Ry Cooder & The Drifters (with stellar supporting cast) : Mexican Divorce

In Dave Alvin’s wonderful song, ‘Border Radio’ (sure to feature here next year) there are some lines which have always intrigued me:

‘This song comes from 1962 dedicated to a man who’s gone
50,000 watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio’

What was that song from 1962?

What was the old song they used to know?

A song able to summon the life that was.

The life that was lost.

The life that haunts the life lived now.

It whispers of broken promises up and down the Rio Grande.

One day married. Next day free.

Except you’re never really free.

How could you be?

An old adobe house where you leave the past behind.

Except (and everyone knows this in their heart of hearts) you can never truly leave the past behind.

The past shadows your every step.

Another set of footprints in the sand.

The song running through your head night after night from 1962?

Of course, The Drifters with ‘Mexican Divorce’

They say it takes a village to raise a child – to cherish, to nurture well being and growth.

Well, it took a creative village – a constellation of craft and talent to produce the hypnotic aching majesty of, ‘Mexican Divorce’.

Let’s begin with the songwriting team.

The Composer was Burt Bacharach – and for Mr Bacharach I think we can all agree that only the term Composer will do.

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What Bacharach brought to the popular song was immense slegance and sophistication in the conception and construction of melodies, instrumental colour and arrangements.

A Bacharach song has a jewelled Faberge radiance that seduces and dazzles the listener.

A spell is cast, especially when sung by a singer of taste and discretion, that lingers on and on in the imagination.

Bacharach’s genius was to cast and recast that spell adapted to the particular talents of the artist he was working with.

Of course, this wizardry would attain its apogee in the breathtaking series of sides he cut with Dionne Warwick.

For, ‘Mexican Divorce’ Burt’s conjured a melody that takes you gently by the hand as it unfolds its tale of longing, loss and painful regret.

The lyricist partner for Burt here was Bob Hilliard a music industry veteran who had already had notable successes on Broadway, in Hollywood, and on the Pop Charts.

We all know Bob Hilliard songs – think; ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’, ‘Our Day Will Come’ and, ‘Tower of Strength’ just for starters.

With, ‘Mexican Divorce’ there’s a lovely flow and economy of words which tells a heartbreaking tale that all of us can recognise the truth of.

We know that finding love can take so long. So long.

Alas, we also know that though walking away from love must be wrong and a Sin we do it over and over again.

Millions of footprints in the sand headed for the Broken Promise Land.

There’s no house so dark as one where the light has been turned off by a lover who doesn’t want to live there anymore.

And, sometimes, all you can do, though you know it’s fruitless, is to beg, beg in between tears:

‘..My love I beg – please, oh, please, don’t go!’

Carrying off the lead vocal duties with deep died melancholia was the tragic figure of Rudy Lewis (that’s Rudy on the right below)

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Rudy had the gift of bringing life and drama to a song so that it stays etched in the memory.

Supporting him with characteristic subtlety and sureness of tone were his colleagues in the 1962, post Ben E King, version of The Drifters.

Giving the song an extra layer of poignant theatricality were a quartet of extravagantly talented session singers.

Leading these singers was Cissy Houston who brought tempered Gospel fervour and warmth to every record she ever sang on. She’s pictured below with The Sweet Inspirations.

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And, Boy Howdy, did Cissy sing on some great records!

With Elvis Presley, with Aretha Franklin, with Otis Redding – with Van Morrison among many, many, others.

Around Cissy circled her nieces Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick whose crystalline tones gave the song a shimmering aura.

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Dee Dee was a superb back up singer as fine lead singer as singles like, ‘We’re Doing Fine’, ‘I Want to Be with You’ and, ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ attest.

But it was the younger sister, Dionne, who caught the ear of Burt Bacharach. He recognised that her voice had an airy pellucid quality which would make her perfect for a new batch of songs incubating in his imagination.

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During the session for, ‘Mexican Divorce’ Burt asked Dionne if she would like to sing some demos for him.

And, the rest, as they say, is History!

Providing the arrangement ( no doubt head to head with Burt) and conducting the strings was Claus Ogerman.

Claus was a deeply schooled Jazzman who had found a niche for himself at Verve records working with major artists like Bill Evans, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Wes Montgomery.

On the Pop front he arranged, Leslie Gore’s ‘Its My Party’, ‘Cry To Me’ for Solomon Burke and ‘Don’t Play That Song’ for ex Drifter Ben E King.

Manning the Desk were the legendary duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who always wanted to make sure a great song became a great Record.

Bacharach, Ogerman and Leiber & Stoller all loved the Cuban and Latin musical accents rife in New York City Dancehalls and on the airwaves.

Together they gave, ‘Mexican Divorce’ a flavour of the exotic.

Mexico is different and the song reflected that.

Scroll forward a decade or so and much nearer Mexico Ry Cooder brought his own unerring instinct for finding the heart of a song to, ‘Mexican Divorce’.

Ry and his superb Band take the song at a languorous tempo like a lonely sleepwalker on a hot night finding his way back to the house where he was once happy.

Plas Johnson plays the all hope is fading heart rending Sax.

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Jim Keltner, always the first call on the West Coast, plays the gorgeous sashaying drum part.
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Bobby King adds a sad sweetness with his harmony vocals.

And Ry Cooder?

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Ry plays the guitar and the mandolin with a riveting tenderness reminiscent of the great Mississippi John Hurt.

And sings like a man who is at the end of his rope.

The end of his rope.

For now, of course, there’s no welcoming light in any window.

Empty darkness all around.

Empty hangers twisting in the wardrobe.

Dust settling on the doors.

The road to Mexico unwinds.

Down below El Paso.

Across the borderline.

Where identities and statuses change.

One day married.

Next day free.

Broken hearts.

Broken hearts.

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.

The Beatles & The Isley Brothers : Twist and Shout!

The War is over.

The Good War.

The Korean War.

That’s enough for any generation to cope with.

Time to settle down.

Go to College or back to the job that’s been waiting for you.

Get Married.

Have a bunch of kids.

Paint the fence.

Mow the lawn.

Wash and polish the car.

Watch Television.

Breathe easy and when the dreams come open the window and stare at the Moon.

It’s good to be alive when so many lie dead in foreign ground.

What more could you want?

Well it seems Junior wants something more.

Something more.

Now, he can’t really put a name to it.

Except it ain’t hearing stories about how grateful he should be.

Grateful he doesn’t have to fight in a war.

Grateful he lives in a land of the free.

Grateful for these fine, fine, times.

He wants a new story to tell.

He doesn’t want, won’t have, can’t have, the story that’s planned out for him.

The one he’s supposed to be so grateful for.

The one where he gets born. Learns to dance (properly).

Strives to be a success. Bows his head to get blessed.

Makes his Mother and Father proud.

Keeps his head down and his nose clean.

Gets a good girl and a good job.

No. No. No. No!

He wants a story. A technicolor story, where he’s at the centre.

He wants Excitement.

He wants Danger.

Then. Then.

One day he switches on the radio and Boom!

This is it!

Whether you call it Rock ‘n’ Roll or Rhythm & Blues …

THIS IS IT!

The world will never be the same again.

Elvis. Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard.

Your head’s just about ready to explode.

Explode.

You stand out in the yard under the moon.

Under the Moon.

And you shout as loud as you can.

And you dance. You dance. You dance.

You Twist and Shout.

Twist and Shout!

Well, shake it up, baby, now (Shake it up, baby)
Twist and shout (Twist and shout)
C’mon C’mon, C’mon, C’mon, baby, now (Come on baby)
Come on and work it on out (Work it on out)

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Well, like The Brothers Isley say – Work it on out! Work it on out!

Now, if that don’t get you going I’m gonna have to send out an SOS for a defibrillator to get your heart started again!

The song was written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley and was originally recorded in early 1961 by The Top Notes for Atlantic Records.

Production was by the 21 year old Phil Spector.

And, he made a right royal mess of it!

So much so that Bert Berns, a very savvy dude indeed, was near apoplectic when he heard what Spector had done to his song; which he knew was a sure fire hit.

With the bit between his teeth Bert got the Isley Brothers into the studio in 1962 and crafted a classic record that has Gospel fervour, Rhythm and Blues drive and Rock ‘n’ Roll shazam.

That’s how you do it Phil!

Of course, Bert brilliant songwriter, arranger and producer that he was, didn’t do this all by himslelf.

