Category Archives: Lyrics

When a Guitar & A Piano Play The Blues

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I have been enjoying so much having the opportunity to perform with Jon “Captain Ahab” Dryden on piano—and when I say “piano,” I mean piano with a capital P. Piano. Acoustic. Wood. Wire. Keys. Life.

Ahab’s abilities are vast, virtually limitless, and beyond classification. His ear is extraordinary, his versatility unrivaled, his grace at the keys sublime. I simply LOVE what he makes of the songs we play together.

We’ve been playing so many different things, and it’s been a total joy. Whether it’s gems from Victoria Spivey, Leroy Car, Jelly Roll Morton, or Bessie Smith with The Westside Sheiks, selections from past Preacher Boy albums like Demanding to be Next or The Devil’s Buttermilk, vintage country blues workout from the likes of Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, or Tommy Johnson, or experiments with brand-new songs, it’s all just been magic.

This past Tuesday night, we pulled a couple of rather groovy rabbits out of the hat. Two debut runs at songs from Estate Bottled Blues, and a rather rollicking Piano-National take on Seven’s In The Middle, Son from The National Blues.

Here are some guerrilla-live bootlegs (mastered, but rough!) to give you an aural snapshot of what was afoot!

Pulling Black Flowers From An Hourglass – LIVE

Seven’s In The Middle, Son – LIVE

Fever Moon – LIVE

Stream ’em, download ’em, share ’em, enjoy ’em, do with them what you will. I just hope you dig!

Lyrics below, should you wish to follow along!

Pulling Black Flowers From An Hourglass

There’s nothing quite so lonesome as an empty Ferris Wheel,
rusting on its hinges in the rain,
save for that feeling when you’re driving down a lonely stretch of 5,
next to tracks that are carrying no train.

And I can see the body of a bird that met its doom,
just another case of roadkill for the highway to consume.
And you know that I’ve been feeling every life that I pass,
pulling black flowers from an hourglass.

I can see the fog come tumbling down the hillside,
like a tree whose will has been broke.
I can hear the raindrops spattering on my hood,
like a playing card pinned to a spoke.

And I can see a scarecrow with nothing to protect,
just another broken phantom in the caverns of neglect.
And you know that I’ve been feeling every life that I pass,
pulling black flowers from an hourglass.

The lake moves left to right, and the old men do the same,
when they take their favorite circuits ’round the shore.
But there’s a mighty hidden shadow looming out over the blissful,
and it’s too hard for the old men to ignore.

Saint Helens had a fire buried well within her soul,
it’s so frightening how the relapse of a saint can take its toll.
And you know that I’ve been feeling every life that I pass,
pulling black flowers from an hourglass.

Seven’s In The Middle, Son

made a deal with a strange man
he could deal his deck with either hand
winked at me and said goodbye
then switched his patch to the other eye
i did my best to play my song
but he stopped me before too long
took my guitar off my lap
tuned it up and then gave it back
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory
wrapped himself in an overcoat
silver necklace ’round his throat
rattlin’ keychain in his pants
sounded like bones when he danced
i faced myself in the mirror glass
swear to god i heard him laugh
felt his name rise in my gut
seven years of bad luck
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory
he said “seven is in the middle, son
pick a side and ride that one”
like jewels hangin’ on the vine
it’s a pendulum that’s drowning time
i lay my head down window-side
neon lights like a reaper’s bride
i tried to sleep beneath the black
of the space behind that devil’s patch
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory
he put a shiver in my soul
shook my hand and froze it cold
walked me ’round that endless shore
’til i knew i’d never been before
i hear him singin’ from the road
it’s a children’s song he knows i know
i lay myself down on the ground
emptied both my ears of sound
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory

Fever Moon

i saw grey at the temple
i saw blue in the sky
i saw white at the castle
with a black eye

night sweat, soak, broke, hallucination
not yet doc, i like this prescription
deep pill chill, refill my irrigation
back in the cups, i changed up my station
from pirate to tycoon, fever moon

i saw red at the rose
spreading green on the lawn
i saw brown at the derby
but the gold was gone

night sweat, soak, broke, hallucination
not yet doc, i like this prescription
deep pill chill, refill my irrigation
back in the cups, i changed my station
from pirate to tycoon, fever moon

i saw bronze take an age
i saw silver place
i saw rust take a belt
from an ashen face

night sweat, soak, broke, hallucination
not yet doc, i like this prescription
deep pill chill, refill my irrigation
back in the cups, i changed my station
from pirate to tycoon, fever moon


