Archive for the ‘2007’ Category

‘If Someone Comes Along . . .’

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

I dug around last week into the origins of “Get It While You Can,” noting that it was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman and originally recorded by soul singer Howard Tate. My familiarity with the song, I noted, came from Janis Joplin’s cover on her posthumous 1971 album, Pearl.

I’ve continued to dig, looking for more covers. There are a few out there, but there are also a few other songs with the title “Get It While You Can,” and that complicates things. A jazz guitarist named Norman Johnson did a sweet version of a song with the same title, a track that I liked a great deal, but it wasn’t the same song, so I noted his name for later and moved on.

I did eventually find some more covers of the Ragovoy-Shuman song – not as many as I thought I would – and I thought a few of them were pretty good. Sadly, the one additional cover that was already on the digital shelves here in the EITW studios is not one of those: Koko Taylor covered the song for the 1990 tribute Blues Down Deep: Songs of Janis Joplin, but I’ve never cared for the track, even though I’ve enjoyed much of Taylor’s work over the years.

One version that did work was by the Hudson River Rats, which offered the song as the title track of a 2007 album. The band is led by singer and harp player Rob Paparozzi and includes well-known drummer Bernard Purdie.

I also came across covers – or portions of them at Amazon – by performers that perhaps I should know, among them Big Joe Fitz, Carolynn Black, B.J. Allen & Blue Voodoo, and Peter Malick & Amyl Justin. There was also female impersonator Paul Capsis, who channels Janis pretty well, if that’s your thing.

Then I found Zoe Muth & The High Lost Rollers, a country band from Seattle that recorded “Get It While You Can” for its 2012 EP, Old Gold. On the band’s website, Muth notes that she gets asked all the time how a kid growing up in Seattle in the 1980s ends up playing country music.

She writes: “Growing up we were raised on the classic rock and roll, the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan . . . . I didn’t learn about the really old stuff until high school when my fascination with the labor movement and the histories that never got brought up in textbooks led me to seek out the roots of all that music. The field recordings of Alan Lomax and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music had just been rereleased and I devoured it all. . . . I traveled in my mind down the roads of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and the Carter Family, weaving elements of history and traditional country and blues into my music and lyrics.”

Muth adds, “Somehow, the country sound just lends itself to the way I feel, and the stories I want to tell. Tired workers and lovelorn losers with a folk intellect, not the jet set but the old Chevrolet set.”

Here’s Muth and the High Lost Rollers covering “Get It While You Can.”

‘Crickets Are Chirpin’ . . .’

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Today is one of those days. All I can do is supply a pretty good preview of what we’ll run into when we sort out “Black,” the eight portion of Floyd’s Prism. I’m hoping we’ll get to the full post tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s Mark Lanegan with his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat” from the soundtrack of the 2007 film, I’m Not There.

‘Green’

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

So today, in the fourth installment of Floyd’s Prism, we come to “Green,” the “G.” in the famous mnemonic for recalling the colors of the spectrum: “Roy G. Biv.”

The RealPlayer provides a total of 576 mp3s to sort. The first tracks to be trimmed are the sixteen covers of 1960s folk from the fine 1999 collection Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s and the thirteen covers from a similar 2009 album, The Village: A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village.

We also lose many, if not all, tracks from other albums: The Stone Poneys’ Evergreen, Vol. 2, Dana Wells’ The Evergreen, Steel Mill’s Green Eyed God, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Dar Williams’ The Green World, Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the Pete Best Band’s Hayman’s Green (yes, that Pete Best; it’s a pretty decent album from 2008), the bluesy Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass and a few others, including Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, an album featured here not long ago that was made up mostly of home recordings from the early 1970s and released in 2006.

We set aside multiple albums by Al Green and country singer Pat Green, and single albums from songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the 1960s groups Green and Evergreen Blue Shoes, and a 2010 album by a European electropop duo called the Green Children.

