John Hiatt, Charlie Sexton : Tennessee Plates

The ‘All Hail The King’ Series (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more could you possibly want!

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

Still :

Three bank jobs later, four cars hot wired
We crossed the Mississippi like an oil slick fire
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has a thrilling propulsive power that takes some beating.
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Mind you :
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If they’d known what we was up to they wouldn’t ‘a let us in
When we landed in Memphis like original sin
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matches it all the way.
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And :
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Well, there must have been a dozen of them parked in that garage
And there wasn’t one Lincoln and there wasn’t one Dodge
And there wasn’t one Japanese model or make
Just pretty, pretty Cadillacs with Tennessee plates
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is both emotionally apposite and laugh out loud funny.
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While :
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She saw him singing once when she was seventeen
And ever since that day she’s been living in between
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is as good a summary of the Elvis’ impact on our lives as anything ever written.
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John Hiatt has been writing superb songs for decades and all those, ‘in the know’ from Ry Cooder to Bonnie Raitt to Bob Dylan are in no doubt about the magnitude of his abilities.
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John’s bank balance got a welcome boost when, ‘Tennessee Plates’ was featured in an iconic film of the 1980s, ‘Thelma and Louise’.

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

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Let her rip Charlie – let her rip!

 

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

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

She sure can burn it up!

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

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

No. No. No.

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

All Hail The King!

Tom Waits : What’s He Building?

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

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

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

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

Here’s 10 off the top of my head :

Thomas The Apostle – How can we know the way?

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

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

Thomas Hardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s he building
In there.

What the hell is he
Building in there?

Tom. Tom. Tom.

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

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

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

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

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

Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards.

Drunk Songs.

Sober Songs.

Lullabys and Vampire Venom.

Philosophical Songs.

Sociological Songs.

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

Songs as innocent as dreams.

Songs as guilty as your worst waking nightmare.

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

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

Songs that can spook you and give you the shivers.

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

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

He has a router and a table saw

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

Nobody.

Nobody.

Tom. Tom. Tom.

Jukebox Top 10 for 2019 : Van, Ry, Tom Waits, Emmylou, The Kinks, Don Everly ++

The Jukebox covered a lot of territory this year.

I hope you enjoyed the journey – discovering new artists and reacquainting with old favourites.

Here’s the 10 most popular Posts of 2019 – make sure you’ve read every one!

At 10 : David Bowie and Nina Simone demonstrating why their legendary status will never dim with contrastingly brilliant takes on Wild is The Wind

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-27c

At 9 : Guy Clark with Texas 1947 brings a lost world to vivid life.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/11/23/guy-clark-texas-1947/

At 8 : More premium Texas Texture courtesy of Butch Hancock, Joe Ely & Emmylou Harris

Remember – only 2 things are better than milkshakes and malts and one’s dancing like the dickens to The West Texas Waltz!

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/06/29/butch-hancock-joe-ely-and-emmylou-harris-west-texas-waltz/

At 7 : A Birthday tribute to the one and only Don Everly.

There was a quality in Don’s voice, a seeming deep acquaintance with the heartaches that assail us all, that never fails to move me deeply.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/02/01/happy-birthday-don-everly-singing-beyond-singing/

At 6 : Bobby Darrin – Dream Lover. A tale of triumph, tragedy and Trauma.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/06/08/bobby-darin-tragedy-trauma-triumph-dream-lover/

At 5 : The Kinks with yet another Ray Davies masterpiece, Days (Thank You For)

Don’t forget a single Day. Bless The Light

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/01/26/the-kinks-days-thank-you-for/

At 4 : The great Tom Waits with a characteristically evocation of the everyday melding with the mythic – (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/05/27/tom-waits-looking-for-the-heart-of-saturday-night/

At 3 : Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters & Aaron Neville know a great song and how to present it. Here they are with Money Honey.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/07/27/ry-cooder-jerry-garcia-the-drifters-aaron-neville-money-honey/

At 2 : Linda Ronstadt & Mike Nesmith with a heady 60s classic, Different Drum

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/09/12/linda-ronstadt-mike-nesmith-p-p-arnold-different-drum/

And ..  Top of The Charts .. by far the most popular Post in the history of The Jukebox :

Van Morrison & Mark Knopfler setting down eternity shale with ‘Last Laugh’.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/08/27/van-morrison-mark-knopfler-last-laugh-happy-birthday-van/

A massive vote of thanks from me to all the wise and witty Jukebox Readers.

