A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand – great first lyrics

Great songs do not have to open with intriguing first lyrics. Some great songs do not have lyrics at all – Booker T and the MGs (“Green Onions”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Dover”)and The Ventures (“Walk don’t run”) all had instrumental hits. But, a catchy first lyric can grab your attention.

Warren Zevon did so with these lyrics, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking on the streets of Soho in the rain.” This song is obviously “Werewolves of London.” What I learned yesterday is Zevon was talked into switching the first two stanzas for this purpose by Phil Everly one of the famous Everly Brothers.

Procol Harum (a great name) sang these lyrics to begin a “Whiter shade of pale,” a great song title. “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.” You just have to listen as “the crowd called out for more.”

Known for interesting lyrics, Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, “She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet, let them eat cake she says just like Marie Antoinette.” “Killer Queen” is packed with lyrics like this, as are many Queen songs.

Jimmy Webb wrote these lyrics sang so well by Glenn Campbell in “Wichita Lineman.” “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.” It is the daily life of man who does his job as he greatly worries about his wife who is in need of a break.

The Kinks introduced us to the enigmatic “Lola” with these lyrics. “I met her in a club down in old Soho. Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola. C-O-L-A Cola…” Soho is an interesting place, as it found its way into two songs herein, so it serves as a great backdrop to Lola and this young man’s encounter

Yet, the words need not be complex. Paul McCartney grabbed our attention with a simple plaintive lyric “Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away.” The lyric makes you want to know what happened “Yesterday.”

Not to be outdone, John Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” His lyric was so provocative, you had to listen to his point to “Imagine” a kinder world.

I treasure great lyrics, so I admire great song writers who coin them. Yet, the song need not start out that way. Motown coined many great lyrics, but the Motown sound started with “rhythm upfront.” That was the hook.

But, it was later when Marvin Gaye penned these heartfelt, and still needed words under the Motown label. “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” This powerful song “What’s going on?” is a needed anthem.

Songs like Gaye’s are the reason lyrics move me. Let’s celebrate the music, but hear the words. I know I left out many favorites of mine. What are some of your favorites I missed?

Rainy day people – a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (a revisit)

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight, this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of now 34 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song:

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call
Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place
The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes
A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful
I think that I was made for you and you were made for me
And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine
For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”
“Sundown”
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
“Carefree Highway”
“Cotton Jenny”
“Old Dan’s Records”
“Summer Side of Life”
“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear
Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes
Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go
Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

Ain’t no sunshine when (he’s) gone

Bill Withers died a few days ago at the age of 81. If you don’t know who Withers is, you may know one or two of his songs. The one that is getting the most attention, and should is “Lean on me.” More on that later. The one that also should get attention is the soulful song of loss called “Ain’t no sunshine.”

The next lyric is “when she’s gone,” but we can use this title to remember Withers with the replacement word “he’s.” This song has been used in at least one movie to share the sense of loss. I also liked that Booker T. Jones produced it and Donald “Duck” Dunn played bass with Stephen Stills on guitar.* Here is the first stanza.

Ain’t no sunshine

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long anytime she goes away.”

“Lean on me” deserves attention. It keeps coming back in new strains and served as the title song to a movie in the late 1980s. In my view, given its words and simple heartfelt melody and delivery, it is one of the finest pop songs every written. It is not a surprise that it is an anthem for healthcare workers today. Here is the first stanza and chorus.

Lean on me

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.”

A song that is a little out of character with the first two is “Use me up.” In short, he knows he is being used by a girlfriend, but he is enjoying his time too much to change her poor behavior toward him. Here is the first stanza.

Use me up

“My friends feel it’s their appointed duty
They keep trying to tell me all you want to do is use me
But my answer yeah to all that use me stuff
Is I want to spread the news that if it feels this good getting used
Oh you just keep on using me until you use me up
Until you use me up.”

The final song I want to highlight was released as duet with Grover Washington, Jr. about ten years later. It is called “Just the two of us.” Here is the chorus.

Just the two of us

“Just the two of us
We can make it if we try
Just the two of us
Just the two of us
Building castles in the sky
Just the two of us
You and I.”

If you only remembered the first two songs, that would still paint Withers in a good light. He had voice that resonated. His songs also had a good pacing, so that the words could shine through. He will be missed.

* Note: Booker T and the MGs were the studio band on many Memphis R&B recordings. Donald “Duck” Dunn was a member. Think the band behind John Belushi and Dan Akyroid in “The Blues Brothers.” Stephen Stills, of course, was with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Buffalo Springfield.

Note: Here is a link to Jill’s post on Bill Withers which includes some song links.

♫ Bill Withers — A Tribute ♫

Saturday songs for reflection

In an effort to offer a diversion, I thought it might be fun to take a peek at songs written about Saturday. Here are five that offer a little variety.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
This song is more rock and roll than other Elton/ Taupin songs giving a nice change of pace.

Here is the chorus:
“Oh, don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Oh, Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
‘Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright alright alright, ooh”

Saturday In The Park by Robert Lamm performed by Chicago
This is my favorite song about Saturday. Lamm captures the fun day at the park attitude. Here are the first two stanzas:

“Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday”

Saturday Night by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter performed by Bay City Rollers
This is a fun song, but my least favorite on this short list. I do remember the song punctuating “The Midnight Special” hosted by Wolfman Jack. Here are the first two stanzas:

“S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

Gonna keep on dancing
To the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin’ to the rhythm
In our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night.”

Another Saturday Night by Sam Cooke
A close second to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” is Sam Cooke’s classic. It has been covered by Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett and others, but Cooke’s version is like velvet. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Another Saturday night
And I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way
Let me tell you ’bout it, lookie here
I got in town a month ago
I seen a lotta girls since then
If I could meet ’em I could get ’em
But as yet I haven’t met ’em
That’s why I’m in the shape I’m in.”

Come Saturday Morning by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn performed by The Sandpipers
This is a nice little tune released in 1970. The Sandpipers give a harmonized 60’s feel to it, but it has been covered by Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli to name a few. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend

We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday’s gone.”

Let me know what you think. Did I miss one of your favorites? I toyed with adding Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” which starts out “It is a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, as the regular crowd shuffles in.” But, with Saturday not in the title, I left it out, except for this honorable mention.

Kenny lamented over Ruby and Lucille

The iconic singer Kenny Rogers passed away last week. Rogers had a brief career as a jazz musician, but is more famously known as a rock and roll, then country singer.

As I was thinking about his career, I focused on two powerful songs about imperfect men, who lament over their wives’ infidelity. The point is not to challenge why these women have done what they did. Rogers captures the anguish of these men.

The first is called “Ruby” and was released in 1969 as part of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The second is the country song “Lucille,” released in 1977. Here are the initial lyrics to each.

“You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadow on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town
It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore
And yes, it’s true that I’m not the man I used to be
Oh Ruby, I still need some company
It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants and needs of a woman your age, really, I realize
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

“In a bar in Toledo across from the depot
On a barstool, she took off her ring
I thought I’d get closer so I walked on over
I sat down and asked her name
When the drinks finally hit her she said ‘I’m no quitter
But I finally quit livin’ on dreams
I’m hungry for laughter and here ever after
I’m after whatever the other life brings’
In the mirror, I saw him and I closely watched him
I thought how he looked out of place
He came to the woman who sat there beside me
He had a strange look on his face
The big hands were calloused, he looked like a mountain
For a minute I thought I was dead
But he started shaking, his big heart was breaking
He turned to the woman and said
‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.”

I found these songs powerful for the anguish portrayed by a disabled Vietnam veteran who cannot satisfy his sexually starved wife, as well as the farmer who toils so hard, not realizing his wife has had enough of such a hard life.

Anguish is a heartfelt emotion. I am certain the women were anguished as well leading them to their choices. But, to me Rogers wanted to portray the anguish of these imperfect men. And, perhaps the anguish of the situations.

Great song lines from R&B

Rhythm and Blues (or R&B) has made a huge contribution to our musical richness, here in America and around the world. The sounds came out of Motown in Detroit, Staxx Records out of Memphis and Chess Records out of Chicago. The music was different, even though all classified as R&B.

The Motown sound had rhythm up front right out of the gate. Memphis was more soulful, driven by very evocative singers and a tremendous house band that would even release later instrumentals (think the band behind the Blues Brothers). Chess had bona fide stars like Etta James and Muddy Waters that led the way.

They built off of great jazz and blues out of places like New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago and New York, to name only a few. It should not be lost that The Rolling Stones recorded a terrific album in Memphis and knew the folks at Chess.

What is discounted is the terrific song lyrics. These songs are remembered for more than terrific music. Some lyrics were merely catchy, but many had a resonance that left a indeliable foot print. The following are all from memory, so it is very likely I misstated a few.

“You make me feel brand new,” sang The Stylistics.
“When a man loves a woman…can’t keep his mind on nothing else,” sang Percy Sledge.
“Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home. And, when he died, all he left us was alone,” sang The Temptations.
“Neither one of us…neither one of us…wants to be the first to say goodbye,” sang Gladys Knight and the Pips.
“At last….,” sang Etta James, which lingers in the air.
“Baby, baby…where did I love go?” sang Diana Ross and The Supremes.
“War…what is it good for? Absolutely, nothing. Say it again,” sang Edwin Starr.
“Mother, mother…why are so many of you dying?” sang Marvin Gaye.
“Sugarpie, honeybunch. You know that I love you. I can’t help myself, I love you and nobody else,” sang The Four Tops.
“Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. Sitting on the dock of the bay… wasting time,” sang Otis Redding.
“Don’t be fooled by my glad expression, if it’s giving you the wrong impression,” sang Smokey Robinson.
“I heard it through the grapevine, that no longer would you be mine,” sang Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye in separate versions of the same song.

These songs are like little time capsules. Please add to the list with some of your favorites. I just stuck my toe in the water above. I would love to hear from you.

You have to be carefully taught

On the news today, I saw the UK Labor Party has been accused of having a few anti-Semites. Not to be outdone, the UK Conservative Party has been accused of Islamophobia. And, as I wrote last week, hate crimes are on the rise in the US largely due to a rise in white nationalists who feel more empowered these days.

People are not born hating. They have to be taught. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote a key song in the musical play and movie “South Pacific” called “You have to be carefully taught.” The lyrics are noted below, but I wanted to mention the context of the play first.

“South Pacific” is a play about the idiocy and harm of bigotry. It was written in the 1949 as a clever metaphor to address the Jim Crow period in the US. Rodgers and Hammerstein knew they had to use a different setting to get their point heeded.

These lyrics are powerful. Please let them sink in as we all need to counter bigotry and racism we see and understand some of our own prejudices.

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

Let’s use this Thanksgiving to be thankful for and embrace our diversity. In fact, the first Thanksgiving brought two different groups together.

The ABCs of male song names

Several months ago, I wrote a post which identified a few songs with a female names in the title by letter of the alphabet. Thinking it would be harder (and it was), here is the same rendering with male names.

A – Abraham, Martin & John, You can call me Al
B – Me and Bobby McGee, Ode to Billy the Kid
C – Charlie Brown, Chuck E’s in Love
D – Daniel, Danny’s Song
E – Eli’s Coming
F – Fernando
G – Gabriel and me, Gabriel’s Message
H – I’m Henry the Eighth
I – Ivan meets GI Joe, Igor’s Theme
J – Hey Jude, Johnny B. Goode, Hey Joe
K – Keith don’t go, Kevin
L – Levon, Bad Bad Leroy Brown
M – Mack the knife, Matthew & son
N – Ned Kelly
O – Oliver’s Army
P – Pancho and Lefty
Q – Quinn the Eskimo
R – Richard Cory, Rapid Roy
S – Boy named Sue
T – Tom Sawyer, Ghost of Tom Joad
U – Uncle Albert, Uncle John’s Band
V – Vincent
W – Little Willie, Willie the pimp
X – X-Men Apocalypse
Y – Flight of Yuri Gagarin
Z – Zack and Codeine

In preparing this list, I did more Googling than with female names in song titles. There are several songs on the list with which I am not familiar. Also, there are more single word female titles, with more of the men name’s accompanied by an action or noun.

Nonetheless, there are a number of very good songs from Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John” to The Beatles “Hey Jude” to Don McLean’s “Vincent” to Loggins and Messina “Danny’s song” to Jim Croce’s “Bad, bad Leroy Brown” to Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” et al.

Please offer your thoughts. I did take liberty with the word “Uncle,” but since it enabled me mention Paul McCartney and Grateful Dead songs, I feel better about it.

There is drinking with this Buffett

That is Buffett, as in Jimmy Buffett. If you listen to his repertoire of songs, it is very difficult to name one that does not reference drinking. While some are more obvious than others, he will reference imbibing in some form in many of his songs.

Here are a few examples:

“Warm summer breezes and French wines and cheeses, put his ambition at bay…”

“I didn’t ponder the question too long, I was hungry and went out for a bite. I ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and we wound up drinking all night,”

“I think of Paris when I’m high on red wine…”

“…a big Kosher pickle and a cold draft beer well good God almighty which way do I steer.”

“Wasting away again in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt.”

“Well I have been drunk now for over two weeks. I passed out and I’ve rallied and I sprung a few leaks.”

“She’s taking care to look for sharks. They hang out in the local bars. And they feed right after dark.”

“Drive in
You guzzle gin
Commit a little mortal sin
It’s good for the soul.”

“And the lady she hails from Trinidad, Island of the spices
Salt for your meat, and cinnamon sweet. And the rum is for all your good vices.”

Then there is that song with getting drunk in the title, but the song does not mention how the first action impairs the second action which I will leave to your imagination and memory.

Now for all you Parrot Heads (full-time or part-time) out there, please name the songs from which the lyrics are derived. For non-fans, Buffett lovingly refers to his fans as Parrot Heads.

For extra credit points, name a couple of songs of his that do not include drinking.