Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Emmylou Harris : West Texas Waltz

In which combining my passions for Cricket and Music I get to share pints of plain with 2 of the greatest modern songwriters ( Guy Clark & Butch Hancock), dance like the dickens and find a motto for life :

‘…Now only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

In 1985 I bought my first property.

A flat in Kennington, South of the River Thames.

New daily coordinates.

A three minute walk to Oval Tube Station.

A 15 minute train ride to Oxford Circus for work (Times crossword finished before Green Park).

Eight minutes walk to The Oval Cricket Ground.

The Oval is the home of the Surrey County Cricket Team and a Test Match venue.

Nothing better than to leave work early citing a vital meeting (you can get away with that when you’re the Boss) and instead catch the last couple of hours play of a county match as the late afternoon sun merged into twilight.

Five minutes walk to The Cricketers Pub (now sadly defunct) where between 1985 and 1990 I regularly drank pints of Guinness as I watched a series of brilliant performers give their all to an audience that never numbered above a couple of hundred.

The Cricketers became a home from home.

I became enough of a regular to get Kenny, who ran the bar, greet me with ‘affectionate’ South London Geezer abuse as I ordered my porter.

Pint in hand I would settle down to watch lions of English Roots music like Davey Graham, Ralph McTell and Bert Jansch give master classes in intimate performance.

I seem to remember The Pogues played a week long residency just before they hit the big time.

I say seem to remember because at Pogue’s gigs it was mandatory to drink until you would have to think very carefully indeed before answering the question if anyone asked you what your name was!

THE CRICKETERS PUBLIC HOUSE, KENNINGTON OVAL

Jim, who booked the acts for The Cricketers, must have had very good taste and connections because in addition to home grown talent he also booked world class performers like Steve Earle, Nick Cave with The Birthday Party and Giant Sand.

Absolute highlights for me were the, ‘Texas Texture’ gigs where you could tune in to the Lone Star sensibility of a cult hero like Terry Allen and find that yes indeed, he was :

a panhandling, Man handlin’, Post holin’, High rollin’, Dust Bowlin’…Daddy

and metaphorically lift a can of Pearl to a Texas Treasure.

But, the gig that will always have pride of place in my memory is the one when Guy Clark and Butch Hancock brought in their being and songs the essence of the immense state of Texas to a tiny stage before a hundred folks or so in South London.

For some reason that night I was first in as the doors opened and found sitting quietly at the back sipping pints of plain none other than Guy and Butch.

It wasn’t long before I had presented them with further pints and told Guy that his Album, ‘Old No 1’ with, ‘Let Him Roll’, ‘Rita Ballou” and, ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’ was in my Top 10 of all time.

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I flat out begged him to sing, ‘Texas 1947’  which I regarded as a good as any Train Song ever written (and dear reader I can confirm that Guy did play the song for me that night).

Turning to Butch I remember saying that it was given to very few song writers to write a truly immortal song but I had no doubt that, ‘She Never Spoke Spanish to Me’ was just such a song.

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I reeled off my favourite lines :

‘Saints and sinners all agree
Spanish is a loving tongue
But she never spoke Spanish to me
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She said, “If you’re from Texas, son
Then where’s your boots and where’s your gun?”
I smiled and said, “I got guns, no-one can see”.
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and said if he played the song that night I would buy him as many pints as he could drink! (and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Butch played it for me).

I also told Butch that his record, ‘West Texas Waltzes & Dust Blown Tractor Tunes’ was a nigh permanent resident on my turntable and that I had framed the cover with the legend, ‘Voice, Guitar and Foot’ on my living room wall.

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Again I unhesitatingly launched into some favourite lines :

‘Park your Pickups and Cadillacs, Fords and Renaults

Get up and dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’

‘I count my blessings, not my faults,

I like to dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’

‘…Now only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

‘And the other is somethin’, but really it’s nothing’ to speak of it’s something to do

If you’ve done it before, youll be doin’ it some more Just as soon as the dancin’ is through’.

Sure enough when it was Butch’s turn to take the stage his opening salvo was :

Now tell me, didn’t all your aches and pains, your worries and cares, your anxiety and arthritis seem completely cured as you danced like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz!

