Wonder Valley California

Telling lies and spilling whiskey on the floor

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Mermaid Avenue the Journey Of A True American Hero

When Billy Bragg and Wilco released Mermaid Avenue way back in 1997  I didn't know all that much about Woody Guthrie's vast catalog of work. There was a huge collection of songs and poems all written from his hospital stays.  Much of the work had been offered to Dylan in the 60's but remained below anyone's radar.

Starting in 1996, twenty-nine years after Guthrie’s death, first Bragg and then Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett began to sift through the pages, looking for the lyrics that spoke to them, that needed to be heard, that were just too good to leave to the archives.

In the documentary Man in the Sand, that details Billy Bragg and Wilco's project to turn the forgotten Woody Guthrie lyrics into songs, Bragg visited Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, trying to get some idea of what inspired Woody's songs. As Bragg wanders through the now deserted streets, talks to folks, and even discovers what's left of Guthrie's birthplace that's now just pieces of wood stacked in the corner of a local shop, he chats with the owner of an antique store, hoping to find anything that might bring some light to Guthrie's early life as an Okie before he started his journey across the country writing about his adventures. Delighted to show Bragg a link to Guthrie, the owner pulls out a sign displayed in front of the store that identifies Okemah as Woody's hometown.

The sign was in bad shape, Woody's name was covered with spray paint and the words "Commie Red A Draft Dogger" in it's place. The vandals couldn't spell but the message was certainly clear.. This was how Woody was to be remembered in his home town and state many years after he died.
When Wilco and Bragg decided to take on the difficult project of selecting only a small portion of the thousands of lyrics and write the music to turn them into songs Wilco's Jeff Tweedy had this to say; I'd have a really good feeling about things if the result leads a certain number of people back to discover Woody Guthrie.

Bragg, a songwriter based in the UK had been chosen by Woody's daughter, Nora, to bring life to writings that were purely American. Guthrie however, in 1997, was still viewed as a virtually unknown left wing folkie, mostly known for writing "This Land Is Your Land".  Bob Dylan was a fan but most Americans had no idea who he was.

After the release of Mermaid Avenue in 1998 that changed, the posthumous songwriting team of Guthrie, Bragg, Tweedy and Bennett turned out to be brilliance not many would have imagined.

American Songwriter Magazine has said; "The Mermaid Avenue project is essential for showing that Woody Guthrie could illuminate what was going on inside of him as well as he could detail the plight of his fellow man".

The collection of three volumes was voted number 939 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition.

Oklahoma has finally come to embrace old Woody as a state treasure and now even has the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival that brings fans from all over the world to Okemah to celebrate a truly American hero. In the state house of one of our most conservative states a painting of Woody hangs, something  far different than that defaced sign in the town of his birth.

Billy Bragg and Wilco didn't just alert folks to the brilliance of Woody Guthrie. No... They brought Woody home to the land made for you and me...

All lyrics written by Woody Guthrie; music composers are listed below.

"Walt Whitman's Niece" (Billy Bragg) 

"California Stars" (Jay Bennett, Jeff Tweedy)

"Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" (Bragg) 

"Birds and Ships" with Natalie Merchant (Bragg) 

"Hoodoo Voodoo" (Tweedy, Bragg, Bennett, John Stirratt, Ken Coomer, Corey Harris) 

"She Came Along to Me" (Bragg, Tweedy, Bennett) 

"At My Window Sad and Lonely" (Tweedy) 
"Ingrid Bergman" (Bragg) 

"Christ for President" (Tweedy, Bennett) 
"I Guess I Planted" (Bragg) 

"One by One" (Tweedy)

"Eisler on the Go" (Bragg)

"Hesitating Beauty" (Tweedy)

"Another Man's Done Gone" (Bragg) 

"The Unwelcome Guest" (Bragg) 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Jeremiah and the Redeyes at the Palms

Some of my favorite music is about the road and sky. Jackson Browne did a great live record "Running On Empty" his fith album that details his life on the road; Motels and truck stops, where the road and the sky collide. It's all about railroads and road houses, back roads and the long haul.

This past Saturday I had the privilege to hear Jeremiah and the Red Eyes at the Palms Restaurant in Wonder Valley.

Jeremiah Sammartano, Flagstaff based, Emmy nominated singer/songwriter who fronts the bluesy/Americana and sometimes one-man band, Jeremiah and the Red Eyes, has covered many miles over the past several years. Saturday it was Jeremiah on guitar, kickdrum and vocals and  Angela on fiddle and backing vocals.

I think Jeremiah accurately describes his music as "Delta Blues and Twangy Grooves" and I would only add his is the sound of the road.  

My friend Kevin Bone gave me a hollar in advance that Jeremiah was right up my alley and lord knows he was right.  Tasty slide guitar and Angela's fiddling with some mighty fine road songs made for a great evening of music with friends. Sitting in the back room of the Palms on a dark Saturday night I couldn't help but think how great this would have been on the back patio and when Jeremiah, with Angela on harmonies, closed their first set with Woodie Gutherie's "California Stars" I couldn't have wanted that more.  I've always enjoyed the Wilco - Billy Bragg version off the great album "Mermaid Avenue".

I’d like to rest
My heavy head tonight
On a bed
Of California stars
I’d like to lay
My weary bones tonight
On a bed
Of California stars
I’d love to feel
Your hand touching mine
And tell me why
I must keep working on
Yes, I’d give my life
To lay my head tonight on a bed
Of California stars

I've since listened to all of Jeremiah's music online and a CD order is warranted.  I'm including links to his music so you to can check out some pretty damn good stuff yourself.

I must also mention Grey Hill who always gets the sound just right at the Palms. Its not easy to do that night in and night out but Grey gets it done. 

Band Website

Band Reverb

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Get your kicks 40 miles south of Route 66

This is how we celebrate a birthday in Wonder Valley!  Our friend Sunny Steven Downer put together this cooler than cosmic capricorn shindig last Saturday night January the 4th.  The party was hosted at the Palms on Route 62 in Wonder Valley only 40 miles south of Route 66.

Jennifer, my beautiful bride, and I arrived a tad before starting time to get a good seat and Laura's special for the night... a fantastic feta, spinach, mozzarella and garlic quesadilla that was sublime. 

Kelly Hake kept us in double shots of Jim Beam all evening so we were in a grooving mood by the time the music started. That's always true of the Palms by the way... groovin' and a double shot.

First up was local singer-songwriter Lauren Downer  with Jimmy Fink on the Rickenbacker bass.  Let me say my favourite songwriters tell stories with their songs and Jimmy's songs about his hometown Chico California and lost love were warm and engaging, his voice and guitar playing a joy to experience.  See him around our desert music community when you can!

Next up on this winter evening was JJ Jones of the Needs.  JJ is a great guitarist and writes some great songs.  I was thinking just recently that I rarely hear protest songs anymore, JJ came through to address my jonsin' for the protest tune!  Not only that but hell, teamed with Nicci Carrannante to do one of my favorite John Prine tunes "In Spite Of Ourselves".  You can catch that further down.
Next up was the birthday boy's band Be Ja who got a cosmic groove going. Nothing is really more cosmic than a good George Harrison cover and Be Jah delivered the chill vibe.  Performing with Be Jah were Jimi Fink, Jessica Berryhill, Loren Downer and Michael Perez.

There is not much better in my opinion than hanging with friends at the Palms but all good nights must come to an end and tonight ended for us with more great bands to follow. As I get older the limits of age keep me from finishing many a great lineup. I'm going to try again soon to see Victoria Williams, it's been too long. Happy Birthday Sunny Steven Downer, keep up the fight pal!

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California