Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alison Krauss: In The Palm Of Your Hand

It’s Spiritual Sunday and today’s song comes from early in the career of Alison Krauss – “In the Palm of Your Hand.” The initial track is from the David Letterman show on November 23, 1995.

The song was written by Ron Block, Krauss’ banjo player in Union Station, and speaks that, although we have nothing in this life, we have everything when we are in the palm of His hand. No matter what troubles this life brings us, His grace will see us through.

Studio Version


If I could have the world and all it owns
A thousand kingdoms, a thousand thrones
If all the earth were mine to hold
With wealth my only goal

I'd spend my gold on selfish things
Without the love that Your life brings
Just a little bit more is all I'd need
'Til life was torn from me

I'd rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me

If I should walk the streets no place to sleep
No faith in promises You keep
I'd have no way to buy my bread
With a bottle for my bed

But if I trust the One who died for me
Who shed His blood to set me free
If I live my life to trust in You
Your grace will see me through

I'd rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees

If I could have the world
If I could have the world and all it owns

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad: Closer to Home

If there is anything that recreates the sound of my teenage years it’s the sitting in my bedroom listening to my first two Grand Funk Railroad albums: “Closer to Home” and “Live Album.” Both albums contained one of my favorite songs by the band: “Mean Mistreater.” The song featured guitarist Mark Farner on keyboards. I had a tough time deciding between “Mean Mistreater” or “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” as the feature tune; however, I have decided to go with my gut and choose the road most traveled – “I’m Your Captain.”

The production on this song is great with the acoustic guitar, strings from the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, the seascape sound effects, the echo-chambered flute, the memorable bass of Mel Schacher, and the constant drum rolls of Don Brewer. The single version of the song on Capitol was released under the title of “Closer to Home.”

Produced by Terry Knight, who had worked with Farner and Brewer in the band Terry Knight and the Pack, “Closer to Home” was Grand Funk’s first top ten LP. Knight’s biggest record before producing Grand Funk was his cover of Ben E. King’s “I (Who Have Nothing).” This 1966 release on the Lucky 11 label got extensive airplay in the rust belt, but failed to become a national hit. Brewer and Farner both appeared on this record. Four years later in 1970, Tom Jones would have the biggest hit of this song in the US.

The album “Closer to Home” was Grand Funk’s third album and was certified gold during 1970, the year of its release. It currently has double platinum status for sales in excess of 2 million copies in the US. I have included a YouTube playlist that provides all of the songs on this release in order. Enjoy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Jackie DeShannon: Bette Davis Eyes

Every Friday I feature an original recording of a song that later became a hit for another artist. Written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, “Bette Davis Eyes” became a colossal hit for Kim Carnes in 1981. The song, however, was originally recorded by its coauthor Jackie DeShannon on her 1975 album “New Arrangement.”

For the billions of people familiar with Kim Carnes’ largest hit record, the Jackie DeShannon version is not very palatable. It is an example of a song’s evolution from an obscure album cut that would become a hit record – producing more royalties for DeShannon (and Weiss) in the process.

When producer Val Garay was looking for material for Kim Carnes’ “Mistaken Identity” album, Donna Weiss provided another tune, but neither Carnes nor Garay were impressed. Weiss then suggested “Bette Davis Eyes.” Although DeShannon’s version is in a country vein, Garay described Weiss’ arrangement as sounding like “a Leon Russell track, with this beer-barrel polka piano part.” Garay continued, “But I loved the melody and I loved the lyrics.” Carnes was no stranger to the track as Weiss had submitted the tune for her previous LP “Romance Dance”; however, producer George Tobin had passed on it.

Fortunately for Carnes and Garay, the song was a huge hit. The night the band learned the song was December 8, 1980 – the same night that John Lennon was shot and killed. The signature keyboard part that makes the song was devised by Bill Cuomo and was played on a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer. Cuomo also credited as the song’s arranger.

When Carnes went into the studio to cut “Bette Davis Eyes” the song was recorded live with no overdubs. Garay had Carnes and the musicians record three takes with the very first being chosen for release. “Bette Davis Eyes” was #1 for 8 weeks in 1981, was overtaken by the Stars on 45 “Beatles Medley” for one week, and then returned for an additional week at the number one slot. Besides being a number one record in the US, “Bette Davis Eyes” hit the top chart position in 30 other countries.

In 1982, the single won “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year” Grammy Awards. “Mistaken Identity” was additionally nominated for “Album of the Year”; however, this honor was bestowed upon John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” album. Billboard also lists “Bette Davis Eyes” at #12 of the top 100 of the first 50 years its Hot 100 chart.

Kim Carnes Version

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mike Post: Rockford Files Theme

Every week between September 1974 and January 1980, Americans were treated to the antics of the financially overextended private investigator Jim Rockford on NBC’s “Rockford Files.” In addition to the show’s opening that included a humorous answering machine message, the recognizable theme song opened up this classic 70s TV show. TV Thursday's feature this week is Mike Post's "Rockford Files Theme."

Composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, the Rockford theme was released on MGM under Mike Post’s name. This Grammy winning best instrumental also topped the Billboard Top 100 chart at #10. I always thought that the album version was longer than the single; however, they were the same length. As the practice was with some radio stations in the US, some programers splice edited songs to shorten their length. The guitar bridge was often chopped out of "Rockford Files Theme." While somewhat shady in that regard, the idea was to play more songs in an hour than their competitors who were playing the single versions as is. The gimmick often worked.

In 1981 when the TV show “Hill Street Blues” debuted, MCA Records had difficulty getting airplay for the theme song on contemporary hit radio stations. One of the gimmicks MCA employed was to get Mike Post to personally call radio stations to beg us to play his single. I received a phone call from Post and he was not the most congenial fellow – when I turned the conversation to the Rockford theme and hinted that the station could really use a copy of the out-of-print copy of the LP, the conversation turned south. Post basically told me that he was not calling me to talk about an older record but rather “Hill Street Blues.” Not only was he a little gruff, he never got the hint about sending us a copy of the album, pity.

Rockford Answering Gags

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Tornados: Telstar

Back before the British Invasion of 1964, an act from Great Britain had the opportunity to achieve number one status in their native land. In addition, the song crossed the Atlantic and was the first British recording to top the American charts - this was 18 months before the Beatles had their first American #1 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” For a non American act in 1962 to achieve number 1 was quite a feat; however, when you consider the song also being an instrumental – the chart action is impressive. Released five months after the launching of AT&T’s telecommunication satellite “Telstar,” a song named in its honor was recorded by the Tornados.

I can remember this song very well as my brother John and I, who shared a bedroom at the time, would listen to Pittsburgh’s KQV. While most stations concluded their broadcast day with the National Anthem, this was not the case for KQV. In late ’62 and ’63, KQV signed off at midnight by playing “Telstar.” When KQV went off the air, we down tuned the radio to 1020 and caught Ed and Wendy King and their call in show “Party Line” on KDKA. That was an unusual show in that you never heard the callers only Ed and Wendy's side of the conversation, which they would then relate to the audience what had been said. Ah yes, those were the days.

“Telstar” had a unique blend of instrumentation. I particularly liked the concert harp that is heard throughout the song as well as the guitar. If you were to ask most anyone else, they would remember the unusual keyboard instrument – the Clavioline – that is featured on “Telstar.” This little vacuum tube tone generated precursor to the analog synthesizer made its way onto several records. It had a unique timbre, and like its descendant, it could only play one note at a time.

