Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer.
Who do you say that I am?
When will the war be over?
Is he a good man?
How deep is the Ocean?
Do you love me?
Where are last year’s snows?
Where is your treasure?
Will everything be all right – in the end?
Ry Cooder a certified Jukebox favourite for the consistent brilliance of his guitar playing and his unerring taste in songs.
If it’s all right with Ry it’s all right with me!
Tim Drummond, Jim Keltner and David Lindsey lock in and you can be sure it’s gonna work out fine.
Ry hits and sustains that sweet tone and endless glowing landscapes open up before us.
I’m wagering Ry first heard the song via the barn burning 1961 version by Ike & Tina Turner.
That enough steam heat for ya?
There’s a tangled story behind the authorship and production as was so often the case in the Wild West like music business of those days.
The main songwriter was certainly Rose Marie McCoy.
Sylvia Robinson and Mickey Baker were in the studio (indeed they had recorded their own version in 1960) urging on Ike and The Ikettes.
Tina, being a force of nature, needed no urging on just letting loose!
A million or more record buyers agreed.
Manfred Mann, the man and the group, knew R & B history and knew how to marshall instrumental and vocal forces to delight the pop pickers of 1964.
Paul Jones vocals always oozed charm especially when surrounded by the shimmering warmth of Manfred’s keyboards.
The groups debut LP is one of the true highlights of the British Beat Era.
If you haven’t got it order it today!
Now Keith Richard started out as your dangerous older brother before becoming your what’s he done now the scoundrel uncle and now he’s everyone’s I’ll tell you a story of my young days you just won’t believe grandad.
All the while he’s cranked out the riffs that are permanent fixtures in Rock ‘n’ Roll hearts.
Ain’t an R&B, Blues, Soul or Country song from the golden era that ol’ Keith don’t know and can’t figure out a crunchy guitar part for.
So when he hooked up with old friend/flame Ronnie Spector it was not surprising they hit on Work Out Fine as a vehicle to highlight their shared history while having a right royal rollicking time!
Keith’s got the licks and Ronnie’s got the pipes.
Will the labourer have his rest?
Who will comfort the mourning?
Who will feed the hungry?
Has the salt lost its savour?
How many roads must a man walk down?
What will I do to so things will work out fine?
This Post for Don Ostertag, true friend of The Jukebox and teller of the best tales about the theatre and music worlds you’re ever gonna hear. Check out his Off Stage Blog on WordPress.
Other versions of Work Out you might enjoy are by The Spencer Davis group featuring Steve Winwood and a very soulful instrumental by Duke Levine.
If this is your first visit to The Immortal Jukebox you are very welcome here. Explore the 300 plus Posts in the archive! Visit often.
We drove past the sacred mysteries of Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury.
We circled the Standing Stones.
We crossed the forbidding Moors.
We drove as far as we could go only stopping at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
It was late when we arrived.
The Moon was silvering the waters.
Dazzled and drowsy we settled into familiar surroundings and breathed the salt tanged air as deeply as we could before sleep beckoned.
I woke, as always, at 6am and joined the joggers and dog walkers patrolling the golden sands.
The surfers in their camper vans were already readying themselves for the fabulous waves the tides would surely provide today.
Later on the whole family including our grand daughter, now almost 1 and an enthusiastic paddler, established camp on our own stretch of the beach.
That lucky old sun rolled around heaven all day as we intermittently swam and sprawled under its reviving rays.
The picnic basket was looted of every treasure and urgent patrols were sent out for relief supplies of fruit and ice creams.
As the Sun set we meandered back to our cottage with the adults fortified by just the right number of Gin & Tonics.
Perhaps it was the power of the Sun amplified by the G&Ts that led me to start humming a tune that seemed to have the, ‘Spanish Tinge’
What was that song?
I set my music library numbskulls to work as I watched the waves crash on the rocks outside our windows.
Then, praise be, I began to sing in my (very) halting Spanish :
Era la medianoche, when oimos the scream “Se requieren cien taxis en el almeria de Chavez Ravine.
As soon as the words Chavez Ravine formed in my mind I knew the source of the sun dappled melody that held me enthralled – ‘Onda Callejera’ from Ry Cooder’s wonderful album from 2005, ‘Chavez Ravine’.
Now I was able to hit the button and luxuriate in the masterly musicianship of Ry and Joachim Cooder, Mike Elizondo, Joe Rotondi, Gil Bernal, Mike Bolger, and Ledward Kaapana.
Now, I could provide the harmonies for the true vocals of Little Willie G and sisters Juliette and Carla Commagere.
I doubt the Cornish Coast has ever heard such a midnight choir before!
The interplay between the musicians here is very special.
Listening it’s as if you’ve slipped into a dream state where all your senses flow together and your imagination is released to free float into the welcoming ether.
This is not a sound you can achieve by mere practice or calculation rather it is the result of inspiration grounded on vocation and spiritual immersion leading to musical bliss in the moment.
Catching such bliss on record is very rare so I lift my Sombrero high into the sky to salute Ry and his compadres!
This is the kind of performance which permanently changes the weather inside your head.
And, that’s a feat Ry Cooder has serially achieved throughout his career as he has searched the world seeking out new rhythms and textures to delight his own musical appetite and in consequence ours too.
Ry has since his boyhood has responded to the music, in all genres, that has attracted him by determining to meet the musicians who were masters of that sound and through playing with them inhabit the mystery too.
His whole career is essentially a musical pilgrimage with each record or collaboration a way station where he draws strength, nurture and inspiration for the road ahead.
From his third solo record, ‘Boomer’s Story’ here’s a song from 1932, ‘Maria Elena’ that in the care of Ry’s all star band continues to cast a tender spell.
Now was that 6 minutes or 6 Hours?
Musicianship of this quality makes a mockery of old Father Time’s supposed regularity.
When the above performance was recorded Ry’s Band was dubbed, ‘The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces’.
And, Aces they were everyone.
Attend to the gorgeous sway of Flaco Jimenez on the Accordion.
Attend to George Bohanon’s warm breeze in the night air Trombone.
Attend to the joyful elegance of Van Dyke Park’s Piano.
Marvel at the supernaturally supple rhythm section of Drum maestro Jim Keltner, Miguel Cruz on Percussion and Jorge Calderon on Bass.
Surrender and swoon as Ry orchestrates the whole magnificent ensemble as they lead us to musical nirvana.
Now, a simple miracle.
A collaboration between Ry and the great Cuban Guitarist Manuel Galbán.
There are no words of mine that can capture the glory of this take on, ‘Secret Love’.
Close your eyes, sit still and let the magic begin.
This is collaboration becoming communion.
Ry has a wonderful generosity in his musical life.
Foregrounding the talents of his collaborators through the acuity of his arrangements he creates the space for the magic to enter and bloom.
I wish Ry well on his continuing Pilgrimage for following in his footsteps has been an education and a blessing.
As always if a particular clip won’t play for you in this Post you will certainly be able to find a playable clip via YouTube in your own region.
The Albums, ‘Chavez Ravine’ and ‘Mambo Sinuendo’ (where Secret Love features) are unreservedly recommended.
Manuel Galbán is a legendary figure in Cuba.
His work with Los Zafiros is imbued with deep joy in music making.
Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, Wanda Jackson, Aaron Neville & a Mystery Guest.
I spend a lot of time in Book Shops.
And it’s clear from the groaning shelves that Recipe Books are very popular indeed.
So, here’s my pitch for a new title :
‘The Record Company Recipe Book : 4 Ingredients for guaranteed success!’
1. Perspective :
Most people can’t see and hear the significance and potential of what’s right in front of them.
That’s because they’ve accepted, usually unconsciously, the assumptions and prejudices of the culture they grew up in.
So it’s a great boon if you encounter a native culture through the perspective of a stranger.
Someone who can see the veins of gold where others see only bare stones.
2. Intellectual and Emotional Intelligence :
It’s one thing to see potential it’s another to imagine how that potential could be realised in the form of artistic achievement and monetary reward.
So, you’re going to need a sharp and innovative mind and honed emotional antennae because you’re in a business where you have to consistently please and win the loyalty of both loose cannon creatives and the great record buying public.
3. Build a Team of All the Talents :
OK. You’ve found some artists who have real talent but that represents only the above the water part of the Iceberg whole.
You won’t get Hits regularly and generate tons of greenbacks unless you have a talented and committed team driving every aspect of the process that results in the bonanza of a big fat Hit.
So – find songwriters who know music, who know artists and who can write songs that play to the strengths of those artists and the tastes of the men and women gathered around the Jukebox and the Record Shop counter.
So – find a group of flexible musicians who will definitely turn up for the session and who can play brilliantly in a wide variety of styles so that whoever’s in front of them sounds like the leader of a superb band.
Add in a Whiz Kid Engineer/Producer who makes the resulting record sound fantastic on tne radio, in the bars and juke joints and on the home Hi-Fi (even it’s actually very Low-Fi).
