‘Hard To Handle’

When the Texas Gal went to the car – our Nissan Versa – after a business appointment two days ago, she pulled the door handle like she and I have done thousands of times in the nine years we’ve had the car. And the handle came off in her hand.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what it looked like. I know, though, what I would have looked like had it happened to me: I would have stood there for a second, looking dumbly from the black handle in my hand to the empty space on the car door. “Huh,” I would have thought, processing.

And then I, like she did, would have thought, “Well, it was going to happen sometime.”

As is the case with many cars these days – with key fobs that carry electronic openers – the driver’s door on the Versa is the only one with a lock that can be opened with the key. And about four to five months ago, the little plastic cowling around the keyhole started to break; it would come out of alignment a little, and we’d push it back in. And the handle was a little loose. We knew we were going to have to deal with it eventually, and we put it our agendas, but it was a littler lower on our lists than maybe it should have been.

This week, however, with the Texas Gal standing in the street in front of a client’s home holding a door handle that was no longer doing its job, it became a whole lot more important to get repairs done. As it happened, our other car, a Chevy Cavalier, was at the nearby tire place that day for an oil change and some minor other work, so when the Texas Gal – who got into the Versa via the passenger door, of course – came home, she and I headed down the street, picked up the Cavalier and dropped off the Versa to wait for parts.

I should hear sometime today that the Versa’s door is fixed, and I’ll walk the half- mile down to the tire place and pick it up. And we can hope that any more automotive ailments will wait a while longer.

A total of thirty-six tracks show up in the RealPlayer when I search for “handle.” Nine of them come from Gene Chandler, with the most famous of those, of course, being 1962’s “Duke of Earl.” There are also tracks from four lesser-known Chandlers: Dillard (“Rain and Snow,” a 1975 track from a 2002 Smithsonian Folkways collection), Howard (“Wampus Cat,” an originally unreleased track from a 1957 Sun session), Len (“Touch Talk,” a Columbia single from 1967) and Wayland (“Little Lover/Playboy” on the 4 Star label from 1958).

That leaves twenty-two tracks with “handle” in their titles, ranging along the time line from 1941’s “Panhandle Shuffle” by the Sons Of The West to Leon Russell’s 2013 version of “Too Hot To Handle.” We’ll stop somewhere near the middle for Tony Joe White’s 1970 cover of “Hard To Handle.”

The song was written by Allen Jones, Alvertis Isbell and Otis Redding and was first recorded by Redding. One of numerous releases that came after Redding’s death in December 1967, “Hard To Handle” was the B-side to “Amen” and, on its own, went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 38 on the magazine’s R&B chart during the summer of 1968. (“Amen” went Nos. 36 and 15, respectively.)

The song’s been covered numerous time – Second Hand Songs lists thirty-five covers – and two other versions charted along the way (at least through 2008, which is the last year in my copy of Top Pop Singles): Patti Drew’s 1968 cover went to No. 93 on the Hot 100 and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, and the Black Crowes released their cover twice, once in the autumn of 1990, when it went to No. 45 and then again during the summer of 1991, when it got to No. 26.

Some of the other covers of the tune have come from Tom Jones, the Grateful Dead, Brenda Lee, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Toots Hibbert, Gov’t Mule and – always one of my oddball favorites – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Here’s Tony Joe’s version, which was an album track on 1970’s Tony Joe:

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