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.

Slim Harpo : The King Bee – Swamp Blues Superstar!

Sometimes ersatz just won’t do.

No. No. No.

Today you need the pure drop.

The real thing.

Taste and texture.

Something with the Kick that ignites your senses and gets your heart pumping fit to bust right through your ribs.

Low down Swamp Blues out of Louisiana.

Today, right this very minute, you want, hell, you need, some vintage Slim Harpo.

That’ll flat out do the job!

 

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Let’s Buzz a while!

 

Sting it then!

 

 

Slim Harpo. Slim Harpo.

Sleepy vocals and insistent, buzzing, stinging, right inside your mind Harmonica.

I sometimes debate which debut single might be said to be the greatest of all time and, of course,  never reach a settled decision.

But, always, always, high in contention is Slim Harpo’s ‘ epochal debut ‘King Bee/I Got Love If You Want It’ from 1957 on Excello Records.

Produced by the Sultan Of The Swamps J. D. ‘Jay’ Miller in his Crowley Lousiana Studio.

Guitar Gable on the stinging Guitar, John ‘Fats’ Perrodin on Bass and Clarence ‘Jockey’ Étienne on the Drums –  collectively the Musical Kings.

Incredibly ‘King Bee’ was the B Side .. but once heard, especially when blasting out of a Juke Joint Juke Box it is, no doubt about it, an Alpha A Side!

King Bee has the perfect combination of musical economy and impact wholly characteristic of Slim Harpo’s entire career.

In record after record he came up with winning vocals and melodies, memorable lyrics, and addictive instrumental instrumental interludes – all in under three minutes!

No wonder his records were Juke Box classics all over the South.

Slim Harpo, enormously aided by the ambience created by J D Miller, managed to cram everything essential to produce a great record into his sound and cut out everything else.

So his records cast a spell and have you coming back again and again in search of the secret of their allure.

For me, in addition to the hypnotic overall sound on King Bee it’s the moment when Slim drawls ‘Well’ before adding with a mixture of masculine menace and charm – ‘Buzz a while … sting it then’.

I’m sure it was a rare barfly who didn’t imagine himself one hell of a buzzing, stinging King Bee when this one came blasting out of the Jukebox.

Mick Jagger and all The Rolling Stones were certainly stung by the sound.

On their debut album the first track on Side 2 is none other than a faithful take on King Bee – though it would be many years before The Stones would be able, on record, to come anywhere near the relaxed authority of Slim Harpo’s sound.

Slim Harpo’s sound and pared down songs because they effortlessly combined so many Blues, Country and Swamp Pop elements proved enormously attractive to a multi racial audience at home and to neophyte Bluesmen in Britain.

Virtually every Group you might hear in The Marquee or on Eel Pie Island had a Slim Harpo Song in their set.

The Kinks before Ray Davies emerged as one of the great original Songwriters mined Slim’s catalogue and came up with a creditable version of, ‘I Got Love If You Want It’.

Of  course, it’s not a patch on the original!

 

 

You got the rock ‘til your back ain’t go no bone rhythm.

You got the teasing vocal and the seductive Harmonica.

You got the I can’t believe it’s finished – I’ll have to cue it up again at once economy.

You got a great Slim Harpo Record.

Though King Bee had a big impact on fellow musicians and musica aficionados it didn’t set the cash registers ringing madly.

For that Slim, who was never a 7 days a week full time musician, had to wait until 1961 when he came up with a Song that just won everybody over – ‘Rainin’ In My Heart’.

Deservedly Top 20 R & B and Top 40 Pop In the Billboard Charts.

By now Slim’s Band had Rudy Richard on Guitar, James Johnson on Bass and Jesse Kinchen on Drums – and it’s hard when you hear them play to imagine you could ever find yourself a better Saturday Night Out Band to laugh and love and drink to!

All such Bands need a romantic swooner and they don’t come more romantically swooning than Rainin’ In My Heart.

