(Sunday, 4/3/2016) Song 297: Daddy Turned Grey by John Sonntag, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for it here. Seven weeks after my last post of a song by a personal friend, this week's cut is by my friend John Sonntag. I mentioned him in my post 2 weeks ago (Song 295 -- Car Wheels on a Gravel Road) because he was the one who introduced me to the music of Lucinda Williams, and in the same era that he did that, I also heard him perform this song, which I really liked. The lyrics paint a very clear picture of a town betrayed by the management class and robbed of its industrial employment base. I know John comes from the Pittsburgh area, and though I never actually spoke with him about his family's history, I would bet this track tells a true story, and that his father probably worked in the steel mills there when he was growing up. This betrayal of the working class by upper management has repeated itself over the last few decades for far too many times to even keep score, and in almost every case, as the workers and their town turned grey overnight, those upper management types, strangely enough, they're doing well, if not very, very, very well. I wrote a song similar to this one, about the same topic, using the former steel town of Bethlehem, PA, as my inspiration, because I've spent a lot of time there, being quite fond of the Godfrey Daniels Coffeehouse, and over the years, on my visits, I picked up a lot of clues from the scenery, leading to a track that I called Cold Company Town, which you can listen to here.
(Sunday, 3/27/2016) Song 296: Wild One by Thin Lizzy, written by Phil Lynott. You can find a YouTube video for it here. When the Irish band Thin Lizzy hit the radio and the charts in the summer of '76 with their one and only major U.S. hit The Boys Are Back in Town, I found it a bit disappointing. While it wasn't a bad song, it sounded to me like a step down from the quality of their previous album Fighting that had come along the previous year. I had heard Wild One a few times on a Chicago-area radio station from the far suburbs that played a lot of cool stuff not heard on the major stations, and that convinced me to take a chance on the LP, which turned out to be a very good investment that I often listened to from the first cut on side one to the last groove on side two. I guarantee that if this list gets long enough, Spirit Slips Away will appear on it someday, and possibly one or two other tracks from the album. The band's name, by the way, is a clever takeoff on the old school term Tin Lizzie, which was the nickname for the Ford Model T that I heard my grandparents mention quite a few times. Phil Lynott, who played bass, sang lead, acted as frontman and wrote most of the band's songs, including this one, was the first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in rock music, and sadly, he died in early 1986 at the age of 36. I sometimes wonder if the Wild One Phil sang about in this cut might have acted a bit like the Crazy Ones (Song 285) that John Mellencamp sang about, and maybe if Phil had lived a few years longer, rather than singing "So you go your way, wild one -- I'll try and follow" he might have ended up singing "So you go your way, wild one -- there's no way I could follow" instead.
(Sunday, 3/20/2016) Song 295: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for it here. My good friend and fellow singer/songwriter John Sonntag introduced me to the music of Lucinda Williams in the fall of 1991 -- he played me her debut CD, and I thought it sounded pretty good. When a new LW CD appeared in the summer of 1998 that featured this cut as its title track, I thought it sounded even better, and since adding the disc to my collection, it has taken a spin on my various players many times. I usually enjoy the entire CD, but this track in particular always brings multiple images to mind, making me feel as if I'm taking that car ride along a gravel road, even when I'm actually cruising down some 4-lane blacktop. While a few of the song's phrases paint specifically southern scenes, most of the passing sights and sounds could easily find a place in a working-class country view from a northern setting. I know that I heard a lot of these same remarks from my parents and grandparents, though on the first line of the second verse, one of them would have used the word darn instead of damn, with a touch of religious guilt attached, but otherwise, I well remember that low hum of voices in the front seat, and, as someone who often caught the sound of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road while growing up, I can tell you that this cut is exactly what those tires sound like as they're rolling over those tiny little stones.