There are some 150 Posts in draft ready for 2020 – so stay tuned!

Happy New Year!

Happy Christmas 2019 from Bob Dylan (x2), Judy Garland & Charles Dickens!

Traditions must be maintained!

An Etching by Rembrandt

A Literary extract from Charles Dickens

Music by Bob Dylan and Judy Garland .

Rembrandt 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.

So, at last 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 series of CDs where he explores the Great American Songbook).

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

Who could have imagined his helter-skelter, how fast can you polka punk?, take on, ‘Must Be Santa’?

Only Bob Dylan!

Only Bob.

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 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!

 

Guy Clark : Texas 1947

From The Dean of Texas Songwriting, Guy Clark, a masterclass in songwriting.

A story imbued with loving detail bringing to vivid life a vanished time and place which yet lives on in the memory.

Being 6 Years Old

 

Six is not Five and Six is not Seven.

Now you’re Six you realise you really ought to look out for your little Sister.

Now you’re Six you realise that your older brother may just not be the fount of all wisdom.

Turns out that being indisputably taller is not the same as being smarter.

Now you’re Six you see all kinds of things about the family and the town and yourself that went by in a blur before.

Late afternoon on a hot Texas day

Nothing hotter than a hot Texas day.

Least that’s what everybody says as they sit around sipping drinks and settin’ the world to rights – starting right here in town.

The sun is so bright it hurts your eyes just keepin’ them open.

Trick is to do everything real slow.

Real slow.

Mama always says nothin’ improved by rushing around.

And, of course, she’s right.

Slow and easy gets it done.

Plenty of hours in the day and most everything can wait a little while and all the better for the waiting.

Old man Wileman ..

Lots of old men in town.

Not a one as old as old man Wileman.

Someone said he was born before the Civil War.

Some say he lost that arm at Five Forks and that’s why every April 1st he gets real quiet and drinks all day.

Mind you it seems to me he pretty near drinks all day every day.

But, he does tell a good story.

And, there’s nothing I love more than a good story.

Now, when you’re Six it turns out that if you keep real quiet that the old men forget you’re there as they play Dominos and tell story after story your mama wouldn’t want you listenin’ to.

You learn a lot more from old men’s stories than you do at school.

Trains are big and black and smokin’, louder than July 4

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I love to go to the Depot just to watch the trains roll by.

Trains always been somewhere and they are always going somewhere.

Every train tells a story.

At home, on the radio, there’s different kinds of trains.

Train songs.

Jimmy Rodgers, Frank Hutchinson, Charlie Poole and the new guy, Hank Williams, tell stories in song about trains.

Gonna tell my own story in song one of these days.

One of these days.

Look out here she comes, she’s comin’, look out there she goes she’s gone
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Now you’re Six you realise that you can’t stop time you can just hold it in your memory.
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Maybe that’s the whole point of songs and stories.
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Always gonna keep that nickel and every time I look at it I’m gonna remember the day a red and silver streamliner barrelled right through the town I grew up in.
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Gonna label that memory Texas 1947.
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Might even be a song there.
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She left fifty or sixty people still sittin’ on their cars.
And, they’re wonderin’ what it’s comin’ to and how it got this far.
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Oh, but me I got a nickel smashed flatter than a dime by a mad dog, runaway red-silver streamline train.
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Lord, she never even stopped.
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And, in my mind, she’s still rollin’.
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Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry & Gene Autry : Ghost Riders In The Sky!

Here’s a Post that means a lot to me.

For the Song and the Singers featured and for the warm memories it evokes.

Nothing like music to open the gates of memory!

Music hath charms. Music hath charms.

And, among those charms is its uncanny ability to forge bonds of fellow feeling and friendship between people born in wildly different times, places and cultures.

