Saturday Single No. 12

Originally posted May 19, 2007

I’ve played keyboards since I was about seven years old. I took piano lessons for about five years, then let it go until I got interested in pop and rock music when I was sixteen. I gave myself a refresher course in my last two years of high school, played for fun and took five quarters of music theory in college to help with my songwriting (which it did). I’ve played (and written) on and off over the years since.

In the autumn of 1994, I was waiting for the start of a meeting of a men’s group. There was a piano in the room, and I sat on the bench and began to noodle a little. One of my fellow members – call him J – came up to me and asked if I’d ever wanted to play in a blues and R&B group. “Only all my life,” I said. And once a week for the next six years, I went out to J’s house in the southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis and played music. It was a changing cast – we went through three or four guitarists as people moved or their priorities changed, and we went through a couple of lead singers. But we had a lot of fun, and twice a year, we hosted parties at J’s house and were, literally, the house band.

In the autumn of 1999, my health took a turn for the worse, and making it to every practice became difficult. By January 2001, my health hadn’t improved, and my time with the band was over. But it was a great six years.

As an aside, my blogging name is a nickname that arose from my time with the band. During a break at one of our semi-annual parties, an audience member came up to me and said, “Man, when you’re playing piano, you move like a white Ray Charles!” Note that he did not say I played like Brother Ray, just that I moved like him. But from then on, I was Whiteray.

A further aside: One of our drummers – call him C – was related to Prince and had played with him early on. One day as I was walking in Uptown Minneapolis, C poked his head out of a limousine and hollered, “Yo, Whiteray!”

I turned and saw his grin as the long limo drove past, waved and hollered “Yo!”

Later, C told me that he had been heading somewhere with his cousin, and after they passed me, Prince asked who Whiteray was. C said he explained who I was and how I got the name, and he said that Prince nodded and said, “Cool name.”

During those six years with the band, I – like other members – brought in numerous songs for the band to try out. Of those that we worked into our repertoire, our lead singer sang most. But there were three over the years that I sang lead on: “First Chill Of Winter,” a little-known gem by the duo of Darden Smith and Boo Hewerdine; “I Shall Be Released,” the Bob Dylan tune; and “The Weight,” the Robbie Robertson song that The Band recorded on its first album, Music From Big Pink.

“The Weight” has long been one of my favorite pieces of music, to sing and play, and to listen to. Over the years, I’ve collected nineteen different mp3 versions of it, by performers as diverse as The Band, Joe Cocker, King Curtis, Cassandra Wilson, the Staple Singers, Lee Ann Womack, and Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. But somewhere out there on the Net, I found a version that I cannot identify. From the arrangement and sound, it’s a late 1960s or early 1970s recording, and I like it a lot. I’ve tried to match the running time with a list of the various recordings of the song at All-Music Guide with no success. I’ve pored over discographies and histories. I’ve done just about everything I can think of to find out who recorded it.

Since I’ve had no success, I thought I’d ask the question of the world at large: Does anyone out there know who recorded this version of “The Weight,” today’s Saturday Single?*

Unknown performer – “The Weight” [ca. 1970?]

*The answer came quickly. Almost as soon as I published this post, a reader – his name unhappily escapes me – left a note telling me that the version of “The Weight” in question had been recorded by Spooky Tooth. It was released in 1971 on the band’s Tobacco Road album. [Note added April 20, 2011.]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: