Saturday, February 22, 2014

Show Me Some Identification

Part 1 Of A Series Of 6

Hello and welcome back to Old Highway Notes. We have finally reached the border so that we can leave Tijuana Mexico and Return to the USA and old Highway 101 in San Diego County. As we pull up to the small shack a border patrol agent steps outside to greet us.

Flag at The American Border
(Flickr user Emilio Labrador/CC)

With that, Lee Greenwood's ode to Americanism, "God Bless The USA" with its line "I'm proud to be an American/Where at least I know I'm free" becomes the first addition to this weeks playlist. (As always, click on the text for Amazon download links, the iTunes button before the text will take you to the iTunes store for the track.)

"Hello," he says, "What is your citizenship?"

"I'm proud to be an American." I reply.
  •  God Bless The U.S.A.     A Celebration of Great American Favorites  Lee Greenwood     3:14

We follow up with Roger McGuinn's "America For Me" From The Folk Den. This is a free download from his site that features a whole lot of other free folk music downloads. He released this song onto his blog shortly after 9/11 as tribute although it didn't get the same amount of play as the "God Bless The USA". Etither way I hope this will speed us past the Border Patrol agent and down the road.

  • America For Me     The Folk Den     Roger McGuinn     4:19

The man in the uniform doesn't look impressed. "What was the purpose of your visit to Mexico?" The Border Patrol agent  asks us.
"Tourism. We came to explore Tijuana Mexico in a virtual journey of music and history."

"Do you have any identification?" he asks.

"Well, when this blog was started it went by the name of the Great Historical Bum, until I found a popular Bob Dylan Site was using the same name, but I still have my old ID."

The next track to be added to our playlist is Woody Guthrie's "Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done" which starts with the line, "I'm just a lonesome traveler, the great historical bum/Highly educated out of history I come." My first version of the Guthrie classic was recorded less than a mile from where I now live in Portland Oregon.  Woody was working on narrating a documentary to promote the dams being built by the WPA on the Columbia River. The documentary was never completed but several of his well known songs were written during this period such as "Roll On Columbia", "Grand Coolie Dam" and this song. The song screams America and celebrates its victories, the INS will have to let me back home into the US when they hear this.

Guy with ID card and liquor bottle
Hey, at least I wasn't looking like this guy...
  • The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done     Columbia River Collection     Woody Guthrie     2:21

We follow that up with Tom Paxton's live and faithful cover that he performed at "The Concert for Woody" that was held shortly after Woody Guthrie died in 1967 from Huntingtons Disease.

  •  Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done (Historical Bum)     A Tribute To Woody Guthrie  Tom Paxton     1:51

"Uh-huh. Do you have any other form of identification?'

"I want to go back into the USA so I can keep  traveling. Someday I hope to say 'I've been every where.' will that song be valid identification?"

And by now I am sure you can see where this little exchange is taking us. I break out what I thought to be the original version of  the song. "I've Been Everywhere" from Hank Snow in 1962. I follow it up with a variation by Chip Dockery that was apparently popular with soldiers serving in the Vietnam War. I have a nice version from Asleep At The Wheel's first album, 1975's Texas Gold. Then the coup de grace, the version everyone I know seems to think of when this song is mentioned, Johnny Cash.

This is where it gets interesting, Cash's version seems to be the iconic one, yet all my research shows that he did not release his version until 1996. So it must have been the Hank Snow version we remember prior to that. Cash did perform the song on his 1969 TV series  as a duet with Lynn Anderson, who was having some success with the song at the time, perhaps there is some lingering memory involved. I don't have the duet in my collection, so it won't make the list, but I did find the YouTube video so I am embedding that for you. Now back to our story...

  • I've Been Everywhere    RCA Country Legends: Hank Snow    Hank Snow    2:48
  • I've Been Everywhere    Next Stop Is Vietnam    Chip Dockery & Dick Jonas    1:58
  • I've Been Everywhere   Texas Gold/Comin' Right At Ya    Asleep at the Wheel    2:47
  • I've Been Everywhere (Album Version)    The Legend Of Johnny Cash    Johnny Cash    3:16

At this point the Border patrol agent sneers at me just a little and says, "Sir, I would like you do move your vehicle into the lot to your right for a secondary inspection." Now, I really don't have anything to worry about. I mean sure, we partied at some rock clubs, and saw some Banditos and political musicians, but nothing illegal.  And we are good Americans, but I still get nervous in situations like these.