So – find business managers and marketing staff who are hard headed professionals completely wedded to the cause.
4. Keep the Recipe to yourself and add a magic ingredient :
So, Keep the team motivated and loyal.
You’re a band of brothers not a corporate clique!
And, you know that when it comes to Singers in particular there’s a deep mystery as to why some voices turn on all the coloured lights and have people begging for more.
So, if you find one of those Singers – move heaven and earth to sign them up and get that whole team on the case so that those coloured lights burn bright all over the nation.
I know this Recipe works because it’s exactly the one followed by Ahmet Ertegun the founder and presiding power behind the enormous success story that was and is Atlantic Records.
He had the Perspective as the teenage son of the first Turkish Ambassador to the US who fell instantly head over heels in love with Black Music – Rhythm and Blues and Jazz on first encountering them.
With brother Nesuhi he found deep veins of gold in Milt Gabler’s Commodore Music Shop to the extent that they amassed a collection of over 15,000 78s and became acquainted with musicians such as Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton.
They promoted concerts and traveled to the sacred music sites in New Orleans and Harlem to listen first hand to the music and so develop a keen awareness of contemporary musical tastes.
There’s no doubt he had the intellectual and emotional intelligence.
When his father was recalled Ahmet knew his future lay in the US and that he could found a record company that would prospect for and discover black singers and musicians who could reach way beyond the, ‘Race Records Market’ if their work was professionally recorded and marketed.
Surely, that cat Ray Charles should stop trying to imitate Charles Brown and cut loose in the studio like he does at his shows?
The man’s a genius and I’m going to tell him so and together we’re going to revolutionise the music world!
People are going to know a Rhythm and Blues (so glad I brought Jerry Wexler who coined that term into the fold) record on Atlantic is guaranteed to get your heart thumping and your hips loosening and once they do they’ll be queueing up for each new release.
Team of Talents?
Well how about songwriters like Jesse Stone and Leiber & Stoller.
Musicians like ace Guitarist MIckey Baker and Sax Sensation Sam The Man Taylor.
How about that Kid Tom Dowd who Is an absolute wizard in the Studio! He keeps asking for new equipment and I keep saying yes because he makes our discs just sound better and better.
How about Miriam Abramson and Francine Wakschal in publishing and accounts. They know how every dime is spent and nobody gets to rip them or us off!
Magic Ingredient you say?
Well how about the time I want to see Billy Ward & The Dominos at Birdlland (mainly to hear Clyde McPhatter) and found Billy had just fired Clyde!
Now, though Clyde was the reason those Dominos’ records sold so well he didn’t get the credit as most people assumed Billy himself was the lead vocalist.
Clyde has captured true Gospel fervour and combined it with down and dirty R&B so that you gotta say, ‘OOOH – WEEE’ right along with him.
Lets sign him up and get him in the studio as fast as possible with some great singers behind him.
Jesse says he’s got a sure fire hit with a song called, ‘Money Honey’ (great title Jesse).
Sex and Money – top of pretty near everybody in the world’s wish list!
Can’t wait to hear Clyde light that one up.
Going to call the group, ‘The Drifters’.
Clyde knows the singers whose talents will perfectly frame his own.
Bill Pinkney has a smooth baritone, Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher have such sweet tenor voices while Willie Ferbie holds down the bottom end.
Got a feeling this ain’t gonna be no one off Hit.
Landlord ain’t gonna be ringing our Bell.
Lord, but this is going to sound great.
I’ll bet we sell a million and that years from now people will still be recording Money Honey – one thing I can tell you nobody will ever out sing Clyde!
No one ever topped Clyde for roller coaster, thrill a minute, I may just have to scream I’m so excited vocal drama!
There’s a wonderful confidence and certainty oozing from every second of the song as if everyone knows they’ve sure hit pay dirt this time.
Money Honey was recorded on 8 August 1953 as The Drifters debut 45.
Straight to the top of the R&B charts and taking up residence on the list for almost 6 Months.
And, straight into the affections of generations of singers and musicians.
Here’s Jukebox Hero Ry Cooder really getting into a groove before a live audience.
Ain’t no doubt about it Ry can really make that Guitar talk!
It’s the mark of a great musician to put their own stamp on a well known song and make you listen to it with a new sense of its depths and joys.
Ry is always welcome here and soon he will feature in an extended Post solely dedicated to his storied career.
Remember I talked about Clyde McPhatter’s roller coaster, thrill a minute, I may just have to scream I’m so excited vocal brilliance?
Well here’s the stupendous fireball Wanda Jackson proving that she can set your heart ablaze just as thrillingly with her own vocal pyrotechnics!
How can you not fall deeply in Love with Wanda!
And, Now, The Jukebox introduces the promised Mystery Guest.
Duffy Power is something of a secret hero of the 1960s British Blues and Rock’n’Roll scene.
He had plenty of talent but somehow the alignment of the fates and his own troubles meant he became a marginal cult figure whose sales never matched his achievements.
Listen to his take here and see if you agree.
Jerry Garcia was a true music afficianado.
With The Dead and with his various side projects he payed loving homage to the music that had inspired him in his youth.
He obviously got a great buzz out of playing Money Honey – returning to it decade after decade.
Well wasn’t that a Kick!
Now to conclude, sadly in the week that brother Art Neville died, a glorious version from the one and only Aaron Neville.
I think Clyde will be singing along with this one on the celestial choir.
Old school relaxed brilliance.
Owing more than a little to the presence of Keith Richards on Guitar.
Got to admit that one had me resurrecting my cartwheeling skills!
The sun may shine and the wind may blow.
Lovers come and Lovers will surely Go.
But today’s lesson is that a song like Money Honey is here to stay.
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.
Oceans and oceans of emotion have flowed through the telephone wires buzzing above your head. Think of all the announcements.
I’ve passed my exams!
I’ll be home for Christmas!
We are going to get married!
It’s a Girl!
We did all we could but I’m sorry to tell you that …..
There was a time, centuries and centuries, when announcements like that came by letter or were delivered face to face. The invention of the telephone allowed direct personal communication at great distance bringing the disembodied voice right into your ear and mind.
And, humans being human the telephone has been used for every virtuous and nefarious purpose imaginable.
Right now someone is planning to call you with the aim of draining your bank account.
Right now someone is patiently listening to a tortured soul who thinks life isn’t worth living anymore and assuring them that there is at least one person who will answer when they call again.
Right now some poor sap is reeling as he learns that the party’s over; that love can lie, that the love still burning so bright for him is naught but cold, cold ashes for her. And, you know what? He still won’t believe it!
Slumped on his bar stool with the jukebox blaring he tries to clear the fog in his head to summon up all his persuasive powers for one last, ‘Don’t Go!’ plea.
Surely, if he can only find the right words, he can reignite those hot flames and they will be together again:
‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’
Ah, Jim Reeves, Gentleman Jim, the Prince, the peerless Potentate of three in the morning melancholia! I’ve spent many a night drinking deep with that velvet voice.
Many a night his oracular tones have echoed and reechoed in my mind and heart as I battled to accept the unacceptable, searching to find reasons, answers, and eventually a way out.
Mostly Jim taught me that there was no easy way out – some things can’t be worked round. No, they have to be got through, endured.
And if you need a companion on your exhausting, perilous progress back to sanity and some vestige of normality you won’t find one better than Jim Reeves.
You wont be surprised at Jim’s popularity in the Americas and in Europe. But, you might be a little taken aback to learn of his immense popularity in Jamaica and that in India and Sri Lanka he is enormously admired and revered by many as a, ‘Gandharva’ an earth born singer in tune with the heavens.
Jim’s, ‘I’m speaking directly to you, just you, in all your pain’ confiding vocals cut through barriers of race and culture.
No one is immune from Jim crooning, ‘Should I hang up or will you tell him he’ll have to go’ or, ‘Do you want me answer yes or no’.
And, tell me you don’t how the terrible cost of choking out the words, ‘Darling I will understand’.
Jim took Jim and Audrey Allison’s song which had done nothing in its first recording by Billy Brown and gave it a magic that endures. A magic that has won millions of listeners (14 weeks a country No 1 in 1960) and inspired hundreds of singers to seek out that magic too.
Jim Reeves life was cut short by a plane crash in 1964 but there can be doubt that as long as hearts get broken and people seek solace in music that Jim’s voice will live on.
Any Jukebox that I’ve got anything to do with will always have a copy of Jim Reeves ‘He’ll Have To Go’ ready to play for the lost and the lonely when they need it.
So, as sole proprietor of The Immortal Jukebox I’m announcing that, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ has been awarded the position of A13 on The Immortal Jukebox.
As its the season of goodwill and a time for generosity I’m donning my Santa Claus suit and bringing you several other versions of the song for you to digest with your drink of choice.
