there will always be a high stack of Chuck Berry singles.

Because he was the greatest songwriter of the primal Rock ‘n’ Roll era and because nothing lifts the spirits like three minutes of prime Chuck Berry!

Consider that You Never Can Tell was preceded by, ‘No Particular Place To Go’ and succeeeded by, ‘Promised Land’ – a run of classics that would have worthily constituted a lifetime’s achievement for another songwriter/performer.

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I should draw your attention to the glorious piano playing of Johnnie Johnson for once foregrounded in this song.

Released from dramatic guitar playing duties Chuck concentrates his genius on his sly and smooth vocal.

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Of course, it was a given that once a new Chuck Berry song hit the airwaves and Jukeboxes that a flood of cover versions would appear.

So many to choose from for our Immortal Jukebox!

Let’s kick off with Emmylou Harris and her aptly named Hot Band more than kicking up their heels!

 

 

Emmylou and Co hit that shuffle rhythm from the get go don’t they.

Glenn D Hardin on piano and Hank Devito add colour with England’s own Albert Lee providing the stellar guitar.

What an apprenticeship in the big time this was for the young Rodney Crowell!

Naturellement he was in love with Emmylou  – putting him in company with all red blooded music fans of the time!

Now we let the arm come down on something really special.

You want a demonstration and distillation of the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen and Jukebox afficianados the whole world over I give you the one and only Ronnie Lane with Slim Chance!

 

 

Now that’s a New Orleans second line party!

That’s ginger ale laced with the very finest bourbon!

That makes the big toe in your boot shoot straight up to the sky!

Every time Ronnie Lane strapped on his bass and stepped to the microphone he put his whole heart and soul into his performances exuding sheer glee in the music he was making.

The same holds true for Bruce Springsteen.

I love this version of You Never Can Tell from Leipzig in 2013.

Bruce takes the crowd request and coaches the initially sceptical Band until they produce a wonderfully ragged celebration of Chuck Berry’s anthem.

Chuck Berry will always be the heartbeat of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Thank God apostles like Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Lane and Emmylou Harris ensured that the message still resounds.

 

 

And, even today, somewhere in Chicago or Cairo someone is saying – you know we could really do a killer version of that Chuck Berry ‘C’est La Vie’ song.

It goes to show you never can tell where a great song will end up except that it will surely keep traveling on.

Steve Earle, Patty Loveless, The Proclaimers & Eddi Reader – My Old Friend The Blues

Lovers leave.

Friends will let you down.

You learn that as you fall in and out love and form friendships that flare bright before they fade away.

So, you’re left all alone with The Blues.

And, you can hug those blues close to get you through.

The Blues becomes your old and trusted friend.

But, remember, remember, sometimes you are the lover who walks away.

Remember, remember, sometimes you are the friend who’s doing the letting down.

So, don’t make The Blues your best and only friend.

We all get The Blues.

We all need The Blues to get through the lost loves and the failed friendships.

Loss and failure hurt.

But, they go with the territory.

Love and Friendship will be the treasures of your Life.

The Blues will see you through until you’re ready to face the joys and pains of Love and Friendship again.

Dont lean too long on your old friend The Blues.

Love again. Be a Friend again.

Meantime let’s have a hugely enjoyable wallow with our old friend The Blues courtesy of the young Steve Earle (this is a quintessential young man’s song).

Paradoxically it’s young hearts that feel the weariest.

Ah … a shiver of recognition and illicit pleasure in pain for all of us there!

Steve Earle, a natural songwriter, came out of San Antonio Texas fit to burst with energy and a desire to tell stories about the way the world was and the way it damn well should be.

‘Guitar Town’ from 1986 was his breakthrough record announcing him as a literate, rocking, rough, rowdy, romantic and righteous artist who was here to stay.

You could hear the influences of Folk Icon Woody Guthrie and Texas troubadours Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt

Add in a dash of on’ry ol Waylon Jennings and workshirt era Bob Dylan and you’ve got a very potent and occasionaly explosive mixture which near guaranteed a vesuvial flow of songs.

Steve Earle’s best songs have drama and impact and emotional reach.

Across the Atlantic in Scotland, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’ reached the tender heart of Eddi Reader who was surely born to sing room stilling ballads.

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Listen to her here bring the same focus and sensitivity she gives to the songs of Robert Burns to Steve Earl’s cancion Triste.

Eddi has a voice that can croon or keen.

A voice laden with ancient knowing.

A quiet voice that sounds loud in your heart.

A voice of balm for weary hearts wherever they may beat.

