Archive for the ‘1993’ Category

The Video Standings

Friday, April 2nd, 2021

Over the years, I’ve made more than 370 videos for this blog. My first, slapped together not too carefully ten years ago, back in April 2011, was of Al Hirt’s 1963 track “I Can’t Get Started.” It’s been viewed 154,120 times since then, not bad for a bit of pop jazz.

I don’t often make videos anymore. There are two reasons: First, it’s getting very rare for a record that has even the slightest bit of notoriety to not show up on YouTube. It happens, most often, for records that have a one- or two-week presence in the lower portions of the charts, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to. The main reason I starred putting together videos ten years ago was because I could not find good videos – meaning first, with decent sound, and second, with some pleasing visual aesthetic – of the tunes I was writing about. That’s no longer the major concern it was ten years ago.

The second reason I’ve not messing with videos any more is that the video-making software that came along with my new computer last summer is kind of clunky, not as intuitive as the software I’d used on the previous computer. If making vids were as important to me now as it was, say, five years ago, I’d buy a better program, as I have done for apps to rip and sort CDs and to record musical notation. But it’s not worth it.

Anyway, to get back to what I was doing. I thought, as the ten-year anniversary of my video-making approaches – the actual date will be Monday – that I’d note which of my vids have been the most popular over the years.

The most popular, by far, is the merger of two pieces by Bill Conti from the soundtrack of the original Rocky, from 1976. “Going The Distance” is the music that undergirds most of the championship fight between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, and “The Final Bell” is the triumphant set of themes that runs under the climactic final scene of the film. Playing them one after another – they’re separated by numerous tracks on the official soundtrack release – only made sense to me. And it seems to make sense to lots of others, too. As of this morning, the video has received 6,445,134 views in not quite three years. Nearly 39,000 folks have liked it, but about 1,500 folks have given it a thumbs-down.

Second place in my video derby goes to “Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd & The Monsters, the second video I made and uploaded in April 2011. So, longevity no doubt plays a part in the piece having gathered 2,116,503 views as of this morning, with some 602 folks unaccountably not liking the vid. (Maybe my very simple visual style – generally a picture of the album cover, no more – disappoints some folks.) As to the video’s popularity, that, I think, has to be credited to the sweet slow story of the 1993 song. As I wrote almost ten years ago:

Every generation finds its own versions of universal truths and tales, and “Bittersweet” is one generation’s version of the thought that even if you get what you dreamed of, you might find that it wasn’t what you really wanted.

Coming in next in the video derby is Long John Baldy and “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” from 1971’s It Ain’t Easy, with the shaggy dog story of Baldry’s long-ago arrest in London followed by one of my favorite tracks of all time. Altogether, 930,406 folks have viewed it, and somehow, 323 folks didn’t like it. Perhaps those are the same folks who insist in the comments that the rocking piano part on the track is played by Elton John (who produced half of It Ain’t Easy), when the album’s credits make it clear that it was Ian Armitt at the keyboard.

Here’s the rest of the Top Ten:

“Theme From Summer Of ’42” by Michel Legrand (833,375)
“Nantucket Sleighride (Live)” by Mountain (500,398)
“Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne (499,913)
“Tangerine” by Eliane Elias (477,334)
“Misty” by Richard “Groove” Holmes (430,465)
“Wind Up” by Jethro Tull (355,688)
“Ballad Of Easy Rider” by Roger McGuinn (334,010)

On the bottom of the list are two videos that evidently ran into some accessibility issues due to copyright and were unavailable for a while: “The River” by Bruce Springsteen (140 views) and “That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind & Fire (202 views). Then comes a cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” by an obscure band called Home Groan. The cover ended up on an album of tracks played on a Norwegian radio show about American music. As of today, the video had been viewed 298 times.

‘Delia’s Gone . . .’

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

Who was Delia?

