(Sunday, 12/6/2015) Song 280: White Room by Cream, written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. You can find a YouTube video for the studio version of this tune here. The visual for the YT video is just the cover of Wheels of Fire, but if you have to look at a still image while listening to a powerful RnR recording, it's actually quite an interesting album graphic and it might keep your attention. When this single came rocking across the airwaves in the fall of my senior year at HS, I thought it sounded even better than all of Cream's other records, as good as those were. I especially liked the way the slow sections build a musical tension that finds release in the fast parts, though until I read the Wikipedia entry today, I hadn't noticed that those slow sections are in a 5/4 time signature, further setting them off from the faster 4/4 parts. I also really liked the way EC handles the solo, starting off in a more slow and deliberate way and then building from there. I have always felt -- and I think most lead players would agree -- that while speed and dexterity do have their place, the best-sounding lead part for a song doesn't have to be the hardest or most impressive one possible, and, as often as not, simplicity can be the key to crafting a catchy and memorable lead. My favorite part of Clapton's solo on this track comes with the first group of riffs, and while he certainly does a fine job with the rest of it, for me, it reaches the peak almost immediately, although, of course, he plays the rest of it so well that it never loses my attention. His use of the wah-wah pedal throughout the lead also adds a decorative quality to the notes. Sadly, not long after this record hit the charts came news that the trio had already broken up, though, as a consolation, the word also included the promise of one more LP to follow shortly, so we could still look forward to a final album. I heard many times during that era and over the following decades about tensions between the players pulling the band apart, but never got the details. At some point in the early to mid '90s, I saw a piece on TV about Ginger Baker, who was then living on a horse ranch in Colorado, and I thought he looked like he was doing well, especially considering the talk I had heard as a teenager about Baker's severe drug issues which at the time had made it seem like he might not survive more than a year or 2 at best. Then in 2005 I got to see, and enjoy, a TV broadcast of the Cream reunion concerts, and also to learn that it was heat between Baker and bassist Jack Bruce that had torn the band apart in late '68 and that continues to present a challenge to possible reunions. Fortunately, at least for a short time in 2005, the two were able to perform together before an audience, and to show that while they may not get along so well on a personal level, they can, along with Clapton, still make some very memorable music together on a stage. Music is truly the language of peace, isn't it!
(Sunday, 11/29/2015) Song 279: Coyote by Rank and File, written by Chip and Tony Kinman. You can find a YouTube video for the studio version of this tune here or a live version performed on Austin City Limits in 1983 here. One of my Berkeley singer/songwriter friends liked Rank and File a lot, and after I heard him play a couple of their songs, I liked what I heard and soon picked up a copy of their debut album Sundown. It quickly became a favorite, as one of those LPs that I listened to from beginning to end, sometimes tempted to replay. While I enjoy all of the record's cuts, The Conductor Wore Black (Song 180) tops the list, with this one coming in a close second, and in light of the recent (and ridiculous) controversy over accepting Syrian refugees, it seemed like an appropriate song to post at this particular moment in time. The track tells the kind of tragic tale that had occurred on the north side of the Mexican border for decades when the Kinman brothers wrote it, and that still continues in shameful variations to this day. My own song End of the Highway (which you can hear here) tells a somewhat different melancholy story, but basically comes out of the same border conflict, with similar tragic consequences. The lyrics of Coyote paint a clear picture of a boy who has ended up alone, separated from his family, in a strange place that's too far north with no place to go and no way back to where he came from. Anyone familiar with this border conflict will recognize the callous attitude in the lines, "What's all the fuss, they ain't like us, they don't matter anyway." Those words, that come from a rancher's son's following his reply to "what happened to the lad" where he says "Oh, I don't know but we didn't do nothin' bad" tell the listener that they most certainly did do something bad, confirmed by the rest of verse 1 when the listener hears "took their hands and we bound them up with wire and when the sun went down they felt the fire." The Kinman brothers crafted a very powerful and timeless tale three decades ago that sadly resonates much too strongly in the present day as well, with types like Trump only adding fuel to the fire. In watching the Austin City Limits video at the link above, I wondered if any of the dancers actually understood the story painted in the lyrics, although this is the kind of song that you can enjoy without grasping its deeper meaning, and I will confess that at the time of the ACL performance, I myself hadn't picked up on that thought, and wouldn't do so for quite a long time. Today, though, I can't miss seeing the fear in the eyes of those who would say, and believe, they ain't like us, they don't matter anyway.
(Monday, 11/23/2015) Song 278: Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp by Laura Nyro, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. In the fall of 1970 i saw Laura Nyro perform a concert in Chicago, touring to promote her latest album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat which included this cut, and she probably covered it that night, but it was her performance of another track from the record that left a deeper impression on me (Song 174 -- Been on a Train), plus a couple of her older hits that she did to close out the show. Fast forward a few years, and on a typical bone-chilling Chicago winter night, as I entered a woman's apartment in the process of helping her move some items out to a car, I heard her stereo playing a song that sounded familiar, but I couldn't identify it, and had to ask her what it was. When she answered, I felt as if I should have known, and when I got back to my place, I soon had Christmas and the Beads of Sweat on the turntable, reacquainting myself with music I had learned to love a few years earlier, but that I had somehow lost track of at some point along the way. One thing that always impressed me about Laura Nyro was the way in which she varied the timing in her songs to fit the emotion and the movement of the track. In most forms of music, from classical to RnR, musicians usually follow time signatures religiously, or try to do so, but Ms. Nyro made some very impressive recordings in her career that did not adhere to strict timing, and those tracks convey a sense of freedom, taking off and flying in any direction, in a way that could change at any moment, and perhaps coming in for a landing in a very unexpected place. This song provides an entertaining example of this type of unexpected flight of fancy, and along with a number of her other cuts, such as Been on a Train, it opened my ears to possibilities for playing with timing, and inspired some of my own personal flights of fancy, such as Shake the Dust. On a side note, for anyone who thinks I might be pushing the season by posting a song from an album with Christmas in the title, just remember that four days from today is a day commonly known as Black Friday, and I think most of us know that it has earned that name because of its connection to a certain December holiday.