Staying in Scotland we now turn to twins Charlie and Craig Reid, The Proclaimers.

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Their Records are distinguished by the fierce commitment they bring to every song they sing.

Which, of course, brings even more allure to their tender moments.

The Proclaimers bring a stark echoing intensity to My Old Friend The Blues.

Patty Loveless is a blue Kentucky Girl – a State where lovelorn ballads are not exactly in short supply!

Patty made her mark at the same time as Steve Earle and like him she had done her fair share of hard traveling before she had the spotlight directed at her centre stage.

Playing small bars and clubs in nameless towns she learned a lot about lonely nights and weary hearts.

She also learned that if you have a voice shot through with plaintive grace you could offer a ray of hope to those battered hearts all around – including her own.

I’m showcasing a live version suffused with bluegrass duende.

 

Speaking of Duende, as we collect the glasses and turn out the lights let’s have one more take from Steve himself before we shut the doors.

Just when every ray of hope was gone ….

On those nights when sleep seems loath to appear and knot up ravelled care you can always turn to an old friend – The Blues.

Then, when dawn breaks, as it always miraculously does, take that weary heart of yours and go in search of love and friendship once again.

Bob Seger, Dave Edmunds (& for one night only Bob Dylan!) : Get Out Of Denver

Well, I think it’s fair to we have been in the fast lane for the last two Jukebox Posts.

So, it would probably be sensible to pull over, take a breath, and relax with a dreamy ballad I could wax all lyrical about.

That would be sensible.

But, Brothers and Sisters, I’m here to tell you I’m going to do no such thing.

No such thing.

Instead while the fires are blazing and our hearts are burnin’ burnin’ let’s get those wheels really spinning!

Time to get the motor running.

Head out on the highway.

Adventure is bound to come our way.

Let’s drive all night under the Moon until the Sun comes up.

Let’s roar through Nebraska whinin’.

Let’s head out for the mountains.

Let’s drive so fast the fields will feel like they’re bending over.

Let’s worry about absolutely nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Not even if the rear view mirror picks up flashing red lights and the air resounds with sirens screaming.

Because all the red lights and screaming sirens in the world don’t make no difference when you’re driving a Ferrari Enzo.

 

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Oh Boy are we gonna get out of Denver.

The speed dial is gonna cruise past 200 miles an hour.

We’ll have to pinch each other just to see if we was dreaming.

Bye, Bye, Bye, flashing lights and sirens screaming.

Bye, Bye, Bye.

We’re getting straight outta Denver.

Straight outta Denver.

Fire her up Bob!

Fire her up!

 

 

Bob Seger is the real deal.

He did all the hard yards in his native Detroit.

Learning how to lead a band that could drive an audience stone crazy.

Writing songs that spoke plain truth about the real lives people led and the lives they wanted to lead.

Bob Seger – an honest working man speaking directly from that experience and illuminating it with melody and lyric and colossal drive.

A Home Town hero in Detroit for years and years before the rest of the world woke up to his extraordinary talent.

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One of those who knew a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic when he heard it was Dave Edmunds.

Dave is plugged into the very DNA of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He is entirely capable of playing every instrument himself as with I Hear You Knocking.

But, get him onstage with sparring partner Nick Lowe and a dynamite drummer like Terry Williams and you can guarantee your wheels will be spinnin’ spinnin’ shootin’ sparks all around.

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From 1977’s ‘Get It’ Dave’s riotous take on Get Out Of Denver.

Go! Go! Go!

 

 

From time to time I’m asked – what’s the greatest double live album of all time?

Now, that’s easy – Van Morrison’s, ‘Too Late To Stop Now’ for the genius of his singing across multiple musical genres and the empathetic brilliance of The Caledonia Soul Orchestra.

But, when I want the pure adrenaline rush of listening to a great Band setting the woods and ballroom on fire I always turn to Bob Seger’s ‘Live Bullet’ recorded in 1975 at The Cobo in Detroit.

When I perfect the time travel machine one of my first stops is going to be Detroit September 1975 so that I can go absolutely nuts the moment I hear Bob sing:

’I still remember it was autumn and the moon was shinin’ ….’

 

 

Fast forward to March 16 2004 Detroit’s State Theatre.

Bob Dylan, a mere 15 years into the, ‘Never Ending Tour’ has seemingly completed his encore with the incomparable one-two punch of, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and, ‘All Along The Watchtower’.

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But, there’s a surprise in store even for fanatical Bob Cats who know every song Bob has ever played and who compile lists of songs he just might do one day (guilty).