Joe Meek demonstrates the Clavioline

Besides “Telstar,” other notable songs featured Clavioline type instruments. One of these, Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” utilized a Musitron for its signature keyboard lead. The Beatles also employed a Clavioline for the strange Indian influenced bagpipe like sound on “Baby You’re a Rich Man” from “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Yellow Submarine.” The Clavioline was not alone in the marketplace. There were others that were similar in sound such as the Ondioline, the Pianoline, the Univox, and the Solovox. All of these seminal synthesizers added to the progress that would be later replaced by names such as Moog, Arp, Roland, Korg, and Sequential Circuits.

The later instruments allowed greater control over the sound – but required a little bit of practice and patience to learn what all their many controls and patches could do or not do. It would be a few years later when Oberheim and Sequential Circuits both released polyphonic synths that had programmable sounds – which returned the ease to playing with different sounds at a touch of a button – much like their ancestor the Clavioline.

Del Shannon: Runaway

The Beatles: Baby You’re A Rich Man

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fairport Convention: Matty Groves

It is Traditional Tuesday and the story line for today’s song could have come from Wisteria Lane and Desperate Housewives or perhaps from the shores of South Beach and CSI Miami. As one band (the Strangelings) prefaced a performance of the tune, "it is a story that begins at church and ends with a double homocide." The song is "Matty Groves" and is performed by the pioneers of English folk-rock, Fairport Convention.

I became aware of this tune from the import LP "The History of Fairport Convention" when I purchased it during the spring of 1973. While my first taste of the band came with their initial release that had been given to me six months previous, this compilation album that predated the release of the album "Rosie" was a great introduction into the various styles that emerged as they evolved nearly as often as most of us change our socks.

The song originally came from their archetypical fourth album "Liege & Lief" – their greatest selling album in their 40 plus year history. While I like the tune and Sandy Denny’s performance (as well as Messers Thompson, Nicol, Swarbrick, Pegg, and Mattacks), my own cognition surrounding the history of this particular gruesome story pales in comparison to my older brother Chuck's encyclopedic knowledge of its intricate details.

In deference to him (and knowing full well that he will identify aspects of the song in great detail if I don’t include them myself), I am posting, in its entirety, the chapter dealing with "Matty Groves" from his quite interesting publication, Murder, Betrayal and Death: Observations on Traditional Ballads. This gets me off the hook for missing something of great importance and also provides a greater audience to this booklet published in 1999 that needs a much wider exposure in the first place.

While Chuck goes into great detail of the song, he is lacking one fact about "Matty Groves" that I will provide here. In Fairport’s version, the first verse is as follows:

A holiday, a holiday
And the first one of the year
Lord Darnell's wife came into the church
The Gospel for to hear

We may be inclined to think that this story occurs in January; however, this is an incorrect assumption. Prior to September 1752 when the English speaking world finally adopted the Gregorian calendar used in the rest of Europe, the Julian calendar placed New Year’s Day on March 25.

It may be assumed that this first holiday of the year may be a reference to Easter or one of the other holidays associated with Eastertide – i.e., Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or several holidays that follow Easter. With Easter being a moveable feast, any one could have been the first holiday of the year.

As Easter can occur in March or April, the story of Lord Darnell bringing the yearlings home would have happened at a more hospitable time (weather wise) than it would have if it had taken place in January.

That appears to be the only omission I could find in his fine essay on this timeless story that has been handed down for several hundred years.

"The Ghost of Matty Groves"

from Murder, Betrayal and Death:
Observations on Traditional Ballads
by Charles E. Owston
Pages 33-48
©1999 Charles E. Owston

It is a warm August night in 1992. The sun has gone down in a crimson blaze, and Night's shadows have covered the earth. I stand, along with thousands of other folk-rock fans, in a field near the little village of Cropredy, in Oxfordshire, England. In 1644, a battle was fought down by the stone bridge, the Royalists of Charles I against the Roundheads of Oliver Cromwell. That was Cropredy's claim to fame for nearly 400 years.

 Ric Sanders in Pittsburgh; June 2006

Now it's known for the fact that it hosts the largest folk music gathering in Europe. It's the annual reunion of the present and former members of the English band that first electrified traditional music for the masses, Fairport Convention. On stage are the current lineup of 1992: Simon Nicol, guitar and vocals, Dave Pegg, bass, Dave Mattacks, drums, Maartin Allcock, guitar, and violinist Ric Sanders, tonight at the keyboards. His arm is in a sling from a recent accident with a plate glass window. Filling in on the violin is guest musician, Chris Leslie, from the band Whippersnapper.

Chris Leslie and Jim Owston; Pittsburgh June 2006

The concert is nearly over and it starts to rain. The band begins the intro to a song that has become a regular staple in their live sets for many years. The crowd cheers, ignoring the downpour. Interestingly enough, it is a song that is over 400 years old, and would have been known to those long ago combatants at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge.

It's called "Matty Groves."

This tale of cuckolded husband, unfaithful wife and handsome young man about town, who comes to a grim and bloody end, has been a crowd pleaser since the days of yore. According to the sources, there is evidence that it came down to England from Scotland sometime before 1600. It was played in wayside inns and taverns by troubadours and rag-tag bands of minstrels, men who lived by their wits and their songs. It was first mentioned in a play published in 1611, the same year as the King James Bible, but was well known before that. Several versions had been in circulation for years.

Bertrand Harris Bronson writes, in The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads: "This ballad is one of those quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle (c. 1611) and it was entered in the Stationer's Register in 1630." A part is sung by Merrythought, a sort of jovial old ballad singer in Act V, scene 3, where he sings,

And some they whistled, and some they sung
Hey down, hey down!
And some did loudly say,
Ever as the Lord Barnet's horn blew
Away, Musgrave, away!

The ballad travelled across the Atlantic with immigrants to the New World, who took it with them into the Appalachian Mountains. Years later, it reappeared in the repertoires of old-timey mountain musicians and bluegrass bands as "Mathy Groves." It surfaced during the Folk Revival of the early 60s on a live LP by Joan Baez. After that, it was copied by long-haired, winsome girls with acoustic guitars and voices as clear as mountain streams.

It even went to the West Indies with the buccaneers, privateers and pirates who called England their home. There it has surfaced as "Lord Barnaby." Obviously it was a favorite of those wild swashbucklers. A good swordfight was always up their street.

When Fairport Convention recorded their ground breaking LP of British folk-rock, Liege & Lief, in 1969, one of the songs chosen was "Matty Groves." Much more upbeat than the Baez dirge, it rocked. Since that version, with powerful vocals by Sandy Denny, it has reappeared many times as part of the continuing saga of Fairport Convention. We have two Sandy Denny versions, the second being an the live album A Moveable Feast. On this rendition, the tempo is much slower. Personally, I like the Liege & Lief recording of the two.

However, once Sandy left the band, the blokes didn't abandon poor Matty. He appeared on many recordings, in a variety of guises. On House Full, Richard Thompson took on the vocal chores. This LP was recorded live at L.A.'s Troubadour. Then Thompson left the band, and the task fell to Simon Nicol. We have more versions with Simon at the vocal helm than anyone else, and he does a fine job of telling the tale with his rich baritone. His performances have a dramatic flair that some of the other vocalists lack.

Live Version featuring Simon Nicol

You can catch Simon performing "Matty Groves" on Farewell, Farewell, In Real Time and The 25th Anniversary Concert, as well as several video releases and the "official bootlegs."

Chuck Owston and Simon Nicol in Pittsburgh; June 2006

Even in the years since Fairport have made this song recognizable as their own (some people even think they wrote it), other bands and singers continue to perform and record it.

In England, Paul Roland, a gothic singer, has a fine version, and Eden Burning (who played al Fairport's annual Cropredy Festival in 1995) have a live version, with fiddle replaced by mandolin, on a CD single.

At the Sandy Denny Tribute Concert at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn on Nov. 21, 1998, "Matty" was performed by alternative rocker Robyn Hitchcock. I've also heard there's a tape of one of Steve Forbert's concerts where he does a pretty fair version of the ballad.

English folk stalwart Martin Carthy, John Wesley Harding and the British band, Urban Folk, have all recorded versions of "Little Musgrave," which some scholars believe to be the closest to the original Scottish version.
When a local library asked me to put together and perform a program of murder ballads for their coterie of mystery readers, one of my first choices was "Matty Groves."

It's a song that really shows the whole fabric of human society in one fell swoop. It contains a holiday, religion, hypocrisy, betrayal, adultery, love/lust, revenge, swordplay, murder, death, burial, and to top it off, the snide remark at the end about class consciousness. Everything a song could want. Change a bit of the scenery, move it up several hundred years, and it could be a comment on yesterday's headlines. We might call it a "medieval soap opera."

I believe that's one of the reasons "Matty Groves" has stayed around so long. It contains a situation that is true to life. People more than occasionally do stray from their spouses, and sometimes they get caught . . . and the results call be just as brutal and bloody.

In olden times they didn't have newspapers, radio, TV or supermarket tabloids. But they had minstrels, and in a way, those tunesmiths fulfilled the function of these modern day sources of news and gossip. The troubadour was more than a mere entertainer. He didn't have to be a virtuoso on his instrument (though many, were). It was the story that really mattered. Listeners would hang on every word, wanting to know the outcome, because the majority of these early ballads were musical retellings of actual events. The closest 20th Century troubadours to compare to those original songsters are early Bob Dylan (first three albums) and early Donovan (first two US albums, on Hickory). Basic vocals and primitive guitar work -- it was the song that mattered, the words, the story. I remember hearing someone in the early 60s describe Dylan this way: "Hey, I admit he doesn't have much of a voice, but listen to what he's saying!"

People have been listening to what singers have been saying about Matty Groves for over four hundred years. How many of today's songs do you think they'll be singing 400 years from now?

When anything has been around as long as "Matty Groves," it's bound to have numerous variants and alternate versions. Professor Child, in his listing of Popular English and Scottish Ballads lists it as #81. There are a variety of versions, both here in the US and back in England, which we will discuss shortly.

I first came to know the song when I was in college in the early 60s A fellow across the hall had just bought the Joan Baez live album and he kept telling me about the great medieval song on it. "You ought to learn it," he said, "it's about an unfaithful wife and her boyfriend, who get caught in bed by the jealous husband, who runs him through. Shades of Errol Flynn."

I was definitely intrigued. Murder ballads were right up my street. I had been fascinated by them since I'd seen a TV program as a kid based on the ballad "Pretty Polly." I was performing a few murder ballads in my own folk concerts in the Rec. Hall -- "Willow Garden" as recorded by Walter Forbes, "The Cuckoo" as recorded by The Knob Lick Upper 10,000 (what a name!), and "Flora, the Lily of the West." "Matty Groves" was soon added to my lunchtime concert set list.

One day while looking at records in the local supermarket (this was Eastern Kentucky in 1963), I heard a song playing on the radio. Things were pretty primitive in that part of the country, and they, played the local radio station, WGOH, through the store's PA system. I heard the words, "How do you like my feather bed? How do you like my sheets?" There was a fiery five-string banjo and frantic fiddling, all at breakneck speed. The vocalist was wailing in that bluegrass style they call "the high lonesome sound." I stopped and listened till the song was over. Then the disc jockey came on, "That was the Starlite Ramblers (or some such group) doing their version of an olde English folk song, "Mathy Groves." Mathy, not Matty.

This was nothing at all like the seven minute version that Baez did. She did it like a dirge, with doomy minor chords on the guitar. They turned it into a hillbilly hoedown in a major key.

When Fairport Convention married rock rhythms and instrumentation to traditional lyrics, one of their choices was "Matty Groves." The fact that it has been copied by so many others shows that they made a wise choice. It's one of the oldest songs being consistently done in a rock context. Other songs in this league would be "Tam Lin" (Liege & Lief) and "The Raggle Taggle Gypsies." The latter was recorded several years back by the Waterboys. This is another song I'd heard in Kentucky done by bluegrass musicians.

All of these songs hail from around the mid 1500s. It must have been a great time for songwriters. In those days, the songs had much longer staying power. Without albums or CDs, the life of a song stretched into decades, even centuries. Not so today. Today's hit is tomorrow's forgotten oldie, or worse yet, an out of fashion has-been.

In those days, a song might come down out of the Scottish highlands, pass through England, maybe even go to France or Ireland, all the while changing, being added to, having parts deleted, then return to England, perhaps to Scotland again, with all new verses and words. Names and places would change, someone would forget a verse, but make up a new one to replace it, and so forth. This is the folk process at work.

Now we're ready to examine the various versions of "Matty Groves." Using Fairport's Current version (nineteen verses, not including instrumental breaks) as our standard version, we're ready to begin.

First let's look at the name of the song: Child 81 has been called all of the following:

  1. Matty Groves
  2. Mathy Groves
  3. Matthew Groves
  4. Lord Orland's Wife
  5. Lyttle Musgrave
  6. Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
  7. Lord Arnol's Wife
  8. Lord Banner
  9. Lord Banner's Wife
  10. Mossy Graves
  11. The Red Rover
  12. Little Musgrove and Lady Barnswell
  13. Little Matthy Groves
  14. Lord Barnaby

There may be other titles, but these are the most well know variants. It's interesting that the emphasis changes from Matty to the woman then to the outraged husband.

Let's examine the principle characters in this song:

1. Matty Groves, a young man about town, handsome, obviously charming and well liked by the ladies. Usually thought of as a commoner.

2. Lord Arnold's Wife. The unnamed character in this triangle. She's simply referred to as "the wife." This gives us a little insight into her situation. Obviously, even though she's "of noble kin" as the last verse tells us, her station in life is enhanced by who she's married to, and she has no real position, except that of nobleman's wife. Obviously, she's got a roving eye because Lord's Arnold's out "calling the yearlings home" and other such important (to him) tasks.

3. Lord Arnold. Here's the cuckolded husband. A man of martial pursuits, obviously since he's wears not one, but two swords. Not the kind of guy you want to mess around with. This should have been a warning to Matty, but the lady's charms obviously overcame any trepidation he may have felt at the outset. This was indicated by his words at the beginning:

I can't go home, and I won't go home,
I won't go home for my life
For I see by the little ring you wear
You are Lord Arnold's wife.

