Tag Archives: Reverend Gary Davis

365 Days of Album Recommendations – April 3

Rev. Gary Davis – At Newport

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I have five words for you.

Death. Don’t. Have. No. Mercy.

My work here is done.


On The Eve Of The Songwriter’s Showcase Finals, A List Of 23 Genius Songs We All Wish We’d Written, But Didn’t

Tuesday, May 5th, 7-10pm, Britannia

Tomorrow night, it’s the finals of the 13th Annual Songwriter’s Showcase (sponsored by Mars Studios, and hosted by the Britannia Arms in Capitola, CA), and I am to be a judge. Which is very exciting for me, and an honor I accept with the utmost seriousness.

Because said event is nigh, I have songwriting on the brain.

Now, in re: said event, based on what I know to date about the competitors, I think it is safe to say that we are not working with the broadest definition of singer-songwriter (i.e. anyone who sings a song they have written), but rather, we are operating within the more precise realm of the “Singer-Songwriter”; that is to say, within the folk-troubadour tradition. Operators within this space may claim as their ancestors and inspirations the likes of, say, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Joan Armatrading; James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, or Townes Van Zandt; Bill Withers, Billy Bragg, or Neil Young; Tracy Chapman, Dolly Parton, or Nick Drake; Elliot Smith, Patti Smith, or Carol King; Phil Ochs, Suzanne Vega, or Ben Harper; Greg Brown, Indie.Arie, or Bruce Springsteen; Kris Kristofferson, Sam Cooke, or Ani DiFranco, or even, yes, John Lennon and Jerry Garcia. This IS Santa Cruz County, after all.

The point being, there is singing a song one has written, and then there are “Singer-Songwriters.” For this event, I think it is safe to say we are considering the latter.

And so, bearing that in mind, I have elected, almost strictly for personal kicks, to assemble a list of some of the greatest songs (fundamentally — with just a couple stretches– in this mold) ever written, songs that you and I both wish we’d written, but didn’t.

With no apologies for what I’ve left out or what I’ve included, and in no particular order, I proffer the following:

1. Willie & Laura Mae Jones, by Tony Joe White.
Dear ALL aspiring political songwriters. This is how you handle racism in a song. Funkily, powerfully, honestly, and narratively. A masterpiece.

2. The Ballad of Hollis Brown, by Bob Dylan
Devasting. One chord. That is all.

3. Here Comes A Regular, by Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)
If you understand the difference between this and “Piano Man,” you’re on to something. If you don’t, you’re not.

4. Grandma’s Hands, by Bill Withers
Can YOU be this powerful, soulful, beautiful, muscular, and emotional, while singing about YOUR grandma? Yeah …

5. In the River, by Michael Been (The Call)
White gospel, from an 80s indie band. Incredible.

6. Straight To Hell, by Joe Strummer (The Clash)
Just an unbelievably great song; epic, monumental; spooky, depressing; vivid, political, social, emotional, gut-wrenchingly raw, pathotically weird and funny and sad and strange and perfect. And so cool …

7. Glory Box, by Beth Gibbons (Portishead)
Incredible lyric movement, traveling from the personal and idiosyncratic, to the most fundamentally raw, sensual, and real. Killer … And that melody line, over that bass line? Killer …

8. Red Dirt Girl, by Emmylou Harris
As good a “story song” as any ever written, coming from out the folk-blues-southern thing …

9. Our Mother the Mountain, by Townes Van Zandt
Because if you write this …

Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you’ve found
You fool, it’s only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another.

… then your s&%t is amazing.

10. Four Women, by Nina Simone
Because if you can powerfully and successfully address sexism AND racism in a song with a final line of “My name is Peaches,” and not only get away with it, but kill it? Then your s&$t is amazing.

11. Amsterdam, by Jacques Brel
Epic in every sense of the word. Dirty, seedy, and romantic; beautiful, tragic, and raw. And it ends with an image of pissing. Such an achievement … just towering.

12. State Trooper, by Bruce Springsteen
Simply one of the best road songs ever. And that’s saying something.

13. Death Don’t Have No Mercy, by the Reverend Gary Davis
It’s admittedly hard to concede ACTUAL songwriting credits when it comes to the “shared” folk-blues-gospel cannon, but this is pretty close to clear, so I’m just going to say it’s Davis’ song. I played a version of this recently, and someone from the audience spoke to me afterwards, referring to this song as “dark gospel, but true gospel.” To which I say, yes.

14. Psalm, by John Coltrane
There are technically no lyrics to this song, but if you know the story of this song, then yes there are lyrics. And this song is INCREDIBLE. Listen to this while reading the “lyrics,” and you’ll have one of the most moving poetry/music experiences of your life …goose bumps. Forever.

15. 16 Shells From A Thirty Ought Six, by Tom Waits
Because Tom Waits should be on this list somewhere, and because for my money, it was with this song that Waits not only created a language all his own, but became a genre all his own.

16. Back Home In Derry, by Christy Moore
No one does homesick like the Irish, and few do it better than Christy Moore with this song.

17. Fairytale of New York, by Shane MacGowan (The Pogues)
Ditto the above, except way, way, way sadder and more f&#*ed up …

18. Washington D.C. Hospital Blues, by Skip James
Most country blues artists didn’t really “write” songs in the way we think of it being done, and few if any wrote any new material later in life. The eerily excellent Skip James is the exception; he not only wrote brilliant songs of his own, he wrote NEW songs of his own post his “re-discovery.” This is one such song, and it’s utterly, totally brilliant for capturing in a single story (being sick in the hospital), and in a single couplet (I’m a poor man, but I’m a good man, you understand) an entire universe worth of the relationships between pride and shame, poverty and pride, and everything else about what it means to be both strong in, and at the mercy of, the world.

19. Diamonds and Rust, by Joan Baez
Any song that can sound amazing as sung by both the composer (Baez) and Judas Priest, HAS to be incredible …

20. I Shall Be Released, by Bob Dylan (The Band)
Is it possible someone actually sat down with pen and paper and just WROTE this song? Not possible …

21. Think, by Aretha Franklin
Yeah, she wrote it.  Well, co-wrote it. But she wrote it. And it’s so, so, so badass. It’s like singer-songwriter soul haiku, distilled down to the resonant power of just two words: Think. Freedom.

22. Cities In Dust, by Siouxie Soux
Apocolyptic, graphic, poetic, with a hook from the gods. One of the greatest songs from a great era, transcends all boundaries to simply be great, resonant, and powerful. Just play it on acoustic, solo. It swings so hard, and runs so deep …

23. Go Tell Aunt Rhody, author unknown
I don’t know who the hell wrote this lil’ lullaby of Gothic Americana, but it’s a monster lesson in The Weird Old America … Possibly the first song I ever learned, and possibly the song I’ve been trying to write my whole life …

~

Here’s to tomorrow night, and discovering something new to add to this list!


What’s A Preacher Boy Setlist Look Like These Days?

The stage at Aptos St. BBQ

The stage at Aptos St. BBQ

To be honest, I’m not much of a setlist person, though I will say, there do tend to be patterns as regards the songs I select, and the order I play them in. More often than not, it comes down to simple questions of tuning. Because I use a number of different tunings, I generally try to do songs in such an order that I don’t spend the entire time mucking with the pegs.

So, what’s a Preacher Boy set list look like these days? Well, it’s pretty heavy on the country blues, that’s for sure! Here’s the crop from tonight’s show at Aptos St. BBQ, though to be honest, I have no idea what order I played these in, but I do know these are the songs I played (in parentheses, either the composer, or the musicianer I got the arrangement off of):

  1. If I Had Possession Over My Judgement Day (Robert Johnson)
  2. Fixin’ To Die (Bukka White)
  3. Death Letter Blues (Son House)
  4. Jack & Jill Blues (Sleepy John Estes)
  5. Cornbread (PB)
  6. One Good Reason (PB & Eagle-Eye Cherry)
  7. Catfish Blues (Willie Doss)
  8. That’s No Way To Get Along (Reverend Robert Wilkins)
  9. Baby, Please Don’t Go (Bukka White)
  10. 99 Bottles (PB)
  11. Old Jim Granger (PB)
  12. There Go John (PB)
  13. A Golden Thimble (PB)
  14. A Little More Evil (PB)
  15. Down & Out In This Town (PB)
  16. My Car Walks On The Water (PB)
  17. Need Mo’ Blues (Sleepy John Estes)
  18. Seven’s In The Middle, Son (PB)
  19. Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Reverend Gary Davis)
  20. Motherless Children (Dave Van Ronk)
  21. Slidin’ Delta (Mississippi John Hurt)
  22. Cornbread (PB)

I’m just starting to read Dave Van Ronk’s autobiography, so that’s what got me in the mood to play one of his arrangements. The book is:

and so far, it’s pretty delightful. Dave Van Ronk was such a huge influence for me. All those Tom Waits comparisons over the years used to just make me laugh, ‘cuz for fuck’s sake, haven’t you ever heard of Dave Van Ronk before?

The first time I ever performed a country blues kind of tune before an actual audience was courtesy of my old high school English teacher substitute Mr. Tom Nolet. He was a blues player, and knew I was hopelessly into it all as well, and very graciously invited me to sing a song at his gig at a coffeehouse. I was 16, and I played (or attempted to play, I should say) Dave Van Ronk’s version of Po’ Lazarus, and I was bloody awful, and Tom apparently lost the gig, and well, that wasn’t a very good start to my career (and obviously not good for his either!) and I don’t think I sang on mic again for another 5 years!

But I still play Po’ Lazarus sometimes, as well as a spin-off of Dave’s version of Come Back, Baby, and of course the version of Motherless Children that I noted above.

So that was me tonight. The Mayor of Aptos St. BBQ.

If ya’d like a lil’ taste, here’s a VERY rough live track from tonight’s show. The tune is “A Little More Evil,” a never-yet-recorded-and-released PB cut (and that thumpin’ sound is me boot!):

Preacher Boy: A Little More Evil (live at Aptos St BBQ, 2.15.15) 

Lyrics below:

a little more evil

jesus christ, look at you, you lookin’ like you dead wrecked
i wish i had a way to pay for you to get your head checked
you so fuckin’ strung out man it’s time to face the music
you ain’t got but the one life and you about to lose it

that isn’t opportunity
that’s knockin’ on the door
and it ain’t fire that you playin’ with
it somethin’ that’s a little more evil
a little more evil

it’s always a maria gettin’ suckers like you laid up
tryin’ to live the myth the ones that came before ya made up
i hate to break it to ya but her name is not maria
she might look ya in the eyes but i swear she doesn’t see ya

that isn’t opportunity
that’s knockin’ on the door
and it ain’t fire that you playin’ with
it somethin’ that’s a little more evil
a little more evil

i ain’t gon’ to be the john to baptize ya in the river
and you too old to be a baby that i’m called on to deliver
there’s a train to judgment and you got a ticket to go
but it ain’t gonna be the lord who come to meet ya at the depot

that isn’t opportunity
that’s knockin’ on the door
and it ain’t fire that you playin’ with
it somethin’ that’s a little more evil
a little more evil

(p) PreachSongMusic/KobaltMusic/BMI

 

 

 

 

 


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