Archive for the ‘San Francisco Songs’ Category

Saturday Single No. 548

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

So, San Francisco songs . . .

One that shows up eleven times here on the EITW digital shelves is “San Francisco Bay Blues,” originally recorded in 1954 by Jesse Fuller and released the next year on Working On The Railroad, a 10-inch vinyl release. It doesn’t sound at all like the blues, as you likely know, being much more jaunty with a more complex chordal structure.

I could probably write several posts about Fuller, who was born in Georgia in 1896 and died in Oakland, California, in 1976. After years of working numerous jobs – many of those years spent working for the Southern Pacific Railroad (according to Wikipedia) – he began working as a musician in the early 1950s. Here’s what Wikipedia says about his music:

Starting locally, in clubs and bars in San Francisco and across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley, Fuller became more widely known when he performed on television in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles. In 1958, at the age of 62, he recorded with his first album, released by Good Time Jazz Records. Fuller’s instruments included 6-string guitar (an instrument which he had abandoned before the beginning of his one-man band career), 12-string guitar, harmonica, kazoo, cymbal (high-hat) and fotdella. He could play several instruments simultaneously, particularly with the use of a headpiece to hold a harmonica, kazoo, and microphone. In addition, he would generally include at least one tap dance, soft-shoe, or buck and wing in his sets, accompanying himself on a 12-string guitar as he danced. His style was open and engaging. In typical busker’s fashion he addressed his audiences as “ladies and gentlemen,” told humorous anecdotes, and cracked jokes between songs.

The fotdella mentioned in that passage is what most folks remember about Fuller beyond “San Francisco Bay Blues.” The instrument was basically a foot-operated bass instrument, with bass piano strings struck by the use of pedals. (See photo below.)

Jesse Fuller

As for “San Francisco Bay Blues,” the website Second Hand Songs lists 55 recorded versions. There’s at least one more out there (most likely more than that), but that’s a good place to start. The first cover listed there came from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1957. The Journeymen, the Weavers, Tom Rush, the New World Singers, Joe & Eddie, and Burl Bailey & The Six Shooters all followed in 1963. The most recent cover listed there is from Tommy Thomsen in 2015.

The versions here include one by Elliott from 1961, one by Fuller live at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, and versions by Richie Havens, Glenn Yarbrough, Hot Tuna, Phoebe Snow, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Peter, Paul & Mary. I also have a version by a group called the Nomads. That one was released on the Pharos label in 1964 (with “Oh, Jennie” on the flip), and the record label as shown for both tracks at Discogs notes something intriguing: “Produced by Jackie DeShannon.”

That version of the Nomads – one of at least twenty-seven groups with that name whose records are cataloged at Discogs – had already released “Last Summer Day/Icky Poo” on the Prelude label in 1963 (both available on YouTube). And a cursory bit of searching brings nothing more about the group this morning than a mention in a biography of DeShannon of her producing the group, which we already knew.

I might dig for more as time moves on, but what we know – along with the record’s traditional kazoo solo – is good enough for me: “San Francisco Bay Blues” by the Nomads is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 547

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

A week ago, I wrote about San Francisco and its “lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.”

Okay, so I was being a bit glib by the end of the sentence, perhaps not wanting to get too weighty on a Saturday morning. But it’s true, I think, that San Francisco has long been used by songwriters (and writers of all type, for that matter) as an ideal. And, as I noted last week, songs about San Francisco abound. I’m not sure how many sit on the digital shelves here, because when I sort the RealPlayer for “San Francisco,” I also get tracks recorded there.

But there are lot of them, starting with eleven versions of “San Francisco Bay Blues” and eleven versions as well of the tune that may be the quintessential song about the city, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Now, eleven versions aren’t very many, and I was surprised that there weren’t more versions of the latter tune. After all, Second Hand Songs list 135 versions of the tune, and I’m sure there are some that are unaccounted for there. But eleven is what we have.

The first release is probably, to re-use a word, the quintessential version of the song: Tony Bennet’s 1962 release, which went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. Elegant and controlled, Bennet’s vocal glides above an understated accompaniment, and as I listen to it this morning, I marvel – not for the first time – at Bennet’s voice and delivery.

We’ll take a look at some of the covers of the tune in the near future, but the only thing we need to listen to this morning is Tony Bennett’s 1962 version of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 546

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Let’s go – and as I write that, my mind automatically fills in “to San Francisco,” channeling the Flower Pot Men’s British hit (No. 4) from 1967 – so what the hell, let’s go there.

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, when thousands of real hippies and wannabees and lost children made their ways to San Francisco to hang around the Haight, get groovy, listen to music, and either find or lose themselves.

Okay, that’s kind of cynical. Maybe.

Was the hippie invasion and the Summer of Love a construct of the mass media whose reporters and columnists had no idea what was going on but had to package it somehow? Or was it an organic thing that the media discovered? Or was it something else?

It really doesn’t matter. If it was a construct, the construct became the real thing and the real thing got subsumed into the construct, and we can debate metahistory and microhistory and the McLuhanesque Ideal and the Friedling Fallacy all day (and all of the night) and come to no conclusions.

The Summer of Love, from where I sit in the cheap seats today (and from the Midwestern perch from where I saw the news reports fifty years ago), brought a few things that lasted: Some good music, a case study in Pied Piper media frenzy, and a reaffirmation of San Francisco’s lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.

That lasting and possibly pre-eminent place in our culture is borne out (from my narrow perspective) by the number of songs from all eras that use San Francisco as either a place or a metaphor or both. Digging just into the digital shelves here (and looking only at titles), the summer of 1967 alone offered us the record by the Flower Pot Men (the single was by British session artists with the omnipresent Tony Burrows on lead vocal; there’s also an album, which I’ve heard but know little about) and the anthemic “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie, penned by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.

There are also on the 1967 shelves here a few of the no doubt numerous covers of the McKenzie record, a version of Jesse Fuller’s oft-covered “San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens, and one very odd track that made me stop for a moment.

I have too many tracks on the digital shelves that reference San Francisco in their titles to deal with all of them on a Saturday. So let’s call this the first in a series that I hope we can continue in the week to come. And we’ll start with a track from 1967 that’s utterly out of touch with what we think of when we ponder San Francisco during that year. In other words, it that has nothing to do with flower power (or with blues on the bay, for that matter).

Here’s that surprising nugget from the digital shelves, Nancy Wilson’s “I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco (And I Don’t Drink At All).” It’s from her 1967 album Welcome To My Love, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.