Mac Gayden – Everlasting Love, Crazy Mama : The Glory of The Nashville Cat

While you’re getting on with your everyday life the world keeps on turning. Day becomes night and Spring ripens into Summer before Autumn leaves fall heralding the coming of Winter.

And, though it once seemed so very far away ChristmasTide is upon us once again! Last year The Jukebox celebrated with the very well received,
‘Christmas Cornucopia’ series which featured a gallery of great artists singing Christmas songs.

The Cornucopia will return next year. Those of you of a nostalgic bent (and everyone gets a free pass to indulge in nostalgia at Christmas) and those who have become Jukebox readers this year are warmly invited to catch up with the first Cornucopia post here http://wp.me/p4pE0N-4U

This year, as my own form of indulgence, The Jukebox is going to present a series of artists and records which hold a special place in my affections – often for reasons I can’t fully explain (which is the way with many of our deepest affections).

Many of these have been fixtures in my music treasury for decades and have been the subject of lengthy encomiums delivered with beery exuberance on licensed premises often starting with the phrase, ‘What do you mean you’ve never heard of ….’

Given the season that’s in it I have called this series, ‘Christmas Crackers’. So let’s get cracking with a record from 1975, Mac Gayden’s hugely uplifting, ‘Morning Glory’ a song that always puts a mile wide smile on my face every time I hear it.

Now tell me that ain’t better than a medicine for healing!

This is guitar playing that soars with devotional grace like the lark. Guitar playing that glides and glides, stilling time as it opens up azure realms of weightless joy. John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful (whom god preserve) wrote a hymn to the skills of Nashville’s musicians called ‘Nashville Cats’ which perfectly captures the brilliance of Mac Gayden’s guitar playing here:

‘Nashville cats play clean as country water, Nashville cats play wild as mountain dew’.

I first listened to Morning Glory on the radio in my student room in Cambridge. I vividly remember my deeply knowledgeable muso friend Neil (who improbably managed to combine a deep appreciation of Albert Camus with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fabulous reggae records emanating from Jamaica’s Studio 1) nearly breaking his neck as he vaulted down the stairs from his room in the floor above me to breathlessly ask, ‘Who the hell is that guitar player!’.

Mac Gayden, I airily replied based on thirty seconds or so of superior knowledge! From that moment on I made it my business to find out all there was to know about Mac Gayden.

Turns out he really was a born and bred Nashville cat and that as well as being a stunning slide guitar virtuoso he had played with the great and good all the way from Bob Dylan to Elvis.

Mac was also a fine producer and a terrific songwriter with a gem studded catalogue of songs. And, one of those songs, ‘Everlasting Love’ was one of those songs that got up andwalked by itself into immortality.

A song that was a hit in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s and 1990s and which is still beingsuccessfully covered in the 21st Century! Everybody knows Everlasting Love, though I doubt one in ten thousand could name Mac Gayden as its author (strictly speaking co-author with Buzz Cason). A song that’s built up a very healthy pension for Mac Gayden.

There are versions worth investigating by U2, Carl Carlton, Gloria Estefan, Rachel Sweet, Love Affair and Jamie Cullum. But, as is my default setting, it’s the beautifully restrained and dignified glowing original from 1967 by Robert Knight that features here on The Jukebox today.

The genesis of the song goes back to Mac picking out a lullaby melody on his grandmother’s piano when he was only 5 years old! The same warm melody that’s carried by the horns and organ on Robert Knight’s version above.

The more immediate inspiration for Everlasting Love was the rumbustious live music scene of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. The fraternity houses provided lots of work for Music City’s up and coming musicians.

The legend goes that one night as Mac took a break from his set at Phi Delta he was entrancedby the sound of a true rhythm and blues/soul voice carried on the night air from Kappa Sigma.

Investigation established that this was the voice of a Franklin Tennessee native, Robert Knight, who had an early 60s hit as a member of The Paramounts with, ‘Free Me’. After some hesitation Robert was persuaded that Mac was a Nashville Cat who was every it as much at home with R&B and soul music as he was with Country music.

The result of their collaboration was a record that might be termed country soul – a record that is immediately memorable and singable with a chorus that all of us think we must join in with arms aloft enthusiasm. The rest as they say is history.

Mac Gayden’s superb slide skills and his understanding of when to unleash those skills and when to lay back supporting others made him a handsome living as a studio musician.

In addition in the early 1970s he was part of two high class Nashville based musical ensembles, Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry which allowed fellow studio greats like Wayne Moss, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Kenny Buttrey to stretch out, maintain the groove and show off their chops for longer than a radio friendly single demanded.

I am going to close this tribute to Mac Gayden with his sublime Wah-Wah slide playing with the laid back and leathery supreme master of sun going down back porch groove, J J Cale. There may be a track that’s more lazily hypnotic and addictive than, ‘Crazy Mama’ but if there is I haven’t found it for four decades and more!

Mac Gayden belongs in the secret hero category of musician. I hope that today’s Christmas Cracker feature has done something to let the secret out. Spread the word!

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Notes

Mac Gayden – In addition to Everlasting Love Mac Gayden also wrote the Northern Soul classic, ‘Love On a Mountain Top’ for Robert Knight. The Box Tops, Clifford Curry and Geno Washington all took full advantage of his soulful strut of a song, ‘She Shot A Hole In My Soul’.

Morning Glory can be found UK Ace Records excellent combination of two 1970s albums, ‘Skyboat’ and, ”Hymn To The Seeker’

I also recommend, ‘Southern Delight’ by Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615’s eponymous debut LP and the, ‘Trip To The Country’ follow up.

Robert Knight – His tender tones can be explored further on a compilation inevitably named Everlasting Love on the BGO label.

Buzz Cason – As well as co-writing Everlasting Love Buzz worked with Leon Russell, The Crickets and Snuff Garrett. He sang backup for Elvis and Kenny Rogers. He ran a very successful recording studio and wrote a fascinating memoir, ‘Living the Rock’N Roll Dream’.

Yet, despite all these accomplishments his greatest moment for me is as the writer of, ‘Soldier of Love’ for the peerless Arthur Alexander.

A song picked up, played and greedily memorised by a couple of young men from Liverpool, Paul McCartney and John Lennon who would go on to write more than a a few classic songs themselves!

Ry Cooder, Ray Price, Bobby Bare & Hank Williams : 5000 Country Music Songs

‘I wake up in the morning and I wonder,
Why everything’s the same as it was,
I can’t understand, No I can’t understand,
How life goes on the way it does’.

(Arthur Kent/Sylvia Dee ‘The End Of The World’)

‘Life has its little ups and downs
Like ponies on a merry-go-round.
And no one plants the green grass every time’

(Charlie Rich)

There will be no end to the making of country music songs. For the blood and guts themes real country songs deal with will remain central to our human experience until the sun’s light is finally dimmed some six billion years from now.

The winning, holding onto and losing of love – along with lust and the demands and urges of loyalty and longing are the currency of a genre which speaks to the hard grind of our daily existence and the dreams that carry us through the inevitable peaks and troughs of our passage through life. No one plants the green grass every time.

The protagonist of our anchor song today, ‘5000 Country Music Songs’ by Ry Cooder, believes in the power of the country song to connect with the truths of life and that one day Ray Price or Bobby Bare might just record one of his stack of returned to sender songs : ‘You’re bound to get you one just wait and see’ says the concerned rural route mailman.

Still he always had the support of the bride he married in 1963, ‘Honey I’m feelin’ something there’ and together they kept their dreams warmly alive in their old house trailer out in the countryside. In the country you can live free and as you sit in your rusty old Cadillac ideas for country songs will surely materialise just like they did to the greatest country songwriter of all – Hank Williams.

So week by week, month by month, year after year, the envelopes were mailed off to Nashvile town where country songs were sorted to separate the hit wheat from the unrecordable chaff. Despite his wife’s steadfast support he couldn’t quite work up the courage to approach the great Ray Price when he came through town. Sometimes we just can’t fill the shoes of our ambitions.

Now a song taken on by Bobby Bare would surely lead you somewhere but it seems Bobby never got to hear any of the 5000 songs – though not for want of trying. But, at home in the trailer love flourished so that his wife in a death bed scene worthy of a John Ford movie can make a last request – ‘Sing me something in your real old style, the one I like to hear Bobby Bare passed by, I’ll just close my eyes and rest a while’. And so, in the trailer in the shade of the big old tree amid the scent of the honeysuckle vine with tender harmony provided by the mockingbird he sings his heart out as her heart beats its last.

Now he wakes up in the morning to a world outside the window that looks the same but is now filtered with tears in the monochrome of grief. As the flies buzz around the rusty Cadillacs he knows that what made their home sweet home was not a building or classic cars but the love they shared throughout the years when 4999 country songs were sent back from Nashville town to gather dust. Now, it’s time to pack up those song words and the old guitar and throw away the key.

Of course, it turns out, as we hear above, that song number 5000 would be one that Ray Price would break your heart with. And, surely good old Bobby Bare, a man with a reputation for spotting songs that promise to be jukebox classics would have picked this one out of the pile and said, ‘This one’s a keeper!’

Ry Cooder gives the song a beautifully understated reading that allows all the emotion contained within the story to naturally present itself to the listener. Ry Cooder’s career has encompassed virtually every aspect of roots music, movie soundtracks and international collaborations. The connecting thread is a wonderfully sympathetic musicianship alert to and respectful of the demands of the song at hand.

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Ry Cooder records tell truthful human stories brought to life most thrillingly through his eloquent rhythm and slide guitar playing, which though capable of grandstanding, usually operates in a ruminative conversational tone which draws the audience in to savour all the song has to offer. Recently, he has added startling songwriting prowess to his instrumental virtuosity to round out an already very considerable talent.

Finally, as, ‘5000 Country Music Songs’ plays on the Immortal Jukebox, somewhere in the back seat of a celestial Cadillac the shade of Hank Williams will take his hat off and join in the chorus:

‘You can take what you want after I’m gone,
It’s only just a little place that we call home, sweet home
One old house trailer, two rusty Cadillacs and 5000 country music songs.’