Her name was Delia Green. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say about her:

Delia Green (1886 – December 25, 1900) was a 14-year-old African-American murder victim who has been identified as the likely inspiration for several well-known traditional American songs, usually known by the titles “Delia” and “Delia’s Gone.”

According to contemporaneous reports published in Georgia newspapers, Green was shot by 15-year-old Mose (or Moses) Houston late on Christmas Eve, 1900, in the Yamacraw neighborhood of Savannah, Georgia, and died at 3:00 a.m. on Christmas Day. Houston, the newspapers implied, had been involved in a sexual relationship with Green for several months. The shooting took place at the home of Willie West, who chased down Houston after the shooting and turned him over to the city police.

Green’s murder and Houston’s trial in the spring of 1901 were reported in the Savannah Morning News and the Savannah Evening Press. Although Houston reportedly had confessed to the murder at the time of his arrest, at his trial he claimed the shooting was accidental. Other witnesses, however, testified that Houston had become angry after Green called him ‘a son of a bitch.”

Green was buried in an unmarked grave in Laurel Grove Cemetery South in Savannah.

The earliest recorded version of any of the songs inspired by Green’s fate is listed at Second Hand Songs as “Delhia,” a 1939 Decca recording by Jimmie Gordon and His Vip Vop Band. I wouldn’t be startled if there were earlier recordings. (Wikipedia notes that in 1928, folklorist Robert Winslow Gordon reported to the Library of Congress that he had traced the songs back to a murder in Savannah and that he had interviewed both Green’s mother and the police officer who took Houston into custody.)

Johnny Cash recorded “Delia’s Gone” in 1962 for the album The Sound Of Johnny Cash and re-recorded the song in 1993 for the album American Recordings. Here’s how he told the tale the second time:

Delia, oh, Delia
Delia all my life
If I hadn’t shot poor Delia
I’d have had her for my wife
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

I went up to Memphis
And I met Delia there
Found her in her parlor
And I tied her to her chair
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

She was low-down and trifling
And she was cold and mean
Kind of evil make me want to
Grab my sub-machine
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

First time I shot her
I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

But jailer, oh, jailer
Jailer, I can’t sleep
’Cause all around my bedside
I hear the patter of Delia’s feet
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

So if your woman’s devilish
You can let her run
Or you can bring her down and do her
Like Delia got done
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

Preparation Time

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve become more active, I’ve been running more and more errands, resuming one of my roles that was transferred to the Texas Gal in the weeks after my January surgery, And as has long been my habit, as I drive around town, I listen to full CDs by favorite performers. And the focus for the past couple weeks has been the music of the Freddy Jones Band.

A note here: Those duties have been temporarily interrupted by an early Wednesday morning visit to the Emergency Room. What I feared was a serious problem turned out to be a much-less-major concern, but the medical tests to determine that have left me fatigued and in some pain (compounded by the ongoing recovery from January’s back surgery). Still, I feel much better today than I did yesterday, and I assume that by the beginning of next week, I’ll be back on the errand trail with the Freddy Jones Band keeping me company.

As I noted once before here, I am likely one of the few people with a complete set of albums by the Freddy Jones Band. (Eight CDs from 1993 through 2015, one of them a compilation. There may be a stand-alone single or two that I do not have.) Why? Well, for a couple simple reasons: I like the band’s rootsy and generally happy sound. And that sound takes me back to the 1990s, the bulk of which I spent on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.

My main radio station during those years was Minneapolis’ Cities 97, playing an eclectic mix of mainstream rock, and several early tracks by the Freddy Jones Band came through my stereo speakers on quiet evenings: “Hold On To Midnight,” “In A Daydream,” “One World” and likely a few more.

Some of the music that pulls me back to those years from 1992 into 1999, tunes from other performers, is a little moody and reminds me of the less happy times I spent there. But the tunes of the Freddy Jones band remind me of the good things, the joys I found living in an urban environment: The butcher shop and barbershop I frequented on Thirty-Sixth Street and the nearby Vietnamese restaurant; Mojo’s coffeehouse on Grand Avenue, just a block away; and five blocks north (for the first few of those seven years, then a little bit farther away), Cheapo’s, the used record store where I spent inordinate amounts of time and money during those seven years.

