(Sunday, 6/19/2016) Song 308: After Midnight by JJ Cale, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for it here. It seemed appropriate to follow last week's post of a track by the King of the Slide Guitar Elmore James with another cut that features slide guitar, although this one does so in a much more laid back manner. After my 1971 summer in Atlanta, when I discovered the music of the Allman Brothers, quickly developed an appreciation of Duane Allman's slide guitar wizardry, and even made a vain attempt at sliding up and down a guitar fretboard, the following summer, this record started lighting up the airwaves. My failed attempts at playing slide guitar had deepened my appreciation of the technique, and of the musicians who had mastered it, so for me, this track came along at exactly the right time. Little did I know then that JJ had released the song as a single 6 years earlier, and I had also missed Eric Clapton's hit version from 1970. It was actually Clapton's hit that prompted Cale to re-record the piece and include it as part of a complete album called Naturally. Not long after this single appeared, Naturally I added the LP to my collection, and it spent plenty of time spinning on my turntable. Sadly, JJ died of a heart attack about 3 years ago, in July of 2013, at the age of 74, so even After Midnight these days, he's not gonna cause talk and suspicion any more, but maybe once in a while some of the rest of us can, and we can occasionally think of him and the inspiration he provided for doing so.
(Monday, 6/13/2016) Song 307: Dust My Broom by Elmore James, written by Robert Johnson. You can find a YouTube video for it here. After I started writing songs, at the age of 14, I soon became acquainted with the 1-4-5 12-bar blues song structure, though I didn't know that it had originated in a genre called blues, and I didn't even know about the existence of that genre. Not long into my freshman year at Northwestern, in the fall of '69, I found myself hanging out with a few other dorm mates in another fellow student's room as he played some blues records and talked about how much he liked that genre. This first encounter with the blues did not impress me, because all the records he played circled around that same 12-bar blues formula, so I thought that many of them sounded alike. Not long after that, though, one of the guys from the room across the hall showed off his blues-flavored piano improvisational style, and in doing so, he opened up a whole new world of musical possibility for me, inspiring me to explore my own bluesy piano improvisations. Concurrently, as I listened to a lot more of the rock and roll music I had already grown to love, and I could finally buy at least some of the LPs I had always wanted, plus I had a subscription to Rolling Stone, I began to learn more about the roots of that RnR music, and how much of RnR could be traced back to blues. I spent the summer of '71 in Atlanta, GA, and there I discovered local heroes The Allman Brothers, quickly tuning in to Duane Allman's outstanding slide guitar wizardry. That summer I tried fiddling with a slide, but I felt so inept in the initial attempts that I wouldn't even consider another try for almost 2 decades. That first vain attempt did increase my appreciation of slide guitar, however, and in that context, as the name Elmore James kept coming up, when I started hearing his records, I immediately understood the important role EJ had played in creating the musical foundation for later RnR players. Fast forward only a few years, and around '76, I played piano for a one week gig in Chicago with a band led by EJ's cousin Homesick James that included Snooky Pryor on drums, so I guess that by then, I had paid enough of my dues that I could at least play the blues, even if it would be well over 10 years before I would again try to slide along a guitar fretboard.
(Sunday, 6/5/2016) Song 306: Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire. You can find a YouTube video for it here. In the summer of '68, before my senior year at HS, I had started working on a film project, along with a few friends, and later that fall a group of us would form our high school's first official film club. I had written a script for a sort of Man from Uncle-style spy movie, and one day my group managed to get permission to film in part of the high school. The scene would include a rock-and-roll band playing on the auditorium stage, and one of my friends had agreed to act as the guitar player for the band. I suggested a couple of cuts for him to play, and he said, "We should do some newer songs instead." He started with Break on Through, which I of course already knew, but after that, he played a newer track that I didn't recognize, which was a riff tune built around an E chord riff that moved from the 5th tone to the 6th, and then to the 7th. Hearing the guitar alone, I thought the riff seemed very simple, and I wasn't sure it could support a whole song, but then, a week or 2 later, I heard the new Steppenwolf 45, and it quickly erased any doubts I might have had. In fact, having heard the guitar riff before hearing the actual single made the record sound even more impressive for the way the band crafted such a rocking classic around that simple riff. This one, like their follow-up single The Pusher (Song 202), would create some internal conflicts for me as I struggled with a religious background that viewed the devil's music as a dangerous influence, because these cuts seemed to embrace the dark side of human nature that my parents kept warning me about, but by the time, 2 years later, that I heard this track as a golden oldie in the opening sequence of Easy Rider, I could enjoy it without guilt, just as I had enjoyed the motorcycle ride my cousin gave me in the summer of '66 (see Song 302 -- Monday, Monday). For many years I dreamed of the moment when I too would head out on the highway on a motorcycle of my own, but at some point that dream lost its appeal, and these days, I'd rather listen to this track on the CD player inside a 4-wheel vehicle when I'm racin' with the wind along the 2-lane or 4-lane blacktop and concrete.
(Sunday, 5/29/2016) Song 305: Facts About Cats by Timbuk3, written by Pat MacDonald. You can find a YouTube video for it here. The linked video has some truly entertaining segments featuring cats wearing headphones, and if you like cats, then you'll surely enjoy the video. It seemed appropriate to follow up last week's post of a song by my friend Jeff Larson with a Timbuk3 track because it was Jeff who introduced me to their music. Not long after their debut album Greetings from Timbuk3 appeared, he played it for me a time or 2, and that soon moved me to get my own copy. While I liked the whole LP, this cut moved me the most, and before too long I knew the words by heart. Listening to it often reminds me of the moment in my life when I became aware of the fact that cats eat birds. During my childhood, my family refused to have any cats or dogs, and I guessed, from bits and pieces that I picked up, that the grandparents had had either a cat or a dog at our house that had come to a sad end, evidently by a car hitting it, so they apparently did not want to chance that possibility again. This being the case, whatever I learned about dogs and cats during visits with acquaintances who had them, I also missed knowing a few of the basics. I got my first 2 kittens in 1972, living in Evanston, and a week or 2 later, getting up one morning, I saw sister Guinevere sitting all alone, with her brother Joker nowhere in sight. I had seen both kittens taking turns climbing into the fireplace flue, but from a 2nd floor apartment occupying a 3-story building, I didn't know if Joker could have made that long climb to the roof, although I could see no other way out of the apartment. I mentioned to the upstairs neighbor that a kitten had gone missing, and within minutes, she came down to tell me she heard what sounded like a cat crying on the roof, so I climbed up to the access hatch, I lifted it, and sure enough, there he was. Moving to Atlanta in the spring of '74, I found an apartment on a side street with little traffic where it seemed safe enough to allow the 2 felines to roam freely outside -- something too risky to do in Evanston. I felt good about the move to Atlanta, and one of the first positive changes that I noticed was hearing the birds singing, which I had never heard in Evanston. Then one day, as I sat on the porch strumming my guitar, with Joker hanging out nearby, a couple of birds flew by just under the porch ceiling, and as they did so, our boy jumped up and made threatening gestures towards them. A few days later, Joker came to the door and tried to proudly present a gift in the form of a bird carcass. During the months in Atlanta, Joker would try many times to present gifts that I didn't want to accept, and while it didn't make me love him any less, it did teach me a few Facts About Cats that I probably would have rather not known.
(Sunday, 5/22/2016) Song 304: A Faraway Girl by Jeff Larson, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for it here. Seven weeks after my last personal friend song post, this week's track is by my friend Jeff Larson. I can make a claim to having inspired the original version of this piece, as Jeff watched me struggle with an obsession over a woman who did not have similar feelings about me. He and I would often get together to trade riffs and share our most recent writings, and in the process of doing so, he heard several new compositions I wrote about this woman, and some of the details in between the lines. His first rendition of this cut basically just stitched together his observations of my vain and seemingly-endless efforts to get closer to A Faraway Girl. After wasting way too much time trying to reach the unreachable star, I eventually gave up the fool's quest, and over the intervening decades, Jeff's tune evolved in a bit of a different direction, perhaps picking up pieces of his own experiences along the way. Incidentally, among the songs that I wrote for A Faraway Girl back in the early '80s is one from Who Said What that I posted a lyric video of in late April, called Song of the Wood.