Sunday, 20 May 2012
ELDER MUSIC: Drinking Songs Part 1
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Okay we’re at ground zero for blues and country music songs here. Where would popular music be without these tunes?
I have a confession to make: I’m an Australian and I don’t like beer (I also don’t like Vegemite so that makes me doubly unAustralian. But Vegemite isn’t really the topic today, although it’s sort of related for those who know how it’s made).
I’m also not a spirits drinker - no whisky or whiskey, no cognac, no vodka. Okay, I like a glass of wine now and then (A GLASS!!! I can hear my friends saying). Alright maybe more than one.
In spite of the reputation of my country as big beer drinkers, wine sales have outstripped those of beer for some years now, so I’m not alone.
Getting back to the music, Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, and I came up with enough tracks to fill more than three columns without breaking a sweat. This is the first of them.
The obvious place to start is a song from my own country. Well, it was obvious to me. These strange dudes are called MENTAL AS ANYTHING.
The Mentals met at art school in Sydney, but unlike all those English groups from the sixties who did the same, these folks kept going with their art. They’ve had several exhibitions, both separately and as a group, and at least one of them makes more from his art than his music.
I imagine being famous rock stars helps, but only initially; they need to have some talent to continue in the art caper and these folks have that. They are terrific musicians as well.
This song was a hit in the eighties for them. Somewhat recently, they recorded an album of some of their earlier songs including this one. It was sort of an “unplugged” album - well, more a reinterpretation of their old songs. I like the new version better than the original so I’m going with that one. The Nips Are Getting Bigger.
There were any number of versions of this next song but we decided on JOHN LEE HOOKER. Okay, I decided on him; the A.M. had an inkling for Amos Milburn but we (all right, I) decided to use him with another song.
John Lee’s style is more akin to piano boogie woogie than to that of a guitarist. He often played a single chord throughout a song but with his great rhythmic variations, his expressive singing and often with a great backing guitarist to add color, he was one of the finest blues performers.
His influence is everywhere, particularly in the boogie style of rock & roll (I’m thinking of Canned Heat and George Thorogood especially). Here’s John Lee’s version of One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.
GARY STEWART is a mandatory inclusion. Indeed, checking his oeuvre, I found that he could have had a column to himself on this topic and still have songs left over, so it’s difficult to come up with just one track for Gazza.
He was the ultimate honky-tonk performer, at least of recent years. He wrote (most of) his own songs, was an accomplished guitarist and piano player and a singer that took your breath away - mainly because you were wondering if he’d get out of the song alive.
Alas, that flippant comment proved to be true. Gary took his own life a few years ago soon after his wife of more than 40 years died of pneumonia. This song sounds as if it were based on his own life; I guess we’ll never know now. She’s Got a Drinking Problem (and It’s Me).
Now for a complete change of pace, a swerve over to left field, here is MARIO LANZA.
Mario was supposed to play the lead role in the film of The Student Prince however, the director, Curtis Bernhardt, didn’t like his singing. Mario told him he could direct his acting but not his singing and walked off the set. The studio didn’t like that at all and got another actor, Edmond Purdom, to play the role, lip synching to Mario’s music.
Of course, by the time they had gotten around to doing this, the director had flown the coop and had been replaced by another who was a friend of Mario’s but it was too late. Edmond later became more well known playing the harried inspector in the Pink Panther films.
We’re just interested in the music though and here is Mario with Drink, Drink, Drink from that film.
There were several options for the next song. Jerry Lee Lewis was the front runner but we have him for another song, so he missed out this time. The chosen one is STICK (or Sticks) MCGHEE.
I think I prefer Jerry Lee’s version of the song, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles, or some such cliché.
Stick was born Granville and gained his nickname as a child when he used to push around his older brother in a wagon with a stick. That brother had had polio, so it was difficult for him to walk. That didn’t stop him in the long run, he was that great blues guitarist Brownie McGhee.
Jerry Lee’s wasn’t the only cover version by a long shot; there have been scores, maybe hundreds of others. This is the original though. Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee.
If there’s ever an opportunity for AMOS MILBURN to appear in a column, the A.M. will certainly take it. He had several songs that could be included but we decided to stick to one per person (unless we change our minds about that, of course).
Amos had a great sense of humor that was reflected in his music that’s mostly about partying, drinking and generally having a good time. He started out as a smooth stylist similar to Nat King Cole but he quickly jumped on the jump blues bandwagon and it’s this style for which he’s most known these days.
You knew that DEAN MARTIN would have to be here somewhere and you’re right.
This song isn’t really Dean’s style at all; it could be mistaken for a country track. I guess that’s appropriate given the topic. Here we have Dino with Little Ole Wine Drinker Me.
TOM PAXTON was probably the first of the sixties’ singer/songwriters to make a name for himself. He predated Bob by several years in this caper and people were recording his songs quite early on.
Tom writes songs about every conceivable topic – protest songs, love songs, children’s songs, silly songs, songs about nothing, songs about the most important things, so you know there will be a drinking song in there somewhere.
This one is fairly famous, as it’s been recorded by several people: Bottle of Wine.
Now we have someone who knows a thing or two about drinking, GEORGE JONES. I’m really surprised he’s still alive.
Often considered the finest male singer in country music (although I think Merle Haggard would more than give him a run for his money, the A.M. is unequivocal in her support for Merle), George has a formidable reputation in the field of drinking as well as singing.
Indeed, there are many stories about this and you probably know some of them, especially the ride-on lawn mower incident but we won’t go there. I’ll let George sing to you: If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will).
I’ll finish with the interesting trio DILLARD HARTFORD DILLARD.
These are brothers Rodney and Doug Dillard and John Hartford. Rodney and Doug formed the group The Dillards, although Doug left the group after a few albums. That group was one of the finest country rock groups who ever strut the stage, maybe even the best.
John Hartford was a fine songwriter (he wrote Gentle on my Mind among many others) and was a riverboat pilot who liked nothing better than sailing down the Mississippi and entertaining the passengers with his music when wasn’t piloting.
The three got together to record several interesting albums and today’s song is taken from one of those, No Beer in Heaven, with John singing lead.