Thursday, August 27, 2009

Down on the Farm #4

Amazing as this may be, August is drawing to a close, & with it our Down on the Farm song list series. I’ve really appreciated the great support folks have shown to this series, & there will be another song list feature in October. In the meantime, hope you enjoy these fine songs!

  • Peach Picking Time in Georgia: This tune is a typically rollicking number by “the Singing Brakeman,” Jimmie Rodgers—a musician who had a profound effect on the development of what we now call “country music.” Of course, in Rodgers’s days, such genre lines were nowhere near as pronounced as they are these days, which enabled him record “country records” with jazz stars like Louis Armstrong & Lil Hardin, & also to employ Hawaiian steel guitars. On the great Tone Poems III, resophonic guitar masters Mike Auldridge & Bob Brozman cover this as an instrumental duet, with Auldridge playing a 1929 Martin 0-28KH—a koa wood version of the standard Martin 0-28 (thus, the “k” for Koa), that was also set up for lap style playing (hence the “H” for “Hawaiian”)—& Brozman playing a 1926 Weissenborn Style 4 Hawaiian guitar. It’s one of my favorite tunes on a great album. Check out Rodgers’ version of the tune below. Mike Auldridge, Bob Brozman, David Grisman: Tone Poems III: The Sounds of the Great Slide & Resophonic Instruments (Acoustic Disc)
  • Rabbit in the Pea Patch: Anyone who’s ever maintained a garden has had to put up with visits from our animal brethren. Most gardeners I know say they’d be happy to devote one section to everything ranging from deer to grasshoppers, but it just doesn’t work like that. The mule deer around here have an annoying habit of taking one bite out of each tomato! Anyway, this is a rollicking song with excellent fiddle & the incomparable Uncle Dave Macon playing banjo & singing—as always, full bore—about a rabbit in the pea patch, & exhorting his hound to “get that rabbit out of town.” When it comes to old-time banjo, there’s no one better than the great Uncle Dave! Uncle Dave Macon: Go Long Mule (County)
  • Red Rooster: I always think of this song as “Little Red Rooster,” but at least on my Howlin’ Wolf vinyl, it’s titled “Red Rooster.” Some singers (e.g., Mick Jagger) sing this one "as" the rooster—I’ve always leaned toward the farmer’s perspective, as he’s somehow trying to control this lazy but amorous bird. The song has been covered by lots of folks (even yours truly on banjo, as regular readers know), with good reason—it’s a fantastic song, & it tends to be a crowd pleaser, with plenty of spots to throw in your favorite riffs. Despite all the fine versions, Howlin’ Wolf’s is still my favorite; the song was composed by Willie Dixon, who plays bass behind the great Howlin’ Wolf; give it a listen below. Howlin’ Wolf: His Greatest Sides, vol. 1 (Chess—this is vinyl, but it’s currently available on Geffen’s Howlin’ Wolf: The Definitive Collection, & no doubt on other compilations as well)*
  • The Rooster’s Crowing Blues: The great trio of Gus Cannon, Noah Lewis & Hosea Wood give a musical exposition about the practical side of rooster’s crowing—at least to the lover who needs to know when “the working man is coming home.” Woods’ vocal on this is exceptional, as is Cannon’s jug work—Woods’ comes up with a vocalization that’s sort of halfway between crowing & a yodel. Do check this one out in the vidclip below. Cannon’s Jug Stompers: The Best of Cannon’s Jug Stompers (Yazoo)
  • Tennessee Stud: Jimmy Driftwood wrote this song in the 1950s, & its one of those tunes that could be a lot older. Of course it was a hit for Eddy Arnold, but it’s been covered by lots of folks. Two versions I have on recordings are both excellent: Johnny Cash’s version on his great American Recordings album (the first in the series)—speaking of folks who can write a song or sing a song & make it seem really timeless, Cash was among the best at that. I also like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s version on Vanguard’s The Essential Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; Ramblin’ Jack is one of the best when it comes to story songs. Some might object to this song’s inclusion as a “farm song”—it is, after all, a tale of wandering & adventure. But let’s face it: a stud horse is a farm animal. Johnny Cash: American Recordings (American); Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: The Essential Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (Vanguard)
  • Tired Chicken Blues: Another great tune from Gus Cannon’s group, this time featuring Mr Cannon on the banjo & a lot of Noah Lewis’ harp playing—Lewis was an extremely accomplished harp man, & was an influence on later, better known blues harmonica players such as Sonny Boy Williamson. I haven’t sat down with this song & a guitar, but it sounds like there’s at least one unusual chord change here; to my ear, it’s really quite a compelling musical setting. Check it out below—have mercy! Cannon’s Jug Stompers: The Best of Cannon’s Jug Stompers (Yazoo)
  • Turkey in the Straw: This is pretty much an “ur-song” when it comes to old-time American music, tho my understanding is that it derives from even earlier ancestor songs such as “Coney in the Creek” & “Possum Up a Gum Stump.” Obviously, there are tons of versions of “Turkey in the Straw”—from Looney Tunes cartoons to your favorite local bluegrass band. Here are two that are very good, tho: Diller’s clawhammer banjo version & the mandolin/guitar version from bluegrass giants Bill Monroe & Doc Watson. Dwight Diller: Just Banjo 99 (Yew Pine); Bill Monroe & Doc Watson: Off The Record, Vol. 2: Live Duet Recordings, 1963-1980 (Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Wannabe Chicken: I really should have included some other songs from best pal Sister Exister’s album Scratch in the Down on the Farm series—for those of you who don’t know, Sister Exister is the nom de chanteuse of the Bay Area’s finest restaurant reviewer/nanny/ex-chicken farmer/soccer star/fiction writer/steel drum player/singer Dani Leone. But let’s at least consider Sister Exister’s song professing her desire to be a chicken. Rationally, I don’t follow all of Sister’s logic in this one, but musically, I sure do—check out the great tissue paper/comb solo about halfway thru; & without giving away any spoilers, I will say that Sister Exister’s final point about how she actually is a chicken comes by way of unassailable logic. Now how could you check this song out, you ask? On CDBaby, right here! Sister Exister: Scratch (Sister Exister)
  • Weather Bird: What’s a farm without a weathervane? “Weather Bird” (AKA “Weather Bird Rag”) is a beautiful hot jazz piece, & on this recording its played as a duet by Louis Armstrong on trumpet (not cornet) & Earl “Fatha” Hines on piano. They’re both in peak form, trading solos on this highly syncopated number. Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives & Sevens (JSP)

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  1. These were great! Didn't The Rolling Stones record "Little Red Rooster" on the "High Tides and Green Grass" album?

    Have I ever asked you, John, if you've seen the film "Songcatcher". I think you and Eberle would love it!


    P.S. Audio is up, although I make no apologies for the accent.

  2. Hi Kat:

    I know the Stones covered Red Rooster, but I'm not sure which album it was. I've seen a YouTube vid of them performing it.

    Haven't seen Songcatcher--will look into that; & looking forward to hearing the audio at your place!

  3. Did Howlin' Wolf sing anything that wasn't about sex? With the Little Red Rooster "on the prowl":

    "There ain't no peace in the barnyard/Since little red rooster been gone."

  4. Hi K:

    Off the top of my head, I'd say the answer to that question is "no." Of course, a lot of these "barnyard" songs are about sex. "Little Red Rooster" is just a great tune!

  5. I'm catching up late but I am so glad that I didn't miss this.

  6. Hi Alan:

    I'm behind the times today, too! Thanks for stopping by.


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