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.
Song 223, Sunday, 11/2/2014 -- Just Another Movie by Timbuk 3, written by Pat MacDonald. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The weekend before an election seems like a good time to post this song, even though it's not a presidential election, which won't happen for another 2 years. Jeff Larson and his buddy and former neighbor Craig Rigglesford were both big fans of the Greetings from Timbuk 3 LP, and both of them praised it so highly that I felt I had to get to know the record better. In doing so, this song quickly became a favorite, even though initially the social critique about TV replacing reality for the viewers sounded a bit exaggerated to me (it no longer does, and hasn't for a long time). In one section of the song the recording includes what sounds like a TV broadcast, with a moderator asking the question, "Who controls the media?" At the time I first heard the recording, in the mid-80s, the question sounded ridiculous to me, as I naively believed the U.S. media to be too diverse to fall under the control of any one person, or group of people. As a musician, I understood the basic hype factor of the music press, but it never occurred to me that the mainstream press essentially functioned in a similar way. The question from the song resonated in my mind, though, and then one morning in 1993, I began to understand the answer to it. At the time, I listened to a news station every day while going through my morning routine, and so every morning I heard a story about Iraq, as had been the case for years. Then, the day Bill Clinton took the oath of office, I heard no stories about Iraq whatsoever -- suddenly, Iraq was not news. I felt pretty good about that, and I sensed that as long as BC was president, there wouldn't be another Iraq war. During the next 8 years, Iraq would occasionally pop up in the news, but not like it had during the GHWB years. Of course, starting on inauguration day of 2001, Iraq was once again headline news every day, and I sensed that another Iraq war would happen within a year or 2. On 1/20/93, the question in this song started to take on a deeper meaning to me, and I thought about the track quite often as I began to better understand the workings of the U.S. media. Then on 1/20/01, I had a quick reminder about what I had learned 8 years earlier, and with the continued passage of time, the words on this recording make even more sense than they did almost 3 decades ago.
Song 221, Sunday, 10/19/2014 -- Rose of Cimarron by Poco, written by Rusty Young. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Following last week's song by my friend Jeff Larson is a track which he turned me on to, and which I quickly grew to love. I knew and liked a few Poco tunes, but I didn't know their music as well as Jeff did, and he played this title track to their 1976 album after telling me he thought I'd really like it. I think he might have played most, if not all, of the rest of the LP, but this opening track just amazed me. I heard at least enough of the rest of the album to know I wanted to add it to my collection, but I liked this particular song so much that I might have even bought the record just to have a copy of this Rose for my own. I always enjoy the way the song moves from the first sort-of-normal part into the extended instrumental coda that ends the piece, and I feel that the track perfectly expresses the feeling of traveling through the American desert. I admit, though, that until researching this song today, I didn't know that the Rose of Cimarron was actually a real person -- apparently she was a woman who, during a shootout at the Oklahoma Territory town of Ingles in 1893 between U.S. Deputy Marshals and the Bill Doolin Gang, gave the outlaws some help that ended up being the key to their escape from the lawmen. She did this because her lover was a member of the outlaw gang. Rusty Young read about the Rose while on tour in Oklahoma with Poco, and turned the story into a song, but you don't need to know that story to enjoy the track, though it can add some deeper meaning to the lyric to know about the real Rose of Cimarron.
Song 220, Sunday, 10/12/2014 -- Rain Soaked Cloud by Jeff Larson, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a few stills -- the Close Circle CD cover, Jeff with his guitar, Jeff with Gerry Beckley, and a graphic of radio station WCGR -- but while the video may not give you a whole lot to look at, it does give you one very fine song for the listening. Once again, the playlist gets to a point 7 songs from the last personal friend song post, so this week's tune is by my friend Jeff Larson. The track is also about as new as anything on the playlist, coming from Jeff's July 2014 CD release, so I can't claim to have any historical associations with it, but I have listened to it a lot over the past couple of months. If you haven't heard any of Close Circle yet, this song makes a fine introduction, and will give you a good idea of what the rest of the CD holds in store. Jeff has his America friends backing him up on this one too, by the way -- Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell both do backing vocals, plus Gerry also handles the Wurlitzer and he produced the track. Close Circle has gotten a bunch of very favorable reviews lately. Jeff and I haven't seen much of each other since I moved back to the East Coast in the fall of '88, but recently we hooked up on a morning in Manhattan in early June to share a bite and talk things over, and yes, as it so happened, we carried our umbrellas because the walk from the hotel to the eatery took place under a Rain Soaked Cloud.
Song 219, Sunday, 10/5/2014 -- Feed the Tree by Belly, written by Tanya Donelly. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. While a lot of videos from this era, a couple of decades ago, don't move my meter very much, this one managed to hold my interest for the duration of the track, due to some very skillful editing, even though most of the imagery just shows the band appropriately performing the tune in a forest. Apparently it got plenty of attention when it appeared in early 1993, becoming a smash buzz bin MTV hit and garnering a nomination for Best Alternative Video VMA. I didn't watch MTV at the time, or ever, really, so I heard about this song from my drummer friend John Paul Wasicko, around the time when we began talking about maybe playing some music together, which we would start doing not long after (J.P. played drums on my Country Drivin' CD). I liked not only J.P.'s style of drumming, but also his taste in music, with this song, and the album Star, being a prime example. He told me he was really excited about this new song, along with the rest of the CD, and that I needed to hear it. After he put the CD on, playing this track, it didn't take long for me to feel the buzz, and I had a feeling that I'd probably like the rest of the record as much as he did. I also had a feeling at that moment that soon enough he and I would play some good music together, which I think we did.