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.

 

Pete Seeger, Eric Bibb, Johnny Rivers & Harry Belafonte : An Archangel, A Sacred River, A Spiritual & The Folk Process!

Continuing the celebration of The Jukebox’s first year a Post that I am especially fond of for the artists featured and the memories it evoked of my own childhood.

I hope it will resonate with you!

Four takes on, ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore’

‘… They were tones, loud, long and deep, breathing the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish.’ (Frederick Douglas)

‘And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great Prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as there never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, everyone shall be found written in the book.

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to eternal life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.’.
(Book of Daniel Chapter 12 King James Version)

‘Jordan River is deep and wide, hallelujah.
Meet my mother on the other side, hallelujah
Jordan River is chilly and cold, hallelujah,
Chills the body but not the soul, Hallelujah!’

I began my journey through primary education in the late 1950s with the good Nuns (and they were good Nuns) of the Convent of St Edwards in Paddington, London; which, though I was unaware of it at the time, was a only a couple of hundred yards from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios soon to be made famous by four lads from Liverpool.

I was a pupil at St Edwards from 1959 until the brutal (by UK standards) Winter of 1962/63 when our family made the move to leafy, suburban Harrow.

I have two particularly vivid memories of my time at St Edwards.

First, the disturbing thrill of reading a children’s version of the great Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘Beowulf’ and somehow realising that there was a magical transformative power in poetry and that this was a doorway to another life – the life of the imagination.

Second, I remember the hush that descended as we carefully placed our pens in our ink wells and settled down to listen to the Schools Music Programme Service of the BBC.

The cloth covered radio speaker sat high on the class wall, out of reach of curious hands and from its cavernous depths there emerged songs and tunes which would lodge deep, deeper than I could ever have imagined, into my consciousness.

I remember listening to such works as: Stephen Foster’s, ‘Camptown Races’, the nursery rhyme, ‘Lavender Blue Dilly Dilly’, the rustic folk songs from the North East of England, ‘Bobby Shafto’ and ‘When The Boat Comes In’, the royally penned English anthem, ‘Green Sleeves’ and the American ballad (indeed a murder ballad!), ‘Tom Dooley’.

These songs emerging from the mysterious ether entered my blood stream and permanently took up residence becoming as familiar as my own hands in front of me.

Above all I recall listening to and singing lustily along to a song I was told was a, ‘Spiritual’ called, ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore’.

Something in this song from the Civil War era in America caught and permanently held my attention so that eventually I am now moved to trace its history and present several versions here on the Jukebox.

Spirituals are a marvellous example of American invention blending of several streams of cultural history to create something vivid, vital and new.

They emerged from the black slave community as a thrilling synthesis of religious, physical and political experience.

Frequently they concern a downtrodden peoples journey, in hope and faith, from exile to salvation and deliverance in a promised land where the righteous will be reunited with their stolen families and departed loved ones.

In an act of supreme creativity Christian hymns and biblical texts were yoked to ancient African singing styles and melodic accents to produce something truly new and culturally particular.

Spirituals are the primary artefacts of the enormous African-American contribution to modern American popular culture.

We shall never know when, ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore’ was composed or who it’s author was. But, we can say that the first historical record we have of it comes from the 1867, ‘Slave Songs Of The United States’ collection by Charles Pickford Ware, William Francis Allen and Lucy McKim Garrison.

It seems that Ware first heard the song and transcribed a version during his stay on St Helena Island, South Carolina while he oversaw the plantations abandoned by fleeing Confederates in 1862.

‘Michael’ along with other spirituals (many collected from slaves Wallace and Minerva Wills by the Reverend Alexander Reid) such as, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’, ‘Roll, Jordan, Roll’ and, ‘Steal Away To Jesus’ we’re popularised both in America and Europe from the 1870s by Nashville’s Fisk University Jubilee Singers through highly successful concert tours and a best selling songbook.

Spirituals began to be adopted as folk songs and vehicles of social solidarity and protest from the 1930s onwards by idealistic young white and black singers and musicians as part of what has come to be known as the, ‘Folk Revival’.

For many white artists their initial encounters with the cultures evoked in black Spirituals and blues and the Appalachian instrumental and ballad traditions proved nothing less than a deeply affecting and transformative conversion experience from which they never wished to recover!

