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Posts Tagged ‘Porter Wagoner’

Murder Songs Vol. 4

September 23rd, 2010 6 comments

Porter Wagoner – The First Mrs Jones (1967).mp3
Once upon a time Mr Jones fell in love with Betty. He married her in September, but by November she had left him. And as Mr Jones tells his story, we can sort of see why. When Betty (he prefers to call her The First Mrs Jones) left, Mr Jones went into überstalker mode. He followed her to Savannah, New Orleans and Atlanta, pestering her to return to him. Then the drinking started (though we have a hunch that Mr Jones was not averse to the occasional tipple before). “It was cold and dark one morning, just before the day was dawning, when I staggered from a tavern to a phone. When she picked up her receiver I said: ‘You’re gonna come back or either they’re gonna be calling you the Late Mrs Jones.” Clearly Betty made clear her intentions to decline the offer, but evidently saw no need to seek safe refuge. So, to cut a long story short, Mr Jones took a taxi, made a lot of noise outside her house. He doesn’t remember what happens next. Consciousness returned when he was burying her bones in the woods, touchingly putting flowers on the fresh grave.

So why is Mr Jones telling us his unlovely story? Well, he isn’t addressing us, which we know because now things are taking a sinister turn: he is talking to his new wife who evidently is entertaining crazy notions of leaving him. “Really now, don’t you wanna come go with me? After all, you are the Second…Mrs Jones.”

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Rosie Thomas – Charlotte (2002).mp3
This is a gentle song in which the narrator observes her eponymous neighbour and friend suffering the treatment of an abusive drunkard husband. “Charlotte, you used to be much happier, but it’s not you that’s to blame. Charlotte, you let him push you round, and you’re falling apart at the seams.” But the bad times won’t last forever. “One day he’ll get just what he deserves, and you can be yourself once again.” Soon there’s drama again. There’s yelling and threats and, suddenly, a shot. The narrator runs over, and sees the scumbag dead in his chair. She tells Charlotte: “I’ll tell the cops everything.” But she does not mean the truth. She concocts a cover-up, so that Charlotte can start a new life somewhere else.

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Neil Young – Down By The River (1969)
Neil Young is running a theme as old as song itself — the crime of passion; the wronged husband avenging his honour (Porter Wagoner will feature again with one of the best songs on that theme). But this being 1969, and musicians of Young’s ilk more interested in laying down guitar jams than producing lucid lyrics, we must figure out ourselves the circumstances leading to the murder, which the narrator at least admits to: “Down by the river, I shot my baby. Down by the river…Dead, oh, shot her dead.” The rest is just crazy hippie talk about rainbows. So, obviously, youngologists believe the song is about heroin.

Well, the whiny, occasional Republican clarified the meaning in 1984 at a gig in New Orleans. The narrator met his woman at the titular location. “And he told her she’d been cheatin’ on him one too many times. And he reached down in his pocket and he pulled a little revolver out. Said: ‘Honey, I hate to do this, but you pushed me too far’.” Two hours later he gets arrested at his house. Young’s full explanation can be found here. I just want to know why he didn’t say all that in the song?

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More Murder Songs

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Coming home

January 19th, 2010 15 comments

And so I’m saying goodbye to lodging on the sofas of WordPress and Blogger, and move into my own home, with my own domain and my own armchair.  Please bookmark it and, if you are a fellow blogger, amend the link: www.halfhearteddude.com

The presentation here is a work in progress. Some of the things WordPress used to do for me automatically, I now must do myself. It’s a bit like leaving the caring landlord who painted your walls (but evicted you for putting a nail into the wall for a framed picture) and having to paint my own walls.

So, to get the housewarming going, a batch of songs on the theme of home, quickly collated by executing a couple of searches on my drives. There was enough for a hundred songs, it seems. Not of all of them are lyrically appropriate; Porter Wagoner’s song about an execution, for example. I’m pleased to have opportunity to highlight the great soul crooner Grady Tate. And the Terry Smith song…well, if anybody wants to know the sound of Cape Town, this is it, authentically.

Gil Scott-Heron – Back Home (1974).mp3
Grady Tate – After The Long Drive Home (1974).mp3
Porter Wagoner – Sing Me Back Home (1969).mp3
Sammy Davis Jr – Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home (live, 1967).mp3
Charlie Sexton – Bring It Home Again (2005).mp3
Bo Diddley – Down Home Special (1956).mp3
Terry Smith – Take Me Home (The Cape Town Song).mp3

American Road Trip Vol. 7

May 26th, 2009 5 comments

Last time on our American Toad Trip, we were pausing for a beer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, before planning to cross into Kentucky en route to Ohio. Soon after, we were detained in another Tennessee town to testify at a murder trial. Oh dear…