As we pull into the inspection parking lot, another agent approaches us. "Do you know why you were detained?" he asks.

"I have no idea" , we reply. "Well, smart guy, for someone who uses Wikipedia so much, you should have known that Identification, "I've Been Everywhere" was worthless. Citing the article on Wikipedia:  Well, I guess that reminds me I should always do my research!
The officer continues,  "There are versions of that song in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, the USA, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, India, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and everywhere else in the world. Not to mention states and provinces like Alaska, Alberta, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Really all you nead is a list and you can probably adapt it to this song. Heck, they have even done Worlds of Warcraft, USAF Security service stations, and beers! Just listen to this portfolio...

"I've Been Everywhere" is a song which was written by Australian country singer Geoff Mack in 1959, and made popular byLucky Starr in 1962.
The song (as originally written) listed Australian towns. It was later adapted by Hank Snow for North American (predominantlyUnited States) toponyms and by John Hore (later known as John Grenell) with New Zealand toponyms (1966).
The song was a number 1 hit in Country Music in November 1962 in the United States for the recording artist Hank Snow.[1] The song was also recorded by Lynn Anderson (USA 1970), Asleep at the Wheel (USA 1973), Johnny Cash (USA 1996), Chip Dockery, Ted Egan, Little Jan Buckner of Wendy Bagwell & The Sunliters (USA 1972), the "Farrelly Brothers" from the television series The Aunty Jack Show (Australia 1974, a parody version), John Grenell (NZ 1966), Mike Ford (Canada, 2005), Rolf Harris(UK 1963), Clifton Jansky, The Sunny Cowgirls and the Statler Brothers. 

"As you can tell, that identification has been around a bit. You are going to have to provide us with something else."

I can accommodate that request."Here are some other forms of identification. A few of them relate to Vietnam. Now I wasn't there, I was just a kid when the war was going on, but I do support and am grateful to all the folks who fought and died in the jungles of Southeast Asia. That is why those songs have meaning to me."

US Passport
(Flickr user Damian613/CC)

By way of an apology, we begin with Paul Simon's "American Tune". Then as proof of citizenship, we offer "Born in The USA" from Bruce Springsteen and another view of Vietnam service from Jerry Reed, "Fighting For the U.S.A". Then to prove my residency I offer up Steve Miller's "Living In The USA" as well as a version by Wilmer and the Dukes. Then to close out my plea, and appeal to blue state patriotism, Charlie Daniels, with "In America".
  • American Tune    There Goes Rhymin' Simon    Paul Simon    3:47
  • Born in the U.S.A. (Album Version) [Clean]    The Essential Bruce Springsteen    Bruce Springsteen    4:42
  • Fightin' For The U.S.A.    Next Stop Is Vietnam - The War On Record, 1961-2008 (13CD+Book)   Jerry Reed    2:14
  • Living in the U.S.A.-Steve Miller Band    4:06
  • Living In the USA-Wilmer & the Dukes    3:19
  • In America    In America    The Charlie Daniels Band    3:18

"OK",  says the agent, "wait here and I will be right back. I am going to go run this identification see if it checks out. If it does you should be on your way." 

And that is where we end this weeks Old Highway Notes. Will our identification check out? Will we be detained for further questioning? Will we be deported and left as a blog without a country?. You'll have to wait with me for the next installment of Old Highway Notes Highway 101 Crossing The Border in just 3 weeks. But make sure and join us next week as we begin our journey down Interstate 95 with some music. And in 2 weeks we will be back in Chicago on Route 66. I hope you are enjoying the ride.

If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased.

With your help, I can keep the show on the road for you.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Star Comes Down From The Heavens: Sun Ra

Hello and welcome back to Old Highways Notes where we continue to explore the music of Chicago at the beginning of Route 66. The last time we were in Chicago, we talked about Glenn Miller. A band leader who arose from the poor side of Chicago to become a star that will endure through history. He may not have reached the heights he reached without the aid of Fletcher Henderson and his music. The artist we are talking about this week also has connections to Fletcher Henderson as well. But we will get to that as our story unfolds.