You can hear ‘Workshirt’ Bob Dylan there and Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers – the true troubadours of the age.

You can hear the West Texas Wind blowing across the endless plain.

You can hear the tractor engine hummin’ as it turns over the Texas soil.

You can feel the charge in the West Texas Air.

Feel the flat land and the endless Sky.

It’s a song that’s good for dancin’ and romancin’ so grab your sweetheart and jump in your car!

And if anyone asks you why you’ve got such a sloppy grin all over your face why you tell ’em it’s because you’ve been dancin’ like the dickens to The West Texas Waltz.

Now, West Texas Waltz has become something of a Texas Anthem that any right thinkin’ performer form Texas feels honour bound to play to prove their Lone Star credentials.

When Butch was growing up in Lubbock another would be songwriter, two years younger, was growing up a couple of streets away – Joe Ely.

Butch, Joe and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, would later form, ‘The Flatlanders’ a West Texas Super Group!

Swappin’ Songs would become second nature to them.

Joe Ely has always been a natural showman who can get every last drop of juice from a song.

Listen to the sheer vitality and chutzpah he brings to West Texas Waltz.

Go on – Bind up your bunions with band-aids and gauze and …..

 

When speakin’ of dancin’ and romancin’ the thoughts of The Jukebox invariably turn in the direction of Emmylou Harris.

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And, wouldn’t you just know it, with the great Flaco Jimenez on accordion, hasn’t she recorded a deliciously dreamy version of West Texas Waltz just for me and you and every other would be love lorn West Texan.

‘…Now only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

Clear the floor!

I will bid you adios with the man himself .

Now your Pickup might need a tune up and who knows your tractor might be actin’ up – but count your blessings, don’t count your faults.

Get out and dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz!

 

We al have days when we struggle to tell a cow from a horse.

Only one thing for it – lace up your best dancin’ shoes and waltz away those blues.

‘Cause as we all know by now ;

…. only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

 

Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens : The Streets of Bakersfield

‘I came here looking for something I couldn’t find anywhere else’.

Note – The YouTube clips below all play in the UK. If corporate powers block them where you are i am sure you can find alternative clips for the songs.

Where you headed?

The answer is sometimes geographical, sometimes metaphorical and sometimes aspirational.

Down the road a piece.

Over the hills and far away.

Off these corkscrew hillbilly highways to the broad Freeway.

I might need two pair of shoes but I’m walking to New Orleans.

Kansas City – they got some pretty little women there and I’m gonna get me one.

High over Albuquerque on a jet to the Promised Land.

New York, New York – if I can make it there I can make it anywhere!

Sometimes you move for the most basic of reasons – to find a job that pays well.

Especially if you’ve grown up somewhere where the jobs are few and everyone treats you like a nobody.

Get yourself a good job that pays real folding green and you get a chance to be yourself.

Write your own story.

So, pack your grip (who did you ever know who had a trunk) and head off for the desert heat and the oilfields of the San Joaquin Valley.

Head out for the Streets of Bakersfield!

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Bakersfield.

Now, if you’ve got a broad back and two strong arms and plenty of nerve there’s work a plenty in the Oil Fields.

Work a plenty.

Guys here from Oklahoma, Arkansas and The Appalachians.

Guess it’s a new migration.

And, when your days work is done, with a bulging wallet, you can take those sore muscles down to a Bar or Roadhouse where the beer flows freely and dive into that Whisky River any time you feel like it.

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Now, you’ve come to drink and dance and it won’t be you who starts a fight .. but if it starts you ain’t gonna be hugging the wall.

Mister, I don’t care if you don’t like me.

Yea, I’ve spent a night or two in the can and I ain’t proud of everything I’ve done.

But, better not think that you can judge me – not unless you’ve walked these streets of Bakersfield.

No, turn the music up good and loud and let’s have ourselves a real fine time!

Drop a coin into The Jukebox and clear the floor.

Don’t want any of that weepy, air conditioned Nashville Sound.

No, something that’s got drive and bite.

Telecasters and Drums, Fiddle and Steel, enough to really shake a hard wood floor.

Songs that move and tell a story you know is true.

Don’t worry about tomorrow’s hangover – it’ll be worth it for the time we’ve had.

