Remembering Aretha Franklin : R – E – S – P – E – C – T!

 

Before night comes each of us must work, in our few days, the work we were uniquely created to accomplish.

Surely, that’s exactly what the late Aretha Franklin did in singing with such splendour and grace from earliest childhood until the last year of her life.

Enormous gifts were bestowed on Aretha.

The triumph of her life was in her acceptance, nurture and stewardship of those gifts.

In so doing she became the greatest female singer in popular music since the Second World War.

Her profound legacy can be found in scores of breathtaking performances and in the inspiration she gave to fellow musicians and singers as well all of us privileged to hear her in our lifetimes.

When Aretha sang she summoned up her whole humanity to insist upon, to imperiously demand our attention!

 

 

R – E – S – P – E – C – T!

R for Roots :

Aretha’s roots lay in Church.

Her Father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin was a celebrated Baptist preacher – immensely influential in the community through his recordings, radio and touring appearances. New Bethel Church in Detroit was visited by all the great and good of the Gospel world.

Chuch and Choirs and Quartets.

In Church wide eyed young Aretha took into her deepest being the rhythms and dynamics of her Father’s Sermons, the soaring exultation of the choirs.

Aretha conquered far flung worlds in her career but she never strayed in her heart far from that Church in Detroit.

From her Father and the Gospel tradition she knew that singing was Important.

An important aspect of sacred drama.

Important to her, important to a whole community – the heart of Life.

Throughout her life when Aretha sat down at her beloved piano or took centre stage her very presence and every note she sang, every breath she took had the force of a sworn Vocation.

She knew from the Bible and increasingly from her own personal life that this world could be a vale of tears, a place of sore trial and torment.

But, she knew there was a further shore.

She knew that in turmoil she could turn to song to guide her there.

She believed that though you might be abandoned by all who you relied on there was yet a hand that would reach out for yours and gently lead you Home.

 

E for Ecstacy :

Rapture. Euphoria. Exultation!

Listening to Aretha on record or in person gave you the opportunity to stand outside yourself transcending the cares of your everyday shackles.

Filled with the spirit Aretha pierced the veil.

Filled with the spirit Aretha gave us glimpses of no time, glimpses of Eternity.

Filled with the spirit Aretha lifted herself and her audience into other worlds.

Filled with the spirit Aretha called out to us to respond with all our hearts.

FIlled with the spirit Aretha made us reciprocate her urgency to be understood, to be respected, to be heard.

Filled with the spirit when she sang Aretha was always reaching, reaching, reaching.

S for Soul :

If you gotta ask you don’t know what it is.

Aretha not only had Soul in her recordings and performances she came to define its essence.

She sang as a woman in full.

A woman who was unaffaid to expose her vulnerability.

A Woman Of Heart and Soul.

A Woman of blood and bone and guts and unabashed carnality.

A Woman who could shout and scald, scream or tenderly whisper.

A Woman who could thrillingly fuse the sacred and the secular to examine and embody our deepest emotions.

 

P for : Politics

Like Bob Dylan says we live in a Political World.

Aretha grew up knowing Martin Luther King.

Her Father ordained Jesse Jackson.

Aretha was an inspiration to all the struggles for Civil Rights.

Civil Rights and Respect for African Americans.

Civil Rights and Respect for Women.

Civil Rights and Respect for The Poor.

With Aretha’s Voice At your back and in your heart no barrier could seem insurmountable.

E for : Eternity

The greatest artists stop time when they sing.

Most music, most art is ephemeral.

It is given to very few to add to the cairn Human Beings have added to the treasures of Eternity.

Aretha has beyond all question added significantly to that cairn.

C for : Choir and Community

When Aretha sang she was always singing to a surrounding community.

A community including fellow singers and musicians and fellow pilgrims.

Even alone at the piano there was a senses that she was singing to Another.

In her singing offering up gifts.

In her singing offering pleas for redemption.

In her singing offering cries of supplication.

In her singing offering heartfelt sorrow.

In her singing shouting to be heard – to be heard and answered.

T for : Thankfulness

Aretha was fully aware of the plenitude of her gifts and was properly grateful for them.

Looking back at her wondrous career we should be properly grateful too.

Now that she has crossed over we are all immensely in her debt.

Take her hand Precious Lord.

Take her hand Precious Lord gently in your own.

Lead her Home.

Lead her Home.

 

 

Little Richard with Jimi Hendrix & Billy Preston – I Don’t Know What You Got But Its Got Me

Epistemology.

Full many a year did I labour in the stony fields of Epistemology.

I’ve got the deep furrowed brows to prove it.

Knowledge that …

Knowledge how …

Savoir … Connaitre

Kennen … Weten.

Do you Ken?

Either you don’t know nothing or you know too much – it don’t seem there’s anything in between (hats off to Russell and Riddley).

