‘I Look At The Floor . . .’

Originally posted February 26, 2008

Heading out to meet the Texas Gal at the mall yesterday afternoon, I found myself grumbling a little as I waited in a long line of cars to cross one of the city’s major roads. Having spent ten years living in the Twin Cities, I shouldn’t complain about St. Cloud traffic; in the metro area, the evening rush hour begins to clog the roads at about four o’clock and does so until long after six.

Here in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I often joke, we have rush minute, with only a few places in the city subject to much congestion. One of them is the intersection I was at yesterday. Moderately annoyed, I pushed the buttons on the radio, running quickly through a few stations before settling on Cities 97.

And then I heard the unmistakable dissonance of “I Want To Tell You,” a George Harrison-penned track from the Beatles’ classic album, Revolver. The light changed, and I crossed the intersection and then wound my way through the parking lot, all the while tapping my hand on the steering wheel in time to the music.

As I did, I wondered: Why play that particular song? It’s not one that ever gets a lot of airtime. You have to dig pretty deep into the Harrison catalog to end up at “I Want To Tell You.” And just before the DJ told me, I realized that it was just past five o’clock, a time when KTCZ plays several tracks by one artist and frequently digs pretty deep into an artist’s catalog. And it hit me at about the same instant that yesterday’s date was February 25. George Harrison would have turned sixty-five yesterday.

I don’t store in my memory a lot of performers’ birthdays. Only two, actually. Harrison’s and Ringo Starr’s (July 7). I know John Lennon was born in October (October 9, but I had to look), and I never can remember when Paul McCartney was born except I know it’s in spring (June 18). And once we’re past the Beatles, the only similar thing I know is that Bob Dylan has a springtime birthday, too (May 24). Beyond that, I’ve never paid attention to birth dates in the music world. (Well, I remember that Louis Armstrong was supposedly born on July 4, 1900.) Does it mean anything that I know two Beatle birthdays and come close on the other two, as well as on Dylan’s? Nothing more, I guess, than that the Beatles and Dylan are important to me and once were so important that I absorbed nearly any detail I could.

I do remember one of Harrison’s birthdays, however, the day he turned twenty-nine, in 1972. At the time, at KVSC, the St. Cloud State radio station, the late night DJ could play full album sides for a couple of hours, from eleven p.m. to one a.m., interrupted only by three-minute news updates at about the forty-minute and eighty-minute mark – in other words, at the points where full albums would end. On February 25, 1972, I was the newsman. I have long since forgotten the DJ’s name, but I recall he was a fan of Iron Butterfly, and he intended to fill his two hours that evening with that group’s music, including two versions of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” one from the studio and the other from a live album.

When I heard his plans, I blinked. And then I pointed out that the first hour of the show was the last hour of Harrison’s birthday. He thought for a second and then agreed that the first hour could be Harrison’s. Once midnight hit, though, it was time for the Butterfly. So he played the first two sides of All Things Must Pass and I did my three-minute newscast. Then he played the third side of the Harrison album, followed by the second side of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, with the members of Iron Butterfly noodling around on the title tune for seventeen minutes. I delivered my second – and final – newscast of the night.

As one might expect, I did no reporting during those hours; I simply pulled off the AP teletype the stories that I thought most interesting. Given my quirky sense of humor, I’m sure both newscasts were at least a little odd. I do recall the DJ laughing at one of the items in my second newscast of the evening. As he chuckled, I got my coat and headed out the door, leaving him to his laughter and his Iron Butterfly.

I thought of all of that in the few moments that I heard the end of “I Want To Tell You” yesterday afternoon. Following that came the thought that I should find a good cover of a Harrison tune for today. So this morning, I began sorting tunes on the RealPlayer. There were plenty to choose from – about sixty covers of Harrison songs, I would guess.

And I decided to take a look at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Besides the various versions from Harrison himself – with the Beatles and as a solo performer – I have three versions of the song, and one of those is McCartney and Eric Clapton teaming up for a performance during the Concert for George in 2002.

According to All-Music Guide, the song has not been covered a great deal. The site lists just about ninety CDs that include the song, and about a third of those are performances by the Beatles and by Harrison. Some interesting names – some familiar, some not – do pop up among the others: The Assembled Multitude (shared here about a year ago), the Brazilian Tropical Orchestra, the Drowners, Peter Frampton, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Kenny Lattimore, Martin Luther “M.L.” McCoy (in the 2007 film Across the Universe), the Munich Symphonic Sound Orchestra, Phish, Kenny Rankin, Todd Rundgren, Toto, Joe Sachse, Rick Wakeman and many more.

As usual, I’ve heard some of those and have not heard many more. But the name I pulled out of the list this morning was that of the Jeff Healey Band. Healey came to prominence in 1988 with the release of See The Light, an impressive debut. The band gained attention, as well, from the fact that Healey is blind and plays his Fender Stratocaster on his lap instead of standing up. In 1990, the group released its second album, Hell to Pay, which, if not quite as impressive, was still considered a solid effort. And it’s on Hell to Pay that Healey and his mates delivered a good version of Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Jeff Healey Band – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” [1990]



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