First he needed singers with explosive energy who could take his song and wring every last drop of excitement from it.

Singers who could put on a dramatic performance which would demand that the listener put the needle back on the groove the instant it faded out.

Enter Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley who were originally from Cincinnati.

With voices blending Gospel, R&B and Doo-Wop and a dynamite stage act The Isleys were bound to attract the attention of someone like Bert Berns who wrote songs crying out for impassioned vocals (think ‘Piece of My Heart’, ‘Cry to Me’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk).

The Isleys already had a million selling single to their name with their own cataclysmic, ‘Shout’ which had set Richter Scale dials aquiver all all over the record buying world.

To set the Earth shaking with Twist and Shout Bert called up King Curtis on Sax, Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on Guitar, Chuck Rainey on Bass, Gary Chester on Drums and Paul Griffin on Piano.

Those guys knew what they were doing!

The public loved, ‘Twist and Shout’ and it became a substantial hit on both the R&B and Pop Charts.

The Isleys would go on to have a storied career featuring strings of hits and superb albums for the next four decades.

And, Bert, before his untimely death at the age of 38 in 1967, would prove himself one of the very greatest songwriter/producers of the 1960s.

The Jukebox will have much more to say about The Isleys and Bert Berns later!

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean in Liverpool a bunch of leery, leather clad Rock ‘n’ Rollers with ambition and swagger listened to ‘Twist and Shout’ and thought – we could really tear up the place if we can get this one right.

So it was for The Beatles.

‘Twist and Shout’ became a fixture of their live show and walls, drenched in sweat, in Liverpool and Hamburg shook as John, Paul, George and Ringo proved what a fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll Band they were.

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But, driving themselves and a complicit crowd into a Dionysian frenzy at a concert is one thing.

To reproduce that order of feeling in a recording studio is quite another.

Cut to the 11th of February 1963, one of the most significant dates in the history of popular music, popular culture and indeed history.

For that was the date The Beatles recorded their debut LP, ‘Please, Please Me’.

In one day – One Day! Over some 13 hours they recorded 10 songs and launched a career the reverberations of which are still shaking the world to this day.

Twist and Shout was the very last song they cut on that historic Abbey Road session.

And, they knew that.

John’s voice was almost shot and Paul, George and Ringo – despite the rivers of adrenaline that must have coursed through their veins that day – must also have been close to exhaustion.

In such circumstances there is only one thing to do.

Attack! Attack! Attack!

And, that, gloriously is what they did.

Every last ounce of energy went into this performance which still stands as a Rock ‘n’ Roll moment to match anything laid down by their legendary predecessors and inspirations – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard.

All those thousands of hours of performing in dingy dives were pressed into the service of making ‘Twist and Shout’ a record which came at you with the force of a tidal wave.

John Lennon’s vocal has a crazed commitment that is shocking in its elemental power and his fellow Beatles match him every step of the way.

Every step of the way.

As they packed away their instruments they must have looked around and thought – is this all true?

Did we really do that?

Where are we going now?

I like to think John, voice ravaged, turned to his friends and said:

“Well, well, where are we going now fellas?’

And Paul, George and Ringo would have replied:

‘To the top, Johnny to the very toppermost of the poppermost!’

And, I think we can all agree that’s exactly where they went and that they took us all along for the ride.

Rod Stewart, Jerry Lee Lewis : Song Stylists – What Made Milwaukee Famous

Hey Buddy!

Hey Hank!

The Usual?

Pint of Guinness?

No, today, I’m in need of a Bim, Bam, Boom!

A Bim, Bam, Boom?

Yeah, you know:

One Scotch – Bim!

One Bourbon – Bam!

One Tequila – Boom!

Ha! Coming up.

That ought to do it all right.

Sometimes you just need that Bim, Bam, Boom – or think you do.

You like to be in a place where everyone knows your name but nothing really important about you.

You like a place where the Jukebox is stuffed with drinking, fighting and cry, cry, crying songs.

The ones you sing along to under your breath without even realising that’s what you’re doing.

The ones that bring those stinging tears to your eyes.

The ones that remind you of all the things you had.

The ones that remind you of all the things you lost.

No, the things you threw away.

Threw away.

Threw away in a joint just like this.

