(Sunday, 6/14/2015) Song 255: Snowflakes by Terry Kitchen, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Seven weeks after my last playlist song by a personal friend, this week's track is by my friend Terry Kitchen, and since we're only a few days away from the first official day of summer, why not post a tune about snowflakes? This track closes Terry's 2009 CD Summer to Snowflakes and presents a moving eulogy to a young woman bullied into taking an overdose as a means of escape. As I mention in my post for Song 122 (Break the Same Heart Twice by TK), I spent a memorable weekend as Terry's guest back in March of 1993, just about the time a major blizzard hit the Boston area, so for a couple of days, he and I both saw quite a lot of snowflakes. For that weekend, he had jokingly nicknamed his apartment Ice Station Zebra, and I will forever remember it by that moniker. As much white stuff as we saw from that blizzard, though, the winter of 2015 brought a much greater storm of snowflakes and I can't quite imagine how the neighborhood around Ice Station Zebra looked only a few months ago, but for this track, Terry has made good use of an image quite commonly seen in his vicinity.
(Sunday, 6/7/2015 -- edited 6/14/15) Song 254: Mason-Dixon Line by The Long Ryders, written by Stephen McCarthy. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual track is just a graphic of the State Of Our Union cover, but when the audio track sounds this good, for well over 4 minutes, that graphic actually seems to look better the more you look at it. Back in the mid-'80s I played bass briefly with a quartet doing mid-'60s-style songs under the name The Jet Set, and the group's leader was a big fan of the Long Ryders. He gave me a cassette with a bunch of their songs on it, and not too long after that, I started collecting their albums. If you like the Byrds as much as I do, then you'll probably also like State Of Our Union as much as I do. This cut will give you a good feel for what to expect from the record. Being a song about a truck driver, it works particularly well as traveling music, and coming from the era when the ICC was still keeping an eye on truckers, the lyrics have a line about the agency, just as Six Days on the Road (Song 224) does. Of course, the trucker doesn't much like the agency, since most of the money he sees goes straight to the ICC, according to the lyrics. The government does have a good reason for taking a big bite out of the trucker's income, though, which has to do with how his rig tears up the highways he travels on, but the song's words don't cover that angle. The chorus does mention driving on a 6-lane highway, and I often think of those lines when driving on one of those roads myself. The song lyrics paint a clear picture of a guy who has already driven 16 hours but has no time to sleep and who takes his whites just to get through the night. If you've ever known any truckers, then you know how real that picture is, as they commonly work incredibly long hours for a paycheck that ends up amounting to less than minimum wage. What you may or may not know, even if do you know a truck driver, is that the title of this song comes not from the line that defines the MD/VA border but from the name of an actual trucking company -- I know that because I've seen those trucks on the highway. On the music side, I especially like how the Ryders work a banjo into the mix, and keep it rocking as they do, so I'd have to say that on this track, the band really delivers!
(Sunday, 5/17/2015) Life imitates art, and Rolling Stone imitates... Dave? I've been doing this playlist for almost 2 years now, and the cover of the latest issue of RS (5/21/15) announces a Playlist Special that includes the likes of Brian Wilson, Bob Seger, Eric Church and Mavis Staples (all of whom have appeared on this playlist), each one naming their favorite records. Did Rolling Stone get the idea from me? I couldn't say for sure, but it does make me wonder. Either way, onward and upward to Song 251: Detroit City by Bobby Bare, written by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The summer before the Beatles rocked my world, a few folk and country records grabbed my attention in a major way, including this one, which I learned so well that I soon knew all the lyrics and could sing along with every line when the radio played it. In the early '80s, I happened to see Bobby Bare doing a short set for a Bread and Roses concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, and the female friend who sat next to me during the performance tolerated my singing along with Bobby until he got to the spoken part about how he rode the freight train north to Detroit City, at which point she insisted that I stop, so I did. Having learned those lines so well in the summer of 1963, I later wondered if the spoken part about riding the freight train might have influenced my writing of The Wanderer a half-dozen years later, in the fall of 1969. On a side note, I have an incidental connection with Mel Tillis due to a double-exposure that my friend Brian Groppe accidently took, and that I liked so much I used it on the inside of the Elder Street CD. Brian took a picture outside the Berkeley club called The Keystone which we played on this particular night, and then took a picture of our band on stage, with me at the mic playing acoustic guitar. The two images worked well together, and include a billboard above the club that announced an upcoming Mel Tillis show at a Reno hotel, so in this odd and distant way, Mel and I remain forever linked.
