Posts Tagged ‘America’

A Baker’s Dozen Of Rivers

April 24, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2007

Well, it happened again. An LP I had selected for the day turned out to have too many pops and scratches for me to want to share the entire thing. And that’s disappointing. The record was Through the Eyes of a Horn, a solo album by Jim Horn from 1972. It’s a fun record, on Leon Russell’s Shelter label with lots of familiar names on the credits.

A few of the tracks are clean enough for me to convert them to mp3s and put them in the player, so they may show up in a future Baker’s Dozen or two. And I’m likely to pull one of the tracks for something special this week.

But abandoning the LP as a full rip left me without a plan again, changing horses in mid-stream, as it were. And I thought about Tower of Power, of course, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream).” So I checked. I only have five songs with the word “stream” in their titles. So I thought about rivers, and my mind wandered as the final tracks of the Jim Horn album played through, and I thought about the Mississippi River, which has been a near-constant presence in my life.

I was born on its banks (in a hospital, not – unfortunately for my credentials as a bluesman – in a little shack). I grew up no more than three blocks from it, crossing it nearly daily through my childhood and college years. And my first job was at a newspaper whose offices were separated from the river by only a park and a street. The vast majority of my life has been lived within a few miles of the Mississippi. And now, since returning to St. Cloud about five years ago, I’m again within a mile of the river that’s called the Father of Waters.

When I was a kid, I never realized that the Mississippi was important or noteworthy. At least not until one day when I was crossing it on my bicycle, most likely heading to the library. As I neared the end of the bridge, a car with New York license plates passed me, and once off of the bridge, the driver took the first right and pulled over and parked. Four people – a mom, a dad and two kids – got out of the car and walked rapidly, almost trotting, back to the bridge and the river, cameras at the ready. I realized that what was an everyday occurrence for me – crossing the Mississippi – could be a major event for others, and I guess I began to give the big river a little more respect.

So I’ve realized in recent years that the river flows through my life just as it does through St. Cloud. And I long to see it in its wide and muddy glory in places much closer to the Gulf of Mexico than here. That will happen. The Texas Gal and I still plan to tour western Tennessee and Mississippi, but it won’t be this year. I can wait, and the river will wait for me.

But what should I do about music this morning, after such fluvial thoughts? Well, I thought I’d shift my normal pattern again and begin this week with a Baker’s Dozen of Rivers:

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon from the Working Girl soundtrack, 1988

“Okolona River Bottom Band” by Bobbie Gentry, Capitol single 2044, 1967

“Many Rivers To Cross” by Joe Cocker from Sheffield Steel, 1982

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind, 1974

“River” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly, 1973

“River Theme” by Bob Dylan from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack, 1973

“If The River Was Whiskey” by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Newport Folk Festival, 1964

“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Be True To You, 1975

“Down By The River” by Buddy Miles from Buddy Miles Live, 1971

“Song From Platte River” by Brewer & Shipley from Tarkio, 1970

“Don’t Cross The River” by America from Homecoming, 1973

“Underground River” by Ellen McIlwaine from We The People, 1973

“Going To The River” by Fats Domino, Imperial single 5231, 1953

A few notes about some of the songs:

“Let the River Run,” which has a nice gospelly groove, won Carly Simon an Oscar for Best Song. Hearing it always reminds me that when I wanted to buy the album in early 1989, it took a special order and five weeks. I realized then, if I hadn’t already, that the LP was being swept away by the CD.

“Many Rivers To Cross” is some of the fruit of one of Joe Cocker’s many comebacks, this one coming when he went into a studio in the Bahamas with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and their pals. He came out with a record with lots of captivating tropical grooves. The record also had some fine vocals, and this is one of the best.

Fred McDowell was actually from Tennessee, not Mississippi, but someone gave him the name when he was discovered in the late 1950s, and he didn’t complain. McDowell was a rarity in the country blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s in that he’d never been recorded before, unlike many of his contemporaries who had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s before sliding back into anonymity. As a result, his performances on record and at venues like the Newport Folk Festival came off as fresh rather than as a recreation of long-ago efforts.

Eric Andersen’s Be True To You was posted here in the very early days of the blog. It’s a lovely folky album, and “Moonchild River Song,” the album’s opening track, is one of its best songs.

Ellen McIlwaine is a little-known slide guitarist and blues singer who’s been recording well-regarded albums at sporadic intervals for years. We the People, the 1973 album from which “Underground River” comes, might be her best effort, but all of her work, from 1971’s Honky Tonk Angel to 2007’s Mystic Bridge is worth seeking out.

Our closer is a lesser-known side by one of the earliest of rock ’n’ rollers, Fats Domino. Recorded in January 1953 – eight months before I made my riverside entrance – “Going To The River” still rocks, albeit in Fats’ own style of smiling in the face of all disasters.