Threw away because you thought you needed a head full of Red, a bellyful of Beer or the wild song of Whiskey in your blood before you could face another Night or find the courage to face another Day.

In the end the nights and the days bled into each other and love and happiness drifted away with the alcoholic tide.

Too late you finally see.

Too late.

Time now to call on The Killer.

He knows a thing or two about throwing things away.

Hey Hank – right now I cant read too good – what number is, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’?

‘A1’ ‘A1’

Aint that just right.

Funny, every time this song comes on the place goes quiet and the murmur of the Loser Choir drowns out the Air Con.

Take it away Jerry Lee.

Sing this one for me.

Jerry Lee Lewis! Jerry Lee Lewis!

Now, it would take the combined genius of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews to invent a character half as extraordinary as Jerry Lee.

For my part let’s just say that with Ray Charles I consider him the greatest song stylist of the modern era.

I’m not one for joining Fan Clubs.

But, at 17, I did join the Jerry Lee Lewis Fan Club and much as I looked forward to my subscription copies of The New Yorker, Southern Review and The London Review of Books coming through the letter box none of them quickened my pulse like seeing the bulky envelope with, ‘Fireball Mail’ stamped brightly in red hitting my mat!

What Made Milwaukee is from 1968 when Jerry Lee was rebranding himself as a Country Singer( having had more than a few run ins with the press, the radio, local sheriffs and the whole damn, petty, you can’t do that here!, official world which just couldn’t cope with a bona fide Wild man).

A Wild Man who also happened to be by an act of will and character a conduit for the great streams of American Music.

Jerry Lee, is of course, a Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as a Country Singer to top all except George Jones.

Goodness gracious Jerry Lee can sing the Hell out of any song that’s ever been written and make it 100% Jerry Lee.

100% Jerry Lee.

And, Glen Sutton, when he wrote, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’ sure gifted Jerry Lee one fireball of a song.

Now, as is so often the way, the song was not the product of careful deliberation and prolonged polishing.

No.

Glen was reminded by a music publisher that he was supposed to have songs for The Killer who was due to be in town tomorrow.

What had he got?

With a professional’s presence of mind (Glen also wrote ‘Almost Persuaded’ and, ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ among many other classics) he looked down at the beer mat next to the phone and said, ‘Its a drinking song – should be perfect for The Killer!’

Nw, it was simply a matter of working through the night to turn the slogan on that Schlitz beer mat, ‘The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous’ into a song that would appeal to Jerry Lee and the record buying public.

I think we can agree he succeeded!

Jerry Lee recorded the song the next day and gave it a regretful stately majesty powered by his rolling piano, glistening fiddle, and a vocal that proceeds with the awesome certainty of a Paddle Steamer navigating The Mississippi.

Follow that!

Very few could (you’ll find numerous versions of the song if you search) but there is only one other version which can stand comparison with The Killer’s.

One by another great song stylist who, when he was on his game, treated songs with a profound respect and care.

A singer who had an instantly recognisable voice – a voice which could express deep emotions with elegance and elan.

Let’s call Rod Stewart to the microphone!

On the evidence of this magnificent performance it seems to me that Rod missed a trick in his career by not recording an album of Country Songs.

Had he teamed up with a producer like Cowboy Jack Clement and launched into, ‘There Stands The Glass’, ‘Cold, Cold, Heart’ and, ‘Heartaches By The Number’ I think we would have had a record for the ages.

Still, lets look at the glass as half full given his bravura take on ‘Milwaukee’.

Of course, Rod, knew a fair bit about drinking as a member of The Faces who were Olympic Champions of partying.

At his best Rod’s let’s live it large! relish for life combined with an acute emotional intelligence when reading a lyric made him a truly great singer.

One entirely ready to share a microphone with The Killer.

I’ll leave with Jerry Lee, live at the piano, performing with his trademark insouciant charm.

‘Well it’s late and she’s waiting
And I know I should go Home.’

Gerry Rafferty : Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway

I believe in Ghosts.

No, not the ghouls and spectres of Halloween or graveyard apparitions.

The Ghosts I believe in lie dormant in the labyrinthine halls of the mind and the secret chambers of the heart.

And, these Ghosts, lingering traces of people and places no longer with us, can come to visit, unbidden, in afternoon reveries or in the quiet watches of the night.

