Chuck Berry RIP : Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Chuck Berry has died. May he rest in peace.

 

I will write an extensive tribute later.

He was a Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He was a Rock ‘n’ Roll Prophet and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Poet.

He was a writer with the immediate understanding of a top class journalist, the widescreen vision of an historian and the timing of a comedian on the stage.

He is one of the greatest chroniclers of American Life.

Hail, Hail, Hail Chuck Berry!

Here he is with a special favourite of mine, ‘School Days’

‘Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don’t know
How mean she looks

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

The lyric above is the best teaching aide anyone could ever have if they wanted an example of great Rock ‘n’Roll Songwriting.

Consider the rhythmic flow of the words and music.

Consider the sociological acuity of the observations.

‘The guy behind you won’t leave you alone‘. Don’t you just know that guy!

‘Gee but the teacher don’t know How mean she looks’. 

Teachers never do, never do!

‘Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot’

Now that’s writing! A whole generation and way of life captured perfectly.

‘With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been
Wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go’

All day long you been wantin’ to dance. All day long!

Rock ‘n’ Roll swept The World because it did make you feel the music from head to toe and because what in the world could possible beat the feeling of makin’ romance with the one you love!

Round and round and round you go!

Chuck Berry set The World spinning and some of us are spinning still!

‘Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

And that Baby is Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his thrilling guitar, his poetic words and his sleek charisma Chuck did indeed deliver us from the days of old.

Thank you Chuck for the feeling – body and soul.

 

Guitar Visionary Kelly Joe Phelps plays Bob Dylan & Leadbelly

‘… Kelly Joe Phelps plays, sings, and writes the blues. HOLD UP before you lock that in – forget about songs in a twelve bar three chord progression with a two line repeat and answer rhyme structure – though he can certainly do that when he wants to.

I’m talking about a feeling, a smoky, lonesome, painful – yet somehow comforting groove that lets you know that you are not alone – even when you’re blue. Play on brother.’ (Steve Earle)

‘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.

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.

 

Rosanne Cash, Eric Bibb, John Phillips and Scott McKenzie sing Hedy West : 500 Miles

‘We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there’  (Pascal Mercier)

‘The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be a point of intersection of all the lines drawn though all the stars, to be the constellation- maker and the center of the world, that center called love.’ (Rebecca Solnit)

‘You can’t go home again.’ (Thomas Wolfe)

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’ (Hedy West)

Much meaning can be expressed in so few letters of the alphabet

Just four will do.

Good. Evil. Luck. Fate. Time. Fear. Hope. Hate. Womb. Tomb. Life. Love.

And one four letter word might contain them all.

Home. Home.

The home you were born in; the home you grew up in, the home that was your shelter and refuge.

The home you left with tears in your eyes.

The home that lives forever in your heart and your mind’s eye.

The home that was your prison.

The home you left without a backward look.

The home you’ll never go back to now you’ve made a home of your own.

Home, home, home.

Should you write a true song evoking the longing for home when the tides of time have taken you far away you’ll find singers to sing that song for evermore.

Hedy West wrote such a song, ‘500 Miles’

 

Crystal clear. Mountain dew.

Banjo, voice, Presence, centuries of the ballad tradition.

Fiddle tunes and songs called Rueben’s Train, The Railroader’s Lament and 900 Miles all swirl in the imagination of a young woman growing up in a home suffused with tunes and stories and songs.

Great Uncle Gus plays the fiddle, Gradma Lillie plays the Banjo and has a bottomless well of ballads and laments that seem to float on the breezes all around.

Dad, Don West, is a poet (‘Clods of Southern Earth’), a labor organiser, a civil rights activist, an oral historian and inspiration.

west_don_photo

Hedy has a voice. She plays the Banjo in her own style.

She has the austere gravitas of a classical bard.

When she sings the room stills. When she sings she has something to say.

She has a calling.

A calling to tell the stories of the disregarded rural poor.