Take me and Carl.

Carl came from the spice Island of Grenada in the Caribbean.

When we met he was seventy years old and I was a callow twenty two.

I had just emerged, blinking, from the ivory tower of Cambridge University awaiting my inevitable discovery as a great novelist.

Carl had spent decades in the fierce factories of Detroit and the searing cane fields of Florida.

We met in Hospital.

I was working there as a porter dramatically rushing the resuscitation trolley to people on the point of death and more prosaically ferrying patients to the X-Ray department and to the operating theatre for surgery.

Carl, having suffered a heart attack, came into Accident & Emergency by ambulance at 3am when I was on night shift.

I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination the team of doctors and nurses, with whom moments before I had been sharing idle banter,  urgently bring all their professional skills to the struggle to to save Carl’s life.

Happily they succeeded and before I left that morning I wheeled Carl to the ward where he would recover.

Normally that would have been the last time I saw him but as I was about to leave Carl said, ‘Will you come and see later?’.

A request I could hardly refuse.

So, that night I made the first of many visits to Carl’s bedside in the three weeks he spent in the hospital.

Walking into the ward I wondered what two such disparate individuals might find to talk about.

Almost without thinking I asked him, having learned of the time he had spent in America, what kind of music he had listened to there.

Given his age, and reading on his chart  that he was a Baptist by religion, I anticipated that he might answer Big Band Jazz or Gospel Music.

I was a little taken aback therefore when he answered by singing in a mellow baritone:

An old cowpoke went riding out one dark and windy day,

Upon a ridge he rested as he  went along his way,

When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw

Riding through the ragged skies and up a clouded draw …’

Now, my education, at University, might have been airily academic but luckily on those few occasions when I was not bent over some medieval text I could be found, a huge tub of popcorn by my side, obsessively watching every ‘A’, ‘B’ or series Western that ever came to town.

So, without missing a beat, I joined in as we sang:

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel,

 Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel,

 A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky,

For he saw the riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry ..’

And then, to the incredulity of the rest of the ward, we lifted our voices up and sang together lustily:

Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Ghost Riders In The Sky’

Then we laughed and laughed until we nearly cried.

And, we sang that song, among many other Western favourites, every time we met until Carl died some two years later.

‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ was Carl’s favourite song and the version he preferred, ‘Because he don’t mess about with the song’ was the one by Gene Autry from 1949.

This one’s for you Carl:

According to the Western Writers of America, ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ is the greatest of all Western songs and I whole heartedly agree with that august body.

The song was written in 1948 by Stan Jones and first recorded by him and his marvelously named, ‘Death Valley Rangers’ that same year.

stan-jones-2

Stan, then a Park Ranger in Death Valley, is reputed to have written the song on his 34th birthday as he recalled a legend told to him when he was 12 by an old cowboy.

Now, all stories told by Stan Jones need to be taken with a fistful of salt as he was a noted fabulist who often valued the effect of a tale above its veracity (as frequently do I!).

The tale of the spectral herd in the skies and the curse of, ‘Stampede Mesa’ probably traces its origins to mythical cautionary stories told around the cowboy campfire in nineteenth century Texas.

Whatever its cultural lineage Stan crafted a certifiable classic which is shot through with haunting images which never leave the mind once heard.

Burning in the mental firelight of my imagination as the song proceeds I feel the hot breath of those red-eyed cows and shudder with fear as their black and shiny horns and steely hooves thunder by.

In my dreams I’m there with the gaunt faced cowboys their shirts soaked with sweat as they endlessly pursue the cursed herd they never, ever, will catch.

Surely that’s my name I hear them calling in the wind at the dead of night!

‘Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Ghost Riders In The Sky’

Stan wrote many more fine Western ballads notably those featuring in the films of the greatest of all Western Film Directors – John Ford.

But, neither he, nor anyone else, ever wrote a better one than, ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’.

The brilliance and mother lode Americana quality of the song has, for seven decades now, attracted hundreds and hundreds of artists to take a shot of rye, strap on their spurs and saddle up with the Ghost Riders to see if that herd can finally be corralled.

