Nov 17, 2012
You look at George Jones and wonder where it's coming from... with that brush cut and the jug-handles... but when he did tap into that feeling, nobody else on the scene had a chance.
There was always something incredibly corny about Jones, but also something untouchable. Like the video below. It's pure schmaltz - the showbiz, the put-on, the hair... Jesus, the hair on the man... but when Jones turns the corner on a line and lifts it up with a subtle change of pitch... goddamn! For everything Willie Nelson can do with his voice, he can't do what George Jones does.
George Jones - The Grand Tour
And one more... this one's my true favourite... the one one I'll put on after a few beers and pretend it's casual. From the Bradley Barns Sessions:
George Jones and Keith Richards - Say It's Not You (1994)
Here's Keith talking about recording this song with Jones:
Nov 15, 2012
Billy Boy Arnold - You Got To Love Me (1955)
A teenaged Billy Boy Arnold got a few harp lessons from his legendary Chicago neighbour Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson I (not to be confused with his later acolyte and namesake Sonny Boy Williamson II of "Don't Start Me Talkin'" fame) but those lessons didn't last too long. Sonny Boy got robbed and murdered walking home by himself after a club gig (they say his last words lying on the cold sidewalk were "Lord, have mercy") and poor Billy Boy was on his own for awhile before hooking up with Bo Diddley and impressing him enough to sit in on Bo's "I'm A Man" recording session.
Diddley repayed the favour by playing guitar on You Got To Love Me the same day. Billy Boy was 19 years old when he sang this. He's still going strong around Chicago clubs and playing the festival circuit. You Got To Love Me really sort of captures the spirit of 1955, with Chicago Blues at a peak and rock and roll rising across the rest of the country.
It still makes you want to get drunk and dance.
Since we talked about 'em, here they are:
Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson I - Polly Put Your Kettle On (1947)
Sonny Boy Williamson II - Don't Start Me Talkin' (1955)
Bo Diddley - I'm A Man (with Billy Boy Arnold on harp) (1955)
Hank Williams - Ramblin' Man (1951)
I’ve always felt that Ramblin’ Man was the archetype for Bob Dylan’s strange and spooked Man In The Long Black Coat, recorded almost 40 years later in New Orleans. From ’51 to ’89, The Man just got weirder... he may have even died once or twice. Dylan says “he had a face like a mask”, writing in the third person. Williams could hardly write in anything but the first until his early death on New Year’s Day 1953. Ghosts walk through both these recordings. I wonder if they’re the same ones.
They're part of that mythic thing they call “Old Weird America”, a name coined by the writer Greil Marcus. Listen to these alone in the dark and you’ll quickly understand what he meant by that, if not intellectually, then maybe in your skin.
Bob Dylan – The Man In The Long Black Coat (1989)
Nov 9, 2012
The Davis Sisters were two country girls from Dry Ridge, Kentucky - one named Skeeter Davis, the other Betty Jack Davis – and weren’t related to each other at all. Somehow.
That’s a couple of great names there. Skeeter and Betty Jack. They had those high lonesome harmonies like a lot of the singing brother acts of the time but they landed a huge hit with this song and it would make them famous around the world. That’s Chet Atkins and his band playing behind Skeeter and Betty but the good times were soon over when Betty Jack was killed in a car wreck in Cleveland the same week that this song hit the radio. Skeeter was in that car too but she survived and went on to have a solo career that lasted for many years. For a while she had Betty Jack’s sister Georgia on stage with her but the magic was already lost.
Tough to wonder what might have been if fate had kept those two girls together. This song is so good that it’s almost enough for the rest of us to be satisfied. Not quite, but almost.
Nov 8, 2012
Johnson recorded this April 20, 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia with his first wife, Willie B. Harris singing behind him.
It's not known for sure how Johnson went blind, but the folklorist and writer Samuel Charters says it was because his stepmother accidentally threw lye into his face in a fit of rage at Johnson's father.
Johnson became a preacher later in his life but doom and gloom seemed to follow him around when his house burned down and he was forced to live in the charred ruins. Some say he died from fever because of this, others from syphilis.
Like his contemporary Robert Johnson, he was heavily influenced by Charley Patton, but most of Blind Willie's songs have this incredible hook in them somewhere which make them easy to sing and remember. These recordings with his wife also strangely foreshadowed Jimmy Reed recording with his wife singing behind him, but in Reed's case, it was because he was so drunk that he was forgetting the words which his wife dutifully filled in for him on mic.
Soul Of A Man is my favourite of Blind Willie Johnson, but John The Revelator, recorded on the same day, is right there with it. Depends what day you catch me on.
Blind Willie Johnson - John The Revelator (1930)
Somehow, Son House nearly surpassed Johnson's version with this intense a capella take on it in 1965.
Son House - John The Revelator (1965)
Just released this morning, you can tell right away that this is a Keith song, as opposed to the earlier Doom and Gloom which was a "Mick song". The open riff, the empty spaces, the lazy pace and Keith feel of the whole thing... I'm more than impressed.
It almost seemed too simple at first, especially after the nastiness of Doom and Gloom, but by the second listen I was hooked.
If they could get more of these kind of songs onto a record in 2013, we'd be talking. After about five years off, they're rounding back into shape nicely.
While we're at it, here's the Stones covering Waylon Jennings on the last tour.
Rolling Stones - Bob Wills Is Still The King (2005)
Waylon Jennings - Bob Wills Is Still The King (1989)
Nov 2, 2012
Strummer recorded this just months before his death in 2002. Not that this song needed much more pathos to make it work, but it gets your eyes a little welled up thinking about it all.
Strummer was always a great songwriter, in and out of The Clash, but it was always his singing that got me. He really sounds like a street kid, even here at 50 years old, always straining with every line.
You should get this record, Streetcore, and play this song as loud as you can handle it. When that chorus kicks in, everything else goes away for a few seconds. That's about all you can ask for in a song.
While we're here, might as well throw on another great Strummer vocal with The Clash.
The Clash - Straight To Hell (1982)
The Sheiks were made up of a trio of Mississippi brothers with last name of Chatman - first names Lonnie, Sam and Armenter ("Bo Carter") - and Walter Vinson. They started up in 1926, began recording in 1930 and were pretty much done as a group by 1935. That's not much time to make a mark, but it was enough.
There's something sort of frightening in the Sheiks sound. I don't even know what it is, but they always seem to hint that something more menacing is at work than just bad luck, no money and heartache. When things are rolling, they have songs like "Sitting On Top Of The World" (which Robert Johnson caught onto and rewrote as "Come On In My Kitchen"). Then there's this song. Things aren't going wrong. The world is going wrong. Bob Dylan later sang this in the early 90's when he felt like a relic and couldn't write anymore. He got over that but the worry of the Sheiks came through Dylan like a disembodied warning.
"Strange things have happened
That never before
My baby told me
I would have to go
I can't be good no more
Once like I did before
I can't be good, baby
Honey, because the world's gone wrong"
Bob Dylan - World Gone Wrong (1993)