I’ve seen fabulous live versions of this one by The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Van Morrison (the latter rarely outdone on swoon when he has a yen for it).

Van has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of The Blues and is no mean Harmonica player so it was no surprise that with Them he cut a dynamite version of Slim Harpo’s, ‘Don’t Start Crying Now’.

 

Now, Lordy Mama, ain’t that a blast!

From the first instant the Band lock in and you’re barrelling down the tracks until you hit the buffers less than three minutes later.

Nothing to do but get back on the train and set off again!

Slim Harpo’s biggest Hit came in 1965 with the scorching, ‘Scratch My Back’.

Get To It!

 

Seductive, Slinky, Sexy as all get out, aah Scratch My Back.

Scratch My Back.

Nothing as satisfying as an Itch that gets well and truly scratched!

Remember when I said what a great Saturday Night Band Slim Harpo had?

Well, well, well, here’s the ultimate proof.

If, ‘Shake Your Hips’ doesn’t get you up and out on the Dancefloor there’s just no hope for you.

No Hope at all.

This is pure Voodoo.

Pure Voodoo!

 

The Rolling Stones were ready to do justice to Slim’s Sound when they recorded this on their magnificent 1972 Double Album, ‘Exile On Main Street’.

Slim Harpo died, tragically young at 46, in 1970, just as he was about to tour Europe for the first time – where he would surely have been received as the Music Hero he was.

Slim Harpo Records define Swamp Blues and I will never tire of listening to The King Bee.

I’m stung every time.

I’ll leave you with a valedictory ballad that cuts like a scalpel to the heart.

Oh Slim, you sure were a Good Thing.

A very Good Thing indeed.

 

 

Notes :

I thoroughly recommend ‘Buzzin’ The Blues’ Bear Family’s encyclopaedic set of Slim Harpo’s recorded career which includes a wonderful live show from 1961.

Thanks due to Dave Emlen from kindakinks.com for pointing readers of his excellent site in this direction!

Madeleine Peyroux sings Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen & Hank Williams

Charisma is hard to define but easy to recognise.

It’s nothing to do with how loud you shout or how sharp you dress.

No. If present it surrounds the possessor like a solar corona that exerts invisible influence on distant objects.

Madeleine Peyroux has a charisma that is insistently present in her recordings and in performance.

When Madeleine sings she doesn’t come at you like a full force gale. Rather, standing still and singing softly she invites you to still yourself, lean in and listen closely.

She selects songs that have emotional depth; songs that resonate with our lived experience and our dreamscapes, songs that never let us go, songs that no matter how many times heard always retain a core of unfathomable mystery.

Songs a true singer can sing over and over again because they continue to engage the person and the performer.

Madeleine had a peripatetic bohemian childhood and adolescence taking in Canada, France, England and the USA.

Her parents were radical academics who had a record collection which exposed her to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

As she was beginningto play guitar she was struck by the self possessed quiet authority of Tracy Chapman.

While living and busking in Paris as a teenager she encountered the Chanson tradition through the works of Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf.

All very good preparation for taking on songs by the greatest songwriters of the 20th  century!

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Let’s start with her languorously hypnotic take on Leonard Cohen’s, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’.

 

Now, it’s immediately obvious that Madeleine swings.

She feels where the beat is and chooses when and how to engage with it.

She’s both above and within the song slyly pausing and eliding notes to emphasise the ritual cadences of Leonard’s lyric.

She’s barefoot dancing through the song, her voice burning incandescently as like the homeward dove she leads us safely through the suppressed panic till we’re safely gathered in.

Safely gathered in.

In a sense every song Madeleine sings becomes a tent of shelter against the cruelties of the world both for herself and through her singing for her audience.

For the duration of the spell cast no matter how threadbare our spiritual and emotional raiment we are given glimpses of wholeness and redemptive hope.

You can bet that Leonard laboured long and hard to write, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ juts as you can safely assume that Bob Dylan received, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ as a more or less direct transmission from his extravagant Muses.

