‘We Are But A Moment’s Sunlight . . .’

Originally posted January 15, 2008

In last week’s Baker’s Dozen from 1989, I mentioned hearing two fellow customers in a suburban Minneapolis coffee shop talk about Indigo Girls, the first album by the Athens, Georgia, duo I ever heard or bought. For a number of years, though I never really bothered to check, I thought the album was the duo’s debut. As other albums came out, I picked some up on cassette and was lucky enough – in the vinyl-challenged decade of the 1990s – to find Rites of Passage, their 1992 release, on a white label DJ promo LP. (That find was doubly fortunate because Rites of Passage is home to two of my favorite songs by the duo, “Galileo” and “Ghost.”)

But I didn’t really dig much into the Indigo Girls’ catalog and history during the 1990s. I was content to gather in their work when it came to me. And in December of 1998, I came across an Indigo Girls’ LP entitled Strange Fire, which turned out to be the duo’s 1987 debut on Epic, re-released in 1989. A review of Strange Fire, which I read long after I found the LP and brought it home, noted that as the Indigo Girls’ career was beginning, their lyrics were not quite up to the quality of their music (a judgment with which I generally agree).

Most interesting to me about Strange Fire was the one cover song, a version of “Get Together,” the hippie-ish anthem that the Youngbloods recorded and released as a single in 1967 and again in 1969. The record reached No. 62 on its first release and then went to No. 5 in 1969, providing the Youngbloods with their only Top 40 hit.

I noted as I glanced at the liner notes for Strange Fire this morning that “Get Together” is credited to one C. Powers. Faint bells rang, and I did a little digging at All-Music Guide, where the songwriting credit is given to Chester Powers/Dino Valente. Valente was an original member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, though AMG notes that a prison term kept him from performing and recording with the group for five years, “by which time they [sic] were on the downside artistically.” AMG credits Valente with the writing of “Get Together” and adds that the song was on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, recorded before Grace Slick replaced Signe Anderson as a member.

And this is where it gets interesting, or at least a little tangled

The writing credit for “Get Together” on Jefferson Airplane Takes Off is given to Chester Powers, a name long assumed to have been Valente’s nom de plume. A list of Powers’ writing credits at AMG includes not only “Get Together” but a couple of songs I am unfamiliar with: “Pennies,” recorded by Chad & Jeremy and the Modern Folk Quartet and “Six Weeks Every Summer,” recorded by Lena Martell (who?). More interesting are two other entries credited to Chester Powers: “Right Now,” recorded by Garth Brooks on his In The Life of Chris Gaines album (odd, indeed!), and “Hey Joe,” a hit for the leaves in 1966 that has since covered by numerous people – the definitive version is most likely the slow-paced excursion by Jimi Hendrix – and played by nearly any band that ever took up guitars and drumsticks.

I also read at Wikipedia – and did so with the caution one needs to extend to things read there (my stance on Wikipedia is that it’s generally reliable but sometimes misses the mark) – that a singer named Billy Roberts actually wrote “Hey Joe” and registered it for copyright in 1962, despite its being credited to Chester Powers. The site reports a claim by another musician that Roberts assigned the copyright to the jailed Valente in order to provide him some income for when he was released. That songwriting credit is supported by Dave Marsh’s entry on Hendrix’ version of “Hey Joe” in The Heart of Rock & Soul, which notes that Hendrix’ single (released in the U.K.) credited William Roberts as the composer.

Having gone far afield – wandering down Chester Powers Road to Hey Joe Alley, as it were, and ending up in the Billy Roberts cul-de-sac – I went back to the list of performers who have recorded “Get Together” since Chester Powers/Dino Valente wrote it.

The earliest version of the song I’ve found reference to was by Hamilton Camp, who released it on his Paths of Victory album in 1964 (which means the song was written long before hippie days and its lyrics instead might reflect – at a guess – the sensibilities of the Civil Rights movement). Others credited with covering the song include, alphabetically, the Carpenters, Judy Clay, Judy Collins, David Crosby, John Denver, Fairport Convention, James Grear & Company, the Interfaith Fellowship Choir, Keb’ Mo’, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Anne Murray, Kim Richey, Ray Stevens, Andy Williams and Ann Wilson. There are others, too, coming from nearly as many styles and approaches, which only serves to show that “Get Together” is as durable as it is lovely.

Indigo Girls – “Get Together” [1987]

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