And, if anyone, by force of will and character could carry out that miracle it would surely be none other than Johnny Cash – no mean mythic figure himself.

 

Johnny sings the song with the oracular power an old testament prophet issuing a grave warning to his tribe to prevent them from sleepwalking to doom.

You want fire-snorting horses brought to life?

You want those ghostly riders coming hard right at you?

You want to feel those mournful cries in the pit of your stomach and the marrow of your bones?

Call for The Man in Black!

Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Ghost Riders In The Sky’

Stan Jones’ evocative melody has always attracted guitarists and instrumental groups who like to tell an atmospheric story using six resonant strings instead of the vocal chords.

Today I’ve chosen to feature a top 30 Billboard Chart hit from 1961 (and top 10 in the UK) by The Ramrods  – who had clearly listened closely to Duane Eddy.

 

The Ramrods were out of Connecticut and had brother and sister Claire and Rich Litke on drums and sax respectively.

Vinny Lee took the lead guitar role with Gene Moore in support.

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They were essentially one hit wonders though I greatly enjoyed listening to their follow up, ‘Loch Lomond Rock’ which, probably uniquely, mashes up twangtastic guitar with a bagpipe solo!

And, now as they say, for something completely, completely different.

I have to say that when I started researching this post I never expected to feature a trance version by Debbie Harry!

‘Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh, Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh’ Indeed!

 Debbie’s version comes from Alex Cox’s 1998 film, ‘Three Businessmen’ and in my view is the best thing about it.

The production is by Dan Wool who had worked frequently with Stan Jones’ son who is a music editor – so legal clearances to use the song were easily arranged.

There’s definitely something sexily hypnotic about Debbie’s vocal adding an unexpected dimension to an established standard.

I’m going to conclude with another version out of left field or should I say the firmament.

And, versions of Ghost Riders don’t get more left field than the hipster version by Scatman Crothers!

‘Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Ghost Riders In The Sky’

Everyone has heard Scatman’s distinctive tones through his voice over work for TV and film. That’s Scatman as Hong Kong Phooey and as the hep Jazz playing feline in, ‘The Aristocats’.

Some may remember his appearances on TV in the show, ‘Chico and the Man’ or on film as Dick Halloran in Kubrick’s, ‘The Shining’ (one of four films he shared billing with Jack Nicholson).

Scatman was always a hep cat as evidenced by his drumming with Slim Gaillard. He brings all his vouty hipster presence to this version of Ghost Riders which has me cheering him on while doubled up with laughter.

There will be many more fine versions of Ghost Riders because we all love a good story.

Especially one that’s so incredible it just has to be true.

Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Yippie I aye, Yippie I ooh,

 Ghost Riders In The Sky’

 

Notes:

There’s a fine biography of Stan Jones by Michal K Ward published by Rio Neuvo.

The major hit version was by Vaughn Monroe

Basso profundo versions by Lorne Green, Marty Robins, Burl Ives, Frankie Laine

Western versions by Sons of the Pioneers, Riders in the Sky, Chris Ledoux, Jimmy Wakeley, Mary McCaslin

Instrumental versions by The Ventures, The Shadows, The Spotniks, Glen Campbell/Roy Clark, Dick Dale

‘Other’ versions by Spike Jones, Blues Brothers, Brothers Four, Judy Collins, Christopher Lee

Kelly Joe Phelps (where have you gone?) : Mr Tambourine Man, Goodnight Irene

Continuing the Celebration of favourite Jukebox Posts here’s a tribute to an authentically great musician who seems to have gone missing in action.

No new record for 7 years and no concerts.

Where have you gone Kelly Joe?

All over the globe fans like me pine for the shivering sound of your guitar.

Where have you gone Kelly Joe?

There have always been precious few musicians with, ‘The Touch’.

There has always been precious few musicians who know the blues and feel the spirit.

Where have you gone Kelly Joe?

There have always been precious few musicians who cut their own visionary path.

Where have you gone Kelly Joe?

When the roll is called of musicians who matter I know your name will be there.