A calling to tell their stories in songs that express, and more honour, the depth of their struggles and the fullness of their humanity.

In a career of more than five decades taking her from folk contests in her native Georgia to Greenwich Village, Carnegie Hall, London and venues all over the globe it’s a calling she fulfills with steadfast hope, faith and love.

In the 1950s folk world a song as true and singable as 500 Miles scorches across the continent like a raging forest fire.

It instantly becomes a folk standard with each group or artist adapting the lyric and instrumentation to suit their own style and the image of home they carry with them.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

As far as I can tell the first notable recording of the song is by The Journeymen in 1961.

Now, you’d have to be a scholar of the American Folk Revival to sagely nod once their name is mentioned. Yet, almost all of us came to know the members of the group through their later careers.

journeymen

John Phillips became the leader of prolific hit makers The Mamas & the Papas, Scott McKenzie had a whole generation singing, ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) while Dick Weissman achieved eminence as a banjo picking musicologist and folklorist.

 

Listening to this time suspending version in soft sift black and white dreams I drift through the home of my own childhood.

Streetlights glow the palest yellow as they struggle to penetrate the blanket like London Fog of the 1950s.

Spectral trolley buses are boarded by attentively following their clanging sound until they suddenly loom up before you.

Snow surrounds market stalls piled high with cheap goods sold as wondrous bargains you must not be without – ‘Buy now Mrs! When they’re gone they’re gone!’

Cocooned in a two room first floor flat a young boy, certain in his bones that he is the constellation-maker and centre of the world, learns to read, ‘Treasure Island’ and dreaming of wooden ships, wooden legs, parrots, pirates and buried plunder begins to dream stories of his own.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

As we have seen from the previous post here on The Jukebox when it comes to recognising an American standard Johnny Cash is your go to man.

Johnny took his curatorial role so seriously that he drew up, ‘The List’ – a compendium of great songs he entrusted to his daughter Rosanne.

Following her father’s death Rosanne returned over and over again to The List and the result was a luminously beautiful record featuring haunting tracks like Dylan’s , ‘Girl from the North Country’, ‘Long Black Veil’, Motherless Children’ and, ‘Miss the Mississippi and You’.

The one I come back to the most though is her devoutly heartfelt take on 500 Miles.

Johnny sure would have been proud.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

Great songs call out across the miles, across genres and cultures and across time.

The veteran Acapella group The Persuasions uncover the longing, the loss, the mourning and the journey to the farther shore that awaits us all.

Their Gospel and Spiritual version of 500 Miles makes a congregation of us all.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

500 Miles is a song that speaks from and to the bonds of familial love.

I’ll conclude with a blessed version by a father and son, Leon and Eric Bibb, which has the quality of a foot sore pilgrimage concluding in longed for peace and reconciliation.

‘Lord, I’m one, Lord, I’m two, Lord, I’m three, Lord, I’m four,

Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.’

 

We are all pilgrims.

May we all find peace reconciliation and the home we seek.

Notes:

I love every record made by Hedy West.

Seek out her CDs on the Vanguard, Topic and Bear Family labels for a lifetime of inspirational listening.

The only CD I can find by The Journeymen is, ‘New Directions In Folk Music’ on Collectors Choice from 2010 which is a nice collection of thistledown folk.

Eric and Leon Bibb’s, ‘A Family Affair’ hard to find is a gem well worth the search.

 

Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry & Gene Autry chase Ghost Riders In The Sky!

The ‘Way out West’ Series No 1

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.

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

 

Phil Everly Remembered

 

Phil Everly’s physical voice was stilled three years ago.

 

Yet his voice on record and in the hearts of generations of listeners now and to come will surely never be stilled.

The keen in his and Don’s voices cuts deep. And deeper with the years.

So, its a rare week when I don’t find myself humming an Everly Brother’s song as I go about my daily life.

Phil and Don’s divine harmonies continue to strike chords in my heart.

Today, in his honour, a Reblog of one of the earliest posts on The Immortal Jukebox.

