Bobby Charles, Doug Sahm and Mark Knopfler : Tennessee Blues

A true message always gets through.

Songs that speak truthfully to the ebbing and flowing tides of our lives take on a life of their own cutting distinctive channels in our hearts.

Such songs as Bob Dylan says ‘get up and walk’ away from their composers and become community treasures.

Treasures cherished by what I still think of as the ‘record buying public’ and perhaps even more so by fellow songwriters who recognise a classic song with such lyrical and melodic grace that it seems to demand new interpretations.

The song taking pride of place on The Immmortal Jukebox today is an absolute Peach – ‘Tennessee Blues’ written and first performed by the late, great, Bobby Charles.

I can imagine brows being furrowed at the name – Bobby Charles?

Now, you may not be a fully paid up, got the T Shirt and the Box Set, fan like me but believe me you know and can croon along to several Bobby Charles songs.

How about, ‘See You Later Alligator’ or ‘Walking To New Orleans’ not to mention ‘Before I Grow Too Old’ or ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ for starters.

Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Frogman Henry had the Chart hits but they all came from the pen and piano of Abbeville La native Robert Charles Guidry – Bobby Charles.

Bobby’s own versions of his songs are uniformally lovely with, ‘Tennessee Blues’ from his glowing 1972 album produced by The Band’s Rick Danko winning the garland for the most lovely of all.


From the ‘Trust us, we’ll take our own sweet time with this one’ opening bars you just know Tennessee Blues is gonna be a Keeper!

There’s a free flowing lazy certainty to the way the song proceeds.

Everything feels natural, unhurried, ripe and right.

Listening you feel like you’re gently rocking to and fro, deliciously half asleep, in a summer hammock.

By now, having lived with this song for decades, as soon as the song starts I can feel the tears welling up and my Boot Heels get ready to go wandering once again round the dance floor with my Darling.

And as we twirl, lost in the Music, we find a place where we don’t have to worry.

A place where we feel loose.

A place alive with the sound of running water and the trills of birds in the trees.

A place to forget all those regrets.

A place where we can settle and stay.

A place to be at peace.

To be at peace.

Oh, a place where you lose all those blues.

All those Blues.

Those Tennessee Blues.

Here, Bobby Charles has written and sung a Song that enchants.

A Song that’s balm for the bruised heart, the weary mind and the thirsty soul.

I’m not 100% certain of the musician credits but that’s surely Amos Garrett (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) playing the tender guitar licks and The Band’s instrumental maestro Garth Hudson playing the heartbreaking Accordion.

N. D. Smart on Drums and Jim Colegrove on Bass.

Violin courtesy of Harry Lookofsky (the Father of ‘Walk Away Renee’ writer Michael Brown.

The sense of ancient sway they create together is truly magical.

A magic that was recognised by one of the most good hearted of all musicians San Antonio’s own favourite Son – Doug Sahm.

Doug cuts deep, imbuing Tennessee Blues with tender Texas Soul.



Doug’s vocal takes us up to the Mountain Tops and down to the lapping lake side waters where we might bathe and be born again.

Born again.

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean Mark Knopfler, taking time out from his leadership responsibilities with Dire Straits, found peace and nourishment returning to the Americana sounds that had first inspired him to take up the Guitar and search out the chords for the songs he would write himself.

His companions, collectively The Notting Hillbillies, were Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker.

In their hands Tennessee Blues takes on the character of aching night prayer – a compline service for lost saloon souls.

We are all searching for that place.

That place of shaded valleys and cool reviving streams.

That place where our regrets and worries dissolve in the warm breeze.

That place of peace.

Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues takes us there and gives us the strength to carry that peace within us as we travel on.


Notes :

Tennessee Blues can be found on the Rhino Encore CD ‘Bobby Charles’ – unreservedly recommended!

I also love:

The Bear Family compilation, ‘See You Later Alligator’

‘Last Train To Memphis’ from Rice and Gravy

‘Home Made Songs’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’

Bobby Charles died in 2010

His songs will endure.

Christmas Cornucopia : Second Day

Second Day featuring:

A Painting by Fra Angelico (1395 to 1455)

A poem by U A Fanthorpe (1929 to 2009)

Music by Eartha Kitt, Harry Fontenot and Gustav Mahler sung by Kahleen Ferrier.