The World Is Going Wrong

Feel bad this mornin’
Ain’t got no home
No use a-worryin’
‘Cause the world gone wrong

I can’t be good no more
Once like I did before
I can’t be good, baby
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong

—from The World Is Going Wrong, by The Mississippi Sheiks

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In order to get a new side project off the ground, I’ve been listening to a LOT of The Mississippi Sheiks. Tremendous songwriters (“Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” anybody? Yeah, that was them …), great and powerful instrumentalists (Delta Blues fiddle? Yep, and tough as fu*k to boot …), and genuine Delta royalty, countin’ Sam Chatmon and Charley Patton amongst their kin …

And as you can tell from the lyric above … prophets. Cuz that’s just about how I feel …

This new project is called The Westside Sheiks. It’s gon’ be real, real cool. We’re on to somethin’ … see if you agree … Here’s the very first song we ever performed together …

video link: https://youtu.be/ZK2X0u99Om8

The takeaway tho, is DO be good. You must. No matter how wrong the world feels, you must be good.


A Taste of The Devil’s Buttermilk

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If you’ve heard The Devil’s Buttermilk before, you know it’s a bit of a different record in the Preacher Boy canon. In my mind, it’s almost a sort of collection of shorts, combined into a larger, longer film.  Every song was really recorded to be its own self-contained universe, it’s own completed circle. The songs seemed to ask for that, and so that’s what I did. There is very little sonic continuity from song to song; this one is lighting fast and loaded with electric guitars, that one is soft, quiet, acoustic. This one is whispery and spooky and moody, that one is full bore and monstrous.

The album is populated with a lot of different characters. The destructive, white -trash-noir anti-hero of “On and on it goes,” the cracked Wiseblood-ian preacher of “Glory Man,” Patrick Jones, whose white bones close “The Dogs,” the neighborhood drunk in “Spaceman,” and more.

The theatricality and comparatively complicated instrumentation has meant that these songs don’t get played live very often—some of them I’ve never played live. But recently, I’ve committed to working out arrangements of a great many songs that I haven’t given much stage time to, and songs from The Devil’s Buttermilk are looming large on that list. Last night I played “On and on it goes,” “Rust,” and “Spaceman.” Two of those I’ve NEVER played live before, and “Spaceman” I haven’t performed live in over a decade. It was an adventurous evening.

Here’s a raw and straight-from-the-stage recording of “Spaceman” from last night:

if you don’t see the embedded media player above, please click below to stream:
Preacher Boy – Spaceman [LIVE]

(lyrics are at the bottom of this post)

The whole show was a bit of a journey song-wise … a pretty diverse mix of country blues workouts, and a great many album tracks I don’t often play. Here’s the whole set list:

  1. if i had possession over my judgement day (robert johnson)
  2. rollin’ stone (rev. robert wilkins)
  3. evil blues (mance lipscomb)
  4. rust (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  5. levee camp blues (fred mcdowell)
  6. my gold canoe (from “demanding to be next”)
  7. black crow (from “crow”)
  8. gun (from “gutters & pews”)
  9. jake j. thomas’ ol’ mission st blues (new)
  10. catfish (willie doss)
  11. chop wood, carry water (new)
  12. that’s no way to get along (rev. robert wilkins)
  13. down south blues (sleepy john estes)
  14. my car walks on water (from “the national blues”)
  15. nehemiah james (from “demanding to be next”)
  16. down and out in this town (from “gutters & pews”)
  17. spaceman (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  18. on and on it goes (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  19. change (from “demanding to be next”)
  20. setting sun (from “the national blues”)
  21. motherless children (blind willie johnson/mance lipscomb/dave van ronk)
  22. a little better when it rains (from “demanding to be next”)

~

Finally, here are the lyrics to Spaceman, if you want to read along!

spaceman

god knows where they go, i only know his name was bob
he had a job somewhere, some office that paid him well
he spent his science fiction days dreaming up
all the things that he’d invent, but never sell
i used to see him whenever i was down at “george & walt’s”
and he’d tell me again, like i didn’t already know
that he preferred to start his nights out with three brandy twists
and then finish two beers before he had to go
the bartender, dave, gave bob his nickname
they’d yell out “spaceman!” whenever he walked in
but he confessed to me, in that weary voice that only drunkards get,
that he was pretty sure they were making fun of him
making fun of him
well, they’ve always been
give him half the chance, and bob could talk for half the year
with a mouth full of nothing but an overbite
he was so far past alone not even pity helped
so i’d just sit with him and drink away the nights
the money he earned would have loved to burn his pocket full of holes
but he had no one to spend it upon
for him, love had become some magic instance that never lasts
like the moment when the street lights first come on
sometimes, if bob got a little too drunk
my friend and i, we’d drive him to his house
and we’d talk and sit, and i’d play a bit on his little guitar
and then we’d leave whenever he passed out
whenever he passed out
we’d just let ourselves out
i haven’t been back to “george & walt’s” for so many years
maybe bob doesn’t mean too much to me now
but i’ve always kept that little guitar he insisted that i take
so i guess he still matters somehow
and if you see him, buy him a brandy for me
tell him the kid that took his guitar says hello
and do me a favor, sit and listen to his stories for a while
he’ll appreciate it more than you know
more than you could know
and i ought to know

 


Cornbread: The Story Behind The Song

Preacher Boy - The National Blues - Lyrics

We’ve just published an enhanced lyric booklet for “The National Blues!” It features lyrics, stories behind the songs, insider guitar tips, and more.

You can download a free copy in either PDF (multi-use) or EPUB (iBooks) format here, or, if you’d like to enjoy the book on your Kindle/Kindle app, you can get it in the Kindle store on Amazon for just .99¢!

Here is an excerpt from the text; a short essay about the origins of the second track on the album:

Cornbread

The seeds of this song have been with me for probably decades at this point; I think I first hazarded a demo of it when we were living in Brooklyn, though I believe the first time I tried to play a version of it was with Colin Brooks, during a songwriter’s conference in Durango, Colorado that my missus and I drove down to from Denver.

Lyrically, the song has changed little over the years, and it’s the stories of the families in the verses that have kept the song with me across the miles. What finally clicked was the music. I wish I could claim it was a magical, revelatory moment, or the result of years of diligence and experimentation, but in fact, the click was a simple one. I changed the tuning on my guitar from Open D to Open G. That was it.

The characters are largely based on real people from my childhood; the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but I left the real names in for the guilty


The 8 Musical Influences Behind The Song “Down The Drain”

 

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“Down The Drain” is the first official video single off my new album “The National Blues” on Coast Road Records. And like virtually everything I write, its roots go deep, and it draws on a great many influences for its shape and sound.

The origins of the song are actually a little out of step with much of what I write, the bulk of which is largely inspired by the early country blues/delta blues canon. Probably the most important influence is actually a comparatively contemporary musical act, a band called Sixteen Horsepower. For my money, they’re likely the greatest band you’ve never heard of. They came out of Denver about the same time as my first album came out (1995), part of a small, localized, but very wonderful sort of Gothic Americana movement that included acts like The Denver Gentlemen, Slim Cessna, Tarantella, Munly, and more. (Full disclosure,  I later spent about two years in Denver, and shared bills at one time or another with most of these acts).

David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower was fond of using open minor tunings in what sounded to me like an Open Gm form, and while I’d already spent half my life in open tunings, and while I was also deeply fond of minor keys, I’d never really put the two together in an Open Gm form until I heard 16 Horsepower. But listen to South Pennsylvania Waltz, or Coal Black Horses, or I Seen What I Saw, or Prison Shoe Romp, and you’ll surely see the similarities! (The following playlist has a whole host of 16 Horsepower gems):

Another big influence on the sound of “Down The Drain” was actually a song I learned to love from hearing my Dad play it on the record player when I was a kid. It was a great guitar instrumental from an era full of great guitar instrumentals, and I used to just love it. I’m not even sure I was drawing on its influence as “Down The Drain” started to come together, but once I realized what I’d done, it was pretty obvious what I’d done! Give it a listen, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean:

Duane Eddy did a killer version of this as well, which you can check out here, and which I also really love.

The semi-wordless chorus (depending on whether you think “sha” and “la” are words!) of “Down The Drain” is probably the other key component of this song that has clear sonic antecedents. I’ve always loved songs that use vocal “sound” as evocation … think of the “humming” part of Skip James’ magisterial “Hardtime Killing Floor Blues” as but one example (Skip’s melodies on this song are definitely an influence on “Down The Drain” as well!), or Adelaide Hall on Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” both of which are great examples of this kind of thing. Probably more specific to “Down The Drain” of course is something like Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl”—the sha-la-la’s tell the whole emotional story! Given the sound of my voice though, the comparison that probably leaps to mind sooner than Van Morrison is Tom Waits, from “Jersey Girl.” And yeah, I’ll confess that was in my mind when I first started toying with doing the chorus this way. But honestly, it’s not one of my favorite Waits songs, and truthfully, while “Down The Drain” may SOUND like “Jersey Girl” the effect I was actually after was more akin to Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” which somehow manages to make la-la-la sound somehow so … rueful.

So, where does that get us to so far? 16 Horsepower, Bill Justis, Skip James, and some combination of Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. That’s the music!

Now, as to lyrics, that’s a little harder. I don’t entirely know WHERE they came from! I will certainly admit that the drink has played a lot of roles in my songs over the years, and Shane MacGowan has certainly been my patron saint in that regard, so the reference to “your Chardonnay sky will go black & tan” can probably be attributed in no small part to the influence of The Pogues. And I’m not sure one can write a song with rain as a central metaphor and not be thinking of Ann Peebles singing “Can’t Stand The Rain”:

There is actually a LOT of country blues in Peebles’ song, most notably in this verse:

Alone with the pillow
Where his head used to lay, yeah
I know you’ve got some sweet memories
But like a window you ain’t got nothin’ to say

Which definitely calls to mind these lyrics from Son House’s immortal Death Letter Blues:

Got up this mornin’, just about the break of day
A-huggin’ the pillow where she used to lay

I actually first discovered Ann Peebles’ song being sung by a band at Your Place Too in Oakland, back in the late eighties. (Check out my friend Pete Devine’s bio on the Howell Devine website for a nice little reference to Your Place Too). I don’t remember the band, but I’ve always remembered the song!

So, now we’re up to: 16 Horsepower, Bill Justis, Skip James, some combination of Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop, Shane MacGowan, and Ann Peebles.

And I think that’s where I’ll stop. Eight! And I tell you what, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to write songs, if for no other reason than you get to listen to so much music! Thanks for helpin’ me continue to get to do it! To borrow (and mutate!) a great quote from the world of creative writing, to be a good songwriter, you must be a good songlistener!

~

Buy “Preacher Boy – The National Blues” direct! Just click the image below:

PreacherBoy_TheNationalBlues_Web

 

 


Preacher Boy Trio: Now, Con Funky Adicional

 

 

 

The Preacher Boy Trio

The Preacher Boy Trio, live at Aptos St. BBQ: featuring Zack Olsen & Virgil Thrasher (photo by Ulises Gonzalez)

Tonight’s show was groovy as f&*k—The Preacher Boy Trio was Con Funky Adicional.

Cheers to Zack Olsen (drums) and Virgil Thrasher (harmonica) for blessin’ me with the music tonight. I was so honored. Thanks to Aptos St. BBQ fer havin’ us … such a good home for this music.

So, I’ll run ya the whole set list down below, and some lyrics as well, but here’s a lil’ foursome of raw live tracks straight from the stage to give ya the Con Funky flavor:

If I Had Possession Over My Judgement Day

(if you don’t see the embedded music player below, please click here to stream)

i start every show with it, and so you see it listed every time, but i never offer recordings of it, but I will do tonight, cuz this was a particularly struttin’ version of the cut …

 

New Red Cedar Blues

(if you don’t see the embedded music player below, please click here to stream)

essentially pretty much a new song—i did try and roll out an early arrangement of it a few months ago, but it weren’t happenin’ yet, so ’twas shelved and woodshedded, but the thing came back with a vengeance tonight … lyrics at the end of  post…

 

A Thief For Every Bible

(if you don’t see the embedded music player below, please click here to stream)

this is essentially a new song as well, tho it’s born of some pre-existing components—the final lyric is actually a combo of two earlier songs that never quite coalesced independently, as well as a new 1/2 chorus, and the music is a complete re-arrangement of a long-ago track that crawled back out from under a rock and said, “play me as a slide guitar rhumba in a minor key, and I’ll be yer baby tonight … and so, said yes …

 

Blister and a Bottle Cap

(if you don’t see the embedded music player below, please click here to stream)

I include this cuz it’s just f&*kin’ epic. Nearly 8 minutes of AltBlues Con SwampFunk

 

And here are lyrics for the new songs in town:

New Red Cedar Blues

off the banks where the rapids flow
learn a lil’ somethin’ ‘bout what i know
raccoon is as raccoon does
learn a lil’ somethin’ bout what i was

and the good witch of the river
from deep down in the water
asks for you to give her
your wish upon a quarter
flashin’ silver that you feed her
oh, if you get lost …
come on home to red cedar

the thunder sends the lightnin’ first
after that, the cloud bursts
its buckshot through the shadows
to the water’s black staccato

and the good witch of the river…

oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’
oh my darlin’, look behind you
in a cavern, in a canyon
if you get lost, i’m gon’ find you
oh, if you get lost …

we left the lake to greet the sun
and got some walkin’ done
back to red cedar
follow the leader

and the good witch of the river…

oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’…

 

A Thief For Every Bible

rats thin and dried, and the noose you tied
and it’s a bad day comin’
it’s a whistle and a pig
and i can hear the drummin’

sweet bitter tea, and the howlin’ three
got an itch for hemlock
they sold the black mariah
and bought an auction block

hey hey, it’s something to wrap your head around
somethin’ good ‘bout to rise up, somethin’ bad ‘bout to go down
hey hey, somethin’ even you have never seen
gon’ be a thief for every bible, and a drunk for every dream

soot sweet and thick, and the broken brick
i hear the claws a-climbin’
a crow inside an overcoat
said somethin’ ’bout simon

and so simon said, god bless the dead
and the rest can go to hell
tell the pig to get his whistle
and tell the rat to ring the bell

hey hey, it’s something to wrap your head around…

hey there gun, tell the seventh son
we ’bout to build a railroad
i know you like the water clear
as dew upon a cane toad

i’m drinkin’ buttermilk , all by myself
been in the cups on rye
i make the fine look ugly
i make the ugly look fine

hey hey, it’s something to wrap your head around…

 

and here’s the full set list from the evening’s entertainment:

The Preacher Boy Trio: featuring Zack Olsen & Virgil Thrasher

Live at Aptos St. BBQ, 7.16.2016

  1. if i had possession over my judgement day (robert johnson, arr. pb)
  2. i just hang down my head and i cry (mance lipscomb, arr. pb)
  3. down the drain (pb)
  4. cornbread (pb)
  5. the cross must move (pb)
  6. catfish (willie doss, arr. ob)
  7. setting sun (pb)
  8. casey bill weldon (pb)
  9. comin’ up aces (pb)
  10. down and out in this town (pb)
  11. a person’s mind (pb)
  12. my car walks on water (pb)
  13. new red cedar blues (pb)
  14. a little more evil (pb)
  15. revenue man blues (charley patton, arr. pb)
  16. dead, boy (pb)
  17. motherless children (blind lemon jefferson/mance lipscomb/dave van ronk, arr. pb)
  18. a thief for every bible (pb)
  19. down south blues (sleepy john estes, arr. pb)
  20. blister and a bottle cap (pb)
  21. baby, please don’t go (bukka white, arr. pb)

 

I hope you dig!


What A Difference 20 Years Makes: The Evolution of “Coal Black Dirt Sky”

Preacher Boy - LIVE

I wrote the lyrics to the song “Coal Black Dirt Sky” pretty much exactly 20 years ago. With The Backyard Funeral Band, we recorded it for the album “Crow.”

Despite the fact that I really love the song, I’ve virtually never played it live. It could be the arrangement. The way we recorded it was very much the evolutionary result of that particular group of musicians coming together, and it just never made sense in any future ensemble incarnations. The same might be said for solo performances as well—I just never wrapped my head around how to own the song on my own.

And so into the brume it went, disappeared into the obfuscatory tendrils of time …

Until recently. The song just started coming back into me for some reason. I wanted to play it. I wanted to own it. I wanted it to be my song again. I wanted to play it on my National.

So I had a go at working up an arrangement, and I played it a couple nights ago. It didn’t go very well. The brume beckoned. But I didn’t give up. I had to get it. The minor tonality of the chorus’ second chord—that had to be nailed on the National somehow, in a way that wouldn’t dip in intensity.

Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” gave me the first third of the answer. It was all about flipping the chord, and pulling the minor tonality out of the bass strings.

That meant the rhythm had to change. Tricky, as the song has a very particular syllabic pattern. That’s where Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” came in—it gave me the second third of the answer. It had to swing.

Finally, I had to bring the slide in. Thank you Mississippi Fred McDowell, for once again showing me the way. This was the third third.

Boom. I have my song back. I hope you like it too. I really do. But regardless, I’m happy. I have my song back. And I love to play it. I played it last night. And I was very happy.

This is bootleg-quality guerrilla audio, but I think you’ll get the gist. Check it out, see what you think. Then, go check out the version from Crow.

A travelin’ song that’s done a lot of travelin’. That’s what this is:

Preacher Boy – Coal Black Dirt Sky [LIVE],  2016

~

Preacher Boy (and The Backyard Funeral Band) – Coal Black Dirt Sky [Studio], 1998

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Coal Black Dirt Sky

when you’re alone in wyoming you are truly alone
you look out the window and there’s nothing there but road
and if you make it to nebraska there still ain’t nothin’ ’round
and the night wraps around you just like a gown
you look out the window and the sky is coal black dirt
and you realize you’ve ridden through hell on earth
and you leave behind the creaking night, the whip-slap winds a-moanin’
never again to see the wilds of nebraska and wyoming
it’s a coal black dirt sky
the hills laugh out load as we speed by
between sleep, i spy
nothing in the coal black dirt sky
wyoming is as cold as frost on a metal rail
and the cold wind pins you down like the bars of a jail
and the snow sits at the side of the road like a threat
and you pray for the end of the ride but you’re not there yet
and nebraska is tall as heaven and it’s twice as wide
and it’s bound to take a lifetime to reach the other side
and you don’t know what it looks like ’cause you never saw it’s day
so nebraska lies behind you and just fades away
it’s a coal black dirt sky
the hills laugh out load as we speed by
between sleep, i spy
nothing in the coal black dirt sky

The Dogs: An Irish Ghost Story Set To Minor-Key Slide Guitar

The Dogs [LIVE]

It was written while the missus and I were living in Ireland. In the wild barren west of County Clare. In The Burren. In a 200-year-old stone house that was once the parochial house for the small village down the coast road. Under Jameson’s. Under a peet fire. It was written in Ireland.

It was recorded for “The Devil’s Buttermilk.”

It has never been performed live. Until last week.

Raw, guerrilla-audio. Live. The almighty Virgil Thrasher on harmonica. Meself on 1936 National Resophonic, in Open Dm. Stomps via boots.

The Dogs [LIVE] (click to listen)

the dogs
the trees, come the nightfall
turn a deeper shade of purple
and their gnarled limbs tighten into fists

the webbing of the spiders
gets sewn ever tighter
a latticework of silver in the mist

the trails, clearly marked
dissolve in the dark
and the bog creeps in upon the ankles

the wind blows a foul breath
the last glow is extinguished
and the stars are cut down from where they dangle

it’s said that in the bogs
lay the skeletons of dogs
never buried, only thrown to the ground

into the bog, they were delivered
with no pity or grave-digger
and with time their lonely bodies sank down

in the midnight’s darkest center
when even summer nights are winter
and silence presses into the dark like a fossil

comes the lonely anguished howling
the barking and the growling
and the hot breath of a thousand nostrils

oh, the sad, hopeless panting
from the ghosts of the abandoned
searching restlessly for the masters that left them

but the masters, long deceased
have left the ghosts eternally
on a cursed hunt that’s doomed to not end

so, of this place, you must beware
let not the nightfall catch you there
and if you doubt it, remember what happened to patrick jones

who swore he’d prove our fears unfounded
and in the morning, when we found him
there was nothing but tooth-marks on his bones


Seven Songs You Must Listen To If You Want To Be A Songwriter

First, “I Did It All” by Tracy Chapman. Few artists would dare tread on Sacred Sinatra Soil, but that’s exactly what Tracy Chapman does with this song. This is “My Way” for a new generation. Tracy Chapman is a badass, plain and simple. I knew it when I saw her beat out Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen for best set of the day at that Amnesty International Concert so long ago—she did it with just a single guitar, when she was just a young woman with one beautiful and strange hit on the radio called “Fast Car.” If you ain’t down w/ Tracy Champan, you ain’t down with much.

Next, “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. Because you can’t believe it was WRITTEN. That one writer, with a pencil and a guitar, actually sat down and created this. It didn’t grow out of the ground like some bent and peculiar flower. It didn’t fall out of the sky like some permanent snowflake. It was WRITTEN. And it is perfection.