And since one of the purposes of music in my life is to cement my memories in place, it’s been a little reaffirming to be reminded that the years I spent on Pleasant Avenue were not all lost time. I sometimes look back at those years and grieve for what I see as time spent trying – with only a little success – to figure out where I fit into the world. And then I think about a line I wrote in a song for a friend in the past year or so: “Time away is not time lost, and seasons always turn.”

So when I hear the Freddy Jones Band as I go about my errands, I realize that those years were better than I sometimes remember, and, if nothing else, they were preparation for the sweet years I’ve lived since. And that makes the Freddy Jones Band even more important to me.

Here’s “One World” from the band’s 1993 album Waiting For The Night, written by the group’s Marty Lloyd.

On the gypsies avenue tonight
Hundred lairs seem like a thousand candle lights
I do not read what the signs they have to say
In my soul there are riches locked away

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

If you lost all of your obsessions
Could you part or would you cling to be your possessions?
I do believe in a sweet imagination
An open road paved by inspiration

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

So many thorns wrapped around your ankles
Pretty gold that is taken by the banker
But I believe in a sweeter than sensation
An open path that’s not choking with temptation

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away
One world within, afraid of the gold
Unlock the doors in anger with the keys you hold

One world within, afraid to be sold

And the thorns around your ankle
Makes you bleed and bleed and bleed in gold

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

Saturday Single No. 612

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

The Texas Gal took this week off work, and while we had made no plans for a major trip, we had hoped to spend a couple of days in the car doing some leaf-peeping, perhaps heading from here to Taylor’s Falls at the Wisconsin border or maybe heading northeast toward Duluth.

Alas, it rained Monday through Thursday – nothing torrential, just slow, steady soakings with one minor storm (although Thursday’s storm in Duluth brought ocean-sized waves crashing in along the Lake Superior shoreline; the photos have been amazing). And Friday, yesterday, was cold. So we stayed in. Probably just as well. We did some binge-watching of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale and of the first few episodes of both New Amsterdam and A Million Little Things, ate out a little, ordered in a little, dealt with problems with an overhead fan/light in our entryway (a tale I may tell in full on another day), and got new phones.

On Wednesday, while we were waiting for the phone techs at a big box store to solve a problem with our new phones, I wandered over to the clearance CD bin and dug around for a while. I came out with five discs to fill gaps in the collection, compilations of work by Billie Holiday, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, ABBA, and Buddy Guy.

And here’s a track that came along with one of those five, one whose title, at least, tells how the week felt for us. It’s Buddy Guy – with some help from Bonnie Raitt – with “It Feels Like Rain,” the title track from his 1993 album. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 539

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

One of my favorite things about our membership at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is that on the first Sunday of each month during the church year, we gather after our service for a lunch of soup and bread. And I’m even more pleased when one of those Soup Sundays comes along and I have a chance to provide a soup.

Around these parts, the soup-making generally falls to the Texas Gal. It’s one of her favorite things to cook. She’s good at it, and when she makes soup, she makes a lot of it, so we end up with extra to freeze for those days when we don’t want to think too hard about dinner. And maybe twice during our church year, she’ll make a soup to take to church for one of our Soup Sundays. The hosting is generally sorted out by having each of our fellowship’s committees take a month, and the Texas Gal is on a couple of committees.

But for tomorrow’s Soup Sunday, I’m cooking. The Building & Grounds Committee was assigned to host tomorrow’s lunch, but that committee is a little short-staffed, so I volunteered to bring a soup and then help with clean-up afterward.