Songs that would form the Folk Revival songbook were carried and passed on, transmitted, in many different ways.

In the curled pages of old ballad books, across the smoky campfire, hanging in the air of the chapel and echoing from the store front church.

Some from the blues tradition were half-heard among the din of the honky-tonk, the shebeen and the jazz dive.

Some were learned at the knee from the elders, some from local and travelling ne’er do wells, some overheard from the parlour radio, some blasted out from speeding cars and neon bright Jukeboxes.

A good song will find a way to be heard and sung.

Pete Seeger, whose ‘Plain Folks’ and almost schoolmasterly sing a long version of Michael as featured above was a key figure in the folk revival through his indefatigable worldwide touring and his membership of important groups such as the Almanac Singers and The Weavers.

Pete, who collaborated on the writing and/or popularisation of the folk standards, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, ‘If I Had A Hammer’ and the Civil Rights anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome’ quickly saw the potential in, ‘Michael’ when he learned it from Tony Saletan in the early 1950s.

Everywhere Pete went he sang the song and seeded a thousand folk music careers from his audiences at colleges, camp fire meetings and union rallies.

For Pete, fighting the good fight with every breath in his body, songs were working tools to promote social solidarity and change.

If you want to learn the basic repertoire of the folk revival Pete, with his no frills style and transparent sincerity, generosity and commitment is your only man!

Coming from a privileged academic and religiously rigorous family Pete became for over seven decades a warrior for truth, justice, peace, civil rights and the environment armed only with a long necked banjo and endless faith in the people and the future.

With characteristic eloquence Barrack Obama eulogised him as, ‘America’s tuning fork’ and thanked him for, ‘… Reminding us where we come from and where we need to go’.

I think the Archangel Michael would easily have recognised the lanky, upright figure carrying a banjo who waded across the Jordan at the end of January 2014!

Listening to Pete Seeger in concert and hearing ‘Michael’ on the radio in the early 1960s was an impossibly handsome and talented young black American of Caribbean heritage called Harry Belafonte who would go on to have an extraordinary career as a singer, actor and humanitarian.

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Harry just has Star Quality!

Harry’s version has a gospel fervour and burns with political commitment.

Harry was a remarkably fluent and versatile performer who could sell any type of song with beguiling charm.

His breakthrough Calypso and live at Carnegie Hall records were multi million sellers that took up residence in American Hi-Fi cabinets throughout the nation.

Harry loved the limelight and was an authentic show business Prince but behind the scenes he was also a very important and influential figure in the civil rights movement.

He was a friend and confidant of Martin Luther King providing the bail money to get MLK out of Birmingham Jail and the insurance policy that provided for his widow after his death.

In addition he quietly financed the Freedom Riders campaign that sought to increase voter registration from the black community and challenge head on the worst excesses of the bull headed, bull necked, Jim Crow South.

In light of this it is no surprise that Harry’s, ‘Michael’ enjoins its listeners, as they wait for the Archangel to row the boat ashore, to, ‘Hold that line in Arkansas’ and trumpets the message that, like Joshua at Jericho, Alabama will be the next to go.

As for Mississippi, while the buses speed south, it’s time to kneel and pray.

In my estimation, Harry Belafonte is a very fine artist but an even greater man.

Our third take on,’Michael’ is provided by Johnny Rivers: a much underestimated artist who had an unerring ear for a fine song and the ability to perform material from widely differing genres with an attack and flair that saw him rack up 17 top 40 hits from 1964 to 1977 including the gorgeous number 1 ballad, ‘Poor Side of Town’ ( see feature on The Jukebox) and iconic driving rockers like, ‘Memphis’ and, ‘Secret Agent Man’.

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Johnny gives it an irrestible rocking treatment.

Johnny’s residency at the Whisky A Go Go club in Hollywood drew a loyal crowd, including numerous rock luminaries, who recognised that Johnny had a rock and roll heart and a killer band.

On record his band included stellar figures from the LA, ‘Wrecking Crew’ stable including Hal Blaine on the drums, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knetchel on keyboards.

A Johnny Rivers record never out stays its welcome and I usually find, as with this storming take on, ‘Michael’ that I’m reaching for the repeat button as soon as the first second of silence hits me when the record finishes.

The final version of, ‘Michael’ I have chosen comes from the very hard working and productive roots music missionary, Eric Bibb.

