Song 230, Tuesday, 12/23/2014 -- I Hear the Call by The Unforgiven, written by John Henry Jones. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. I wouldn't call the video for this song a great one, but it has some good scenes, and I could watch it again without feeling a strong sense of wasted time, unlike the way the vast majority of music videos make me feel, so I would call it one of the better ones I've seen. Going back a few years before there was a Clint Eastwood movie called The Unforgiven, there was an L.A. rock band by the same name, which is apparently more than coincidence, because, according to their official story, the band reached out to Eastwood, hoping to hire him as director for their music video. Clint didn't want to direct their video, but evidently he liked their name. I don't recall how I first heard the call of I Hear the Call, but within a year or so of its release, I had the LP called The Unforgiven spinning on my turntable quite a lot. A few years later, in compiling cassettes of favorite songs to accompany my musical travels, I added this song to an '80s favorites tape. Heading to Brooklyn a few short weeks ago in early November, I played that tape on the road, along with a few others, and the next day, walking in Park Slope on a balmy, sunny afternoon, a car went by playing a song that I recognized, and that I liked. I Hear the Call did not make the charts in the era of its release, and neither the LP The Unforgiven nor the band gained any wide recognition, but obviously, from my experience on the street in Park Slope, I can say that others besides myself must have heard the call and liked it. I often smile at the line Papa was loud but he thought of himself as the poetic type, I relish the guitar interplay, and I particularly enjoy the ending coda that takes the recording in a surprising and unique direction with some flute sounds that remind me of traditional Irish music -- hearing this call, I will gladly listen closely to it, and I will answer it.
Song 228, Sunday, 12/7/2014 -- Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues by Danny O'keefe, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. As the summer of 1972 started turning into fall, this song started climbing the charts, and on first hearing, I liked it a lot, then liked it more as I heard it more. Ironically, I picked up some criticism then from a member of the older generation I knew who, upon hearing this track on the radio, accused me of copping my entire style from the singer. While I liked the song and the tone, over the previous few years I had worked at developing an original artistic style for all facets of my music, and though I could admit to some common points with Danny O, it surprised me that this particular personal critic could believe I was imitating a guy who had only recently popped up on the radio, and who I knew nothing about before his big hit came across the airwaves. It didn't occur to me then, but looking back, I would guess that the critic had no idea that Danny O's record was new, and that I had no prior knowledge of him. Currently some commentary floating on the web quotes Mr. O as indicating that he wrote the song about an imaginary character, but back in the '70s I assumed that he was singing about himself, and I figured that when he said everyone was moving to L.A., he meant all of his musician friends, since L.A. had by then become the center of gravity for the American music business, and almost every other town, with a couple of exceptions, would waste your time if you wanted to pursue a career in modern music. Knowing this, I still spent 10 years living in Oakland and Berkeley, only visiting L.A. a few times, at least in part because living in the S.F. Bay Area can feel so good, even the possibility of a more rewarding career in southern CA, only a few hundred miles away, can't necessarily compel you to try moving to L.A.
Song 227, Sunday, 11/30/2014 -- Carrie by Bob Nichols, who also wrote the song. 7 weeks since posting a song by a personal friend, this week's song is by my 1980s Berkeley housemate, and sadly, since he died back in 2005, you probably won't catch any videos of Bob Nichols songs on YouTube any time soon, but you can hear this tune by clicking here. In the early '80s Bob did a handful of 8-track recordings, and then in '83 his band Moo put together a full-length cassette with 6 of Bob's recordings on side 1 and 5 songs by his band mates on side 2. Bob gave copies to everyone in my band, and I remember our drummer Darrell Heithecker saying that he liked the cassette so well, he thought it was the best tape he'd ever heard of original songs by people he knew personally. I just about agreed with him, though I had a couple of other friend recordings at the time that I liked quite well, and I found that I listened to that Moo tape a lot. These days I still do, though now I often listen to the recordings in digital form. When Bob first played the Carrie mix for me, I told him I really liked the solo. He laughed and said I was just impressed with it because it was a sax (instead of the usual guitar break), and that was at least partly true, but having heard it as many times as I have over the last 3 decades, I think that sax player came up with some pretty good riffs to fit this tune. Though I'm not a sax player, I would guess that this particular solo didn't require any fancy finger or lip work, but the worth of a solo is measured in how good it sounds, and how well it fits the song, so on both counts, I would say this sax break easily makes the grade. The one other part of this track that really appeals to me is the interplay between Bob's lead vocal lines and the backup singers, especially on lines like (Bob) "(You've) got your babies in beakers" / (backup) "still creepin' along" / (Bob) "You can't hide from the bomb" / (backup) "So long, so long". When I first heard the mix, I didn't get a few of the lines, and I asked Bob about them, but I now think that anyone could probably figure out what he's singing, and what he really means, by listening to the track enough times, and sounding as good as this song does, whatever you don't get the first time, you'll more than likely piece together before too long.
