Bobby Jameson Carries ‘The Weight’

Originally posted September 3, 2007

For about the last twenty years – with the pace accelerating in the last seven, since I’ve been online – I’ve been collecting versions of the song “The Weight,” written by Robbie Robertson and first released on Music From Big Pink, the 1968 debut album by The Band.

It’s long been a favorite of mine, and I keep my eyes and ears open as I wander the ’Net, looking for word of cover versions of the tune that I might not have heard about. Thus far, I have nineteen versions of the song, with three by The Band and one by The Band with the Staple Singers (from The Last Waltz).

I also have a version by The Band’s Levon Helm and Rick Danko backed by the members of Ringo Starr’s first All-Starr Band in 1989, and a version that Helm recorded with John Hiatt and country singers Radney Foster and Mark Collie for a 1994 CD titled Red Hot & Country.

Other than those five versions – which all feature at least one of the original vocalists – I have covers of “The Weight” by Hoyt Axton, Joe Cocker, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Smith, the Staple Singers, the Staple Singers & Marty Stuart, Cassandra Wilson, Lee Ann Womack, Al Kooper & Mike Bloomfield, Spooky Tooth, the Ventures and Bobby Jameson.

Probably the least-known name in that list is the last, Bobby Jameson, a 1960s recording artist born Robert Parker James in Tucson, Arizona. I became aware a few years ago that he’d recorded the song when I read an entry in an extensive website about The Band and its music. When I entered the world of music blogs a little more than a year ago, I looked for Jameson’s album, Working!, on occasion. I knew it was rare, and according to everything I could find, had never been released on CD.

About nine months ago, I think it was, just before this I started this blog, I ran across the album at Play It Again, Max. I gave it a few listens, and then stored it away.

I’ve dabbled with the idea of finding Jameson’s other work from the Sixties. He recorded a 1966 album titled Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest that was released on the Surrey label (I think) in the U.S. under the pseudonym of Chris Lucey. (It was released under his real name in the U.K., with the title changed to Too Many Mornings.) He also recorded Color Him In for the Verve label in 1967 before recording Working! for the GRT label in 1969.

His first album, the Chris Lucey recordings are fairly easy to find, having been released on CD by the Rev-Ola label. Color Him In is also available on CD, with some copies listed at GEMM for between $16 and $20. (An LP copy of the first album under its U.K. title of Too Many Mornings is listed there as I write this for $16.28.) The real kick in the catalog, of course, is Working! One copy of the LP is listed at GEMM with a price of $120.75; in the past six months or so, I’ve checked various places fairly regularly, and that’s the only copy of Working! I’ve seen offered.

Bobby Jameson – Working! [1969]

A few listens, and one can understand why this album is one for which collectors hunt. As well as being rare, it’s a pretty good country/country rock record.

Three of the tracks are Jameson’s originals. The album opener, “Palo Alto,” is a great song, carrying with it a feel of the work that Glen Campbell was doing with Jimmy Webb’s compositions – “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” – around the same time. “Broken Window” is a fairly standard country effort musically, and the lost love metaphor of the lyrics is nothing remarkable; it’s a pretty song, though. The third original, “ ’Bout Being Young,” closes the album, and like the opener, “Palo Alto,” puts the listener in mind – with its subject matter, its vocal and its arrangement – of a Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb collaboration. (From some writers, that would not be a compliment; here at Echoes In The Wind, it is.)

Some of the cover versions that make up the rest of the album fare less well. Jameson’s world-weary voice doesn’t carry nearly enough of the irony necessary to succeed with John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” both are a little spare, not helped by slower tempos than one might consider for the songs. But Jameson seems to at least battle the Dylan songs to draws.

Jameson’s work on “The Weight,” the reason – as noted above – that I first sought out the record – is good, if not spectacular. Many of the song’s interprers – including Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band in their original version on Music From Big Pink – relate the lyrics’ mystifying and foreboding tales in matter-of-fact voices. Jameson—his voice telling us he is nearly exhausted – adds a new element to the familiar song: The narrator is weary and wants to rest, but there is no one in this surreal town who will ease his burden.

And the rest of the album is fine, if not extraordinary: If I have a quibble, it’s that the tempo never seems to vary from song to song, leaving the record better heard as a series of ten tracks that might work better as entries in a random playlist than as an album heard in sequence. Of the remainder of the covers on the record, the best might be “Gentle On My Mind,” which benefits from a vocal intensity that this time belies the more matter-of-fact approach that Glen Campbell took with the song not that many years before Jameson recorded it.

The other two tracks on the album are “Singing The Blues,” which Guy Mitchell took to No. 1 in 1956, and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby,” the Jimmy Reed-penned bluesy standard that’s been covered by artists ranging from blues matriarch Etta James and the Everly Brothers to Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Sly & The Family Stone and Rod Stewart. Jameson’s version of “Singing The Blues” drags a little bit, but the expressiveness in his voice keeps the track from being a drag itself, and he does a good job with the Jimmy Reed tune.

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3 Responses to “Bobby Jameson Carries ‘The Weight’”

  1. ‘Shut Softly Your Watery Eyes . . .’ « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] quite two months ago, I wrote about Bobby Jameson and his version of “The Weight,” the Robbie Robertson song that sits high in my list of favorite […]

  2. Goodbye To Bobby J. « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] what I understand, it was my 2007 commentary on Bobby’s 1969 album, Working!, that spurred him to join the online world. A couple of people at […]

  3. Aldous Beastly Says:

    Hi Bobby,
    I hope you were able to read this before you passed: I agree completely with the author of this essay. Life was not just to you, but I know that now you are doing great. I like to think that where you are right now is like 1966 again, but things are going the right way.

    With much respect, Bobby.

    Michael

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