"What Do You Want" - Tom Russell

Here I am wandering the streets of Cambodia Town, a neighborhood in Long Beach, CA I was living in for a spell - thanks Rosie! Tom Russell is the fourth guy I mentioned (Chris Smither, Dave Alvin, Ramblin' Jack Elliott) in respective previous posts honoring the Hightone Records - "Monsters of Folk" barnstorming tour of 1998 that was hugely influential to me. Tom is one of my all time favorite songwriters, this one is from his "The Rose of San Joaquin" album from 1995. 

His song "Navajo Rug" a co-write with Ian Tyson, was the first one I got on to and also love to perform, (& "Tonight We Ride" too). If you're interested in Tom, a good place to start is his compilation; "The Long Way Around" - another is "Songs of the West - The Cowboy Collection", both from '97. My favorite single album of his is "Borderland" from 2001. If nothing else, I highly, highly recommend at least tuning into this one (& specifically this live version of this one!) "Gallo del Cielo" from the aforementioned "The Long Way Around" album. Translation; "Rooster From Heaven". I adjusted (as well as "mistaked") a few of Tom's lyrics to fit my story, I hope Tom doesn't mind. 

Thank you to Vanessa Pearson for the street camera work! 

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"Coming Up Close" - Aimee Mann 

Here I am on the shores of South Twin Lake in Howe, Indiana, just south of the border from Sturgis, Michigan aka "Michiana". This song, written by the amazing Aimee Mann, is off of her band 'Til Tuesday's 2nd album, 1986's "Welcome Home". I was already a fan when it was released as I recently saw them open for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at Poplar Creek in Suburban Chicago on his "Southern Accents" tour, the one he later regretted flying the confederate flag as part of the stage design. 

I can not believe this song didn't become a big hit, I've always loved it, in fact, love and relate to it so much I can almost never get through singing it without screeching because I'm choking back tears - Damn you Aimee Mann!  According to Aimee, it was such a different sound and type of song from those on their more synthy, new-wavey and more popular first album "Voices Carry", the record company didn't get it and didn't get behind it, to their shame - that rabid ol' problem of fearing something different... 


"Happier Blue" - by Chris Smither

Here’s a song by Chris Smither, one of the four “Monsters of Folk” fellas I mentioned on my previous Dave Alvin song post. I appreciate this song so much, the brilliant inspiration to write a blues about the hell of being happy!

This guy has the most amazing foot tapping technique in his solo shows I’ve ever seen, he brings his own block of wood, wears his tappin’ shoe and has explicit instructions for the sound man on how to mic and eq that block and he uses it to amazing percussive and rhythmic effect. He came out of the Cambridge, MA folk scene of the early 70’s; Bonnie Raitt covered a couple of his songs back then, “I Feel the Same” and “Love You Like a Man”, the latter which has become one of her signature songs He is truly a folk philosopher in his prose, go see him if you can, I recommend his live albums as a good place to start, “Another Way To Find You” and “Live As I’ll Ever Be”.

I paid the price with some poison oak on this one!


No Tengo Palabras (I Have No Words)

A while back, after a dear friend listened to an album’s worth of my new slit-your-wrist, I just want to die, heartbreak of all heartbreak songs, I was sternly reminded that pre this particular heartbreak, that I was the happiest I had ever been in my life, and that everybody saw it, and why the hell don’t I write something about that for a change? I acknowledged that this was a valid point, the thing is, like many, I don’t tend to sit around and write stuff when I’m happy, and I didn’t know if I knew how. So much beautiful art comes out of misery - who the hell writes when they’re happy?

I’m busy out being happy when I’m happy! It was nice to have the suggestion of this motivating thought in my head and miraculously two songs popped out and I placed them as the first and second songs on my recent self-titled album/CD, this is the 2nd one (“I Want to Run Away” is the 1st track: ). Here is a raw, out in the wilderness, slightly re-arranged version. It wasn’t easy balancing on that amp that was balancing on a couple boards balancing on a couple of rocks! (It would be a good blooper reel) Stick around to the end where I jack up that Fender amp a bit.

Check out the band version with Rick Shea, Shawn Nourse and Dave Hall along with a special appearance by the great Perla Batallia singing the Spanish lines with me.:


 "King of California" - by Dave Alvin

The first time I saw and heard Dave Alvin was in 1983 in Kalamazoo, Michigan at Wings Stadium when the Blasters were opening for Eric Clapton on his “Money and Cigarettes” tour. I admired their hard rocking opening set but it truly went right over my head, punky roots rock and pompadours? We didn’t even have a commercial AOR FM rock radio station where I grew up - I didn’t truly understand American Music in 1983 in rural Michigan! Clapton made the smokin' Blasters set even more impressive as it was the first rock concert I’d ever been to that an act bored the hell out of me. Ol “god” mostly strummed cowboy chords looking like he wished he was somewhere else - hell, the last show I saw at Wings Stadium was Canadien powerhouse April Wine and they blew it up man “I Like to Rock” indeed! In my uneducated youth I was horrified that the as yet known to me Clapton’s 2nd guitar player that night took nearly all the leads in “Layla” and most every other song. Of course I eventually learned that I witnessed a legend in his own right that night, the great Albert Lee doing all the heavy lifting for Eric. Much later in life while working with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott I met the great Albert Lee in Anaheim at what was then the Sun Theater where Jack was opening for the Everly Brothers. I managed to get in a conversation with Albert and I got to tell him that story, and a few more subsequently, no sweeter man. I’d rather listen to Albert play than Clapton any day. Live and learn.

Afterthought; regarding rock in the 80’s barely 10 years after The Beatles packed it in; there we were in our careless teenage rebellious prime and the “rock and roll" record companies were selling us 40 year olds like Clapton, Steve Winwood, Phil Collins, et al, no wonder we have the culture we have now, music, politics, everything - thank god for the artists and college stations of the day who got the real stuff out. Feeling a strange craving for a sweaty bottle of Michelob...

The next time I saw and heard Dave Alvin was in 1998 at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, CA for the Monsters of Folk west coast barnstorming tour of Hightone Records artists Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Alvin, Chris Smither and Tom Russell, who all had new albums out to promote. I only knew Jack's stuff, I had never heard any of Dave’s solo stuff nor the other two. I was blown away by the whole night, four guys on acoustic guitars who’ve never done shows together like that just doing the best they can to come up with a show; song after song I was enlightened. Those three songwriters changed my life that night. Later I got to know Dave a little bit and amused him with the Blasters/Clapton story and later I was privileged to open a solo show for him down in San Diego. Dave recalled the Kalamazoo gig with Clapton, he told me a classic rock and roll story (or cliché?) that for the previous gig to Kzoo, Clapton’s drummer showed up not quite healthy enough to perform so they tapped Blasters drummer Bill Bateman to take on double band duty that night!

I loved this song the instant I heard him sing it solo that night, had to learn it, it’s been an important part of my live repertoire ever since. Dave first released it as the title track of his great "King of California" album from ’94, he’s got a couple solo live versions on youtube where he plays it with fingerpicks and they’re just beautiful. So really, that fact pretty much makes it uselessly silly of me to post this as I can’t touch his own versions, full band or solo. (I have a King of California log though, and a rock!) Nevertheless, with both apologies and thanks to Mr. Alvin I post! He told me himself he considers the song sacred; rightly so. I always took this song as a brilliant twist on the Lefty Frizzel hit “Saginaw Michigan" (written by Bill Anderson and Don Wayne), except instead of a con, there’s murder, even better...

Here I am performing this D.A. masterpiece one morning up on a log up in the coastal mountain range in Humboldt County on the banks of Conley Creek, pure wilderness. I love the crows that flew in and helped out at the end.

One from the ancient archives!

30 years later, the reunion...