And when I volunteered, I knew exactly what I was going to make: Polska bean stew. It’s from a recipe I found while wandering around the Interwebs a few years ago, one that originated on the website of the company that owns the Hillshire Farms brand of sausage.Polska Bean Stew The Texas Gal thought it sounded good, so we gave it a try. We liked it, although there are a few things we would have changed. We made it again with those changes, and then – a couple of years ago – we brought it to church for a Soup Sunday. At the end of the lunch, our seven-quart crockpot was scraped nearly clean. (That’s not a new experience for us; nearly every soup we’ve brought to a Soup Sunday has been a hit, from the Texas Gal’s vegetable beef or chicken noodle soups to my Swedish yellow pea soup.)

So later today, I’ll shine up the stockpot and get to work on a batch of Polska bean stew. I’ll be making a triple batch: two-thirds of it will go into the crockpot tomorrow to take to church, and the rest we’ll keep here. We’ll have some for dinner on Monday, most likely, and we’ll freeze some.

I won’t list the recipe here, but here are the ingredients: Bacon, kielbasa, chopped onions, sliced carrots, minced garlic, kidney beans, cannellini beans, chicken broth, water, diced tomatoes, oregano, sage, pepper and bay leaf. It also calls for hot pepper sauce, which we skip, but we do put in a pinch of home-grown dried hot chili pepper. (If anyone out there wants the recipe with notes on our modifications, just let me know.)

Thinking about Polish bean stew, I went into the RealPlayer looking for an appropriate tune. I found nothing for “Polska” and nothing that seemed worthy when I searched for “Polish.” “Beans” got me lots of versions of “Red Beans & Rice” and “Cornbread & Butterbeans,” but nothing that worked for me this morning. “Stew” got me lots of tunes by Al Stewart, John Stewart and Rob Stewart as well as a few versions of “Stewball.”

So I pulled out of my memory the fact that a mazurka is a Polish dance, and among the works I have by French orchestra leader Franck Pourcel, I found the “Obertass Mazurka,” written by Henryk Wieniawski, a Polish composer of the Nineteenth Century. The recording is from Pourcel’s 1993 album Treasures Of Slav Music, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 480

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Some days, it’s just not there. Today is one of those. I’ll be fine tomorrow, but today, I got nothing. So . . .

There are about 200 tracks in the RealPlayer with “nothing” in their titles. (The search finds 269, but we have to account for five albums with “nothing” in their titles.) The earliest “nothing” track is Georgia White’s “Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Woman Cryin’ For Her Man” from 1938, and the most recent titles are a pair of tracks from Keith Richards’ 2015 album, Crosseyed Heart: “Nothing On Me” and “Something For Nothing.”

The shortest track with “nothing” is a line of dialogue from the Game Of Thrones television series: Ygritte’s classic “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The shortest “nothing” piece of music is “Five Percent For Nothing,” thirty-eight seconds of beeps and sweeps from Yes’ 1972 album Fragile.The longest track that turned up is Chris Rea’s “Nothing To Fear,” a piece from his 1992 album, God’s Great Banana Skin, that runs 9:12.

Alphabetically, the “nothing” tracks run from “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number,” a 1971 effort by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), to Brooks & Dunn’s “Your Love Don’t Take A Backseat To Nothing” from 1998.

When we go back to sorting the “nothing” songs by year, we find a treat right in the middle: Koko Taylor’s 1993 cover of Toussaint McCall’s 1967 hit “Nothing Takes The Place Of You.” It’s from Taylor’s album Force Of Nature, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Order & Routine

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Order and routine are my friends. When they’re not around, I’m at best unsettled. I’ve been known to get flustered and cranky. Very cranky.

Our furnace went bad toward the end of last week. It would turn on and kick out heat, but only to a point. Andy, the furnace guy, stopped by Thursday. He said that we could use the furnace over the weekend if we let it cool significantly after each use. And he said he could put a new one in on Tuesday.