4. The servant girl. She figures in many old ballads, usually a conniving female character, such as the false nurse in "Long Lankin" or the tattle tale girl of "Raggle Taggle Gypsies," who can’t wait to tell the Lord of the Manor that his wife has run off with the gypsies.
Let's start with Matty and examine him. In both the Fairport and the Baez versions he's called Matty Groves. We've already come across Mathy, short for Matthew, which was probably his given name. It was common in England to name children after saints, even up to fairly recent times. Other names found in the variants are: Mathew Grew, Little Musgrave, Lyttle Musgrave, Little MacGroves, Little MacGrew and Magrue. Both MacGroves and MacGrew indicate Scots versions of the song. In David Drake's fantasy novel of the Southern mountains, Old Nathan, he makes reference to a song about "Mossy Graves." In the book, British Ballads from Maine, we have some rather interesting variations: Young Grover MuGrove, Massy Grove, and The Red Rover from Old Scotland.

In his book on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, Robert Shelton, ties Matty Groves with Dylan's version of "The House of the Rising Sun," that old Chestnut that not only Dylan recorded, but also Joan Baez; British rockers the Animals; Detroit psychedelic hippies, Frijid Pink; and even Alan Lomax himself on an obscure 60s folk LP. Shelton writes: "Alan Lomax recorded what he called a ‘modern Southern white song’ in 1937 in Middlesborough, Kentucky. Lomax traced it to some older bawdy English songs, the melody with the classic -Little Musgrave and the Lady Barnard ('Child Ballad 81') and its American variant 'Little Mathy Groves.'"

The "wife" remains just the spouse of the Lord of the Manor. I have found no versions where she's ever mentioned by name. One interesting fact, however, is that there are several different outcomes to her fate. She is always pictured as beautiful, rather coy and flirty, as we see in this verse from the Baez version:

She tippied up to Malty Groves
Her eyes so low cast down
Sayin' pray, oh pray, come with me stay,
As you pass through the town

Lord Arnold, like Matty, has many different names. In the very first Fairport version, Sandy Denny called him Lord Darnell By the time House Full was recorded, he'd become Lord Arnold. Richard Thompson did the vocals. When Sandy rejoined the band on the Australian tour, he was still Arnold. Joan Baez called him Lord Arlen. Paul Roland used Lord Donald in his gothic version, as did the 1972 touring unit of Fairport (as heard from a live recording of a radio broadcast). In other printed and recorded variants he is named variously: Lord Orland, Lord Arnol, Lord Barnard, Lord Daniel, Lord Banner, Lord Donnel, Lord Donald, Lord Branswell, and the obviously Irish Lord Donnelly. In the David Drake book, Old Nathan, he's called "the King," so there are obviously versions where the fellow is royalty.

The servant girl is a little different. What we have here is not so many different names, but both female and male servants, depending on the version. Both Denny versions and the Thompson one have a male servant. Baez sings:

Her little page did listen well
To all that they did say
And ere the sun could rise again
He quickly sped away.

And he did run the King's Highway
He swam across the tide
He ne'er did stop until he came
To the great Lord Arnold's side.

It's only in the current lineup's version that we find a female servant.
The length of "Matty Groves" differs also. The version that is listed in The Oxford Book of Traditional English Verse has a total of twenty-nine verses, the longest I've found. The shortest contains a mere sixteen. But what do we find in these "extra" verses? Perhaps a little more insight into the "true" story.

In some versions there are descriptions of the other woman at the church service.

The first came in was a gay ladye;
The next came in was a girl;
The third came in was Lord Orland's wife
The fairest of them all.

Another version tells it this way:

The first came in was a-clad in green,
The next was a-clad in pall.
And then came in Lord Arnol's wife
She's the fairest one of them all.

In the Baez version we hear of three ladies dressed in black. This reminds us of the three pale queens who appeared at the death of King Arthur, come to bear his body to the misty isle of Avalon. These three are reminiscent of the three Fates of Greek mythology, the three one-eyed Norns of Norse myth, or even the three hags from Shakespear's "MacBeth" - a warning of doom approaching.

He spied three ladies dressed in black,
As they came into view
Lord Arlen's wife was gaily clad,
A flower among the few.

There's even a version where she's not even at a church service, but instead at a fancy ball, as is evidenced by the description in this verse:

There were four and twenty ladies there
A dancing at the hall
The first came in was a lily white robe
The next came pink and blue
The third came in was Lord Banner’s wife
The flower of the view.

Obviously, from the meter of this version the usual tune we've come to associate with "Matty Groves" would not fit. Which brings up another point. I've heard a number of different tunes to this song. The current lineup's version has a tune similar to life Appalachian song "Shady Grove." Being found on both sides of the Atlantic, there are both major and minor key versions. In the US, the song has been collected in Kentucky, Ohio, Maine, and Michigan. In parts of Maine the sung has been sung to the tune (if you can believe this one) of "Yankee Doodle." It's staggering to the imagination.

Another major key version is akin to life cornball old tune "Bingo." Somehow, with this tune, it loses it dramatic edge and becomes much too "cutesy."

Another variation is the reason for Lord Arnold's absence. Fairport has him "bringing the yearlings home." Baez has him a loyal Royalist, "gone to consecrate King Henry at Whitehall." In another version we have a weird twist. Lord Arnold has become a scholar (a little out of character for a guy who carries two swords): "He has gone to the academie, some language for to learn." Lord Banner, in his version, "he's Redemption gone. He's on Queen Anne's throne." And in a North Carolina version he's off "at the King's highway working."

What are some of the other extra verses? Some deal with the conversation between the footpage and Lord Arnold

What's the matter, what's the matter
little footpage?
What news you bring to me?
Little Matthew Grew's in bed with your wife
It's as true as anything can be. -

If this be a lie, Lord Orland he said,
That you have brought to me
I'll build a scaffold on the King's highway
And hanged you shall be.

In a version of "Mathy Grove," Rena Hicks relayed this interesting verse to folklorists Anne and Frank Warner in 1951. In this verse the footpage is promised a reward if his message is indeed true.

If this the truth you brought to me
And true it may be
To the oldest girl that I got
Married you shall be

This bring up the question as to who "the oldest girl" refers. Is it Lord Donal's (in this case) oldest daughter, perhaps to an earlier wife who has passed away? Or can it be that he is referring to a servant girl on his household? There's no way we can know for sure.

As far as the penalty if the page has told a falsehood, another version says, "I'll build me a gallows in fair Scotland." This is one of the reasons some scholars believe this to be a Scottish song that travelled to England. For example:

Rise up, rise up, you young MacGroves.
Rise up draw on your clothes
It shall never be said in fair Scotland
I slain a naked man.

Which brings us to another topic. Censorship. Baez's version substitutes "sleeping" for "naked." It was a common practice in Victorian times to "clean up" any offensive passages in the olde ballads, making them less bawdy, and more fit for the public. When ballads were printed in school books for British children, the renderings so changed some of the songs that they were hardly recognizable.

This brings us to perhaps the most interesting aspect of all, which is the final climax of the story. What happens when the adulterous wife and her young lover are finally confronted by the raging husband'?

Chuck Owston’s Version

There's not a single version anywhere that has Matty escaping to love another day. He dies in all of them. There's no leap out the window. No handy swordplay ala Errol Flynn where he manages to disarm the jealous husband (see The Adventures of Don Juan, Warner Bros.). No, justice is merciless. There's no forgiveness upon Lord Arnold's part, just flashing steel. How does Mattie die? We have the following lines:

Matty struck the very first blow,
and he hurt Lord Arnold sore,
Lord Arnold struck the very next blow,
and Matty struck no more."

