Cover/Uncovered: Hesitation Blues

Posted by Payton | Posted in cover/uncovered | Posted on 05-12-2010

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It’s been a while since my last Cover/Uncovered. For the uninitiated, it’s a feature where I explore a song in which I first heard the covered version – and subsequently learned of the original, or ‘uncovered’ it.

This installment explores a blues/bluegrass standard that’s just about as close to ‘traditional’ as you can get. Written in 1914 and has since gathered more than thirty verses, the refrain being the only consistent part.

How long have I got to wait

Can I get you now

Or must I hesitate?

My introduction to the song came from Old Crow Medicine Show’s 2001 album Eutaw. The band treats the song fairly traditionally, Ketch Secor’s fiddle carrying the melody that will become familiar soon enough. Willie Watson begins with a verse heard nowhere else:

I was born in England, raised in France. Aw, they sent the coathanger, wouldn’t send the pants.

but the second verse is present in nearly every version, and might just be my favorite:

I was raised in Alabama, born in Tennessee. If you don’t like my peaches, don’t you shake on my tree.

Cover: Old Crow Medicine Show - Hesitation Blues

 

Since finding the song, I’ve located quite of few live bootleg versions from some of my favorite artists. Scott Avett does what sounds like an impromptu version that reveals the often indiscernable lyrics. He begins with a common verse:

If the river was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d dive to bottom and I’d never come up.

Cover: The Avett Brothers - Hesitation Blues (live)

 

My favorite version from my library is performed by none other that Justin Townes Earle. Justin fingerpicks that lovely melody all while strumming the rhythm and delivering an impassioned performance. He includes a verse I’ve yet to hear elsewhere:

Now I ain’t the doctor, but I’m the doctor’s son. Mama, I can play the doctor ’til the doctor come.

Cover: Justin Townes Earle - Hesitation Blues (live)

 

Moving to some older recordings, we find the Mayor of MacDougal Street, Dave Van Ronk, doing his version of the staple from back in 1960. Blues legend Leadbelly included a recording of the song on what would become his last ever recordings, done in 1948.

Cover: Dave Van Ronk - Hesitation Blues
Cover: Leadbelly - Hesitation Blues

 

Most songs this old, with so little consistency within the lyrics can’t be traced back to any one writer. But the men that wrote ‘Hesitation Blues’ just so happened to be in the music publishing business. Billy Smythe, Scott Middleton, and Art Gillham formed a band in 1914, and while on the road, penned multiple verses to go along with the above-mentioned chorus. One of the earliest recordings of the song was done by Art Gillham, also known as The Whispering Pianist. His lyrics show that the song was always meant to be lighthearted and improvised:

I’m going down to the levee. Gonna make a rocking chair. If the blues don’t leave, gonna rock away from there.

I had a sweet mama, so bashful and shy. When she mends her underwear, she plugs the needle’s eye.

A doctor’s in love with my girl, they say. I got her eating apples just to keep him away.

You must love your neighbor, like the good book say. But that don’t mean to love her when the husband’s away.

Uncovered: Art Gillham - Hesitation Blues

Cover/Uncovered: The Weight….

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, cover/uncovered | Posted on 07-22-2009

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Cover/Uncovered. I came across one of the following tunes earlier today and quickly realized this song should’ve been one of the first examined for this feature post.

Songwriting credits are a somewhat debated topic when it comes to The Band. I remember reading once that Robbie Robertson had the biggest part in constructing this one, but I like to think Levon and the rest of the gang did their fair share. The tune takes place in the town of Nazareth (in Pennsylvania) – the home of the Martin Guitar Company – and features a cast of interesting characters encountered around town. Robertson says of the song:

In “The Weight” it was this very simple thing. Someone says, “Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say ‘hello’ to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there.” This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like “Holy Shit, what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say ‘hello’ for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.”

Live, ‘The Weight’ is absolutely epic. The ever-growing number of verses, multi-part harmonies, and irresistible crowd interaction combine to make the tune a live staple. And not only for The Band. Just check out the Wiki page to see an immense list of folks that have been known to include the The Weight in their sets. The song was a nightly standard at most of the ‘Texas Music/Red Dirt’ shows I attended throughout high school and college, nearly matching the encore-worthy popularity of Cross Canadian Ragweed’s Boys From Oklahoma.