The Bakersfield Sound and no one is more Bakersfield than Buck Owens.

Buck and The Buckeroos – now that’s a blazin’ Band!

 

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Hell, you could fill a Jukebox just with Buck Hits and dance without stoppin’ until the Sun comes up again.

‘Act Naturally’, ‘My Heart Skips a Beat’, ‘Tiger by the Tail’, ‘Together Again’, ‘Buckaroo’, ‘Waitin’ in the Welfare Line’, ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass’.

Jimmy, the Bar Keep, who knows everything about Buck says he’s racked up 20 Number One Country Hits and he ain’t done yet.

Funny enough the Buck song that I punched more than any other on The Jukebox barely made it to the Charts under his own name.

Maybe by ’73 the caravan had passed Buck by.

Still, if I’ve got to pick one Buck song it’s always gonna be, ‘The Streets Of Bakersfield’.

That’s a true Workin’ Man’s Song!

I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’

I’ve worn blisters on my heels

Trying to find me something better on the streets of Bakersfield

You don’t know me but you don’t like me – you care less how I feel

But how many of you who sit and judge me ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

The Streets of Bakersfield?

Sing it Buck.

Sing it good and loud!

Now, there’s quite a story about how the song came to be recorded.

It was written by Homer Joy in November 1972 when he came to Buck’s Bakersfield Studio hoping to record some of the songs he had written after he had churned out a Hank Williams tribute disc.

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Except, after the Hank record was done he found that the Studio was blocked booked by Buck himself rehearsing for a tour.

Though Homer turned up every day at 8am ready to record he was told, day after day, ”Come back tomorrow’ and there was nothing for it but to grow even more blisters walking the streets of Bakersfield!

Eventually Homer’s patience snapped and the taken aback Studio Manager said:

‘OK, OK, play me one of these songs you think are so great and I’ll see what I can do’.

Fired up, Homer launched into a new song, written in sheer frustration at his current situation, ‘The Streets of Bakersfield’.

Now, some songs just hit you right between the eyes and this was one.

That very night Homer played the song to Buck and before you know it Buck had recorded it – featuring it on his 1973 Album, ‘Is Not It Amazing Gracie’.

But, though everyone recognised this was one damn fine song it didn’t make the wide world stand up and applaud.

So, it seemed Homer wouldn’t get the fat payday every struggling songwriter hopes is just around the corner if only a big star would record one of your songs.

Yet, as The Jukebox will never tire of saying:

 ‘A true message always gets through – sometime it just takes a while’.

And, this message, got through some 15 years later through the intervention of Jukebox favourite, Dwight Yoakam.

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Dwight, as a proper classicist, had always been a big fan of Buck’s music and had derived much inspiration from the straight to the heart and gut twang of the Bakersfield Sound.

He was therefore immensely pleased to learn that Buck approved of his sound and was keeping a watchful eye on his fledgling career.

Buck, by the late 80’s was seemingly more or less retired never having fully recovered from the tragic death of his right hand man, Don Rich.

The lightning and thunder that they had created together was gone.

But, talking with Dwight and listening to his sound convinced Buck that maybe, just maybe, there might be one more rumble and bolt yet.

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So, get in the Studio, crank up the voltage, have Pete Anderson pick that Tele fast and sweet,  have those drums really kickin’, add some norteno accordion (no one better than Flaco Jimenez), swop charismatic vocals and I do believe we got ourselves a monster Hit!

That’ll be the 21st Number One for Buck and the very first for Dwight!

Alright Dwight! Thank You Buck!

Jukebox devotees will know I love my Boots and I gotta say my Dan Post Okeechobee Westerns got to do some serious stompin’ there!

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The respect and admiration Dwight and Buck had for each other was real and enduring giving a fillip to both their careers.

Looking at the live clip below you can’t not be swept away by the sheer joy of music making.

Both of them being themselves and having a real fine time.

I came here looking for something …..

In memory of Buck Owens 1929-2006 and Homer Joy 1945-2012.

Buck Owens :

Buck was a great singles artist so I always have the 3 Volumes of his Capitol Singles covering the period 1957 to 1975 close at hand.

