A couple of interesting comments showed up on older posts here late last month. We’ll look at one today and the other later this week. The first was from Shane Valcich, adding a thought or two to a couple of posts from a little more than a year ago
In those posts – they’re here and here – I looked at a seeming contradiction – or mistake – in the titling and crediting one of my favorite tunes from the 1970s. I first knew the tune as “Sip The Wine,” written by Rick Danko and included on his self-titled 1977 album, and I wrote about how that tune and that album had provided some evening comfort and a sense of home for me as I settled into a couple of new apartments in Columbia, Missouri, in the late summer of 1990:
One of the tracks from Danko’s album that’s most evocative of those evenings is “Sip The Wine.” It’s a love song, and for the most part, it had no bearing on my life at the time, but I remember hearing the closing repetitions of “We must sip the wine” and nodding in agreement. The wine I was sipping wasn’t as sweet as that quaffed by the lovers in the song, but that was okay. I still found comfort in the song.
A couple of days later, after the random function on the RealPlayer alerted me, I wrote about the same song being released in 1972 – five years earlier than Danko’s release – by Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth under the title “I Want To Lay Down Beside You.” Credited to musician and songwriter Tim Drummond, the track was on the album Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth:
Digging into the contradiction, I made the assumption that Drummond was the songwriter and some type of error resulted in its being credited to Danko in 1977. But in the comment Shane left at the second post, he noted that it might have been the other way around. Here’s his comment, edited slightly.
Just a theory but I wonder if the error isn’t on the 1972 album.
Seems more likely that Rick wasn’t paying attention, didn’t care or gave away the song credits to Tim Drummond for the 1972 release. Rick was busy and highly successful in the early 70s with the Band and touring with Bob Dylan in 1974.
Seems less likely that Tim Drummond would get credit for playing bass on two tracks on Rick’s  album while losing out on the higher paying writing credits for “Sip the Wine” on the same album, all while in a far less hectic time period when these musicians were all starting to decline in popularity and were looking for credit and royalties. Also he is properly credited for tons of writing and performing.
But inversely, maybe Tim’s success resulted in him giving the credit to Rick for his debut album seeing that Rick’s popularity may have been in more jeopardy than Tim’s. Or he was so busy he didn’t care or notice.
I will just have to head down to visit Rick’s grave in Woodstock and ask him while I smoke a joint with his spirit.
If Danko has any guidance for Shane from beyond the veil, I hope Shane shares it here.
I don’t have a copy of everything I’ve ever written. That would be ridiculous for someone who’s spent more than twenty-five years employed as a writer of some sort and more than forty years scribbling words on paper (or typing them on a screen) on his own account.
I tried to come close. For about ten years after I left the Monticello Times, I hauled around nearly six year’s worth of weekly editions in twine-tied bundles, so each time I moved, I hefted every word that had been published in the paper during my years there. I also had file folders with copies of the most significant pieces and editions of the paper, so there finally came a day when I began to go through the twined bundles edition by edition, saving tearsheets of the pieces I wanted and letting go of the rest of it.
After all, a reporter at a small town paper writes everything from obituaries to crime stories to the annual announcement of the sale of Girl Scout cookies. (One year, a headline for a column I wrote about my political concerns got lost during weekly paste-up, and the annual cookie story ended up with a headline that read: “Fears and Worries, Scouts Sell Cookies.”) Obits and the small stories about meetings and reunions and spaghetti dinners – the stuff we used to call “pots and pans” at the Monticello paper – went by the wayside, and I kept the stuff that had personal connections – various columns – or that stretched my skills or brought me some recognition.
The same is true of my professional efforts from every other stop along the way, whether in newspapering or in public relations: I have over the years kept only those pieces that were significant in one way or another. As to my personal writing – lyrics, fiction, a few longer bits of non-fiction – I have almost all of it. There is, as far as I know, only one piece missing.
I was reminded of it last evening as the Texas Gal and I watched an episode of American Idol. A seventeen-year-old fellow, facing the judges as the crowd of contestants was being winnowed from seventy-five to about fifty, sang one of his own songs. It was pretty good, and there was one line in it – I should have jotted it down, but it’s flown away – that made me say, “Wow! I wish I’d written a line like that when I was seventeen.”
And I added, “When I was his age, I was writing silly songs with Rick.”
“Rick wrote songs?” the Texas Gal asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “For a while, he and I would trade lyrics back and forth.”
That came as we were finishing high school and I was starting college (he was a couple of years behind me), and I was just beginning to write my own stuff. Despite my comment to the Texas Gal, we rarely co-wrote. When we did, the result was sometimes silly, sometimes not.
He rarely handed me his stuff. He mailed it. Just for fun, he’d undone a simple envelope and made a template; when he found a page-size visual in a magazine that caught his interest, he’d pull it out, trace around his template, cut and carefully fold and paste, and he’d have a custom envelope. A small label on the front completed the process, and he’d put his new lyric – or sometimes just a quick note – inside, and a day or two later, I’d come home from school to a brightly colored envelope in the mail.