Cover: Cody Canada, et al – The Weight
Cody (of Cross Canadian Ragweed) is joined in an acoustic set by Mike McClure, Stoney LaRue, Jason Boland, and the then just sprouting Ryan Bingham. McClure adds a little comedy when he botches his verse, only to improvise a freestyle rhyme. The performance is highlighted by Stoney’s chilling vocals.

The following song (and video) is one I’ve been studying up on lately, as in less than two weeks, I will head East to Tennessee to catch two performances of The Big Surprise Tour – Old Crow Medicine Show, The Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, all joined on stage by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. You couldn’t ask for a better folk lineup in today’s music world (well maybe if you added The Avetts in there). But more on this later – I plan on doing some kind of pre-road trip post regarding the shows.


Cover: Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, OCMS – The Weight
I love that these guys take the song back to its roots, slowing it down and revealing the true beauty in the melody. These six folks can make any song sound like it was born out of bluegrass, but it really shines here.

As good as Stoney sounds when he says “and he caught me in the fog” or Willie does when he belts “if you take Jack, my dog,” neither gives me the feeling I get when Levon Helm begins The Band’s version.

Uncovered: The Band – The Weight
purchase Music From Big Pink (1968)
Uncovered: The Band – The Weight (live at The Palladium, 1976)

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More C/U at This Mornin’ I Am Born Again:

Cover/Uncovered: Obscure Covers – 10.22.2008
Cover/Uncovered: Slaid Cleaves – 9.30.2008
Cover/Uncovered: Dead Leaves – 9.10.2008
Cover/Uncovered: Mike McClure – 4.26.2008
Cover/Uncovered: II – 3.2.2008
Cover/Uncovered: I – 3.2.2008

Cover/Uncovered: Obscure Covers….

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, cover/uncovered | Posted on 10-22-2008

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Bands have been reaching outside of their influence bag to find those not-so-normal cover songs for quite a while. In the 90’s The Gourds covered Snoop’s Gin & Juice, Alien Ant Farm went MJ on us with Smooth Criminal, and and Dynamite Hack paid tribute the original gangsta Eazy E with their mellow version of Boyz In The Hood.

Here’s a semi-new batch of obscure covers – originals are not included this time since pop music is evil and contagious.

Deer Tick – Beautiful Girls (Sean Kingston)
i love that John noticed the Doo-Wop undertones in this song an expanded on them – even breaking into Stand By Me at the end.

The Kooks – All That She Wants (Ace of Base)
buy Radio 1 Established 1967 (2007)
A perfect fit for these guys.

Nickel Creek – Toxic (Britney Spears)
Simply amazing musicianship/showmanship.
Forgive the quality – it’s a youtube rip. Check it out.

Cover/Uncovered: Slaid Cleaves…..

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, cover/uncovered | Posted on 09-30-2008

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In addition to his latest, all covers release Unsung, Slaid Cleaves has been known to mix in his version of someone else’s tune from time to time. But just as on that last album, Slaid absolutely owns the songs he covers and always adds his own flavor. In fact, i was going to post these two songs simply because of how good they are before i realized they weren’t his.


Cover: Slaid Cleaves – I Feel The Blues Moving In
buy Broke Down (2000)

Slaid has always had just a hint of bluegrass in his music – whether it be from the big stand-up bass, his epic story-telling, or his occasional yodel. Although he takes the bluegrass tempo out of the song, the haunting 3-piece harmony is true to the version from the bluegrass legend.

Uncovererd: Del McCoury – I Feel The Blues Moving In
buy High, Lonesome, and Blue (2004)



Cover:
Slaid Cleaves – White Rose
from Mearlefest

One of the reasons i had no idea this song was a cover is that Slaid has often told his own versions of small towns that have met their end due to impending industrialization. Like many of Fred’s songs, they’re great stories but i would almost always rather hear someone else do them. The highlight from Slaid’s version is when his band mates imitate the wailing wind spinning the sign from the disappearing filling station in the chorus.

Uncovered: Fred Eaglesmith – White Rose
buy The Official Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 (2006)


Check out another song from Slaid i posted over at SMM.

Cover/Uncovered: Dead Leaves…..

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, cover/uncovered | Posted on 09-09-2008

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This edition of C/U will not follow the general form – originally, this feature post was designed to highlight those cover songs in which i heard the cover first, and later investigated the original. But that limits the songs i can feature – so i’m scrappin’ the formalities.

September is fall, right?

Either way, this is great song. i’ve never been real big into Jack White – i like his full band more that his duo, but in both, he can crawl over to the crazy side a little much. There’s no denying his place in Rock History – he singlehandedly brought indie-rock to the masses (Does it then remain indie?? That’s for another discussion….).
Cover: Chris Thile – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
i haven’t said much about Chris here. The most creative force in Nickel Creek – another band to bring a sub-genre into the mainstream – Chris constantly abuses his mandolin and always takes his vocals to their upper-reaches. His ‘06 solo release remains one of my favorite albums. Chris compiled an all-star Bluegrass band to back him on it, and it came together perfectly. The band played the entire album live, sitting around 2 vintage mics hooked to the exact same 2-track machine The Beatles used on The White Album. The record also includes a Welch/Rawlings cover, Wayside (Back In Time), a few bluegrass instrumentals, and a handful of originals. He’s got a new one that came out in February (billed as The Punch Brothers). i haven’t picked it up yet, but it’s on my list – Check some of it out on his MySpace.
Uncovered: The White Stripes – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground

Bonus:
Ryan Adams – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (live)
As always, Ryan adds his own flare to a cover song – with some original verses about Meg and Jack.

Cover/Uncovered: Mike McClure…..

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, cover/uncovered | Posted on 04-26-2008

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i keep putting off that Artist Spotlight i’ve been planning for Mike McClure, but to get some more of his music out to you guys, i’ll highlight a couple of covers he regularly does. Both are covers of legendary artists and show both ends of the spectrum of Mike’s style.

i consider Mike one the best songwriters around today. This may come as a surprise to some of you, only because you’ve never heard of him. But i’ve known about his poetic way with words since about ‘98 – back with The Great Divide. I didn’t realize the genious in him until his first solo effort, Twelve Pieces, came out in ‘02. People who are great songwriters (and often know they are) normally have a hard time doing cover songs – if they do, they choose very wisely. That’s exactly the case here with Mike. From the multitude of McClure bootlegs i’ve come across, i know he’s a huge fan of Van Morrison. He finally put a cover of a Van song on an album with Into The Mystic on Camelot Falling:

Cover: Mike McClure Band – Into The Mystic

Mike (and band) stay very true to Van The Man’s version with this cover – from the acoustic intro, to the unmistakable bassline, and even the heartfelt vocals when the chorus builds. A perfect example of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Uncovered: Van Morrison – Into The Mystic <------ copyright issues...
buy Moondance (1970)
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Most of the tracks i’ve posted from Mike show his singer-songwriter side, but if you have ever caught a concert of his, you know that’s not all there is. Mike is a dork for 80’s rock and when he plays live, he lets that kid in him that always dreamed of being in a hair-metal band come out – extended solos and amped up guitars. Mike was the frontman as well as lead guitarist for The Great Divide. When he first formed The Mike McClure Band in ‘03, he employed the help of lead-guitarist Rodney Pyeatt (former member of Selena’s band). This bootleg is from a show when Pyeatt was still with the band, but Mike eventually felt the need to rip up solo’s on his own again. The Mike McClure Band is currently a 3-piece (Mike, bassist Tom Skinner, and Eric Hansen on drums).

Cover: Mike McClure Band – Rockin’ In The Free World (live)
A staple of his live (full band) shows, Mike gives Rockin’ In The Free World a little twist both musically and by throwing in some slightly altered lines of his own.

Cover/Uncovered…..

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, cover/uncovered | Posted on 03-02-2008

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i’m glad that, since digital music came of existence in the 90’s with Napster, Kazaa, and the likes, i began compiling a library of tunes, many of them bootlegs, and have hung on to them. i never knew exactly what i would use them for, and this may not even be the ultimate destination for them, but my music folder is coming in handy right now.

So, i’m still on this Matt Powell kick, and last night, while perusing through his folder, i came across a live recorording of a song i wanna share with you:

Romeo & Juliet (Dire Straits)
Like most of the songs i’ll feature on Cover/Uncovered i first heard the cover of this tune, and did a little exploring to hear the original cut – hence the ‘uncovered’. Dire Straits was band that was created about a decade too late. In the 80’s, while punk and electronic music reigned, Dire Straits was making what could be described as classic rock – with a folk tinge to it. Frontman Mark Knopfler, according to wiki, told bar owners to turn down amps, so the listeners could converse while they played, which kinda makes this recording of Matt Powell’s cover of Mark’s sweet take on an infamous couple just perfect.

mp3: Matt Powell – Romeo & Juliet (live)
At times you hear the partons and waitresses better than you hear Matt, whether Matt knew it or not, that’s how Mark wanted his songs to be heard. Plus, all that commotion kinda adds to the feel of the acoustic, groovy, bongo-filled song.

mp3: Dire Straits – Romeo & Juliet ~ from Making Movies (1980)

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Water In The Fuel (Fred Eaglesmith)
Fred Eaglesmith might be known as the guy with nothin’ but train/trucker/tractor songs, but when you can do them as well as he does, then go for it. i highlighted a Kasey Chambers cover last intallment, and here again, it’s her taste in music that she covers that surprises me. Don’t get me wrong, she can write a song herself, and i’ll get to that artist spotlight for her soon.
mp3: Kasey Chambers – Water In The Fuel ~ from The Captain (Bonus Disc) (2000)
mp3: Fred Eaglesmith – Water In The Fuel ~ from Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline (1997)

**sidetrack**
here’s another Kasey Chambers cover of Fred Eaglesmith – i was gonna do this song as the Cover/Uncovered, but couldn’t find a studio version from Fred. Enjoy.

mp3: Kasey Chambers – Freight Train ~ from The Captain (Bonus Disc) (2000)

Cover/Uncovered…

Posted by Payton | Posted in cover/uncovered | Posted on 01-28-2008

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So for this post, which will hopefully become a recurring topic, i will compare and contrast a well-done cover song with the original.
and to get things started, i’ll give you two installments…..

Too Long In The Wasteland (James McMurtry)
James McMurtry, the son of novelist Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), is almost as good a storyteller as his dad. He’s had a very successful musical career spanning almost 20 years. Somehow, though he has never broken into large popularity. He has, however been a song bank for a lot of artists, including: Robert Earl Keen, Shawn Mullins, Kasey Chambers, and even the oft-covered himself – Ray Wylie Hubbard. Here we have the gourgeous Aussie Kasey Chambers covering the title track from McMurtry’s debut album on Columbia Records:

mp3: Kasey Chambers – Too Long In The Wasteland

From her EP, Am I Not Pretty Enough, Kasey Chambers shows, once again, that she digs the American Alt-country scene (She’s also covered some Fred Eaglesmith and Son Volt). Kasey adds a little electric flare and attitude to make this a somewhat scornful song. As always, her ‘makes-me-weak-in-the-knees’ voice cuts through every guitar riff and symbol crash.**

Check Her Out: [iTunes] [MySpace] [Official Page] and buy her stuff….

mp3: James McMurtry – Too Long In The Wasteland

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Down Home Girl (The Rolling Stones)
Written by Jerry Leiber (Hound Dog, Yakety Yak, Jailhouse Rock, etc.) and first recorded by New Orleans bluesman Alvin Robinson, Down Home Girl is dirty, southern blues with a little levity: “every time i kiss you, girl, it tastes like pork-and-beans”. Appearing on The Stones’ Now! (1965), Mick showed us, early on, the versatility of their sound.

mp3: Old Crow Medicine Show – Down Home Girl

i actually heard Old Crow’s version first on their latest effort, Big Iron World, and it wasn’t until, watchin’ the video, i noticed the writing credits. Looked it up, and…… The Stones?!? How did i miss that? Old Crow takes this electic blues song to another level with their acoustic groove (they aren’t technically bluesgrass since they don’t employ a mandolin. They call what they play ‘Old Time Music’, which pre-dates bluegrass). Ketch Secor bumps along on the harmonica, while Willie Watson’s wails in his high tenor.

mp3: The Rolling Stones – Down Home Girl

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**If you couldn’t tell, i’m kinda sweet on Kasey Chambers (see below and decide for yourself…). And just like Slaid Cleaves, Mike McClure, and some more of my favorites, no one is blogging about her. So stay tuned for some more artist spotlights…….