Satisfaction absolutely guaranteed!

Thank You Buck – always.

Note :

Check out Youtube for a fabulous live version featuring Dwight and Ry Cooder.

 

Gretchen Peters : On A Bus to St Cloud

We are all Pilgrims.

And, each of us has to make the pilgrimage in our own way loaded with our own unique blessings and burdens.

Though we may walk with no visible companions no one truly walks alone.

For shadowing your footsteps are shades and ghosts.

The shade of the wide eyed child you were staring up at the infinitely promising night sky.

The shade of the teenager who would never be so foolish as to take the wrong turns made by those who thought themselves wiser because they were older.

The ghost of the daredevil seven year old, always out in front of you, who went too far ahead one day, laughing as he ran into the road – never making it to the other side.

The ghosts of your father and mother smiling awkwardly for the wedding photographer with faith in the unknown future bright in their eyes.

The ghosts of friends and lovers who are lost to you now for reasons you can only guess at or can’t face.

The shade of the person you were yesterday and the shade of the person you are in the process of becoming.

The ghost of the one you just couldn’t save though you tried with all your might.

And, cresting a hill, drawing breath to look at the view, you might for a fleeting moment catch a glimpse of one of those shades or ghosts and find the tears, of joy or deep regret, falling unbidden.

Or lulled by the rhythm of the wheels of a Bus to St Cloud with the snow falling around like a silent prayer you might be almost sure that face in the crowd is the face that slipped out of view so long ago that’s been haunting your dreams for so many years.

A face you’d almost, almost, given up hope of ever seeing again.

Oh,I was sure it was you.

Sure it was you.

Oh, it’s strange but it’s true.

And, I hate you so.

And, I love you so.

But I miss you most.

With the snow falling all around like a silent prayer.

Standing, blinking, as the snow falls you wonder about the shades and the ghosts.

Could you have done more?

How did you let them just slip away?

We think of those who disappeared from our lives as lost but maybe they found what they were seeking and it is us who are lost.

We all live and breathe and hope in Mystery.

We all make choices we wish we could travel back in time to change.

And, for those who are lost, not least ourselves, sometimes there is nothing else but to fall on your knees and weep and hope that some stronger arm might lift you up.

Lift you up.

For the snow is sure to fall.

Sure to fall,

Sometimes bringing a gleaming light to the surrounding darkness.

Sometimes a shining manna from heaven.

Sometimes a shroud falling softly all around.

Falling softly on the dark waves.

Falling softly on the lonely churchyards.

Falling softly on the crooked crosses and headstones.

Falling softly on the barren thorns.

Falling upon all the living and the dead.

Just a face in the crowd.

And its strange but it’s true.

Strange but it’s true.

And I hate you so.

And I love you so.

But I miss you most.

I was sure, sure, it was you.

With the snow falling all around.

Notes :

Gretchen Peters writes songs distinguished by their emotional intelligence.

Her songs seem like glimpses into lives we all might have led or encountered.

She has a particular gift for writing songs featuring telling but not overloaded details so that the listener inevitably fleshes out the narratives in line with their own stories making the experience all the richer.

All her Albums have songs which will live with you.

The first version above is to be found on her 1996 debut Record, ‘The Secret of Life’.

The second version, a mature reconsideration of her signature song, is from 2011 and features Barry Walsh on Keyboards.

The third version comes from 2016 at the Celtic Connections Music Festival. Jerry Douglas, the Dobro King, provides the falling snow.

 

The Immortal Jukebox’s Greatest Hit : Mary Gauthier (I Drink), Iris Dement (Easy Getting Harder) Ordinary/Extraordinary Stories

I was downing a couple of bottles of Mr Whitehead’s excellent cider at the, ‘Pub With No Name’ the other evening and fell into conversation with one of the hostelry’s regulars who commented (approvingly) on my most recent post on, ‘The Third Man’.

He told me that he’d been following The Jukebox since 2017 and must have by now read more than a hundred posts.

I asked him did he have any favourites and he replied :

‘Well, I’m a major Van Morrison fan and can see he is your specialist subject so I always look out for those. And, I always think there’s never enough written about The Blues so I especially enjoyed your Post on Little Walter.

