Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett 1963-2009

Sad news. Jay Bennett, multi-talented producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist, who played with Wilco, during their rise from 1995-2001, died in his sleep yesterday. He was 45 years old, and the cause of death at this time is unknown. His departure from the band and rift with bandmate Jeff Tweedy was (guardedly) documented in the 2002 film, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Bennett's pop sensibility and taste for the baroque, as well as his knack for Beatles/Beach Boys melodies and arrangements are highlights of his recordings with the band. His tasty guitar solos were frequently acknowledged by Tweedy from onstage. It's a drag writing obituaries here, and a double-drag when they are for your acquaintances and contemporaries. Here's a few highlights from his tenure with Wilco.

Flags in Fluville are flying at half-mast.


"Magazine Called Sunset" mp3
by Wilco, 2001.
available on More Like The Moon EP

"Cars Can't Escape" (demo) mp3
by Wilco, 2001.

"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" (alternate) mp3
by Wilco, 2001.
also available on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

"Ashes of American Flags" mp3
by Wilco, 2001.
available on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

"A Shot in the Arm" mp3
by Wilco, 1999.
available on Summerteeth

"When You Wake Up Feeling Old" mp3
by Wilco, 1999.
available on Summerteeth

"My Darling" (demo)
by Wilco, 1999.
also available on Summerteeth

"100 Years From Now" mp3
by Wilco, 1999.
available on Return Of The Grievous Angel

"California Stars" mp3
by Billy Bragg & Wilco, 1998.
available on Mermaid Avenue

"Monday" mp3
by Wilco, 1996.
available on Being There

"Forget The Flowers" mp3
by Wilco, 1996.
available on Being There

"Burned" mp3
by Wilco, 1996.
available on I Shot Andy Warhol

photographs: © Ted Barron
Wilco at the Mercury Lounge, New York City 1996.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bob's Record Collection (again)

In the liner notes to Bob Dylan's 1993 record, World Gone Wrong, he gives a play-by-play look and commentary into it's ten songs. Well, sort of. In a few pages of a CD booklet he divulges his sources and interprets the meaning of the songs - mostly traditional folk and blues tunes, all old, and for the most part pretty dark - all the while riffing a free association into a look at something that Greil Marcus called "the old, weird America."

Here's a sample. Dylan's talking about a Civil War ballad, called "Two Soldiers."

"... physical plunge into Limitationville, war dominated by finance (lending money for interest being a nauseating & revolting thing) love is not collateral. hittin' em where they aint (in the imperfect state that theyre in) America when Mother was the Queen of Her heart, before Charlie Chaplin, before the Wild One, before the Children of the Sun - before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces - before all the ancient and honorable artillery had been taken out of the city, learning to go forward by turning back the clock, stopping the mind from thinking in hours, firing a few random shots at the face of time."

The fluidity and elasticity of time is an interesting subject.

On World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been To You from the previous year, Dylan re-grounded himself by going back to songs he had heard and learned in his early days in New York, and recorded them quickly and simply (voice and guitar) in his garage studio at home. He is, in essence, "firing a few random shots at the face of time." I love these records, and while the record company was probably less than thrilled to get a couple of records of covers - from the songwriter - they serve as stark precursors to his next two records, Time Out Of Mind, and Love and Theft. Dylan, who once said, "don't look back," is without nostalgia, doing just that, and looking forward all the same.

World Gone Wrong, is a collection of murder ballads, songs about gamblers, desperate men, working women, ghosts, trains, soldiers, heartbreak, vigilantes, and essentially - America. Here we have the songwriter as curator in the museum of American Song. So, in celebration of Bob Dylan's 68th birthday, we once again take a look at Bob's record collection, and it's a pretty good one.

Here are Dylan's sources, as best as I could find them. I've made a couple of substitutions: "Jack-A-Roe", he learned from Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers, It appeared on two Elektra collections of Appalachian folk songs from the 1950's, but I've been unable to find a copy. Instead we get an acoustic version from the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia, learned this probably from the same record, and also taught "Two Soldiers" to Dylan, which I've substituted for a better version by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard which Dylan also references in the liner notes.


