Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Cash’

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]

That First Top 40 Season

May 27, 2022

Originally reported September 23, 2009

Often, when I immerse myself in my reference books or lists, I ponder two categories of Top 40 music: Records that I don’t recall ever hearing at all and records that don’t show up these days on oldies radio.

Regular readers know the tale: I was, at best, a passive listener to Top 40 for years. If I were around Rick, I heard what he heard. If my sister had friends over, I heard – from another room – what they heard. During my junior high years, I heard the records played at dances and in the gym during the second half of lunch hours. It was during the fall of 1969 that I became an active listener to Top 40, hoping to join in on locker room gab about music and not seem utterly clueless.

So it was about this time forty years ago that I re-tuned my radio, moving the little red line over to the left, to 630, the frequency of KDWB in the Twin Cities, one of two Top 40 stations available to St. Cloud listeners in the daytime. (Evening brought Top 40 to WJON, just down the street and across the tracks from our house, and I was a regular evening listener for years.)

So what was it I heard during those first days? The Billboard Top Ten from forty years ago this week looked like this:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“Jean” by Oliver
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Oh, What A Night” by the Dells

Some of that is pretty good, some of it a little gooey, but overall, pretty good. To be honest, a couple of those are records I don’t think I ever heard back then. If I heard them, it didn’t happen frequently enough for them to make an impression. I know the Dells’ single, but that’s from digging into pop and rock history over the last twenty years, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Tom Jones’ version of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”

The Billboard chart is a national chart, however, and what we were listening to in Minnesota might have been a fair amount different (as was frequently the case across the country; local playlists often differed a fair amount). I wasn’t able to find a KDWB chart from this week forty years ago, but the Airheads Radio Survey Archive offered one from WDGY, the other Top 40 station in the Twin Cities. I didn’t listen to WDGY, memory tells me, because its signal was not as strong and it didn’t come in well in St. Cloud. I imagine there are a few differences here from what KDWB was playing, but I don’t think they’d be major. (Someone can correct me if I’m wrong.) Here’s WDGY’s Top Ten for September 26, 1969:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Jean” by Oliver
“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Lay Lady Lay’ by Bob Dylan
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“This Girl Is A Woman Now” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & the Family Stone

Every one of those comes out of the speakers of my memory. But as I look further down the WDGY chart, which goes to No. 30, there are five records I do not recall hearing. The Tom Jones tune is joined by four others: “When I Die” by Motherlode, “And That Reminds Me” by the Four Seasons, “No One For Me To Turn To” by Spiral Starecase and “You, I” by the Rugbys.

In the Top 30 of the Billboard list, I find five unheard records as well: The Dells’ record and the Tom Jones single along with “What’s The Use of Breaking Up” by Jerry Butler, “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” by Bill Deal & the Rhondells and the Rugbys single.

Some of those – most notably the singles by Spiral Starecase and the Rugbys – remain mysteries today. But one can’t hear everything. And that brings me to my second list: Songs that one doesn’t seem to hear even on oldies radio these days. (And when I talk about radio, I’m talking about earthbound stuff, not satellite and so on. I get the sense from what I’ve read and from folks who listen to satellite radio that playlists are immensely deeper and specialized.)

I have to admit I don’t listen to radio much these days. My radio time is usually in the car when I’m out running errands, although I occasionally have it on when I’m puttering in the kitchen. And when the radio is on, I imagine that about two-thirds the time, it’s tuned to KQQL-FM, an oldies station in the Twin Cities. In any case, as I looked at the Billboard chart from forty years ago this week, I saw many titles that I don’t recall hearing on the radio for a long, long time, if ever. Here are six of them.

