The Monkey Speaks His Mind!


An Immortal Jukebox Production Starring:

Guy The Gorilla!

King Kong!

J. Fred Muggs!

Ham The Astronaut!

And a special appearance by Washoe!

Music by:

Dave Bartholomew

Dr John

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Denzil Thorpe

Now we all know One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.

Even if it’s Mickey’s Monkey.

And, of course, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey.

Trust me. I’m a Monkey Man. A Monkey Man.

Time for The Monkey To Speak His Mind!

The great Guy The Gorilla, Lord of London Zoo, for more than three decades, kept this thoughts to himself.

Yet, none could doubt that Guy cast a quizzical eye on the rubbernecking crowds who passed by his domain.

Let’s get this Coconut Tree swinging with the man who translated The Monkey’s thoughts – New Orleans and American Music Master, Dave Bartholomew.

Yeah The Monkey Speaks His Mind .. discussing things as they are said to be

Now, when it comes to making great records there was no chink in the armoury of Dave Bartholomew. He could write a street smart lyric and invent winning melodies.

He could hand pick musicians and lead them from the bandstand or the Producer’s desk. He could craft arrangements to add colour and tone to his original conception.

Dave Bartholomew was the whole package. The Real Deal.

He is unquestionably a Roots Music All Star and season after season an obvious MVP pick.

This is the organising mind behind a string of classic records for Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price.

Yet, every time I thinks of Dave my musical memory lights first upon, ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’ for its wit, its wisdom and its one chord drive which lodges the song deep in the cortex.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

There’s a certain rumour that just can’t be true. That Man descended from our noble race. Why, the very idea is a big disgrace!’

Perhaps such thoughts tormented the mind of King Kong as he swayed atop The Empire State Building preparing for his doom.

King Kong is one of the great tragic heroes of Popular Culture and you can be sure his dignity and nobility will always win him a revered place in the affections of humans with functioning hearts.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

No Monkey ever deserted his wife, starved her baby and ruined her life.’

Let’s now call upon a man loaded with N’Awlins Mojo – Dr John.

In this live version his steam heat band soak us in jungle humidity and push up the ambient temperature of the Club.

Good job there were cooling libations to hand!

The guitarist and drummer exercise Zen mastery while the trombone solo sails acrobatically through the room.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

‘And you’ve never known a mother Monk to leave her babies with others to bunk and passed them from one to another ‘Til they scarcely knew who was their mother.’

Such thoughts must surely have crossed the mind of J Fred Muggs as he surveyed the passing parade of human folly.

To emphasise the point I call upon one of the finest bands ever to emerge from Texas – The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

One thing you can rely on in this unpredicatable world. If you go to a Fabulous Thunderbirds show you are gonna get good and sweaty and have the time of your life.

I speak as as someone who has seen them in all the incarnations that have toured the U.K.

The blacktop blast of Kim Wilson’s harmonica and the perfect economy of Jimmie Vaughan’s Guitar with Keith Ferguson and Fran Christian anchoring the sound makes for an over proof combination that’s guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping and the heart rejoicing.

Adrenaline would surely have been coursing through Ham The Chimpanzee when he blasted into space on 31 January 1961.

The success of Ham’s mission gave the green light for manned space flights to follow.

As he climbed to unimagined heights viewing the world below from a new perspective perhaps Ham reflected that:

‘You will never see a Monkey build a fence around a Coconut Tree and let all the coconuts go to waste forbidding other monkeys to come and taste’.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind!

To conclude our meditations on the theme here’s a lovely lurching version from Jamaica, where the rhythms of New Orleans were readily appreciated and appropriated.

At the controls was Coxsone Dodd, founder of the legendary Studio 1 recording Mecca and label.

The vocal is by Denzil Thorpe having his brief moment of glory (Any information on Denzil’s subsequent career much welcomed here!)

Washoe learned to communicate fluently in sign language. In quiet moments I wonder if she signed to herself:

‘Here’s another thing a Monkey won’t do – go out on a night and get all in a stew. Or use a gun or club or knife to take another Monkey’s life!’

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind!

And, when The Monkey Speaks His Mind we would would do well to listen!

Notes:

Guy The Gorilla (Gorilla,gorilla,gorilla) was one of the most distinguished residents of London between 1947 and 1978. He is properly commemorated in a statue at London Zoo and in portrait paintings.

I saw him often when I was a child and clearly remember being affected by his immense physicality and his somber aura.

King Kong – there were many profoundly important events in 1933. Not least Kong’s appearance in the 1933 film bearing his name. Film technology is now immensely sophisticated yet it is the original King Kong who haunts the dreams.

J. Fred Muggs was one of the premier stars of American TV in the 1950s. As ‘Co-Host’ of the NBC Today Show he became a household name and reassuring presence.

Ham passed out top of his group of would be Space Monkeys and happily survived his voyage into space. He spent his remaining years in Washington D.C and North Carolina.

He was buried with appropriate honours, including a eulogy by Col John Stapp, in the Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.