However, in some recorded versions Simon Nicol sings: "Matty hit the floor." But yet others say:

"Lord Arnold struck the very next blow,
and laid him in his gore."

From the state of Maine, we find this graphic verse:

"Lord Arnold struck the very next blow,
and Matty's head rolled across the floor."

The wife is another matter altogether. In about half of the versions, she survives or her fate is unclear. In the Baez version, the last verse tells us:

Ah, woe is me, and woe is thee,
Why stayed you not your hand'!
For you have killed the fairest lad
In all of England.

In the Fairport version she tells the husband that she loves the dead Matty Groves better than Lord Arnold. And in yet another, she says that she would never kiss him, even if he were dying.

If you lay struggling in your blood
As MacGroves he does now,
I'd kiss the lips of sweet MacGroves
But I never would kiss yours.

That's it. Out comes the flashing broadsword and Lady Arnold joins Matty in death. In the Fairport version, Lord Arnold "pins her against the wall." However, this is not the most gruesome outcome to the story. Here's some that are even bloodier.

Lord Arnol stepped up to the bedside
Whereon those lovers had lain
He took the sword in his right hand
And split her head in twain.

Or check this one out:

He caught her by the hair of head
He split her brains in twain
He threw her on the floor
Where she never rose again.

I remember hearing one version where Lord Arnold cut of his wife's head and then kicked it across the floor like a soccer ball. But that's not the worst. Here it is, the ultimate gross out, worthy of a modern day splatter film:

He cut the paps from off her breast
A great pity it was to see
And some drops of this lady's heart's blood
Run trickling down her knee.

Quick, send for the Victorian censors! You probably couldn't even perform this version today without a lot of flak from feminist/anti-abuse groups.

I caught it one night at an open stage when I performed the Fairport version. Some irate lady accused me of promoting abuse against women. I said, "What about Matty Groves? He died as well. How's that for equal time."

The most unusual twist in this story is the version that finishes with a murder/suicide In "Lord Banner," we have this final verse:

He put the hilt of the sword
Upon the floor, the point was to his breast
And never was three lovers
So quickly sent to their rest.

There's even a more modern version where Lord Arnold uses a pistol instead of a sword. It's obviously a gun of the black powder variety:

He took his wife by the lily-white hand
And he led her through the hall
He jabbed the pistol in her breast
And she fell with a special ball

In one of the versions, Lord Arnold confesses that he has done a terrible thing.

Woe worth you, woe worth, my merry men all
You were not borne for my good
Why did you not offer to stay my hand
When you see me wax so wood?

For I have slain the bravest sir knight
That ever rode on a steed
So I have done the fairest lad
That ever did woman's deed

What's also interesting about this version is that Matty is not some low life commoner that we find in the rest of the variants, but a knight himself.

There's even a version from the Old World that pictures the Lady far gone in pregnancy.

I'm not sae wae for my lady
For she lies cauld (cold) and dead
But I'm right wae for my young son
Lies sprawling in her blood

Another addition that I have recently found is a version where Arnold must pay for killing young Matty. Hence this verse:

Sweetly sings the nightingale
And sweetly sings the sparrow
Lord Arnold has killed his fair lady
And he will be hung tomorrow

So, was Matty Groves a real person? I think he was. After four hundred years, we're still hearing his story in song. His real name may be forgotten. In the hundreds of tellings, his true identity may have been obscured by the mists of time.

But every time Fairport Convention takes the stage, the ghost of Matty Groves is with us.


A holiday, a holiday
And the first one of the year
Lord Darnell's wife came into the church
The Gospel for to hear

And when the meeting it was done
She cast her eyes about
And there she saw little Matty Groves
Walking in the crowd

"Come home with me, little Matty Groves
Come home with me tonight
Come home with me, little Matty Groves
And sleep with me 'til light"

"Oh, I can't come home, I won't come home
And sleep with you tonight
By the rings on your fingers
I can tell you are Lord Darnell's wife"

"But if I am Lord Darnell's wife
Lord Darnell's not at home
He is out in the far cornfields
Bringing the yearlings home"

And a servant who was standing by
And hearing what was said
He swore Lord Darnell he would know
Before the sun would set

And in his hurry to carry the news
He bent his breast and ran
And when he came to the broad mill stream
He took off his shoes and he swam

Little Matty Groves, he lay down
And took a little sleep
When he awoke, Lord Darnell
Was standing at his feet

Saying, "How do you like my feather bed
And how do you like my sheets
How do you like my lady
Who lies in your arms asleep?"

"Oh, well, I like your feather bed
And well, I like your sheets
But better I like your lady gay
Who lies in my arms asleep"

"Well, get up, get up", Lord Darnell cried
"Get up as quick as you can
It'll never be said in fair England
I slew a naked man"

"Oh, I can't get up, I won't get up
I can't get up for my life
For you have two long beaten swords
And I not a pocket knife"

"Well, it's true I have two beaten swords
And they cost me deep in the purse
But you will have the better of them
And I will have the worse"

"And you will strike the very first blow
And strike it like a man
I will strike the very next blow
And I'll kill you if I can"

So Matty struck the very first blow
And he hurt Lord Darnell sore
Lord Darnell struck the very next blow
And Matty struck no more

And then Lord Darnell he took his wife
And he sat her on his knee
Saying, "Who do you like the best of us
Matty Groves or me?"

And then up spoke his own dear wife
Never heard to speak so free
"I'd rather a kiss from dead Matty's lips
Than you or your finery"

Lord Darnell, he jumped up
And loudly he did bawl
He struck his wife right through the heart
And pinned her against the wall

"A grave, a grave", Lord Darnell cried
"To put these lovers in
But bury my lady at the top
For she was of noble kin"

The Strangelings’ Live Version

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bonnie Raitt: Can't Find My Way Home

This Monday’s cover features Bonnie Raitt’s rendition of my favorite Blind Faith tune, “Can’t Find My Way Home.” This performance was taken from a live broadcast over Philadelphia’s WMMR radio on February 22, 1972. I didn’t plan this, but just noticed that this recording occurred 38 years ago today. It must be serendipity, as I found this recording last week and was going to use it then, but didn’t and decided to save it for today – not even realizing the date.

The WMMR recording of this tune occurred within months of the release of Raitt’s first album, which is quite good in its own right. Raitt has released 19 LPs (including compilation and live albums) and has never recorded this song for commercial release. The WMMR recording becomes a real treat with her rendition of a song made famous by the super group – Blind Faith.

Blind Faith Original

Entire Live Broadcast

This broadcast was taken from the original WMMR broadcast by a former station intern who, under some false pretenses, sneaked back to the station and was able to record the entire show from a reel-to-reel source to a DAT (digital audio tape). The quality of the show is fantastic and gives a glimpse of how good a musician that Bonnie Raitt was back in the early days of her career. Besides Raitt’s performance on guitar, piano, and lead vocals; the show features Dan (Freebo) Freeberg on bass; T.J. Tindle on guitar and harmonica; and John Davis on harmonica.

I have included a YouTube playlist of the entire show.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dierks Bently: Better Believer

I haven’t been listening to a great deal of country music as I had in the 1990s, but I heard a song two weeks ago that I cannot get out of my head. I was listening to a rebroadcast of West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage and I heard Dierks Bentley perform “Better Believer.” The song fits my weekly Spiritual Sunday theme, as it speaks of how we all are greatly blessed – so much we should feel guilty about not relying on faith enough and not doing enough with our lives.

The Mountain Stage performance was recorded on February 1, 2009 – just two days before the release of the album “Feel the Fire.” “Better Believer” was slated to be a single release; however, three other songs were picked by Capitol Nashville instead.

The album has done exceedingly well as it charted at 1 on Billboard’s Country Album charts and #3 on the Top 200 LPs. The Chicago Tribune named it their number one country album for 2009. The first two singles from the CD, “Feel the Fire” and “Sideways” both charted at #1 on the country charts, while the third single, “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes” peaked at #2. It is obvious that Capitol’s A&R Department knew what they were doing.

Notwithstanding its failure to be picked as a single, I like “Better Believer” and its message. During this last couple of weeks, I have been working on an arrangement of the tune for a future performance – wish me luck.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Beatles: Rubber Soul

As with every Saturday, I feature a monumental album and this week it is my favorite Beatles LP: “Rubber Soul.” I had difficulty in picking a song as I wanted something that was on both versions of the album and was not overplayed, but not unfamiliar either. Since I had already featured “I’m Looking Through You” several months ago, that tune was out as well. I decided that John Lennon’ s introspective tune “In my Life,” although well known, it was the best choice to highlight this recording.

It is said that "In My Life" was inspired by a British journalist who suggested that Lennon write a song about his childhood. The line "Some are dead and some are living; in my life, I loved them all" was a direct reference to the original bassist for the Beatles, and John’s best friend, Stu Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe had left the band to pursue a career in art had died of a brain aneurysm on April 13, 1962. The aneurysm was thought to have been caused by skull fracture he received during fight after a 1961 Beatles performance in Lathom, Lancashire.

This particular song has a number of elements that give it a unique flavor. First and foremost, John Lennon’s are double tracked – a frequent studio trick that the Beatles used on a number of songs. Not everyone can pull this off as did Lennon. I’ve been in sessions where vocalists have tried to do this, but either they are out of synch with themselves or off pitch with one of the vocal tracks. I haven’t read anything specific about the vocals on this recording, but there is no indication from what I have read that either were an issue for Lennon.

Secondly, the electric guitar in the intro and turnarounds by George Harrison sets the stage for what is to come. Third, George Martin is playing the baroque harpsichord sounding lead on the piano. Lennon asked Martin to come up with a keyboard part. Martin wrote the Bach inspired lead; however, he was not able to play it at the tempo of the song.

To accomplish this feat, the engineers recorded the piano at half-speed – slowing the tape down from 15 inches per second to 7 1/2 inches per second. When played at normal speed, the piano part, now an octave higher and twice as fast, the piano sounded akin to a harpsichord.

With all of that, my favorite part of the song is Ringo’s use of the ride cymbal on the chorus. To me this is gives the song a quality unlike most other Beatles’ songs. Elsewhere in the song the ride cymbal is omitted in deference to the hi-hat.

 The UK version on Parlophone featuring the intended orange lettering.

Rubber Soul was recorded in four weeks and it was the first Beatles album that was not interrupted by a tour. Like all of the albums prior to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Rubber Soul” was released in two different versions – one that was issued throughout the world that followed the UK issue with 14 songs. In the US and Canada, Capitol issued a 12 song version that eliminated four of the songs from the UK issue and added two additional songs.

Capitol's US version with a different color saturation creating gold lettering.

The two versions of “Rubber Soul” had a commonality of ten songs. The songs eliminated from the UK version were included on Capitol’s “Yesterday . . . and Today,” which also featured two songs from side two of the UK version of “Help!” and the double-sided hit “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out.” The US and Canadian versions led with the folky "I've Just Seen A Face" to compete with the popularity of the Byrds and Bob Dylan in the US. 

In Japan, where more Beatles albums were released than any other country, the Odeon record label often issued both American and British versions of Beatles albums when titles differed. Even at that, covers and particular tracks were somewhat different than the US and UK versions. Despite the dual issues with different titles, both versions of “Help!” were issued in Japan; however, “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” were only released with the UK song configuration.

To understand which songs were featured on the two versions of “Rubber Soul,” I have provided a listing of the 16 songs featured on any of the “Rubber Soul” albums.

Drive My CarRubber SoulYesterday . . . And Today
Norwegian WoodRubber SoulRubber Soul
You Won’t See MeRubber SoulRubber Soul
Nowhere ManRubber Soul Yesterday . . . And Today
Think for YourselfRubber SoulRubber Soul
The WordRubber SoulRubber Soul
MichelleRubber SoulRubber Soul
What Goes OnRubber Soul Yesterday . . . And Today
GirlRubber SoulRubber Soul
I’m Looking through YouRubber SoulRubber Soul
In My LifeRubber SoulRubber Soul
WaitRubber SoulRubber Soul
If I Needed SomeoneRubber Soul Yesterday . . . And Today
Run for your LifeRubber SoulRubber Soul
I’ve Just Seen a FaceHelpRubber Soul
It’s Only LoveHelpRubber Soul

"Rubber Soul" was released in the UK and the US in time for the 1965 Christmas buying season, and the rest is history. For your listening pleasure, I have included two “Rubber Soul” playlists – the UK (14 track version) and the US (12 track issue). The songs are in the order as they appeared on the original releases. Enjoy.

Rubber Soul – UK Version (Remastered)

Rubber Soul – US Version (Remastered)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bob Marley & The Wailers: Stir It Up

On First Fridays I feature an original recording that was later covered and achieved greater success than the original. Today’s feature is the 1967 recording by Bob Marley and the Wailers of “Stir it Up” made popular by Johnny Nash in 1973.

Although on both versions, “stir” is pronounced as “steer” and it seems more pronounced on the hit version by Nash. The song was the first commercial success for Bob Marley outside his native Jamaica; a year after Nash’s record, Eric Clapton released another Marley tune, “I Shot the Sheriff,” and this brought Marley’s music to greater audience yet.

“Stir it Up” was one of four Marley tunes to be included on Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” LP and was the follow-up single to the title cut. “Stir it Up” charted at #12 in the US and #13 in the UK.

One of my favorite percussion instruments - the vibra slap

The single mix which is included below is quite different from the album mix and features extra horns, vocals, guitars, and a vibra slap that are missing from the LP version. It is also mixed brighter as to have greater presence on AM car radios. Unfortunately, the single mix has been out of print for a number of years.

Johnny Nash’s Version


Thursday, February 18, 2010

KISS: Calling Dr. Love

While I’ve never considered myself a huge KISS fan, there were a number of their songs that I have really liked, and today's song is one of their better tunes. Since it is TV Thursday, I always feature a song from a TV show or commercial. Today is no exception. Featured in the latest Dr. Pepper Cherry commercial, KISS’ “Calling Dr. Love” is being used to sell the soft drink with a “little kiss of cherry.”

Featuring KISS’ bassist Gene Simmons on vocals, “Calling Dr. Love” was the band’s fourth top 20 single. Coming from the album “Rock and Roll Over,” “Calling Dr. Love” peaked in 1977 at #16 and was the follow up to “Hard Luck Woman” from the same LP. The song performed better in Canada where in went to #2.

Due to the popularity of the band and advanced sales, the “Rock and Roll Over” album was certified gold upon its release. Within two months, the LP attained platinum status and was eventually certified double platinum for sales in excess of two million copies.