First up a rapturous, let’s turn the lights down and sway together in the cantina live version by Jukebox favourite, Ry Cooder, accompanied by Flaco Jimenez, the king of Conjunto, Norteno and Tejana accordion.
I think you’ll want a premium Tequila here.
‘He’ll Have To Go’ is always thought of a Country Pop song. However as the regal Solomon Burke definitively demonstrates below it works every bit as well as Country Soul.
Solomon has power in reserve as he cruises through his version suggesting depths of emotion by subtle shifts in tempo, accent and volume.
Solomon never lets you down.
I think a fine Tennessee sippin’ Whiskey will do the job here.
To conclude a version by one of the great rock/pop stars of the modern era, Elton John. At heart Elton has always been a huge music fan – someone who genuinely loves songs and singers.
As he says here he started out as the unregarded boy in the corner of the pub playing the piano. Since then, of course, he’s written more than a few songs himself that we all know by heart.
That’s how you become a huge star selling tens of millions of records. In addition he has been a relentlessly hard working performer and you can hear the fruits of all those hours on stage in this solo performance from 1992.
You’ll have to uncork the Champagne for this one.
Finally perhaps we should all close our eyes and sing our own a cappella version – remembering the time we all wished we could have said:
‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’
This post dedicated to George who’ll be listening in his rural retreat – no doubt with a fine bottle at hand.
I listened to a lot of versions of, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ preparing this post. A lot.
One I would definitely have included if Youtube would have cooperated was that by Glasgow’s great son, Frankie Miller (please look it up).
Frankie’s version is deeply heartfelt. In his 70s and 80s pomp Frankie could out write and out sing almost any singer you can think of.
Peers like Rod Stewart and Alan Toussaint recognised his special qulaities. Principally his ability to wring every blood drop of emotion from a song while carrying his audience with him through his beautiful rhythmic assurance.
If you do one thing this holiday season seek out Frankie Miller’s CD, ‘Highlife’ and then work your way through his catalogue. You won’t regret it.
I recommend a peaty single malt from Islay as your accompaniment.
Other versions I think you might profitably seek out include those from: Bryan Ferry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Rivers, UB 40, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Billy Joe Royal, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Cash, Harry Dean Stanton, Jackie Edwards, Elvis Costello and Tom Jones.
‘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.
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’.
‘Adultery is in most cases a theft in the dark.’ (Stefan Zweig)
‘To borrow against the trust someone has placed in you costs nothing at first. You get away with it, you take a little more and a little more until there is nothing more to draw on. Oddly, your hands should be full with all that taking but when you open them there’s nothing there.’. (Jeanette Winterton)
‘There must be millions just like you and me, practiced in the art …’ (John Hiatt from, ‘The Way We Make A Broken Heart’)
The human heart is about the size of a large fist and usually weighs about 10 ounces. Throughout each twenty four hours of light, half-light, near dark and dark your heart will beat some 100,000 times and if you are lucky enough to live a long life it will beat on and on three billion times and more.
Beyond its anatomical functions the heart has had, in virtually all cultures, a central place in human beings understandings and puzzlements about why we live the way we do: sometimes behaving honourably and faithfully sometimes turning away to wilfully betray our deepest loyalties.
The theme of love found, love lost and love betrayed has been a constant subject in all forms of art since the first cave dwellers palm painted their walls.
Singers and songwriters have found that a truthful song about the twisted dance of the human heart as expressed in our carnal and marital relationships never fails to find an audience which will recognise their own story or one of someone they know all too well.
Artists within the Country and Soul genres, speaking as they do to adult audiences, have specialised in forensically examining the sorrow and the shame, the exultation and the guilt, the secrets, lust, lies and conspiracies involved in those trysts conducted in the shadows away from the homes and marriages where the spurned spouse sleeps unknowingly with their heart beating steadily on.
Rosanne Cash’s version of John Hiatt’s, ‘The Way We Make A Broken Heart’, featured above, was a number 1 single on the US Country charts in 1987.
The song had originally appeared on Ry Cooder’s superb 1980 album, ‘Borderline’.
Ry, with John in the band, gives the song a wonderfully aching confessional treatment.
John Hiatt in this song carefully delineates a virtual users guide or manual for those locked in the throes of an illicit affair.
The song recognises that the fruits of the passion shared by the protagonists are wormwood for the third party and come at high cost for all concerned. The song speaks of guilt, sorrow, lies and a trail of tears and ruefully acknowledges that the cycle may be unstoppable, ‘She’ll find somebody new and he’ll likely hurt her too’.
