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.
These are certainly strange days we’re living through, and that means I get to play some strange songs. Okay, not necessarily strange songs, but those with strange in their title. Quite a few of these are blues which seems strangely appropriate.
Given the title of the column, many people could guess that THE DOORS would lead off proceedings. They are right.
They actually have a song called Strange Days, taken from their second album also called “Strange Days”, but that song was a bit too strange. Instead, I’ve gone for one of their more famous songs, People are Strange from the same album.
PATSY CLINE is always welcome in my columns and judging from past comments, you readers rather agree with that.
On this song I think that Patsy sounds like Tami Neilson. Of course, Tami wasn’t even born when Patsy died, so it should be the other way around. If you have a chance check out Tami’s music (particularly her song Cry Over You) I suggest you do that to see what I’m talking about. Anyway, here’s Patsy with Strange.
ELMORE JAMES was a particular favorite of the British bands of the Sixties, especially Brian Jones who developed his guitar playing style from listening to his records.
Elmore worked in an electrical store early on and devised his own electric guitars that were in advance of the standard versions of the time. It took years for the others to catch up. He had a wide variety of styles which is probably why he was so influential. Here he performs Strange Kinda Feeling.
Love is Strange was a big hit for the Everly Brothers. However, before them MICKEY & SYLVIA also hit the charts with the song.
Bo Diddley claimed that he wrote the lyrics and Mickey and Sylvia also claimed to have done so. Bo was the first to record the song, but his version didn’t see light of day until a recent box set of his complete recordings. Buddy Holly also recorded it, but he didn’t claim to have written it. I’m going with Mickey & Sylvia.
JAMES HUNTER has recorded Strange But True twice.
The first time was on his album “Kick it Around” with a band and backup singers. He later did it again on “The Hard Way” with minimal accompaniment. I like the stripped back version, but the other isn’t bad either. Actually anything that James records is worth a listen.
OTIS SPANN was easily the finest post war Chicago blues pianist.
Besides his solo work, he was also Muddy Waters’ pianist for many years. He was also involved in one of the two or three best blues albums ever (“Super Black Blues”) with T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner. That’s another one to check out.
Here is Otis, with some of Muddy’s band, with Strange Woman.
NICK CHARLES is a particular favorite of Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, such that we’ve seen him live many times over the years.
Besides playing in Australia, he’s performed all over the world and played at some of the best blues festivals around the world. He’s a superb acoustic guitar player and quite a decent singer. Here he is with a reasonable sized band backing him with Strange Things Happen at Night.
Racism has always been present in yours and my societies, but it’s been somewhat hidden until recently when the American president essentially gave licence to the darkest elements of society to raise their heads and spew their vile filth over all of us.
The next song by BILLIE HOLIDAY is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
The song is Strange Fruit, written as a poem by Abel Meeropol and put to music by him and his wife, Laura Duncan.
From his fine, but rather underrated album “Believers”, DON MCLEAN gives us the song Isn't It Strange, one he wrote himself.
It is a wry, ironic song about love and the way that men and women see their relationships. On the surface is a pleasant gentle song, but digging deeper into the lyrics reveals the clever and bittersweet exploration mentioned before.
I’ve always thought of CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE as an old bluesman, however, when I investigated him I discovered that he’s only a year older than I am. Okay, that could still make him an old blues man, but not in the way I had in mind.
Charlie’s instrument is the harmonica and he also sings a bit (not while playing the harp, of course). He came to prominence in the early sixties with other white blues players like Michael Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield.
Although mainly a bluesman, he has also played with such musicians as Cyndi Lauper, Hot Tuna and Jools Holland. To fit into the column he performs Strange Land.
I’m really surprised to find a song by ELVIS from the Fifties I didn’t know.
Yep, that can happen even to your musical guru (“That’s a joke, Joyce” – that’s for my Australian readers). The song I discovered hidden somewhere on my computer is Is It So Strange.
JIMMY JOHNSON is a blues guitarist, and a fine one at that.
A couple of decades ago he recorded an album called “Johnson’s Whacks” (ho ho) which contained a blues guitar rendition of Paul Desmond’s jazz classic Take Five. It’s worth seeking out. This has nothing to do with today’s selection, I just thought I’d mention it.
From a completely different album (“Every Day of Your Life”), Jimmy plays and sings Strange Things Happening.