Dr. Pepper “Little Kiss of Cherry” Commercial

Known as Dr. Love, Gene Simmons was born in Israel and was named Chaim Witz. When he, his mother, and an uncle immigrated to New York in 1957, he took his mother’s maiden name of Klein and the first name Eugene. By the late sixties, he adopted the name Gene Simmons as a tribute to the 1950s rockabilly performer “Jumpin’” Gene Simmons.

Besides his appearances on commercials, Simmons also stars in the reality show, “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels” and has created an animated series “My Dad the Rock Star.” The father of the series, Rockford Amadeus Zilla, or Rock Zilla, is based on Gene Simmons. Like Gene, Rock Zilla is somewhat immature. When the show ran on Nickelodeon, I watched it occasionally with my kids and enjoyed it immensely.

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Simmons’ Debut Dr. Pepper Commercial

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Walter Egan: Magnet And Steel

It was a one hit wonder, but the song had help from members of one of the hottest bands around. Released in 1978, “Magnet and Steel” was written about a famous vocalist, who happened to have a brief romantic relationship with the song’s author and singer, and who also sings on this recording along with her ex-husband. It also features an unusual instrument for a top ten record as well.

If you listen to the recording, it is not difficult to pick out the vocals of Stevie Nicks – who happens to be the subject of this song. Nicks is joined by fellow Fleetwood Mac member and ex-husband Lindsey Buckingham. Buckingham also provided background vocals, played guitar, and co-produced the LP “Not Shy.” The twangy guitar lead, however, is not Lindsey Buckingham, but rather Walter Egan. Annie McLoone provides the third voice as a background vocalist.

The unusual instrument you may ask is a Schoenhut toy piano that was played by Steven Hague who went on to produce a number of artists in the 1980s. According to Egan, he believes that Lindsey Buckingham suggested the idea for using the toy piano. It really works in this song and about a year later, I had an opportunity to buy one cheap at a flea market. I was hoping to use it someday for a recording, but never did. My kids got some use out of it and I still have it – maybe someday I’ll use it for something productive.

As for Walter Egan, he has been productive since the “Not Shy” days and has played in numerous bands including Spirit and Randy and the Rainbows of Denise (ooh Da-nise ooby do, I’m in love with you) fame. Besides spending some time fronting a couple of bands, he currently makes his home in Franklin, TN where he supplements his income as a substitute teacher.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cara Dillon: Hill Of Thieves

There are those days when you are not looking for anything special and suddenly there is a rich treasure at your feet. That happened to me about a week ago when I was browsing the limitless offerings via YouTube and I happened upon one Cara Dillon. I was immediately entranced by this Irish vocalist and her Emerald Isle accent. Although this is a late post today, it is much like the old adage: better late than never. The Traditional Tuesday track is the title cut from Cara’s 2009 LP: “Hill of Thieves.”

One of the two songs that were not traditional in origin on this album, “Hill of Thieves” was written by Dillon and her husband and constant musical partner, Sam Lakeman. This song features an excellent performance on Irish whistle by Brian Finnegan - it really makes the song. As the music progresses, a sound reminiscent of a fiddle is slowly rising in volume. While other cuts on the album have fiddle, there is no fiddle present on “Hill of Thieves.” The great imposter here is the Uilleann pipes played by James O’Grady.

While Cara Dillon is new to me, she is not new to the music world and has numerous awards, accolades, and award nominations attributed to her music. I will leave you with another Cara Dillon song, “False False” performed live on the Blackstaff Sessions.

False False

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shania Twain: You Shook Me All Night Long

Every Monday I feature one artist’s cover of another artist’s song. As Monty Python might say, “and now for something completely different,” here's Shania Twain doing her cover of the AC/DC classic, “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  Before you ask, yes that is Alison Krauss singing harmony.

While it might seem to be unusual for a county artist like Twain doing an AC/DC number, it isn’t that much of a stretch. Twain’s ex-husband, “Mutt” Lange, who produced and co-wrote many of her critically acclaimed recordings, also produced the original version by the boys from down under.

Released on their largest selling album, “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me All Night” became a heavy metal staple in the 1980s. The album achieved record sales in a number of countries including 22 times platinum in the US, 10 times platinum in Canada, and 8 times platinum in the UK.

The AC/DC Original

While a country version might seem unusual, in the mid 1980s I played with a band based out of Mullens, WV called the Second Story Band. Typically, we did a variety that mixed Southern Rock and Country . . . and a few AC/DC tunes along with some other straightforward rock numbers. I was always amazed how the country audiences reacted to the AC/DC songs – very enthusiastically. The success of AC/DC meant the band was reaching those cross-over listeners to sell as well as they did in the US.

February 1984 - Summersville, WV with the Second Story Band.
Left to Right: the author, Moe Beavers & Rick Moorefield.

I did get to see AC/DC live in 1978 at the Huntington, WV Civic Center. I won two tickets from WVAF-FM in Charleston, WV to see Cheap Trick. AC/DC was the opening act. I was not a fan; however, a majority of the audience reveled in the antics of Angus Young in his schoolboy attire and wireless Gibson SG guitar as he came off the stage into the audience. They put on quite the show.

By the way, Shania Twain doesn't have the only country version of this song out there. Hayseed Dixie is an acoustic AC/DC tribute band that does a hillbilly version of this and other AC/DC numbers. The instrumentation on their rendition is great; however, I don’t care for the vocal treatment. I think Shania’s version is superior, but I guess I should include Hayseed Dixie’s rendition here for comparison purposes.

Hayseed Dixie - Hillbilly AC/DC Tribute Band

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stephen Curtis Chapman: When Love Takes You In

This morning, a couple of friends and I are doing a Stephen Curtis Chapman song at church. Actually, I should be honest and say that a friend of mine, Jon Schwitzerlette is doing a Champan tune and he asked me and Keith Janney to participate. Knowing he was going to sing on Valentine’s Day, Jon picked a song Chapman wrote about the children he has adopted – it is called “When Love Takes You In.”

Unfortunately with the weather we’ve been having lately, the three of us have not had the opportunity to practice – so we are going into it cold. Jon is singing the lead and playing piano, I will play keyboard strings on an instrument that I have never touched before (the church's new Clavinova), and Keith will add his ‘cello to the mix. It should be fun – but I am a little apprehensive – but not enough not to do it this morning.

Jon has also written a beautiful narrative that he asked me to read prior to beginning the song concerning how the church has missed the boat on reaching out to people. Since the song we are doing has its roots in Stephen Curtis Chapman’s own personal experience of adopting children, Jon is encouraging us to adopt a sinner – show some love to someone who needs it. I am not including his full account here, as I haven’t asked his permission to do so, but that is the gist of it. Show some love on this Valentine’s Day.


I know you’ve heard the stories
But they all sound too good to be true
You’ve heard about a place called home
But there doesn’t seem to be one for you
So one more night you cry yourself to sleep
And drift off to a distant dream

Where love takes you in and everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart
When love takes you home and says you belong here
The loneliness ends and a new life begins
When love takes you in

And somewhere while you’re sleeping
Someone else is dreaming too
Counting down the days until
They hold you close and say I love you
And like the rain that falls into the sea
In a moment what has been is lost in what will be

When love takes you in everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart

And this love will never let you go
There is nothing that could ever
Cause this love to lose its hold

When love takes you in everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart
When love takes you home and says you belong here
The loneliness ends and a new life begins
When love takes you in it takes you in for good
When love takes you in

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run

On Saturdays, I like to feature a pivotal album, at least for me, and lead off with one of its better tracks. Today’s feature is the 1975 release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album. I debated on which song to feature; however, it is hard to top the album’s first single release – “Born to Run.”