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Eric grew up at the epicentre of the folk revival in the early 1960’s – New York CIty’s Greenwich Village.

He was very well connected in this world with his father Leon being an actor and singer, his uncle John Lewis being a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet and his Godfather being none other than Paul Robeson!

Eric has a gift for finding the secret heart of a song.

Eric, born in 1951, began to perform in his early teens and was making his recording debut by his middle twenties.

He has proved a very deft artist who is at home in the gospel, folk and blues traditions.

At his best, as on the version of, ‘Michael’ above he achieves a kind of meditative grace that searches out the heart and soul of a song so that a work you have heard a thousand times can suddenly appear fresh and alive with new potential and meaning.

A song, a Spiritual, a folk anthem, a testament to the human spirit, like, ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore’ will never run dry.

For we will always hope that we will meet again with our loved ones who have already crossed the Jordan.

Downtrodden peoples will always need to have faith that there is indeed salvation and deliverance ahead even if it often seems so very far away.

Finally, Most of us will hope that when we step gingerly into eternity’s boat that our ferryman will be the Archangel Michael and that he will carry us safely home across the chilly and cold Jordan River.

This post dedicated to Sister Calasanctius, Sister Mary Monica and Sister Mary Mildred who were all extremely kind and indulgent to a quiet boy who seemed forever lost in dreams of poetry and songs when he should have been paying attention to arithmetic and his times tables!

One Degree of Bob Dylan:

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Unsurprisingly given their association with the Folk Revival and the hectic days of the early 1960s all the above artists have connections with Bob Dylan, the Keeper of American Song.

Pete Seeger was an early and passionate advocate for the young Bob’s exploding talents and he helped to open doors and make introductions to key figures in the Big Apple’s folk elites.

Harry Belafonte had a unknown Bob play harmonica on, ‘Midnight Special’ marking Bob’s debut on record. In his wonderfully artful and characteristically enigmatic work of autobiography, ‘Chronicles’ Bob pays a very heartfelt, indeed effusive, tribute to Harry:

‘Harry was the best balladeer in the land and everybody knew it. He was a fantastic artist … He had ideals and made you feel you’re part of the human race. There never was a performer who crossed so many lines as Harry.

‘ … Everything about him was gigantic … With Belafonte I felt like I’d become anointed in some kind of way … Harry was that rare type of character that radiates greatness, and you hope some of it rubs off on you. The man commands respect.’

Johnny Rivers recorded a fine version of Bob’s magisterial put down song, ‘Positively Fourth Street’. Bob called it the favourite of all versions of his songs and said it was obvious that they were from the same side of town and were from the same musical family.

Eric Bibb came across Bob through his Greenwich Village connections. In one of his first bands he played with Bill Lee (father of Film Director Spike) who played on Bob’s Freewheeling’ LP sessions.

Eric also had a direct meeting with Bob when he was only 11.

Apparently Bob advised the precocious Eric that when it came to guitar playing he should, ‘Keep it simple, forget all that fancy stuff’.

Happy Christmas 2018 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 who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.

rembrandt

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

The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.

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!

 

Bob Dylan : Forever Young

 

Some events have such emotional and spiritual weight that bare words seem inadequate to capture their importance.

Your beautiful daughter shining like the Midnight Moon gives birth to a beautiful daughter more radiant and warming than the Midsummer Sun.

So, though as Jukebox readers will know I’m rarely stumped for le mot juste, I stuttered and stuttered trying to think of words that could in any way sum up the depths of my feelings.

Luckily, I then remembered that Bob Dylan had tenderly expressed all that I could ever want to say in his great benediction song to a newborn, ‘Forever Young’.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

 

For Heather from Grandad.

May you stay Forever Young.

 

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

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

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

That would be sensible.

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

No such thing.

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

Time to get the motor running.

Head out on the highway.

Adventure is bound to come our way.

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

Let’s roar through Nebraska whinin’.

Let’s head out for the mountains.

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

Let’s worry about absolutely nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

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

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

 

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Oh Boy are we gonna get out of Denver.

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

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

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

Bye, Bye, Bye.

We’re getting straight outta Denver.

Straight outta Denver.

Fire her up Bob!

Fire her up!

 

 

Bob Seger is the real deal.

