Monday, January 26, 2009

Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly

As we approach the 50 year anniversary of The Day the Music Died, I have been thinking about the connection between Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly. As most music fans know, The Day the Music Died refers to the early morning hours of February 3, 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash after the show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

 Clear Lake was a stop on what was called the Winter Dance Party, which was a 24 day tour of the Midwest headlined by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion and the Belmonts. Holly, who was tired of riding the bus and anxious to get to the next stop to do some laundry, chartered a single engine plane which crashed in a corn field shortly after take off.

In an stroke of good fortune for him, Waylan Jennings, who was playing bass in Holly's band, gave his seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper. Waylon lived to have a very successful country music career. He later immortalized himself by writing the lyric: "Waylon, Willie and the boys" in the song Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).

As reported in several Dylan biographies, a young Bob Dylan saw Holly at the Deluth Armory two nights before the show in Clear Lake. It has been written that Dylan was not only inspired by the show, but actually thought that Holly made eye contact with him.

In another coincidence, Bobby Vee, who was a 15 year old singer from Fargo at the time, filled in the next night in Moorehead, Minnesota for the fallen headliners. Dylan using the pseudonym, Elston Gunn, may have played piano that night. Vee was well received and went on to a successful career. He even topped the charts in 1961 with Take Good Care of my Baby. Dylan did not stay with the band because they couldn't afford a piano for him to play.

Many people might think of Bob as a pure folk singer in the early 60's, but he had history and aspirations as a rock and roller as well. In Hibbing, Dylan formed several rock and roll bands before he came to New York in January of 1961. He began his career as a Jerry Lee Lewis like piano basher in a band called The Chords.

Even after arriving in New York and adopting his Woody Guthrie persona Dylan had not lost his taste for rock and roll. His first single was Mixed Up Confusion which had more to do with Buddy Holly than Woody G.

I have always loved the music of Buddy Holly. When I moved into a condo in Philadelphia in 1979, the movie The Buddy Holly Story had just made it to HBO. Cable television was pretty new in those days and there wasn't much selection. I think I watched Gary Busey playing Buddy every night for about 6 months. It was especially good entertainment after a few quick pops with CP at the Happy Rooster.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bob Dylan Accidentally Like a Martyr Boston 2002

Althought the camera work isn't much, this is a nice version of Bob's take on the classic Zevon song. Notice Larry Campbell's excellent guitar on the break and Bob's Gumby imitation at the same time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Accidentally Like A Martyr

It is a beautiful winter day in South Texas and I am sitting outside listening to Warren Zevon. Anyone who reads this blog knows that when it comes to music, I am all about the lyrics. In my world, all great songs have one thing in common: they have great words. If it wasn't for my love of the lyrics, I would just listen to Booker T. & the MG's all day long. (see my post from October 25)  

When it comes to lyrics, Warren Zevon has written some of the great songs of the last 30 years. He is best known for some of his bigger, louder songs like Werewolves of London, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Poor Poor Pitiful Me, Lawyers, Guns and Money. I like all of these songs, but I am more impressed with his slower more subtle material. My greatest hits of Zevon list has the following near the top:

  1. Accidentally Like a Martyr
  2. Desperados Under the Eves
  3. The French Inhaler
  4. Mutineer
In my opinion, Zevon does his best work when he cranks down the volume and addresses the sad and dark side of life. He has a real talent for capturing the dark underbelly of our society Whether it is the washed up Hollywood starlet and the phonies in the Hollywood bar in French Inhaler or the image of the crucified thieves in Desperados, Zevon has a keen eye and his lyrics reflect it.

Accidentally Like A Martyr has some wonderful words. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Bob Dylan not only covered it during the 2002 version of the Never Ending Tour, he also used a line from the song for the title of Time Out of Mind, his Grammy winning album from 1997. Check out these words:

The phone don't ring
And the sun refused to shine
Never thought I'd have to pay so dearly
For what was already mine
For such a long, long time

We made mad love
Shadow love
Random love
And abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

The days slide by
Should have done, should have done, we all sigh
Never thought I'd ever be so lonely
After such a long, long time
Time out of mind

We made mad love
Shadow love
Random love
And abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

A very beautiful song that needs to be on your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon. While you are at it, you should pick up the greatest hits compilation Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon. It is available from Amazon, but not on iTunes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Harder They Come- Jimmy Cliff

Check out this clip from the movie.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Harder They Come

On the suggestion of BobCat Numero Uno, I am writing about The Harder They Come. I saw this movie in early 1974 at a late night showing in Harvard Square. This was at the beginning of the midnight movie phenomenon that later became very popular because of Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can't remember the name of the theatre, but it was up the street from Harvard Square. Floyd Foose and I ventured in from Floyd's Hotel to see this show.

At the time, Reggae music was pretty unknown in this country. This movie and the subsequent popularity of the soundtrack album did a lot to expose the American public to this kind of music. It was the beginning of a long fascination with reggae music, ganja and the island culture of Jamaica. 

Jimmy Cliff plays the lead in the movie. The plot is loosely based on the story of Rhyging who was a famous Jamaican criminal. In the movie, Jimmy plays a poor reggae singer who tries to make it in the music business, but turns to a life of crime in the marijuana trade instead. It is a very entertaining low budget action movie.

More importantly, the soundtrack is filled with great reggae music. Cliff contributes several original songs including You Can Get It If You Really Want, The Harder They Come, Sitting in Limbo and the Many Rivers To Cross. All of these songs showcase Cliff's soulful singing style as well as the great beat of reggae music.

In addition, Toots and The Maytalls sing Pressure Drop and The Melodians contribute Rivers of Babylon.The record also includes 007 (Shanty Town) by Desmond Decker, which is one of my favorites.

The songs on this album cover the whole spectrum of reggae music of the time. Highlights include Cliff's anthem to hope, You Can Get It If You Really Try as well as his great Many Rivers to Cross. All of these songs give you the feel of the Kingston's poverty, but also of the hope that is contained in the music.

In 1976, I was lucky to see Jimmy Cliff play at Princeton University. It was a very memorable show. I have been listening to The Harder They Come soundtrack for over 35 years. If you don't have it, you should add it to your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.


On my way to the office this morning, I was listening to Outlaw Country on my satellite radio. The first song I heard was Bob Dylan's Obviously 5 Believers. Now some people might think: What is Dylan doing on Outlaw Country? It makes perfect sense to me. Bob has always been an outlaw and he has played country music for a long time (see my post from Jan 4). 

In fact, if it wasn't for Bob, most modern country songs would sound like Mell Tillis wrote them. Without Dylan, there are no country songs by Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Earl Keen or a host of others. Many a would-be country song writer would be asking: "Would you like fries with that order?"

Obviously 5 Believers is the last cut before the Sad-Eyed Lay of the Lowlands epic on the fourth side of the classic double album Blonde on Blonde. It is one of the hardest rocking songs on the album. 

The guitar talent of that mathematical genius Robbie Robertson is well demonstrated on this song. From the opening slash of Robbie's guitar, this song is propelled along by the excellent Nashville rhythm section of  Kenny Buttrey on drums and Joe South on bass. If any song on the album gives a hint of what was to come on the 66 World Tour, it is Obviously 5 Believers.

Hearing this song got my day off to a great start. If it is not on your playlist, it should be. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Threw It All Away on The Johnny Cash Show

When Bob appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on June 7, 1969, he had only performed once in public since the '66 Tour. I love the country crooner voice, hair and look. He even seems a little nervous to my eye. Check out the guitar held high move at the end of the song.

I remember being very excited to see Bob on television. This show was aired two months after the release of Nashville Skyline. See my previous post on this classic Dylan album.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


On Christmas night I was sitting next to the tree drinking some vino listening to Nashville Skyline. This was a really big album for me when it was released in 1969. I was absolutely crazy for Dylan at the time and it had been 16 months since John Wesley Harding. I can remember being very excited to have a new Bob record in my life.

Coming after the deep symbolism and biblical content of many of the ballads on John Wesley Harding, this album was dismissed at the time by some as 30 minutes of country fluff. Concerned with the lyrics that were light as air, critics missed the artistry of the music and the playing on the record.

 In the 60's, Dylan always had the best backing available on his albums. Whether it was Mike Bloomfield on Highway 61 Revisited or the best Nashville had to offer on Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding and this album, Bob's songs were always helped along by the talent of the players at the session.

From the first notes of the blues/country piano on To Be Alone With You, the band of Norman Blake and Charlie Daniels (guitar), Pete Drake (steel guitar), Bob Wilson (piano), Charlie McCoy (bass), and Kenny Buttrey (drums) are in top form. Listen to Pete Drake's gorgeous steel guitar on Lay Lady Lay. Other than the playing of Don Helms on those Hank Williams classics, these opening steel licks may be the most famous in the history of the instrument. In the 60's, Drake was the man for steel guitar in Nashville. His playing on this album showcases his enormous talent.

 On Tell Me That It Isn't True, Drake's steel accents blend nicely with the lead guitar. The piano again takes the lead at the beginning of Tonight I'll Be Staying With You, but it is the steel guitar that builds the sound at the end of the break. The rhythm section of McCoy and Buttrey puts a solid base under every cut on the album.

As I listened the other night, I thought this album may not be getting the recognition it deserves. Dust off your copy or head over to iTunes and give it another spin. When you do, listen carefully to the band. They can really play.