"The World Is Going Wrong" mp3
by The Mississippi Sheiks, 1930.
available on Stop and Listen

"Love Henry" mp3
by Tom Paley, 1964.
from Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot?
out of print

"Ragged and Dirty" mp3
by William Brown, 1942.
available on Mississippi Blues & Gospel: 1934-1942 Field Recordings

"I've Got Blood In My Eyes For You" mp3
by The Mississippi Sheiks, 1930.
available on Stop and Listen

"Broke Down Engine Blues" mp3
by Blind Willie McTell, 1931.
available on The Definitive Blind Willie McTell

"Delia" mp3
by Blind Willie McTell, 1940.
available on Complete Library of Congress Recordings

"Stackalee" mp3
by Frank Hutchison, 1927.
available on Anthology Of American Folk Music

"Two Soldiers" mp3
by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, 1973.
available on Hazel & Alice

"Jack-A-Roe" mp3
by The Grateful Dead, 1981.
available on Reckoning

"The Lone Pilgrim" mp3
by The Doc Watson Family, 1963.
available on The Watson Family


There's a handful of outtakes from the World Gone Wrong sessions. These are two of the songs he recorded that didn't make it on the album. "32-20 Blues" came out earlier this year on Tell Tale Signs.

"Hello Stranger" mp3
by The Carter Family, 1938.
available on Volume 2: 1935-1941

"32-20 Blues" mp3
by Robert Johnson, 1936.
available on The Complete Recordings


Also recorded in Bob's garage at these sessions, is a version of The Duprees' "You Belong To Me," which is on the soundtrack to Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. On the soundtrack album there is an annoying monologue by actor Woody Harrelson over an instrumental break in the song. Fluvillian resident Jesse Jarnow has provided this mp3, to which he has applied a little cut and paste to get rid of the monologue.

"You Belong To Me" mp3
by The Duprees, 1962.
available on The Doo Wop Box, Vol. 2

"You Belong To Me" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1993.
also available on Natural Born Killers


Buy: World Gone Wrong
by Bob Dylan, 1993.
Columbia Records

top photo: by Douglas R. Gilbert, 1964.
John Sebastian, Bob Dylan, and Ramblin' Jack Elliot

Friday, May 22, 2009


I'm not really sure about the details of who Wolfmoon were, except that it is some type of consortium of Swamp Doggery on the Fungus record label. Rule of thumb: when buying records, if it's on the Fungus record label, it's probably a good one. "God Bless." and "My Kinda People," were both written, produced and arranged by Jerry Williams Jr., AKA Swamp Dogg.

This record is unusual in that they are both answer songs to two of Swamp Dogg's earlier compositions , or more precisely - clarification songs . On Swamp Dogg's classic LPs, Total Destruction to Your Mind and Rat On!, there are two numbers called, "God Bless America for What" and "These Are Not My People." Perhaps, the Dogg, not wanting to come off on a negative tip, decided to clarify things with this record, where he proclaims God's love through a child's bedtime prayer for, among others, Deputy Dog, Huckleberry Hound, Elmer Fudd and Mother Goose. On the flip side, he praises the down-home and kind kind of people that make a better kind of world.

These are the liner notes from the LP from which this single was taken:

Win with Pride and Glory, Lose with Style
and Grace and remember no matter how
good you are you can always be replaced.


God bless Swamp Dogg.


"God Bless" mp3
by Wolfmoon, 1973.
available on Blame It on the Dogg

"God Bless America for What" mp3
by Swamp Dogg, 1971.
available on Rat On!