Washoe (1965 – 2007) developed a signing vocabulary of over 300 words and was able to see a Swan and sign ‘Water Bird’

Her example led to the institution of The Great Ape Project which aims to extend moral and legal protections currently only afforded to humans to the Great Apes.

Steve Forbert : Alive On Arrival and still swinging for the fence!

My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling bad or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging.’ (Hank Aaron)

You have to walk, that’s the element of time, which forces you to move and change. It’s in the fall, and there’s leaves and dust and dirt in the air – and things are gonna stick to you.’ (Steve Forbert).

Growing up in America most young boys indulge a fantasy where on their Major League debut they get to hit a home run off the opponents’ star pitcher at Fenway Park or Dodger Stadium.

Rounding the bases to ecstatic acclaim they nonchalantly wave their hat to the adoring crowd pausing only to catch the eye of the hometown sweetheart who has travelled hundreds of miles to share the moment.

In my own version of this story (slipping the bonds of time and chronology as you’re allowed to in dreams) I hit a homer off Whitey Ford at Ebbetts Field for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.

Taking my seat in the dugout Jackie Robinson says, ‘Good hit, Kid’ and punches me on the shoulder.

The music business version of this myth might follow the following arc.

A 21 year old kid from Mississsippi moves to New York City carrying an acoustic guitar and a harmonica rack.

Armed with the fearlessness of youth he busks at Grand Central Station before landing a regular club gig at New Wave/Punk headquarters CBGB (opening for both Talking Heads and John Cale).

The script naturally segues into the scene where the famous manager says, ‘You got something Kid – I can get you a record deal!’

And, sure enough he does. And wouldn’t you just know it the debut album showcases a series of winning songs fizzing with wit, youthful charm and irresistible energy.

The second album adds seasoned musicians and produces a tremendous calling card hit single.

A hot shot critic for Rolling Stone notes that he makes listeners think that they actually do know him – and that this rare gift might just make him the next American Superstar!

And, that folks is the first act of, ‘The Steve Forbert Story’.

Time, I think, for us to fade up the soundtrack. From the aptly named, ‘Alive on Arrival’ the feisty, ‘Goin’ Down To Laurel’.

Straightaway Steve Forbert announces his artistic virtues.

He has a hoarse, reaching for that farther star, voice that charms as it plucks at your heart.

He sure can spin a story that’ll lodge and linger in the mind. With a wide and knowing grin he beckons you into the story of a shooting the breeze young man who is part straight arrow Tom Sawyer and part rapscallion Huck Finn:

‘Glad to be so careless in my way
Glad to take a chance and play against the odds
Glad to be so crazy in my day’

This is a red blooded young man who relishes the rush of life with his harmonica rhythmically rhyming with the wheels carrying him down to Laurel and the moon and sun above.

He’s more smart than you might think – he glories in being so young and carefree yet he knows those cares are waiting up ahead. For this great life can always end and love is a funny, funny, state of mind.

So, time to enjoy every wonderful moment spent with the girl who is a fool for him – well worth the trip to a dirty stinking Town.

Not time now to dwell on the serial marriages and breakdowns all around, the rain in the clouds somewhere above, the trains taking young men out of town leaving burning buildings behind them.

Yes, love is a funny state of mind and isn’t it marvellous to discover that for yourself. Love does make the world go around and boarding that carousel makes the head spin and the heart pump faster and faster.

Steve Forbert, from the get go, do something that defines writers and performers who matter. His songs have quick vitality plunging us into a life we recognise and through the verve of performance winning our attention and allegiance.

Captured, we want to know how the story pans out. We want to stick along for the ride – wherever it may take us for we sense there are more fine, echoing stories ahead.

And, indeed there were. On his second record, ‘Jackrabbit Slim’ Steve nailed a song he had been working on for a long time. ‘Romeo’s Tune’ explodes with dizzying exuberance and joy.

You are swept along by the I can’t contain myself vocal and the surging melody.

It has, ‘this ones just got to be a hit’ and keeper written all over it.

Steve Forbert will be singing this song for the rest of his life and every audience that hears him sing it, for the first or the thousandth time, will sing with him.

Surely everyone wants Southern kisses and wants their lover to embody the the smell of The Moon for precious moments.

Of course, the years will rise and fall. They must. They must.

Yet, every day we wish for someone who will share that rise and fall with us. Someone who will care. Someone who will laugh with us as we sneak on out beneath the stars and run!

So now we move on to Act 2 wherein our hero encounters and endures a reversal in his fortunes. There is drama, disappointment, what some would call disloyalty, puzzlement, treachery and perfidy.

It is, after all, The Music Business!

Contrary to informed expectation and the spreadsheet projections of managers, record company bean counters and executives his follow up records did not produce chart topping hits and fill stadium bleachers.

Mogul patience runs out. Spectacularly so. A fifth album is recorded. But not issued. And, no one else can issue it either.

And, you got to understand this Kid .. you can’t record for anyone else either!

This is what we call a test of mettle. Steve hits the road, writes songs, ascends for year after backbreaking year the rocky slopes of purgatory.

Stubborn perseverance pays off when The E Street Band’s Gary Tallent appears on a metaphorical white horse ready to produce a ‘comeback’ album.

