Chooglin’ on down to New Orleans // Going south with CCR’s Born on the Bayou

Okay, so first I was going to assemble an ABC of exotic words or references – exotic for me, as a non-native European – in the Creedence repertoire. Stuff like the ‘Mars tax’ in It Came Out of the Sky (an episode involving Spiro T. Agnew, 39th VP of the United States) and the ‘chasing down the hoodoo’ line in Born on the Bayou. But as soon as I opened the lid on the latter, I realized I was knee-deep in the alligator-filled swamps of Louisiana.

Let’s go south.

“Born on the Bayou
Born on the Baaaaah-you”

The opening track of ‘Bayou Country’ is probably the song that links CCR to the American South the most. With Fogerty’s biting raspy drawl, its edgy, ripply guitar sound and references to New Orleans and the infamous bayou, Born on the Bayou feels like a genuine return to Fogerty’s birthplace. But, as any CCR fan will tell you, John and his elder brother Tom were born and raised in Berkeley, California. Fogerty has said Born on the Bayou is about a ‘mythical childhood’.

But what exactly is a bayou? According to National Geographic:

“A bayou is a slow-moving creek or a swampy section of a river or a lake. They are usually found in flat areas where water collects in pools. Bayous are often associated with the southeastern part of the United States.”

Interestingly, movies played a big part in Fogerty’s love for the South. In 1997, he told Rick Clark (as quoted in ‘Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘):

“I gravitated towards movies that were Southern in nature. The movie The Defiant Ones was very Southern. Another old movie that was a favorite of mine was called Swamp Fever [should be Swamp Water, ed.], believe it or not. I think I hooked into all of that stuff because of the music first.”

Gospel music, that is. The South seems to have made a strong impact on the young Fogerty. “An imaginative South”, Thomas M. Kitts writes, “Formed from reading but mostly music and films like Swamp Water [Jean Renoir, 1941, ed.], one of his favorites, with its […] images of swamps, quicksand, moonshiners, alligators, snakes, human skulls and crucifixes.”

A scene from 'The Defiant Ones' (Stanley Kramer, 1958), starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, an escape film, just like Jarmush' Down By Law

A scene from ‘The Defiant Ones’ (Stanley Kramer, 1958), starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, an escape film

Come to think of it, a great way to ‘feel’ the bayou is by watching Jim Jarmush’ black-and-white cult classic ‘Down by Law’, starring Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and John Lurie as cellmates and later escapees in the swamps of Louisiana. Great stuff.

Down By Law - A Film by Jim Jarmush - Location: Louisiana Swamps - Actors: John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Tom Waits

“Chasin’ down a hoodoo there”

Right, what is hoodoo? It sounds like voodoo, but it’s not quite the same. Voodoo (or Vodou) is a religion while hoodoo can be labeled folk magic. In the Rick Clark interview, Fogerty explains:

“Hoodoo is a magical, mystical, spiritual, non-defined apparition, like a ghost or a shadow, not necessarily evil, but certainly other-worldly. I was getting some of that imagery from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.”

Generally, hoodoo is a series of magical beliefs and practices among people of West-African descent in the Southern States.

In 1950, bluesman Muddy Waters released a single called Lousiana Blues on Chess. He wrote: “I’m goin’ down in New Orleans, hmm // Get me a mojo hand.” Very similar, but even more famous was Got My Mojo Workin’: “Going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand”. A mojo hand is a lucky charm for hoodoo believers, a little cloth bag filled with roots, herbs and minerals – also know as gris-gis (which happens to be the name of Dr. John’s debut album).

In his excellent article ‘The hoodoo roots of blues music’, Dr. Snake names Hoochie-Choochie Man by Wille Dixon as one of the best-known hoodoo songs. In the first verse, a soothsayer tells a future mother: “You got a boy child comin’ // Gonna be a son-of-a-gun.” The term ‘son-of-a-gun’ made me pause for a moment, because Fogerty added the words ‘of a gun’, which is not on the studio track, in the Fortunate Son on the ‘Live in Europe’ album: “I’m no military son of a gun.”

