Archive for the ‘1959’ Category

Saturday Singles Nos. 153, 154 & 155

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 17, 2009

Preparing Wednesday’s post, I heard something in the Walkabouts’ “Murdering Stone” that linked it to two much older songs, one a country rock touchstone and the other a classic tale lodged firmly in country music. I’m still not entirely certain what it was I heard (beyond the obvious preoccupation with mortality) that linked the Walkbouts’ 1993 song with Mason Proffit’s “Two Hangmen” and with “The Long Black Veil,” a tune recorded by a long list of performers. The more I’ve thought about it over the last two days, however, the more I think that those songs share a thread of some sort that runs from 1959, when Lefty Frizzell recorded a hit version of “The Long Black Veil” through 1969, when “Two Hangmen” was released on Mason Proffit’s Wanted, into 1993, when “Murdering Stone” provided what I hear as the center of New West Motel.

I imagine if I ponder the question some more, I’ll find links to earlier songs and other songs in the country and country rock idioms. Or I might find that the chain, whatever it means, stops – or, more aptly, begins – at “The Long Black Veil.” As I mentioned Wednesday, the song was written for Lefty Frizzell by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, and Frizzell’s 1959 recording of it went to No. 6 on the Billboard country chart. Since then, the song has been a staple of the country repertoire and a fixture as well in the country rock and Americana songbooks.

Greil Marcus, in his book Mystery Train (subtitled Images of America in Rock ’N’ Roll Music), calls “The Long Black Veil “a modern country tune in the guise of an old Kentucky murder ballad.” One can infer from his writing that he believes the theme of the song – a theme that he says is woven deep into all of Music From Big Pink, The Band’s debut album on which the song appears – is “obligation: a kind of secret theme at the heart of both words and music. What do men and women owe each other? How do they keep faith? How far can that faith be pushed before it breaks?”

He continues: “Certainly ‘Long Black Veil,’ the only song on the album written neither by the Band nor Bob Dylan, takes obligation as far as it can go. A murder has been committed; a man is singled out from the crowd as a culprit, but he will not give up his alibi, because he’s ‘been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.’ She keeps silent as well. The singer, the man accused, owes something to his lover, something to his friend, and something to his community, to justice; the woman won’t injure her husband by revealing the secret, and she keeps faith with her lover as he goes to the gallows – allowing him to die with his friendship intact, and then forever haunting his grave.”

Marcus goes on to note that one of the song’s writers, Danny Dill, later told country music historian Dorothy Horstman that the song was inspired by bits and pieces: by “The Lady In Black” who appeared annually at the grave of silent film idol Rudolph Valentino; by the song, “God Walks These Hills With Me,” written by Red Foley; and by an old news item about the unsolved murder of a priest in New Jersey, killed with more than fifty witnesses under the town hall light.

On the most simple level, “The Long Black Veil” is a story song, the tale of a secret threatened by coincidence and kept through sacrifice. It doesn’t take a lot of listening, though, to find Marcus’ theme of obligation, an obligation extended to tragedy and stoic heroism in the song through the keeping of commitments both implicit and explicit.

I found Lefty Frizzell’s version on an LP titled Lefty Frizzell’s Greatest Hits, and an online discography verified that the version on the LP is the same recording that was issued as a single in 1959. The Johnny Cash version was ripped from his 1965 LP Orange Blossom Special, and The Band’s version comes from the remastered CD, released in 2000, of 1968’s Music From Big Pink.

Here, then, are your Saturday Singles:

“The Long Black Veil” by Lefty Frizzell, Columbia 41384 [1959]
“The Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash from Orange Blossom Special [1965]
“Long Black Veil” by The Band from Music From Big Pink [1968]

The Strains of the Westerns

May 27, 2022

Originally posted September 25, 2009

Last weekend, poking around in one of the nooks and crannies where I occasionally find old music on the ’Net – I’m not sure which one it was – I came across a collection of themes from television westerns. And I began to run through them, listening to each one a few seconds at a time: lots of orchestral music, a lot of French horns, some guitars, and every once in a while, a stentorian voice telling us grandly the name of the show that we’d be about to watch, were we somehow transported back to 1957 or 1961 or 1965.

It was great fun, and I soon got lost in clicking from one western theme to the next, until the unmistakable strains – well, at least to those of us who grew up during the late 1950s and early 1960s – of the “Theme from Gunsmoke” came out of the speakers.

“What are you watching?” asked the Texas Gal from the next room.

“I’m listening to western themes.”

“Geez, I thought it was something on television that was using that music,” she said. “It sounded like an odd show, and then I recognized that last one.”

She said her dad had watched Gunsmoke for years. I told her that just the first instant of the theme flipped me back in time more than forty years: I had a quick memory of my father sitting in his coral-colored rocker – it was reupholstered in orange sometime in the mid-1960s, which helps me date this image at least a little – his eyes locked on our old Zenith television and the tales of Dodge City it brought into our living room. It would have been a Saturday evening, I believe. Not much kept Dad from Gunsmoke; the only thing that I think would have made him miss a week’s episode would be a St. Cloud State men’s basketball game, either on the radio or across the river on campus.

I kept clicking through the long list of theme songs. A few of them triggered similar memories: family time on Sunday evenings, watching Bonanza, or maybe seeing Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Gates on Rawhide early on a Friday evening as I waited for something I really liked. (A look at the prime time schedules offered at the Classic TV Database tells me that Rawhide was on CBS and I was likely waiting for The Flintstones on ABC.)

None of the others, however, brought me anything quite so vivid as did the “Theme from Gunsmoke,” so that’s a good place to start today’s music.

A Six-Pack of Western Themes
“Boot Hill/Theme from Gunsmoke” [ca. 1967]
“Bonanza” [ca. 1959]
“High Chaparral” [1967]
“A Man Called Shenandoah” [1965]
“Rawhide” [1959]
“The Rifleman” [1958]

Bonus Track
“Bonanza” [Original version, 1959]

Gunsmoke, which ran for twenty seasons, tweaked its theme numerous times. The sweeping main theme had also been used for the radio version of the show, which ran from 1951 to 1962. (The television version ran from 1955 through 1975.) The version here begins with a musical cue that was titled “Boot Hill” and accompanied the opening shot of the show: a view of a gunslinger framed by Marshall Matt Dillon’s boots. After Dillon dispatches the gunslinger, the announcer tells us what we’re watching, and then comes the main theme. According to an entry at ClassicThemes.com, “Boot Hill” was written by Fred Steiner and the main theme – known when the show was on radio as “The Old Trail” – was written by Rex Koury. Just based on the sound and a few dim memories, I’m guessing that this version of “Boot Hill/Theme from Gunsmoke” dates from the mid-1960s.

The theme to Bonanza was written by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans. The version I have here sounds like the one I heard almost every Sunday evening from about 1960 on, but there were enough tweaks through the years – the show ran from 1959 into 1973 – that I cannot be sure. The first version of the theme song, offered here as a bonus track, features Lorne Greene taking the vocal. I’ve read – I cannot remember where – that the vocal version was used for only one week, with the more familiar instrumental taking its place for the show’s second broadcast. (It’s entirely possible – and maybe more likely – that the song was replaced after the show’s first season. In either case, the version with the vocal was short-lived.) For me, the theme to Bonanza was one of the more memorable television themes, right from the ascending guitar lick.

I was aware of High Chaparral, a series based in the Arizona Territory in the 1870s, but I never watched the show, which ran from 1967 into 1971. Its theme was written by well-known television composer and arranger David Rose.

I do not recall “A Man Called Shenandoah,” a series that found Robert Horton playing a Civil War veteran wandering the West in search of his memory. He sang the main theme, to boot. The music for the theme song, obviously, is the old American folk tune “Shenandoah.” I haven’t found any indication so far of who wrote the lyrics.

I remember watching The Rifleman a couple of times, but it was never anything like essential viewing, and the theme doesn’t ring any bells It starts with the rapid firing of the rifle of the title, as did the show. The music was written by Herschel Burke Gilbert, and the lyrics – which you can read here – came from the pen of Alfred Perry.