What do I know?

Well, I know that if you have a song written by Don Covay

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With Guitar by Jimi Hendrix

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With Organ by Billy Preston

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And if you have the one and only Little Richard singing like a sanctified revival preacher

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Then, Brothers and Sisters, I do Know, I most assuredly Know that the resulting record is one of the greatest Singles ever made!

That’s what I Know.

Listen and you’ll Know too.

And, when you Know, as we all Know – You just Know.

 

 

Notes :

Little Richard:

recorded ‘I Don’t Know …’ in Los Angeles in 1965.

He had, of course, already given nuclear energy to the launch of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the mid ‘50s.

Here he draws upon his Gospel and R&B roots with all those hours listening to Brother Joe May, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Billy Wright informing the volcanic steam heat of his performance.

Perhaps only James Carr singing, ‘Dark End Of The Street’ matches Richard on this record for soul searing intensity.

Don Covay :

was gifted as singer, songwriter and producer. He had a particular mastery of the Soul Ballad.

His Father was a Baptist Preacher and his first forays into public performance was with his family Gospel Quartet, The Cherry Keys.

Classics he wrote include:

‘Mercy, Mercy’ (covered by The Rolling Stones),

‘Chain Of Fools’ and ‘See Saw’ for Aretha Franklin,

‘That’s How I Feel’ for The Soul Clan

’Pony Time’ (a No 1 for Chubby Checker)

’Letter Full Of Tears’ for Gladys Knight

’Its Better to Have and Don’t Need (Than Need and Don’t Have) is a magnificent song he put out under his own name.

The version he cut of ‘Mercy, Mercy’ with The Goodtimers In 1964 featured Jimi Hendrix.

At one time Don gloried in the role of Valet and Driver for Little Richard.

Jimi Hendrix :

Appeared like a meteor into the consciousness of the Rock world yet he had served his time on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ backing up a host of R&B and Soul acts.

His hook up with Little Richard was short lived – in part no doubt because Richard was not a man to be upstaged by a flamboyantly brilliant guitar player able to play solos with his teeth!

Billy Preston :

Billy had been a part of Little Richard’s constellation since the early 60s when he was still a teenager. In Hamburg The Beatles looked on in awe as Richard tore up the joint with his crazed vocals while Billy hit grooves that seemed to affect gravity itself.

At the end of their career together it seemed there was little they could all agree on – except that Billy Preston trailed Joy all around him and that he was a hell of a musician.

Jimmy Cliff : Many Rivers To Cross

The Immortal Jukebox A 30

‘I never get tired of singing Many Rivers to Cross, and you know why? .. ‘cause I still have many rivers to cross. They’re just different rivers.’ (Jimmy Cliff)

Many rivers to cross.

Many rivers to cross.

Just can’t seem to find our way over.

We are haunted by Waters.

Rivers flow through our imaginations.

As Rivers thirst for the Sea so we thirst for the sound of running water.

There is balm and there is healing in the sound of a flowing River.

The sound and the sight of The River invites movement towards the future.

Which surely lie somewhere downriver.

Downriver.

When you’re lost as you travel along if you can find The River you know you can find your way home or to your new destination.

When only your will keeps you alive stand by The River and resolve to carry on – to cross over and be born again in cool water.

Cross The Rubicon.

Cross The Delaware

Cross The Euphrates.

Cross The Volga.

Cross The Murray.

Cross The Nile, The Niger and The Congo.

Cross The Mackenzie, The Mekong, The Missouri and The Mississippi.

Cross The Lena and The Laune.

Cross The Brahmaputra, The Besós and The Brazos.

Cross The Thames, The Tiber and The Tyne.

Cross The Rhine and The Rhône.

Cross The Rappahannock, The Rio Grande and The Red.

Cross The Acheron, The Lethe and The Styx.

Wade across The Jordan.

Each River has its own song.

And, each of us hears different songs as we listen to The River.

We are all travelling from the Source to The Sea.

Oh, we really don’t know why.

We don’t know why.

But, I guess we have to try.

Have to try.

To cross over.

To Cross Over.

 

 

Jimmy Cliff has A Voice.

A Voice.

In the way that Sam Cooke has A Voice.

In the way that Nina Simone has A Voice.

In the way Ray Charles has A Voice.

In the way Van Morrison had A Voice.

It’s A Voice that once heard never leaves you.

A Voice that seems immediately familiar to you yet always capable of making you catch your breathe in surprise at its glory.

A Voice that has the authority of a River in full flow.

A Voice that you find yourself harmonising with in your head as the years and tears flow by.

A Voice that speaks truth about the trials of Life.

A Voice you’ll find yourself turning to when it seems Life has got you licked.

A Voice you’ll cling to when all around, including yourself, call you washed up.

A Voice that will whisper to you in the friendless Night.