He did all the hard yards in his native Detroit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go! Go! Go!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madeleine Peyroux sings Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen & Hank Williams

Charisma is hard to define but easy to recognise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Now, it’s immediately obvious that Madeleine swings.

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

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

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

Safely gathered in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hank is dead for 60 years now.

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

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

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

Fall apart.

Oh God forgive us if we cry.

Forgive us if we cry.

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

 

 

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

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

Now wasn’t that pure pleasure!

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

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

Load up your Jukeboxes!

Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams : Drifting Too Far From The Shore

Out on the perilous deep
Where dangers silently creep

I’m gonna die today.

29 last month.

And, I’m gonna die today.

Consider this my last letter.

About 12 hours from now I’m gonna take that slow walk.

To The Chair.

To The Chair.

I been drifting too far from the shore for a long time now.

Drifting too far.

Counting down the hours sets your mind thinking all right.

Mine goes back to the beginning.

A cabin in the Piney Woods.

Listening to the radio at night with the moon and stars shining through the windows and ol’ Bill Monroe (with Mama’s harmony) singing me to sleep.

Ain’t no one sing like Bill.

Today, the Tempest rose high,
And clouds o’ershadow the sky

There’s many a guy in here who’ll look you straight in the eye and tell you they is innocent.

Not one of them telling the truth.

Well, not me.

Not me.

I’m here because I killed a man.

Shot him twice through the heart.

Caught him carrying on with my wife.

Glad I done it.

Ain’t no reprieve from The Governor coming.

Just counting down the hours.

Counting down the hours.

Eight hours now.

Eight hours.

Drifting too far from the shore.

Drifting too far.

Can’t get that song out of my head.

Come to Jesus today,
Let Him show you the way

Padre came.

Told me all about repentance and forgiveness.

Told me all about tender mercies waiting for me.

Mama would have said the same.

Jesus name was never very far from her lips.

Just tidying up she would be singing, ‘Kneel At The Cross’ or, ‘Just A Closer Walk’.

She was a true believer.

True believer.

Never did take with me.

No, when you go.

You go.

No Sun. No Moon.

No Heaven. No Hell.

Black earth and the worms.

Four hours now.

Four hours.

Still, I sure would like to hear Mama sing Drifting Too Far one more time.

No one forgets their Mama’s voice.

No One.

One more time Mama – as I drift further and further away.

Further and further away.

Sure death is hovering nigh,
You’re drifting too far from shore

Well, I had my steak and eggs.

Everybody’s lined up.

Lined up to take me away.

Minutes not hours now.

Minutes not hours.

Drifting too far from the shore.

Drifting too far.

I’m gonna stand up straight and walk with my head up.

Ain’t gonna cry or scream.

Keep my eyes open wide when they shave my legs and head.

Can’t get that song out of my head.

This time.

This last time it’s Hank Williams I hear.

He never made it to thirty too.

If there’s one man who looked over the River of Death then it has to be Hank.

He walked with Death all his life.

Walk with me now Hank.

Walk with me.

Hold my hand Hank.

Hold my hand.

Hold …

Notes:

If you want to assess the influence and reach of Drifting Too Far From The Shore consider this statement from Bob Dylan The Keeper of American Song:

Maybe when I was about ten, I started playing the guitar. I found a guitar… in the house that my father bought, actually.

I found something else in there, it was kind of mystical overtones. There was a great big mahogany radio, that had a 78 turntable–when you opened up the top.

And I opened it up one day and there was a record on there–country record–a song called “Drifting Too Far From The Shore.”

The sound of the record made me feel like I was somebody else …
that I was maybe not even born to the right parents or something.”

Bill Monroe – the Father of Bluegrass and one of the greatest figures in 20th Century music first recorded Drifting Too Far with his brother Charlie in the 1930s.

I like to think this was the mystical version that opened up Bob’s head!

The RCA/Bluebird recordings of The Monroe Brothers are eternal treasures.

Boone Creek – featured the wonderful high tenor voice of Ricky Scaggs and the Dobro King, Jerry Douglas.

Their late 70s recordings, ‘Boone Creek’ on Rounder and, ‘One Way Track’ on Sugarhill glow with passion.

Emmylou Harris – Her luminous version of Drifting Too Far is from her, ‘Angel Band’ collection of Country Gospel songs.

Hank Williams – His version was unreleased during his lifetime. One thing I can say – you can never have too many Hank Williams records.