Season of the Witch

If memory serves me correctly, I was at a jam in Lawrence, KS the first time I can consciously remember hearing this 1966 song by Donovan. It is a great jam song — it’s not too fast, it’s not too complicated, and you can play the A minor pentatonic scale over it.

I like the lyrics…it’s kind of a funky, 60s vibe to it. Great for altering/improvising your own lyrics as well. I like to refer to the tune as “Season of the Wee-otch.” While researching the many different covers of this one, I found a great one by Richard Thompson.

You can hear Thompson’s unique vocal stamp on this one and, around the 4 minute mark, his unique guitar stamp as well. I counted at least fifty different versions of this song. I thought it was interesting to hear a version by Lou Rawls as well.

In recent years, a less-jammy yet still groovy version was released by Lana Del Ray.

If you have a favorite band, chances are, they’ve played this if not recorded as well. Just a few other musicians who have recorded it include Joan Jett, Vanilla Fudge, Stephen Stills/Al Kooper, Dr. John and The Blues Brothers. Somewhere along the way I read that Led Zeppelin used to play this a lot during their pre-show soundchecks.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Gladys Knight Feels Alright

I can’t tell you exactly where or when I first heard the song “Feelin’ Alright”, but it was probably on a rock station in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I stumbled across this version by Gladys Knight, which has some killer lead vocals.

I would guess I was exposed to the Joe Cocker version first, but it was written by Traffic’s Dave Mason for the band’s self-titled debut.

Lyrically, this song strikes me as a stream-of-consciousness thing so it’s appropriate I don’t know where or when I first heard it. It just has that kind of feel or vibe to it. It’s been recorded by at least sixty different bands and musicians. That’s the beauty of a song like this one — you can pick the version which suits your taste. I enjoy this one by Rare Earth.

If there isn’t enough guitar in the Rare Earth version for you, check out this live cut by Badfinger.

Which other version would you like to explore? Grand Funk Railroad, Lulu, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, Lou Rawls, David Ruffin. I even found a live version by The Jackson 5 and one by Isaac Hayes. Even Dave Mason re-released the track at some point.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Sugaree Revisited

Have you ever heard of “Desert Island Discs”? Basically, it’s a game or radio program where you, hypothetically, get stranded on an island, but get to choose a handful songs to take with you. In other words, which songs will you never get sick of hearing day in and day out. If you’re a music fan, it is a TOUGH question to ponder. Today, I’m officially choosing the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition called “Sugaree.

How do I love thee, Sugaree? Let me count the ways. This song has a mellow, matter-of-fact vibe to it, but it isn’t boring to my ears. You can hear Jerry Garcia’s guitar from the beginning of the song, but it’s very subtle. The feel of the song changes around the 40 second mark, but it’s not overpowering. It’s just enough to keep it interesting. According to Wikipedia, Garcia played all of the instruments on this track except for drums. Credit there goes to Bill Kreutzmann.

If the original version is too mellow for you, check out this one by Phosphorescent along with Jenny Lewis & Friends.

Their take on “Sugaree” is a little more upbeat and organ intensive, but I really enjoy it. I also found a wailing guitar version by Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna, Jefferson Airplane).

There are other versions out there including John, Mayer, The Persuasions, Nick Barker, Chris Robinson, and Tedeschi Trucks Band. As you might expect, there are zillions of live versions by The Grateful Dead. For me, I will stick with Jerry Garcia’s original studio version as one of my Desert Island Discs.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Arpeggios and Animals

I was fooling around with the guitar riff to John Lee Hooker’s classic tune “Boom Boom”, which led me to the version by The Animals. Their take on it is a bit more pop, but Mickie Most produced their self-titled debut album so I should thank my lucky stars it didn’t come out sounding like “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” Yikes! It got me to thinking about The Animals as a band. Like a lot of people, “House of the Rising Sun” is the song that turned me onto them. I think the appeal of that song in particular is the vocals of Eric Burdon, the spooky minor key thing, and the simple-but-memorable arpeggio guitar part played by Hilton Valentine.

I enjoyed reading Hilton’s bio on his website ( http://www.hiltonvalentine.com/bio.html), especially the part about him learning from a book called “Teach Yourself A Thousand Chords”. I had one called “How to Play Guitar” by Roger Evans among others. It’s actually a great reference on the guitar in general. (Ironically, “House of the Rising Sun” was in there.)

If you look at the track listing on The Animals’ first album it’s probably typical of a lot of stuff being played around the same time by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things, and other British bands. It includes covers of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino.