Still, I would also have to say some of the Posts I’ve found most intriguing have been about artists I had never heard of previously like Arthur Alexander, Toussaint McCall and Paul Brady’.

He added, ‘How many Posts have you written since you started?’

I quickly looked up my Stats and said to my own astonishment, ‘I can hardly believe it but it seems I’ve published more than 320 Posts since March 2014’.

As he ordered up another round of drinks Declan mused, ‘I suppose your most popular Post must be one about one of the classic Baby Boomer artists like Van or Dylan or Carole King?’

‘Actually, you’d be surprised’ I said.

‘The most popular Post ever, by a significant margin, is the Post I wrote on Mary Gauthier and Iris Dement – who are not exactly household names!’

‘And, its a Post that every week, in countries all over the globe is being discovered by new readers’.

He immediately looked it up on his iPad (other tablets are available) and when he had finished reading said:

‘Well, those are two great songs and I like the way you’ve introduced the theme of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of all our lives. How many followers did you have when you wrote this?’

‘ A couple of hundred then and more than 10,000 now’ I replied.

‘That’s a lot of people who probably haven’t read your most popular post – you ought to ReBlog it!’.

So for Declan and all of you who haven’t yet read it here’s my Greatest Hit!

‘It’s just an ordinary story about the way things go … Round and round nobody knows but the highway goes on forever’ (Rodney Crowell)

‘It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.’ (Raymond Carver)

I live an ordinary life.

So do you.

Yet, I guarantee that if we sat down and talked honestly about the lives we have led, the people we have met, the narrative arc of our lives; including the successes, the mis-steps, the fulfilled and broken dreams, the regrets and the wonders, that we would each think the other has led a truly extraordinary life.

All our lives contain experiences we struggle to understand and come to terms with: unresolved longings, fault lines, tender wounds, hidden scars. In a very real sense we will always remain mysteries to ourselves.

I believe that our attraction to art – to stories and songs – is because the best of them resonate with and go some way to help explain the eternal mystery of why we exist and why we have turned out the way we have.

A great song can be our pilgrim’s companion and staff as we navigate through life’s slalom ride of fate and happenstance while attempting to fashion a connected, meaningful life.

The singer-songwriters featured on the Jukebox today; Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier, share the ability to look compassionately, honestly and unflinchingly at ‘everyday lives’ illuminating them with sharp eyed, flinty, observations and heart rending detail.

These are songs about the dignity and indignities of real lives not adverts for ‘lifestyles’. Popular culture, as these artists demonstrate, can offer far more than mere consumer branding: it can offer us the insights and balm of art we yearn for as we struggle to make it through, or knock off, another ordinary day.

Iris Dement’s early childhood was spent, as the youngest of fourteen children on a tiny island in rural north eastern Arkansas before her father moved the family to California, as millions had done before, in search of work and a better future.

Crucially, she was also raised in the bosom of the Pentecostal Church with a mother who daily sang its sweet consoling hymns as she went about her domestic tasks – a process Iris recreates with tender love in her song, ‘Mama’s Opry’.

The influence of those hymns pervades all of Iris’ songs though her own relationship with faith has been troubled.

Her songs seem to me always to be charged with a sense of the sublime, a conviction that every life, however small, burdened and disregarded, carries a light that shines through the darkest hours.

Above all, the gospel influence is felt by the listener through her voice: a gloriously cracked country voice that throbs with yearning passion. It’s a voice made to embody intense emotions, a voice that cannot and will not be denied.

At the end of an Iris Dement song I always feel both uplifted and exhausted no matter what the subject of the song because her vocals are freighted with a humanity of heart, flesh, blood, bone and spirit that hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

A punch that takes away the breath while reawakening you to the miracle of every breath you take.

‘Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day’ is Iris Dement’s finest song and one of the best songs ever written about the passions, dreads and torments involved in living a seemingly ‘everyday’ life’.

The song steadily, plainly and without hysteria or pity presents us with a portrait of a mature, self aware woman struggling to come to terms with the sense of strangled entrapment she feels in her marriage, her job and her community.

The beauty and art of the song lies in the dry eyed simplicity with which the weight of accumulating straws on the back of the protagonist are evoked: the rain, the buzzing alarm clock, the marital conversations and lovemaking reduced to mechanical routine.

The radio mast lights blink on simultaneously highlighting and mocking her dreams of another life with a different name in another town. She knows she will never make it to Couer d’Alene. And yet, though Easy’s getting harder every day she carries on.

She carries on.

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Mary Gauthier writes songs of bright boned shocking intensity.

Before she took up songwriting in her thirties she had lived a life filled with more drama and incident than Dickens himself would have dared invented in a multi volume novel.

She has been; an orphaned foundling, a teenage runaway and a street and college student of philosophy. She has known the degredation of addiction and the unremitting daily struggles of recovery. She has been arrested and jailed and also triumphed as a highly successful Cajun Cook and Restaurateur.

All the while with her keen intelligence and moral rigour she was storing away these experiences so that when she came to write her own songs she could have no truck with dishonesty or glib sentimentality.

There is an almost brutal matter-of-factness in many of her songs.

She is able to honestly describe desperate lives lived the gutter because she has been there. There is respect but no romance in her descriptions of such lives.

It is the test of a true artist to be able to present recognisable living characters but not to idly judge them.

The reader or listener can do that if they feel comfortable casting a stone.

‘I Drink’ was played by Bob Dylan on one of his Theme Time Radio Hour radio programmes – an accolade given to very few contemporary songwriters.

Bob, the Keeper of American Song, would have recognised the spare elegance of the song and the craft involved in creating a wholly believable genealogy of alcoholism.

This is not the testament of someone who has won through.

It is the confession of someone anchored in addiction unblinkingly reporting on the history and daily realities of that condition.

The slowly dropping hours and self absorption of the habitual drinker are superbly evoked as the narrator relates the banal details of how he cooks his TV dinner and the flatly acknowledged realisation that the face in the mirror is the same as that of the father silhouetted in the lighter flame a generation earlier.

Mary Gauthier’s words, sung carefully with a court reporters calm and measured clarity, move beyond prose into the realm of folk poetry especially in the nursery rhyme chorus which hits home with the keening knell of pure truth.

As the silence descends at the end of the song you are left bereft and sadly aware of the terrible imprisoning and yet alluring power, for the prisoner, of such cycles of defeat and pain.

Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier with immense skill show us lives that but for fortune any one of us might have led or might be on the way to leading.

Their visions are not comfortable to confront but to avoid such visions is to impoverish our humanity and our moral imaginations.

So Pilgrim, as you listen remember that everyone you meet today and tomorrow is almost certainly in the middle of a much harder battle than you can see.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure that, wherever it comes from, I need a little mercy now.

Further Listening:

You can’t go wrong with these artists. All their CDs will repay your time with compound interest.

With Iris Dement I would start with, ‘My Life’ before moving on to, ‘Infamous Angel’, ‘Lifeline’ (a deeply moving gospel set), ‘The Way I Should’ and her comeback classic, ‘Sings The Delta’.

I was both impressed and moved by her CD, ‘The Trackless Woods’ from 2015 which Takes the Poems of the great Anna Akhamatova as the foundation for a  series of engrossing Songs.

With Mary Gauthier I would start with, ‘Drag Queens in Limousines’ and then move on to, ‘Mercy Now’, ‘The Foundling’, ‘Filth and Fire’ and ‘Trouble and Love’.

Mary’s latest project from 2018 is the very powerful, ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ which she wrote in collaboration with US Veterans and their families.

They are both well represented on YouTube and other sharing sites.

 

Teddy Thompson : Dreams of Blue Tears and A Change of Heart

The Ague.

The Lurgy.

Viral Gastroenteritis.

Whatever you call the malodorous malady the effect is the same.

Total exhaustion moderating to laid low lethargy.

So, for the last few days no morning runs for me.

No Scotch, no Bourbon, no Beer.

The height of appetite – a slice of plain toast.

The height of visual concentration – one paragraph of a book or two minutes of TV.

Is it 3 in the afternoon or three in the morning?

Sleep. Restlessly doze.  Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep.

Can’t concentrate on the radio.

What I need is music that is melodious and comforting and hauntingly familiar without being hackneyed which will faithfully abide with me as my state of consciousness veers from ten fathoms deep slumber to stunned heavy eye lidded awareness.

So, for the last 72 hours on constant repeat as the moon and sun replace each other in the heavens and my mind races with scudding dreams I have been listening to Teddy Thompson’s magnificent tribute to the Country Ballad : ‘Upfront and Downlow’ and marveling at the way his love and respect for these classic songs gives them new dimensions of beauty without any disrespect to the wonders of the original versions.

if I could sing this is exacttly how I would want to sound like singing songs of hard won wisdom and care worn truth.

Teddy is not imitating anyone.

Neither is he intimidated by any of the great artists who have taken on these songs before.

He gives an extra patina to these songs – burnishing their brilliance.

My mind performs slow aquatic somersaults as the songs flow in and out echoing each other and the all voices that sang them.

Don and Phil. Hank and Ernest. Elvis and Dolly.

Fragments of Fractured dreams abound.

Goodbye to all those castles in the air.

Guess you had a change of heart.

A change of heart.

Sing it for me Teddy.

Oh, oh, if we only could go right back to the start.

But the river flows. The river flows one way. One way.

Everyone wants, needs to believe the things the loved one says and everyone feels the same pangs when it turns out not to be that way.

In my hallucinatory dreams songs and images entwine and drift apart.

Entwine and drift apart.

Echoes echo on into infinity.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein relentlessly pursues me through the splashy salt marshes as a fireball lights up the sky.

Elisha Cook Jr gibbers as he pulls out his gat ready to drill me full of holes.

He would have done it too if Ida Lupino hadn’t beaten him to the trigger.

Echoes. Echoes. Echoes.

There’s an emptiness tonight.

There’s a longing in my heart.

Though we said that we were through …

I’ll be waiting here for you.

Waiting here for you.

And, diving to the deepest depths of my deepest dream the entwined voices, balm and blessing, of Teddy Thompson and Iris Dement.

The heart echoes every time it beats.

Til the day it echoes no more.

What time is it?

What day is it?

Where am I?

Have a care! Chap here’s run absolutely amok.

Lilian Gish rocking on her armchair cradling a shotgun.

Is it 2019 or 1959 or 1969?

Ah, I must be sick but it’s ok my mum will be coming up the stairs soon with my favourite comic, a glass of orange squash and some ice cream.

There’s a baby crying somewhere.

Is that my sister, my daughter or my granddaughter (or my son)?

Too many questions and riddles.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep . Sleep.

What’s that Elvis song you’re singing now Teddy?

Well you tried to tell me so.

But how was I to know.

Guess I’m not so smart.

You’re right, I’m left, She’s gone.

I’m left all alone.

Right. Left. Gone.

Gone.

Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac as the propeller turns and the fog descends.

You’re right, I’m left, she’s gone.

Gone.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

A boy and his father and a bicycle.

How many songs with Goodbye in the title?

Good. Bye.

See you later Alligator.

I’ll see you, even if I don’t want to, in my dreams.

Let me tell ya something sister.

Just so you know and for the avoidance of doubt.

Youve messed with my mind and heart enough.

Enough.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

I’ll help you pack.

I’ll call a cab.

I’ll pay the fare.

I ain’t building my gallows for you anymore.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

Goodbye.

 

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Mitchum and me never should have trusted Jane Greer.

Those string arrangements swirling around my head – there’s a signature there.

Whose?

Ah .. 1974. I’m in my room in college listening to the music of a previous alumni – Nick Drake and the strings are arranged by another Cambridge alumni – Robert Kirby.

Soft sift in an hourglass.

Soft soft.

1956. 1966. 1974. 1990.

Photographs fading into photographs.

The river flows.

Soft sift.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

What’s that bird at the window?

Where’s that light coming from?

I’m in no mood for sunshine today.

Waste not your warmth.

What’s that song?

What’s that song?

Fly away little blue bird.

Fly away.

Go spread your blue wings.

Go light your blue sky.

Leave me here.

Leave me here.

Me?

I’ll shed my blue tears.

My blue tears.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Thanks to Teddy and Iris and Tift and Don and Phil and Elvis and Dolly and Felice and Boudeloux for seeing me through.

