Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? (10)

It’s been a while since I posted any of the interesting searches that happen here. Busy writing two books and editing another for a friend, writing new music, performing it in public for the first time, and generally trying to jump onto the way-too-fast merrygoround.

  • Tahitian skies—Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler; one of my favorite recordings ever. Look; there’s a picture of it just to the right. Go buy it now!
  • a water songWater Song by Hot Tuna, commented on long ago
  • e street bands pianist—the marvelously talented Roy Bittan
  • hair was perfect—a line from Werewolves of London by the late multifarious Warren Zevon

Speedway at Nazareth

Dlancing at the title and lyrics of the first Mark Knopfler solo album I bought, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by a song about a losing race car driver. I’m not much interested in car racing (I’ll take steeplechases any day, and no, it’s not cruel, the horses love it) and at first look, it’s just this guy talking about all the bad luck he’s had, explaining away his losing streak.

When I did finally listen carefully, I was floored by the closing line

 But at the speedway at Nazareth I made no mistake

The big win to end the racing season wasn’t about luck; it wasn’t won by superior driving skills. Just the simple acknowledgment that success is often a matter of ‘making no mistakes.’ It puts a completely different complexion on the entire story; this is not a man making excuses, it’s a man expressing acceptance of his role in the undesirable results, and the simple pleasure of getting it right in the end.

Followed by a very long guitar rant that builds in typical Knopfler fashion to a memorable, hummable, ‘play it again’ track.

Quality Shoe

We finally got Mark Knopfler’s “Ragpicker’s Dream” and started wearing it out. It’s not really a concept album, since the songs aren’t really interrelated, but Knopfler’s ties to movie soundtracks are evident in the overall feeling of depression-era America. Though it contains some sad (or angry) songs, it’s not a depressing collection. Most of it feels just plain fun (it’s hard not to smile during the last verse of “Devil Baby”, a paean to circus freaks; in fact, it’s hard not to smile just writing that ridiculous sentence.)

Three tracks get played over and over, when I’m not playing the whole album: the single, “Why Aye Man”, a western swing thing called “Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville”, and a tribute to Roger Miller’s unique musical style, “Quality Shoe.”

Seen as a modern rock song from the leader of Dire Straits, “Quality Shoe” makes no sense; it really is about a pair of shoes. Seen, however, from the perspective of the album’s 20s/30s feel, it’s a simple sales pitch, back when all you had to do to sell something was explain to someone who trusted you why it was a good purchase (a bizarre marketing technique which might actually work, even today.)

After my 936th listen, I realized a connection to my own music. Though I pitch myself as a swingabilly writer, half or more of my tunes are heavily influenced by a complete immersion in Roger Miller beginning some time before my memories do.

Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Roger.

Tahitian Skies

INeck and Neck‘ve been listening to “Rare Django” the last few days and wishing I knew more than five words of French. Nearly every song with vocals is in French, recorded during the master’s early days with various jazz singers in his home country. Years ago, when I first discovered this masterpiece, a friend offered to translate the songs for me. Since she spoke French (though with a decided Tahitian accent) and loved jazz it was a good deal for both of us.

Thinking about the translations in the desk drawer reminds me of things Tahitian; not that I’ve been there in body, but I go often in spirit. One simple method is a track from a truly memorable and evocative album by two guitar giants.

'Chester and Lester' and 'Guitar Monsters'Twelve years ago, senior statesman and brilliant guitarist Chet Atkins teamed up with my favorite living guitarist, Dire Straits founder Mark Knopfler, and played a bunch of songs they liked. It was reminiscent of a couple albums recorded a long, long time ago, by Chet and a friend named Les Paul. All three recordings, “Chester and Lester” and “Guitar Monsters” with Les (combined into one CD), and the album I mentioned above, “Neck and Neck” with Knopfler, were recorded essentially live, as if the band had dropped by your living room to visit. They chat during the songs, they show off for each other; everyone is clearly having a marvelous time. It reminds me of Saturday night when I was a kid, and neighbors or uncles or anyone would come over with their guitars and such, and play and sing until long after us kids fell asleep on the great big couch in the living room.

Another Country“Tahitian Skies”, the eighth track on “Neck and Neck”, is a sweet melody which transports me to pleasant places. Written by country guitarist Ray Flacke, I first heard it on the Chieftan’s “Another Country” which is another fine alt country album. The “Neck and Neck” version is smoother, more polished; not better, just different. This is a soothing piece, treated gently by two musicians with style and grace.