Although he had two albums out before Born to Run, I was oblivious to the man and his music until one Saturday in October when I was walking through the library of Kentucky Christian College (now University) and I spied two magazine covers that featured the same man – “Bruce Springsteen.” I thought, “Who is this Bruce Springsteen and what is all the hype about him?”

October 27, 1975 issues of Time and Newsweek

I would soon find out as “Born to Run” was being played everywhere. Listening to this song bring backs memories of discovering the tasteful use of glockenspiel by Danny Federici who also played organ on the record. It probably isn’t the first rock song to use a glockenspiel, but it is probably the heaviest rock tune to use this instrument of the tuned percussion family. Typically, when we think of the glockenspiel or its portable sister, the bell lyre, it conjures up images of a high school band playing during the half time at a Friday night football game. That imagery is definitely not present here.

 Ist das nicht ein Glockenspiel?
Ja das ist ein Glockenspiel.

When listening again to this cut this morning, I noticed two things that I had never noticed before – the wah-wah guitar which is down in the mix and Clarence Clemmons on baritone sax that adds to the song’s low end. You can hear both following Clemmons' tenor sax solo. At the end of the instrumental bridge – the sustain pedal on the piano is kept open too long creating an intentional musical collision of sounds that is joined by an organ swell. This occurs at approximately at 3:02 in the accompanying video.

Only charting at 23 on Billboard’s Hot 100, I doubt if there is an American (of a reasonable age) that doesn’t recognize this anthem of recklessness. The song was named as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 hundred greatest songs of all time and placed at #21. It is one the Recording Industry Association of America’s top 365 songs of the twentieth century and ranked midway at 135. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed “Born to Run” on its unranked list of the Top 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

The album is great as well. When I finally got it in 1976, I remember thinking “wow” after the tone arm lifted at the end of “Jungleland.” There is not a bad cut on this album from beginning to end.

The album cover is a classic that has been often copied and parodied.  It features a gatefold cover of Springsteen leaning on Clarence Clemmons. As it appeared in shrinkwrap, Bruce was on the front and Clarence on the back of the cover.

The album has produced numerous questions regarding Springsteen’s guitar. It has “Esquire” on the headstock, but the body is that of a Fender Telecaster. For years, Bruce kept quiet about it and it sparked speculation that it was a mistake made by Fender or a factory second. Years later, Bruce admitted that it was a Fender Frankenstein – an Esquire neck on a Telecaster body – an aftermarket modification made by the guitar’s previous owner.

 One pickup "Fender Esquire"

 Two Pickup Fender Telecaster (the bridge pickup is hidden under the chrome cover)

Springsteen brings back two memories. In late 1981 while working evenings at WCIR in Beckley, WV, I made an offhand remark about only being able to understand about every third word that Bruce sang. A few days later, I received a seven page, single spaced, typewritten hate letter from a listener who was a recent transplant from New Jersey. The young woman threatened my life if I ever made such a comment about the Garden State's musical legend again. It was the only piece of hate mail that I ever received and I still have it. By the way, I never dissed Bruce again on the air - fearing retribution from a psychotic listener.

The other memory is seeing Bruce and the E-Street Band live in 1985 at Pittsburgh’s now defunct Three Rivers Stadium. It was a great show and the highlight was the acrobatics by his guitarist Nils Lofgren. Lofgren's ability to play guitar while tumbling across the stage was purely amazing.

To allow you to enjoy the "Born to Run" LP, I have included a YouTube playlist of the entire album with the songs in order.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Manfred Mann: If You Gotta Go, Go Now

On First Fridays, I normally feature a version of a hit song that was previously recorded by someone else and had minimal at best success. I am going to turn the tables somewhat as I am featuring two hits from Europe – the earlier recording did extremely well and the second version was the biggest single for another band. Both songs were released as singles in the US; however, neither one charted. Despite their lack of success on this side of the pond, both renditions performed well in the UK.

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” was written by Bob Dylan. He initially recorded the song in January 1965; however, it was 1991 before his version was officially released in the US. Fortunately, I happened onto a copy of it in 1973. It was one of the tracks on the Dylan bootleg album titled “Stealin’” – the first release on the underground bootleg record label: Trade Mark of Quality. CBS did release Dylan’s version as a single in 1967 in the Netherlands; however, this single was not embraced by Dutch radio or the buying public.

The first commercial release of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” was recorded by the Liverpool Five in July 1965; however, this UK release failed to chart. The hit version came several months later when Manfred Mann covered the song. This September 1965 release topped the British charts at #2. The record performed well despite of (or perhaps, because of) a short-lived ban on the recording due to it having, as the social mores of 1965 were concerned, "suggestive lyrics."

It really is a great recording. For the life of me, I cannot figure why the American release on Ascot Records failed to crack the Top 100. Lousy promotion, stiff competition, poor timing, or apprehension concerning the lyrical content all could be possible reasons for its failure as an American hit single.

Even at that, certain elements of Manfred Mann's version rise to the top. There are the exceptional vocals of Paul Jones - who also plays a pretty mean harmonica. Mike Vickers slide guitar that is tastefully added into select parts of the song. Lastly, Manfred Mann's organ is the glue that holds this tune together.

I'm not sure what brand of instrument he played in those days, but it does not sound like either a Hammond or an RMI. It has the flavor of a Vox, Farfisa, or some other combo organ brand popular in the day. I performed a Google search for some photos of the band, and it appears that it may have been a Vox Continental.

Legendary Vox Continental Combo Organ

Four years later, Fairport Convention recorded this tune; however, with a twist – singing it in French under the title of “Si Tu Dois Partir.” The song was released on the band’s third album, “Unhalfbricking” and employs the fiddle of Dave Swarbrick, who was not officially a member of the band as of yet. The song features the late Sandy Denny on vocals while lead guitarist Richard Thompson is playing the accordion.

According to Patrick Humphries in Meet on the Ledge: A History of Fairport Convention, the French lyrics were developed during a gig at the Middle Earth. Thinking that they would like to do a Dylan song in a French Cajun style, the band asked the club DJ to make an announcement asking if any Frenchmen were in audience. According to Richard Thompson, “About three people turned up, so it was really written by committee, and consequently ended up not very Cajun, French, or Dylan!”

 Fairport on Top of the Pops doing "Si Tu Dois Patir" in August 1969
Left to Right: Dave Mattacks - washboard, Dave Swarbrick - fiddle,
Sandy Denny - vocals,Richard Thompson - accordion, Simon Nicol - guitar,
Ashley Hutchings - dig that crazy bass, and roadie Steve Sparks on Percussion

Adding to the mystique of the tune, the late Martin Lamble was playing a stack of chairs instead of his drum kit. At the beginning of the break, the chairs fell and knocked over some bottles and glasses in the process. All was caught on tape and the song was released including the gaffe for posterity’s sake. In 2004, Fairport re-recorded “Si Tu Dois Partir” for their “Over the Next Hill” CD. The new version also included Lamble’s break and chair incident as part of the song.

Although sung in French, it was Fairport’s most popular single charting in the UK at #21 in 1969.

Fairport Convention “Si Tu Dois Partir”