A few bars of a tune from decades ago.

A once familiar fragrance floating by.

An overheard accent in an unexpected place.

And, suddenly, a Ghost appears and asks, ‘How is it with you these days?’

Do you still remember me?

Of course, sometimes, we summon up these Ghosts ourselves as we try to come to terms with the longing for and the loss of our past loves.

‘The coat she wore still lies upon the bed’.

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With , ‘Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway’ Gerry Rafferty wrote the most exquisite song I know examining the bittersweet persistence of the Ghosts of a former romantic relationship.

Now that’s a song that, once heard, will always linger in your heart.

Gerry Rafferty was a songwriter to his fingertips.

There was nothing accidental in a Gerry Rafferty record.

Consider the artistic intelligence and emotional acuity in opening a song about romantic reverie with a 40 second introduction of wispy woodwinds and muted brass accompanied by humming revealing what spoken words are not yet ready to say – mama you’ve been on my mind.

And, now the Ghost appears.

Now the memories cascade.

Cascade.

No point in pretending that these are not in many respects memories that warm as well as chill.

Memories that offer more insights when uttered than the bearer of those memories may care to consciously realise.

‘The book I gave her that she never read’.

Perhaps, that was one of those books men are so prone to giving as romantic presents – a book meant to signal the special intelligence and sophistication of the giver rather than one chosen to delight the recipient.

Gerry sings the song in a tone of melodic regretful intimacy.

Trying to make sense of it all.

Where did it go wrong?

Where did I go wrong?

What else could I have done?

Maybe it wasn’t just my fault.

These things just happen.

Her father didn’t like me anyway.

Her father didn’t like me anyway.

‘She left without a single word to say’.

Yes, at the end, there really is not a single word to say.

How many times can you say Goodbye?

Just the echoing sound of the closing door.

The closing door.

‘She always wanted more than I could give.’

Now, that’s a young man’s phrase.

You give how much you choose to give.

You can give so much more than you ever think you can give.

Time will teach you that lesson.

‘She wasn’t happy with the way we lived’

Living and loving every day is hard work.

You really have to want to do it from the depth of your being.

‘I didn’t feel like asking her to stay’.

If you don’t maintain that commitment things must fall apart.

‘To tell the truth I didn’t have the nerve’.

It’s so easy to let things drift and drift and drift until there’s no way back to harbour.

No way back.

‘So now she’s taken leave of me today’.

So, one of you comes to realise the spark has been extinguished and it’s past time.

It’s always past time when you finally decide to go.

And, there’s release in decision and action.

Even for the one left behind.

‘I know I only got what I deserved’.

How well the masochistic coat can fit!

Dim lights, strong drink, remember again.

Remember again and again and again.

Narrators can be very unreliable.

You know, we all know, it wasn’t really Daddy’s fault.

Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway.

Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway.

What a rich and resonant song!

‘Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway’ takes its honoured place as A25 on The Immortal Jukebox.

Notes:

Her Father was written and recorded by Gerry Rafferty when he was a member of The Humblebums with Billy Connolly who, of course, went on to be a major star as a comedian.

Long before the world wide success of ‘Baker Street’ Gerry Rafferty had recorded a series of superb songs distinguished by their melodic grace, their sardonic lyrical deftness and the care and attention with which they were sung.

Songs like, ‘Mary Skeffington’ (after his Mother), ‘Patrick’, ‘Steamboat Row’ and ‘Shoeshine Boy’ match Paul McCartney all the way for melodic flow and memorability.

There will be much more to say about Gerry Rafferty on The Jukebox later.

For now I urge you to purchase a Humblebums compilation and the solo records, ‘Can I Have My Money Back?’, ‘City to City’ and, ‘Night Owl’.

These records, the work of a major songwriter, will endure.

Jukebox Jive :

Recently several loyal Jukebox afficianados have written in to ask what music I’m listening to apart from that featured in the weekly Post.

Your wish is my command!

Top of the Music mountain this week:

Van Morrison ‘The Lions Share Shows’ – astounding live performances from 1971 (available on YouTube)

Tom Russell ‘Play One More – The Songs of Ian & Sylvia’ – characterful takes on folk standards.

Curtis Mayfield – ‘No Place Like America Today’ – A mature masterwork by one of the greatest figures in modern music.

From The Archive

Another faithful Jukebox fan wrote in to say he had just discovered the Post on Maura O’Connell and said, ‘How did I miss this one!’

Well, there’s over 200 Posts here now so there’s treasure aplenty to be mined!

So, each week I’ll provide links to 3 previous Posts so you can make a discovery or reminisce.

Here’s that Post on the tenderly wonderful Maura

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-mT

Now here’s a rarity! One of my poems ‘Static’ – something of a meditation on exile and Father’s and Sons

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

Finally the death of Chuck Berry reminded me of how world changing the original Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefathers were.

Here’s a tribute to the inimitable Little Richard.

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

Fats Domino RIP 1928 – 2017

There are some sentences you know you will have to write one day.

Still you hope it wont be this year or next.

So, reluctantly and with regret, I write the following sentence.

Fats Domino, Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefather has died in his 90th year.

Thinking of all the immense pleasure his music has given me and millions of others I could not let such an event pass without a full salute from The Immortal Jukebox.

I also want to pay homage to the magnificent saxophonist Herb Hardesty who died just before Christmas last year.

That’s Herb you can hear soloing on, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ and, ‘I’m Walking’ and that’s him too playing one of the most perfect parts in all Rock ‘n’ Roll on, ‘Blue Monday’.

I am also adding what may be my all time favourite Fats track – ‘Be My Guest’.

A record which beautifully illustrated the sheer joy woven into every bar of a Fats Domino record.

A record which demonstrated the glorious camaraderie of the Fats Domino Band.

A record which, especially in the wildly addictive horn breaks, virtually provides the corner stone sound for Ska to develop in Jamaica in the 1960s.

God bless you Fats!

 

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

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On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

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I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

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I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

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I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo.

I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

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I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

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I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.

 

Van Morrison : Brand New Day

Mid October.

The Sun rises at about 7 O’clock in this part of the South Downs.

It is my habit, ingrained from youth, to start my day at about 5 O’ Clock.

So, I have two hours of the mourning veil of night for reflection and contemplation before Day stirs the sleeping world.

Safely settled in our new Home (many thanks for all your good wishes) I lace up my boots, zip up my flying jacket, reach for my staff and head out in the dark to climb to the top of the ridge to await the Dawn.

Climbing steadily upward, aware that a new chapter in Life has begun, I recall roads taken and roads not taken in the past.

I recall friends and relations who have vanished like the melting snow.

I am grateful for the twists and turns in the road that have led me to this place now.

Reaching the summit I stand silently embracing the dark all around.

Tuning in I hear the wind blow where it listeth and the skitterings of nocturnal nature.

Slowly, slowly, as the world turns, the light returns.

There is always one moment when it seems as if all of nature is holding its breath, rapt, and all is silent with the light alone in motion.

And then a prophetic bird announces in song, ‘It’s day! It’s Day!’

Yes, yes, it seems like (seems like) feels like (feels like) A Brand New Day.

A Brand New Day.

This is the song I hear in my Soul each time I greet A Brand New day.

Van Morrison from his 1970 masterwork, ‘Moondance’.

Brand New Day is a song of steadfast Hope.

A song that admits no Life escapes trial and tribulation.

A song that takes us on a journey, at contemplative pace, through those dark valleys to the sunlit uplands of A Brand New Day.

A Brand New day filed with mystery and possibilities.

Van’s prayerful vocal inspires the musicians accompanying him to transcendent heights.

Jeff Labes’ piano shines like streams of daylight stars.

John Platania’s guitar has a tear-glistening tender beauty.

Jack Schrorer’s saxophone blows a corona of balm all around.

Gary Mallaber’s drums drive us forward on a pilgrimage to the Light.

John Klingberg’s bass holds us all in Faith. Faith in the journey to the Light.

Judy Clay, Cissy Houston and Jackie Verdell on backing vocals lift us up in celestial acclamation.

A Brand New Day.

A Brand New Day has dawned and the world will never be the same again.

Never the same.

I’ll leave you with a Miracle.

A demo of Brand New Day featuring a vocal by Van that takes us way, way, way, out beyond the Stars.

Into flooded fields of light beyond all measurement.

In memory of Jack Schrorer and John Klingberg.