Today’s painting by Fra Angelico has long haunted my imagination since I first saw it in The Convent of San Marco in Florence.

It is a representation of an epochal event, The Annunciation, which holds human time and eternity in perfect balance.


When Kathleen Ferrier recorded, ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ the shadow of death was looming over her.

This is music making of the very highest order.

Here Kathleen Ferrier does not so much perform a song as become the song.

The rare emotional reach of her extraordinary voice bringing flesh and spirit to Mahler’s masterwork touches something very deep and unnameable within humanity.


Our sleigh moves on from yesterday sliding us forward on our Christmas journey.

Today we start with a song from an authentic show business legend – Miss Eartha Kitt and her classic, slinkily sensuous 1953 recording, ‘Santa Baby’.

Eartha performs the Springer brothers and Joan Javitt’s song in her trademark knowing style. As the song progresses Eartha makes a series of increasingly outrageous demands on Santa’s generosity.

All she wants is a sable, a convertible (light blue), a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine (gold being so common), a duplex, Tiffany jewellery and a ring (64 carat for sure).

Eartha’s vocal here supported by Henri Rene and his orchestra is a study in practiced come hither allure. The cynical lyric is caressed as she reels in our attention.

Seeing her perform the song live is to see a siren setting a song ablaze with the flames licking around the mesmerised audience.

Everything Eartha did carried a charge of the exotic – she looked, moved and spoke like no one else building on her black, Cherokee and White heritage and dance training to create a unique image that demanded the audience’s deference and worship.

Orson Welles famously called her the most exciting woman in the world and while others of her era like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor might have taken issue with that claim they too would surely have admired the sheer dramatic daring of Eartha’s regal performance of, ‘Santa Baby’.

Come on Santa – hurry down the chimney and don’t forget the sable.

Fr Josef Mohr wrote a poem in 1816 he called, ‘Stille Nacht’. Two years later on Christmas Eve 1818 with a midnight mass in prospect he decided to visit his friend Franz Gruber a choirmaster and organist to see if there was any chance of turning, ‘Stille Nacht’ from a poem into a carol to perform that night.

Mohr had to walk several kilometres to se his friend who set to work with such vigour and inspiration that an arrangement for guitar and voice of, ‘Stille Nacht’ was ready as the two set off to Fr Mohr’s church in Oberndorf.

So, in the cold of an Austrian night on Christmas Eve 1818 the carol, ‘Stille Nacht’ or, ‘Silent Night’ as it is known in the English speaking world was sung for the very first time.

Neither of the writers or the congregation could possible have known that the heartfelt simplicity of, ‘Silent Night’ contained a spiritual power and attractiveness that would go on to make it perhaps the most loved of all church based Christmas songs.

Congregations all over the world this Christmas Eve will echo the words and melody created nearly two hundred years ago and find that it’s magic never fades.

There is no counting the number of versions available of, ‘Silent Night’. The one I have chosen to showcase here is by a gorgeous Cajun version by accordionist Harry Fontenot.

I love the rustic simplicity of this version – it seems to me the kind of sound that would not have sounded out of place in a stable with animals and shepherds gathered around to witness an event that was at once entirely commonplace – the birth of a child.

And yet all present had the sense that this birth was something very special that would remake the world for all eternity.

‘Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright ……….

The poem providing our extract today is the short but immensely wise, ‘BC : AD’ by the much under rated U A Fanthorpe.

‘… And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.’

Sugar Bee: A Saturday Night Cajun Drunkard’s Dream (Cleveland Crochet)

‘Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about my money, don’t try to save
My Heart says go, go! Have a time … ‘.

(Little Richard – ‘Rip It Up’ Bumps Blackwell/John Marascalso)

‘Saturday morning, oh Saturday morning All my tiredness has gone away
Got my money and my honey And I’m out on the town to play
Sunday morning, my head is bad
But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had’.

(Fats Domino – ‘Blue Monday’ Dave Bartholomew/Fats Domino)

‘When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go?
Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, Little Bessie, girl that I once knew ..’

(The Band – ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ Robbie Robertson)

As dawn broke one morning during Christmas holidays I found myself suddenly, startlingly awake with the refrain:

‘Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee,
Sugar bee – look what you done to me’

looping over and over in my head.

