J.J. Cale has died. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of a style this laid-back, which can become outright sleepy. But Cale could write some excellent songs.
If you haven’t already listened, I heartily recommend the Jason Isbell Fresh Air episode. There’s some fantastic stuff; Isbell gives a very good interview, and even covers Don’t Let it Bring You Down. As for the new album… it’s not really my cup of tea. Isbell’s greatest strength is marrying interesting, insightful lyrics to genuinely good rock songs, and that’s not what this album is about. I like that people like it, and after a few listens I can appreciate why people like it, but I don’t see myself including it in the mix all that often. But that certainly won’t stop me from seeing Isbell in Lexington on August 22.
Here’s a Stereogum list of the 10 best Townes Van Zandt songs. I’ll offer my own 10 best, which look pretty different. Between about 1997 and 2002 or so I was in a huge Van Zandt stage, which soon morphed into following Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, and so many others of that generation and genre. Today, I don’t listen to Townes all that much, maybe an album every 3-4 weeks. That said, I think I’ve heard them all about 4000 times. So here we go. These are not really in any meaningful order, because that order would probably change tomorrow. Sure he couldn’t really sing and he really couldn’t play the guitar. The amazing amount of substances he put into his body during his all too short life helped none of these things. But he’s one of the top 5 songwriters of the last 50 years. I’m terrible at discussing individual songs. I find it almost impossible to write about without slipping into cliche. But these are 10 pretty awesome ones.
1. “Tecumseh Valley”
3. “Don’t Take It Too Bad”
4. “Poncho and Lefty”
7. “Dollar Bill Blues”
8. “Why She’s Acting That Way”
9. “Snowin on Raton”
10. “Two Girls”
If I could have expanded this to 15, would have included “Tower Song,” “Waitin’ Round to Die,” “Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls,” “Pueblo Waltz,” and maybe “If I Needed You.”
If you are looking to buy particular albums, I’d go with Our Mother the Mountain, the self-titled album, and Live at the Old Quarter, probably in that order.
Lester Chambers, a seventy-three year-old musician known for his work as a member of The Chambers Brothers, was assaulted on stage at a blues festival last night after he dedicated a song to Trayvon Martin.
Chambers’ son, Dylan, posted the following on Facebook last night: “Lester was just assaulted on stage at The Russell City Hayward Blues Festival by a crazed woman after dad dedicated People Get Ready to Trayvon Martin. He is on the way to the hospital now.”
Wait, I thought only black people acted crazy? You mean violence is caused by white people?
The section that favored the “Banner” was the South. By the 1920s when the newly established NAACP was making an issue of the imposition of Jim Crow laws and the practice of lynching in the South, the campaign for the “Banner” was a way to defend the prerogatives of the South, to wrap the ideology of the Confederacy in the red, white, and blue bunting of American patriotism.
Of course, no one said as much during the hearings on Linthicum’s bill. No African-American witnesses were called, and only one dissenting witness was heard—the tireless Stetson. Otherwise, all present extolled the “Banner” as the perfect expression of American patriotism. There can be little doubt that most Americans agreed. Supporters submitted a petition calling for the designation of the “Banner” as the national anthem that was signed by 5 million people.
A year later, Linthicum’s bill came up for a vote, and the House and the Senate approved it by wide majorities. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed it into law. Thus, 117 years after it was written, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem.
The unspoken racial agenda of the “Banner” supporters was displayed on June 14, 1931, when the National Society of the Daughters of 1812 and the state of Maryland, sponsored a ceremony at War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore to celebrate the new national anthem. The parade was led by a column of Boy Scouts carrying three flags: the Stars and Stripes, the red and gold flag of Maryland, and the Stars and Bars of the army of the Confederate States of America.
Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic pulled out at the sight of the banner of their former enemies. “GAR Balks at Southern Flag in Parade,” reported The Baltimore Sun. Gen. John F. King, past national commander of the GAR, “ordered the Union men to disband and fall out line,” said the Baltimore Afro-American.
Chew on that while you celebrate the 150th Vicksburg Day today.
If there was a Hall of Fame for great songs, Tom T. Hall’s “Pay No Attention to Alice” would be an obvious induction.
For all the talk we’ve been giving the late great George Jones here, we shouldn’t forget the nearly equally talented Tammy Wynette. I think overall Tammy’s potential was not quite as fulfilled as George because of a general sameness to much of her work, as well as the lack of a late career comeback because of the painkillers and early death. That said, when she was great, especially early in her career, she was truly great. Here’s an example, from the 1968 Country Music Awards. Note as well classically terrible awards show intro bit by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
George Jones was laid to rest yesterday. In his honor, one more great song by the Possum.
Happy 80th to Willie Nelson!!
“Hello Walls” is an early classic which Faron Young made a hit long before Willie had his own commercial success. The album from where this comes And Then I Wrote is a good example of the singles vs. albums format in country music that Scott was talking about yesterday. It’s a really phenomenal album but it’s also clear that it is basically a bunch of singles stuck together on an album without much conceptual framework.
The great George Jones has passed. Arguably, the best singer in country music history, Jones’ collection of amazing songs is almost unmatched. Its true he did everything he could to waste his prodigious talent with massive drinking. There were long fallow periods by the 1970s. It took over a year to record “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” partly because Jones thought the song too maudlin and so resisted singing it, but mostly because he was too drunk all the time to work. I was living in Nashville in 1999 when a drunk Jones got into a car accident. This was the story of the year in that town, partially because George Jones still held such sway there and partially because of the sadness that he was still engaging in that kind of behavior.
Still, we shouldn’t focus too much on his personal life. Instead, we should remember his amazing voice and wonderful songs. Here are my 5 favorites:
5. “Once You’ve Had the Best.” At Farm Aid!
4. “The Right Left Hand.” Theoretically, this is the relationship he’s not going to screw up.
3. “Golden Ring” with his then wife Tammy Wynette. The life cycle of a relationship.
2. “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Nothing needs to be said to explain this. Except that it’s another song about a destroyed relationship.
1. “The Grand Tour.” Probably my favorite divorce song of all time. And let’s face it, there’s some really stiff competition for that. Including from the Possum himself, as we see here.
Also, the link to “Choices” in my previous post was totally coincidental. I probably would have included that in my top 5 because it’s a great song. So consider it an addendum.
One of the true all time greats, not only in country music, but in all of American popular music.
A very sad day for me.
Ornette Coleman’s 1980 attempt to put together an all-white cover band of his own songs in order to create an audience for his music, since white people were more willing to listen to white musicians than black musicians is interesting, odd, and a little sad.