Third, “When Doves Cry” by Prince. Yes, I have him on the brain. We all do. But this was a classic the second he released it. It is a classic as we mourn him. And it will be a classic for decades to come. THIS is proof that pop music and vision don’t have to mutually oppose. For me, this song is like the great, pathos-laden girl group songs of the 60’s, those rockabilly-meets-torch songs that broke and mended hearts, then broke them again. In that strange, baffling, all-consuming emotional eco-system where love and loss of parents and love and loss of love—where romantic love and parent love—are inextricable, there is a song playing, and it is the soundtrack of this crazy emotional realm, this neo-natal origin story of the heart, and it is this song.

Next, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Because anyone who can fit an entire play, an entire movie, an entire novel, and entire life, an entire world, an entire species, an entire galaxy, into a single, mutant art-folk song, deserves to be recognized as a bloody genius. The man David Bowie has given us the man Major Tom, and he has entered our consciousness through song.

Fifth is “My Funny Valentine.” The song was written by Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics), and it is quite simply one of the most gorgeously weird songs every written. The melodies are almost crippingly beautiful, and when voices like Chet Baker’s take it on, it’s almost too much to bear. Hearing the notes emerge from Miles Davis’ horn is akin to drifting into a gossamer trance. And then there are the lyrics:

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
But dont you change one hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day

This is an emotional perversion of the highest order, and there is something both hopelessly earthy and trancendentally romantic afoot here. This isn’t a song you could sell, or pitch, or even explain. One just has to write it. Fortunately, this one was written, and we’re the better for it. Care to argue about the definitive version???

Next is “Ugly” by Robert Pete Williams. Because if you don’t think Country Blues produces incredible songwriting, then you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. Because this song ends with the lines:

Mama, why I got to be so ugly in this world?
Son, that’s just a mark that God put on your face.

Because if you don’t think that’s poetry, you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. Because when you HEAR this song—with it’s raw, howling vocal, it’s emotive, impressionistic lyric stream, and it’s rivetingly funky, minor-chord stomp, you WILL know somethin’ about somethin’.

Finally, for song number seven, we have “Broken Arrow,” written by Neil Young. This is one of those songs that sort of proves what’s possible when it comes to song itself. In many ways made possible only by the studio (it famously took some 100 hours to record), it is also at heart a simple folks song. The images are so powerful, the melodies so compelling, the oddities so appealing, and the simplicities so magical, it’s simply hard to know how to name its accomplishment. It’s a song I come back to time and time again, to just marvel at what’s possible when one believes in song.

The streets were lined for the wedding parade,
The Queen wore the white gloves, the county of song,
The black covered caisson her horses had drawn
Protected her King from the sun rays of dawn.
They married for peace and were gone.
Did you see them, did you see them?
Did you see them in the river?
They were there to wave to you.
Could you tell that the empty quivered,
Brown skinned Indian on the banks
That were crowded and narrow,
Held a broken arrow?


Judging the “Songwriter’s Showcase” Finals: Year Two

 

SongwritersShowcase

It is with the utmost pleasure that I announce my return to the judge’s seat for the Annual Songwriter’s Showcase event, held at The Britannia Arms in Capitola, CA. This will be the 14th year of this incredible event—14 years of honoring the noble craft of songwriting!

The Finals

The finals will be held Tuesday, April 26th, starting at 7pm, and I will be there in my seat, sheafs of lyrics before me, my space pen and moleskine at hand, with a regular stream of coffee at my disposal. I will hear songs from those who’ve performed their way through rounds and rounds of stiff competition, who’ve earned their spots in these finals through the sheer strength of their compositions, and who will come to the stage prepared to share the very best of their heartfelt work. I will be there, and I will be humbled.

To Be A Songwriter

I have been some form of a professional writer/songwriter for over 25 years now (you can read my “songwriter’s bio” here, if you wish!), and I still think songwriting is simply the most magical of worlds. I TREASURE being able to call myself a songwriter. I LOVE to answer “writer” when asked what I do for a living. Why? Not vanity, tho if I’m honest, there’s probably a bit of that there too! But no, honestly, it’s because I’m so kid-in-a-candy-store’d to be in any way tangentially in the proximal company of giants! To think that I too am a songwriter? Remarkable. Simply remarkable! I still can’t believe it. It’s as exciting to me today as it was when I first saw my name on a published songwriting credit back in 1989! The giddy thrill I feel has waned not a bit lo these many decades, and it is with this undimmed and ecstatic appreciation for the form and for the word that I’ll be taking my seat at the finals tomorrow night.