For tonight, for one night only (or more circumspectly we might say for at least the next 14 years) Bob and the band – Larry Campbell, Freddie Koella (much missed by me), Richie Hayward, George Recile and on Bass that night – Tony Garnier launch to the roaring delight of the assembled Detroiters full tilt into, ‘Get Out Of Denver’

 

Bob must have learned that the day before had been officially declared Bob Seger Day by The Governor and decided to tip his hat in the best way possible from one songwriter and bandleader to another.

Bob, as we should know by now, is pretty much familiar with every great song that’s been written over the last two hundred years or so.

That’s why I have dubbed him The Keeper Of American Song.

It’s also worth noting that Bob Seger has said that the first artist who really got to him was Little Richard.

And, legendarily, Bob Dylan’s High School Yearbook records his ambition was to, ‘Join Little Richard’.

Hearing the two Bobs burnin’ burnin’ through Get Out Of Denver we can be sure both of them have joined Little Richard in the highest halls of Rock ‘n’ Roll’

‘Get out of Denver better go go, Get out of Denver go ….

The Clash, The Stray Cats, Bobby Fuller : I Fought The Law

‘I wrote it in my living room in West Texas ones sandstormy afternoon. It took me about 20 minutes’ (Sonny Curtis)

West Texas is wide open.

When the wind blows, and it blows a lot, sand storms swirl.

After February 3rd 1959 there was another sound in the swirling sandy wind.

The sound of a Ghost – the Ghost of Buddy Holly.

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Buddy Holly’s music woke deep passions and ambitions in a Minnesota kid who locked eyes with him in one of the last concerts he ever played.

Buddy Holly’s music woke deep passions and ambitions in two Liverpool teenagers who wanted to write and play their own songs and have a group just like The Crickets.

Buddy was the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roller ever to come out of Texas and though his sound echoes all over the world it’s in Texas that his Ghost speaks loudest.

Speaking in the song of the hot sun and the West Texas Wind.

Sonny Curtis knew Buddy well.

He had played with him and recorded with him.

So, when the plane went down that tragic day it seemed natural for The Crickets to turn to Sonny as a new Cricket and songwriter.

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The first post Buddy Crickets album, ‘In Style’ was recorded in New York in 1959 and issued the following year.

Driving up to the Big Apple Jerry Mauldin and Jerry Allison asked Sonny if he had any songs for the new record.

Well .. I got this song, ‘I Fought the Law’ – I wrote last year, ain’t even written it down, kind of a country song, goes like this:

A-breaking rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I miss my baby and a good fun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I left my baby and I feel so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
A-robbin’ people with the zip gun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I needed money ’cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I left my baby and I feel so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

 

Wow! They could all tell this was some song.

A bad boy who ain’t so bad.

The best girl he he ever had.

An armed robbery that goes wrong.

The inexorable reach of the law.

But, not as a country ballad.

No, this needed some of that Buddy bounce.

Bright guitars, rock ‘n’ roll drums, a bright clear vocal (Earl Sinks would take care of that) and a killer chorus.

Put all that together and you’ve got a hell of a record.

 

 

And, it was a hell of a record.

It’s just that in 1960 the great record buying public in all its wisdom wasn’t listening closely to The Crickets anymore and neither were the radio programmers.

So, no hit for The Crickets and no royalties for Sonny Curtis.

Yet, as Jukeboxers know, a true message always gets through – it’s just a matter of how long it takes.

There is, of course, another audience for Songs.

An audience that hears things the public don’t always cotton onto straight away.

The audience of other songwriters and performers who hear a song and think – I know just how to do this one and really make it come alive.

So in 1962 Milwaukee’s Paul Stefan with The Royal Lancers issued a charming, if underpowered, version on Citation Records which won local approval.

A couple of years later Sammy Masters on Kapp recorded it Western recitation style.

Sonny still didn’t really have any royalties to bank but the message was rising above a whisper now.

And, the message was heard loudest and clearest of all by Bobby Fuller under the hot sun back in El Paso Texas.

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Bobby was a natural rocker who loved the sheer sound of guitars turned up high supported by a driving beat and vocals that grabbed your attention from the get go and never let up.

And, Bobby likes to experiment in his basement – layering the instrumental and vocal sound until it rang out like lightning.

Bobby’s sharp ears heard, ‘I Fought the Law’ and he got to work.

He produced a demo, in 1964, that would lay the template for his monster hit of 1966 (the subsequent 1964 45 put out on his own Exeter label was a hit in the El Paso area but to my mind it is flatter, less resonant than the wonderful demo below).

it’s obvious that Bobby has been listening to the likes of The Ventures and Dick Dale as well as good old Buddy.

Now El Paso knew just how great a song this was.

All the elements of a classic were now in place.

What Bobby and the song needed now was a more punchy recording in a better studio along with national distribution and publicity.

Enter Bob Keane of Del Fi and Mustang Records who had lost his brightest star, Ritchie Valens, in the same crash that took away Buddy.

Setting up in Los Angeles Bobby, brother Randy (bass) Jim Reese (guitar) and DeWayne Quirico on drums laid down an all time rock ‘n’ roll classic that has the drive of the 50s forefathers with added 60s colour and brightness.

This one takes off like a dragster and smashes through the winning tape still accelerating.

Once this one got heard on the radio there was no stopping it and by mid March 1966 it was a top 10 hit.

 

 

I make that 132 seconds of Rock ‘n Roll bliss!

Sheer Bliss.

Of course, I can’t think of a occasion I’ve put this on my turntable and played it only once!

Eight years after that sandstormy day, at last, the royalties began to flow for Sonny Curtis.

A true message always gets through.

Always.

Now, you would think such a triumph would presage a stellar future for Bobby – especially as he was such a clued up musician, strong vocalist and a brilliant live performer.

However, those dreams died, in very dubious circumstances indeed, when in July 1966 Bobby was found, asphyxiated and doused in petrol in his car.

The official verdict was suicide.

It seems highly likely that it was malign forces, outside the Law, who took Bobby’s life away and shattered a very promising career.

Time moved on and music went through many phases.

British Beat. Folk Rock. Pyschedelia, Country Rock, Prog Rock, Glam Rock.

By the mid 70s in London a new generation of musicians and incendiary would be musicians intuited that it was time to get back to basics and hit the stage at a hundred miles and hour and let the audience catch up if they could.

Punk Rock was a two fingered salute to the worthy, corporate, Rock establishment.

Get out of the way!

Move it on over!

A new Gang’s in Town.

And, pogoing furiously in clubs all over London, it seemed to me that the coolest Gang and the one which truly understood the essence of real Rock ‘n Roll was The Clash.

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Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon.

Joe and Mick took a trip to San Francisco in mid 78 to work on the second Clash album, ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’.

The Automatt Studio was furnished with vintage Jukeboxes and the record the needle dropped on the most for Joe and Mick was none other than Bobby Fuller’s I Fought The Law.

A true message always gets through.

I Fought the Law, in July 1979, would be the first Clash single issued in America and their first track to gain significant radio AirPlay.

This is truly a magnificent racket!

This one uses premium rocket fuel.

Best to strap yourself in before hitting the play button here!

 

I imagine it never occurred to Sonny that a bunch of West London Bad Boys would really whip up a Wild West Texas Typhoon on that song he wrote 21 years before!

Nor, that a bunch of American Rebels, The Stray Cats, would find their feet in London perfecting a raunchy Rockabilly attack that could ensure any song they took on would leave earth’s gravity in a single bound.

Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom palyed with such sheer Joy in their live shows.

Whenever they played near me I was at the head of the queue and ready to elbow my way to my preferred front row centre stage spot!

The message still gets through.

 

 

Oh yes.

The message still gets through.

Crosing Continents and Oceans.

Vaulting Mountains.

Wherever there’s a bunch of musicians who need to ride the whirlwind the message gets through.

It came through on a clear channel to Mano Negra who fell on it like ravenous wolves howling at The Moon.

Ojo! Ojo! Ojo!

This Train ain’t gonna stop – stand well clear or you’ll get your head blown clean off!

 

 

And, if you’ve got your head blown off the least you can do is dance until the rest of your body runs out of blood to pump.

So, to conclude lets rock the joint with two scorching live takes on I Fought the Law.

First off The Clash flash flooding the senses.

Now, the man who put his stamp all over this song for all eternity – Bobby Fuller (dig those groovy dancers all you hep cats and kittens!).

 

One last word of advice to all you Bad Boys and Bad Girls out there – forget going robbing with a Zip Gun, a Six Gun or a Shotgun.

If you fight the law you’ll find the law wins.

No, get yourself a six string and crank it up to 11 and sing with all your heart for Sonny Curtis and Bobby Fuller:

I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

Notes :

Other versions of I Fought the Law I approve of you might care to check out :

Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Nanci Griffith with The Crickets, John Mellancamp, Mike Ness, The Grateful Dead.

Bobby Fuller – His tragic death was a great loss to music.

In many ways he’s the musical bridge between Buddy Holly and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I have two Box Sets ‘Never To Be Forgotten’ from Del Fi and ‘Texas Tapes Revisited’ – both crammed with rocking gems.

Sonny Curtis – Though I Fought the Law is his most valuable copyrighted Song Sonny has penned several other significant Songs including, ‘Walk Right Back’ for The Everly Brothers.

 

 

Dave Alvin : Border Radio

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Well, what do you get when you fall in Love?

Some will tell you that you’re opening the door to a whole world of trouble.

Oh, oh, you are wrapping chains that will bind you tight until you just can’t breathe anymore.

Look out! Danger ahead!

Pain and sorrow goes with the territory.

No doubt about it the hurting will be certain.

But, but, but … take a tip.

Take a tip.

Whatever you think and feel about it ; no matter how many times Love has let you down, you just won’t be able to live without it.

Won’t be able to live without it.

Oh, oh, and when Love is in bloom and your heart is singing aria after aria of Joy you’ll cradle mountains in the palm of your hand.

Rivers running slow and lazy.

Crickets talking back and forth in rhyme.

You won’t wonder why the world spins around.

You’ll know.

You’ll believe in magic.

You’ll know that no matter how deep the ocean is it’s not as deep as this feeling.

Love makes the world go around.

It always has.

It always will.

And, if you lose that love you’ll ache for it to return.

Ache for the heat of that touch.

The healing power of that touch.

And, in the midnight watches when the Moon looms in the dark sky you’ll hope and pray that somehow, somehow, that lost Love will be found again.

Found again.

Turning the late night radio dial you’ll search for a song you used to sing in whispers to each other and maybe, just maybe, far, far away, the lost one is listening too.

And, that song will be your midnight prayer.

Your midnight prayer.

Who knows what the power of prayer is?

Except those who really pray.

Pray with all their heart.

And, as the lost one, far, far away, sings to themselves maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember who they used to sing it with and realise how much they miss that singing, the heat of that touch.

And, maybe, just maybe, they’ll drive all the way home – tuned in again, listening to the border radio.

Maybe, just maybe, the boy asleep in the next room, who looks just like his Dad, will wake up and hear his voice – not metallically on the phone but in his very room.

Call up to hear that song one more time again.

One more time.

Border Radio

One more midnight, her man is still gone
The nights move too slow
She tries to remember the heat of his touch
While listening to the Border Radio

She calls toll-free and requests an old song
Something they used to know
She prays to herself that wherever he is
He’s listening to the Border Radio

This song comes from nineteen sixty-two
Dedicated to a man who’s gone
Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio

She thinks of her son, asleep in his room
And how her man won’t see him grow
She thinks of her life and she hopes for a change
While listening to the Border Radio

This song comes from nineteen sixty-two
Dedicated to a man who’s gone
Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio

They play her tune but she can’t concentrate
She wonders why he had to go
One more midnight and her man is still gone
She’s listening to the Border Radio

This song comes from nineteen sixty-two
Dedicated to a man who’s gone
Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio

Border Radio first appeared on a 1982 CD from The Blasters which included Dave and brother Phil among its members.

That version is modern day Rockabilly and has the punch of the old Sun studio sound. I think Dave knew that the emotional core of the song – it’s sense of longing and loss and desperate hope had got somewhat lost in that production.

By the time of his solo record from 1987, ‘Romeo’s Escape’ he had figured out that the song needed to be performed slower and with more emotional intensity for it to fully bloom in the listeners imagination.

So, this version drips with emotional humidity.

There’s a palatable ache in Dave’s vocal and a tender tremor to Greg Leisz’s guitar and Katy Moffatt’s backup singing.

The song is now a country ballad – but a country ballad infused with southern soul stylings.

Like that song from 1962 Border Radio lingers in the mind echoing on and on as it encounters and colours the particular incidents and memories it evokes in each listeners own life.

Which is to say that Border Radio is a Keeper!

Dave Alvin is well aware of its merits and that its one of those songs whose power only grows over the years.

That’s why you can’t imagine a Dave Alvin concert without Border Radio.

And, it’s one of those songs that other songwriters, hard schooled in the craft, instantly recognise as a classic.

Here’s a live take on the song featuring David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and accordion maestro Flaco Jimenez that crosses back and forth across that borderline and rocks out too!

 

Why do we let time stand still and live in memory of the lonesome times?

Why not, by an act of will, stop this troublesome loving?

Useless to say.

Because, while you’re alive you’re in search of love.

Might as well ask the waves to cease surging to the shore.

Such folly!

Yes, but divine folly.

If you won’t risk being a Fool you’ll never find Love.

Oh, you’re crazy for crying and crazy for trying but it’s all worth it for Love, Love, Love, Crazy Love.

It often doesn’t travel on the broad highway.

No, true love often travels on a gravel road.

You can’t start it like a car – you can’t stop it with a gun.

And, in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

One more midnight, one more prayer, one more turn around the floor with the Border Radio playing that song from 1962.

One step for aching and two steps for breaking.

I can’t stop loving you.

Those happy hours that we once knew.

Those happy hours.

She calls toll free and requests an old song.

She prays to herself that wherever he is he’s listening to the Border Radio.

The Border Radio.

 

Tex Ritter, Frankie Laine, Duane Eddy : High Noon

The Way Out West Series 4

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‘High Noon is a magical formula of elements. In two or three bars, the feeling of the song is telling you exactly what went on before, what’s happening now and what’s going to happen later’ (Ry Cooder)

The Ballad of High Noon (Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington)

Do not, forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

The noon train will bring Frank Miller
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn twixt love and duty
S’posin’, I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but, oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise when we wed
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, I can’t be leavin’
Until I shoot Frank Miller dead

Wait along, wait along
(Wait along)
Wait along, wait along
(Wait along, wait along, wait along, wait along)

Ry Cooder knows a thing or two about composing music for Film and about music for Westerns in particular.

So when he says the theme song for High Noon is magical I listen closely.

I advise you to do the same!

 

Now isn’t that a masterclass in how to ensnare an audience and prepare them for the tension and drama ahead!

As High Noon’s sweeping opening sequence proceeds we know that this will be an elemental drama played out in frontier country.

The frontier – where upholding the law is no simple matter of enforcing statutes in dusty volumes but a constant battle between order and peace and bloody chaos.

Our hero will need to stand tall with all his courage if civilisation is to prevail.

Such immense impact with so little instrumentation.

Musically everything is invitation and subdued suggestion.

Lyrically in a few short verses with the title only mentioned once the entire arc of the narrative is elegantly and tantalisingly laid out for us.

Tex Ritter sings like an oracle of the gods who knows the resolution of all stories.

Mere men and women have to attend, wait and falteringly live them out.

There is a wedding. But a wedding marred by dread that one party may be forsaken on what should be such a day of Joy.

A bad man with a gun, a deadly killer, bent on revenge, has left prison.

He will arrive on the Noon train.

So little time.

So little time.

A man, a western man, has to, must, face down his enemy and his fears.

Oh, oh, Love would say what does this matter today of all days?

But though the call of Love is loud the call of Duty is louder.

Louder.

Death is nothing but life as a craven coward always looking over your shoulder?

No. No. No.

Though you may lose your fair haired beauty you can’t, won’t, leave before that train arrives.

No man wants to die a coward.

No man wants to live forsaken.

The big Hand moves along.

Towards High Noon.

High Noon it is.

His life or mine.

High Noon.

Look at that big hand move along.

High Noon.

Settle down in your cinema seat, exchange smiles with your companion, this High Noon is sure to be one hell of a ride!

Who wrote the Music?

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Dimitri Tiomkin who was born 1894 in Kremenchuk Russia – far, far, away from The American Frontier.

He had training with distinguished teachers in St Petersburg, Berlin and Paris and before he badly broke his arm he harboured dreams of stardom as a concert pianist.

After moving to America in 1925 he followed the golden trail West to Hollywood hoping to make a career as a Film Composer.

HIs big break came through writing and performing the score for Frank Capra’s ‘Lost Horizon’ in 1937.

He would go on to work on a series of Films with Capra including ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.

He had already produced two wonderful Western scores for ‘Duel in the Sun’ in 1946 and ‘Red River’ in 1949 before the commission came for High Noon.

Tiomkin had a genius for embedding stirring, highly memorable, folk like melodies into his scores and for weaving them as charged motifs throughout the course of a film.

Melodies that aroused the emotions and subtly augmented the voices of the actors and the drama playing out on the screen.

As for composing music for Westerns when he had to evoke the majesty of the landscape and the iconic role of the Cowboy Tiomkin only had to recollect the endless steppe of Ukraine and the folkloric Cossack of Russian myth to find the melodies pouring out.

Who wrote the Lyric – Ned Washington 

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Now I’ll wager there’s more than a few of you who’ll be exclaiming Ned Who?

Yet, Ned has written a glorious gallery of Songs that pretty near everybody has heard and loved.

How about, ‘My Foolish Heart’, ‘Stella by Starlight’ and, ‘The Nearness of You’ for Golden Age classics.

And, as for Film Songs few can match him – ‘When You Wish upon a Star’ and, ‘Baby Mine’ for Disney.

Any good at Western Ballads?

Not bad at all if, ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’, ‘3.10 to Yuma’ and the theme for ‘Rawhide’ are anything to go by!

Combining their immense talents and understanding of the role of music and song in Film Tiomkin and  Washington composed a Song which is endlessly alluring.

Like a great Western it feels familiar and mysterious simultaneously.

It feels like a song, a melody and a a lyric, that has emerged into the daylight from the hazy depths of your dreams.

You can’t help singing along in whatever register of voice you have (I like to affect a basso profundo in my own version).

Amazingly, in view of its eventual immense success, initial previews of High Noon did not have those audiences cheering.

United Artists got cold feet and held off releasing the Movie.

Dimitri Tiomkin was certain however that the theme song was something special.

So while United Artists hesitated he bought the rights to the Song and arranged for it to be recorded by Frankie Laine who gave it his full throated turbo drama best – and the rest as they say is history!

 

 

There have been countless versions of tne song since (four other versions came at tne time of the Film’s release).

I’m going to leave you with a version that’s sure to please Jukebox aficionados as it’s by the twangtastic Duane Eddy (maybe my basso profundo version is my own tribute to Duane!)

 

Notes:

At the 1953 Oscars High Noon won for Best Song and Tiomkin won for Best Music.

Tex Ritter performed the Song at the Ceremony.

There’s a CD from Bear Family (who else!) with 27 versions of the song – I fully intend to hear them all.

Now, The Immortal Jukebox isn’t a Film Blog but while I don’t propose to go all Pauline Kael on you I couldn’t close without tipping my hat to some of those involved in the Film whose work has brought me immense delight.

Gary Cooper & Grace Kelly

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Gary Cooper managed to carry off the trick of being both diffident and heroic and a regular guy who just happened to be fabulously handsome.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen, ‘Wings’, ‘The Virginian’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘The Lives of a Bengal Lancer’, ‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’, ‘Beau Geste’, ‘Sergeant York’, ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ and, ‘Ball of Fire’.

Of course he won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon.

When they say they don’t make Film Stars like they used to it is always Coop I think of first.

Grace Kelly was only 21 in High Noon.

Her glowing youth made a marked and poignant contrast to Coop’s leathered maturity.

She really was ‘breathtakingly beautiful’ and her career as a whole demonstrated she was a fine actress who could be archly comic as well as the thriller heroine who would make any film hero (and every regular Joe in the cinema aisles) blithely risk life and limb to win her.

Fred Zinnemann – Director

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Fred Zinnemann was a consummate professional who understood every aspect of Film Making.

His work is distinguished by an intense humanity and acute insight into the revelation of character under pressure.

He was able to coax extraordinary performances from Actors as demonstrated by Montgomery Clift in, ‘The Search’, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh in, ‘Act of Violence’ and Marlon Brando in, ‘The Men’.

Beyond, ‘High Noon’ I often reach for, ‘From Here to Eternity’, ‘The Nun’s Story’ (with Audrey Hepburn even more luminous than ever), ‘The Sundowners’ and, ‘Day of the Jackal’ when I want meaty entertainment.

The’ High Noon’ theme of the man alone – abandoned by all who might be expected to come to his aid – is often taken to be an allegory for America in the grip of McCarthyism. I am more inclined to think Zinnemann (if not screenwriter Carl Foreman) was thinking of the situation of his parents who perished in The Holocaust.

Jack Elam

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Regular readers will Know from the Post on ‘Jack Gets Up’ by Leo Kottke that Jack Elam is high in my pantheon of Jacks.

He doesn’t actually get a screen credit in High Noon but all of us who cherish Western Character Actors will have no trouble in spotting his distinctive visage.

Katy Jurado

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The magnificent Katy was a Star in Mexican Cinema before Budd Boetticher cast her in, ‘The Bullfighter and the Lady’ .

That role won her the part of Helen Ramirez in High Noon.

As Helen she displays smouldering sexuality, intelligence and stoic dignity.

Lee Van Cleef

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In High Noon Lee doesn’t speak a word but Boy Howdy doesn’t he make his presence felt!

The Camera just loves some faces and it fell in love straight off the bat with Lee who became the ‘go to’ villain for decades thereafter.

Sheb Wooley

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You didn’t expect not to lionise the man who made ‘The Purple People Eater’ as well as appearing in ‘High Noon’, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ and, ‘Rawhide’ now did you!

Thomas Mitchell

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Very near to the top of my Pantheon of Toms is the great Character Actor Thomas Mitchell.