Frankie Laine’s theme from Rawhide has to be one of the most recognizable of all television themes, never mind westerns. The music came from the pen of Dmitri Tiomkin with words by Nate Washington. It evidently wasn’t, however, the theme that the show started with when it hit the air in 1959. ClassicThemes.com notes that there is a theme credit in the archives for composer Olliver G. Wallace and orchestrator/arranger Paul Van Loan. The website’s editors speculated that the success of Johnny Western’s recording of “The Ballad of Paladin” from the CBS show Have Gun, Will Travel might have spurred the producers of Rawhide to find a song to similarly help brand the show, and the results was the Tiomkin/Washington classic. All-Music Guide says that the song “was a huge pop hit” for Laine, but I wonder about that, as it’s listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Maybe on the country charts. The song did make the Top 40, however, in what I assume was an instrumental version by Link Wray and the Wraymen, reaching No. 23 in early 1959.

Note from 2022: There’s no trace of Laine’s version of “Rawhide” on the country chart, either. Note added May 27, 2022.


									

Saturday Single No. 628

February 9, 2019

Since we’ve been in a Games With Numbers groove lately, I thought we’d continue that and do a random thing with a Billboard Hot 100 that was released on a February 9. The first one we came across in our folder here was from 1959, sixty years ago today.

The No. 1 record from that chart was Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” a good one without a doubt. But in keeping with the games we’ve been playing lately, we’re going to see what was at No. 60 sixty years ago today.

And we find, as we did a few weeks ago, Conway Twitty, this time with “The Story Of My Love.” The record, the third that Twitty would place in the Hot 100, was on its way up and would eventually peak at No. 28. As we noted in our post a few weeks ago, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Twitty was a regular presence on the pop charts and shifted to a focus on country music around 1962 (although he had a few records cross over after that date).

The record’s all right, but not much more than that. I don’t care for the introduction, and after that it’s just kind of okay. But for good or ill, “The Story Of My Love” by Conway Twitty is today’s Saturday Single.

Wandering Around

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 17, 2009

Wandering the upper levels of the cable offerings last evening, I happened upon a boxing match on one of the premium channels. I’ve never watched a lot of boxing, but when I come across it by accident, I sometimes watch for a few minutes. I did so last evening, and I got to thinking about a time when boxing was on network television on a regular basis.

The program I recall was The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, airing Friday evenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or so my memory told me. I didn’t really watch the show, but I sure remembered the theme song. Here’s a long instrumental version of the theme song that’s been used – for some reason – as a background for video of penguins. Here’s the theme – titled “Look Sharp – Be Sharp (Gillette March)” – as recorded in 1954 by the Boston Pops:

So, thinking about The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, I wandered over to Wikipedia, where I read that the show had run on Friday evenings into 1960 on NBC and had then moved to ABC. That made sense: I have vague memories of the show on NBC, but I also remember seeing prime-time boxing on KMSP, which was at the time ABC’s affiliate in the Twin Cities. (Watching shows on KMSP was sometimes an iffy proposition, as the station distinguished itself during the years of roof-top antennas by having the weakest signal of all four commercial stations in the Twin Cities.)

Wandering further into the topic, I checked the 1960-61 prime time TV schedule at Wikipedia and found no listing on ABC for The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Digging around a bit, I learned that ABC moved the show to Saturdays and renamed it Fight of the Week. Having resolved that, I spent some time looking at the prime time television schedules for 1959-60 and 1960-61.

And I found that fascinating, a real memory trip: National Velvet, The Red Skelton Show, Sugarfoot, Hong Kong, 77 Sunset Strip, Law of the Plainsman, Hawaiian Eye and on and on. I don’t recall watching them all, but I remember the titles. Of course, I did see some of those shows. One of my favorites was 77 Sunset Strip, a show about two detectives in Los Angeles that starred, among others, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who went on to star later in the 1960s and 1970s in The F.B.I., and Ed Byrnes, whose hair-combing character, Kookie, inspired the 1959 hit, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” which Byrnes recorded with Connie Stevens. The record went to No. 4. Here are Byrnes and Stevens during an appearance on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show from April 4, 1959 (not American Bandstand, as I originally guessed).

We’ve wandered a little afield here. I’m sure I didn’t see that particular performance, nor did I hear the record until many years later. My interest at the time was the drama – such as it was – on 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 into 1964. Here’s a version of the theme from the show (I think it’s the original, but I’m not at all certain):

“77 Sunset Strip” written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston [1958]

And then, here’s a selection from 1960, which is the year that The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports moved from NBC to ABC:

A Six-Pack from 1960
“New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1003 [Peak: No. 6]
“Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, Decca 31141 [Peak: No. 1 in 1961]
“Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino, Imperial 5675 [Peak: No. 6]
“Theme from ‘The Apartment’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 231 [Peak: No. 10]
“Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2071 [Peak: No. 1]
“Last Date” by Floyd Cramer, RCA 7775 [Peak: No. 2]

Bonus Track
“A Fool In Love” by Ike & Tina Turner, Sue 730 [No. 20]

Well, throw in some Everly Brothers, a Johnny Horton tune, a Frankie Avalon tune, some Dion & The Belmonts, then add Elvis, Percy Faith and Connie Francis, and you’d have a pretty good idea of how 1960 sounded.

When I pulled the first six tracks to share today, I didn’t realize that all of them were Top Ten records. That tells me that radio listening might not have been as bad in 1960 as I tend to think it was. (I certainly don’t remember what pop radio sounded like in 1960; I turned seven that year, and I don’t recall listening to much of anything at all. So anything I know about music in 1960 – except for piano exercises by John W. Schaum – comes from learning about it long after the fact.) On the other hand, the year also provided listeners with “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dining and “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne, all of which went to No. 1. So call it a mixed bag.

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Wandering To A Place

March 29, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I made my way through The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel, which I found to be a pretty good book. It’s not so much about the production of the 1956 John Ford/John Wayne movie as about the story behind the movie.

And for Frankel, that starts in Texas in the mid-1830s, with the kidnapping by the Comanche of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was about 10 at the time. Her uncle’s increasingly obsessive search for her and her recapture and return to Anglo life after twenty-four years is obviously the seed behind Alan Le May’s 1954 novel The Searchers and the film that followed two years later.

Along the way, Frankel tells as much as can be determined – from many sources, some original – what life was like for Cynthia Ann both among the Comanche and when she was returned to Anglo life. (That latter portion of her life – only ten years – was unhappy, as she longed to return to the Comanche and her sons; she had brought a daughter with her when she was, in effect, recaptured by U.S. Cavalry and Texas volunteers.)

In his book, Frankel tells Cynthia Ann’s story; the story of one of her sons, Comanche chief Quanah Parker; Le May’s story; and the better-known stories of John Ford and John Wayne, as he winds his way to the tale of the making of the film version of The Searchers, discussing along the way the themes of obsession, racism, and fear of the other found in both the book and the movie. It’s a good read, one that was more compelling than I thought it would be when I opened it. (If there’s a section that moves a little slowly and seems to have more of Frankel’s attention than necessary, it’s Quanah Parker’s story.)

The book touched a lot of sweet spots for me: I’m a history buff, I have an interest in Native American culture (especially the Plains tribes), I’m a writer, and I’m a movie fan. And of course, I’m a music fan, so when Frankel got around to talking about the scoring of the movie, I paid attention. The score was written by Max Steiner, whose name I knew.

Steiner was one of the first composers to score a film, and Wikipedia says that he’s been called “the father of film music.” He scored more than 300 films, including Casablanca and Gone With The Wind, to name two of the more prominent. And in his discussion of Steiner’s work on The Searchers, Frankel threw out two tidbits of information that honestly made stop reading in surprise and awe: When he was a child in Vienna, Steiner studied piano under Johannes Brahms, and he later studied composition with Gustav Mahler.

Then, the other day, I saw a Facebook post about the theme to the 1959 movie A Summer Place, and I wandered off to YouTube to find versions of the theme. (I have, of course, the hit version by Percy Faith and a few more, but I wondered if there were some obscure versions I’d not heard.) And I learned that the score to the film, including the famous main theme, was composed by Max Steiner.

I found a truncated version of Steiner’s version of the main theme at YouTube, and then went wandering to Amazon and learned that a CD of the score runs more than sixty bucks, which is well out of the sanity range for me. Back at YouTube, I found a couple of videos with highlights of the score. Here’s the better of the two. It offers a good sampling of Steiner’s approach to scoring a film. (The piece at Wikipedia offers a detailed assessment of his thoughts and techniques.) And, of course, it includes what is likely Steiner’s most famous piece of music: The main theme to A Summer Place, which comes in at the four-minute mark.