The Permissible Delights Of The Soul

“Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”
― Johann Sebastian Bach

When I wrote about the Songwriter’s Showcase last year, I went out on an aesthetic limb of a kind and recommended 23 songs for holy songwriting canonization. I’d like to recommend a few more to you right now. These are must-listen songs. These are songs that remind us that telling ourselves stories is what makes us human. That singing ourselves melodies is how we survive. That dancing ourselves with rhythm is how we move, and move forward. That listening to our music is how we live. These are songs that astonish, for we can’t believe they could actually be written, for surely they simply arrived fully formed. These are songs that delight us, move us, change us. And for our purposes here, these are songs, that teach us to write songs. That compel us to write songs. That make us songwriters, if we let them.

Let us begin!

Seven Songs You Must Listen To If You Want To Be A Songwriter

First, “I Did It All” by Tracy Chapman. Few artists would dare tread on Sacred Sinatra Soil, but that’s exactly what Tracy Chapman does with this song. This is “My Way” for a new generation. Tracy Chapman is a badass, plain and simple. I knew it when I saw her beat out Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen for best set of the day at that Amnesty International Concert so long ago—she did it with just a single guitar, when she was just a young woman with one beautiful and strange hit on the radio called “Fast Car.” If you ain’t down w/ Tracy Champan, you ain’t down with much.

Next, “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. Because you can’t believe it was WRITTEN. That one writer, with a pencil and a guitar, actually sat down and created this. It didn’t grow out of the ground like some bent and peculiar flower. It didn’t fall out of the sky like some permanent snowflake. It was WRITTEN. And it is perfection.

Third, “When Doves Cry” by Prince. Yes, I have him on the brain. We all do. But this was a classic the second he released it. It is a classic as we mourn him. And it will be a classic for decades to come. THIS is proof that pop music and vision don’t have to mutually oppose. For me, this song is like the great, pathos-laden girl group songs of the 60’s, those rockabilly-meets-torch songs that broke and mended hearts, then broke them again. In that strange, baffling, all-consuming emotional eco-system where love and loss of parents and love and loss of love—where romantic love and parent love—are inextricable, there is a song playing, and it is the soundtrack of this crazy emotional realm, this neo-natal origin story of the heart, and it is this song.

Next, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Because anyone who can fit an entire play, an entire movie, an entire novel, and entire life, an entire world, an entire species, an entire galaxy, into a single, mutant art-folk song, deserves to be recognized as a bloody genius. The man David Bowie has given us the man Major Tom, and he has entered our consciousness through song.

Fifth is “My Funny Valentine.” The song was written by Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics), and it is quite simply one of the most gorgeously weird songs every written. The melodies are almost crippingly beautiful, and when voices like Chet Baker’s take it on, it’s almost too much to bear. Hearing the notes emerge from Miles Davis’ horn is akin to drifting into a gossamer trance. And then there are the lyrics:

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
But dont you change one hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day

This is an emotional perversion of the highest order, and there is something both hopelessly earthy and trancendentally romantic afoot here. This isn’t a song you could sell, or pitch, or even explain. One just has to write it. Fortunately, this one was written, and we’re the better for it. Care to argue about the definitive version???

Next is “Ugly” by Robert Pete Williams. Because if you don’t think Country Blues produces incredible songwriting, then you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. Because this song ends with the lines:

Mama, why I got to be so ugly in this world?
Son, that’s just a mark that God put on your face.

Because if you don’t think that’s poetry, you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. Because when you HEAR this song—with it’s raw, howling vocal, it’s emotive, impressionistic lyric stream, and it’s rivetingly funky, minor-chord stomp, you WILL know somethin’ about somethin’.

Finally, for song number seven, we have “Broken Arrow,” written by Neil Young. This is one of those songs that sort of proves what’s possible when it comes to song itself. In many ways made possible only by the studio (it famously took some 100 hours to record), it is also at heart a simple folks song. The images are so powerful, the melodies so compelling, the oddities so appealing, and the simplicities so magical, it’s simply hard to know how to name its accomplishment. It’s a song I come back to time and time again, to just marvel at what’s possible when one believes in song.

The streets were lined for the wedding parade,
The Queen wore the white gloves, the county of song,
The black covered caisson her horses had drawn
Protected her King from the sun rays of dawn.
They married for peace and were gone.
Did you see them, did you see them?
Did you see them in the river?
They were there to wave to you.
Could you tell that the empty quivered,
Brown skinned Indian on the banks
That were crowded and narrow,
Held a broken arrow?

 


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