"My Kinda People" mp3
by Wolfmoon, 1973.
out of print

"These Are Not My People" mp3
by Swamp Dogg, 1970.
available on Total Destruction To Your Mind

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Del Reeves

It's time to salute the late great Del Reeves. Sure, he's responsible for signing Billy Ray Cyrus, but I think Del regretted that long before he died. Franklin Delano 'Del' Reeves enjoyed a long and storied career as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, hosted his own TV show The Del Reeves' Country Carnival, where he frequently carried on like a Hillbilly Dean Martin, and he also cut two of the greatest truck driving records ever. Both of them are featured here, as well as some tracks from his long out of print live LP recorded at everbody's favorite North Hollywood Honky-Tonk, The Palomino Club.



"Looking At The World Through A Windshield" mp3
by Del Reeves, 1968.
available on His Greatest Hits

"Girl On The Billboard" mp3
by Del Reeves, 1965.
available on His Greatest Hits

"Belles of Southern Bell/A Dime At A Time" mp3
"Lonesome Rubin/Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" mp3
"Trucker's Paradise" mp3
by Del Reeves, 1974.
from Live At The Palomino Club.
out of print



"Lookin' At The World Through A Windshield" mp3
by Son Volt, 1996.
available on Rig Rock Deluxe

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Handful of Dust

by Paul Abruzzo

In the early 90s I rented a ludicrously small room in an apartment on Amsterdam Avenue near Columbia. I was drinking constantly, working as a waiter in a glorified diner in midtown, ensnared in self pity, remorse, and depression. I wrote bad, dark poems, and as I went to sleep I prayed into my pillow for the mercy of death to take me in the night. I was supposed to be writing a master’s thesis on the Antifederalists—people opposed to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution—but I hadn’t even started. Volumes of their political tracts lay on my desk like an accusation.

Mostly, I went to a bar a few blocks down from the apartment called Starry Night. A print of the Van Gogh painting hung over the register, a forever-crooked brass light illuminating it from above. A jukebox sat directly across from the bar, its base lit up with the bright colors of Italian ices. The music on it ranged from “This Is Where I Belong” by The Kinks to “Rock Box” by Run D.M.C. I loved that jukebox.

A fat man who called himself San Juan sat at the end of the bar, resting his pudgy arms on the banister-like lip, insinuating himself into every overheard conversation. He sweat prodigiously, particularly late in the night, when he hustled out into the streets on cocaine runs for regulars in exchange for skimming a few bumps. About once a night he’d play Prince's “Sexy M.F.” on the juke, standing to holler a self-referential version of the chorus, “You sexy FAT motha-fucker!” while hula hooping his rotund midsection, the flabby underside of his chin bringing to mind bags of goldfish I got as a kid from the street fair.

I played the jukebox every night, starting with Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul,” from Unplugged. The first line always put me at ease, “Well hello Mr. Soul I dropped by to pick up a reason.” There’s something particularly charismatic in Neil’s voice in this rendition, like the way he annunciates the word “better.” No one in recorded history ever sang a better better. The riff is a graceful rephrasing of “Satisfaction” by the Stones, proving that in music, as in all art, there's infinite space between simple parameters.

One night I fell for an adorable blond. She had green eyes and a white t-shirt and I bought her a beer in a green bottle. She asked me what I was up to. “I’m working on my thesis,” I lied, “and waiting tables.”

“What do you make a shift?” she asked, touching my forearm, sending a warm feeling up to my head, and then down into my heart.

“I don’t know. About 60 for lunch, maybe 120 for dinner.”

“Shit!” she implored. She shook her little pale fist, “that’s what I was making when I did it years ago. It’s so unfair. Why does it never change—ever?”

“Oh, please,” I said, “everywhere you turn there’s a new injustice to make your head explode.”

She laughed.

We discovered we lived across the street from each other, she over the bodega where I went for my cigarettes. I dug my fingernail into the soggy label on my bottle. The air-conditioner over the door droned and rattled. She had the smallest hands and tough, black boots, which intensified my crush. I felt the rush of hope. I felt like my whole life was about to change.

It was quiet. “I’m gonna play music,” she said, and went to the juke. I ordered and drank a shot of scotch. She came back. A song started. I didn’t know it.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Lucinda Williams,” she said, raising her eyebrows and smiling.

“Never heard it,” I said.

“What?” she slapped her palm to the forehead. “She’s a genius.”

The song playing was “Six Blocks Away.” She said, “I broke up with a guy and he lived exactly six blocks away and I listened to this song over and over.”

“I like it,” I said. Then Lucinda’s “Pineola” came on, a dark tale of a suicide. It gripped me right away. I learned later that the character “Sonny” in the song is based on Frank Sanford, a poet Lucinda knew who took his own life by shooting himself three times in the heart.

The fiddle remains quiet while the narrator sings, but then cries a lament at the end of each verse. There’s something very brave about this song in its attempt to put into words emotional states which can’t be put into words.

When Daddy told me what happened
I couldn't believe what he just said
Sonny shot himself with a .44
And they found him lyin’ on his bed

I could not speak a single word
no tears streamed down my face
I just sat there on the living room couch
staring off into space

The drums are silent until after the line, “Sonny shot himself with a .44,” when the snare cracks as if a bullet shot. The chorus is only sung once, which adds to the drama of the narrative. The last two lines are a repetition of “I think I must have picked up a handful of dust and I let it fall over his grave.” The “I think” in that line is a clever comment on how shock and fear hamper memory. The “handful of dust” is ultimately from the Bible, but more specifically from a famous line in the first section of T.S. Eliot’s “Wasteland” called “The Burial of The Dead.”

I will show you fear in a handful of dust

The song ends with a rather long musical interlude, led by a fiddle dirge, emphasizing the reduction of the narrator to speechlessness, and the sadness of walking away from someone you have just put into the earth.

“What an amazing song,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, slapping the bar, “amazing.”

Then, after a tad, I got real drunk. Too drunk. I’d been drinking fast, and the scotch pushed me over. Also, my blood rushed from nerves, and my head was whirling from the dark beauty of “Pineola.” I began slurring. She abruptly said she had to go, to meet her boyfriend. “Boyfriend!” I thought, “how did that happen?” I was destroyed. I nearly puked on her. She said goodbye, turned and was gone. Her empty green bottle sat there on the bar, patches of foam slowly creeping downward.

In the week or so that followed, I would stand at the living room window in my apartment and try to catch sight of her in one of the windows over the bodega, but never did. I couldn’t get her out of my head for a while, how I’d fucked up an opportunity. I went nuts for Lucinda Williams after that. I ran out and got her records, and whenever I played “Pineola,” or “Six Blocks Away,” that whole night came back to me, that little pale hand and those green eyes.

I met girls in the Starry Night all the time—mostly unkempt lunatics. One was a stripper in a place near Port Authority, a stunning girl with beautiful black skin, enormous round eyes, and hands that never stopped moving. I spotted her standing near San Juan, parrying his sweaty coked-up advances with half-hearted politeness. She wore a ridiculous hat. I walked right over. “I love your hat,” I lied. She called herself Kellie, but that wasn't her name. She asked after my ethnicity. I told her my father's from the Sicilians, and my mother from the Jews, and she lit up.

“I only go out with Jewish guys,” she said, adding bluntly, “my father hates them.” I took her home.

She also loved the jukebox. Her favorite tune on it was The Beastie Boys’s “So What’cha Want.” I introduced her to Tom Waits. I played “Frank’s Wild Years,” from Swordfishtrombones.

“Listen to this,” I said, “listen to the lyrics.” She laughed to the ceiling, gave me a soggy, crumpled dollar.

“Play it again!” she hollered.

After a few nights with her I realized she was basically homeless, carrying all her possessions in a red duffle bag out of which she pulled all kinds of sex toys, contraceptives, and tawdry underwear. One morning I got up and found her at the kitchen table eating a Butterfinger for breakfast, peeling back the paper bite-by-bite with her nervous fingers while mouthing lyrics to a song in her head. My two Latin American roommates—both studious squares—stood in their neatly-tied flower aprons making brunch, quieted and terrified by Kellie, looking to me for help as soon as I came in.

I broke up with Kellie later that night in the bar, when she came in after her shift. She cried briefly, scrounged around in her bag for lip gloss, went to make a phone call, ordered a sweet red drink, shot a game of pool, and had a new boyfriend way before last call. They left together and I was relieved and jealous at the same time. Next time I saw her I nodded over toward him as he chose songs on the juke, “I see you're with that guy now.”

“Yeah,” she said, “it's good. Jordan. He's Jewish.”

I was thinking, "Look at that face: how could I have let her go?” Then Jordan played Lightnin' Hopkins's “Come Back Baby,” one of my favorites. I’d brought a girl along, Beth. I’d met her in a bagel shop on Broadway a couple of hours before. She was a cute, plumpish Jewish girl studying journalism at Columbia.

“You’re with her?” Kellie asked, gesturing with her head over at Beth, who was chatting with the bartender, flopping her hands around.

“Yeah,” I said. She looked Beth up and down.

“I don’t like her,” she said, and walked away. I never saw Kellie again.

I moved. I sobered up. I finished my thesis. I got a real job. I got a lovely, relatively sane girlfriend. I quit the job, then the girlfriend. I drank again. I sobered up.

Then, a remarkable thing happened one night years later. I met a guy and he wanted to fix me up with an old friend of his, Jennifer. I agreed. It was cold, winter. We were all bundled. She looked vaguely familiar as we met on the street and shook hands. We three got in a cab, me in the middle. We went uptown and came to a stoplight on Amsterdam. I realized where we were and pointed over at the white iron grillwork cage laid over the door of my old building.

“I used to live there,” I said.

Where?” Jennifer asked, shocked.

“Right there,” I said, pointing.

“I live right there,” she said, turning and pointing to the other side of the street, over the bodega. I froze. I looked at her face again to make sure.

I waited until we got out of the cab and walked a few steps. “Jennifer,” I said, “I know you. We've met.”

She looked at me quickly, her eyes narrowing. “When?”

“Oh,” I said, “about…six years ago, in the Starry Night.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah, you played Lucinda Williams’s ‘Six Blocks Away,’ and said you broke up with a guy who lived—”

“—Oh my God,” she said, putting her pale little hand up to her open mouth.

A few weeks later, one night, Jennifer and I went over to the Starry Night. The jukebox was gone, and it broke my heart. Some young guy I didn't recognize was working the bar. He had an iPod hooked up to the sound system. The music playing was stuff you’d expect to hear in a mall in Michigan. The place was empty but for two girls in their 20s who shot pool. No San Juan. No Kellie. These were clearly different times, and I felt sad, nostalgic. I had the unreal demand that the Starry Night be exactly as I'd left it.

“Hey listen,” I said to the bartender, “you have any Lucinda Williams on that iPod?”

“No, sorry,” he said, “What is that—country music?”

Jennifer put her hand on my forearm. She smiled.

“Let's go,” she said. I nodded. We walked out into the night, this time together.



"This is Where I Belong" mp3
by The Kinks, 1967.
available on The Kink Kronikles

"Rock Box" mp3
by Run D.M.C., 1984.
available on Run-D.M.C.

"Sexy M.F." mp3
by Prince, 1992.
available on The Hits 2

"Mr. Soul" mp3
by Neil Young, 1993.
available on Unplugged

"Six Blocks Away" mp3
by Lucinda Williams, 1992.
available on Sweet Old World

"Pineola" mp3
by Lucinda Williams, 1992.
available on Sweet Old World

"So What'Cha Want" mp3
by The Beastie Boys, 1992.
available on Check Your Head

"Frank's Wild Years" mp3
by Tom Waits, 1983.
available on Swordfishtrombones

"Come Back Baby" mp3
by Lightnin' Hopkins, 1946.
available on The Complete Aladdin Recordings


Photograph: © Christian Patterson
Memphis, February 2005 (Lamplighter Jukebox)

Sound Affects by Christian Patterson available at Photo-Eye