The Animals had a unique sound. It was bluesy, maybe even “gritty,” but also featured the keyboards of Alan Price. Of course you can’t talk about The Animals without mentioning bass player Chas Chandler — he went onto manage Jimi Hendrix. John Steel rounded out the band on drums.

“House of the Rising Sun” had a big impact on me. I can remember trying to figure out ALL of the lyrics. I finally found a guitar method book which cleared them up for me, but pre-internet it wasn’t easy. It’s funny to think about the influence of guitar books now, but it got Hilton Valentine and many others like him playing.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Black Jack Davey

Folk songs pique my interest because of the mystery surrounding them. They spread mainly by word of mouth over the years and reach into different regions with lyrical variations. Some of those songs have a lasting or “classic” quality which allows them to endure. One of those songs is known by several different titles including “Black Jack Davey.” While researching this blog entry, I found this great Americana version by a band called Hurray for the Riff Raff.

The first time I was exposed to the tune was in a documentary about The White Stripes called “Under Great White Northern Lights.” I never owned any of their recordings prior to this, but I had to track this one down and buy it.

Say what you want about Jack White’s voice or singing ability, but I love this version. I also love the guitar riff in the studio version. If you think of musicians worthy of the title “The Über Folkie,” they have also recorded this one — Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger. Dave Alvin also has a great version out there, too.

The list of musicians and bands who have recorded Black Jack Davey goes on and on…just a few of those include The Incredible String Band, Steeleye Span, The Carter Family, Waylon Jennings, and many more. Here’s where it gets confusing and/or more interesting. The title of the tune ranges from things like “The Gypsy Davy” to “Raggle Taggle Gypsy.” Hopefully there’s a version you enjoy. It tells a great story.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon.

E.L.O., Ace, & Matthew Sweet?

I’ve never been an enormous fan of Jeff Lynne, but his talent really can’t be denied as a songwriter and arranger. Prior to the formation of Electric Light Orchestra (E.L.O.), he was in a band called The Move and wrote this three chord song called “Do Ya”. The song has popped up on some movie soundtracks if I’m not mistaken.

It’s interesting how this song has its different parts: the crunchy guitar intro, random lyrics about things he’s seen, and then there’s a slower bridge part, too. Not to mention there’s that extremely high harmony on the chorus. Take away some of the…you know…”orchestral” parts and you still have some great, catchy rock and roll.

I enjoyed listening to the drums on The Move’s original version. There’s also a guitar that sounds like George Harrison to my ears. While researching this song, I stumbled across this audio clip of Matthew Sweet from an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Last but not least, there’s the version by Seventies Icon/Guitar Hero/Spaceman Ace Frehley.

I read Frehley’s autobiography “No Regrets” and really enjoyed it. If I remember correctly, producer Eddie Kramer encouraged him to record this one. Frehley also recorded “Fox on the Run” by Sweet if you’re into the whole Seventies Rock/Glam thing. The songs have some similarities, but that’s for another time.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Train…I ride…sixteen coaches long

The first time I heard this song was in the early Nineties. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t an old record or the radio, but it was on USA Network late one night on cable TV. I came across a film called “The Last Waltz”, which is a great concert film about The Band’s last live show. Guest musicians included everyone from Neil Young to Neil Diamond and many more, including Bob Dylan. Of all the great songs in the film, “Mystery Train” was probably my favorite. It was a duet with The Band’s drummer/vocalist Levon Helm and blues harmonica player Paul Butterfield.

To my ears, this song had it all — simple, straightforward lyrics, but it was bluesy, rockin’, and a little mysterious. (To my knowledge, The Band’s version is the only one with that catchy guitar riff a la Robbie Robertson.) Basically, it was about guy trying to figure out where the mystery train has taken “his baby.” Sounds like a good reason to sing to me.

As time went on, I found out credit for popularizing the song really went to The King: Elvis Presley. He recorded it at Sun Studios in Memphis and it was released in 1955. However, the original version (1953) was written and recorded by fellow record label mate Junior Parker (the ensemble Little Junior’s Blue Flames). I’ve even seen Sun Records Guru Sam Phillips given a songwriting credit on this one.

The original has the train-like instrumentation and vocals on it. It reminds me of the tune “Night Train” in that way.

“Mystery Train” is a song that has absolutely taken on a life of it’s own. The beauty of classifying the Elvis version as rockabilly says something to me — it’s not really a straight blues or a country song — it lives in some great place in between both musical worlds. This version by Tom Fogerty is a great example.

This is a song which has been recorded by A LOT of musicians: Neil Young, UFO, The Staples, AND SO MANY MORE…..Scotty Moore, The Nighthawks, Amazing Rhythm Aces, Brian Setzer (Stray Cats, ’68 Comeback Special), Link Wray, Alvin Lee, Jerry Reed. I’m partial to the guitar playing of Pete Anderson — longtime associate of Dwight Yoakam. Hopefully, there’s a version that suits your taste. Viva, Mystery Train!

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

House of Gold

Just to be clear, this blog entry is not about Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” — a great song in its own right. Rather, this is about a Hank Williams (that’s Hank, Sr.) song of an all together different nature. The first time I heard “House of Gold” was on a solo album by Social Distortion founder Mike Ness.

Wikipedia describes “House of Gold” or “A House of Gold” as a hymn. It’s a simple, straightforward song with a message. Don’t be a greedy S.O.B. because “You can’t take it with you.”

Musically, it’s a three chord tune with an alternating bass. It’s one you could, theoretically, sing and strum by yourself. Listening to Hank Williams sing and play it by himself makes me realize how great he was as both a singer and a songwriter. There’s no auto-correct on his voice. The beauty of this song is its simplicity — only two verses, but the message is clear. I found over forty different recordings of this song. Everyone from George Jones to Willie Nelson has tried their hand at it. BR-549 out of Lawrence, KS recorded it on a tribute album as well.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Bluegrass-n-Roll

I’m fascinated with cover songs — especially ones which are off the wall. Two questions pop to mind: How how did this musician get turned onto this song? Also, what made them think they’d ever be able to pull it off? The easiest example of this phenomenon came my way via David Letterman’s show when I saw Dolly Parton perform “Shine” by Collective Soul.

I was really blown away by this one. The original tune got TONS of radio airplay so I think it was pretty gutsy to even cover this one. I can’t remember how many times I’d be driving in the car and shouting the big “WHOAS” and”YEAHS” throughout the song.

Around the 4:30 mark of the song, I always thought Collective Soul was referencing The Midnight Special– “ever lovin’ light gonna shine on me”, but I could be mistaken. If I remember correctly, Parton said she came across the tune via her husband. Apparently, he’s a bit of a rocker!

Another example of Bluegrass-n-Roll came my way recently. Dierks Bentley covered U2’s Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute.

Same deal here. I’m not a big U2 fan and I probably couldn’t pick Dierks Bentley out of a police lineup. I think he pulls it off, but you be the judge. It’s a shame we don’t have as many record stores anymore. You could walk in and ask for “Pride (In the name of Love)” by Dierks Bentley with the Punch Brothers & Del McCoury. I guess it’s too long to fit on a 45 RPM anyway.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Tears Rolling Down the Street

I’m a big fan of the sound of slide or “bottleneck” blue guitar. It’s hard to say exactly where I first became aware of it, but I can remember one particular song which made a lasting impression on me. I first heard George Thorogood’s version of “The Sky is Crying” when I was about seventeen — most likely on a cassette tape. My buddy was washing his pride and joy on his driveway: a candy-apple-red vintage Mustang. The first line of the Elmore James composition “The sky is crying, look at the tears roll down the street” blasted on the stereo while soapy water rolled like tears down the inclined driveway and into the street.

It’s a funny coincidence that life was mirroring art at that particular moment, but that’s how it happened. (I think I would have still gravitated towards slide guitar without it.) It took a few years before I heard Elmore James’ original version of the tune, but I was not disappointed.

It’s hard to top Elmore’s original version in my humble opinion, but I found this soulful version by Gary B.B. Coleman while doing a little research.

There are at least fifty versions of this song by various blues and rock musicians: Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers. As you can imagine, they’re not all recorded in the slide guitar vein, but some are.

In case you’re wondering, it’s called slide guitar because the guitarist uses a (glass or brass) bottleneck to slide across the guitar neck — as opposed to fretting the notes (pressing them down to the fret board with your fingers). Slide guitar takes some finesse to really get the desired sound. I would compare playing slide guitar to European style hockey — more finesse and less physicality — as opposed to North American style hockey and regular guitar playing. (It’s an example which might not make a lot of sense to some people.)

A lot of slide guitar songs are played in open tunings where the strings are tuned to sound a chord without fretting any notes (pushing down any strings). So in Open D tuning the strings are not their normal notes of (E, A, D, G, B, E), but rather (D, A, D, F#, A, D) to sound a D chord. There are other technical things about slide guitar, but those are some of the basics. For my money, it doesn’t get much better than “the King of the Slide Guitar” Elmore James.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon.