Friday, September 28, 2007

The Old Man Down The Road

Blackie the dog was a weary old mutt with mournful brown eyes and a cold wet nose. He was my pet dog as far as I was concerned but he actually belonged to our neighbor Mrs. White who lived upstairs from my family in an old tenement building that we inhabited briefly when I was very young. Mrs. White also happened to have a huge black cat named Smokey that I was convinced was the real life model for the old electric Black Cat cigarette sign that swung uneasily in the wind above the barbershop on the corner and which loomed eerily large like the Cheshire Cat of Wonderland below our living room window.

Despite such haunting images I loved dogs and cats of all animals and had once expressed my concern about Blackie’s very cold wet nose to Mrs. White on one of her regular visits with our family. I felt this meant that Blackie must have been sick. Mrs. White laughed and told me that it was actually a sign of good health for a dogs nose to be cold and wet and that in fact if it ever were to go dry it might mean he was indeed actually sick. I loved old Blackie and didn't want him to be sick so it became routine for me to check to ensure that his nose was always cold and wet whenever we met as a sign between us that I really cared for him and wanted him to be healthy and well.

He'd wag his tail and bark his approval before licking my face off.

Good old Blackie.

One day his nose felt very dry on my skin as I threw my arms around his huge neck to give him a hug. Mrs. White was much quieter than her usual self that day and soon took Blackie back home but I knew something was wrong. I knew he must be very sick and that it likely wouldn't be too long before our visits would be coming to an end. My gut instinct told me it was the end of the road for dear old Blackie.

He take the thunder from the mountain
He take the lightning from the sky

He bring the strong man to his begging knee
He make the young girls mama cry

You got to hidey-hide, you got to jump and run;
You got to hidey-hidey-hide, the old man is down the road.

He got the voices speak in riddles
He got the eye as black as coal

He got a suitcase covered with rattlesnake hide
He stands right in the road

You got to hidey-hide, you got to jump up run away;
You got to hidey-hidey-hide, the old man is down the road.

He make the river call your lover
He make the barking of the hound

Put a shadow cross the window
When the old man comes around

You got to hidey-hide, you got to jump and run again;
You got to hidey-hidey-hide, the old man is down the road.

Coast To Coast Fever

Wanderlust finally consumed me for good by the age of 17. Rolling down the highway on a Greyhound bus bound for every terminal stop along the industrial rust belt line toward the Bible belt and liberation was the epitome of pure adventure and joy to my wayfaring sense.

I'd wanted to set out many times to discover the world beyond my little down east doorstep but life was beckoning more urgently now to feel the asphalt surrender beneath the steady hum of freedom's belted wheels with the smell of Detroit diesel filling my nostrils.

Before my nose dried up it would be my purpose in life to dedicate myself to my ever-deepening love and appreciation for an American hearts quest beyond a burning dream wish vision for my restless soul.

So, I hit the road Jack and I never came back no more.

Somewhere along the way my truest dreams became reality and I learned exactly what it means to follow where the heart leads. A man must be brave. His mind must be informed by reason and by revelation as to how you get from there to here and home again.

It's a narrow path and must be freely chosen as whom but a fool would venture toward a far horizon without knowing first the way.

I’m passing sleeping cities
Fading by degrees
Not believing all I see to be so

I’m flyin’ over backyards
Country homes and ranches
Watching life between the branches below

And it’s hard to say
Who you are these days
But you run on anyway
Don’t you baby?

You keep running for another place
To find that saving grace

I’m moving on alone over ground that no one owns
Past statues that atone for my sins
There’s a guard on every door
And a drink on every floor
Overflowing with a thousand amens

And it’s hard to say
Who you are these days
But you run on anyway
Don’t you baby?

You keep running for another place
To find that saving grace
Don’t you baby?

You’re rolling up the carpet
Of your father’s two-room mansion
No headroom for expansion no more
And there’s a corner of the floor
They’re telling you is yours
You’re confident but not really sure

And it’s hard to say
Who you are these days
But you run on anyway
Don’t you baby?

You keep running for another place
To find that saving grace

Don’t you baby?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Honky Tonk Hero

According to legend, it was at Willie Nelson's Fourth of July picnic when country music star Waylon Jennings drunkenly promised a nobody named Billy Joe Shaver that he'd record a whole album of his songs. Apparently it wasn't until Shaver threatened physical violence on Jennings (in front of a Nashville studio full of people) that he finally made good on his promise, although Jennings had only recently been granted full artistic control by RCA. The result was a stunning achievement: 1973's Honky Tonk Heroes was the defining record of the anti-Nashville Outlaw movement--the term came after the album--and a cornerstone in country music history. Featuring bare-bones production and plainspoken, hard-nosed lyrics that celebrated personal freedoms and simple pleasures, the record was a far cry from the demure Nashville Sound. In each other, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver had found a kindred spirit, and together they rewrote the country rulebook. --Marc Greilsamer

Since my last post [A Rose Of A Different Name] I've been enjoying with great pleasure many of the legendary songs and stories of famed Nashville outlaw Billy Joe Shaver who deserves so much more of a tribute than space permitted in my previous post so without further adieu let me remedy that situation by simply inviting you to meet and hear the artist and the man who is regarded by many as one of the greatest original songwriters in country music history. Here's Billy Joe Shaver performing Black Rose on Austin City Limits [circa 1984]

Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and The Allman Brothers, among many other artists, have recorded Billy Joe Shaver's songs.

My previous post included the same YouTube clip and follows my story of hanging out with Billy Joe in Nashville years ago. The song includes the cool hillbilly hook line 'a rose of a different name'. Black Rose appears on the 1973 Waylon Jennings album Honky Tonk Heroes. 11 of the 12 songs on that record were written by Billy Joe Shaver.

Go ahead...I'll wait here while you view the Black Rose clip…

OK now that you're back...let us say the devil made you do it the first time...the second time you done it on your own …alright so repent and say amen...Get Thee Behind Me Satan...

Freedom's Child
Copyright 2002 Billy Joe Shaver

At the breaking of the dawn
Day is born again
Just another missing link
In an endless chain
Filling up the empty space
Left by one who's gone
Freedom's child was born today
Singing Freedom's Song

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Rose Of A Different Name

Some of the most incredible days of my life were spent hanging out in Nashville during CMA Awards week events several years ago with many of the greatest songwriters in Country Music history. Meeting songwriting legends like Mickey Newbury and Billy Joe Shaver is cool enough in anybody's book, but actually hanging out with both those guys and playing songs with them was truly special indeed.

Mickey Newbury and I were deep into a conversation at a Music Row event when somebody got my attention by asking me if I was from Canada. He had overheard my conversation with Newbury and had noticed my accent. The individual asking me that particular question was songwriter Stewart Harris who said he was quite familiar with Canada and that in fact he had once spent an entire summer gigging in Prince Edward Island playing music on alternate week-ends at a small pub in Summerside called The Brothers Two. We were both stunned and amazed to discover that I’d been the performer playing the other weekends at that very same pub during that same summer.

I was born and raised on Prince Edward Island and performed there often when I was younger, but still, it's a small world sometimes.

My good friend and former songwriting colleague Jim McBride wrote one of my favorite Waylon Jennings singles from the mid 80's called Rose In Paradise and Stewart Harris is actually the co-writer on that song as well. You recall that song. It’s one of Waylon’s biggest hits.

Here's a live version of it with a few of Waylon's pals joining him. [Chet Atkins, Mark Knopfler, The Everly Brothers & Emmy Lou Harris]

But getting back to Mickey Newbury and Billy Joe Shaver. We had a great time just hanging out around Music Row with Mickey tellin' his stories and Billy Joe expressing amazement and gratitude just for still being alive. At one point, Billy Joe asked me to play him a bunch of my songs, so we sat down - just the two of us - in the music publishers little 16 track studio and I played for about an hour while the great Billy Joe Shaver sat directly in front of me listening intently to every word of my songs...he then stood up and looked at me very serious saying..."man, you're tough...those are great fucking songs".

The picture evaporates at this scene as the nod of his respect began to blend with his famous titles and I started to hear his songs almost playing out loud in my head and it just drifted me away to a whole different dimension...I'm just an old chunk of coal, but I'm gonna be a diamond someday...I've been to Georgia on a fast train honey… Then, the Jim McBride /Stewart Harris song from Waylon Jennings kicked in and Rose In Paradise met A Rose Of A Different Name...

Speaking of Waylon, he says he hopes ya'll liked him and everything, but even if you didn't, he will still kick your ass. Dead or alive…Hoss.

Alright, so Mickey Newbury finally...which will probably have you asking yourself, was Mickey Newbury one of the most talented songwriter/artists to ever draw breath…? Well, let's see now, he wrote An American Trilogy for Elvis Presley as well as the big Kenny Rogers & The First Edition hit Just dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In among many other, hearing Mickey Newbury singing his own stunning version of An American Trilogy, I'd have to say...yeah...he most definitely was...

"Music has never been anything but an escape from depression for me. How many people have listened to my songs and thought, 'He must have a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a pistol in the other.' Well, I don't. I write my sadness. I call it robbing the dragon. I write what I think. If you don't write what you think, what you write you become." - Mickey Newbury
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