A Six-Pack of Radio Rarities (Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending September 27, 1969)
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 121 (No. 5)
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, Columbia 44944 (No. 11)
“Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” by Lou Rawls, Capitol 2550 (No. 18)
“When I Die” by Motherlode, Buddah 131 (No. 21)
“Move Over” by Steppenwolf, Dunhill 4205 (No. 31)
“Did You See Her Eyes” by the Illusion, Steed 718 (No. 36)

Including a record here isn’t necessarily a recommendation. The best example of that is the Bobby Sherman record. It’s pretty limp pop, but it did get all the way to No. 3, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. That was the best that Bobby Sherman ever did on the chart, although he had six more Top 40 singles through May of 1971. I guess if I were to choose a Bobby Sherman hit for a deep spot on a radio playlist, I’d be tempted to go with “Julie, Do Ya Love Me,” which actually isn’t all that great a record either. In the context of an oldie station, though, neither one would sound awful coming out of the speakers every once in a while.

“A Boy Named Sue” was pulled from the live 1969 album Johnny Cash recorded at San Quentin prison in California. It’s humorous, and you can hear Cash almost laughing as he sings Shel Silverstein’s work. There might have been versions out at the time that didn’t bleep out the epithet – which I think was “son-of-a-bitch” – at the song’s climax, but I’m not sure. Sometime very soon, I’m going to get the expanded CD release, which contains the entire concert Cash and his band put on for the inmates of San Quentin, and I expect the bleep will be gone. The single was Cash’s twelfth Top 40 hit and spent three weeks at No. 2, being blocked from the top spot by the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

It seems like there’s a rule for many artists – those who had relatively few Top 40 hits – that one record stands in for all. When you hear Lou Rawls on the oldies stations today, the record is almost sure to be “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” which went to No. 2 in 1976. There’s no doubt that’s a great record (and Rawls’ biggest hit), but why not stretch a little? Play “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” (No. 13, 1966) or the one I offer here, “Your Good Thing (Is About To End),” which peaked at No. 18 forty years ago this week.

I’m not sure what the formal definition is for identifying a One-Hit Wonder. Actually, I’m not sure there is a formal definition. Mine is: one Top 40 hit. Lots of groups that are called One-Hit Wonders very often aren’t, as they have one memorable record and something else that edged its way to No. 37 or some similar spot. One example of that is Lighthouse, which had the superb hit “One Fine Morning” go to No. 24 in 1971 but also reached the Top 40 with “Sunny Days,” which peaked at No. 34 in 1972. Motherlode, on the other hand, is a pure One-Hit Wonder. The Canadian quartet had one hit and one hit only: “When I Die,” which is pretty good, peaked at No. 18.

Steppenwolf seems to fall into the Lou Rawls Rule: The group had seven Top 40 hits between 1968 and 1974, but only two of them – “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” – ever seem to show up on the radio. And that’s too bad. “Rock Me” and “Hey Lawdy Mama” would liven up the day considerably if they ever came out of the speakers. As would “Move Over,” which was the fourth of the group’s seven hits. It peaked at No. 31.

The Illusion is another pure One-Hit Wonder, as “Did You See Her Eyes” was the group’s only trip into the Top 40. Released on Jeff Barry’s Steed label, the record is a good piece of pop-rock – tougher than most – and would be a nice change of pace on radio. The record peaked at No. 32. (My thanks to the Acid Test DJs for the clean rip.)

Johnny & Joni, Big Country & Bob

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 15, 2009

As I generally do on Thursdays, I went looking around YouTube with the past few posts in mind. I found a number of nice videos of performance of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” but I couldn’t find the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell performance. I did find a nice one by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell (even missing the first few seconds and mistitled though it is, as “Girl of the North Country”). It’s from an episode of The Johnny Cash Show, which ran on ABC from June 1969 through March 1971.

So when did this happen? According to the Internet Movie Database index of Cash’s show, Mitchell performed on the Cash show three times, including the first episode on June 7, 1969 (when Cash and Bob Dylan performed “Girl From The North Country”). Her third appearance, on October 7, 1970, was the date that she and Cash performed the song, IMDB says.

Here’s what I assume is the video for Big Country’s “In A Big Country” from 1983. (I don’t recall seeing the video on MTV at the time, so I’m not certain.)

Video deleted.

And here’s a 1964 performance by Bob Dylan of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” from the Steve Allen Show.

For tomorrow’s post, I think I’ll have the Texas Gal pull three records at random from the box of 45s that sits on the floor near my desk. That will be Grab Bag No. 3.

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

Derek & The Dominos plus Johnny & Carl

April 25, 2011

Originally posted July 5, 2007

This week’s Thursday Video is a slice of television from times long gone. From Johnny Cash’s variety TV series – it ran from June 1969 through March 1971 – Derek & the Dominos perform the Chuck Willis oldie, “It’s Too Late,” which was on their album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.*

The line-up is Eric Clapton on guitar and lead vocal, Bobby Whitlock on piano and vocals, Carl Radle on bass and Jim Gordon on drums.

Following “It’s Too Late,” Johnny Cash introduces Carl Perkins, and Perkins, Clapton and Cash – backed by the Dominos – do a rousing version of “Matchbox,” a song derived from “Matchbox Blues,” originally written by Blind Lemon Jefferson and recorded by him in 1927. (Perkins himself had a hit with the song “Matchbox” in 1957.)

What’s sobering to realize as the musicians rip through “Matchbox” is that of the six of them, three are dead and one is incarcerated. Perkins, Cash and Radle are gone, and Jim Gordon remains, from what I can tell online (and if it were different, it would surely be noted somewhere), in a California institution for having killed his mother in 1983. Only Clapton and Whitlock remain alive and whole.

If that’s too gloomy a thought for you – and it’s pretty gloomy for me – just hit the “play” button again and take in the joy and passion of six pretty good performers doing what they loved best.

(Thanks to Mephisto at Groovy Fab and totally fuzzy for the digging!)

*Later research found that this particular show aired January 6, 1971. [Note added April 25, 2011.]

Through The Junkyard Again

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 23, 2007

As I didn’t get a new album posted today, and I wanted to do something, even at this late hour – it’s 11:09 p.m. as I write – I thought I’d so another walk through the junkyard, putting up a list of twenty-five songs selected by using RealPlayer’s random function:

“Heaven/Where True Love Goes” by Yusuf from An Other Cup, 2006.

“In The Beginning” by the Moody Blues from On The Threshold Of A Dream, 1969.

“I Must Be In Love” by the Rutles from The Rutles, 1978.

“Till I See You Again” by Derek & The Dominos from unreleased sessions, 1971.

“Our Very Own” by Nanci Griffith & Keith Carradine from Hearts In Mind, 2005.

“Sugar Blues” by Al Hirt from Cotton Candy, 1962.

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” by Hot Tuna from Splashdown, WQIV-FM, New York
City, 1975.

“Muleskinner Blues” by Tony Rice from Cold On The Shoulder, 1984.

“Big River” by Johnny Cash, Sun single 283, 1957.

“Bound For Glory” by Phil Ochs from All the News That’s Fit To Sing, 1964.

“The Hunter” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Norah Jones, WFUV broadcast, New York City, 2002.

“Crossroader” by Mountain from Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On, 1972.

“When The Battle Is Over” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark, 1970.

“Let Me Do It To You” by J. J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976.

“Miranda” by Fleetwood Mac from Say You Will, 2003.

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Jesse Fuller, live at Newport Folk Festival, 1964.

“Legend In His Time” by Kate Wolf & the Wildwood Flower from Back Roads, 1976.

“Why” by Fleetwood Mac from Mystery To Me, 1973.

“You Got Some Inspiration” by Boz Scaggs from Middle Man, 1980.

“Allt Jag Behöver” by Lisa Nilsson from Himlen Runt Hörnet (Swedish), 1992.

“Something You Can’t Buy” by Rick Nelson from Intakes, 1977.

“Mary & The Soldier” by Lucy Kaplansky from Flesh and Bone, 1996.

“Travelin’ Blues” by Loggins & Messina from Full Sail, 1973.

“Strong Feeling” by Joe Haywood, Front Page single 1000, about 1969.

Once again, nothing from before 1960, and pretty light on R&B. But it gives another pretty good idea of what about ninety minutes of listening brings me.