While there is nothing approaching the orderly majesty of the Dewey Decimal system about my filing system for songs and song lyrics I am pleased to report that before the refrain had looped ten times a light bulb in my mind had illuminated the name, ‘Cleveland Crochet & Hillbilly Ramblers’ and presented me with a picture of a neon yellow Goldband Records 45 that was securely stored in my collection of essential Cajun singles.

Fifteen minutes later the record was spinning on my old portable deck and the whole house, guests and all, was dancing at a Surrey Woods Fais do-do! (Cajun dance party).

Now it’s only fair that you should have the opportunity to cut a rug and set this classic looping in your head too (and once it’s in your head I have to tell you it’s there for life!) So without further ado:

Sugar Bee was, in 1961, the first slice of pure Cajun music to break into the Billboard top 100. So the whole nation had the chance to catch up with the Saturday night delights that the Lake Charles patrons of The Shamrock and Moulin Rouge had been dancing and carousing to for over a decade.

It’s hot and humid in Lake Charles and when you’ve spent all week breaking your back working construction or in the oil fields you sure as hell need to go out to spend your money on Saturday night somewhere you’re guaranteed to have a whirling fine, fine time drinking and dancing, drinking and dancing – with a side order of flirting and fighting until itstime to fall down or be carried home.

And if that’s what you’re looking for a Cajun dance hall with a Cajun band like Cleveland Crochet and The Hillbilly Ramblers can’t be beat!

Cleveland’s up there on the Bandstand setting that fiddle on fire while Shorty Leblanc is cutting through the layers of smoke and befuddlement with his wake the dead accordion licks.

cleveland crochet

Keeping that dancing rhythm always alive is Charlie Babineaux on guitar and gliding over the top on the Steel guitar and laying down the vocals we have Jesse ‘Jay’ Stutes. Allons -y!

Sometimes the songs are sung in Cajun French sometimes in Cajun English – either way the message of loves won and lost and of a proud people celebrating their uncelebrated culture comes through loud and clear.

As Sugar Bee plays you can practically feel the hardwood floor bouncing up and down as the couples foot stompingly circle the dance hall.

This is gloriously rough and rowdy music with the kick of over proof corn liquor. And, the more you have the more you want – don’t worry about Sunday’s hangover it’s going to be more than worth it for the times that you’ve had! Ah! Lets get it man.

Cleveland was a 1919 born native of Hathaway, Louisiana who found, like so many, that Lake Charles offered regular work and all the luridly promised temptations of the city in full measure.

He had formed the Ramblers by 1950 and began recording for Folk-Star and Leader for the local Cajun market. Hooking up with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in 1960, amplifying their sound and singing in English led to their great breakout hit (of course the record business being a cut-throat Business meant that Cleveland wasn’t exactly able to retire on the proceeds of his hit!).

But, he had made an immortal record that would go on to become a Cajun anthem and there are riches in Heaven for that.

And, I hear you ask – is the B side any good?

Damn right it is! ‘Drunkard’s Dream’ is for that time of the night when you and your dance partner are really in step and in tune (and likely more than three floors drunk!).

Now, you’re floating over the floor and the lights are gleaming like jewels and you don’t know or care what time it is and what time, if ever, you will get home. All you really know is that you wish this dance would never end. And the words of the song waltz and waltz around your mind ;

‘J’ai arrive hier au soir (z)a La maison
J’ai cogne, j’ai crie, j’ai pas de reponse
J’ai connu, (z)au moment que t’etais pas la
Quel espoir, quel avenir mais moi j’peux avoir?’

Monday morning, Blue Monday, will, as it always maddeningly does, come around and you will have to sweat and strain through another week of loveless labour. Yet, just at the limit of your vision is always the promise of another Saturday night when the Sugar Bee will fly again and all the drunkard’s can dance and dream to their hearts content.


The hard to find Cleveland Crochet compilation on Goldband is well worth the search. Individual Hillbilly Rambler tracks are scattered across many fine Cajun collections.

I recommend versions of Sugar Bee by Canned Heat, Wayne Toups, Jimmy C Newman (live on the excellent Marty Stuart TV show), Jo-El Sonnier, Dr Feelgood and The Interns and Gene Taylor.’