(Monday, 11/16/2015) Song 277: Jealous Bone by Patty Loveless, written by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. In the late '80s and early '90s, you could often hear Patty Loveless in the mix on the NYC station that played music that at the time they were calling New Country, and I liked a lot of the cuts I heard from her, with this one being a particular favorite. As a songwriter, I never had any great interest in records about jealousy, and I tend to hear jealousy songs as a sign of lazy songwriting. Of the other 276 posts on this list, maybe a half dozen could be considered genuine jealousy tracks, and there might be about a dozen others where jealousy is part of the lyrical picture, along with other factors, so lyrics about jealousy don't generally get me that excited, but there are a few notable exceptions, such as the Beatles You Can't Do That, and I include this cut among those notable exceptions as well. Personally, I guess I'd have to say that if I have a jealous bone somewhere in my body, it must not be very big, especially compared to some other people I have known, who seem to have a much larger jealous bone that they don''t try to hide in any way. On a side note, this track is a sly reference to the second verse of my own song As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, which begins with the line Should Patty Loveless (?) You can find the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video here.
(Monday, 11/9/2015) Song 276: I'm From New Jersey by John Gorka, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Once again it comes around to seven weeks since my last personal friend song post, and in this case, I'd probably more accurately call John a friend of a friend. From the late '80s up through the mid-'90s, I moved through the same folk circles as him, and a number of my singer/songwriter friends knew John well. We met occasionally, and were quite friendly, though I'm not sure that he would recognize my name, but I well remember once playing a short set at Godfrey Daniels Coffeehouse in Bethlehem, PA, (a set that included Under the Table, which is the latest lyric video from the Who Said What CD to be posted on my YouTube channel, and which you can see here), and John had good things to say about my songs after the set, which made me feel pretty good. I saw John perform in a number of settings, from intimate coffeehouse rooms to expansive outdoor festival stages, and he often sang this tune, which never failed to please the crowd. Doing it live, he would often draw out a few of the funnier lines, for comic effect, and it worked every time, bringing smiles and laughter to the entire audience. The line about which exit would often get a smile from people in the area around NJ because people from the state would regularly refer to their home area by exit number rather than place name, which is a phenomenon I never encountered anywhere else. I'm not from New Jersey, but I have lived there for a few stretches, and somehow I could never remember what number my exit was, though maybe that happened because I sometimes took different routes, and I often caught the train when and where I could do so. There were a few different ways to get to Maplehurst Farms, where I lived when I recorded As Long As Merle is Still Haggard, and where my friend Gabriel Lopez shot the scenes for the Merle song video (which you can see here) that included my landlord Herb who owned Maplehurst Farms at the time, but not long after we shot the video, Herb sold the place, and now Maplehurst Farms is just a set of soulless McMansions, or Houses in the Fields, as John would have called them. When I lived on that farm, at least one of the other tenants referred to it as paradise, and i felt it was a very special place to live, like a hidden island of country surrounded by clueless suburbia, but the For Sale sign was already up before I moved out, so I didn't expect too much. These days, if I drive down to the end of Maplehurst Lane in Piscataway, I don't like what I see, but the old Maplehurst Farms ended, and so I have to adjust. Somehow, I think John would understand.
(Monday, 10/26/2015) Song 274: If I Was Your Man by Joan Osborne, written by Joan Osborne, Joseph Arthur, Louie Pérez, Rick Chertoff and Jack Petruzzelli. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. It seemed like a good time to post a Joan Osborne track because she's performing only a few miles from where I am tonight, though, due to some contrary circumstances, I can't make the gig, as much as I might wish I could. Back around the turn of the new millennium, I happened to catch a Joan set on TV, and I liked what I heard, both in the sound of her voice and in the songs she sang. She performed cuts from her then-current CD Righteous Love, and when she got to this one, it grabbed my attention with its layered sitar sound and an alluring melody that lingered in my mind. I still remember that magic TV moment, and I soon added Righteous Love to the CD collection. A few years later, when a friend gave me an iPod for Christmas, I made a place for RL in the iTunes list. Around the turn of the new decade, working on Who Said What, I would sometimes key up mixes of my own songs on the iPod as I rode the train into Manhattan, and sometimes other people's music, often including Righteous Love, so I might listen to my song If I Was You and then, not long after, I would listen to Joan's song If I Was Your Man. Both her song and mine are incorrectly worded -- the correct form of both phrases would use Were instead of Was -- and Daisy, who is the wife of my recording partner, engineer and co-producer David Seitz, didn't hesitate to mention that to me, mainly because she's a teacher and she doesn't appreciate the way performing musicians can lead her young charges astray, but the way I figure it, Joan's probably leading more of them astray than me at the moment, and if she can get away with it, then maybe I can slide too. Of course, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but If I Was You, I'd cut me some slack on that one, and give Joan some room as well.