Iris Dement – “You’ve Done Nothing Wrong” (1993)

March 10th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

Kris Kristofferson – “To Beat the Devil” (1970)

August 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

This is just a fantastic song.

“A couple of years back, I come across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio; and while he was reciting some poetry to me that he’d written, I saw that he was about a step away from dyin’ and I couldn’t help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me. I’m happy to say he’s no longer wasted and he’s got him a good woman. And I’d like to dedicate this to John and June, who helped show me how to beat the devil.

It was winter time in Nashville, down on music city row.
And I was lookin’ for a place to get myself out of the cold.
To warm the frozen feelin’ that was eatin’ at my soul.
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar.

My thirsty wanted whisky; my hungry needed beans,
But it’d been of month of paydays since I’d heard that eagle scream.
So with a stomach full of empty and a pocket full of dreams,
I left my pride and stepped inside a bar.

Actually, I guess you’d could call it a Tavern:
Cigarette smoke to the ceiling and sawdust on the floor;
Friendly shadows.

I saw that there was just one old man sittin’ at the bar.
And in the mirror I could see him checkin’ me and my guitar.
An’ he turned and said: “Come up here boy, and show us what you are.”
I said: “I’m dry.” He bought me a beer.

He nodded at my guitar and said: “It’s a tough life, ain’t it?”
I just looked at him. He said: “You ain’t makin’ any money, are you?”
I said: “You’ve been readin’ my mail.”
He just smiled and said: “Let me see that guitar.
“I’ve got something you oughta hear.”
Then he laid it on me:

“If you waste your time a-talkin’ to the people who don’t listen,
“To the things that you are sayin’, who do you think’s gonna hear.
“And if you should die explainin’ how the things that they complain about,
“Are things they could be changin’, who do you think’s gonna care?”

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
‘Cos the truth remains that no-one wants to know.

Well, the old man was a stranger, but I’d heard his song before,
Back when failure had me locked out on the wrong side of the door.
When no-one stood behind me but my shadow on the floor,
And lonesome was more than a state of mind.

You see, the devil haunts a hungry man,
If you don’t wanna join him, you got to beat him.
I ain’t sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing.
Then I stole his song.

And you still can hear me singin’ to the people who don’t listen,
To the things that I am sayin’, prayin’ someone’s gonna hear.
And I guess I’ll die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin’, hopin’ someone’s gonna care.

I was born a lonely singer, and I’m bound to die the same,
But I’ve got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickle, I won’t ever die ashamed.
‘Cos I don’t believe that no-one wants to know.”

White Gospel

September 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I just watched “White Gospel” on the iplayer and it is worth watching. Its the story of the music that inspired lots of artists which came out of churches in the south. Starting with “Sacred Harp” music (which certainly isn’t exculsively white), which is an incredible form of religious music. Basically, the song leader stands in the middle of the church, surrounded on 4 sides by the congregation who arrange themselves according to their singing parts (treble, alto, tenor, bass). There is a lot of “Fa Sol La Mi” singing, and obviously a lot of biblical content too. The singer’s belt out the words, and a lot of them chop their hands down in the air to keep rhythm.
The programme mentions how the music came from English church singing of the 17th century, but I had read before about some theories linking the music to Scottish psalm singing including this article by Willie Ruff (particularly the kind still sung in some churches on the Isle of Lewis today – an interesting article on that here).There is a very good CD of sacred harp music (some old, some new) called “I Belong to This Band” that I would highly recommend. The music is thrilling, the consuming sound of the congregations is something I would love to experience (though I always feel guilty for enjoying religious music). There is a musician in Edinburgh called Wounded Knee who channel’s some of these influences into his multi-layered looped singing style. Wounded Knee Soundcheck from Chris Dooks on Vimeo.

So, this religious music led to smaller groups of 4 singers touring America to help spread new hymns and songs (funded by the music publishers) eventually these groups became popular in their own right. One of the most successful were the Blackwood Brothers, who after a tragic plane crash, lost two singers, and employed a new bassist called JD Sumner, who was reputed to have the deepest singing voice in the world. JD went on to to start the “JD Singers” who became Elvis’ gospel backing group.

JD Sumner

Another gospel group called The Jordanaires can be heard singing backing on Elvis’ version of “Crying in the Chapel” but I prefer The Platters version, which has some beautiful string sections.Talking of Elvis, I had never been a big fan until I saw “Thats the Way it is” at the cinema which showcases his performative skills brilliantly (even if it is a bit late on in Elvis years.Incidentally, Elvis (who was a church going gospel singer in his youth and highly respected those artists) is said to have based his leg shaking dancing on that of “Big Chief” who was another bass singer in a gospel band called The Statesmen Quartet (you can just about see Big Chief’s hips swinging in this video).Another big group were The Louvin Brothers who have an infamous record sleeve for their album “Satan is Real” (which is a pretty good song).

They built a 16 foot devil and set tyres on fire

One of my favourite albums, The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” covers one of their songs, “The Christian Life”. I’m pretty sure the direction and sound of that album was driven by Gram Parsons, but I dont think he appears on this video of The Byrds playing with the legendary bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs.Dottie Rambo was a female gospel singer who was threatened with death by the KKK for recording an album with black gospel singers and musicians. She also had a pretty impressive range of wigs.I find it interesting the extent that country/gospel/bluegrass performers went weird with their appearance and clothing in the 50’s – 70’s in the USA. It doesn’t seem to tally with the antagonism towards “longhairs” – they both seem to me to be expressions of individuality to me. Incidentally, “Okie from Muskogee” is an incredible song, to me its Randy Newman-esque in its open-endedness. Though I think Merle Haggard is always pretty straight about it, I think he wasn’t keen on people taking their freedoms for granted.Merle Haggard is one of the many country artists that I used to hear as a boy, from my Granda’s record collection and his own singing. He and my Gran used to help run a Country & Western club in Markinch in the 70’s/80’s. I’m not sure why country (and gospel etc) was/is so popular in Scotland, I’m sure there most be some research into it – but I like to think it is a musical development coming full circle, from the Hebridean islands to the deep south and back.

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