A ‘What’ Preview

February 7, 2017

I’m still regrouping here, doing the minimum necessary to keep the household running, drinking lots of fluids, taking lots of decongestant and other meds and just holding on. But I thought I’d toss out another preview to the feature I hope to start in earnest in the next week or so: Journalism 101.

Last Thursday, I offered a preview of the first of the five W’s: “Who.” Today, we’ll find a tune with “What” in its title, sorting among 1,375 tracks the RealPlayer found. Among the tracks we’ll have to reject are two pretty good albums, the Doobie Brothers’ What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits and the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. (There are more that we must pass by, but – in keeping with the tenor of this post – that’s a preview.)

From the perspective of nearly sixty years, the Coasters’ 1959 track “What About Us” sounds, certainly in the first verse and perhaps in some of the later verses, like a plaint about economic inequality:

He’s got a house made of glass
Got his own swimming pool . . . what a gas
We’ve got a one-room shack
Five by six by the railroad track, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

He’s with a beautiful chick
Every night of the week, pretty slick
We’re two poor hung up souls
Girls won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

He goes to eat at the Ritz
Big steaks, that’s the breaks
We eat hominy grits
From a bag, what a drag

He’s got a car made of suede
With a black leather top, got it made
If we go out on dates
We go in a box on roller skates, well

What about us
What about us
Don’t want to cause no fuss
But what about us

By the second verse, songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are placing the tale clearly in the teen-age milieu, but I wonder if the first verse and some of the later verses had a wider target.

“What About Us” was released in late 1959, and Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows it going to No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the B-side to “Run Red Run,” which went to No. 36. Oddly, perhaps, Whitburn’s R&B book shows “What About Us” as the A-side; it went to No. 17 on the Billboard R&B chart (with “Run Red Run” going to No. 29 on the B-side).

Whether pointed statement or teenage playlet, whether A-side or B-side, the record has the classic Coasters sound: A catchy rhythm, humor-laden lyrics, the low-voice interjections and a sax solo that I assume comes from King Curtis. Enjoy!

Stuff For Sale

July 7, 2016

It’s been busy here the past few days, and that will continue through Saturday. In our effort to slender down the amount of stuff in the house, we’re having a yard sale tomorrow and Saturday.

We’ve been gathering things from throughout the house for a few weeks now – quilting material and supplies, craft materials, unused dishes and cookware, some games and lots of miscellaneous stuff – and pricing it and letting it sit in the living room and the back room.

Today, my tasks include stops at the bank to get cash for change, a stop somewhere to get yard sale signs, and clearing four portable tables currently in use in the house and getting them out to the garage for use tomorrow.

I’m already weary, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning.

Given our plans, this is my only stop here in the studios this week. I’ll be back Tuesday with a less cluttered house and – we hope – a little more cash in the bank account. Then, the Texas Gal and I can begin to look at some of the items we’ve unearthed in the house that are more suited to an antique dealer’s care than simply being sold in the front yard.

Given the week’s activity, I checked out tunes in the RealPlayer with “sale” in their titles. After some sorting – I have more tracks than I would have guessed with “Jerusalem” in their titles – I came up with three commodities that have frequently been listed for musical sale: Love, a cottage and a broken heart.

I’m going with the cottage. Here’s Frank Sinatra with “A Cottage For Sale.” It’s from his 1959 album No One Cares, an album so bleak that, according to a note at Discogs.com, Sinatra called it a collection of “suicide songs.”

‘Big Iron On His Hip . . .’

April 7, 2015

Sometimes, when I look for something that matches a date, I struggle to find something fun or even interesting. I look through the reference library, the CD and LP logs, through the lists of tracks recorded on that date and through the Wikipedia entry on that date . . . and I sit here dithering, trying to select the best option from any number of uninspiring choices.

