Saturday, September 11, 2010

CoTW 88

I was invited by old friend, Jim Sampas to contribute a cover of a Bob Dylan song as an exclusive iTunes bonus track for a tribute to Dylan's LP, Bringing it All Back Home. Jim is the kind gent who put together the Lost Songs of Lennon and McCartney LP on which I got teamed up with the spectacular Graham Parker and Kate Pierson. What started out as rock & roll fantasy camp, sharing a microphone with one of my heroes, Graham, and a spectacular band of Duke Levine, Dave Mattacks, and Paul Bryan, bunking and working at the dreamlike Longview Farm studio, eventually led to one of the most enjoyable rock tours I have ever been on, with yet another backing band behind Kate, Graham, and me.

On this Dylan tribute, they already had all the official tracks from the BIABH LP covered, as well as outtakes from the sessions that were eventually released on the Bootleg Series. I wanted to therefore come up with an inspired choice, a song that has not been covered to death. I chose "Rock Me Mama," an outtake from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid sessions. I love that score for the film, But to call "Rock Me Mama" an outtake is actually misleading; it was only a rehearsal tape, recorded live, of what seems to be a spontaneous burst of inspiration, with Bob leading a few musicians and singers through a song with just a few barely decipherable verse lyrics, seemingly off the top of his head, solidified by a more concrete chorus. There is no arrangement; Bob just repeats the chorus a bunch of times in a row to teach the musicians and see if the song sticks. But it was never released in any official way. It seems to be recorded only with a live mic. Sounds like a campfire recording.

Well, a band called the Old Crow Medicine Show took the Dylan bootleg and Ketch Secor of the band supplied his own verses, titling the song "Wagon Wheel" and crediting the song as "Dylan, Secor." I have heard this version a few times, from a friend playing it on his iPod on a few of our poker nights. While I really dug the Old Crow version, I wanted to sort of go back and reclaim the original as much as possible, filling in the gaps with my own lines and trying to stick to the theme, however vague, in Bob's original recording.

Jim had asked me on really (really) short notice to come up with something and he loved this version I recorded overnight. I am pretty sure, though, that Old Crow had to jump through some hoops to get the approval needed from the Dylan camp. So I raised this thorny issue a few days later, i.e. how to credit the song. My idea was Dylan, arranged by Bill, with additional lyrics from Bill. Or to just leave it as Dylan. Needless to say, this will bring on a roadblock to the project, so we are going with something else from the official catalog. More details on that to follow.

So, in the meantime, here is my version of the song, given sort of a freewheeling, almost "Sweet Virginia" vibe. I like the idea of this found song, with different artists interpreting, adding, editing -- as in the folk music tradition. Of course, it just adds headaches from a legal perspective. Not sure how long I will be able to keep it up here on the site. So hopefully you will enjoy it, now and for a little while.

Rock Me Mama mp3


Eddie Fields said...

Loved it, Bill! I also have that From A Window collection, which is incredible.

Randy Reichardt said...

.: Bill - first of all, "Lost Songs of Lennon and McCartney"? I had no idea this even existed. Another hidden gem in which you participated. Now I need to find a copy. As expected, it's not on, so I'll have to look elsewhere for it. How many other such BJ musical treats are out there that I don't know about? :-)

This CoTW has a very relaxed, in-the-round vibe to it. Did you add the clapping and all harmonies? (Assuming you did, of course.) It's yet another song with the classic G-D-Em-C progression, which never seems to tire out!

I've never given the idea of the "found song" much thought before now, with, as you describe, "different artists interpreting, adding, editing". Something worth exploring at a later date.

Have a good Somerville weekend, and thanks again for more great music.

Lawrence said...

Randy, if you can't find the 'Lost Songs' album, you can have a listen via YouTube, you don't mind do you Bill?
It's strange, you mention Paul Bryan and i'm listening to 'Little Moon' by Grant Lee Phillips at exactly the same time (Bryan produced/ plays bass) Welcome to my world...

Travis said...

Sorry if leaving this message here is somehow inappropriate. I am new to blogs, et al.
I graduated high school in 1997 and each summer was absolutely accompanied by Sleepy Eyed (among others, of course, but chiefly Sleepy Eyed). I met you with a buddy of mine on a trip to Pittsburgh, Pa in 1996 (we lived in Lansing, MI). You were browsing the racks of tapes and C.D.s at the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and we not only confessed our adoration of Bufallo Tom but for some reason told you that in my friend's coat pocket at that very instant was a stolen copy of Sleepy Eyed (he had a stealing issue, since dealt with). Of course, we also blathered on about how we already had purchased copies of our own and turned all of our (about 10) friends on to it. You very kindly said that all of that was cool, and that you were playing in Cleveland that night, and that we should come to the show. We couldn't, as we had snuck out to spend the weekend in Pittsburgh (don't ask) and had to get back home. Needless to say, it was one of the coolest moments in either of our lives, and still comes up in our rare meetings over whisky and beer as such. So... Thanks, Bill Janovitz. Buffalo Tom is still one of my favorite groups, and Sleepy eyed in my top five all time albums. No amount of aged snobbery can seem to budge either out of my C.D. collection or Ipod.

D. said...

Bill - good on you for wanting to reclaim the original. Jason Webley attempted this as well ...

I know the Old Crow fellows, and 'WW' was their show-stopper for a year or two before it was released. Their singer once told me, ca. 2001, 'that's halfway a Bob Dylan song' -- and I went crazy trying to find it.. After all this time I now have heard the LP of 'Pat Garrett' outtakes (courtesy the Big O)

I've seen 'Wagon Wheel' become a standard of sorts in the past decade, adopted by bluegrass bands and a multitude of amateur, acoustic, play-around-a-campfire-type musicians. As such, it's as overplayed and unwelcome (to me) as everyone following the Gourds' lead on 'Gin and Juice' which was funny maybe the first five times.
I question WW's appeal sometimes... hell, in a way I used to be the guy in the song; but I don't relate to the love story as much as a lot of its fans relate to the pot reference.
It's an OK song, not a classic, but I will say the chorus is great.
One song I'd like to see surpass it as a (timeless) modern folk standard is Richie Stearns' "Ribbons and Bows".

Randy Reichardt said...

@Lawrence, thanks for the tip. I'm hoping to find a copy of Lost Songs, but will also investigate YouTube.