He maybe also have picked it up from Hank Williams’ Jambalaya (see below) or from Happy Son of a Gun by Buck Owens’ Buckaroos. And look who made an appearance on Looking Out My Back Door: “Dinosaur Victrola list’nin’ to Buck Owens // Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door.”

There’s a long line of hoodoo-inspired music. From ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’ by the Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band (1965) all the way to the final album by Louisiana-born swamp rocker Tony Joe White, which was simply called ‘Hoodoo’ (2013). Those are just two of the most obvious ones. Also, a lot of the colourful blues names are rooted in hoodoo culture: Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and of course Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the man who gave the world I Put a Spell on You.

Hoodoo surely did get a hold on John Fogerty. It was even going to be the title of his third solo album, which remains unreleased. At a certain point in 1976, all was set to release the album on Asylum.

Fogerty’s record would have been in the company of Asylum label mates who released classic albums that year: Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hejira’, Jackson Browne’s ‘The Pretender’, Tom Waits’ ‘Small Change’, Warren Zevon’s self-titled debut album and the worldwide smash ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. But when Fogerty submitted the record, Asylum rejected it.

“After a few hours of dejection, Fogerty felt relieved”, Thomas Kitts wrote in his collection of essays ‘Finding Fogerty: Interdisciplinary Readings of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival’. Fogerty himself didn’t like ‘Hoodoo’ at all, saying:

“A lot of that album was just gibberish. I even put a Scottish drum corps instrumental track on there because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”

One of the album tracks was called Hoodoo Man, a song that some fans genuinely seem to like. Though the album is still in the vaults, it’s widely available through bootlegs. But for Fogerty, it seems like bad luck had struck. He went into hibernation and would only return in 1985 with ‘Centerfield’, a full decade after he cemented his solo career with the album that bears his name.

“Wish I was back on the Bayou.
Rollin’ with some Cajun queen”

The word Cajun is another sign that points to Louisiana. Now what is Cajun, other than a way to prepare chicken? Cajuns are people from French ancestry whose forefathers originally settled in Canada in the 1600s. But when the British came to power in Canada in the 18th Century, the so-called Acadians refused to be subjected.

They were considered a threat and forced into exile – an event known as Le Grand Dérangement. Some people ended up in Louisiana, which already had a French/Catholic community. The Cajuns then went on to develop a unique lifestyle in the swampy countryside.

Anyway, when Fogerty sang he was rolling with some Cajun queen. He was talking about a local beauty. But what does it all mean? In ‘John Fogerty: An American Son’, Kitts writes:

“All the song’s images concern a desire to return to not just his [the protagonist’s, ed.] youth but also an unconventional life, one freer, less conformist than the one he seems to be living”

Describing the Americanization of the Cajuns, Shane K. Bernard approaches this from a different cultural perspective: “Some hippies regarded the Cajun way of life, even if stereotyped, as an appealing alternative to mainstream America. They saw it as a return to nature and simpler times.” And that’s where CCR appears:

“One of the most popular rock bands of the period, Creedence Clearwater Revival, reflected the anti-establishment interest in south Louisiana culture. The group actively fostered a “Cajun” image, even though its members hailed from counterculture’s epicenter, San Francisco.”

But it was and remained an image:

“The group’s Cajun image promoted its members as rustic good old boys […] But as its bass player later confessed, “We wouldn’t have known a ‘Cajun vibe’ if it has stopped to talk to us. None of us had ever been to Louisiana or the bayou in our lives.”

A well-known Cajun song is Hank Williams’ Jambalaya (On The Bayou), a hit in 1952. In its first verse, the protagonist sets off in his ‘pirogue’ (a small canoe-like boat for fishing) to meet his own Cajun queen Yvonne. He also briefly opens the door to Cajun cuisine: jambalaya and a crawfish pie on a fillet gumbo. Guess who covered the song on his first solo record.

“Wishin’ I were a fast freight train,
Just a chooglin’ on down to New Orleans”

A-ha, there it is, chooglin’. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not some Southern slang. Fogerty made the word up. What is chooglin’? The answer to that question is on the opposite side of the ‘Bayou Country’ album, in the lyrics of Keep on Chooglin: “You got to ball and have a good time // And that’s what I call chooglin’.”

The word really ties the first and the last song of ‘Bayou Country’, and thus the entire album, together. Born on the Bayou and Keep on Chooglin are mighty bookends.

Dive deeper into the bayou with this entry on the Electric Bayou site.
And be sure to read Thomas M. Kitts’ full essay on Born on the Bayou.

Field Music - Find A Way To Keep Me

Field Music – Find A Way To Keep Me // Song Review

Find A Way To Keep Me − not to be confused with 2005’s Tell Me Keep Me − is the final bow of Field Music’s excellent album ‘Open Here’, released earlier this month.

It’s the kind of song that deserves to be kept in a velvet box, because you don’t want to ruin its spell by overexposure. Only to take it out on special occasions and feel its magical glow on your face. In the end, I know, I’ll probably have to give in.

Watch Field Music perform Find A Way To Keep Me live at Northern Stage, 3 February 2018 – from 01:56:00 onwards:

Bittersweey sense of joy

I experienced the same protective feeling when I was introduced to the layered symphonic coda of Caravan’s L’Auberge Du Sanglier (1973), which took inspiration from the final minutes of fellow Cantuarians Soft Machine’s Slightly All The Time (1970).  And again when I became enchanted by Snarky Puppy‘s The Clearingrecorded live with the Metropole Orchestra and released in 2015. I’m referring specifically to the ‘camel cadence’ bit that starts around 04:00. Like the sound of a mellotron or a Fender Rhodes, there’s something about those sweeping proggy orchestral arrangements that fills my head with a bittersweet sense of joy.

At the outset, Find A Way To Keep Me could be an Peter Hammill song, dark, restrained, making great use of silence. But then it evolves into a meticulously arranged perpetual motion. An ever-changing cycle of tension and release. All flutes and woodwinds, strings and voices.

Right! Stop that!

Compared to those rich textures, the ending of the song – a deadpan flute flourish and drum thud – radically breaks with what went before. Like an alarm clock that ends an impossible dream. Or Graham Chapman’s colonel, who abruptly terminated Monty Python’s absurdity by declaring: “Right! Stop that! This is getting far too silly.”

Or is the Brewis way of saying: “Now don’t expect our next album to be a triple gatefold symphonic affair, because it won’t.” Anyway, as ever, Field Music chooses to explore epic ideas rather than epic length. It’s that pairing of brevity, audacity and invention that will always leave you wanting for more.

Jilted John - True Love Stores

“Gordon is a moron” // ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an episode of The Guardian Radio Hour Podcast, in which comedian Stewart Lee talked about the cross-pollination between music (or more precisely: punk) and alternative comedy in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

A fascinating listen. In fact, I listened to it twice. The first time while falling asleep, smiling like an idiot. The second time to make extensive playlist notes … smiling like an idiot.

The one track I couldn’t shake off, was ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John, a brilliantly funny slice of teenage life which reached no. 4 in the UK single charts in 1978.

John and Julie

At just 19 years old, Manchester-based comedian Graham Fellows created the character Jilted John and released the album ‘True Love Stories’ that same year. The back sleeve of ‘True Love Stories’ provides some insight into Fellows’s alter-ego:

“Jilted John, otherwise known as Graham Fellows, is a full time drama student in Manchester and his ambition is to become a full time actor. He has 3 sisters and a very nice mother and father who live in Yorkshire. Jilted John likes fancy mice, Kate Bush and the countryside. His dislikes include Gordon the Moron, anyone successful with girls and gardening.”

Gordon the Moron being the name of interest there.

I think I can safely say that Gordon is Jilted John’s nemesis. The song ‘Jilted John’ wouldn’t be half as good without a depressed and angry John bemoaning losing his girlfriend Julie to Gordon, who is – so he keeps repeating – a moron.

Yeah yeah, it’s not fair

In just a few lines, Fellows paints a series of vivid, tragicomic scenes, that gain power through John’s mildly revengeful cockney-voiced delivery:

“She said listen, John, I love you
But there’s this bloke I fancy
I don’t want to two-time you,
So it’s the end for you and me”

“Who’s this bloke, I asked her
Goo-oo-oor-don, she replied
Not that puff, I said dismayed
Yes, but he’s no puff she cried”

(He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be)

Later on, while crying “all the way to the chip shop”, John is mocked by Gordon and Julie, “standing at the busstop”.

“Gordon is a moron”, John decides, before he launches into a feast of insults and hilarious threats.

In ‘The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy’ (2006), Julian Hall writes: “[Jilted John’s] lament that “Gordon is a moron” made for one the most bizarre singles of the 1970s – no small feat in a decade that also gave us punk and the Wombles.”

Listen to ‘Jilted John’ on Spotify.

Factoid: ‘True Love Stories’ was produced by Martin Hannett – then Martin Zero – who went on to produce such landmark albums as ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division and ‘The Return of the Durutti Column’, as well as work by Magazine, New Order and Happy Mondays.

Further reading / listening

 

David Bowie – Can You Hear Me (Gouster Version) // Song Review

I always had a soft spot for ‘Young Americans’, Bowie’s 1975 blue-eyed soul album. An early version of that album – called ‘The Gouster’ – is now included in box set ‘Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976]’. While most of the tracks already appeared elsewhere, I had never heard the slightly rougher take on Can You Hear Me before. So there I sat, during my early train ride to work. With eyes all watery from the sensitive phrasing of the very first line: “Once we were lovers.”

bowie_can-you-hear-me-gouster

Overall, the delicacies of Bowie’s vocal performance seem to be invented on the spot. Especially when compared to the delivery he later greenlighted for ‘Young Americans’. There’s a bit of hiss in the background. And even on Bowie’s voice, hoarse from cocaine addiction. Moreover, the a capella ending, strings and timpani of the final version are missing, … And yet, it all adds to the emotional radiance of the song.

“Life has surface noise”

The triumph of this rendition is that it’s NOT crystal-clear. There is some surface noise. Which makes me think of that great quote by the legendary John Peel: “Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, ‘Listen, mate, life has surface noise.'”

From Carlos to Cass

On a side note, Carlos Alomar’s classy guitar fill right after the line “closer than others, I was your…” was already in place. Now, I don’t know whether that melodic trick was a trope he found in the records that influenced him. But the fact is that it lives on. The other day, I discovered a similar figure in the chorus of Opposite House, a mellotron-heavy song on the excellent ‘Mangy Love’ (2016) by Cass McCombs. Check it out!

How Can You Hear Me was born

Further reading: this wonderful account on the genesis of Can You Hear Me, originally titled Take It In Right.

And just before you go, enjoy the ‘Young Americans’ version of Can You Hear Me:

bowie_can-you-hear-me-young-americans

Snarky Puppy – Jambone // Song review

Song: Jambone
Band:
Snarky Puppy
Album: ‘We Like It Here’ (2014)
Why: Jambone is graced with one the most exciting guitar solos in recent years.

It all begins with an infectious afrobeat rhythm, paired with bright horns. But what’s most amazing, brilliant in fact, is Mark Lettieri’s guitar solo. It starts at 2:22 with quick successions of slightly dampened notes. As the drums gain momentum, so does Lettieri’s Strat. He launches a series of highly melodious, edgy phrases. Every single one a direct hit.

At 3:26, after exploring some rocky territory, comes the real apotheosis: an exciting composition-within-the-composition which you wish would last forever. The band at its tightest transports Lettieri through 4 bar runs filled with jawdropping licks. Look out for that massive whammy bar divebomb!

It’s a magical few minutes, topped off by a seamless salute to Jimi Hendrix, quoting directly from his Third Stone from the Sun*.

Earlier this year, Lettieri released his third solo album ‘Spark and Echo’. Watch his spectacular take on Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World:

*Thanks Mark, for clarifying that on Twitter!