When it is issued, ‘Streets of This Town’ turns out to be a magnificent album of deeply felt songs that could only have been written by an artist of rare talent.

One bloodied but unbowed by the tempests he had survived. It is a record of hard won insight and tender empathy. The Kid is now unquestionably a Man. A man with visions to turn to when storms assail your own life.

Here’s a man who has realised that the promises made to you when you sign on the dotted line are often not honoured and that you might well lose a lot more than you gain in the transaction if you’re not very careful.

The skills of wheeling and dealing and knocking people down to get your way on the streets of this town must encourage him to light out for the territory even if it is with tears in a grown man’s eyes. Time to take off the uniform and abjure the crazy norm.

Streets of This Town was a major critical success as was its excellent follow up, ‘The American in Me’. But, this is real life not a film.

Critical hosannas did not turn into public acclamation. Record stores were not besieged by hordes of fans desperate to reintroduce themselves to the mature work of that guy who wrote that Romeo song.

So, Steve did what he had always done. He wrote engaging, literate songs that reflected his own struggles and joys and the life of the communities and generations around him.

He kept on keepin’ on. Always heading for another joint.

And, as he did it turned out that there was always an audience for songs that nourished the heart and stimulated the imagination.

Life flowed on for him and his audience so that songs written in youth took on new layers of meaning when recreated in performance decades down the track from their birth.

Here’s a tender, deeply moving, version of the powerful and poignant, ‘I Blinked Once’ that will surely have resonances in every life that has felt the chill wings of time’s winged chariot rushing by.

It could be, it might be … It is, A Home Run!

Steve Forbert sings reveal a man in full. An artist who speaks to how we live our lives in youth, in early maturity and middle age.

We recognise ourselves in these songs and understand that their author has kept the faith and is still running his race with purpose and determination. Long may he run!

In the coming months Steve Forbert will bring his bulging backpack of songs filled with wit and hard won wisdom to Milwaukee and Wilmington and Decatur.

If you’re within a couple of hours driving distance make sure you go!

He has great stories to tell that will remind you of the flowing tides of your own life and he knows how to tell them.

I’m delighted he’s still out there, crazy in his way, still swinging for the fence.

Still swinging for the fence.

Notes:

First of all many thanks to the man himself for sharing this Post through his official Twitter feed.

A warm welcome to fans of Steve now introduced to The Jukebox.

Steve Forbert, like Nick Lowe and Southside Johnny, is an artist I have enormous fondness for in addition to admiration for his writing and performing abilities.

This post has concentrated on songs from the first 15 years of a career which has now clocked up nearly 40.

I plan to write a further post on the later period of his career to stress how he has continued to write fine songs worthy of your attention.

Recommended Albums:

Alive on Arrival (1978)

Jackrabbit Slim (1979)

Streets of This Town (1988)

The American In Me (1992)

Any Old Time (2002 – a wholly charming collection of Jimmie Rodgers songs)

Over With You (2012)

Compromised (2015)

Steve is an excellent live performer.

I treasure all his live records and DVDs – my favourite being ‘Here’s Your Pizza’ from 1997 and ‘On Stage at World Cafe’ from 2007.

For Arthur Alexander : A Ballad in Blue for a Blue Balladeer

Some voices clutch at the heart.

Some voices echo on and on in your soul.

Some voices speak to you in the dawn’s early light.

Some voices play softly in your mind through the long and speechless night.

Some voices call your own.

Arthur Alexander had such a voice.

It’s now twenty-four years since Arthur died largely unmourned except by soul and R&B afficianados.

Yet, his songs, especially sung by him in his inimitable affecting way, will never die.

So for the ultimate blue balladeer – a ballad in blue.

A Ballad in Blue.

‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’.

(Henry David Thoreau)

‘Now I ache, with heartbreak and pain and the hurt that I just can’t explain’

(Arthur Alexander)

Imagine you are the manager of a blue collar bar in a tough small town. You work long hours making sure everybody has a good time and that nobody’s good time winds up leaving someone else on their way to hospital.

You know who not to serve, who to share a joke with, who to warn off and who to throw out for their own good. You keep a weighted pool cue just out of sight from the floor within your reach – just in case.

You stock the jukebox and make sure that there’s old and new favourites: something that counts as a home town anthem; several that are fast and loud for the boys from the base; plenty to dance and sing along to for the girls with the faraway looks in their eyes; and, some for everyone to openly or quietly cry over.

The night, though long, passes quickly for you and you don’t realise how tired you are until the door’s been shut on the last, loud, lonely drunk.

You look around and sigh thinking of the work needed before the whole cycle starts again after you wake up in a few hours. Time to pour yourself a more than generous measure of premium whiskey and play one last song.

Only one will do. Arthur Alexander, the patron saint of stoical fortitude. I can’t go on, I can’t go on – I’ll go on.

‘In The Middle Of It All’ tells the story of a broken man surveying, with an eerie calm that almost amounts to existential detachment, the shattered ruins of his life : ‘ It looks like my life is about to fall’.