One where I felt my own voice called by Phil’s.

I hope I have done him justice.

There is a magical moment during the Everly Brothers celebrated and triumphant reunion concert at The Albert Hall in 1983 which goes some way to explaining the source of their enduring appeal.

After opening with a heart warming , ‘Bye Bye Love, a rocking Claudette, the magesterial, ‘Walk Right Back’  a forlorn, stately, ‘I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain and the knock-out punch of, ‘Cathy’s Clown’ the band, which featured England’s guitar legend Albert Lee, took a momentary breather.

The two brothers briefly smiled at each other knowing now that a decade apart had in no sense diminished their power as performers.  Reassured, they leaned their heads close together and began to sing acapella, ‘These are the words of a frontier lad who lost his love when he went bad.’

The opening lines of, ‘Take A Message to Mary’.  As their two voices entwined in a rich fraternal harmony of heartbreakingly vulnerable perfection you can feel the whole audience catch their breath as countless personal memories are evoked.

Memories of the passing years with all their freight of love, joy and loss.  Memories of friends, lovers and family happily present and memories of those now separated by distance, time and mortality.

Looking around the auditorium it was clear that few popular music figures have ever burrowed so deep into their fans emotional core or repaid that loyalty and affection with such tender grace.

Simply put the Everly Brothers were the greatest duet singers and brother act in the history of popular music.

It will remain a mystery as to why the sibling relationship and consanguinity combined to supercharge the emotional resonance of Phil and Don’s harmony vocals and how this mysterious power could survive and endure for virtually all their lifetimes as brothers – whatever the state of their personal relationship.

It was surely a mystery to them as much as to anyone else.

Phil Everly’s life began in Chicago but he was in every other sense a son of the South.  His parents were Kentuckians and musicians.  From the age of six he was singing on the radio with elder brother Don and his parents.

The songs they sang were country songs or those weird and wonderful folk songs as Dylan put it about, ‘Roses growing out of people’s heads’.

From the get-go it was clear that these two brothers, influenced by other brother acts like the Delmores and Blue Sky Boys, had a uniquely potent mystical chemistry that made their arousing and keening singing able to thrill and also to pierce the hardest heart.

As they grew older the cute boys became handsome young men, accomplished guitar players and confident performers.  They were thus in prime position in the late 1950’s to shoulder their jet black Gibson guitars ready to ride and help drive the runaway rock ‘n’ roll train as far as it could go.

Settling into their recording career at Cadence Records and supplied with a string of classic teenage angst songs by the likes of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’) the Everly’s took up residence in the hearts and memories of a generation.

Phil himself wrote one of their signature teenage classics, ‘When Will I Be Loved’.  Up until the advent of the Beatles led British invasion the Everlys were reigning rock ‘n’ roll royalty enjoying massive chart success and the esteem of their fellow artists.

They were also enormously influential – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies and The Beach Boys all freely acknowledged their admiration and desire to emulate the wonder of the brothers’ harmony singing.

Of the two brothers Phil was by all accounts the more outgoing, sensible and grounded of the two.  Though the younger brother it seemed that he was the one looking out for the more mercurial and vulnerable Don.

Don, whose voice seems able to cleave your ribs and pull your heart apart generally took the lead part while Phil intently, watchfully, with a brother’s love and care, held everything together with poignant poised harmony.

Together they made a sound that has rarely been matched for longevity of emotional impact.

Phil had some notable successes as a solo artist including recording the excellent, ‘Star Spangled Springer’ album (1973) which contains the wonderful tracks, ‘The Air That I Breathe’ and ‘Snowflake Bombadier’.

He also worked fruitfully on the soundtracks of the Clint Eastwood  movies, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and, ‘Any Which Way You Can’.

Genuine though these successes were they are minor in comparison to the luminous body of work he created with his elder brother.

They were great country singers, great rock ‘n’ roll singers and great pop singers.