We ran the furnace a little bit on Friday and then once a day on Sunday and Monday. Otherwise, we relied on the space heater, shifting it as needed from the living room to the bathroom to the loft where we sleep. It wasn’t that cold out, pretty much typical November weather: mid-50s during the day, low 40s at night, so things weren’t nearly as chilly as they were last January, when the furnace was out of commission for a couple of days. The temperature in the living room was about 65 degrees during the daytime when we had the space heater on and about 60 degrees when we got up in the morning. We bundled up and coped, but I was unsettled.

Monday is usually my laundry day, but the Texas Gal had a doctor’s appointment Monday morning, so she took the day off, and after her visit with Dr. Julie – routine stuff – we ran some errands. The plan before the furnace went out had been to shift laundry to Tuesday. But Tuesday morning, Andy installed a new furnace right next to the washer and dryer, and fumes from glue and oil – offered by the new furnace during its initial use – lingered in the air that afternoon; they were not something I wanted in my lungs or on my clothing.

So I didn’t get to the laundry until this morning, and my schedule is entirely out of alignment. Add into that the restrictive diet I’ve been on since Monday in preparation for a (fairly routine) medical procedure tomorrow morning, and my friends order and routine are nowhere to be found. I’m not cranky, but I’m not far from it.

The only remedy is time, and by tomorrow afternoon, at worst by Friday morning, things should have returned to something approaching normal around here. I’ll be relieved.

And as long as we’re talking about a remedy, here’s “Remedy” from the album Jericho by the 1990s version of The Band, with Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell joining Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. The horn work is by Bobby Strickland and Dave Douglas.

Six At Random

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I’m gonna fire up the iPod and let it do the work this morning. Many of the 2,000 or so tunes in the device are familiar, but sometimes the familiar tends to get ignored around here. So off we go:

First up is “Be Easy” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, a 2007 joint that, like most of Jones’ catalog, sounds as if it could have come out of Memphis forty years earlier. The track comes from 100 Days, 100 Nights, Jones’ third release and the first one I ever heard. Six of her albums with the Dap-Kings are on the shelves here along with a couple of one-off recordings. One of those one-offs, a cover of the First Edition’s 1967 hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” caught the ear of my pal Schultz when he was here a few weeks ago, and he spent a few moments jotting down the titles of Jones’ CDs for future reference.

Then we jump back in time to 1971, when Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” went to No. 40. When this one popped up on the car radio a couple of years ago, I wrote, “I was once again bemused by the ‘Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more’ couplet. I also considered – not for the first time – about how unacceptable the reference to ‘dykes and fairies’ would be today. Social change happens glacially, but it does happen.” Even with those considerations, it’s still a pretty good record.

And we do get some Memphis R&B: “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from 1973. The slightly funky and sometimes propulsive record went to No. 9, one of three Top Ten hits for the singers, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. I didn’t really get the Staple Singers back then – too much other stuff crowding my ears, I guess – but they’re well-represented these days on both the vinyl and digital files, and “If You’re Ready” is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

From there, we head into the mid-1990s and find a cover of Billie Holliday’s version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance (With You)” as performed by the late Etta James. The track comes from James’ 1994 album Mystery Lady – Songs of Billie Holiday. I can’t find any fault with the song selection, with the classic pop arrangements on the album, or with James’ performances, but there’s something about the entire project that leaves me a little cold. It’s a little odd: It’s like the parts are all fine but just don’t fit together. “I Don’t Stand . . .” is probably the best track on the album, and it’s nice and all, but ultimately kind of empty. That one may not stay on the iPod too much longer.

Somewhere along the line, I came across a huge pile of work by the late Lee Hazlewood, ranging from the early 1960s all the way to 2006, a year before his death. One of the more idiosyncratic folks in the pop music world, Hazlewood kind of fascinates me. And this morning, we get Hazlewood and Ann-Margret gender-flipping and covering Waylon Jennings’ No. 2 country hit from 1968 with “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” from the 1969 album The Cowboy & The Lady. Despite my affection for Hazlewood’s work, the limp performance by Ann-Margret means that this is another track that’s likely not going to remain long in the iPod. Linda Ronstadt’s superior version from the same year is already in the device, and that one should be the only one I need.

