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Archive for June, 2012

Humming a song from 1976

Posted by dlockeretz on June 18, 2012

Sometimes a song that one takes for granted can benefit from a closer listen. I recently found this to be the case with Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” Never a huge Seger fan, I’ve often turned the station when one of his songs comes on the radio. However, recently when “Night Moves” has come on the radio, I’ve found myself listening a little more closely. Details that seem insignificant at first actually conceal more than meets the eye.

“Woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started hummin’ a song from 1962…”

It could be, of course, that Seger chose the year 1962 purely by random. But by chance or design, the mere choice of year helps the song paint a picture in a way that few other details do. A lot changed between 1962 and 1976. I wasn’t alive back then (I’m not quite that old) but I know this:

In 1962, JFK , RFK and MLK were all alive.  The voting age was 21.  Abortion was illegal.  Civil rights legislation was still two years away.  U.S. involvement in Vietnam was minimal, although it was starting to increase considerably.  The changes wrought in music from 1962 to 1976 of course, are countless.  In the early 1960s, a quartet of unknowns from Liverpool were paying their dues in Hamburg while, stateside, many speculated that rock’n’roll would not recover from Elvis’s joining the army.  In the world of film, “Easy Rider”, “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver” were still years away.  A young director named Stanley Kubrick had just pulled off a feat that many thought impossible by bringing the controversial book “Lolita” to the big screen, and was starting on his next project, a movie based on “Red Alert”, a novel about the dangers of nuclear war.  Even sports changed: it was during this time that the first Super Bowl took place, and free agency came to baseball, transforming the game.

But back to Seger.

“Night Moves” doesn’t do anything different; it just does it better.  Themes of lost innocence, looking back at one’s life, and how music can instantly evoke a certain place or time are nothing new, but they’re rarely articulated as economically or as plaintively as in “Night Moves.”

The irony, of course, is that the song itself probably played a role in many scenarios such as the one described by its narrative.   That’s the mark of a good song: it speaks to people across generations and cultures.  For me, the lessons of “Night Moves” are the power of detail, and the possibility of depth lurking beneath the surface.


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Doc Watson: 10 great performances

Posted by dlockeretz on June 9, 2012

The music world recently lost yet another icon.   On May 29th,  Arthel Lane Watson, best known as Doc, died at age 89.

Blind since childhood, Watson was raised to be independent, and earned the money for his first guitar by chopping wood and selling it to the local tannery.  While he is best known for his folk, bluegrass and country music, his first big professional gig was on electric guitar, with a western swing band.  However, it was during the folk music revival of the 1960s that Watson’s career took off.  In the years since, many musical fads have come and gone, but Watson’s art remains timeless, always reaching new audiences.

Two of my favorite Doc performances are not present here, as I was unable to find them online (so if anyone knows where they might be hiding in cyberspace, please let me know.)  “F.F.V.”, a song about a train-wreck that was first played by the Carter Family as “Engine 143“, and “Dill Pickle Rag” (played here by Chet Atkins) were both heard on his 1966 record “Home Again.”  He also performs “Down in the Valley to Pray” and “Old Man Below” on this release.

Deep River Blues – probably Doc’s most famous finger-style number, played and studied by countless guitarists.

Down in the Valley to Pray – sometimes Doc’s singing is overlooked compared to his instrumental ability.  Here he gives a great a capella version of a Gospel classic.

In the Jailhouse Now – classic drinking/gambling/carousing song, with nice slide guitar and yodeling.

Little Sadie – a classic “murder” ballad.

Mama Don’t Allow No Music – a fun, uptempo song which gives each instrumentalist a chance to play the music that “mama don’t like.”  This live version features piano, electric bass and drums as well as banjo, mandolin and guitar.

Old Man Below – as a youngster, I remember finding the line about the “double-barreled gun” amusing.

Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia – great rendition of a country classic, with nice flatpick solos – and more yodeling!

Tennessee Stud – besides murders, jail and train wrecks, Doc liked to sing about horses.

Wabash Cannonball – not all train songs are about crashes, such as this classic foot-stomper.

Way Downtown – apparently the characters in “In the Jailhouse Now” didn’t learn from the experience.

The ten songs picked here are no means a comprehensive list of Doc Watson’s best work, but for those not familiar with him, they make a nice introduction, and connoisseurs will undoubtedly enjoy the memories.  Thanks Doc for all the great music!

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