Posts Tagged ‘Hollies’

‘Stewball Was A Race Horse . . .’

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Now, about the song “Stewball.” We offered in this spot yesterday the version of the song recorded in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label. Pretty much a work song, that was the second of several iterations of the folk song that arose in England in the late Eighteenth Century.

Second Hand Songs notes: “Skewball, born in 1741, was a racehorse bred by Francis, Second Earl of Goldolphin. The horse, a gelding, was purportedly the top earning racer in Ireland in 1752, when he was 11. The song apparently originated as a ballad about a high stakes race occurring in the Curragh in Kildare, Ireland, in March 1752, which Skewball won.” The website gives a date of 1784 for the song, noting that the date “is for the oldest broadside identified of the ballad . . . held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.”

The webpage continues, “According to John and Alan Lomax in American Ballads and Folk Songs, the ballad was converted into a work song by slaves – which is supported by the version of the lyrics published in their book. ‘Skewball’ apparently became ‘Stewball’ after the song migrated to the United States.”

Beyond the work song version of “Stewball,” the original story-song continued to be recorded. A 1953 recording by Cisco Houston is the earliest listed in the on-going project at Second Hand Songs, but Woody Guthrie recorded the tale of the horse race in 1944 or 1945. His version was released in 1999 on Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4 on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

Then came along the Greenbriar Boys. A trio made up by 1960 of John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, and Bob Yellin, the group, says All Music Guide, was “[o]ne of the first urban bands to play bluegrass” and was “instrumental in transforming the sounds of the hill country from a Southern music to an international phenomenon.” The Greenbriar Boys released their first two albums of bluegrass tunes in 1962 and 1964, but of more import for us today is a tune that showed up on New Folks, a 1961 sampler on the Vanguard label. Herald, Rinzler and Yellin set the words of “Stewball” to a simple, folkish tune (written by Yellin, according to website Beatles Songwriting Academy) and recorded the song as their contribution to the album:

After that, covers of the new version followed: From Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963 (a single release went to No. 35 and is the only version to chart), from Joan Baez in 1964 and from the Hollies in 1966, according to Second Hand Songs. And I know there are many other covers. Most of those take on the Greenbriar’s Boys’ version (including one by Mason Proffit on its 1969 album Wanted), but there are other covers of the early folk version and the work song version as well. I didn’t go digging too deeply, though, because something else about the song grabbed my attention this week.

Now, I’ve heard the version of “Stewball” using the Greenbriar Boys’ melody several times over the years, notably the versions by Mason Proffit and Peter, Paul & Mary. Heck, I even sang it along with Peter Yarrow at a concert a year-and-a-half ago. But I’d never noticed or thought about the tune’s similarity to another famous song until this week.

Last Tuesday, I ran past Second Hand Songs while looking for an interesting cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1971 single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and when the results came up that put the Lennon/Ono tune in the adaptation tree for “Stewball,” I did a mild double-take. And then I thought about it, running the two tunes through my head. And yeah, John (and Yoko, to whatever degree she was involved in the writing, listed as she is as a composer) lifted the melody and chord structure from the Greenbriar Boys’ version of “Stewball.” There were a few changes, notably a key change and the addition of the “War is over if you want it” chorus, but it was essentially the same song.

And I’m not at all sure why Herald, Rinzler and Yellin didn’t complain. Does anybody know?

Saturday Single No. 360

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

We’re going to stay in 1975 again this morning, but rather than just dabble with October, we’ll open up the whole year – singles and album tracks, hits and obscurities – and take a six-step random walk in search of a single for a Saturday morning. We’ll skip something only if it’s been featured here recently. Weirdness, if it rears its head, will be embraced.

So, let’s go . . .

Siren was the fourth charting album for Roxy Music, and while it didn’t do quite as well as its 1974 predecessor, Country Life (No. 37), it still went to No. 50. The track that pops up for us this morning is “End of the Line,” the album’s second track. Sounding far less sleek than the rest of the album, the track kind of thumps along with a well-defined piano part and rhythm section and a wandering fiddle part sliding around Bryan Ferry’s vocal. I like it much better than I like a lot of the Roxy Music catalog.

I’m not sure if the Hollies were the first to cover a Bruce Springsteen song, but they certainly were near the head of the line when they recorded “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” from Springsteen’s 1973 album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. The Hollies’ version – titled simply “Sandy” – was released as a single on Epic and was included on their 1975 album, Another Night. The single went to No. 85 in the U.S. and to No. 12 in the United Kingdom New Zealand. The album got to No. 123 in the U.S.

From 1963 and I’ve Got A Woman through 2002’s McGriff Avenue, the late Jimmy McGriff – he passed on in 2008 – kept his Hammond B-3 busy. How many albums? I’m not going to count the list at All Music Guide right now, but a friend passed on a partial collection of McGriff’s works not long ago, and that totaled forty-five albums. We land this morning on “Stretch Me Out” from 1975’s Stump Juice, an album that AMG’s Jason Ankeny says “forgoes warhorse pop and soul covers in favor of original tunes – these tabulas rasa are the ideal canvas for [Sonny] Lester’s bare-essentials production and McGriff’s sinuous grooves.” And “Stretch Me Out” does indeed stretch.

The French group Folkdove released a couple of mid-1970s album in a sparse sound reminiscent – to my ears, anyway – of earlier work by the Incredible String Band (minus some weirdness) and a few other British folk ensembles. The track “Sylvie” comes from the group’s self-titled 1975 album, a work that I must have found at the blog Mutant Sounds, which calls Folkdove a “legendary French acid folk album . . . Simple in its form but yet great” in its simplicity. “Sylvie” is fine on its own, but there is a droning quality to it – and to the rest of the album – that makes more than one track at a time from Folkdove a bit of a listening chore.

Next up, we get Petula Clark and “I’m the Woman You Need” from her album of the same name. By 1975, Clark’s presence in the U.S. charts had dwindled – her 1960s hits included, of course, “Downtown” and “My Love,” both of which spent two weeks at No. 1 – and her records, if I read the data at Wikipedia correctly, were being released only in her native Britain. I picked up I’m The Woman You Need to get Clark’s version of “Eres Tu,” and that cover, like the title song that popped up this morning, was tasteful and professional but a little less than thrilling.

When the progressive band Crack The Sky released its self-titled debut in 1975, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed it the “debut album of the year,” says Wikipedia, and the 1978 Rolling Stone Record Guide compared the group to Steely Dan. Listening this morning to “A Sea Epic” from the group’s debut, I hear more Strawbs and Humble Pie than Becker and Fagen. The track is not bad, but I find more interesting this morning the question of the band’s home town. Wikipedia says it’s Weirton, West Virginia, and Joel Whitburn, in Top Pop Singles, says Steubenville, Ohio (which has become well-known in the past year or so for something far less pleasant than a rock group). Since the two cities are separated only by the Ohio River, it really makes no difference, I guess. Nor, finally, does the band.

Well, those are our six options this morning, and this one’s easy. The Hollies’ record showed up here in 2009 as part of a selection of Springsteen covers, but that’s a long time ago in Blogworld, so here’s “Sandy” by the Hollies, today’s Saturday Single.