Sun Ra Tribute
Sun Ra

In 1914, Birmingham, Alabama welcomed a new arrival to the world. Named Herman Blount, and given the nickaname "Sonny". Not much is known about his early years. Later in his life that would be by design and he would further obscure the biography. We do know that by the age of 11 or 12 he was a talented piano player, who could play by ear and had begun transcribing and composing sheet music.

According to Wikipedia :
For decades, very little was known about Sun Ra's early life, and he contributed to its obscurity. As a self-invented person, he routinely gave evasive, contradictory or seemingly nonsensical answers to personal questions, and denied his birth name. He speculated, only half in jest, that he was distantly related to Elijah Poole, later famous as Elijah Muhammed, leader of the Nation of Islam.
In 1934 Sonny began his professional career, signing with a musicians  union at getting a job with Ethel Harper's band which would tour the Southeast and Midwest. Halfway through the tour Harper abandoned the band to go to New York to pursue a singing career. Blount took over the operation of the band and renamed the Sonny Blount Orchestra. He managed to keep the show on the road for a short while before financial difficulties caused it to shut down.

Returning to Birmingham, Sonny found work as a musician around town. His obvious skills caused him to be awarded a scholarship to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University where he majored in music. He did not last long dropping out in 1936 or 1937, probably due to financial problems but also due to an out of body experience. The story is that he felt himself surrounded by a bright white light. As he later recounted:
"… my whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn't in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn … they teleported me and I was down on [a] stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That's what they told me.[9]
This experience would have ramifications to last throughout his life. In 1942, Sonny was summoned to the draft board for military service. He promptly claimed conscientious objector status. His case was rejected. Many of his family would ostracize him for his lack of duty and he was arrested shortly thereafter and sent to a work camp in Pennsylvania. He would be released 1943 after suffering a hernia. The death of his Aunt Ida in 1945 left him no reason to stay in Birmingham and he dissolved his band and joined the 2nd Great Migration in the early 1940's and relocated to Chicago.

He quickly found work and was recorded as a session musician with Wynonie Harris twice in 1946.In august of that year he would begin working with Fletcher Henderson writing arrangements, If he had some how been around 20 years prior, he likely would have written music that Benny Goodman would ultimately perform.

In October of 1952 Sonny Blount officially had his name changed to Le Sony'r Ra, or Sun Ra as he would be more popularly called.  It was a rejection of his "slave name" and embraced his new consciousness and persona that tied together Egyptian imagery and his claim that he was a visitor from a distant planet. Again from Wikipedia:
"Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial," critic Scott Yanow said,[2] because of Sun Ra's eclectic music and unorthodox lifestyle. Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee.[3] Sun Ra denied any connection with his birth name, saying "That's an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym."[4]
It was during the mid 1950's in Chicago that Sun Ra started a record label, El Saturn Records, that would prove to be a vehicle for his work and related artists. Many tracks were recorded with Ra as a background artist behind local doo-wop and jazz singers. Also during this time, he would form the Arkestra, which would continue to perform to this day, several years after the death of the founder. Wikipedia makes another description of the persona Ra was adoting that he would stay with for the rest of his life:
During the late 1950s, Sun Ra and his band began wearing the outlandish, Egyptian-styled or science fiction-themed costumes and headdresses for which they would become known. These costumes had multiple purposes: they expressed Sun Ra's fascination with ancient Egypt and the space age; they provided a distinctive uniform for the Arkestra; they provided a new identity for the band onstage, as well as comic relief. (Sun Ra thought avant garde musicians typically took themselves far too seriously).
                                                             Amazon Store

The singles that he recorded on El Saturn records, along with a variety of later releases have been collected on cd set called The Singles. The fist Disc covers his Chicago years. Here is a track listing:

Album: The Singles Sun Ra

Disc 1 - 1954-60

  • A Foggy Day-The Nu-Sounds    1:05
  • Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie-The Cosmic Rays    1:5
  • Dreaming-The Cosmic Rays    2:45
  • Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie-The Cosmic Rays    3:05
  • Bye Bye-The Cosmic Rays    2:51
  • Sombody's In Love-The Cosmic Rays    1:49
  • Medicine For A Nightmare [Alternate Take]-Sun Ra    2:37
  • Saturn-Sun Ra    3:02
  • Supersonic Jazz-Sun Ra    2:36
  • Happy New Year To You-The Qualities    1:50
  • It's Christmas Time-The Qualities    2:46
  • Muck Muck (Matt Matt)-Yochanan    2:48
  • Hot Skillet Mama-Yochanan    3:15
  • Great Balls Of Fire-Sun Ra    5:31
  • Hours After-Sun Ra    2:47
  • Teenager's Letter Of Promises-Juanita Rogers & Lynn Hollings with Mr. V's Five Joys    3:44
  • I'm So Glad You Love Me Juanita Rogers with Mr. V's Five Joys    3:07
  • The Sun One      Yochanan With Sun Ra & His Arkestra    2:32
  • The Sun Man Speaks-Yochanan With Sun Ra & His Arkestra    4:37
  • The Sun Man Speaks [Alternate Take]-Yochanan With Sun Ra & His Arkestra    3:51
  • October-Sun Ra    4:42
  • Adventure In Space-Sun Ra    1:56
  • Message To Earthman-Yochanan With Sun Ra & His Arkestra    2:26
  • Message To Earthman [Alternate Take]-Yochanan With Sun Ra & His Arkestra    2:24
  • State Street-Sun Ra    3:31
I am going to try something new this post and I have assembled a YouTube playlist of the tracks I could find from this album,  I hope it makes the page load faster for you and allow you to hit play and have a bit of music to listen to in a sitting. Let me know if you like it and I will keep doing it in future posts.

In 1960, Sun Ra left Chicago and moved to New York City.  He would continue to claim to have come from Saturn and championed a Marcus Garvey like black exodus to outer space. He would create a stage persona of African Nationalism with colorful Egyptian styled robes and headdresses. At the same time he was an early proponent of computers and space age technologies. His band would live together in a communal/cult-like setting where they would practice their music and discuss Ra's philosophical and metaphysical teachings. He would be a fixture in the New York avante garde jazz scene and would be influential to some of jazz's biggest artists. He was often considered by the press or the public to be either a novelty charlatan showman, or a creative genius beyond our comprehension. Some even believe that he truly was a representative from outer space.  After his death in 1993, his Arkestra continues to perform and study his legacy. He would always be a sort of an underground artist, although he has developed quite a cult following over time, but his fame as possibly the most unique jazz man in the history of the genre earns him a place in history.

Sun Ra Poster
(Flickr user bunky's pickle/CC)

I do have a few more disc of his music from after the Chicago Era. They make it onto Old Highway note play list as well. Starting of With Disc 2 of The Singles, which spans the New York years :
Album: The Singles Sun Ra

Disc 2 - 1960-82

  • The Blue Set-Sun Ra    4:43
  • Big City Blues-Sun Ra    3:15
  • Tell Her To Come On Home-Little Mack    2:09
  • I'm Making Believe-Little Mack    3:16
  • The Bridge-Sun Ra    1:59
  • Rocket #9-Sun Ra    2:26
  • Blues On Planet Mars-Sun Ra    3:27
  • Saturn Moon-Sun Ra    2:16
  • The Sky Is Crying-Lacy Gibson    2:52
  • She's My Baby-Lacy Gibson    2:10
  • I Am Gonna Unmask The Batman-Lacy Gibson    2:46
  • I Want An Easy Woman-Lacy Gibson    2:46
  • I'm Gonna Unmask The Batman-Sun Ra    2:22
  • The Perfect Man-Sun Ra    4:56
  • Journey To Saturn-Sun Ra    3:45
  • Enlightenment-Sun Ra    3:28
  • Love In Outer Space-Sun Ra    3:51
  • Mayan Temple-Sun Ra    4:17
  • Disco 2100-Sun Ra    2:36
  • Sky Blues-Sun Ra    2:45
  • Rough House Blues-Sun Ra    3:37
  • Cosmo-Extensions-Sun Ra    4:26
  • Quest-Sun Ra    2:40
  • Outer Space Plateau-Sun Ra    2:21

My collection of music really barely brushes against Sun Ra's output. He has released over 150 albums. I only have 3 of them. The next album onto the list is his 1978 release Lanquidity. The reviews I read say that it is one of his more accessible albums. Drawing on more song oriented jazz and funk, I find it more accessible as well. His 1970's music that I have heard is often pretty challenging avante garde jazz. But what did you expect from a jazz man from Saturn? Here tour track listing, and download links:
Album: Lanquidity Sun Ra