We also lose tracks by performers Barbara Greene, Cal Green, Eli Green (with Mississippi Fred McDowell), Grant Green, the Greenwoods, Jackie Green, Johnny Green & The Greenmen, Judy Green, the little known R. Green (of R. Green & Turner, who recorded two blues sides for the J&M Fulbright label in Los Angeles in 1948), Rudy Greene, Rudy Green & His Orchestra, Lorne Green, the marvelously named Slim Green & The Cats From Fresno and, of course, Norman Greenbaum.

And a few songs fall by the wayside because of their titles: Jackie DeShannon’s “The Greener Side,” five mp3s titled “Evergreen” (some with numbers attached and none of them the 1976 Barbra Streisand record), Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” Tony Rice’s “Greenlight on the Southern,” a couple versions of “Greensleeves,” three of “Greenback Dollar,” and six tracks with “Greenwood” in their titles, including the wonderful 1970 single “Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard.

But that leaves us many titles yet to work with. We’ll start with a country favorite of mine from 1993.

I didn’t know about the tune in 1993, of course, as I rarely listened to country music then. (A work friend of mine in those days suggested I give a Brooks & Dunn album a listen; I returned it to him regretfully, not yet ready for boot-scootin’.) But come the year 2000, with the Texas Gal on the scene, I began to catch up at least a little on what I’d been missing. And one evening, as we were passing time watching country music videos on CMT, there came Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green.” The story of Billy Bob and Charlene and the tall green letters on the water tower amused me, and it touched memories of both summer weeks on my grandpa’s farm and of Gramps’ allegiance to John Deere farm equipment. I don’t follow country closely, but it’s on the radio and the CD player occasionally; it’s not nearly as foreign as it was, thanks mostly to the Texas Gal and at least in part to Diffie’s single (which went to No. 5 on the country chart and to No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100).

There are five versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green” in the digital stacks: covers by Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Rice and fellow Canadian folk singer Valdy and studio and live versions by Lightfoot. I like them all but decided to go with Lightfoot’s version from his 1968 album, Back Here On Earth. At the time, Lightfoot was known mostly in the U.S. as a songwriter; his performing career was much stronger in Canada (and that imbalance remained until 1970 or so). “Bitter Green” and the story it tells are vintage Lightfoot: an easily embraced melody backed only by guitar and literate and clear lyrics. He’d go on to great critical and popular success in the 1970s and beyond, but many of his early recordings are still worth close listening. This is one of them.

Gods and Generals, a 2003 film based on a 1996 novel by Jeffrey Schaara, was focused, says Wikipedia, on “the life of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general.” I’ve not seen the film, and perhaps I should, but my interest in Gods and General this morning is the soundtrack, itself notable to me because Bob Dylan’s haunting “’Cross the Green Mountain” is its closing track. In her review of the soundtrack at All Music Guide, Heather Phares notes that Dylan’s contribution “sounds more contemporary than most of the rest of the album, but still has enough rustic warmth to complement it gracefully.” The video to which I’ve linked has a shorter version of the tune than does the soundtrack; the original version, which runs eight-plus minutes, is available on the soundtrack CD and on Dylan’s 2008 release, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

Although I try to dig up relatively rare and different tracks when I do sets like this – for Floyd’s Prism or the earlier March Of The Integers – there are times when familiar tracks simply demand to be included. Such is the case with “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MG’s. The record – familiar and forever fresh – went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote that “Green Onions” is “what happens when the best backup band in the universe decides it’s time to get noticed.”

In early 2007, a Houston, Texas, music producer named Kevin Ryan went into his home studio and, as Dan Brekke of Salon wrote that April, “engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss. . . . Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title Dylan Hears A Who.” The Salon piece tells the tale of the copyright claims that followed from the folks who own the Dr. Seuss material, examines the copyright issues at hand and notes that the material is still widely available on the ’Net. That’s true, of course, at YouTube, where Ryan’s version of “Green Eggs & Ham” remains a delight.

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, the lyrics to “Little Green” must have seemed like typically elliptical Joni Mitchell lyrics, telling a story by circling around it with vague hints and references:

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “Her eyes are blue”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

When one reads those lyrics now, in the light of Mitchell’s having given birth to a daughter in 1965 and giving her up for adoption – a tale that became public in 1993 – “Little Green” becomes a heart-breaking piece of work.

Saturday Single No. 318

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

The place was called Mojo’s. It wasn’t much different from a hundred other coffee houses in Minneapolis in the early 1990s: You could get lattes (with or without flavored syrup), espresso and just plain coffee. And there was a display case with a few scones and some pastries.

Well, there was one thing that made it different: Mojo’s was less than a block away from my apartment in south Minneapolis, and from the time I moved to Pleasant Avenue in early 1992 until Mojo’s closed sometime around 1997, it would have been a rare week when I didn’t get into Mojo’s at least once.

It wasn’t fancy. Jimmy, the owner, had put his money into his coffee-making equipment and had then collected chairs and tables where he could. Most of them matched but not all. It didn’t matter, though. Folks in the neighborhood filled many of those chairs in the evenings and nearly all of them on weekend days. I was one of those folks. I spent quite a few Saturday mornings during those years sipping coffee at Mojo’s while my clothes were in the washer and dryer at the laundromat two doors down. And I spent many Sunday mornings reading the Minneapolis Star-Tribune over a couple of lattes and occasionally hearing Cities 97’s “Acoustic Sunday” program come from the overhead speakers through the din of conversation.

As busy as Mojo’s was at some times, I think it was tough for Jimmy. There were only a couple other people who worked there, so he put in a lot of hours behind the counter. And the restaurant/café business is a tough one financially, too. Even if Mojo’s was making money, I’m sure the profit margin was low. That was probably why the coffee shop downsized after a few years. When I first started spending time at Mojo’s, the shop occupied two storefronts on Grand Avenue, spaces connected inside with an archway. A couple years later, an artists’ cooperative took over the northern storefront, trimming by more than half the number of tables in the coffee house but also trimming, I assume, Jimmy’s overhead.

Eventually, the balance of cost vs. return tipped, and it wasn’t worth it for Jimmy to keep Mojo’s running. Maybe the rent was getting too high, and I imagine the cost of everything else was increasing: coffee, supplies, insurance and more. I don’t know. I never asked Jimmy about it. All I know is that one day, there was a sign next to the cash register that said Mojo’s would be closing.

Before he shut the doors, however, Jimmy had a little evening get-together for his employees and a few neighborhood regulars. I was one of them. We pulled a couple of tables together and sipped some lattes, and then Jimmy opened a bottle of champagne and we raised our glasses to Mojo’s and to the future.

When I went past the place a couple days later on my way to the butcher shop, it was empty. Sometime during the next month, a vegetarian restaurant was doing business where Mojo’s and the art cooperative had been. I ate there a couple of times and enjoyed it, but Mojo’s closing left a hole in my routine, one that was never really filled during the rest of my time – two years or so – on Pleasant Avenue.

There’s no great tale here, but something this week brought Mojo’s to mind. I remembered Jimmy’s grin as he handed lattes over the counter. I remembered the steam on the large front windows on a January morning. I remembered Jimmy letting me run a tab for a couple of days when I was between temp jobs and pretty close to broke. And I remembered the afternoon right about that time when the gal behind the counter – and I’ve lost her name over the years – had to leave for a family emergency and Jimmy wasn’t due in for another hour.

I shooed her out the door and went behind the counter. For an hour, I explained to customers that I was filling in, that I did not know how to make espresso or lattes, but that I could draw them coffee from the urns. I couldn’t run the cash register, but I was able to make change and kept track on a piece of paper of that hour’s transactions. When Jimmy came in, I told him what had happened and showed him my accounting. Then I refilled my coffee cup and went back to my table and my book.

Moments after I sat down, Jimmy called my name. I looked up. He stood behind the counter, holding my tab. “Thanks,” he said, and he crumpled my tab and tossed it in the trash.

So for Jimmy and Mojo’s and for any neighborhood business like the one Jimmy ran for those few years, here’s Roger McGuinn and Calexico performing Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee.” It’s from the soundtrack to the 2007 film I’m Not There, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Note From Peter Nero

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

In one of those cool things that occasionally happen with a blog, Tuesday’s post elicited a response from one of the featured musicians. I wrote a little about Peter Nero’s version of Michel Legrand’s “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’,” and I looked at a few other covers of that beautiful song.

