(Sunday, 11/20/2016) Song 330: Jack Straw by The Grateful Dead, written by Robert Hunter and Bob Weir. You can find a YouTube video of it here. This track is another rock and roll cowboy movie, similar to the one from 3 weeks ago (Song 327) The Lights of Downtown by The Long Ryders. While it appeared on the triple album Europe '72 which arrived in November of that year, I didn't get to know it until the middle of the following decade. Living and sharing a 6-bedroom house in Berkeley with 5 others, at some point around '85 or so, I welcomed a new housemate named Mikey who moved into the back room right next to the kitchen. Like everyone else in the house, I spent a certain amount of time in the kitchen making meals, eating them and cleaning up after them, and Mikey being a sociable guy, he often had his door open and his stereo playing. He would spin Europe '72 a lot more than any other records, and I certainly didn't mind. I quickly got to know and like the entire 3-disk set, with this cut soon becoming a favorite. Having been raised in a religious Christian setting, I couldn't help but feel the irony expressed in the lines about jumping a watchman, stealing his rings and his money, and then asking ain't that Heaven sent? No matter how many times I've heard this track, though, it never hurts my ears to listen to it once more.
(Monday, 11/14/2016) Song 329: Sisters of Mercy by Leonard Cohen, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Tonight I feel a certain sense of inevitability in following up last week's track by one of the original singer/songwriter types, Hank Williams, with a cut by a singer/songwriter from a later era who shared the same astrological sun sign, and who died a week ago, on 11/7. In the late spring of 1970 I took advantage of a local record store special and added a pair of Judy Collins LPs to my collection, with Wildflowers being one of the two. Over the following summer, as I struggled to forge my own unique musical identity, I listened to that album a lot, and soon got to know the words of the songs by heart, including all 3 of the LC compositions. I had also entered into a new phase of the Christian belief that I had grown up with, and at a certain point in time that summer, one of Leonard's couplets from this tune opened up an enlightening moment for me, as I listened to Judy sing "I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned: When you're not feeling holy your loneliness says that you've sinned." Recognizing the hang-up, I promptly disconnected from the pin, and immediately felt freer and more at ease. I'm glad that the Sisters of Mercy brought Leonard some comfort in his life, and while sadly he's no longer around to give directions, I would guess that anyone looking for the sisters can still read their address by the moon.
(Sunday, 11/6/2016) Song 328: Move It on Over by Hank Williams, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. When Hank had his first big hit on the country charts in 1947, rock and roll did not yet exist as an official music genre, but hearing this track now, it certainly sounds like an early version of the concept. Junior has even claimed that his father invented rock and roll, though Senior had a few contemporaries approaching a similar synthesis from different directions, such as blues singer Roy Brown who did Good Rocking Tonight that same year. This cut definitely proves that Hank started his remarkable, short-lived, troubled, prolific and monumental career with a bang, though, as he shows off the musical lessons he had learned as a teenager from blues street player Rufus Tee-Tot Payne. While I remember hearing lots of HW records during my pre-teen summer visits with Ohio relatives, I don't recall meeting this piece until George Thorogood's cover came across the airwaves in late 1978, and when I learned that it was a Hank tune, I felt that I could gladly slide it on over to give that hot dog even more of my musical respect than the large amount I already earmarked for him because I felt he had earned it.
(Sunday, 10/30/2016) Song 327: The Lights of Downtown by the Long Ryders, written by Stephen McCarthy. You can find a YouTube video of it here. It seemed appropriate to follow up last week's track by The Byrds with one by The Long Ryders, who not only drew obvious inspiration from The Byrds, but who also had the honor of working with original Byrds member Gene Clark while recording their first full-length album Native Sons. One of my CA musician friends introduced me to the music of The Long Ryders by giving me a cassette of his favorite LR cuts, and not long into my first time through with that collection, listening to the car tape player while cruising the East Bay in my '67 Plymouth Fury, I had become a fan. This number from their 1985 LP The State of Our Union sounded to me like a kind of musical cowboy movie, and it quickly got my attention as being one of the best of the bunch. As a kid, I had enjoyed plenty of cowboy movies and TV shows that revolved around an almost-cartoonish level of violence, but I had also understood the clear distinction between such entertainment and the real-life experience of brutality, which I sought to avoid in my own life, as much as possible. The words of this song echo the thoughts I had growing up about the deep regret that I knew I'd feel if I ever took someone else's life, or caused someone serious lasting physical harm. One lesson that I absorbed from the fiction I watched and read as a child was the resolve to walk away, and stay away, from any situation that could potentially lead to the kind of tragic consequences that would leave me shaking my head and having to say I can't run away, I can't hide -- it's a slow death for me inside.