And we close with one of my favorite melancholy tracks, “Scudder’s Lane,” by the New Jersey band From Good Homes. Found on the group’s 1993 album, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!, the song tells a tale familiar and yet unique. I’ve posted the lyrics here before, but they’re worth another look:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees
and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

A Bunch Of ‘Sorry’ Songs

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The Texas Gal and I have a friend who’s been looking for a used printer, and I told that friend Sunday that I’d send her the phone number and email address of Dale the Computer Guy down on Wilson Avenue.

I forgot.

I sent the info yesterday in an apologetic email, and this morning, I got back a kind email saying my delay was not a problem. But it got me to wondering how many recordings among the 75,000 currently logged into the RealPlayer have the word “sorry” in their titles.

I was surprised. There are only thirty-eight such recordings (and one album: the Gin Blossoms’ 1996 effort Congratulations I’m Sorry). Those recordings span the years, however, starting with the 1935 single “Who’s Sorry Now” by Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies and ending with a 2013 version of the same song recorded by Karen Elson for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire.

Here’s the western swing version from Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies:

It’s worth noting that “Who’s Sorry Now” seems to be a pretty sturdy song. Written by Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, it was first recorded in 1923 by a number of folks including Isham Jones (whom we met here last autumn when we were listening to versions of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”), and according to the information at SecondHand Songs, it’s been recorded several times in every decade since then except the 1930s (and I’ll bet there are recordings from that decade that have not yet been listed at the website). The most recent version noted there before Elson’s 1920s-styled take on the tune is one from Mary Byrne, a 2010 contestant in the United Kingdom’s version of the singing contest, The X Factor.

But what else did we find when searching for “sorry”? Well, the second-oldest recording stashed here in the EITW studios with “sorry” in its title is from 1951, when Johnny Bond saw his “Sick, Sober & Sorry” go to No. 7 on the Billboard country chart. And the second most-recent is from quirky singer-songwriter Feist, whose “I’m Sorry” was released on her 2007 album, The Reminder.

Looking chronologically, and picking one track from each decade from the 1950s on, we find some gems: “I’m Sorry” by the Platters went to No. 11 on the Billboard jukebox chart and to No. 15 on the R&B chart in 1957. (And yes, we doubled up on the 1950s, considering we’d hit the Johnny Bond record, but it’s worth it for the Platters.) From 1962, we find “Someday After Awhile (You’ll Be Sorry)” by bluesman Freddy King (a departure from his normal “Freddie” spelling).

In the 1970s, we find the funky “Both Sorry Over Nothin’” from Tower of Power’s 1973 self-titled album. The pickings in the files from the 1980s are pretty slender, so we’ll skip over one track each by the Moody Blues and the Hothouse Flowers and head to the 1990s. And that’s where we find the atmospheric “Not Sorry” by the Cranberries from their 1993 album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

And we have one more stop with “sorry,” heading back to 1968 and the regrets expressed by the HAL 9000 computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

‘Witchi Tai To’

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

As I wandered through various mp3s of one of my favorite songs the other day and then took a look in this blog’s Word files to see what I’d said about it, I discovered, to my utter bafflement, that not only have I never written about the song “Witchi Tai To,” but over the course of seven years and an estimated 1,400 posts, I have never even mentioned it. That neglect ends now.

In 1969, as the folk-rock duo of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley were travelling to gigs all over the American Midwest, they’d tune in late at night to the legendary underground radio program “Beaker Street” on KAAY from Little Rock, Arkansas. And it was on “Beaker Street,” according to the official Brewer & Shipley website, that the duo first heard the song “Witchi Tai To.”