His role as Doc in john Ford’s epic , ‘Stagecoach’ alone makes him one of Hollywood’s Immortals.

And, of course, he had important roles in, ‘Lost Horizon’, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’ and, ‘Gone with the Wind’ in addition to his part in High Noon.

Thomas Mitchell made very part he ever took an important part.

Special Bonus!!

Still adrenaline surfing after my celebrations of St Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph in 6 Nations Rugby and some long price winners at Cheltenham Horse Racing I’m signing off with a gift to you all of a joyous celebration of Western themes from Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops.

Enjoy!

 

Bobby Charles, Doug Sahm and Mark Knopfler : Tennessee Blues

A true message always gets through.

Songs that speak truthfully to the ebbing and flowing tides of our lives take on a life of their own cutting distinctive channels in our hearts.

Such songs as Bob Dylan says ‘get up and walk’ away from their composers and become community treasures.

Treasures cherished by what I still think of as the ‘record buying public’ and perhaps even more so by fellow songwriters who recognise a classic song with such lyrical and melodic grace that it seems to demand new interpretations.

The song taking pride of place on The Immmortal Jukebox today is an absolute Peach – ‘Tennessee Blues’ written and first performed by the late, great, Bobby Charles.

I can imagine brows being furrowed at the name – Bobby Charles?

Now, you may not be a fully paid up, got the T Shirt and the Box Set, fan like me but believe me you know and can croon along to several Bobby Charles songs.

How about, ‘See You Later Alligator’ or ‘Walking To New Orleans’ not to mention ‘Before I Grow Too Old’ or ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ for starters.

Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Frogman Henry had the Chart hits but they all came from the pen and piano of Abbeville La native Robert Charles Guidry – Bobby Charles.

Bobby’s own versions of his songs are uniformally lovely with, ‘Tennessee Blues’ from his glowing 1972 album produced by The Band’s Rick Danko winning the garland for the most lovely of all.

 

From the ‘Trust us, we’ll take our own sweet time with this one’ opening bars you just know Tennessee Blues is gonna be a Keeper!

There’s a free flowing lazy certainty to the way the song proceeds.

Everything feels natural, unhurried, ripe and right.

Listening you feel like you’re gently rocking to and fro, deliciously half asleep, in a summer hammock.

By now, having lived with this song for decades, as soon as the song starts I can feel the tears welling up and my Boot Heels get ready to go wandering once again round the dance floor with my Darling.

And as we twirl, lost in the Music, we find a place where we don’t have to worry.

A place where we feel loose.

A place alive with the sound of running water and the trills of birds in the trees.

A place to forget all those regrets.

A place where we can settle and stay.

A place to be at peace.

To be at peace.

Oh, a place where you lose all those blues.

All those Blues.

Those Tennessee Blues.

Here, Bobby Charles has written and sung a Song that enchants.

A Song that’s balm for the bruised heart, the weary mind and the thirsty soul.

I’m not 100% certain of the musician credits but that’s surely Amos Garrett (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) playing the tender guitar licks and The Band’s instrumental maestro Garth Hudson playing the heartbreaking Accordion.

N. D. Smart on Drums and Jim Colegrove on Bass.

Violin courtesy of Harry Lookofsky (the Father of ‘Walk Away Renee’ writer Michael Brown.

The sense of ancient sway they create together is truly magical.

A magic that was recognised by one of the most good hearted of all musicians San Antonio’s own favourite Son – Doug Sahm.

Doug cuts deep, imbuing Tennessee Blues with tender Texas Soul.

 

 

Doug’s vocal takes us up to the Mountain Tops and down to the lapping lake side waters where we might bathe and be born again.

Born again.

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean Mark Knopfler, taking time out from his leadership responsibilities with Dire Straits, found peace and nourishment returning to the Americana sounds that had first inspired him to take up the Guitar and search out the chords for the songs he would write himself.

His companions, collectively The Notting Hillbillies, were Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker.

In their hands Tennessee Blues takes on the character of aching night prayer – a compline service for lost saloon souls.

We are all searching for that place.

That place of shaded valleys and cool reviving streams.

That place where our regrets and worries dissolve in the warm breeze.

That place of peace.

Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues takes us there and gives us the strength to carry that peace within us as we travel on.

 

Notes :

Tennessee Blues can be found on the Rhino Encore CD ‘Bobby Charles’ – unreservedly recommended!

I also love:

The Bear Family compilation, ‘See You Later Alligator’

‘Last Train To Memphis’ from Rice and Gravy

‘Home Made Songs’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’

Bobby Charles died in 2010

His songs will endure.