Thank You 50,000 times:

I am amazed and delighted that the Immortal Jukebox has now had some 50,000 views since it began at the end of March last year. A huge thank you to every reader for taking the time to visit here. I hope checking out what’s new on the Jukebox has become a good habit!

There’s many, many more treats in store so as the great Hank said, ‘If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll see you soon’.

Mary Gauthier, Iris Dement : Ordinary (Extraordinary) Stories

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

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

I live an ordinary life. So do you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The influence of those hymns pervades all of Iris’ songs though her own relationship with faith has been troubled. Her songs seem to me always to be charged with a sense of the sublime, a conviction that every life, however small, burdened and disregarded, carries a light that shines through the darkest hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She carries on.

Mary Gauthier writes songs of bright boned shocking intensity. Before she took up songwriting in her thirties she had lived a life filled with more drama and incident than Dickens himself would have dared invented in a multi volume novel.

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

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

There is an almost brutal matter of factness in many of her songs. She is able to honestly describe desperate lives lived the gutter because she has been there. There is respect but no romance in her descriptions of such lives.

It is the test of a true artist to be able to present recognisable living characters but not to idly judge them. The reader or listener can do do that if they feel comfortable casting a stone.

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

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

This is not the testament of someone who has won through. It is the confession of someone anchored in addiction unblinkingly reporting on the history and daily realities of that condition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dont know about you but I’m sure that, wherever it comes from, I need a little mercy now.

Further Listening:

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

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

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

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

Footnote 30 September 2014:

Many thanks to Mary Gauthier for describing this post as, “Beautifully written” and for alerting her fans to the Jukebox through Twitter.

The Parting Glass: George Jones RIP – All Dressed Up To Go Away

….A time to rise and a time to fall

Come fill to me the parting glass

Goodnight and joy be with you all.

Hard to admit but the only page in the newspaper that I always read is the Obituaries.

I frequently discover histories of fascinating people I surely should have known about who led lives of extraordinary achievement and colour.

Of course, the older I get the more I realise that there are no such things as ‘ordinary lives’ for every life contains miracles and marvels if we but took the time to hear all those unrehearsed and untold stories – perhaps God alone performs that service for us.

I also frequently find myself strongly disagreeing with the perspective of professional obituarists when they memorialise the lives of men and women whose lives I actually knew something about or who had an emotional impact on my own life through their work or character.

The Parting Glass will be a strictly amateur enterprise with few dates, lists of honours or details of former spouses. 

Instead The Parting Glass will be the reaction of someone who reacts to a particular death with a sense of loss and a desire to celebrate with wonder how lives near and distant in place and time can resonate and echo with my own.

No 1 George Jones

He was born in Texas in 1931.  From his dad he inherited a taste for the bottle and from his mother the hope of salvation.  The world and his own nature offered up the simultaneous allure and spectre of sin, guilt and damnation.

From some higher power he was blessed with a singing voice that could express with enormous authority and impact the whole damn bone and blood gamut of emotions we’re all forever chained and in thrall to throughout our lives.G Jones

A voice that was never unrestrained even when plumbing unfathomable depths of pain and loss. 

George’s voice had to be controlled even under the most crushing spiritual and emotional pressure because it was his, and our, final defence against defeat, depression and madness.  Sing one for me George! 

George could sing gospel with a repentant sinner’s fervour and in his youth with the tempo cranked up to hot rod levels he could almost sound like a rockabilly singer. 

But, he lived and died as the greatest country honkytonk balladeer who ever lived.  If you want your heart pummelled and wrenched (and sooner or later we all do) no-one can perform emotional/emergency cardiac surgery like good ol’ George.

I won’t list all the hits – there are several fine compilations, easily available, where you can soak yourself in his genius for mining and assuaging in song the travails, tragedies and travesties of life, love and death.  What more do you want?

Take a few minutes now to listen to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’. 

When George recorded this he was a wreck of a man almost destroyed through drink and dissolution. 

The writers, Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam, gifted him a morbid son of a bitch of a song that needed a singer who could emotionally outstare the tragic story of a life stalled for decades because of lost chances and lost love. 

A life only released from the stasis of loneliness and pain by the release of death. 

George was more than equal to the challenge.  He was well acquainted with loss and he knew what it was to be half crazy.

Knowing this as a man helped the artist to sing the song with startling tenderness – with the tone of a man who has been so blasted by the storms that have assailed him that he has surrendered all his rage to accept gratefully the consolations of bare humanity.

Hear the dignity he gives to the wonderful line ‘All dressed up to go away’ describing the funeral bound body of the song’s protagonist. 

Hear how he allows the swelling instrumentation of the chorus to lift him as he reveals with power but without undue drama why, finally, the man at the centre of the song has stopped loving her today. 

Not many really deserve to have angels sing them to their rest.  For the rest of us we could do no better than settle for the immortal tones of the sinner’s friend – George Jones.

George Jones died on April 2013 in his 82nd year.

God bless you George!