Their body of work is sure to provide emotional sustenance and solace long into the forseeable future.  For people will always fall in and out of love and always carry the scars of past hurts even as they embrace new hope.

There will always be an Everly Brothers song to turn to.

Pop Staples : Faith, Friendship & Beguiling Guitar!

 

‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends and say my glory was my friends’ (WB Yeats)

‘The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.’ (Bob Marley)

Some of us spend our whole lives trying to figure out just exactly who we are.

For some creative artists that pursuit can be both furious and fruitful – consider the late much lamented David Bowie.

But there is a high cost in psychic and emotional wear and tear in living such lives.

Better to my mind to find out who you are early and then just be.

Easier, of course, said than lived.

So, I find that when I encounter that rare person who is entirely comfortable in their own skin and content to be nothing other than themselves I am both surprised and enormously impressed.

And, my ultimate example of such a person would be Roebuck ‘Pop’ Staples; singer, songwriter, guitarist extraordinaire and Patriarch of the greatest Gospel group of the modern era, The Staple Singers.

 

I first saw him some time in the mid 1980s at one of my favourite music venues/watering holes of those times ‘The Borderline’ a small basement club in Charing Cross Road London.

Somehow, that night, Pop through his prophetic guitar, beguiling voice and grace filled songs turned a ramshackle crew of booze hounds and music aficionados into a joyful clapping on the off beat congregation.

The inner lit warmth of Pop’s faith and the transparent sincerity of his belief in the fellowship of mankind made for a transformative experience.

I had expected to be affected by his history and his talent.

I had not expected to be so moved by his person.

Actually to feel I was a better person simply by having been in the same room as him.

With Pop there’s no tortured theology, no secret knowledge for the elect alone.

Instead there’s faith, fellowship, fraternity and guitar playing throbbing with power and portent.

 

 

What more can I say?

Well, just that if you’re looking for some resolutions for 2017 (and every year thereafter) you might listen closely to the lyric above.

And if you want some watchwords as the year progresses you won’t do better than to remember and embody some more wise words Pop lived out every day of his life:

Respect yourself.

Reach out touch a hand – make a friend if you can.

In these troubled times that will certainly do for me

 

On the cover of Sergeant Pepper: Dion – Runaround Sue!

You may recall that in the recent post about Captain Beefheart I mentioned selecting The Beatles, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ LP from my vinyl shelves.

That storied record is famous not only for its treasury of superb songs but also for its endlessly intriguing cover which features a gallery of contemporary and historical cultural icons.

The Beatles, typically eclectic, choices included Carl Jung, Oliver Hardy, Sonny Liston, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Karl Marx, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and Albert Stubbins (look him up!)

Surprisingly, only two contemporary American musicians made the hallowed cover.

Inevitably, one was Bob Dylan, who was an enormously influential figure in the development of The Beatles songwriting.

The other American legend they selected, proof of their unending devotion to the primal spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was none other than Dion Francis DiMucci – the King of The Bronx and one of the very greatest artists in the history of the music.

Dion for an astonishing seven decades has shown himself to be a superlative singer with the ability to make songs come thrillingly alive.

Tracing his career you will find magnificent records displaying his empathy and mastery of virtually the entire spectrum of American roots music.

So, with The Belmonts we have the exuberant Doo-Wop of, ‘I Wonder Why’ and the delirious Pop angst of, ‘ A Teenager in Love’.

As a solo act he produced electrifying Rock ‘n’ Roll in, ‘The Wanderer’  and deep insights into the Blues with, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and the scarifying, ‘Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms’).

As a singer-songwriter he was capable of a bone chilling confessional threnody like, ‘Your Own Backyard’ and the utterly charming, ‘New York City Song’.

He was quick to spot the distinctive talents of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as his must hear covers of, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and, ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ demonstrate in spades.

For insight into life on the gritty New York Streets only Lou Reed comes near Dion’s epic, ‘Midtown American Street Gang’.