Among the members of the band Everything Is Everything was Jim Pepper, a saxophonist of Kaw and Creek heritage. As the Brewer & Shipley website puts it: “Pepper adapted the song ‘Witchi Tai To’ from an ancient peyote chant that he learned from his Native American grandfather. . . . The group’s producers encouraged Pepper to express his Native American heritage in his music, and helped him work out the arrangement and English translation.”

The single, notes the Brewer & Shipley website on its page about the song, is “the only hit in the history of the Billboard pop charts (reaching No. 69 in 1969) to feature an authentic Native American chant.” (I don’t know when that statement went up on the website, which seems to be regularly updated, but it would not be surprising if the statement remains true.)

Brewer & Shipley decided to cover the song, of course, and recorded it for their 1969 album, Weeds. And they got some of the words wrong. “The irony,” notes their website, “is that they got all the Native American lyrics right but misheard the adapted English lyrics.” They heard and sang:

What a spirit spring
Is bringing round my head
Makes me feel glad
That I’m not dead

But Pepper had written:

Water spirit feelings
Springin’ round my head
Makes me feel glad
That I’m not dead

No matter. Brewer & Shipley’s version got what the website calls “heavy FM airplay” and was perhaps the best-known version of the song, even getting mention in Jim Pepper’s obituary in the New York Times when the musician passed away in 1992.

There were other covers of “Witchi Tai To,” of course. (Some of the offered the title as “Witchitai To,” others a “Witchi Tia To,” and there are likely more variants.) Jim Pepper did his own version of the tune on his 1971 album, Pepper’s Pow Wow. Other early covers came from a group calling itself Topo D Bil, which was actually Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Band along with some of his bandmates and other friends (1969); from the American group Harpers Bizarre on its 1969 album Harpers Bizarre 4; from the John Schroeder Orchestra, a British ensemble that – according to the notes at YouTube – got David Byron of Uriah Heep to handle the vocals (1971); from a New Zealand group named Tom Thumb (1969); from a group called Today’s Tomorrow (1970); and from Québécois singer Robert Charlebois (1973).

Additionally a jazz group named Oregon took on the song twice, recording a short version on its 1974 album, Winter Light, and then taking the song for an eight-minute ride on Out Of The Woods in 1978. From then on, there’s a gap in my collection of covers of “Witchi Tai To” that goes to 1993, but I have no doubt that if I dug further, I’d find versions to fill those fifteen years. (The list of covers at my usual starting point, Second Hand Songs, is a little slender, but the list of mp3s available at amazon is lengthy; it includes the eighteen versions of the song I already have and offers many more.)

There are a few versions of the tune on the other side of that fifteen-year gap in my files: Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek did a nice version on his 1993 album Twelve Moons. And French-born Pete Wyoming Bender, a musician of Native American descent who evidently lives in Berlin, Germany, covered the song well on his 2005 album, Rainmaker.

Sometimes, though, the later versions are disappointments. I searched out the 2004 CD Red Dragonfly by saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett for her cover of “Witchi Tia To,” and found it devolved into what sounds to me aimless wandering. (As Chuck Berry wrote about modern jazz nearly sixty years ago, “they lose the beauty of the melody.”) And the 2007 version by X-Press 2, the title track of their Witchi Tai To album, sounded a little mechanical with the beats and the electronica.

My favorite? Well, I can’t say today. I still love Brewer & Shipley’s version, which was no doubt the first version I heard (likely on freeform FM radio in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as it was familiar to me when I picked up their album Weeds in the late 1990s). And I like the original by Everything Is Everything, which is relatively new to me. But one of the more arresting versions I’ve come across lately is one that showed up after the first cluster of covers from the years 1969-71. Singer/songwriter, producer and composer Rachel Faro included a reflective version of the song on her 1975 album, Rachel Faro II, and if it’s not my favorite, it’s definitely in the running.

(Mathematical error and origin of Robert Charlebois – thanks, David Young – corrected since first posting.)