A Voice that the lonely know knows loneliness too.

A Voice that will be a guiding Star in the heavens when you’re lost and wandering far from The River.

A Voice that will help you hold on, survive, until you’re ready to stand by The River again.

A Voice that will help you cross the many Rivers you’ll have to cross in Life.

So many Rivers to cross.

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Jimmy Cliff was a teenage star of the Jamaican Ska and Rocksteady scenes.

In addition to his obvious talents as a singer he soon showed himself to be a songwriter who had the rare ability to create songs that had the mysterious power and longevity of fables.

Songs like The Harder They Come and You Can Get It If You Really Want are instantly memorable while having a core of wisdom that comes from folk memory that chimes with our immediate lived experience.

Yet, Many Rivers To Cross has an extra dimension.

It’s a song written by a young man with an old Soul.

It speaks to our many defeats yet holds out Hope that these defeats are not final or eternal.

We are born by a River in our little tents and of course we’ve been running ever since.

Ever since.

Running towards Rivet after River after River.

We all have to cross so many Rivers.

It can be a long, long journey from the Source to the Sea.

So many Rivers to cross.

There is redemption and blessing in crossing over The River.

Keep your eyes on the farther ashore and trust that you’ll cross over.

Cross Over.

 

 

Notes :

Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Greatest Hits’ should have an honoured place in every collection.

These days I often find myself reaching for his  glorious collection from 2012 ‘Rebirth’ which has deeply affecting songs of dignity and grace.

Contemplative Music 1 : Arvo Part, Kathleen Ferrier & Bill Evans

And breathe!

To initiate the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’.

Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist.

I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time future bloom before us through his music.

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.

Bill Evans was the supreme lyric poet of the piano.

Listening to Bill’s unique sense of musical time and weight I find my spirit awakened, refreshed and released.

‘Blue in Green’ showcases the amazing precision and delicacy of his touch as a musician.

He is always instantly recognisable – the hallmark of true greatness.

This version of what has become a Jazz standard is from the Christmas 1959 session issued as, ‘Portrait in Jazz’.

You have to believe in telepathy when you hear Bill Evans play with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motion (drums)

This trio remains the benchmark for all piano trios.

 

From the Hebrides.

The Christ Child’s Lullaby or Taladh Chriosda in Scots Gaelic is full to the brim with maternal feeling for the vulnerable new born.

Mother and child, once one, now two, create together a sacred space where love and mutual regard dwells.

The standing stone vocals of Mae McKenna and Mairi Macinnes, switching fluently between languages, supported by the pellucid instrumental playing of William Jackson and Tony McManus casts a timeless spell.

 

 

 

Now Heart stilling music composed by one of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages (indeed of all Ages!).

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine Abbess whose haunting compositions refelect her mystical experiences and her philosophical beliefs.

I vividly recall the first time I heard this music in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus in London. As the gorgeous vocal lines enchanted me I knew, at once, that this record would be a life time companion. And so it has proved.

The majestic soprano Emma Kirkby wonderfully complemented by The Gothic Voices under the direction of Christopher Page takes us into mystical terrain where every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

Terrain where Hildegard’s vision of herself as a feather on the breath of God makes perfect sense.

We are all feathers on the breath of God.

Christmas Alphabet : S for Staple Singers – Go Tell It!

 

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

The hopes and fears of all the years.

If any group can evoke those hopes and fears, the silent stars, the light shining in the darkness and dreamless sleep it is The Staple Singers.

In 1962 in Chicago they recorded my all time favourite Christmas album, ‘The 25th Day of December’

Pop Staples on prophetic guitar and vocals.

Mavis Staples with vocals wholly worldly and wholly, shiveringly, supernatural.

Pervis and Yvonne provide the essential choral support.

Maceo Woods on Organ and Al Duncan on drums bind it all together.

 

 

When you have News – such glorious good News you just got to shout it out to the entire world.

Go tell it by the Rivers.

Go tell it on the Plains.

Go tell it in the deepest Forests.

Go tell it in the silent Steppes.

Go tell it to the Seven Oceans.

Go tell it in the squares of the Cities.

Go tell it in the sleepy Towns and Villages.

Go tell it in the high, lonesome Deserts.

Climb as high as you can.

As high as you can.

Go tell it on the Mountain!

Go tell it on the Mountain!

And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great Joy which Shall be to all people …

 

 

Silent Night. Holy Night. Dawn of redeeming Grace.

Dawn of redeeming Grace.

 

 

A mother looked in her baby’s eyes and saw her maker.

 

A reign of love begins.

That all may enter in.

That all may enter in.

 

Todays Post concludes The Christmas Alphabet Series.

If you have missesd a Letter catch up over your Christmas break!

There are still several Posts to come in the next week.

Stay tuned!

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.