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.
Recently, as I write this, the Melbourne Cup was run (in Melbourne, big surprise). This is a horse race and the good people of Melbourne actually get a public holiday for it. Imagine that, a public holiday for a horse race.
It’s held on the same day as America’s elections. I bring this up because each year Flemington race course (where it’s held) is awash with flowers and most especially roses.
To my eyes (not being a gambler) this is the best part of the whole thing. It inspired me to write this column.
ÉDITH PIAF remains the singer against whom every other French singer is judged.
Her songs became world-wide hits and this is one of them, La Vie en Rose. Édith wrote the song herself, but due to the arcane copyright laws at the time she didn’t profit from it.
BRODERICK SMITH is one of the best, if not the best rock singer Australia has produced.
He first came to general notice as the singer for the rock group, The Dingoes. They were a fantastic live band but the quality didn’t really transfer to their records. Pity.
I’ve met him a couple of times and in person he is retiring and modest to the point of shyness, quite unlike the persona he projects on stage. This is Faded Roses.
EMMYLOU HARRIS has seven rose songs that are worthy of inclusion.
I had to choose one, of course, and settled on I'll Be Your San Antone Rose. That was Norma, the Assistant Musicologist’s choice as well. The song was written by Susanna Clark, the wife of the great singer/songwriter Guy Clark.
While we’re on roses from that area it’d be remiss of me if I didn’t follow that song by an obvious one from BOB WILLS.
He recorded a song called San Antonio Rose and then later updated it as New San Antonio Rose. It’s this latter one we have today, as it’s superior to the first one. The singer, as he is on most of Bob Wills’s records, is Tommy Duncan. Bob just makes those irritating comments throughout.
Due east of San Francisco you’ll encounter San Joaquin County. It’s the home of the city of Lodi, referenced in one of Creedence’s best songs. We’re not interested in that one today. Someone who sings about that area (and many others) is TOM RUSSELL.
Tom is one of the finest songwriters around at the moment, and there’d be few others in the last 30 years who could equal him. He also sings really well, as you’ll hear on Rose of the San Joaquin.
Getting back to Texas, where we were earlier, we stumble across MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY.
The Yellow Rose of Texas was almost certainly written by a black American soldier about his mulatto gal back in Tennessee. This man, whose name is unknown, was with Sam Houston when, along with an army of “Texians”, Tennesseeans and others, attempted a large land grab (of Texas) from Mexico.
Of course, the Mexicans had already accomplished a land grab of their own (as had the French and Spanish previously). The Texians were pitted against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.
Surprisingly, we know the name of the Yellow Rose. She was Emily West, later adding Morgan after her slave owner. Although from Tennessee, or possibly Bermuda, she was brought to Texas by that owner, James Morgan.
Unfortunately, the town where he set her up was overrun by the Mexicans (James had skedaddled leaving her behind) and the comely Emily caught Santa Anna’s eye. Now, Santa Ana thought he was God’s gift to women; only two weeks earlier he had married another captive, in spite of having a wife back in Mexico.
A couple of days later, Houston was up a tree spying on the Mexican camp. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that this was military rather than voyeurism for Santa Ana didst sport with Em and a champagne breakfast was the order of the day that morning.
Houston ordered an attack and the Mexican army was caught with their pants down, literally in the case of Santa Ana as reports from the time attest.
The Texians won and Emily was granted her freedom for her crucial service and given a ticket to New York. This is the song about her, as close to the original as is possible these days.
I’ll continue the theme of the previous song with DAVE ALVIN. It could be called a companion piece.
To my ears Dave has about the finest (male) voice currently in country and roots music. Actually, some might suggest the previous two singers would be in the running as well and I wouldn’t disagree - after all, it was I who brought that up. Anyway, here’s Dave with Black Rose of Texas, a song he wrote himself.
At the time everyone was surprised when NICK CAVE had KYLIE MINOGUE along to sing on his album.
That album was called “Murder Ballads” and the combination worked well for the song Where the Wild Roses Grow. You can probably guess from the album title that Nick bumps off Kylie. Just because he can, it seems.
THE STATLER BROTHERS don’t perform any more, more’s the pity.
At their best, which was the entirety of their career, they were the finest harmonizing band around. Certainly the best in country music. Here they perform Bed of Roses (or Bed of Rose’s, take your pick).
From out of left field, or to be more precise, out of the fifties, I give you FRANKIE LAINE.
Listening to the words of the song, I’m struck by the parallels between it and the story of Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). In this case we don’t know if Rose topped herself after Frankie left. We hope not. See what you think about Rose, Rose I Love You.
The BLACK SORROWS are the brainchild of, and yet another band started by that musical national treasure, Joe Camilleri.
Joe first came to most people’s notice as the main man in Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons; that is most people in Australia. Since then he’s started half a dozen bands, all of which he keeps going. I don’t know how he does it. The Sorrows are the best known of his groups, and Harley and Rose is their best known song.
I’ll end as I began with an iconic (and I use the word advisedly) singer, PATSY CLINE.
As with Édith, she is the one every subsequent country (and many other) singer is judged, and most are found wanting in comparison. I know this is unfair, but it happens.
Fortunately, we still have a lot of music that Patsy recorded. One of those is A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold).