Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Singin' the Blues about the Wayward Wind down in El Paso

Craig Bickhardt, on his blog "Ninety-Mile Wind" http://ninetymilewind.blogspot.com/
wrote that the day he moved to Nashville as a songwriter was the day Marty Robbins died. He then tells a great story about his father's career as a radio station engineer and what that was to a kid growing up. The blog moves to Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, and Jimmy Dean and other great story-song writers. I added this to the discussion:

What a wonderful and nostalgic reminiscence. We have gotten several of these lately, and they are just marvelous.

Of course, you did not mean your list to be exhaustive, but "Running Bear" (which always conjured up a humorous picture for a literate and punny kid), "Wolverton Mountain," and Hank Snow's version of Red Foley's "Old Doc Brown," all jump to mind as great story songs.

As you point out Johnny Horton and Marty Robbins sort of vied for top spot, but Marty's "El Paso," pretty much made him the king of the larger than life melodramatic song. Despite a fine, and more "popular" version of "Singing the Blues" by Guy Mitchell, nobody can touch Marty Robbins on that sultry piece of country suave. Plus, he was the first to record a Gordon Lightfoot song ("Ribbon of Darkness") and boost "Big Gord" (the punny kid always laughed at that nickname on one of Lighfoot's early albums, too) into the spotlight. And "A White Sport Coat...." Marty Robbins was one of the true greats.

The following is a similar reminiscence from my collection, Aged Fifty Years: A Life in Song. It's the intro to the chapter entitled, "Sorry I Haven't Written Lately."

"I have always been a sucker for a song. One of my unfinished pieces observes:
Song after song sings a sorry refrain—
Tears in my eyes from some other fool’s pain.

"I have a very vivid childhood memory of just such an impact. Occasionally, my parents would pack up the three of us boys and haul us to the Sundown Drive-in, just a few blocks from our house. It was a great treat for all of us: the speaker hung on the car window; the colossal screen jutting into the sky; the trip to the snackbar for popcorn and drinks or to the playground nestled under the screen; all three of us in our pajamas, rotating from the front to the backseat; the cartoons and shorts before the feature; and the peculiar familial isolation of cars full of people sharing the movie experience together alone.
"This particular night, I was reclining on the back seat of our Buick; Tucker, Kevin and my parents were all in the front seat when 'The Wayward Wind' by Gogi Grant came on the little speaker. Though I had heard the song before, I had never listened to the words. Lying there alone, looking out at the dusky sky, I suddenly heard every word and felt the mournful, wistful pain the woman felt, and I was choked up, then moved to tears by the story-telling in this simple 'pop' song.
"I still occasionally sing for my students, and I suppose I should be embarrassed by my being so easily moved by a story or a song, but I’m not. When I sing 'Old Shep' by Red Foley; 'Sully’s Pail' by Dick Giddons; 'Chief Joseph' by Danny O’Keefe; 'Deportee' by Woody Guthrie and Martin Hoffman, 'Child’s Song' by Murray McLauchlan; or even my own song, 'Michael,' I am invariably choked up. The sight of tears welling up or streaming down their teacher’s face is probably a very peculiar experience for most students (probably pretty silly way back when I was performing in clubs, too), but I don’t mind. Real feeling, even if vicarious, is what the human experience is about.

Sorry for being so long winded again, but I really love your personal anecdotes, and this one of mine just struck me as hitting on much of what you said here and elsewhere: to paraphrase, as often as possible, music's goal is to touch the soul.

Thanks for doing that with both your music and your prose.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comments, and for that great list of story songs! If we have a complete "failure of the imagination" in future generations, they should bring back these songs as part of the curriculum.