(Sunday, 10/23/2016) Song 326: Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds, written by Bob Dylan. You can find a YouTube video of it here. For a little over a year after the Beatles rocked my world, the British Invasion bands dominated the air waves, but then, in the spring of 1965, an American band came along with a huge hit that sounded every bit as good as all of those English spinners, and arguably even better than most of them. Not many of my friends had Byrds records, though, so I didn't get to hear as much of the band in HS as I would have liked, but I remained interested in their music. I still remember walking into the local guitar store near the HS one day and scrutinizing a Byrds music book, though I didn't have enough money to buy a copy, but I did try to memorize a few guitar chords. During the graduation week festivities in 1969, on the way back to town from a scheduled celebration at a nearby state park, the radio happened to play this cut, and I well remember how the 4-year-old golden oldie, which was ancient by the standards of that time, filled the window van with a magic sound that created an enduring, enchanted memory. A few years later, in my early 20s in the early '70s, after I had acquired all of the necessary Beatles, Dylan, Rolling Stones and other required LPs, I went through an enjoyable Byrds phase, getting acquainted with lesser-known tracks, but also relishing the privilege of having this piece of wizardry at my fingertips whenever I felt like hearing it. At some point during my HS years -- possibly during the music book perusal -- I had learned that this tune had been written by that same Dylan guy who had written the PP&M hit Blowin' in the Wind and the S&G cut The Times They Are a-Changin', and I would start noticing his name attached to other fine songs, though I wouldn't actually hear Dylan's voice until the fall of 1969 when I got to Northwestern U. On a side note, it seemed appropriate to follow up last week's post about a track by my friend Patti Rothberg with a number written by Dylan, because Patti has gotten at least 1 or 2 reviews that favorably compare her work with Bob's, and I definitely agree with that reviewer POV.
(Sunday, 10/16/2016) Song 325: This One's Mine by Patti Rothberg, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Seven weeks after my last personal friend song post, this week's track is by my friend Patti Rothberg. My recording engineer and co-producer David Seitz introduced me to Patti in the fall of 2003, while we were both using the same studio. At the time, I was working on Elder Street, and she was working on Double Standards. I quickly became a PR fan, and her earlier CDs Between the 1 and the 9 and Candelabra Cadabra soon became regular spinners on my player. When I finally got around to getting an iPod, those 2 CDs were also among the first group of albums to find places on the drive, and Patti's music kept me company on lots of metro rides. This track is the third cut on her debut CD, and like many other PR tracks, has humorous remarks that still make me smile, despite having heard them countless times. If you've never experienced Patti's wit and wisdom before, the line "I could say that you were a dirty dog but that's an insult to the fleas" can give you a taste of what you've missed.
(Sunday, 10/9/2016) Song 324: Honky-Tonk Man by Dwight Yoakam, written by Johnny Horton, Tillman Franks and Howard Hausey. You can find a YouTube video of it here. The original version of this cut came out when I was 4. My Ohio relatives had a good collection of country LPs, and on our summer visits, I essentially had my pick of listening material after I had demonstrated an ability to handle the records and the turntable with appropriate care, so during my grade school years I would soon learn many country classics of the era, getting to know the Honky-Tonk Man long before the Beatles rocked my world. I always appreciated the fun quality of the track, never taking it too seriously, but even as a kid, I thought the guy spending his time and money chasing women in bars and then calling home to ask his wife for help after he blew all of his cash sounded very entertaining in a song, but would have been a jerk in real life. Whatever changes I went through in my teens and twenties regarding viewpoints on relationships, that perspective didn't change. When Dwight Yoakam's version came along in 1986, peaking near the top of the country charts, it brought back memories of preteen times. If there's any truth to the rumor that I played bass for a Bay Area country bar pickup band during a few years of that decade, then it's quite possible that the group's lead singer might have called this tune during a set on any given gig night, with the rest of us enthusiastically jumping in. On a side note, this track is a fourth sly reference to the second verse of my own song As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, where the second line begins with But Dwight was only Yoakam when he said . . . You can find the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video here.