  • Lanquidity 8:21
  • Where Pathways Meet 6:32
  • That's How I Feel 8:05
  • Twin Stars of Thence 9:34
  • There Are Other Worlds [They Have Not Told You Of] 10:57

The last album of Sun Ra's to make it onto our playlist is A Night in East Berlin/My Brothers the Wind and the Sun from1986. This live album suffers form poor sound quality but it does showcase the band performing a fine set, typical of that era in their history. The video is all different versions of the album tracks.
Album: A Night In East Berlin / My Brothers The Wind And Sun, No. 9 Sun Ra and his Cosmo Discipline Arkestra

  • Mystic Prophecy 10:11
  • Beyond the Wilderness of Shadows 2:23
  • Prelude To A Kiss 2:58
  • Space Is the Place>We Travel the Spaceways 3:29
  • Interstellar Low Ways 8:23
  • The Shadow World 9:04
  • Rocket #9 1:44
  • My Brothers the Wind and Son 20:49

The Sun Ra Arkestra carrying the torch in 2010
While Sun Ra has apparantly returned to Saturn, there a wealth of his music to explore that I did not discuss in this blog post. For More of Sun Ra's music, here are links to Sun Ra's catalog on ITunes and Amazon:

 Amazon Sun Ra Catalogue 

Thanks for joining us this week at Old Highway Notes, I hope you have enjoyed hearing about Sun Ra. Join us next week as continue crossing the border from Tijuana back onto old Highway 101. In two weeks we will be doing an overview of  Interstate 95, and in just three short weeks we will back here again on Route 66 where will continue to explore the music of the City of Chicago.

If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased. With your help, I can keep the show on the road for you. Thanks!

To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an off ramp and click on the highway sign:
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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Starting a Third Route of Virtual Travel by way of Music and History

Interstate 95 Shield
Hello again my friends and welcome back to Old Highway Notes. First off, I would like to make a big announcement that if you are an iTunes user you can now link to available downloads in the iTunes store if you would like to build your own list at home. Here at Old Highway Notes, I am always trying to improve the experience for you, my guest. If you will recall, in my last several posts I proposed starting a new Route and asking for directions. I was given three suggestions to consider. The nominees were:
Interstate 10 Map
Interstate 10
  • Interstate 10:
An excellent suggestion, Interstate 10 runs is the Southernmost West/East Interstate Highway. Passing through  California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida goes through many ares of rich musical history and diversity, Not the least of which would be when it passes through New Orleans. This is first runner up and may well be the next route I start, someday.
Interstate 40
Interstate 40
  • Interstate 40:
Another great suggestion. Running through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina there is a lot of musical lore in those ares. As it turns out the western portion of I-40 overlaps much of Route 66, so we will be going there anyway. I do want to spend some time in Tennessee though, so maybe someday we will be taking another look at this highway.
Interstate 95
Interstate 95
  • Interstate 95:
Running South to North along the eastern seaboard, I-95 covers  Florida, Georgia, The Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic Region, New York, New England. Definitely fertile ground historically and musically.
  • And the winner is...Interstate 95:
All three choices would make for excellent virtual journeys. In the end I let Lady Luck make the call. I rolled a six sided die with 2 sides of the die representing each of the suggestions. The winner was Interstate 95. That kind of works out well since it has a theme song of sorts. I give you, "The I-95 Asshole Song". It sounds a  lot like Jimmy Buffett, but it's not. August Campbell wrote this novelty number and released it Flat Baroque Records. It is the start of our I-95 playlist.

That does it for this weeks Old Highway Notes. A bit of a short one, but we will back next week continuing our exploration of Chicago on Route 66. In two weeks we will resume crossing the border from Tijuana Mexico to old Highway 101. And in three short weeks we will return to Interstate 95 for some background on the highway. Thanks for stopping by and let me know what you think in the comments.  

If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased.

With your help, I can keep the show on the road for you.


To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an off ramp and click on the highway sign:
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If you appreciate this blog and would like to drop a little something in my guitar case, you can donate on PayPay:
Its not a highway without gift shops. Visit ours:
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