Wherever you have gone Kelly Joe I hope you know how much you are missed  and whenever you are ready to play again you will be sure of a welcoming audience.

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‘I’ve heard Kelly Joe mention that he’s been inspired by people like Roscoe Holcomb, Robert Pete Williams, Dock Boggs, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others. He seems to have absorbed all this (and all kinds of other stuff as well) and come back with something all his own.

Sounds like he’s coming from the inside out. The bottom up. He’s not just playing ‘AT’ the music or trying to recreate or imitate something that’s happened in the past. He seems to have tapped into the artery somehow. There’s a lot going on in between and behind the notes. Mystery. He’s been an inspiration to me.’  (Bill Frisell)

Modern music is saturated by the sound of you know what’s coming next, auto tuned, multi-tracked guitars.

Drowning in this aural tide you can forget that, in the right hands, the guitar can be a questing instrument; an instrument which can sound the depths of human emotions in this life of dust and shadows.

When Kelly Joe Phelps plays the guitar whether slide or finger picking what you hear is the sound of a musician who has indeed tapped into the artery.

I first encountered him more than two decades ago now at the tiny 12 Bar Club in London’s equivalent of Tin Pan Alley, Denmark Street.

Standing a couple of feet away from him I was able to read, as he tuned up, the scrawled set list at his feet. It included:

‘Goodnight Irene’, ‘The House Carpenter’, ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’, ‘When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder’.

Fueled by my early evening libations I leaned towards him and said, ‘Wow, you’re going to have to be very good indeed to hold us with those songs without someone muttering every two seconds, ‘… Not as good as so and so’s version.’

Sensibly, he answered only with a wry smile before stilling the room in in the next hour with an astonishing display of instrumental virtuosity harnessed to a deep emotional understanding of both the Blues and the Gospel traditions.

Songs that were veritable foundation texts (in some hands museum pieces) came shockingly alive as Kelly Joe fearlessly explored the territory they opened up – voyaging wherever his heart and fertile musical imagination took him.

Listen now to his version of the canonical classic Leadbelly’s, ‘Goodnight Irene’ and marvel at the deliberate beauty and power of deep sea sway he brings to it.

Ever since I heard this take on Irene this is the one that plays in my dreams.

 

Born in the dwindling days of the 1950s Kelly Joe began his musical career as a bass player in modal and free Jazz combos where the ability to improvise and react to your fellow musicians was paramount.

At the same time, as an alert listener, he was immersing himself in the core deep works of artists like Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell and Dock Boggs.

Artists who made singing in the blood music which still casts a profound spell. Taking the slide guitar as his vehicle to explore this universe he began to cast spells of his own.

Kelly Joe’s music is all about reaching, reaching, for the other shore.

Listening to Kelly Joe play James Milton Black’s 19th Century hymn, ‘When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder’ there can be no doubt that we are brought in soul’s sight of that other shore.

Now, if you are a musician of Kelly Joe’s class and intuitive understanding of what makes the songs of the , ‘Old Weird America’ so profound and eternally relevant you will struggle to find such rich material in contemporary songbooks.

Happily, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, has laid down a storehouse of mystery filled dancing spells which musicians of spirit will always want and need to explore.

Bob once said that he saw himself a song and dance man. Kelly Joe takes him at his word here whirling, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ round a mystic Maypole.

As his career has progressed Kelly Joe has featured more original material. His own fine songs show how deep he has drunk at the well of the blues and gospel masters.

Kelly Joe’s music is filled with ancient lore and wholly alive in the here and now.

Surrender to his spell.

Come back Kelly Joe.

Come back.

Notes:

There is a handy 2 CD Kelly Joe compilation, ‘Roll Away the Blues’ on the Nascente label which I highly recommend.

My own favourites in his excellent catalogue are:

‘Lead Me On’

‘Roll Away the Stone’

‘Shiny Eyed Mr Zen’

‘Beggar’s Oil’

‘Brother Sinner and the Whale’

Kelly Joe is a transfixing live performer. Seek out You tube for some wonderful clips.

Guitar buffs should seek out his finger picking tutorials.