‘Too Long In The Wind . . .’

Originally posted February 12, 2007

Last night, as I watched Dixie Chicks walk away with five Grammy awards – including a sweep of the top three – I got to thinking about Tom Jans.

That’s not a complete non sequitur: The Dixie Chicks are one of the more recent acts to record Jans’ masterpiece,  “Loving Arms” , a song Jans himself released on his self-titled 1974 album. The Dixie Chicks released their version on their major label debut, Wide Open Spaces, in 1998.

Probably the most well known of the multitude of covers of the song done before that was Dobie Gray’s version, the title cut of an album he released in 1973. Others who have recorded “Loving Arms” have included Anne Murray, Olivia Newton-John, Elvis Presley, Petula Clark, Etta James (one of my favorite versions), Kenny Rogers, Brenda Lee, and Livingston Taylor in a duet with Leah Kunkel. The list of those who have recorded the song also includes a large roster of performers whose names evoke either a blank stare – despite what I think is my pretty good awareness of pop music history – or a sense of “Who in the world thought that was a good idea?”

The point, I guess, is that it’s a pretty sturdy song, if it can travel from the smoothness of Dobie Gray through the R&B grit of Etta James and end up – with a lot of stops in between – countrified by the Dixie Chicks and still sound like it belongs. It fit right into the Chicks’ repertoire like it was written for them.

What is sad is that if even if someone remembers Tom Jans’ name in connection with the song, the rest of his story is for the most part forgotten.

Jans was born in 1948 in Yakima, Wash., and raised on a farm outside San Jose, Calif. AMG says he learned to play piano and guitar and played in a rock band in high school, sometimes writing his own material. He earned a degree in English from the University of California in nearby Berkeley. In 1970, a gig in a San Francisco coffee shop led to his meeting Joan Baez and then her sister, Mimi Fariña, who had recorded with her husband, Richard, a series of folk albums in the 1960s. Mimi Fariña was looking to return to music, and she and Jans teamed up, performing in the Bay Area and at the Big Sur Folk Festival before touring and then recording Take Heart.

The record didn’t fare well, and Jans and Fariña parted, with Jans heading to Nashville to push his songs. In 1973, Dobie Gray recorded “Loving Arms,” and in 1974, Jans included it on his first solo album, with Lonnie Mack playing guitar and Mentor Williams – Gray’s producer and the composer of the classic song “Drift Away” – producing. The record didn’t sell well, despite critical acclaim.

Jans returned to California, and in 1975, released The Eyes Of An Only Child, produced by Lowell George of Little Feat. That record, too, failed to generate mass interest, and the same thing happened to 1976’s Dark Blonde. Jans dropped from sight, AMG notes, until 1982, “when a new LP, Champion, appeared solely in a limited-edition release on the Japanese label Canyon International, its existence virtually unknown in the U.S.”

That was Jans’ last recorded work. He was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in late 1983, and although he seemed to be recovering, he died, AMG says, of a suspected drug overdose March 25, 1984.

I’m not familiar with all of his work. I’ve not heard Dark Blonde, which AMG says many consider his masterpiece. But I do know his 1974 solo debut, which I present here. Yes, “Loving Arms” is likely the best cut on the record. But other songs stand up well. I particularly like “Margarita,” a tale of lost inter-cultural romance, as well as the sprightly “Slippin’ Away” and the sorrowful “Tender Memory.”

If there’s a flaw, it’s that Mack’s twangy guitar is over-present. Still, the record is worth a listen. We are in singer-songwiter territory here, but the record is not as self-conscious as that might portend. And Jans and Williams bring in hints of country now and then, as if anticipating where Jans’ greatest song might end up twenty-some years down the road.

Tom Jans – Tom Jans [1974]

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3 Responses to “‘Too Long In The Wind . . .’”

  1. Going Random Through The Eighties « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] or another. In early 2007, during the first incarnation of this blog, I wrote a bit about the late Tom Jans, mentioning his final album Champion, which was released only in Japan in 1982. Having cobbled […]

  2. There’s ‘Brown Sugar’! Answer The Phone! « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Paul Williams. (One of Mentor Williams’ other productions, Tom Jans’ self-titled solo debut, was featured here in February.) Williams surrounds Gray’s raspy voice with a smooth setting, […]

  3. Called To Attention By Tom Jans « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] the cat or eating a sandwich – and looked to see what was playing. Once it was from 1974’s Tom Jans and once it was from Take Heart, the 1971 album he recorded with Mimi […]

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