Today is not one of those days. It was on April 7, 1959, that Marty Robbins was in the studio, laying down one of the tracks for his album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which would be released that September. The track was “Big Iron,” the tale of a confrontation between an Arizona ranger and an outlaw named Texas Red:

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day
Hardly spoke to folks around him, didn’t have too much to say
No one dared to ask his business, no one dared to make a slip
For the stranger there among them had a big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

It was early in the morning when he rode into the town
He came riding from the south side, slowly lookin’ all around
He’s an outlaw loose and running came the whisper from each lip
And he’s here to do some business with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red
Many men had tried to take him and that many men were dead
He was vicious and a killer though a youth of twenty four
And the notches on his pistol numbered one and nineteen more
One and nineteen more

Now the stranger started talking, made it plain to folks around
Was an Arizona ranger, wouldn’t be too long in town
He came here to take an outlaw back alive or maybe dead
And he said it didn’t matter, that he was after Texas Red
After Texas Red

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red
But the outlaw didn’t worry, men that tried before were dead
Twenty men had tried to take him, twenty men had made a slip
Twenty one would be the ranger with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet
It was twenty past eleven when they walked out in the street
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath
They knew this handsome ranger was about to meet his death
About to meet his death

There was forty feet between them when they stopped to make their play
And the swiftness of the ranger is still talked about today
Texas Red had not cleared leather ’fore a bullet fairly ripped
And the ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round
There before them lay the body of the outlaw on the ground
Oh, he might have went on living but he made one fatal slip
When he tried to match the ranger with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

The album was released in September 1959 and went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200. “Big Iron” was released as a single in early 1960; it went to No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 5 on the magazine’s country chart. (The classic track “El Paso,” which was included on the same album, was also recorded fifty-six years ago today. Released as a single in late 1959, it was No. 1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks and No. 1 on the country chart for seven weeks.)

Marty Robbins has shown up here before, first in the chart-digging discovery of his 1970 folk-rock piece “Jolie Girl” and then when his 1957 hit, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation,” was part of “White” in our exploration of what we called Floyd’s Prism. Today’s track, “Big Iron,” is one I hadn’t heard until about a year ago, when I collected a five-CD set titled Columbia Country Classics. It’s left me thinking I need to dig up a copy of Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs for myself.

Revised slightly after initial posting.

Saturday Single No. 410

September 6, 2014

I had a very pleasant birthday yesterday, marking sixty-one years on the planet with a couple of nice meals, lots of greetings on Facebook and a quiet evening at home. I lunched with my mom at Jimmy’s Pour House in Sauk Rapids, and after running a few errands with her, I headed home, and as I did, I recalled a long-ago birthday lunch.

During the years I was growing up, turning twenty-one was a big deal. It meant – as it does again now – that one can legally buy beer and liquor. As I approached twenty-one in September of 1974, that had changed. In the late spring of 1973, the legal drinking age in Minnesota changed to eighteen, leaving thousands of suddenly legal young folks who had anticipated their first drinks on their twenty-first birthdays vaguely dissatisfied (although they were allowed to legally mitigate their dissatisfactions with beer or margaritas or whatever). I was one of those vaguely dissatisfied folks, and my first legal drink – which I likely have mentioned before in this space – was a brandy and water recommended by my father one evening when we went for dinner. It’s a drink I shall never have again.

Thus, by the time my twenty-first birthday came along in 1974, I’d been drinking legally for something like fifteen months (with about half of that time spent happily quaffing European beers, mostly Danish, in their places of origin). But on that September 5 in 1974 – it was a Thursday – some of the folks at The Table in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center decided that I needed to mark my twenty-first birthday with a celebration. So we squeezed into a couple of cars and headed to Little John’s Pub in the mall at the west end of town.

After some sandwiches and a couple of pitchers of Grain Belt Premium (a good, if basic, lager brewed in Minneapolis at the time), we wobbled back to campus and whatever else a Thursday afternoon would bring. It was a far more raucous lunch than my mom and I had yesterday at Jimmy’s, and far more raucous, too, than the dinner the Texas Gal and I had yesterday evening at the Ace Bar & Grill. But all three events were celebrating in their ways the same thing: the successful passage through another year on this blue planet and our wishes for similar success as the next stage of the voyage continues.

And it seems to me that the first full day of that next stage needs a September song. After considering Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” Frank Sinatra’s “The September Of My Years” and a few others, I’ve decided to go instrumental and minimal this morning. Here’s Chet Baker’s 1959 take on the classic and somewhat melancholy “September Song.” Even though I am not at all melancholy this morning, it’s nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

May 29, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board WeenieCampbell.com, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.