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Sunday, 07 October 2012

ELDER MUSIC: Letters

PeterTibbles75x75This 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.


There are many songs about letters, too many to consider in any meaningful way. Country music, especially, is replete with them. I made it easy on myself and only consider those songs with letter (or letters) in the title (well, not entirely – Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, mentioned one I’d forgotten about).

To be even more restrictive I considered only those I have transferred to my computer as it's much easier to search than pulling out every CD and seeing if there's a letter song on it. Thus, I'm restricting myself to less than a third of my collection.

It didn't matter as I found far more than I could ever use. So, here are some of them.

EDDIE HINTON was the best white male soul singer ever. Better than Delbert McClinton, better than Delaney Bramlett and Joe Cocker. Better than all the rest.

Eddie Hinton

Apart from the few albums he recorded, Eddie was a session musician mainly at Stax where he also wrote some songs with Otis Redding and others. He was a fine guitarist: that was his main gig, but he played the piano well too.

As I mentioned, he was a great soul singer as well. But he was also, unfortunately, a bit too fond of the booze and drugs. This is Letters from Mississippi.

♫ Eddie Hinton - Letters from Mississippi

JO-EL SONNIER does a marvelous cover of Richard Thompson’s Tear Stained Letter.

Jo-El Sonnier

Richard’s version is great too, but rather long, so I decided to go with Jo-El. Jo-El is a Cajun, country, R&B, rock & roll and almost anything else, performer.

He started out doing Cajun gigs and later switched to country when Merle Haggard sort him out to be his opening act. He caught the eye and ear of others and he was soon playing with the likes of Albert Lee and Garth Hudson. My goodness me, it doesn’t get better than that. Here he is with Richard’s song.

♫ Jo-El Sonnier - Tear Stained Letter

An unlikely pairing was ROBERT PLANT and ALISON KRAUSS, but it seemed to work.

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

Looking at that picture, there’s hope for me yet. Although, it probably helps to be an ageing rock star rather than an ageing me.

Robert was, of course, the lead singer for Led Zeppelin, a band that started the craze for extreme volume and lead singers singing in an excessively high register. Only dogs could hear some of them and they sensibly ran for their lives, although getting out of range of the music really required a marathon.

Alison is a great bluegrass singer and player. As I said, it shouldn’t have worked but it did. I guess musicianship won out in the end. Their song is Please Read the Letter.

♫ Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Please Read the Letter

THE BOX TOPS were a group from Memphis who are usually tossed into the blue-eyed soul category.

The Box Tops

As with most rock and pop groups, they had many different names and members, the most long-lived before they became The Box Tops is The Devilles, but that’s neither here nor there.

They were blessed with a sensational lead vocalist in Alex Chiltern and had the good fortune to have Dan Penn produce the record, The Letter. This went multiple-gold and has become a staple of soul singers and garage bands ever since.

♫ The Box Tops - The Letter

PAT BOONE was a really good singer. I suppose he still is. It’s unfortunate that he started his career doing really inferior covers of Little Richard and Fats Domino songs.

Pat Boone

When he performed his own music, he was worth a listen. This is one I know well because my sister bought the single way back when we were kids. As we had few records then, the ones we had went into high rotation.

You all know this one, Love Letters in the Sand. I know it too well.

♫ Pat Boone - Love Letters in the Sand

One of my guilty secrets is that I really like the STATLER BROTHERS.

The Statler Brothers

They perform harmony as well as anyone around which in itself makes them worth listening to. They started their career backing Johnny Cash and they can be heard on many of his records.

Later, when they went out as a separate act, they paid tribute to Johnny in at least one of their songs. This isn’t it. This is A Letter from Shirley Miller.

♫ The Statler Brothers - A Letter From Shirley Miller

SUSAN TEDESCHI trained as a musician at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She then went out and played around the clubs to learn how to play the blues for real.

Susan Tedeschi

Later she toured with, and opened for, the Allman Brothers. It was there she met Derek Trucks who was playing guitar for that band. Derek is the nephew of Butch Trucks, one of the original drummers for the Allmans (they had two).

Susan and Derek got along famously and they started touring together with their respective bands. After a while, they decided to amalgamate these and form a single group, the Tedeschi Trucks Band (a pretty fine outfit indeed).

That’s not all they amalgamated, as they married and have a couple of kids. Susan’s song is from back when she was still a solo (well with a band) performer. There are some elements of Bonnie Raitt in her singing and playing, but that’s not something I’d object to. Here’s Susan with Gonna Write Him a Letter.

♫ Susan Tedeschi - Gonna Write Him a Letter

This is the song the A.M. said should be present. It’s easily the worst song by two of the finest musicians of the last however many years. They are STEVE GOODMAN and EMMYLOU HARRIS.

I’m not casting aspersions on the A.M. for her selection; I’d have included it initially had I thought of it at the time.

Steve Goodman and Emmylou Harris

How they could come up this with song is a mystery to me. Okay, Steve wrote it but I’m surprised Emmy agreed to sing on it. I imagine that Steve was just having a lend of us (Oz colloquialism, don’t worry about it) and Emmy went along with the joke. It doesn’t matter, it fits well with the rest of the songs today, well some of them.

Alas, Steve is no longer with us so he can’t argue with my judgment of this song. I’m looking forward to a comment from Emmy, though. This is Fourteen Days.

♫ Steve Goodman and Emmylou Harris - Fourteen Days

I first saw BOZ SCAGGS in a small club in Berkeley or San Francisco in 1970. I’ve forgotten which side of the bay it was. This was around the time of his first album, not too long after he’d left the Steve Miller Band.

Boz Scaggs

That first album of his is on the short list of all-time best first albums - it’s excellent. It’s a mixture of blue-eyed soul, country and blues. It also has Duane Allman and Eddie Hinton playing on it too.

I know that later albums sold a whole lot more and made him into a star but that first one beats them all. From it we have Another Day (Another Letter).

♫ Boz Scaggs - Another Day (Another Letter)

I’m continuing in my mission to turn you all on to IRIS DeMENT.

Iris Dement

This may take some time; it took me more than six months and I had her CDs to play any time I wanted. If I only play a track every few months for you all, it may take years, but I’m persistent, although I must admit that I still haven’t succeeded with the A.M. Yet.

You could all go out and buy her CDs; there are only three of them (well, four, but you can ignore “Lifeline”). This is far from her best song but it’s her only letter song, Letter to Mom.

♫ Iris DeMent - Letter to Mom

The obvious song would have been I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, but none of the versions I have grabbed me so it’s not in today. I’ve already included Take a Letter, Maria in another column otherwise it would have been included.


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

So much for my timing. Iris has just released a new album which is pretty damn good.

Peter, I always enjoy the column, reliving songs from the past, as well as hearing quite a few I didn't know.
Not being American I was intrigued by the idea of a State Fair, and I remember Pat Boone's films. I think Shirley Jones was in one of them.
Pat's love affairs were not quite like mine.
I do understand why you're a closet fan of the Statler Brothers.
I'm not sure what I think about Iris DeMent I thought the song was a bit clunky.
However
The whole presentation makes me want to sit down and write letters
And receive some too!

Letters - a lost art.

Thanks for the Sunday morning music and memories.

Love Iris DeMent but agree she could be considered an acquired taste. Thanks for the heads up on the new album!

Peg said it all. Thanks for another great column.

I certainly enjoyed today's Letters. As usual some I knew and some were new to me. You are a treasure!

( I was thinking that the next generation will have to change letters to email. But somehow Writing Love Email in the Sand just isn't the same...)

Peter, I tweeted over the weekend re your column. It included the Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson (@CraigEmersonMP) who is now famous for his Whyalla song. his response was brief "Wow, that's amazing". I'm hoping Elder Music will encourage him to widen his repertoire. :-)

Thanks for putting something out there by Susan Tedeschi. I love her and Derek Tucks' music

I wonder if that freaky picture of the Box Tops contributed to them being a one hit band?

I feel a bit weird because I liked Iris DeMent from the first three bars I heard her sing years ago. She has a voice that seems put on this earth just for the sole purpose of sharing. She sounds different and sincere to me and I always stop a moment when her work surfaces...

I think letter writing will be looked upon as a strange and cumbersome communication all too soon. The idea will live on in song and it will always lift the hearts of historians and researchers wanting details. Once again, thanks for the sharing.

I really enjoy your postings, Peter.
1. "Take a Letter to Mary" sung by the Everly Brothers
2. What a ghoulish photo of Pat Boone. Surely he was making an Addams family movie in that makeup!

The song is Take a Message to Mary which is why my search software didn’t bring it up.
I don’t know what Pat was doing when he had that photo taken.

How could you forget the most popular of all letter songs. "I'm unna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter"? . . . and make believe it came from you . . .

From Wikipedia:

The song had a major revival in 1957 in a recording (on April 3) by Billy Williams, which reached #3 on the Billboard magazine charts (a reported million-seller).

Among other versions are recordings by Nat "King" Cole, Scatman Crothers, Gregory Isaacs, Barry Manilow, Dean Martin, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, Linda Scott, and Shakin' Stevens. Bill Haley & His Comets recorded a rock and roll version of the song in 1957. Fabian recorded his version of the song in 1960 on Chancellor Records. In 1974 Cleo Lane included the song as her opening song on the album I Am a Song and sang on stage during her subsequent tour.

Madeleine Peyroux also covered this song on her debut album Dreamland (1996).

In 2012 Paul McCartney covered it on his album of standards, Kisses on the Bottom and chose one of its lines as the title.

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