And late Wednesday evening, a comment came in from Peter Nero himself, noting that he’s long thought the words to the song – written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman – were superfluous. Here’s some of what he said:

While I love the work of the Bergmans, I thought they missed the mark with their lyrics to Michel Legrand’s poignant melody, heard throughout the film.

There are certain melodies that speak for themselves and are meant to convey the feeling evoked by the score AND film and Michel’s theme is as good an example as there is. . . .

Maybe I’m way off base but that was my reaction the first time I heard the lyric. . . .

As a theme that has a life of its own and exudes the mood and aura of the motion picture, the theme from The Summer of ’42 needs to be left as is.

As I pondered those words overnight, I realized I agree with Nero’s assessment, and that’s likely why – without really thinking about it beforehand – all four of the versions of the “Theme from ‘The Summer of ’42’” that I featured were instrumentals (including the not-particularly-serious disco version by the Biddu Orchestra). Here, again, is a link to Nero’s version.

And, because I love saxophone, here’s Dave Koz and his take on “The Summer Knows (Theme from Summer of ’42)” from his 2007 album At the Movies.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at what actually was on the Billboard chart on that long-ago rainy day when I helped unpack filing cabinets.

Saturday Single No. 295

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

From Wikipedia:

The Acadians are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in Acadia, a colony of New France. The colony was located in what is now Eastern Canada’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), as well as part of Quebec, and present-day Maine to the Kennebec River. Although today most of the Acadians and Québécois are French speaking Canadians, Acadia was a distinct colony of New France, and was geographically and administratively separate from the French colony of Canada (moden day Quebec), which led to Acadians and Québécois developing two rather distinct histories and cultures. The settlers whose descendants became Acadians came from “all the regions of France but coming predominantly directly from the cities.”

Prior to the British Conquest of Acadia in 1710, the Acadians lived for almost eighty years in Acadia. After the Conquest, they lived under British rule for the next forty-five years. During the French and Indian War, British colonial officers and New England legislators and militia carried out the Great Expulsion of 1755–1763. They deported approximately 11,500 Acadians from the maritime region. Approximately one-third perished from disease and drowning. One historian compared this event to a contemporary ethnic cleansing, while other historians suggested that the event is comparable with other deportations in history.

Many later settled in Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. Others were transported to France . . . . Later on many Acadians returned to the Maritime provinces of Canada, most specifically New Brunswick. Most who returned ended up in New Brunswick because they were barred by the British from resettling their lands and villages in the land that became Nova Scotia.

Two-hundred and fifty-seven years ago today – on June 16, 1755 – the French surrendered Fort Beauséjour to the British, an event that led directly to the expulsion of the Acadians.

That’s why the Roches’ cover of The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” – from the 2007 tribute album Endless Highway: The Music of The Band – is today’s Saturday Single.

Dragons (And Music) Live Forever

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

“If you ask me who I am,” mused Peter Yarrow for a moment Sunday evening, “well . . .” And he paused as he looked out at the audience in St. Cloud’s Pioneer Place. “As I always have been, I’m the one who carries forward the tradition of Peter, Paul & Mary.”

And then, with his son Christopher playing a wash-tub bass and supplying vocal harmony, he launched himself into another song recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary. It might have been “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” or “Lemon Tree.” It could have been “All My Trials” or “Jesus Met The Woman.” It could have been the final pair of the evening: “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

I don’t remember which tune it was that followed Yarrow’s statement. I wasn’t taking notes. Rather, I was sitting in the front row, flanked by my mother and the Texas Gal. We were just to the right of center stage, as close as I’ve ever been for a performance by a legend. I watched Yarrow’s left hand play with his picks as he talked between songs. I saw his eyes get a little misty as he talked about his family – many of whom live in Willmar, Minnesota, about sixty miles away (and many of whom, along with other friends from the Central Minnesota city, were at the performance). I saw the slight tremors in his seventy-three-year-old legs as he moved to sit on a stool instead of stand several times during the performance.

But mostly, I just watched and listened as a giant of folk music worked the room and turned what I expected to be a concert into a three-hour sing-along. From the opening tune, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” through the two closing songs mentioned above, Yarrow encouraged the two hundred or so folks at Pioneer Place to join in.