You want Gospel balm? Listen up to the exquisite entreaty of Dion’s, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’.

Taken all in all Dion’s catalogue stands as the autobiography of an always questing pilgrim soul and the blazing testament of a true American Master.

And he did all this battling heroin addiction.

Notwithstanding the excellence of all the above tracks when it came to selecting a record to take its place on The Immortal Jukebox I didn’t hesitate for a micro-second.

No, it has to be, has to be, just has to be, ‘Runaround Sue’ a record I love to the point of near insanity.

Take it from Thom – no one has ever sung a Rock ‘n’ Roll song with such enthralling energy and sheer swagger as Dion does here!

Listen, people let me out you wise …

Great Gosh A Mighty!

Dion’s singing here leaves me exultant and breathless with joy filled admiration.

As he sings you are swept along on a magic carpet of delight almost sure there’s no mountain or skyscraper you couldn’t nonchalantly soar over as you follow Dion’s imperious vocal.

Listen, people what I’m telling you.

When it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll singing Dion ain’t just the King of The Bronx!

No, he’s The Guy. The Guy who knows. The Guy who knows!

Where did all this mastery come from?

Why from Prospect Avenue, Belmont, The Bronx, New York City – that’s where.

As a  young boy growing up he was surrounded by a vibrant Italian/American community where the streets were alive with song – operatic arias, Tin Pan Alley crooning.

And from the stoops and the subways groups of young kids with hope in their hearts sending harmonies soaring high into the New York night sky.

As he sat on the fire escape shooting the breeze he was glued to the radio. Through the sacred ether came the transporting, life changing, life defining, sounds of Doo- Wop, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Unforgettable, emotion charged voices, voices like those of Hank Williams and Sam Cooke seemed to summon his own voice.

So, as a young man, seeking to find his own identity, he found that he had been blessed with a gift. A gift which would win him the admiration of the local bloods and the local belles.

And soon, when that sensational voice was captured on tape, the admiration of the whole wide world!

Dion brings all his heritage and all gifts to Runaround Sue.

There is love and laughter and life in abundance in every syllable that Dion sings.

So, he can invest deep emotion into wordless swoops and delicately evoke the romance of the touch of her hair and the (still felt and much missed) warmth of her lost embrace.

As Dion sings the story is sad but true. Everyone has had their heart broken by someone who ran around.

You don’t want to cry. But you do. You do.

He sings, ‘Runaround Sue’ like a man creating a moral and a story to console himself as he walks home. And as he walks he finds that his downcast grimace turns into a wry smile before becoming a broad grin.

Then he begins to laugh.

Laugh, with love in his heart as he admits to himself just how how much of a fool he has been.

Perhaps the beginning of wisdom is the admission we are all fools.

Fools for Love. Fools for Love.

And long may it remain so.

Notes:

The superb backing vocals on Runaround Sue are provided by The Del-Satins.

Runaround Sue was co-written by Ernie Maresca.

It was, of course, a multi million selling Number One on the 1961 Billboard Charts.

I have made it a point of honour to own every Record Dion has ever made.

For those of you yet to share my obsession as well as all the tracks referred to above I recommend:

‘The Very Best Of Dion & The Belmonts’ on One Day Music

‘Yo Frankie’ on Arista

‘New Masters’ on Collectables

‘Bronx in Blue’ and ‘Son of Skip James’ on SPV

‘New York Is My Home’ on Blue Horizon

‘Bronx Blues’ and ‘The Road I’m On’ on Columbia.

Dion’s autobiography, ‘The Wanderer’ is a fascinating read.

However, to my mind the most revealing insight into his life can be found on an article he wrote about his return to Catholicism. See Link below

http://www.chnetwork.org/story/dion-dimucci-the-wanderer/

And Finally!

Please don’t forget to vote for The Immortal Jukebox in The UK Blog Awards!

Voting remains open till 18 December.

Follow the link below and select Art & Culture from the drop down menu:

http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/immortal-jukebox