Song 225, Sunday, 11/16/2014 -- The Wheel by Jerry Garcia, written by Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Picking a track from the Grateful Dead catalog to follow last week's Six Days on the Road, Truckin' would seem like the obvious choice, but for some reason, even while writing last week's post, I had this song in mind as the followup instead. I couldn't have guessed then that by the time this day rolled around, I would find myself in a situation very much like the chorus of the tune, caught in a storm where I could do nothing to escape or remedy the present circumstance, so that if I did manage to avoid the thunder, then the lightning would surely get me. While I can do nothing to affect the wheel spinning around me, my present problem is in reality much more mundane than thunder and lightning, as most life predicaments generally turn out, but this song perfectly expresses that sense of finding yourself caught up in a swirling moment beyond your control, whether a major or a minor one. I remember when the Garcia LP hit the stores, and Sugaree got a lot of radio play, which it deserved, plus I heard Deal a few times as well, so I figured that I'd probably like the album, but when I heard this track and Bird Song, I knew I had to have the record, though I still didn't quite expect that Garcia and Bob Weir's Ace would end up being my 2 favorite Grateful Dead records, as they have. As well as the lyrics, I really like Jerry's pedal steel work on this song, which in my imagination draws musical sketches of the vast western American desert, with soaring rock formations, ghost towns and big, rolling skies. On a side note, the visual for the linked YT video of this recording is simply a still of JG's right hand print, reminding us that he only had about a third of his middle finger, having lost the rest at the age of 4 in a woodcutting accident. As many people have said over the years, "Imagine if Jerry had had all of his fingers", because he was a pretty impressive player by just about any standard, but knowing his lack of a complete middle finger makes his playing all the more impressive. On a further side note, I will admit that the verse about Round, round, Robin run around did inspire me a bit in writing my song Round Robin, which I recently completed a lyric video for, and you can see that video here.
Song 224, Sunday, 11/9/2014 -- Six Days on the Road by Dave Dudley, written by Earl Green and Carl Montgomery. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. In the summer before the Beatles came along and rocked my world, I was singing along with this track every time it popped up on the radio, along with a few other country and folk hits. I still well remember my parents being amused as they listened to their 11-year-old son sing, "I could have a lot of women but I'm not like some other guys." A few years earlier I had enjoyed every episode I could catch of a TV show about truck drivers called Cannonball, and growing up, my personal circle included a few men who drove trucks, including my father's brother, so I knew a few things about that world, such as the log book and the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) mentioned in the lyrics. Knowing some of the details of a truck driver's lifestyle did not in any way inspire me to want to be a trucker when I grew up, though, and speaking with a neighbor a couple of years ago as he commented on his recent experience of long hours on the road that ended up paying him less than minimum wage, the conversation solidly confirmed my impression that I hadn't missed anything by not going down that road. I did, however, get to see the highway from the passenger side of a trucker's cab a few times back in the 1970s, and I remain eternally grateful to every driver who stopped to pick me up when they saw me standing by the road with my thumb pointed in the direction they were headed. I am most grateful to the trucker who stopped for me and my female companion on a cold April evening in 1972 at a spot near D.C., later dropping us off by a motel around Harrisburg where we got a warm room for the night that only cost $10. So "Thank you" to all the truckers who gave me a ride, and if it happens that today adds up to Six Days on the Road (or more) for you, then I hope you're "gonna make it home tonight." On a side note, the woman at my side for that April 1972 hitch, and a bunch of other travels in that era, has a first name that begins with the letter K, as in my song Apology to K, which you can hear, in rough-cut video form, here. For one other side note, while the Dave Dudley version of this tune was the first, and to my ears is still the best, lots of other singers have covered it, and I also really like Livingston Taylor's take, from his autumn 1970 debut LP Livingston Taylor, for the way he rocks out on this old classic, in a way that fits in perfectly with a set of 10 of his own compositions. The opening track from that LP, Sit On Back, is Song 196 on this playlist, and if you follow the YouTube link on that listing, it plays the entire album, song by song, so you'll hear his version of this song as well -- it's the 3rd track, after Sit On Back and Doctor Man.