The miraculous flow of the song is Bob at his Olympian best entrancing us with his sensuous mastery of language.

The song is a tapestry of images strartling in their freshness, beauty and tenderness.

It would be idle to pick out individual lines in a song which has such imaginative, lyrical and musical unity.

Madeleine gives the song  a highly attentive reading so that time seems to meander and eddy as we listen.

 

Perhaps the gretest Songwriting Forefather for both Bob and Leonard was the one and only Hank WIlliams.

Hank is dead for 60 years now.

But, of course though Hank is dead he will never be gone.

For Hank wrote songs that speak with shocking intimacy to the bare forked animal inside every one of us.

The snow falls round the window and dream worlds fall apart.

Fall apart.

Oh God forgive us if we cry.

Forgive us if we cry.

Madeleine knows that with a Hank Williams song only minimal ornamentation is required. Hank has put so much feeling in the song that to sing it truly is to become a Medium channeling his spirit.

 

 

I’m going to leave you with a grand cadeu for the New Year.

Madeleine paying homage to Josephine Baker and the Chanson tradition with a song from 1930 written by Vincent Scotto, Henri Varna and Geo Koger.

Now wasn’t that pure pleasure!

Madeleine has had an erratic recording career. It’s clear from my choices above that I have  a particular fondness for her, ‘Careless Love’ album.

Yet, every record she has made will surely repay your interest as she illuminates a treasury of great songs within Jazz, Blues, Country, Folk and Chanson.

Load up your Jukeboxes!

Happy Christmas 2017 from Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles Dickens & The Immortal Jukebox!

Traditions must be maintained!

An Etching by Rembrandt

A Literary extract from Charles Dickens

Music by Bob Dylan, Judy Garland & Shostakovich conducted by Rostropovich, played by Maxim Vengerov.

Our painting today is by Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.

rembrandt

There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.

The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.

Our first music selection today is one of the great works of the 20th Century.

Shostakovich lived through dark times yet, perhaps because of this, his work while never denying the darkness always returns to the light.

Maxim Vengerov is a musician to his fingertips and urged on by Rostropovich he wrings every scintilla of emotional power from the work.

Onward!

So, at last – the twelfth day of our Sleigh’s journey and it’s Christmas Eve!

I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.

I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).

But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.

First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!

Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.

The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.

Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.

It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring Sinatra covers CDs).

The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!

And, indeed he recently assumed, in a typically enigmatic way, the mantle of a Nobel Laureate.

The man never known to make a foolish move managed by not attending the investiture ceremony to harvest more publicity than all those who did!

In his nicely judged acceptance speech he managed to be both filled with humility and unblinkingly directly compare himself to Shakespeare!

Now that’s the one and only Bob Dylan!

Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from the secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.

‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?

‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’
‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’
‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’

‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’

Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?

So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.

God bless us, Every One!

 

 

Tom Waits – Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis

Last month I went, for the fourth time, to see Conor Macpherson’s modern masterpiece Play ‘The Weir’.

It’s a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.

The whole action of the Play takes place on a single evening in an Irish rural bar.

As the drinks flow the four characters tell, in sequential monologue form, riveting stories imbued with puzzled pain, aching regret and unending longing.

Strings break in Heaven.

As each story unfolds more is revealed by the tale than the teller had ever expected.

By the end of the play though they are raw from the experience there is a shared sense of catharsis and, almost miraculously, a feeling that the surrounding darkness is pierced by rays of light and fragile hope.

The search for that fragile hope is one of the main reasons we tell stories – both to others and to ourselves.

As I drove home a song began to play in my head.

A song that is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.

A song of puzzled pain that tells more about the teller than ever anticipated.

A song filled with aching regret and unending longing.

A song that breaks strings in Heaven.

A song that has achieved a sense of catharsis by its conclusion.

A song that, almost miraculously, ends on a note of fragile hope.