(Sunday, 3/13/2016) Song 294: Matchbox by Carl Perkins, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for this song here. Before the Beatles rocked my world in February of 1964, I knew nothing about rock and roll, so of course, the first version of this song that I learned was the Beatles recording of it. From the very beginning of my interest in records, though, I always took note of songwriter names, so at some point, when I had the chance to read the label of Something New, I noticed that someone named Carl Perkins had actually written this particular favorite. I slowly came to understand that an earlier generation of rock and rollers had preceded the Fab Four, and I began to learn more about their influences when I got my hands on their official biography during my senior year. Fast forward a couple of years, and with the '50s RnR revival of the early '70s, I started hearing a lot of vintage Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and others, giving me a clearer idea of how Carl Perkins also fit into that mix in a significant way. Very early in my own guitar experience, I figured out how to play this tune, and it became part of my standard cover repertoire, which would have come in quite handy if there's any truth to the rumor of my membership in a country-bar pickup band slouching around the East Bay club scene in the 1980s, as this song would have been that band's usual opener. In researching the original recording, I learned that Jerry Lee Lewis played piano on the track, accompanied by Carl's older brother Jay (James Buck) Perkins on acoustic guitar and his younger brother Lloyd Carter Perkins on bass. I also found out that on the same day the group recorded this cut, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley dropped by the studio later and jammed along with Carl and the band. Matchbox originally arrived as the B-side of the Your True Love single, and at the time only the A-side charted, although the B-side would later become much more well-known. The lyrics to verse 1 of Carl's track appeared earlier on discs from the 1920s by Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson, though no one knows now if either of them originated the lines or pulled the words from traditional sources, but even if everything else Carl ever did was wrong, this cut turned out quite all right, as, in fact, a bunch of his other ones did too, so possibly a few of them might appear on this list at different points in the future.
(Sunday, 2/28/2016) Song 292: Smuggler's Blues by Glenn Frey, written by Glenn Frey and Jack Tempchin. You can find a YouTube video for this song here. I wanted to post a Glenn Frey track on the playlist today as a sort of small tribute to him because of his recent death, which I only learned about over the last 2 weeks, though he died about 6 weeks ago, on January 16th. I had mixed feelings about much of the Eagles work -- some of their songs I really liked, and others I didn't care to ever hear again once they had finished their initial radio run. After the Eagles broke up in 1980, I had no particular expectations for the individual members, so when this cut came along a few years later, it totally took me by surprise, and it quickly became a favorite. I felt it encapsulated a very real concern of the time, and did so to the accompaniment of some very impressive slide guitar riffs. Unfortunately, this song has lost none of its relevance over the last 3 decades, and until we end the authoritarian War on Drugs, the unnecessary violence and mass incarcerations will continue, with the U.S. taxpayers footing a bill that now exceeds $1.5 trillion.
(Sunday, 2/21/2016) Song 291: Midnight Confessions by The Grass Roots, written by Lou Josie. You can find a YouTube video for this song here. You might notice that the linked video of the band performing on a TV show sounds exactly like the record, and you'll also hear the sound of a horn section in some places, though you don't see any brass players onstage with the band. While it's possible that a TV show could have a horn section playing along in a pit next to the stage, it's not possible that a live ensemble could sound exactly like a record, especially back in that era, and most certainly when the sound includes a horn section coupled with a typical RnR instrumental quartet. Without question, the band was lip-syncing to the record here, but they do so in a truly entertaining way. This hit song from the summer of '68 seemed like a good track to post for this week since my political blog for the week (at Politics 106 or on Daily Kos as DaveElder) concerns a confession that I'm making about the election season of 1968, which roughly corresponds with the time this cut graced the airwaves. The single peaked just as summer turned to fall, not long after I began my senior year at HS, and the varsity football team that included a handful of my classmates began what would end up being its second undefeated season in a row, and probably its last one ever. Before one of those Friday night home games, I spent some time sitting in a car parked next to the bleachers, talking with a girl who I really wanted to talk with, though the conversation did not go the way I had hoped. The radio played during our chat, and at an awkward moment this cut offered some welcome relief to an otherwise heavy silence. As much as I liked the track, I didn't learn all the words until a couple of years later when I owned the record, and then I realized that the singer is confessing to loving a woman in his social circle who wears a little gold ring on her hand. I always enjoyed the musical bit near the end where all the other players drop out, and the singer delivers his line backed up only by the organ, which slyly hints at a kind of holy confession. While I had wanted to confess to the young woman in the car before the football game that I loved her, I didn't confess anything, but it would take some more time before I finally understood that, like the singer in the song, I too was wasting my time. She inspired lots of songs, and on my YouTube channel, I have referred to her as Ms. Yellow Shoes, alluding specifically to one of those songs.