(Sunday, 5/10/2015) Song 250: Step Right Up by Tom Waits, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here which has some interesting images that fit quite well with the track. In writing about TW's 2nd LP Heart of Saturday Night, the Rolling Stone reviewer suggested that Tom might be losing the heart of Saturday night, and his musical soul, behind the mask of the stage persona that he had crafted, and when I saw him perform a set on a TV show not long after reading that review, I thought the writer might have been correct. However, a couple of years later, along came Small Change, where TW took the updated '50s beat poet persona and his music to a whole other level, breathing more heart and soul into that artistic vision than I could ever have imagined. On this, the second track of the album, he shape shifts into the ultimate fast-talking salesman, making an endless stream of claims about the product which he knows (and we know) cannot possibly be true. He even adds in get away from me, kid, you bother me near the end of the cut, which is a line comedian W. C. Fields used, and which was a phrase commonly uttered by carnival barkers when they felt the need to try to keep children from causing a distraction that could potentially interfere with the fast talk. Even though batteries (are) not included, and I'm not quite sure of the nature of the terms available, I'm quite willing to step right up and buy what's Tom's selling here, especially when it sounds this good, and this funny.
Song 249, Sunday, 5/3/2015 -- Ain't Wastin' Time No More by the Allman Brothers Band, written by Gregg Allman. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Before the plane I was riding touched down in Atlanta in June of '71, I had never heard of the Allman Brothers Band, but practically everyone I met there had ABB records, and midway through that summer, At Fillmore East arrived, making such a big splash that the wave extended across the whole country, so that by the time I returned to the Chicago area in the early fall, all my RnR friends there were rocking with the Allmans as well. After years of struggle and hard work, the Brothers had finally achieved at least a measure of the acclaim and success they had earned, which made it all the more tragic when lead guitarist Duane Allman, the heart and soul of the band, died suddenly a couple of days before Halloween in a dreadful motorcycle accident, at the age of 24. I still remember the sad radio announcement of that event, and I wondered how the band would carry on. Well, carry on they did, largely to honor Duane's name and his memory. Brother Gregg had written the music to this song before Duane's death, and Duane had heard it, so following the tragedy, Gregg then wrote the words to convey a message about how fleeting life is, and how people need to appreciate the moments of their lives, doing what they can when they can, because life might end at any moment. This track opened the LP Eat a Peach that appeared in February, a few months after Duane's accident, and it showcased the band at the top of their game on all levels. It got a substantial amount of airplay, as did a few other notable tracks from the album, for good reason. The title of the LP had come from an answer Duane had given in an interview when asked about peace, to which he had said that whenever he was in Georgia (his home state) he would eat a peach for peace. Sadly, Gregg's lyrical vision that someday all the war freaks would die off and leave the younger generation alone to raise their children in peace has not yet happened -- there are still plenty of war freaks around, and the fight for peace continues (see my latest anti-war song video If I Was You here).
Song 248, Sunday, 4/26/2015 -- Perfect Stranger by Patti Rothberg, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Being 7 weeks since my last song post by a personal friend, this week's song is by my friend Patti Rothberg. I met Patti in the fall of 2003 when she was working on her Double Standards CD, which was her third album-length recording, and in the process of working with her on the EPK for DS, she gave me some VHS performance tapes of her earlier songs, plus her first 2 CDs. I hadn't previously heard any of her earlier music, and I remember that the first time through with one of her VHS tapes, listening casually while in the middle of some other task, I noticed that I was liking every track, and not just kinda liking them, but really liking them, which is quite unusual for me. I followed with the Candelabra Cadabra CD, and well before the final song, I had become a major PR fan, catching clever lines and savoring prime musical moments. Following up with Between the 1 and the 9 just pulled me in even deeper, and this track comes from that collection. If you don't know Patti's music, this song can make a fitting introduction, as a solo performance that showcases her strong voice, her tasty guitar technique and her mastery of the songwriting craft, both lyrically and musically. It features her sweeter side, with some serious reflections, but she can also rock out with the best of 'em -- check out Alternate Universe (Song 87) and Treat Me Like Dirt (Song 17). Both of those cuts also illustrate her understated humor, while this one shows that she's got serious and thoughtful things to say as well. Patti is no longer a stranger to me, but even as she adds to her discography, including her recent Black Widow CD, she still manages to stay perfect to me.