Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Archive for the ‘The Blues’ Category

Don’t Give Up on Me by Solomon Burke

October 13, 2010

Don’t Give Up on Me

Performed by Solomon Burke. Witten by Dan Penn, Carson Whitsett and Hoy Lindsey.

The big man passed on Monday morning while en route to a concert in Amsterdam. My 17-year-old son just walked in and asked if Solomon Burke died why it’s not big news, why aren’t the flags at half-mast. He suggests a train like Lincoln’s carrying the body around the country. We would all do well to mark his passing by listening to the music and inspiration of the King of Rock ‘n Soul.

My son only knows the greatness of the songs. Not the meandering career, the early gospel songs, the early 60’s disks with Atlantic records, the wanderings for nearly three decades until the audience caught up with this King of Soul and his release of Don’t Give Up on Me where he covers songs written by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison and others.

As much a myth as he is a man, Burke’s biography tells of how his grandmother – Mother Moore – foresaw her grandson’s birth and established a church – Solomon’s Temple – several years before his birth. Like many myths, Burke’s origins are hard to pin down. He claims to have been born upstairs from a church or even in the church, his first wails mingling in perfect unison with the choir. He was born in 1936, 1938, or 1940; take a choice.

I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive by Hank Williams

September 22, 2010

I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive

Written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose. Performed by Hank Williams.

The last song Hank Williams recorded, “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive” didn’t hit the charts until after his death in January 1953. Coming out so soon after William’s mysterious demise – they found him in the backseat of his Cadillac on the side of the road on New Year’s Day – only added pathos to what sounds like a throwaway ditty. Listen enough and you hear country blues at its finest and maybe even a nihilistic anthem.

Boom, Boom – John Lee Hooker

July 22, 2010

Boom, Boom

Written and recorded by John Lee Hooker.

No throat clearing here, just the hard guitar beats and roughneck singing. “I’m gonna shoot you right down/Knock you off your feet/Take you home with me.” The way he sings could get John Lee arrested today. Add the primal guitar, the insistent beat, the pounding base and his desire overwhelms. “Boom, boom, boom.” He’s undeniable.

Bettye LaVette – Damn Your Eyes

May 29, 2010

Damn Your Eyes

Performed by Bettye LaVette on the album Bettye LaVette in Concert: Let Me Down Easy. Written by Steve Bogard and Barbara Wynick.

This woman can sing, can grab you by the collar, shake you up and make you tremble. A nine minute song with five verses and a chorus, yet it all comes down to the title line, “Damn your eyes.” With Bettye LaVette, one line is enough. With that single, short line she makes us understand that dilemma when the brain knows better, but the heart, the stomach and the groin can’t help themselves. Damn your eyes. She wails, she growls, she stammers, she whispers and she howls. Damn your eyes. How much meaning, how much life she pushes through those three words. Damn your eyes.

Make her the Queen of Soul. Make her the Queen of Heartache. Give her whatever crown she wants. Bettye LaVette climbs into the song and the two – woman and song – are never the same.

Grits Ain’t Groceries by Little Milton

May 24, 2010

Grits Ain’t Groceries

Performed by Little Milton and written by Titus Turner.

Sometimes everything comes together on a perfect record and that happened for Little Milton in 1969 with “Grits Ain’t Groceries. “ A song that professes love of outlandish proportions, if a man sung this for you, you would swoon indeed.

Shimmering guitar, hard-punching horns, thumping bass, perfectly paced drums and heartfelt singing mix to create as good an R & B record as you can find. The song combines a near Shakespearean chorus with swaggering and braggadocio verses that match incredible claims with a voice ready to back them up. Do not take Little Milton lightly.

The song opens quickly with a plaintive cry, “if I don’t love you baby,” answered by a thundering horn section and the rest of the chorus:

If I don’t love you baby
Grits ain’t grocery,
Eggs ain’t poultry,
And Mona Lisa was a man

I Pity the Fool by Bobby Blue Bland

May 19, 2010

I Pity the Fool

Performed by Bobby Blue Bland. Written by Deadric Malone.

If you don’t play an instrument and you don’t write songs, you better be able to sing. Bobby Blue Bland is a singer who more than earns his keep with his voice. He recorded “I Pity the Fool” on his seminal album from 1962, Two Steps from the Blues; the song rose to number one on the R&B charts and even made a dent on the pop charts.

What mastery we hear on this song: the production, the musicianship and the singing blend to form a sonic dynamo. The drums set the beat matched by a pulsing bass and masterful guitar work provided by Wayne Bennett who carries a BB King-influenced riff throughout the song. The performance starts quiet and small, as if the singer is curled up within himself, though as he goes on, the voices opens out and the music grows. We get horns (trumpets, tenor and baritone saxes and a slide trombone) and the tinkling of a piano. And that voice, soaked in hurt and maybe bourbon, raised on gospel and the blues, but now it’s something new altogether, call it soul or rhythm and blues, “I pity the fool that falls in love with you.”

Juke by Little Walter

May 11, 2010

Feel like some Chicago blues? Want to hear some great harp work? Call up “Juke” and crank the sound. The first and only harmonica instrumental R&B single to reach number one on the Billboard charts, from the opening notes, Little Walter wraps that harp sound around chiming guitar chords and dances across the shifting boogie beat.