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.

Embed from Getty Images

*

‘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.

 

Van Morrison & Mark Knopfler : Last Laugh (Happy Birthday Van!)

You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

Presence.

Some things you just can’t buy.

Presence.

Coaches and Gurus and Snake Oil salesmen will portentously promise to reveal the secret to you.

Better save your money and your time and learn the things that can be taught – vocal exercises, relaxation, the whole assembly of skills that adds up to Technique.

But Presence?

No way.

You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

The gods or muses dispose as they will.

Hard to define but easy to recognise.

Greta Garbo.

Marlon Brando.

Rudolph Nureyev.

Maria Callas.

Miles Davis.

Muhammad Ali.

Van Morrison.

Intensity.

Impact.

Cultural, emotional and spiritual impact.

You’ll recognise it when you confront it.

Mark Knopfler is a gifted songwriter and as a guitar player has undoubted Presence.

He is also canny enough to know that some songs require an extra ingredient that he does not possess.

A voice with Presence.

So, for his Song, ‘The Last Laugh’ he called up Van Morrison.

There must have been a moment in the studio as they listened back when Mark exhaled and smiled deeply as the sound of Van’s voice at the beginning of the second verse lifted the work to a wholly new level.

Presence.

Emotional and Spiritual impact.

Van Morrison.

Sing it Van!

Games you thought you’d learned
You neither lost nor won
Dreams have crashed and burned
But you’re still going on
Out on the highway with the road gang working
Up on the mountain with the cold wind blowing
Out on the highway with the road gang working
But the last laugh, baby is yours
And don’t you love the sound
Of the last laugh going down

Very few singers merit the Bold and the Italics.

Van Morrison always has and always will.

Don’t you love the Sound!

Presence.

Cultural, Emotional and Spiritual Impact.

Demonstrated time after time in studios and on stages from Belfast to Buffalo.

Hey Girl! Baby Blue. Brown Eyed Girl. Sweet Thing. Moondance..

Linden Arden.

Listen to The Lion.

The Healing has begun.

No Guru. No Method. No Teacher.

Just Van and that Voice.

It ain’t why, why, why, it just IS.

A voice capable of transcendence as only the rarest voices are.

A voice that reaches up to the Moon.

Don’t you love the Sound!

Van is 74 this week.

So, Happy Birthday Van!

A heartfelt thanks for all the Songs and all the Singing.

 

May your Song always be Sung.

if this is your visit to The Immortal Jukebox you are very welcome!

Sign up for email alerts or follow me on Twitter @thomhickey55 and you’ll never miss a post!

There are more Posts about Van than any other artist here on The Jukebox so, in case you missed one or would like to be reminded of an old favourite here’s the Van Compendium for your delectation and delight!

Brown Eyed Girl’.

An introduction telling the tale of my headlong plunge into obsession following my first hearing of Van’s best known song.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-2L

Don’t Look Back’.

A meditation on Time featuring 2 astounding versions of John Lee Hooker’s tender Blues Ballad. One a reaching for the stars take of a teenager the second the work of a fully realised master musician.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3k

Carrickfergus‘.

A meditation on family, friendship and loss. How the shadows lengthen! Sung with infinite tenderness and bardic authority.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

A miraculous meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of the radio and the post war world as seen by a young Irish mystic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

Tupelo Honey’.

A rhapsodic meditation on the nurturing, redemptive power of Love. A Hallelujah!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr

All in the Game‘.

A meditation on the carousel we all ride. It’s been sung by many singers but never like this!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-jY

Domino’ .

A Founding Father joyously celebrated by a Master from the next generation.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-pH

Sometimes We Cry‘.

Bringing it all back home to singing on the street corner Days. The sweetness of Doo-Wop seasoned with wry maturity.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sf

I Cover the Waterfront’.

Van and John Lee Hooker, Blues Brothers and Soul Friends, conjure up ancient tides.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-tq

Buona Sera Signorina‘.

Van puts his party hat on and romps through the Louis Prima classic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Xg

Hey Girl’.

Van takes a stroll along the strand and suspends Time.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1cA

Gloria! Gloria!’

Once, Now and Ever.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1dh

Coney Island 

A Pilgrim’s glimpses of Eternity in the everyday.

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-1OQ

Brand New Day

Born again each Day with The Dawn.

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-1kL

And It Stoned Me

A mystic dweller on the threshold shows us the wonder ever present everywhere.

Happy Birthday Van!

On John Lennon’s Jukebox – Bruce Channel : Hey Baby!

Featuring memories of the Summer of 1975 & an all you can eat ‘Hey Baby’ Buffet with :

Bruce Channel, Delbert McClinton,  Arthur Alexander, NRBQ, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Holmes Brothers, Juice Newton and Jimmy Vaughan. 

(As always if corporate czars block any of the clips appearing here you will be able to find them by a trawl of YouTube).

*

Last week I had to visit our local civic centre to fill out some official forms.

This involved, as encounters with officialdom almost always do, a lot of waiting about in uncomfortable chairs while my details were checked and double checked before eventually my application was approved.

Normally, I would plug in my earphones and pass the time listening to a fine selection of expertly curated Immortal Jukebox tunes.

However, it turned out that I had left home without either my phone or iPad so I became a captive of the building’s playlist.

But, wouldn’t you just know it – the very first song played was, ‘Hey Baby!’ by Bruce Channel, a favourite of mine for many a decade.

Indeed, as soon as the distinctive harmonica riff (played by Delbert McClinton) announced itself I was transported back to a summer job in 1975.

My Dad was a long term employee of a civil engineering firm so he was able to secure me a job on a site not too far from home.