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Knoxville, Tennessee

louvin-brothersWe were about a mile outside Knoxville when we chanced upon a grisly scene: a young man repeatedly beating a young, blonde woman with a rock, then dragging her away. Being responsible tourists, we immediately reported the act of violence to the local sheriff. Turns out the man’s name was Willy, and the young woman was his girlfriend, whose lifeless body he threw in the river. Turns out that Willy was a popular guy around town; apparently his many friends tried their best to raise bail for him. We were pleased they didn’t succeed, because we had seen what Willy dun’ to the poor girl. The trial heard that the girl had hopes of marrying Willy, probably the reason why he killed her. We are on our way to cross the Appalachian mountains now, leaving Willy behind to waste his life away down in his dirty old jail.
The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl (1956).mp3

Kentucky

emryarthurHaving been waylaid in Knoxville, we quickly cross Kentucky, a state that has lent its name to many song titles, yet I cannot think of any song about a city from the state. Not even about Lexington. So we won’t even stop for Colonel Sanders’ artery-hardening fried battery chickens, and quickly we bid farewell to ol’ Kentucky. The song here was originally recorded in 1913 as Farewell Song by Dick Burnett, who had adapted it from a folk song. The version featured here, from 1928, seems to be the first recording under the present title.
Emry Arthur – I’m The Man Of Constant Sorrow (1928).mp3
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Cincinnati, Ohio

porter_wagonerYes, as soon as we arrive on the outskirts of Ohio’s third-biggest (with a population if 330,000) and its most famous metropole (it was the USA’s first major inland city), we tune the radio to hear the dulcet tones of Dr Johnny Fever — and we can do so because, since our road trip is entirely notional, we can traverse time and reality. If we had a time machine, we might even travel back to 1977 to observe a council meeting chaired by the city’s mayor at the time — Jerry Springer.

Just before arriving in Cincinatti, we crossed the Ohio river, as once did many a slave seeking freedom. Being located on the border of slavery-state Kentucky, Cincinnati was the first stop for many escaping slaves. With the changing demographics and proximity to the South before the American Civil War, the city experienced much racial tension, and conflict between those for and against slavery.

The most famous song about the river which gives the state its name must be The Banks Of The Ohio, which is a variation on the theme explored in Knoxville Girl (itself adapted from an Irish murder ballad called Wexford Girl). Its oddest version is probably that which became a hit for Olivia Newton-John, a singer so wholesome that she is not an automatic murder suspect. Instead we shall go with the heavily rhinestoned Porter Wagoner (I think Johnny Cash has far too many murder raps on his sheet already).
Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati (full version, 1978).mp3
Porter Wagoner – The Banks Of The Ohio (1969).mp3

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In case anyone really wants to know why I am dispensing with pics of the cities I am visiting, it is because I am getting too many hits via Google image searches. It does boost my stats, but artificially so. I doubt many people who arrive here for a graphic of Tuscaloosa stick around to read the rest of the blog.

The Originals Vol. 11

October 22nd, 2008 1 comment

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23.mp3
Brothers Johnson – Strawberrry Letter 23.mp3
Quentin Tarantino had a good line in compiling soundtracks. Among the nearly forgotten numbers he resurrected was the Brothers Johnson’s catchy Strawberry Letter 23. I loathe the use of it in Jackie Brown though – scoring a vicious scene with a cute song is so Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack for Jackie Brown surely sold very well. All the more the pity that the author and original performer of the song is now reportedly eking out a decaying existence in Oakland. Shuggie Otis, a gifted guitarist, indeed multi-instrumentalist, and son of R&B legend John Otis (Shuggie’s real name is John Otis Jr), released his ode of appreciation for the 22th love letter on strawberry-scented paper in 1971. The song was intended to represent a response to letter 22, hence the numbering. Six years after Otis recorded the track, Brothers Johnson recorded it in a more upbeat mood, produced by Quincy Jones (who, happily, amplified the opening hook) with Lee Ritenour taking over the guitar solo duties so integral to the song.
Also recorded by: Tevin Campbell (1991)
Best version: Much as I like the brothers’ take.and without wishing to come over all purist, I prefer Otis’ original. The clarity of his less lushly produced instrumental part can do your head in.

Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Smiley Lewis will feature again with another song when we visit the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, and the former was Fats Domino’s writing partner. Fats naturally later recorded the song. At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which name checked Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.
Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1955 & 1961), Jill Day (1956), Gale Storm (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Shakin’ Stevens (1970), Andy Fairweather-Low (1976), Kingfish (1976), Orion (1979), The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1981), Rocking Dopsie & the Cajun Twisters (1988), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1991), Quicksilver Messenger Service (1991), Bart Herman (1993), Alvin Lee (1994), Yockamo All-Stars (1998), Tom Principato (2003) a.o.
Best version: I do like the original better than Edmunds’, but I suspect that Fats Domino would trump either.

Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Canned Heat – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together.mp3
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970 (the same year their hitherto unreleased album produced by John Otis – Shuggie’s dad – was released). To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first. In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.
Also recorded by: Climax Blues Band (Work, 1973), Raful Neal (Work, 1987), Bob Dylan (Stick, 1988), Dwight Yoakam (Work, 1990), Status Quo (Work, 1991), George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Work, 1995), Francine Reed (Work, 1996), Paper Parrot (Stick, 1999), Kt Tunstall (Stick, 2007)
Best version: Thanks to the sax, Ferry’s. Marginally.