After all, he said, as he introduced his second tune – “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” performed in memory of his long-time friend and partner, Mary Travers, who passed on in 2009 – “You’ll sing along anyway, or at least mouth the words, so you may as well sing.” And sing we did, sometimes pretty confidently – as on the medley of “This Little Light Of Mine,” “Down By The Riverside” and “This Land Is Your Land” – and sometimes a little more tentatively, as in the case of “Stewball” and “Have You Been To Jail For Justice?”

And sometimes, we just listened, as we did when Yarrow sang the potent anti-war song he and Travers wrote, “The Great Mandala.”

Yarrow remains unabashedly liberal and spoke a few times about the causes he supports. He mentioned his marching at Selma, Alabama, during the early 1960s civil rights movement and the performance of Peter, Paul & Mary at the 1963 rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Yarrow noted that he and his children – Christopher and Bethany – have visited and performed at several of the Occupy sites in the past year. And he told us about his current project, Operation Respect, an educational program aimed at “creating compassionate, safe and respectful environments.” The theme song for Operation Respect is “Don’t Laugh At Me,” a song that first showed up on PP&M’s final studio album, 2003’s In These Times.

When Yarrow introduced the tune Sunday evening, he said, “You’ll all know some of the people in this song. You might have been some of them. And some of you will weep.” He was right. And the performance – during which, of course, we sang along on the chorus – earned Yarrow a mid-concert standing ovation.

I’ve listened to Yarrow’s music – the massive catalog of PP&M and his own, more slender catalog – for years, but I’ve never dug very deeply into the history and lore of the group and its three members, so I was intrigued to learn Sunday evening that Yarrow’s wife, Mary Beth, was the niece of the late U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy. The two met during McCarthy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. And I was even more intrigued when Yarrow told us that not only was Noel Paul Stookey – “Paul” of PP&M – Yarrow’s best man when he and Mary Beth were married but that Stookey sang during the ceremony a song written specifically for the wedding.

It took a lot of talking, Yarrow said, to persuade Stookey to record and release “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which turned out to be a No. 24 hit and was, Yarrow said, the No. 1 sheet music seller for ten years. And as Yarrow then sang “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” the rest of us joined in on the choruses.

Yarrow’s most famous song is likely “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Addressing the myth of the song’s reference to drugs, Yarrow told us Sunday evening that he and co-writer Leonard Lipton never had any thought besides writing a song about the loss of childhood. And he called up to the stage the younger folks in the audience – which meant, Sunday evening, those under thirty-five – and those folks (many of whom, I presume, were friends and family from Willmar) helped Yarrow and the rest of us sing that great song.

As he led us through the song, there were a few changes: The line “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is now “A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys.” And the final chorus is now sung in present tense: “Puff the magic dragon lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist in a land called Hona-Lee.”

Puff lives forever. So will Yarrow’s music.

(Here’s a similar performance of “Puff the Magic Dragon” from Fairfield, Connecticut in 2007.)

Revised slightly after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 287

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

The news, as I would guess most readers here will know by now, came from the family of Levon Helm last Tuesday, April 17:

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey . . .

Thank you, fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration . . . he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage . . .

And Thursday, April 19, there was a simple message at Helm’s website, under a picture of a smiling Levon posed at the edge of a cornfield, a portrait taken during the photo session for his 2007 album, Dirt Farmer. The message read: 

Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. He was surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul.

Since then, I’ve read fifteen, maybe twenty tributes to the man and accounts of his life. I can no longer separate my thoughts about Levon Helm from those I’ve garnered from everything I’ve read this week. (The best of those pieces is by Charles P. Pierce at the website of Esquire magazine; my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ pointed me there.) So I fear repetition or, worse yet, thievery as I write this morning.

I was lucky enough to see Levon perform three times: The first time, in 1989, found him one of the members of Ringo’s first All-Starr Band; he and fellow Band-mate Rick Danko did a superlative performance of “The Weight” with solos from Dr. John  on piano and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. Twice, then, during the 1990s, I saw the latter version of The Band – Levon, Rick and Garth Hudson fleshed out with Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and Jim Weider – at the Cabooze in Minneapolis.

Given those memories, and given my long-time affection for the music Levon made with The Band and on his own, his passing this week touched me in a manner that, among musicians, only the passing of John Lennon in 1980 and Clarence Clemons last year had done. Thursday evening’s red-eyed soundtrack here in my study came from Levon Helm, with and without The Band.

Many posts ago, I noted here that The Band was recording and performing the music we now call Americana long before anyone appended that label to the music. That holds true for all of Levon’s music, of course, and every time he played and sang, he reminded us of who we are in this land, and he reminded us of our connection to that land and to each other, things we seem to have forgotten.

Here’s Levon, joined by his daughter Amy, with the final track from Dirt Farmer, “Wide River To Cross.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘The Sun Don’t Shine Anymore . . .’

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

In the early autumn of 1987, as I was settling into my new digs in Minot, North Dakota, I got a call one Saturday from my ladyfriend in St. Cloud. She’d been to the record store the night before and – knowing my affection for The Band – had picked up The Best of The Band, a 1976 anthology.

“It’s all good,” she said, “but there is one song that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

What was the title? She’d paid no attention. Nor did specific lyrics come to mind. All she knew was that the track was gorgeous and she’d lost herself in it for a few minutes.

And I was stumped. My regard for The Band at that point was based on three albums’ worth of music – Music From Big Pink, The Band and Stage Fright – and my awareness that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s back-up unit for a good length of time. I’d heard Cahoots – the album that followed Stage Fright – and had been underwhelmed, and the only attention I’d paid to the group after that came in the context of its work with Dylan: the live Before The Flood and the studio album Planet Waves.

I was aware that the group had released a few more albums before calling it quits with The Last Waltz, but I’d paid no attention. As my interest in music – like my interest in life itself – had been renewed earlier in 1987, I’d put The Band on a list of performers whose work I wanted to explore further, but time was short and the list was long. So I wasn’t thinking at all about the group’s 1975 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross, which was on my want list, and I wasn’t even aware of “It Makes No Difference,” one of two truly great tracks on that 1975 album. (The other one? “Acadian Driftwood.” As for “Ophelia,” I like it but don’t see it as quite on the same level as the other two tracks.)

By the end of that long-ago weekend, my ladyfriend had made a note of the title of the track that had so impressed her. Not long after that, I got hold of a copy of the two-LP Anthology of The Band’s work released on Capitol on 1982, and I concurred with her opinion of “It Makes No Difference.” (I also, between that Saturday in 1987 and early 1989, completed a collection of The Band’s original albums from its first incarnation, leaving for later years my own copy of The Best of The Band, the anthology that began this tale.)

My friend called “It Makes No Difference” the “most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and there’s no doubt here of its beauty. But is it the most beautiful track recorded by that first version of the group? I lean toward saying yes, with the only other contenders being “I Shall Be Released” from Music From Big Pink and “Whispering Pines” and perhaps “King Harvest Has Surely Come” from The Band. And here it is:

There’s a reason “It Makes No Difference” came to mind recently. Among the performers who have come to light in the past few years, one of my favorites is Ruthie Foster, who performs blues, R&B, gospel and the wide swath of what’s come to be called Americana about as well as can be imagined. And when I had a chance to take a listen to her newest album, the recently released Let It Burn, here’s one of the tracks I found:

Intrigued and impressed, I started to look for other covers. I’d already heard – and was unimpressed by – the version that My Morning Jacket had recorded for the 2007 tribute, Endless Highway: The Music of The Band. But things got better pretty quickly. The late country-rock guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow recorded the tune for his 2001 album Meet Sneaky Pete, and another departed legend, soul singer Solomon Burke, also covered the song, recording a stirring version for his 2005 album Make Do With What You Got.

There were some I didn’t track down: Cajun performer Terrance Simien covered the song for his 2001 album The Tribute Sessions, and I heard snippets of numerous other covers of the song by folks with unfamiliar names as I wandered through the mp3s available at Amazon. That’s where I came across the cover version by South of Nowhere, which I like very much, that I shared here the other day.

But the most interesting cover I found – not necessarily the best; I think that title might go to Foster – was by a group of Norwegian musicians calling themselves Home Groan. The group’s performance of “It Makes No Difference” comes – if I’ve figured this out correctly – from a Norwegian radio program called Cowboy & Indianer (translating to Cowboys & Indians) that celebrates Americana music. A collection of performances from the radio show was released in 2007 as Cowboy & Indianer Sessions Vol. 1, and that’s where I found Home Groan’s performance:

‘Just Say I’m Gone . . .’

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

A hint that a reader named Larry left in a comment the other day falls into the category of good ideas I should have thought of a long time ago. I’d mentioned the difficulty of sorting versions of different songs with the same title – in this case, covers of Phil Ochs’ “Changes” – while using the information at All-Music Guide. Larry suggested using the online databases at ASCAP and BMI, the institutions that keep track of such things.

It sounded like a good idea, so I gave it a shot this morning, looking up versions of “Gone, Gone, Gone,” the Everly Brothers’ single that entered the Billboard Hot 100 on October 17, 1964, forty-seven years ago yesterday. I’d already scrummed around a bit at AMG and I’d come across four cover versions of the tune, but I was thinking there might be more. And the AMG listings were crowded with other songs with the same or similar titles, including tunes by Carl Perkins, Chet Atkins, Joe South and the trio of George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward.

But BMI, for whatever reason, lists only three of those four cover versions of “Gone, Gone, Gone.” So I would hope that the four cover versions I found complete the field. First, though, let’s take a look at the original.

“Gone, Gone, Gone” was the Everly Brothers’ next-to-last Top 40 hit, getting to No. 31 in December 1964. (Their last Top 40 hit was “Bowling Green,” which barely made it, sitting for two weeks at No. 40 in 1967.) I wanted to share a video of the single, but the copyright holder evidently doesn’t allow videos of the studio version of the song. I found, however, a live performance of “Gone, Gone, Gone” from a 1964 episode of Shindig!

That performance, I think, took place on October 14, 1964, evidently just as “Gone, Gone, Gone” was released. The brothers performed “Gone, Gone, Gone” twice as part of the Shindig! opening medley – once in the autumn of 1964 and again in June of 1965 – but from what I can tell, the only time they performed the song in its entirety was on the October 14, 1964, telecast.

Now, on to the covers: The first to cover the tune, evidently, were the Ventures, the instrumental group that had twenty-five records in or near the Hot 100, including Top Ten hits in 1960 and 1964 with two versions of “Walk – Don’t Run” and then in 1969 with “Hawaii Five-O.” The Ventures’ version of “Gone, Gone, Gone” showed up as an album track in 1965 on The Ventures Knock Me Out! It’s a typical Ventures track, which means I like it.

The cover version not listed at BMI came next, when the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention performed the tune live on the BBC’s show Top Gear hosted by the famed John Peel. The show aired on August 26, 1968, and the track eventually showed up on the album Heyday, subtitled “BBC Radio Sessions 1968-69.”  I think the duet on the performance is by Sandy Denny and Ian Matthews (before he changed the spelling of his first name), and it’s also one I like very much.

That last statement should, I suppose be annotated: I like very much all five versions of “Gone, Gone, Gone” that I’ve dug up this morning. Do I have a favorite? Yes, and we’ll get to it shortly. First, though, we’ll look at the most unlikely cover I’ve found of the song. In 1970, the Minneapolis group Crow got hold of the Everlys’ song and transformed it from a sprightly pop folk song with rockabilly hints into a lengthy blues-rock jam that slides its way along, stopping for a guitar solo and an odd choral segment backed with an ethereal wordless vocal and some organ chords. By the time the eight-minute track finds an ending, it hardly seems like the same song.

And that brings us to the most recent version of the song (and my favorite cover): Performers Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, along with producer T-Bone Burnett, added a subtitle and included “Gone, Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” on their Grammy-winning 2007 album Raising Sand. Returning the song to its rockabilly roots, Plant and Krauss share the spotlight with drummer Jay Bellerose.