Thanks Teddy.

 

Note : As always if for corporate/copyright reasons any of these clips fail to play you will find they or an alternative clip can be quickly found by a quick Google/YouTube search.

Christmas Alphabet S : Silent Night – The Everly Brothers, Sinead O’ Connor & Low

Almost there.

How to prepare?

At this Season wisdom is found not in speech but in silence.

Stand in Awe.

Commune with your own heart.

Be Still.

Hope and wait.

In Silence.

Not in the mountain rending wind.

Not in the earthquake.

Not in the fire.

A still small voice.

To listen you must be silent.

Attend to the great blue bell of silence.

Conversation flourishes when surrounded by silence.

Hidden treasures in silence sealed.

In silence sealed.

Silence of the stars and of the sea.

For the depths of what use is language?

The music is in the silence.

The silence between the notes.

Can you feel the silence?

Don and Phil Everly with The Boys Town Choir of Nebraska.

There is inestimable mystery and depth in the sound of harmonising human voices and few can have sounded those depths as heart wrenchingly as The Everly Brothers.

Can you feel the silence?

Sinead O’Connor.

A singer who takes tender care of silence.

A singer who can, shockingly for us and for herself, cut to the very quick of life.

Can you feel the silence?

From Duluth in the far North, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker – Low.

In stillness a perfect marriage of sound and silence.

Can you feel the silence?

Notes :

Thanks to –  The King James Bible, Plutarch, Charlotte Bronte, Claude Debussy, Cicero, Edgar Lee Masters and Delmore Schwartz for the inspirations.

Next Post – Christmas Eve! 

Christmas Alphabet : H for Emmylou Harris & Francoise Hardy

Christmas is a time when memories cascade – especially for those of us steeped in age.

Christmas, if we surrender to its spell, opens the door for the Child within to breathe again.

Music, in the form of songs we learned in our youth, when we had no sense we were learning them, invites us to be once more, once more, the wide eyed Child of days long past as counted by the turning of the Calendar’s pages.

So, let’s call upon a Jukebox favourite, Emmylou Harris, to stir that Sense of Wonder once again.

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Oh, play it please.

Play it please, Emmylou.

 

Now, when I was a teenager, I became, in the way that a certain sort of teenager does, a deep dyed Francophile.

If you had asked me why I would have said, with proper teenage pomposity, it was naturellement, because of the visionary poetry of Rimbaud, the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the mind of Blaise Pascal and the mystical beauty of the films of Robert Bresson.

I would have said less about the allure of the Disque Bleu Cigarette Packet and the taste of Pastis 51.

But to tell the truth, the heart of my devotion to French Culture was to be found in my prized collection of records by the Yé-yé girls of the 1960s – France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and above all, far above all, the divine Francoise Hardy!

I could definitely hear her calling me across La Manche.

And, when she sang, in her uniquely seductive plangent tones, about the falling snow and the north wind blowing, the cool of the evening sky and the falling star, I had my own Christmas Anthem, whether anyone else recognised it as a Christmas Song or not!

It may be, after the two selections above, that some Jukebox Readers, will think the criteria for an appearance on The Alphabet Series is having a melancholy voice combined with being extremely photogenic.

Long time Readers will know that my taste is somewhat broader than that!

And, to prove it, here’s the wonderful Stanley Holloway, with one of his inimitably great recitations – masterpieces of comic character and timing.

Embed from Getty Images

At the same time as I was assiduously practicing the Yé-Yé Twist I was learning by heart party pieces like, ‘The Lion and Albert’, ‘Sam, Sam, Pick oop thy Musket’, ‘One Each Apiece All Round’ and ‘It’ll All be the Same (A Hundred Years from Now).

Of course, when Christmas rolled around, with a hat cocked on the side of my head and fortified by some fine fortified wine, I would launch, unstoppably into, ‘Sam’s Christmas Pudding’ in homage to the great Stanley.

I might well do it again this year!

Come on! Join In!

It was Christmas Day in the trenches
In Spain in Penninsular War,
And Sam Small were cleaning his musket
A thing as he’d ne’re done before …

 

Now, weren’t that reet grand, Reet Grand.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.