Through his good offices I also got a lift each morning at 6.30 from Dave, a trainee Quantity Surveyor, in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citroën 2CV, a car which made up for in charm what it lacked in speed and power.

Its been more than 4 decades since I travelled with Dave so I must confess that i have forgotten his surname.

But, I remember the important things.

To whit – he had ginger hair and proudly sported a, ‘Zapata’ moustache.

He was witty when commenting on world events and kind when commenting on people he knew directly.

And, most importantly for our friendship he was a self proclaimed music fanatic with particular interests in Motown and American Pop Hits of the early 1960s before the British Invasion.

Dave had made a series of cassettes showcasing his enthusiasms and we enthusiastically sang along to these on our half hour journey to work.

To establish my bona tides as a true lover of music rather than a passive listener Dave casually asked what was the common thread linking the last three songs we had harmonised to :  ‘Jimmy Mack’, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ and, ‘My Guy’ ?

He was quick to say I would get no points for saying they all featured the same crew of musicians; the legendary Funk Brothers.

Fair enough I said and won his approval by saying the other link was the backing vocalists:  those barely known and critically unsung heroines of Hitsville USA, ‘The Andantes’ (Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, and Louvain Demps).

Next as he cued up the tape labelled, ‘Hits 1962’ he asked as the once heard never forgotten harmonica intro to, ‘Hey Baby’ blasted out into the West London fume filled streets – Who’s playing that harmonica?

Not only did I know that it was Delbert McClinton I said I had just bought his new Album, ‘Victim of Life’s Circumstances’ and would lend it to him to tape.

From that day on as I got into the 2CV it was always, ‘Hey Baby’ at maximum volume that greeted me.

Thus was our friendship cemented.

At the end of that Summer he moved to Scotland and I never saw him again.

But I will never forget those 2CV/Motown/Hey Baby days so wherever you are Dave this one’s for you.

I hope you still thrill to the sound of Young America and sing with all your might whenever you hear Bruce Channel’s vocal and Delbert’s harmonica light up the airwaves :

Hey, heybaby
I want to know if you’ll be my girl

Hey, heybaby
I want to know if you’ll be my girl

Now, as Major Bill Smith, who recorded, ‘Hey Baby’ was heard to remark :

’Cotton Picker, that’s sure one Cotton Pickin’ Hit!’

And he was perfectly cotton pickin’ right.

Sales of more than a million with 3 weeks atop the Billboard Chart and Number 2 in the UK.

And, permanently lodged in the memories of several generations of musicians across many genres.

Hey Baby is endlessly adaptable (as we shall see and hear) whether you are approaching it  as Rock ‘n’ Roll, Blues, Country, Cajun/Zydeco or pure Pop!

The original benefits from Bruce’s relaxed vocal set to an addictive shuffle beat provided by Jim Rogers and Ray Torres on Drums and Bass.

Bob Jones and Billy Sanders Guitars fill out the sound.

But, the undoubted signature sound of the song is provided by Delbert McClinton’s Harmonica.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Musicians recognised this as one catchy lick!

One of those was none other than John Lennon who met Delbert in person when The Beatles supported Bruce Channel at The Tower Ballroom New Brighton on the 21st of June 1962.

John certainly remembered that lick when The Fab Four got into Abbey Road to record, ‘Love Me Do’.

And, he never forgot, ‘Hey Baby!’ as is clear from its presence on his own Jukebox.

That Jukebox also contained work by our next artist – Arthur Alexander.

John recognised that Arthur was a great singer who could add a shadowy blue tone to any song.

Sing it Arthur!

Next up an utterly charming version by the NRBQ from their dazzlingly diverse 1969 debut LP.

The NRBQ, then Terry Adams (keyboards), Steve Ferguson (guitar), Joey Spampinato (bass), Frank Gadler (vocals) and Tom Staley (drums), obviously had a riotously good time recording, ‘Hey Baby’ and that shows in every groove.

Set yourself down on your porch swing and uncork something smooth and sweet!

Mercy!

OK, time to paddle our pirogue down to Louisiana.

So, we will replace the harmonica with the accordion and make sure our boots are on properly because we are about to really fly around the floor dancing to this version from Buckwheat Zydeco!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Listing the genres Hey Baby! could be adapted to I unforgivably omitted Gospel.

It is clear that The Holmes Brothers bring something of the backwoods Country Church to  our party here.

Sherman and Wendell sure get an Amen from me!

Testify! Testify!

Righteous!

Now we turn to a much overlooked talent – Judy ‘Juice’ Newton who always brings the warmth of a summer breeze to her performances.

When you are bringing out that home made lemonade for your Summer BBQ I strongly recommend you look out some of her records.

Youll find you’ll float across the lawn (even if you haven’t laced the lemonade with something a little stronger!).

Back to Texas for our concluding take.

I feel like putting my shades on as I groove to this slinky version by Jimmy Vaughan.

Let’s not pretend we went anywhere near Lemonade as that one prowled around our minds!

No, got to be something with a powerful kick and an after burn.

I don’t know what Jimmy, Mike Flanigin and Frosty Smith go for but I’m going for the Kentucky Straight!

Having done so I’m ready to dig out my harmonica and lead you all in:

Hey, heybaby
I want to know if you’ll be my girl
Hey, hey baby
I want to know if you’ll be my girl
When I saw you walking down the street
I said that’s a kind of girl I’d like to meet
She’s so pretty, Lord, she’s fine
I’m gonna make her mine, all mine
Hey, Hey Baby!

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

Embed from Getty Images

With Guitar by Jimi Hendrix

Embed from Getty Images

 

With Organ by Billy Preston

Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.