However, it must be allowed that this perception may be the self-justifying shrug of a repeat offender who cannot believe others might follow a straighter path.
Still the affair must play out its painful course. Passion and longing are the drivers for the affair and once the strings are attached all must play their part whether they are willingly cast or not.
In all affairs there is longing; longing to experience once again the white hot flame of addictive lust, longing to become again the person who inspires lust in another, longing for the thrilling possession of the shared secret knowledge of new lovers.
In the song we are in the shadows where lights are low and where on some dark night the lights will be forever dimmed on this affair. The song flatly advises that you get used to telling lies and intimates that the sorrow felt when the tears fall becomes ritualised rather than truly felt.
The song may reveal the protagonist as an unreliable narrator who reveals more about himself, to his discredit, than he assumes in the telling of his tale. Hiatt’s reverence for the short stories of Raymond Carver may be making their influence felt here.
Rosanne Cash was at the height of her commercial success in 1987 racking up hit after hit: demonstrating that her success was due to far more than the help having her father’s name had given her initial steps in the music business.
Rosanne sings Hiatt’s song and makes it her own giving it an almost hysterical force in the live version shown here. Her lovely silver bell like voice rings out making every word strike home to do its emotional work on the listener.
The arrangement and instrumentation take the song, given a soul/R&B flavour on the original recording, to the Tex/Mex borderlands emphasising the lyrical ballad like shape of the song and giving it a delirious dance rhythm.
It feels as if Rosanne is singing the song to herself as she twirls and twirls around a hardwood floor becoming giddier and giddier as she circles.
Perhaps that’s why she lets loose with those intoxicating, ‘Ay, Ay, Ays’ as the song draws to a close.
The hangover can, as she knows it must, kick in tomorrow! Tonight it’s a time to dance.
The pleasures and the pain of an affair are inextricably intertwined and this song and this performance bring both facets alive before us.
How we hear the song will, of course, be partly determined by our own histories.
We all have lessons to learn.
Rosanne has a distinguished catalogue which shows a highly intelligent woman building upon her considerable gifts as a writer and singer to create works of enduring musical merit and emotional impact.
I particularly recommend the albums, ‘Seven Year Ache’ (for the announcement of a real talent), ‘King’s Record Shop’ (for its maturity and the luminous version of, ‘Runaway Train’) and two albums of beautiful but brutally honest and painful introspection, ‘Interiors’ and, ‘The Wheel’.
In the last decade Rosanne has produced a triumphant trio of records, ‘The List’, ‘Black Cadillac’ and, ‘The River And The Thread’ which show an artist at the height of her powers able to honour her family and regional heritage and face head on the sorrows and griefs which assail every life in songs of deep craft and humanity.
She has also written an affecting memoir, ‘Composed’ to add to her earlier short story collection, ‘Bodies Of Water’.
I think we can safely, at this point, refer to Rosanne Cash as a Woman in full.
John Hiatt is a top drawer songwriter and performer who has written a cache of songs including the song featured above which have been recognised by fellow practitioners like Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan as modern standards.
Chief among these is the song, ‘Across The Borderline’ which uses the Rio Grande border as a metaphor for the borders we all long to cross while remaining fearful that the promised dream may turn out not to be the gateway to the future we have fondly imagined.
For, we know or dread, that the promises we believe in or make to ourselves can often be broken by our own fallibility or the malevolence of fate.
There are wonderful versions for you to seek out by Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender and Willy Deville (who also does a characteristically dramatic version of ‘The Way.. ‘).
Each artist covering the song brings their own understanding of the history and promises involved in the ballad to the microphone – its a song that asks questions of each singer who takes it on.
John Hiatt’s songs are the product of a highly literate imagination tuned into the rhythms and routines of the victories and defeats of everyday life as lived in communities and towns in modern America.
They are principally set in the South where the accents are rich and stories and myths abound to be told and retold.
Some of his songs have a pickup out of control on a country road propulsion (Tennessee Plates’ ) and some have a woody back porch lyricism (Lipstick Sunset).
All his best songs have wit and sharp observation incarnated in well honed lyrics. Hiatt is a hymnist of scarred blue collar lives giving them their due weight in careful description and emotional drama.
Recommended CDs– ‘Bring The Family’, ‘Slow Turning’, ‘Crossing Muddy Waters’, ‘Open Road’ and, ‘Anthology’ are my picks though a trawl through his extensive catalogue will undoubtedly find you adding your own choices to this list