Saturday Single No. 69

Originally posted April 26, 2008

It snowed last night, or rather, early this morning. On April 26, for Odin’s sake!

Well, I’m aware that April snows are not unheard of here in the Northland. Cold and wet weather is a specialty of Mother Nature in these parts. And it didn’t snow all that much, an inch at the most, if that. But we might get more: There’s a 20 percent chance of more snow today and a thirty percent chance for tomorrow, and on neither day will the temperature reach fifty degrees (about 10 degrees Celsius).

If readers have thought, “Geez, he obsesses about the weather,” well, they’re right. Almost all of us in Minnesota do. We talk about the weather when it’s bad, which covers everything from a cloudy day with a light drizzle to a two-foot snowfall with sixty-mile-an-hour winds. On days when the weather is ok but nothing spectacular – maybe a little cloudy and/or maybe a little cool, we talk about bad we think it’s going to get. And on those gorgeous summer days that we get now and then – brilliant blue sky, about 75 degrees (24 C.) with just the hint of a breeze – we talk about how it won’t last. So we’re not only obsessive about the weather, we’re obsessively gloomy about it. I think it’s a genetic aberration present in Nordic peoples, and the other folks who live here have picked it up by osmosis.

But I for one am tired of April feeling like March. So last night, as I sat thinking about this post, I wondered what songs I had about April. If I posted one of them, maybe the weather imps would notice what month it is and start behaving themselves. So I sorted the tunes in the RealPlayer for April.

And I got 243 responses. Turns out that I have a few songs with “April” in the title, and I have a lot of songs that my notes say were recorded in April. (I also have several albums of folkish material that I found at the now-deleted – and superlative – blog 8 Days In April and the comment tags reflect that.)

So what are the songs about April? We start with “April Anne” by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, released on his first solo album, the self-titled album that has become better known as John, The Wolf King of L.A. It’s a sweet song, but it’s about a girl and not the month. I thought about Simon & Garfunkel’s “April, Come She Will,” but I’d like something a little more assertive, something like “April, Get In Here And Clean Up This Mess.”

There’s “April Fool” by the all-woman Seventies funk-rock group Isis (kind of a distaff Earth, Wind & Fire), and “April Fools” by Aretha from her Young, Gifted and Black album. Better, but still not quite what I’m looking for (although I mentally tag both the Aretha track and the group Isis as candidates to show up here sometime soon).

Three Dog Night, of course, recorded “Pieces of April,” which went to No. 19 in 1972, but I don’t want pieces; I want a full April. And Danish songstress Sanne Salomonsen recorded “Sometimes It Snows In April” for her New York Minute album in 1998. Of course, it sometimes snows in April! That’s the problem! (Salomonsen’s song turns out to be a pretty piano-driven ballad with a really cool and emphatic key change during the chorus and words that are so intensely personal that listening to it made me feel as if I were reading her journal.)

So instead of a song about April, let’s take a look at a few songs recorded in April, starting many years ago.

Samantha Bumgarner, whose name pops up frequently if one digs into early recorded popular music, recorded mountain music in the 1920s. She sang and played banjo and fiddle. And according to my notes, she recorded “Big-Eyed Rabbit” and “Worried Blues” in April 1924. My musical interests, as I’ve said earlier, range widely, and this is one of those times when one thinks of the audience and says, “No, I think not.”

The same hold true for most of the songs that I have noted as having been recorded in April (I have session date information for only a fraction of the music I have, and I note it only if the information is easily accessible, so I know there have to be thousands more songs in the RealPlayer recorded in this cruel month – a nod to T.S. Eliot – than I can find this morning.) I don’t think there’s a real yearning to listen to “Pass Around The Bottle And We’ll All Take A Drink,” recorded in 1926 by Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers. And I think I can safely pass by Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s “I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground” from 1928.

Blind Willie Johnson had one of the greatest days in blues history in April of 1930, recording all in one day “John the Revelator,” “Soul of a Man” and “Trouble Will Soon Be Over,” but as astounding as those performances are – and they are astounding to blues aficionados – they’re probably of limited interest to my audience.

A couple more blind folks recorded blues in April in the 1930s: Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie McTell. Heading into the 1940s, we find Sonny Boy Williamson No. 1, Lil Green, Big Boy Crudup, Hank Williams (a little country to lay on what’s been a load of the blues) and then Edith Piaf, with “La Vie En Rose.” It’s a lovely song, but I think it translates to “Life In Pink,” which is not really what I want for April.

For some reason in the months immediately after World War II, the word “voot” became part of the vernacular among swing musicians and those in the developing style that would become known as rhythm & blues. The word shows up in, oh, maybe fifty, maybe a hundred or more, titles recorded in California (and perhaps elsewhere). I have six examples in the collection, thanks to Tuwa’s Shanty and The Roots Canal, another fine blog that’s gone out of business. And one of those songs was recorded in April, 1948: “Rock That Voot” by the Nelson Alexander Trio,” which tells the listener, “I wanna rock that voot, baby just for you. I wanna rock that voot, baby, all night long,” over a bed of piano, bass and guitar in which one can hear the promise of rock ’n’ roll.

As I look through the Fifties, I see April blues and R&B from Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II and others, and I find rockabilly from Wanda Jackson and others. Bob Dylan performed in the Town Hall in New York City in April 1963, and Mississippi John Hurt’s April 15, 1964, concert at Oberlin College in Ohio is a gem. But not right for today.

I scan the list of April-recorded songs all the way through an April 18, 2003, performance of “Terrorized” by Willie King and the Liberators, recorded in Prairie Point, Mississippi. And I move the cursor back to the Sixties for a nice piece of synchronicity.

On April 26, 1968, Stephen Stills was part of what was likely a recording session for Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where the Time Goes and, after the session, evidently slipped the recording engineer some cash to sit with his guitar and record a batch of songs he’d been working on. Somehow, that tape has surfaced and is now making its way through the blogworld. It provides a chance to listen to early forms of songs that ended up on albums by Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSN&Y, Stills’ own solo work and his work with Manassas, as well as providing four songs (I think) that were never released at all.

The collection was posted at a forum I frequent (thanks, Old Hippie!), and I find it fascinating. Maybe by posting a song recorded exactly forty years ago today, I can find in the music some kind of April mojo.

So here’s a very early version of Stephen Stills’ “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” today’s Saturday Single.

Stephen Stills – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” [1968]

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