I imagine I have some of those envelopes and their contents in a box somewhere. I might even have the one that I thought about last night while watching American Idol. One evening, probably during the spring of 1972 as I was finishing my first year of college, we were whiling away time at Tomlyano’s, a long-gone pizza joint. (Tomlyano’s has shown up here once before: That was where, in 1975, my date and I fled John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” so abruptly that we left half a pizza on the table.) And we were talking about writing.
“You know what we should do?” Rick said. “We should find a title and both write lyrics for that title.”
“Sure,” I said. “What title?”
He looked over my shoulder. “How about ‘Five Nails In The Door’?” I turned and followed his gaze toward the swinging half-door between the kitchen and the dining area, which in fact did have five large metal circles – nail heads or decorative pieces, I’m not sure – visible. I nodded.
And a few days later, I copied out my version of “Five Nails In The Door” and either dropped it off across the street or put it in a plain white envelope and mailed it. At about the same time, I got a brightly colored envelope in the mail with Rick’s take on the title.
He’d written something that owed at least a little bit to “Wooden Ships,” the post-apocalyptic song by David Crosby, Paul Kantner, and Stephen Stills that we knew from the 1969 album Crosby, Stills & Nash. (It showed up as well on Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers that same year; Rick might have known that version, but I did not.) But it also held tinges of an empire falling in traditional fashion to outsiders, as Rome did to the Visigoths.
Rick’s lyric noted that the dying society’s hopes of survival depended on the preservation of a treasure. But that treasure was lost because “there were only five nails in the door.”
What did my version say? I don’t entirely know. As I noted above, I have copies of almost everything I’ve ever written on my own (as opposed to work product). The one lyric – among a couple hundred, maybe – that I do not have is “Five Nails In The Door.” I do vaguely remember its ending. As was my wont at the time – the spring of 1972, I’m guessing – I created a love song, and it ended something like this:
If they stand for love, and I think they do, Then first there was one, and later came two. So as you go, I’m adding more, And now there are five nails in the door. Five nails in the door for you . . .
Confusing? A little bit. Evocative? I thought so. Overwrought? Yep.
Here’s a tune that does better with the topic of nails. Here’s “Rock Salt & Nails” by Earl Scruggs, with help from Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt. It’s from Scruggs’ album I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends, which coincidentally came out in 1972, the same year I was trying to figure out how to write a decent lyric.
So what brought to mind Rick Danko’s “Sip The Wine” earlier this week? Well, like many things in life, it was random.
Sometime last week, I was puttering online, checking out my Facebook timeline or maybe reading emails from some of the folks from my Denmark group who were having a fine time at a reunion. (It’s the only reunion I’ve missed since we started having them regularly twenty-some years ago; the logistical challenges of traveling to Montana, where one of our fellows owns a ranch, kept me away.)
Anyway, as I puttered, the RealPlayer bounced around the 84,000 mp3s in its repertoire, and I noticed in the back of my mind as it settled on a track that started with a gentle strummed guitar followed by the voice of a young Tracy Nelson with Mother Earth:
The song was familiar, but I didn’t pay much attention until the 3:44 mark, when Nelson sings, “We must sip the wine . . .” That got my head up, and I wondered how Mother Earth had come to record Danko’s tune. Because Mother Earth was out of business by 1977, when Danko released his self-titled album that offered “Sip The Wine.” That meant this recording pre-dated Danko’s, which puzzled me.
I checked the RealPlayer and saw the track was titled “I Want To Lay Down Beside You” and was included on the 1972 album Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth. I pulled the LP from the stacks and took a quick look: The song was credited to Tim Drummond, a name I knew vaguely and knew I had heard recently. That was likely, Wikipedia informed me, because he passed on in January. He’d been a bass player and a songwriter who played with folks ranking from Mile Davis and B.B. King to Bob Dylan and Conway Twitty (and many others in between). His co-writing credits, in the brief examples listed at Wikipedia, included “Saved” with Bob Dylan and “Saddle Up The Palomino” with Neil Young.
And he’d obviously written the song that Rick Danko offered as “Sip The Wine” on 1977’s Rick Danko, where Danko was credited as the writer. Hmm.
I checked the Rick Danko jacket. Drummond was around for the those sessions, credited as playing bass on “Brainwash” and “Java Blues.” There’s no clue on the jacket as to how “I Want To Lay Down Beside You” became “Sip The Wine” and how the writing credit transformed. It’s obviously Drummond’s song, and I’d like to think that the errant credit was an honest mistake. But I don’t know, and the only place I’ve found that acknowledges the error is the page devoted to “Sip The Wine” at the semi-official website devoted to The Band.
Well, it’s a hell of a song. Danko’s performance of it is lovely. Both Rick Danko and Tim Drummond are gone, and we’ll likely never know what happened. So let’s just sip the wine.