Sonny Dae & His Knights – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
Hank Williams – Move It On Over.mp3
Bill Haley & his Comets – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
It is indisputable that Bill Haley was a key figure in converting rock ’n roll into the mainstream – or, if we prefer to stray from euphemistic rationalisation, make a black genre infused with some country sensibility palatable to white audiences (so that’s a doctoral thesis delivered in 13 glib words). The notion of Haley as the father of rock ’n roll is about as plausible as describing the Bee Gees as the “Kings of Disco”. Rock Around The Clock most certainly wasn’t the first rock ’n roll single either (on the original label it is categorised as a foxtrot), or even Haley’s first rock ’n roll song. It was the first rock ’n roll #1 hit, though, and the song’s pivotal influence is undeniable, even if it ripped off a 1947 hit, Hank Williams’ Move It On Over (which Chuck Berry also seems to have borrowed from for Roll Over Beethoven).

Rock Around The Clock was written for Haley, but due to various complications involving a feud between record company and authors, it was recorded first by Sonny Dae and His Knights, an Italian-American band, released on a label co-owned by Haley. The original version – quite distinct from the more famous version – made no impression, and there is no evidence that Haley referred to it in his interpretation – indeed Haley and his Comets played it frequently on stage before recording it. Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (recorded on 12 April 1954 as Sammy Davis Jr sat outside the studio awaiting his turn to record) features one of the great guitar solos of the era, by session musician Benny Cedrone. Alas, Cedrone didn’t live to see his work become a seminal moment in music history – he died on 17 June 1954 in a fall, three days short of his 34rd birthday. Perhaps Cedrone might be regarded as the first rock ’n roll death. Which would give the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame two reasons to admit him.
Also recorded by: Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor and Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Band and The Modernaires (1956), Eddie Cochran and Gary Lambert (1956), Royale Orchestra (1956), Noe Fajardo (1956), Macky Kasper (1956), Renato Carosone (1956), Max Greger Orchestra (1956), Pat Boone (1957), Marimba Chiapas (1957), Winifred Atwell (1957), Isley Brothers (1959), Ray Martin Marching Band (1961), Meyer Davis Orchestra (1961), Sandy Nelson (1962), The Platters (1962), Frank Zappa (1964), Peter Kraus (1964), Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (1964), Mike Rios (1965), Bill Haley (1968), The Troublemakers (1968), Wild Angels (1970), Mae West (1972), Tritons (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Harry Nilsson (1974), Peter Horton (1976), Jack Scott (1979), Telex (1979), Sex Pistols (1979), Les Humphries Singers (1982), The Housemartins (1986), Ty Tender (1987), Smurfarna (1993), Starlite Orchestra (1995), Ernie from Sesame Street (1999) and a few thousand others.
Best version: Haley’s. The guitar, the drums!

Johnny Darrell – Green Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Porter Wagoner – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
I make no secret of it: I think Tom Jones is a hack. I’ll cheerfully concede that his delivery on Bacharach’s What’s New Pussycat is amusingly over the top, and It’s Not Unusual is a fine song sung well. But look at what Jones did to Green Green Grass Of Home. He robbed it of its pathos and lent it as much depth as his contemporary panty recipient Engelbert Humperdinck invested in his material. The spoken bit is droll, but inappropriately delivered to the point of creating a template for generations of hammy karaoke singers. And the cheesy backing vocals. Much better then to return to the song’s roots in country music.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman Jr, it was first recorded by Johnny Darrell, the ill-fated associate of the Outlaw Country movement which also included the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In other words, country music that was cool. Darrell’s 1965 version failed to make much of a splash, but Porter Wagoner – who was cool but dressed like an overdone Nashville cliché – did gain some attention with his recording made in June 1965. Both versions communicate empathy with the protagonist, a dead man walking awakening from a dream of being reunited in freedom with the scenes of his childhood but in fact is awaiting his execution in the presence of the “sad old padre” (not “peartree” or “partridge”).

Jones was introduced to the song through Jerry Lee Lewis’ version, also a country affair recorded a few months after Wagoner, and proceeded to turn it into hackneyed easy listening, selling more than a million records of it in 1966. Who said pop was fair?
Also recorded by: Bobby Bare (1965), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Leonardo (L’erba verde di casa mia, 1966), Conway Twitty (1966), The Statler Brothers (1967), Dean Martin (1967), Hootenanny Singers (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Jan Malmsjö (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Agnaldo Timóteo (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1967), Dallas Frazier (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), Skitch Henderson (1968), Merle Haggard and The Strangers (1968), Belmonte and Amaraí (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1968), Joan Baez (1969), Stompin’ Tom Connors (1971), The Fatback Band (1972), The Flying Burrito Brothers (1973), Elvis Presley (1975), Kenny Rogers (1977), John Otway (1980), Jetsurfers (2000)
Best version: I am most partial to Porter Wagoner’s interpretation, which Jones might have consulted concerning the spoken bit.

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