A song that takes place at Christmas Time when even the most cynical like to believe in Hope – however faintly it glimmers.

A song by a supreme storyteller.

Tom Waits.

‘Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis’.

Now, aint that just Grand!

Tom Waits, in this freewheeling pre Swordfish Trombones period, wore a baggy coat with pockets stuffed with the works of John Fante, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski and Alan Ginsberg.

Playing in his head were the recordings of Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Howling Wolf, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.

He had pretty much taken up residence on the Lost Highway.

Because, of course, it’s the best way to see the Moon and Stars clearly and to find out what kind of storyteller you might become.

Tom Waits became the kind of storyteller who could make you gasp, make you laugh out loud and then cry hot tears as his crazy lyrical stories unfolded.

A Tom Waits song makes you relish the details.

I love the way while the piano rolls meanderingly along the lyric seems to spontaneously emerge out of thin air.

The use of ‘And’ and, ‘Hey’ to kick off each exhalation of thought and invention gives the song a tremendous immediacy.

Hey Charley I’m pregnant
and living on 9-th street
right above a dirty bookstore
off Euclid avenue

It’s important that the song is addressed to a specific person.

It’s thinking of that person, that one person, who might, just might, make it all right again, that makes a person put pen to paper.

And you should always kick off with the news that’ll make the reader sit bolt upright and want to read on.

Read on.

And I stopped taking dope
and I quit drinking whiskey
and my old man plays the trombone
and works out at the track

You want to convince Charley and yourself that things have changed.

They really have changed.

You’ve changed.

Those vices you shared are memories now.

And, you found a guy.

A guy who plays the trombone and brings the dollar bills home.

And he says that he loves me
even though its not his baby
and he says that he’ll raise him up
like he would his own son

And, hey .. a guy who won’t let you down.

Not like all the other Guys.

A guy who will raise up your unborn son – even though he’s not his own son.

And, he gave me a ring
that was worn by his mother
and he takes me out dancin
every saturday nite.

Now, Charley knows somewhere in his heart that there’s no woman who ever lived who doesn’t want their Darling to give them a ring that was worn by his Mother.

And, Hey, whatever anyone tells you there ain’t no feeling better than goin’ out dancin’ on a Saturday Night – just the two of you.

Just the two of you.

And, I still have that record
of Little Anthony & The Imperials
but someone stole my record player
how do you like that?

When you’re lost and you think you’re going out of your head and your heart’s about to jump right out of your chest you can’t help but remember those old songs.

There are some songs you’ll never get out of your head.

Little Anthony with the soaring voice.

Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you, you

If we could start anew, I wouldn’t hesitate
I’d gladly take you back, and tempt the hand of fate
Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

hey Charley … I went back to Omaha to
live with my folks

Charley knows, like you do, that you can never really go back to the home you grew up in.

If you ever had a reason to leave you’re never going to be happy back in Omaha.

And, hey, you had so many reasons to leave.

Reasons to leave.

and I wish I had all the money
that we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
and I wouldn’t sell any of em

I’d just drive a different car
every day dependin on how
I feel.

You and Charley, his hair all slicked back with grease used to drive with the top down at ninety miles an hour on the two lane blacktop.

And, hey, wouldn’t it be great if you had all that wasted cash and could roll down the highway every day in a different car.

Just the two of you.

You can almost feel the warm air caressing you both.

Dreams are like that.

Dreams are like that.

Sometimes dreams are all that can keep you going.

All that can keep you going.

hey Charley
for chrissakes
do you want to know
the truth of it?

I don’t have a husband
he don’t play the trombone
and I need money to pay this lawyer

But. But. It takes a lot of energy to dream.

And, hey, sometimes you just don’t have the strength anymore.

Just don’t have the strength.

So, you breathe deep and let it out.

Let it out.

All of it.

The blood and the guts and the tears.

And, hey, you find yourself saying the thing you promised yourself you’d never say.

The thing you promised yourself you’d never say.

and Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
come valentines day.