Posts Tagged ‘Irma Thomas’

‘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.

The Ghosts Of Downtown

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 9, 2009

I misplaced a long-gone store in Saturday’s post. I talked about spending parts of some childhood Friday evening looking through the shelves of books at Fandel’s and said the building was on Fifth Avenue. Not long after, an email from former St. Cloud resident Yah Shure got me thinking. And I realized that Fandel’s was on Sixth Avenue, a block west of where I had placed it.

(If in fact, the bookstore/interior store had been on Fifth Avenue, it likely would have been right in the middle of a bar called the Red Carpet. It would take some years for me to find myself in the middle of the Red Carpet, but I have been there, too.)

When I realized my error, I was struck by the vividness of my memories of Sixth Avenue in St. Cloud in, oh, 1964. And I spent a few minutes thinking about the ghosts of downtown.

On St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – there was Dan Marsh Drug. We got our prescriptions there, had our photos developed there, bought greeting cards and giftwrap, discount records, pipe tobacco and pipe cleaners (Dad smoked until he survived a heart attack in 1974) and so much more. There was a restaurant/grill at the back of the store, a place that during the workweek’s daytime hours must have been home to lunch specials for the many folks who worked in what was a pretty bustling downtown.

After school and on Friday evenings, though, the restaurant was a gathering place for kids who gulped down French fries with cherry Cokes, chocolate Cokes, lime phosphates and other seemingly exotic potions. And on Friday evenings, as the clusters of kids came and went from Dan Marsh Drugs, other kids would drive up and down St. Germain, some revving the engines of their cars and others just looking at the other kids looking back at them.

Sometimes a cop directed traffic at the intersection of St. Germain and Sixth; other times, the police just put the four-sided portable sign, the one reading “No Left Turn,” in the middle of the intersection, and let the drivers and pedestrians otherwise fend for themselves. (For a few years in the early 1970s, the city made St. Germain a pedestrian mall for three blocks downtown and did as well some stupid things with traffic flow, and that pretty much killed downtown’s traffic . . . and a lot of businesses.)

North of St. Germain on Sixth was, I think, a funeral home. I recall clearly, however, the book and stationery store, a place of pens and pencils, ledgers and typing paper, erasers and sharpeners, the kind of place that entranced me then and can still do so today.

South on Sixth, Fandel’s and Herberger’s, two department stores, took the corner spots. Fandel’s is long gone, and Herberger’s – in an insane attempt at urban renewal during, I think, the 1980s – was allowed to build a mall across Sixth Avenue, so Sixth is now blocked at St. Germain. Herberger’s continues in business, but the other stores and restaurants in that mall haven’t thrived over the years.

Beyond Herberger’s, on the east side of Sixth, is a blank for me. I cannot recall what stood there. Beyond Fandel’s on the west side of Sixth was the building that held Fandel’s bookstore and interiors, the place where I got my copy of Born Free after seeing the movie, and where I bought Dad a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim for his birthday.

All of those businesses except Herberger’s are gone. Most of the buildings are gone as well. And next to the Fandel’s book and interiors building stood another lost gem, the Eastman Theater, with its blue and white marquee. It was one of three movie houses in St. Cloud at the time. (There are none in the city these days; we now drive west into the adjacent city of Waite Park for a movie, although films are occasionally screened in the refurbished Paramount Theatre). I went to numerous movies at the Eastman, not many of them memorable. What I remember most clearly is waiting for the movie in the theater, with a series of colored lights projected from somewhere, walking their way up and down the theater on the side walls.

I do remember one film I saw at the Eastman, though: The Longest Day, the tale of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy during World War II, was released in 1962. It came back through town during early June in 1964, and my parents okayed my request to see it. So one day – a Saturday? I’m not sure – I bicycled across the Mississippi and into downtown, to the Eastman. I locked my bike to the rack and then, as I bought my ticket, asked the woman there if the film had come back out because of the twentieth anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy Invasion.

She blinked and looked down at me, a short and bespectacled ten-year-old. “How do you know about that?” she asked me.

I might have shrugged. “I dunno,” I likely told her. “I just do.”

“Okay,” she said as I handed her my quarter and she handed me my ticket. “Enjoy the show.” I did.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 6, 1964)

“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels, Columbia 43000 (No. 18)

“Wish Someone Would Care” by Irma Thomas, Imperial 66013 (No. 32)

“Yesterday’s Gone” by Chad & Jeremy, World Artists 1021 (No. 64)

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz/João & Astrid Gilberto, Verve 10323 (No. 87)

“Remember Me” by Rita Pavone, RCA Victor 8635 (No. 94)

“Dang Me” by Roger Miller, Smash 1881 (No. 126)

What? No Beatles? I can hear readers wondering as I write. There’s no doubt that they dominated the charts in 1964, especially during the week of April 4, when they held the top five spots in the Billboard Hot 100. (In order: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”) And the Beatles did have a considerable chart presence during the first week in June, with three singles in the Top 40, an EP “bubbling under” at No. 105, and “Sie Lieb Dicht,” a German version of “She Loves You,” also bubbling at No. 108.

But there was so much more going on in 1964, at least in this chart. The British Invasion that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones triggered was underway, with Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Dave Clark Five and Gerry and the Pacemakers in the Top 30. And there was more. In fact, just look at the Top 20 for June 6, 1964, and you’ll see a snapshot of a time when popular tastes were in flux:

“Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups
“Love Me Do” by the Beatles
“My Guy” by Mary Wells
“Love Me With All Your Heart” by the Ray Charles Singers
“Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong
“A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon
“Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick
“Little Children” by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
“(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by the Reflections
“P.S. I Love You” by the Beatles
“Do You Love Me” by the Dave Clark Five
“People” by Barbra Streisand
“Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway
“Diane” by the Bachelors
“Cotton Candy” by Al Hirt
“It’s Over” by Roy Orbison
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys
“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels
“Once Upon A Time” by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells
“Tell Me Why” by Bobby Vinton

Wow! Girl groups, R&B from Motown and elsewhere, tunes from Broadway, pop instrumentals, British pop-rock, teen idol pop, folk and more – all of it underscored by the “skritch-skritch” of Warwick’s “Walk On By” and capped off by Orbison’s operatic finish as the Beach Boys rev the engine and head to the drive-in.

And in June of 1964, I waited to turn eleven late that summer, knowing – oddly enough – more about World War II than I knew about pop and rock music. Some of the songs in the Top 20 were familiar, certainly: I knew “Hello, Dolly,” “Cotton Candy” (though it’s one of the few Al Hirt tunes I’m not all that not fond of), and “Today.” And I might have known about “Walk On By.” The most fondly remembered is “Today,” with its sweet melody and its lyric predicting nostalgia, presented in a ersatz commercial folk style that owes more to Mitch Miller and the Fifties than to any folk music that ever came from the likes of Pete Seeger. Knowing all that now doesn’t diminish my affection for the recording because when I hear “Today,” I’m not hearing the record. I’m hearing the soundtrack of a time when a ten-year-old kid could bicycle by himself to a movie theater in the downtown of a small city, see a movie and get himself home safely with nothing greater to worry about than a flat tire. We have gained much in the past forty-five years, but we have lost much, too.

Anyway, “Today” marked the last bit of chart success for the New Christy Minstrels, as it happened. The record went as high as No. 17 and was the last of three Top 40 hits for the group. (“Green, Green” and “Saturday Night” were the others.) It’s of interest, too, that among the members of the New Christy Minstrels – organized by Randy Sparks – were Kenny Rogers, Barry McGuire and Kim Carnes.

Irma Thomas is still singing soul and R&B today after almost fifty years in the music industry, starting with her first single, 1960’s “You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man” on the Ron label, based in her native Louisiana. “Wish Someone Would Care” was her only record to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 17.

“Yesterday’s Gone” is pleasant folk-pop: light and insubstantial candy for the ear. It also serves as a reminder that not all the performers who followed the Beatles and the Stones across the Atlantic rocked. (The best/worst example of that might be Freddie and the Dreamers.) “Yesterday’s Gone” went only to No. 21, but its follow-up, “A Summer Song,” went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1964. After that, the two singers – who had been credited up to that point as Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde – gave up their last names and became Chad and Jeremy, scoring five more Top 40 hits into August 1966.

The story about “The Girl From Ipanema” says that the charming and somewhat affectless vocal by Astrud Gilberto was one of those happy accidents that sometimes happen in the studio. As I understand it, sax player Stan Getz and singer and guitarist João Gilberto were working on the track for their Getz/Gilberto album (1963) when they decided that “The Girl From Ipanema” needed a vocal. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, who spoke no English, learned the words phonetically, and an international hit was born. The record went to No. 5 and won the Grammy for 1964’s Record of the Year. (That’s the story as I understand it. Anyone out there have any corrections or clarifications?)

I know next to nothing about Rita Pavone, only that I found one of her albums in a box of LP’s I bought in bulk at a flea market in February of 1989. I listened to it and was not impressed, but I figured it had little resale value, so I stuck it in the stacks. And there it’s stayed for almost exactly twenty years. But when I saw her name at No. 94 on the Hot 100, I went to the stacks and learned that the LP – titled simply Rita Pavone – in fact included her single. It’s a girl group-kind of tune, although Rita seems to often intone the lyrics rather than sing them. But there you are.

“Dang Me” was the first of twelve Top 40 hits for Roger Miller, reaching No. 7 during the summer of 1964. The record – and several of his others – are tagged in the Billboard books as novelties. I’m not sure that’s right. Miller’s style was quirky, but it was refreshing. Those of his hits not tagged as novelty records – “England Swings,” “King of the Road,” “Engine Engine” and more – are not that far removed from what he was doing with “Dang Me,” “Kansas City Star” and more. It doesn’t matter, I guess. Miller is long gone, having died in 1992.