Today is the first day of Summer. This has been a good year in Bakersfield, weather-wise. The brutal blast furnace weather actually waited until the day before summer to hit the century mark. All through April, and even most of May, we had cooler weather. Sometimes it was kind of damp and drizzling, but was I ever grateful. Summer is here now, and I have braced myself and I am ready for it. As David Letterman said last night, if you do any cleaning, it is no longer Spring Cleaning, it is now just cleaning.
Last night I played Summertime at Trout's. It is by George Gershwin and was in the opera Porgy & Bess. Ira Gershwin didn't write the lyrics, because George was working DuBose Heyward who had written the libretto and the novel upon which the opera was based. Ira wrote some of the lyrics, and is even given co-credit by ASCAP, but it was probably Heyward who wrote all of the lyrics for Summertime.
Jim always plays it, along with Spooky. Jim is one of the regulars at Trout's. Jim plays Spooky in Em instead of the Fm that the original was in. On guitar it is much easier. I can play a lot of the chords with only 2 fingers. There is a diminished chord, and for the final B7 chord, I like to play B7 altered, with a sharp nine. This chord used to be called the "Hold It" chord after the song of that title that organist Bill Doggett wrote that used it, but nowadays it is known as the "Hendrix chord" that was used in Purple Haze and Foxy Lady by guitarist Jimi Hendrix. I spell it X2123X. The diminished chord is spelled XX2323. Jim also plays Sea of Love a lot, and that one has an augmented chord!
When it came time for my turn to play, I played Be Here to Love Me. I played it in B, even though some people don't know that key and dropped out, but I did it in that key because Townes Van Zandt did it in that key. It works for my voice in that key. I got a compliment; someone said that it was the best I had ever sung. Banny asked me who wrote it. Townes Van Zandt wrote it, and he is most well known for writing Pancho and Lefty. I did Sunday Morning Coming Down next. Brian Lonbeck stopped me and said I was doing it in the wrong tempo. I thought it was a good tempo, but Brian is a virtuoso, and he usually knows what he is talking about. I tried to conform to his tempo requirements, but I think I was doing it at the same tempo that Johnny Cash did it, and the same key, but Brian seemed to think it should be a slower tempo. I am going to see what tempo Cash does it in and next time I will bring a metronome. I always try to watch Brian playing, and you can learn a lot from him, but sometimes I have different opinions about tempos.
Brian Lonbeck is heading out to Nashville for the annual Chet Atkins festival. This year's (2011) convention dates are July 13-16. I have more information about this below--a link to the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society website. Anyway, in spite of our sometimes differing opinions Brian is an amazing guitarist, and I have a link to one of his amazing you tube videos below. He plays like his mentor, Joe Maphis, and is on the level of people like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Even if he is not as famous, he should be, in my humble opinion. He is kind of semi-retired, but was sought out by Deke Dickerson who organized a huge Guitar Geeks festival that Brian Lonbeck is now an integral part of. Who knows what might happen at the Chet Fest, but I'm sure Brian will hook up with some amazing guitar pickers out there in Nashville, and am looking forward to some more amazing videos.
Well, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill
Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar cases in Nashville
And any one that unpacks a guitar can play twice as better than I will
Sometimes it is hard to hit the low notes on Johnny Cash songs. Usually it's the high notes that give you trouble, but Cash has a great bass baritone voice, and I can't really go that low. Maybe I should do it in B, or use a capo. Then I played On the Road. This went over pretty well, with people joining in singing the chorus. I think that Brian didn't like my tempo or rhythmic feel on this because he was making funny faces at me. I had a lead worked out, but with all the various guitars all playing, I couldn't hear myself if I played a lead. On the Willie Nelson version there are three guitars all playing different leads in harmony. I will play this song sometimes again when there are only a few hard core pickers left. It is a good last song, one more for the road. The session goes from 7 to 10, but a lot of people drift off before the bitter end. Lloyd, one of the regulars, wasn't there, by the way. He is 92 years old, and they said he had the flu, which can be very serious when you are that old. But I hear he is bouncing back and will be back at Trout's soon.
I like the song On the Road Again by Willie Nelson a lot. The story of the song is that Willie was asked by the producers of a movie he was in to write a song about musicians going on the road. The movie was Honeysuckle Rose, and Sydney Pollack was the producer, and had just directed Willie in his movie debut in The Electric Horseman with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. The producers of Honeysuckle Rose were worried that they didn't have a song, but Willie just wrote it right then and there. It was just what they wanted, a key song that would bring the whole movie together. They read the words and asked Willie, "What about the melody?" Willie told them not to worry. In his autobiography, Willie, he wrote about this experience and said that he believed that there were an infinite number of melodies that were in the air, and if you had the right words, then the right melody would find them. Or words to that effect.
I think that On the Road Again has perfect lyrics, not too fancy, but they get to the point and express the feeling of musicians touring. Exactly what the producers had in mind. Actually, the song has proved to be more popular than the movie. It is one of Willie Nelson's signature songs, but the movie is more of a footnote in his career. Speaking of footnotes, Willie's dashing off a signature song wasn't his only impressive feat of improvisation. He also ad libbed the best line in the whole movie for his debut in The Electric Horseman. Robert Redford plays cowboy Sonny Steele who is being used in some promotional marketing for a breakfast cereal but feels that his horse is being mistreated, so he runs off. Willie is kind of his road manager, Wendall, and he asks him what is he going to do now that he no longer has the job? I don't want to quote him since this is a family paper, but perhaps you've heard something along the lines of a bottle of tequila, one of them Keno girls, chrome, a trailer hitch, and kicking back. On the Road Again is not to be confused with On the Road by Jack Kerouac, though they both give you that exhilarating feeling of traveling down that open road.
Now I am going to talk about the chords, and if you're not a musician, or don't like to talk about chords, then skip this next part. On the Road Again is in the key of E, and it uses 5 chords. The chords are E, F#m9, G#7, A, and B7. The roots of these chords are the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the E major scale. The only chord that goes outside of the E Major tonality is the G#7. In the key of E, it would typically be a minor chord, but here it is a dominant chord. If the song were in the relative minor key of C# minor, then the G#7 would be its dominant chord. But there is no C# minor, no C# Major, either, in this song. What is cool about it is that the melody note is the G#, and the seventh is F#. You have the G# as melody, and just one whole step below you have the F#. Then there is also a G# in the melody when it hits the F# minor chord. I actually call this chord F# minor 9 because of the G#. It is a half step away from the A in F# minor. The minor second is the most dissonant note in music, but here it sounds really beautiful.
Anyway, On the Road Again, in both lyrics and melody, is a beautiful song. Seemingly it has very simple words and a simple melody, but there is just a little unexpected twist. Like so many songs, the bridge goes to the 4 chord, the A, and there is a dominant 5 chord just before the chorus starts again, but simple as it is, it is ever so effective. The little stop time on the B7 chord just before the chorus begins again works perfectly. It is like a pit stop at the truck stop before getting back on the never ending road again. Like the song says, on the road again. Well said in words and in music.
My Movie Review of The Electric Horseman