Like all the great Arthur Alexander songs – ‘You Better Move On’, ‘Anna’ and ‘Dream Girl’ – it’s the song of a grown up man; a man who has experienced joy and pain, the ecstasy and despair brought on by love and it’s loss. Though Arthur’s songs are suffused with intense feeling they are in no sense hysterical – the besetting sin of so much pop music.

The record opens with a beautiful elegaic guitar figure that seems to glisten and shimmer in the background throughout the song. It then flows on at a stately, magisterial ballad mid tempo with the swooning melody and instrumental backing acting as a cushioned support for Arthur Alexander’s deeply affecting and entrancing southern country soul voice.

Arthur’s vocal charm owes nothing to stylistic tricks rather it is founded on the ageless attraction of hearing the sound of a man’s open, if broken heart. A sound that we can all recognise when it is authentic and true. Arthur Alexander’s proud and wounded vocals once heard will echo on in your own heart.

While listening to the song it seems as if you have pulled up your bar stool next to a pleasant looking though downcast guy who with no fanfare or needy plea for sympathy tells you, if you want to hear, why it is that night after night you can find him resident at this bar and why, night after night, no matter how much he drinks he does not get drunk.

During the course of, ‘In The Middle of It All’ the drummer seems to beat out a steady purgatorial pilgrim’s tempo while Arthur’s exquisite vocal lays out the extent of his lonely and desolate emotional landscape.

His love for his girl which was, ‘Really, really real’ remains true even though the house and home their love had built together is now a reproachful ruin he occupies alone.

The place where they had been so happy, as far as he can recall, now has the rain steadily and dreadfully falling all around it. What he once thought were the certainties of love and loyalty have vanished like some cruel mirage as his world, ‘Just came down one day’.

The song seems to summon up this heart and soul assaulting rain as the strings swell and the chorus of backing singers join Arthur in his examination of regret and loss. You can feel the southern heat and humidity of Alabama where the song was recorded in every breath of Arthur’s vocal and in every beat of the music.

The wonderful piano playing provides arpeggios of insistent pain and a sense that, in this vale of tears, no shield of love or faith can ever be proof against the truth that a love which seemed so sure can, in an instant, crumble into mere dust.

Arthur Alexander’s singing throughout this song is filled with an aching tenderness as he caresses each word into bruised breath and life. It is as if by singing with such scrupulous care he can somehow make whole his shattered heart or at least prevent it’s final destruction. His singing remains controlled and conversational even as it grows in the depth of pain it examines.

Perhaps this is because the song, for this singer, even in such a situation is not a resentful scream but rather a tragic lullaby that tries despite all his trials to shore up a ruined life.

There is no escape from the realisation that all of us must sooner or later confront the inevitability of death, loss and failure. For as the roman poet Virgil and Arthur Alexander knew living a clear eyed life involves coming to terms with the terrible truth that there are tears in things, ‘Sunt lacrimae rerum’.

If you want someone to hold your hand when this truth becomes real in your own life it’s hard to think of a better soul companion than Arthur Alexander.

‘In The Middle of It All’ is one of those rare songs that seems to live on in the silence after it has finished and after the record arm has returned to its cradle. Sometimes for me that silence feels like the silence between two sobs.

Forty years ago David Bowie in ‘Young Americans’ uttered an anguished plea: ‘Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry’. Well David, wherever you are tonight, here it is. It has always worked for me.

 

Notes, credits and further listening:

It seems that Arthur Alexander recorded ‘In The Middle Of It All’ four times in his life. The version discussed above is the second 1962 version.

Arthur Alexander recorded some 120 songs during his recording career for a variety of labels. His initial career featuring many of the songs he will always be remembered for began at Dot Records and includes some of the premier recording at Rick Hall’s FAME studio in Muscle Shoals.

From 1965 he recorded for Sound Stage 7, a Monument subsidiary and in 1971 he recorded a lone album for Warner Brothers. In 1975, out of the blue, he recorded the marvellously fluid and typically affecting single, ‘Everyday I Have To Cry’ which incredibly made the US top 50.

Finally and most poignantly of all he recorded the lovely low key, Lonely Just Like Me’ album issued by Elektra in 1993 some three months prior to his death. This was later reissued by Hacktone Records with the addition of live performances and also with some hotel room demos which have some of the 3am in the morning, death on the horizon mood, shared with the New York Demos recorded by Buddy Holly prior to his untimely demise.

The ever alert Ace Records have issued two essential compilations covering the Dot and Monument Years. The other albums have also been reissued.

A welcome tribute collection, ‘Adios Amigo’ came out under the Razor and Tie imprint and features Nick Lowe’s tender cover of, ‘In The Middle Of It All’ (indeed Lowe’s career in this millennium might be seen as the largely successful attempt to pare his songwriting and recording style to their essentials in emulation of Arthur Alexander).

A relatively small investment will furnish you with the heartbreakingly magnificent catalogue of one of the greatest singers and songwriters in any genre and you will surely find that the songs and performances will become treasured fixtures in your life.

They were certainly a fixture in the life of John Lennon who had clearly listened closely to Arthur Alexander as evidenced in The Beatles cover of, ‘Anna’. The way that the famously acerbic Lennon could bring a wounded tenderness and discretion to ballad performances also betrays Artur’s influence.

John Lennon kept a jukebox filled with his favourite records to fortify him against the madness of the world that had grown up around him: prominent on his own immortal selection were records by Arthur Alexander.

Arthur Alexander was born in Sheffield Alabama in May 1940 and died in June 1993 in Nashville. He was only 53 years old. Despite recording several classic songs and having some of these covered by The Beatles (Anna) and The Rolling Stones (You Better Move On) he never really made much money from his songs.

Sadly, he was also prey to alcohol and mental health problems. Disillusioned and depressed he was for many years largely estranged from the music business and spent long spells working as a janitor and school bus driver.

There is a heartfelt biography by Richard Younger, ‘Get A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues: The Arthur Alexander Story’ published by the University of Alabama.

Arthur Alexander might be said to be the epitome of the, ‘Country Soul’ style of music. The movement as a whole is warmly evoked and intelligently discussed in Barney Hoskyn’s book, ‘Say It One Time For The Broken Hearted: Country Soul In The American South’ (Fontana/Bloomsbury).

Musicians growing up in a deeply segregated society were nevertheless heir to musical traditions that, principally through the medium of radio, effortlessly crossed the racial divide. Mucians and singers recognised great songs whether they were played on country or ‘Race’ music stations.

The constellation of wonderful musicians and songwriters who worked at Stax, FAME and Muscle Shoals studios were artistic freedom riders shattering barriers within the sanctuary of the recording studio even if they had to step carefully once they emerged into the heavy heat of the Southern mainstreet.

Booker T and The MG’s, Dan Penn, Chips Moman, Spooner Oldham and their brothers and sisters in rhythm made records that were recognisably southern and spoke eloquently of the lives shared by black and white alike.

There is a website ‘The annotated Arthur Alexander’ which is a very valuable resource for anyone seriously interested in delving further into Arthur’s recording career.

John Fogerty, Johnny Winter & James Burton hit that Riff! : Susie Q!

From the time fire first flickered in Mankind’s camp and imagination we have always been engaged in Quest.

And, engaged every bit as much, in stories about Quest.

The quest for food and warmth.

The quest for Love.

The quest for Knowledge.

The quest for Meaning.

The quest for Oblivion.

The quest for Freedom.

The quest for the North West Passage. The quest for the South Pole.

The quest to put a man on The Moon. A man on The Moon.

And, ever since the sound of the Electric Guitar thrillingly sliced through the air and ether the quest for The Riff!

The Riff that has other Guitar Players saying, ‘Damn, how come I didn’t get that one first?’

The Riff that snaps the neck back hard when it cuts through the fug of tobacco smoke and fog of alcohol as it roars out of the Jukebox speakers.

Now, as we know, where The Riff comes from is A Mystery.

Famously Keith Richard came up with, ‘Satisfaction’ in his sleep!

No one knows for certain how to hit that seam of guitar gold. Yet, we can all tell, as we shiver in recognition, when a true seam has been opened up.

And, there can be no doubt that in 1956 in the studios of KWRH Radio in Shreveport Louisiana a very rich seam was opened up!

Dale Hawkins wrote a song, ‘Susie Q’ that featured A Riff, a Righteous Riff, conjured out of the Swampy Southern air by a teenage wonder, James Burton, one of the most imitated and significant guitarists in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Look Out! Look Out!

Riff coming through!

Dale was a Louisiana native and a cousin of Ronnie Hawkins. Bitten early by Louisiana style Blues and the burgeoning sounds of Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll he found that he could sing this new music with conviction adding some local hot sauce in his vocal style and songwriting to the mix.

History will show (at least in the Authorised Immortal Jukebox Version) that his greatest contribution to Rock ‘n’ Roll was the opportunity he gave to guitarists James Burton and later Roy Buchanan (My Babe) to strut their very considerable stuff.

James Burton (pictured below during his stint with Ricky Nelson) is a pioneer of Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar style.

All across the globe neophyte axemen have grown boney fingers as they played over and over the definitive solos he cut with Dale, Ricky, Elvis himself and Emmylou Harris in a storied career.

Yet, almost none have equalled the terse economy and authority of James himself.

In Susie Q his guitar begins by flashing like a switchblade in the Louisiana moonlight before calling up peals of menacing thunder.

You’re always primarily attending to his playing even while admiring the foreboding and threat provided by Dale’s vocal and the rhythm section.

All these forces combined make Susie Q a stone cold classic.

Once Susie Q was picked up by Checker Records in Chicago in 1957 it stormed up the charts and became ubiquitous on Jukeboxes.

It became one of those songs that continues to inspire bands and guitarists in particular for generations after generation.

One of those it inspired, John Fogerty, was the lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Susie Q was their first real hit record. They went on under John’s leadership to be arguably the greatest Singles Bands in the history of American Popular Music.

When John Fogerty plays guitar and sings he does it with raging commitment.

There’s a breathtaking boiling intensity to all his songs and in every note flowing from his Guitar.

He wasn’t born on the bayou and he didn’t live on Green River.

Riverboats didn’t pass his door.

John Fogerty from the moment he heard Stephen Foster songs as a child before being thunderstruck by the primal Rock ‘n’ Roll eruption in the mid 50s intuitively understood that there was a mythic power in this music.

And, in his soul and imagination, he lived within that mythology and knew, in the way a born artist does, that he could lock into that power and add treasures of his own to the mother lode.

Aided by brother Tom, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford he would indeed add volume after volume to the corpus of classic Americana.

No one in his generation had a better grasp of the visceral power of Rock ‘n’ Roll. And, as you listen to his take on Susie Q, it’s clear no one could match him for emulating that visceral power.

Our final date with Susie comes courtesy of Johnny Winter. Johnny with his trusty Gibson Firebird Guitars called up electric storms of sound every time he played.

Growing up in post war Beaumont Texas he immersed himself in The Blues while attending closely to the finger picking miracles of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis.

Johnny loved nothing more than to find a song or a Riff that he could really stretch out on. And, when he found one like Susie Q barns all across America began to combust and light up the night sky!

I confidently predict that there will never be a time when a Guitarist with a mean glint in his eye won’t hit that Susie Q Riff and think .. Now you’ll be true! Now you’ll be Mine! Oh Susie Q!

Notes:

I never got to see James Burton play with Elvis. But, I did see Emmylou Harris’ London debut back in 1975 and I remember the special ovation James received when introduced by Emmylou.

It seemed as if several generations of Guitar afficianados had assembled to watch, admire and applaud the master to the rafters.

Dale Hawkins, who died in 2010 aged 73, is a more considerable figure than his Chart listings suggest.

His early work is captured on the Ace Records collection, ‘Dale Hawkins, Rock ‘n’ Roll Tornado’.

His gifts as a songwriter and singer are particularly well reflected in the Albums, ‘Memphis & Tyler, Texas’ and ‘Back Down to Louisiana’.

Remembering George Jones : The greatest Country Music Singer who ever lived!

George Jones. The One and Only George Jones.

Four years ago the Silent Boatman, who comes for us all, carried George away.

He was, without any scintilla of doubt, the greatest singer Country Music has ever, or will ever, know.

He was born in Texas in 1931. From his dad he inherited a taste for the bottle and from his mother the hope of salvation.

The world and his own nature offered up the simultaneous allure and spectre of sin, guilt and damnation.

From some higher power he was blessed with a singing voice that could express with enormous authority and impact the whole damn bone and blood gamut of emotions we’re all forever chained and in thrall to throughout our lives.

A voice that was never unrestrained even when plumbing unfathomable depths of pain and loss.

George’s voice had to be controlled even under the most crushing spiritual and emotional pressure because it was his, and our, final defence against defeat, depression and madness.

Sing one for me George!

George could sing gospel with a repentant sinner’s fervour and in his youth with the tempo cranked up to hot rod levels he could almost sound like a rockabilly singer.

But, he lived and died as the greatest country honkytonk balladeer who ever lived.

If you want your heart pummelled and wrenched (and sooner or later we all do) no-one can perform emotional/emergency cardiac surgery like good ol’ George.

I won’t list all the hits – there are several fine compilations, easily available, where you can soak yourself in his genius for mining and assuaging in song the travails, tragedies and travesties of life, love and death.

What more do you want?

Take a few minutes now to listen to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’.

 

 

When George recorded this he was a wreck of a man almost destroyed through drink and dissolution.

The writers, Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam, gifted him a morbid son of a bitch of a song that needed a singer who could emotionally outstare the tragic story of a life stalled for decades because of lost chances and lost love.

A life only released from the stasis of loneliness and pain by the release of death.

George was more than equal to the challenge. He was well acquainted with loss and he knew what it was to be half crazy.

Knowing this as a man helped the artist to sing the song with startling tenderness.

He sings with the tone of a man who has been so blasted by the storms that have assailed him that he has surrendered all his rage.

Now, he accepts with humility the consolations of bare humanity.

Hear the dignity he gives to the wonderful line ‘All dressed up to go away’ describing the funeral bound body of the song’s protagonist.

Hear how he allows the swelling instrumentation of the chorus to lift him as he reveals with power but without undue drama why, finally, the man at the centre of the song has stopped loving her today.

Only the truly great artists can stop time.

George stops it for us by largeness of heart, force of will and depth of talent.

Now let’s hear another demonstration of George’s genius as a singer and his capacity to capture and reveal the emotional depths and complexities which can be contained in a ‘simple’ country song.

‘A Good Year for the Roses’ showcases George mining sadness, despair, anger, bitterness and weary resignation.

When George sings he makes fellow flawed pilgrims of us all.

On our pilgrimage we stumble. We fall. We fall again.

We can’t go on. Can’t go on. Yet we do. We go on.

With George’s voice beckoning us on. Step by step.

Step by stumbling step.

 

Not many really deserve to have angels sing them to their rest.

For the rest of us we could do no better than settle for the immortal tones of the sinner’s friend – George Jones.

You know I think the boatman might just have broken his vow of silence when he ferried George.

I can hear him saying, ‘Sing one for me George. Sing one for us all.’

George Jones died on April 26 2013 in his 82nd year.

God bless you George!

Carol King, James Taylor, Laura Nyro and The Drifters : Up on the Roof

 

Brooklyn 1962

Rooftop Thoughts: 

Billy Snr

When I get home I’m tired and beat. That’s why I come up here.

Up here, up on the roof where the air is fresh and sweet.

Up here it’s as quiet as Brooklyn gets.

A man can drop his shoulders and take a deep breath and let his mind roam free.

Last week I was forty four years old. Forty Four!

My folks married in ’17. A War wedding.

Dad said to Mom, ‘I won’t wait. The world won’t wait. Let’s get married now!’

I hop they had a sweet time in the short time they had together.

Dad never made it home from France. Never made it home.

Two things in life I’d like to do.

Take Kathleen and Mom with me to lay some flowers and say a prayer at Dad’s grave.

And see Billy Boy and Maureen go to College and make something of themselves.

Oh, and if I could turn back the hands of time I’d love to see The Dodgers play one more time at Ebbets Field.

One more Lucky and I’ll go back down.

Maureen (16)

Up here, up on the roof, the stars put on a show for free.

Which is just as well ’cause Mom and Dad ain’t exactly giving me a free pass to see any of the shows I’d like to see at The Fox or The Paramount.

They’d keep me out too late and I might meet the ‘wrong sort of boy’.

Of course anyone outside an apostle is the wrong sort of boy.

And, Jimmy would definitely be the wrong sort of boy.

Strike One – He ain’t Catholic.

Strike Two – He’s 21 and that according to them is way too old for me.

Strike Three – He’s a College Boy with too much money and not enough sense.

But, oh but, but, but Jimmy dances like a dream, he makes me laugh and he makes me feel like no one ever knew me before he met me.

I won’t be able to see him for two whole days.

So I come up here on the roof and turn the dial on the radio to WINS and when ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’ comes on I know that he will be singing along too just a few blocks away.

And the stars above are our stars and it’s our show.

Billy Boy (14)

Up here, Up on the roof you’re immune from all that rat race noise down in the street.

Two places in the world where I can be myself and let my thoughts roam free.

This rooftop and The Central Library.

You go in through those Bronze doors and you feel you are somebody and they got a million books.

A million books!

You read a book like ‘Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ or ‘The Invisible Man’ and pretty soon you know that there’s a whole lot more to the world than a Brooklyn tenement.

I never had any interest in Baseball even when Dad took me to see The Dodgers play at Ebbets Field.

But, I liked it being just me and him together and I liked the names – Campanella, Snider, Reece, Robinson, Koufax.

Up here, up on the roof looking up at the stars I feel like I’m going to write my own stories one day.

Kathleen (35)

Up here, up on the roof it can seem as if my cares just drift right into space.

Thinking of Bill, Maureen and Billy Boy if only I could just wish and make their worlds trouble free.

I was only 16 when I met Bill. And he was all of 21.

He said I made him laugh and that when I danced with him for the first time he felt more alive than ever before.

And, he ain’t been anything but sweet to me since the day we met.

He misses the Dad he never knew.

Maybe I can persuade him to take that trip to France – what else are savings for?

Kathleen has grown up so fast. She’s almost as mature as she thinks she is.

Bill wants to shield her from the wicked world. I guess that’s Dad’s and Daughters.

Maybe it’s time we invited that boy round. You never know Bill might take to him.

Maureen says he’s a lifelong Dodgers fan.

And, Billy Boy. He’s so quiet. His nose never out of a book.

Other Moms got to worry about their boys and gangs.

All I got to worry about is how much time he spends at The Central Library!

Maybe I should encourage him to write stories of his own.

Somehow up here, up on the roof I feel everything is going to turn out all right.

Up here. Up on the roof.

 

 

In 1962 Carol King and Gerry Goffin, one of the greatest partnerships in songwriting history wrote, ‘Up on the Roof’ a song which, to this day, seems to whisper enchantments in the New York night air.

The recording by The Drifters with Rudy Lewis’ magical lead vocal is the very definition of romantic uptown Rhythm and Blues.

Such a song will always be sung.

For Carol’s enticing melody and for Gerry’s heartfelt, heart stirring lyric.

Carol and James Taylor provide contrasting meditations on a theme before the inimitable Laura Nyro lifts our hearts and souls into the empyrean beyond.

Right into space where it’s peaceful as can be.

 

Jesse Winchester Remembered … The Songwriters’ Songwriter

Sometimes I’m asked because of my eclectic tastes if there is one under appreciated, lesser known artist who deserves to be much better known.

i always answer – Jesse Winchester.

 

To explain why and to pay tribute to his wonderful songs three years after his death I am Reblogging my Post on him from 2014.

An investment in Jesse Winchester records will pay you dividends for your lifetime.

Jesse  Winchester died at the age of 69 in April 2014.

I first heard him in the mid 1970s on Charlie Gillett’s rightly legendary radio show, ‘Honky Tonk’ which became my open university course on 20th century popular music.

Jesse Winchester was a highly accomplished songwriter and an affecting singer who could hush a room with the intensity of his performances.

He was recognised by fellow songwriters of the calibre of Elvis Costello, John Prine and Ron Sexsmith as a master of their calling.

Bob Dylan, surely the dean of Songwriting, said that you could not talk about the best songwriters in the world without including Jesse and he paid him the compliment (granted to few of his contemporaries) of playing one of his songs on his wonderful radio show, ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’.

Jesse was born in Memphis and always carried with him a southern courtliness and a very strong sense of place. When he wrote about a state or a town, say Mississippi or Bowling Green, he brought it to life with such arrestingly vivid imagery that you really felt you had spent time there with him as your home town guide.

There was an elegiac, black and white photograph quality to many of his best songs. I often went to the prints of Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange, who shot so many evocative documentary images of the pre-civil rights era south, to find a visual companion for his work.

It seems to me that his songs emerge into the air like photographic prints blooming into rich detailed life from the developing fluid of his imagination.

Jesse Winchester’s songs were mature crafted works: the product of a highly intelligent and sensitive man with an acute sense of the power of the memories we accumulate as we move through a life.

Memories of our communities, our families, our friends and lovers, our contempories and the times we were together in. Inevitably, recollections of victories and defeats, of love we held onto and love we threw away.

He had the will and the artistry to closely examine those memories and to clothe them in story songs illuminated by powerful sensory images. Listening to the best of his songs is a rich immersive experience which can feel like a dream that stays with you long after you have woken up and which you know will reurn to haunt you.

My favourite Jesse Winchester song is, ‘Mississippi You’re On My Mind’ a wonderful almost archaeologically rich presentation of the sights, sounds and ambience of life in the rural heartland of the real and mythological state of Mississippi.

Like all the great Jesse Winchester songs this song does not shout at you, rather it beckons you to lean forward and listen to a master storyteller. A master who is so relaxed he seems to be singing the song while rocking back and forth on his front porch with a glass of bourbon at hand.

The instrumentation is simple – plucked guitar, atmospheric shimmer piano, stirring strings and a swelling vocal chorus supporting Jesse’s sweet, molasses filled vocal. The song paints a swooning picture of an unhurried life lived in a cotton country backwater.

You are made aware both by the lyric and the melody of the humidity of the south, of the sun that blazes from the sky wrapping everyone in an angry oven heat.

This is a land that has seen times of plenty – when the price of cotton was high. It is also a land that has felt the disdainful stamp of an invading army, neglect following painful defeat and economic depression.

Jesse Winchester paints in the details which make a scene come alive – the rusted barbed wire fence, the lazy creek, the tar paper shack. This is a land where one crop was king so you see the field specked with dirty cotton lint and in the background the characteristic sound of a John Deere tractor.

Meanwhile the air is suffused with the cloying smell of the honeysuckle vine, the barks of hungry dogs and the rustle of grasshoppers.

Only the snakes coiled up in the thick weeds and the old men are asleep. ‘Mississippi You’re On My Mind’ is a loving recreation of a physical and emotional home place, a lullaby and a love letter to the past. The song is touched with greatness.

The land described in the song is at one level Mississippi – on another level it is of course the land of childhood; that Eden we all ache to recover but never can except through the alchemy of art.

It is the land of lost content which Houseman once memorialised as the blue remembered hills. In the song Jesse Winchester has brought this land to poignant shining life.

Jesse Winchester had a good heart and pursued his vocation as a songwriter and singer with all the resources at his considerable command. He leaves an enduring legacy. May he rest in peace.

Recommended listening:

‘Jesse Winchester’ his superb debut album containing stand out songs such as the wistful, ‘Yankee Lady’, the ruminative, ‘Biloxi’ and the transcendent, ‘Brand New Tennessee Waltz’

His second album, ‘Third Down 110 To Go’ (often available as a twofer with the above) has two classics in the gospel drenched, ‘Isn’t That So’ and the quiet wisdom of ‘Dangerous Fun’ which contains the immortal couplet:

‘It takes patience to walk and spirit to run
But nothing to pity yourself
But it’s dangerous fun’

The twofer of, ‘Learn To Love It’ and, ‘Let The Rough Side Drag’ in addition to the masterpiece of, ‘Mississippi You’re On My Mind” has the maturely romantic, ‘Every Word You Say’, the lazy swooning ‘Defying Gravity’, the philosophical, ‘How Far To The Horizon’ and a brilliant take on the Amazing Rhythm Aces country pop classic ‘Third Rate Romance’.

All the rest of his output has sprinklings of glorious songcraft and winning vocals. Look out in particular for the songs, ‘Bowling Green’, ‘A Showman’s Life’ and the emotionally overwhelming, ‘Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding’ which only a songwriter with a full heart and a steady head could bring off (see the YouTube clip below of his appearance on Elvis Costello’s TV show ‘Spectacles’ which demonstrates the effect he could have on his peers).

A trawl through his catalogue will find you arguing that I have missed out many of your favourites.