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By Chris Moore:
This is quite the story for a session. It seems that, in order to outdo my previous “new release” Laptop Sessions, I needed to call in some outside help…
In the form of one Jim Fusco on his brand-new metallic blue lap steel guitar!
Oh, and if you’re a Wilco fan, then I hope you can appreciate how exciting it was for me to host the first Lap-(steel)-top Session. Throughout their catalog, they have incorporated country tinges with instruments such as this. Most recently, even as they continue to play around with more experimental forms, Nels Cline plays beautifully on the lap steel in several of their concert set list mainstays, from the older deep track “It’s Just That Simple” to more recent material off of Sky Blue Sky, their 2007 album.
This track, “The Jolly Banker,” was written by Woody Guthrie and originally recorded on March 22, 1940 (as reported in the Library of Congress records for these sessions with folk music expert Alan Lomax). Nearly seventy years later, Wilco has recorded their own version of this song — which is eerily relevant as of its release on April 30th, 2009 — and released it as a free download online. Technically, they suggest/request that you donate at least $2 to the Woody Guthrie Foundation — this is quite funny, as one of the three options for downloading states “I am/was a banker/hedge fund manager/credit default swap trader. I know times are tough, but I’m just fine thank you. (Suggested minimum donation $100.00).”
Tonight, I jokingly challenged Jim to not only play this song as his debut performance on his new guitar, but to actually record a Laptop Session on the spot. He must have taken me seriously or at least had the urge to give the Rogue brand lap steel an official test run, because he didn’t skip a beat when we set up downstairs. As you’ll hear — and I hope you’ll agree — this is a great, loyal rendition of Wilco’s cover version, right down to the tapping opening count and the aforementioned lap steel. I was initially thinking that this would be just another session with me recording just another version of a simple song. Instead, I am proud to say that this is one of my favorite sessions I’ve recorded in a long time.
Unfortunately, although the actual playing of the song with Jim was very fun and relaxed, the events around the recording were frustrating. As I’m sure Jim will explain in “tomorrow’s” post (don’t forget that I forgot to remember to record on “Memorial” day… there’s some irony for you), he just got his new HD video camera in the mail. We tried to record the session with the camera — and the video quality was amazing — but the audio quality was terrible. Jim finally gave up for the night, but I’m sure he’ll come up with some plan to augment and/or jury rig the setup before next week’s Jim Fusco Tuesday.
Maybe then I’ll bug him to record a saxophone solo for a Bruce Springsteen cover… (Kidding!)
On a side note, today started off sadly, as I awoke to find the news of former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett’s death on my iPhone AP News app. While I haven’t followed his work outside of Wilco, I was sad to hear this, especially as I read a quote from Bennett from a couple weeks ago about how excited he was for his new album and the future in general. It all came in a burst for me, as I also just learned yesterday of the lawsuit Bennett had filed against Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy calling for $50,001.00 in back royalties he felt he was owed, citing the YHF documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart as a film for which he did not sign a proper release form.
Some say Bennett was being unreasonable. Others say he was instrumental (no pun intended… okay, maybe a little) in Wilco’s mainstream breakthrough and that he deserved additional money. (Apparently he couldn’t even afford a hip replacement that he badly needed.)
Regardless of which side you take, the bottom line is that he has passed away, and at least for the moment, no one is exactly sure what happened.
I also learned today that our oldies/rock acquaintance, Tony Persia, also passed away recently. I was saddened to learn about this loss, as he has really set the tone at the annual Carbutti Christmas parties that both Jim and I attend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he was probably best known as the piano player for the classic Danny & the Juniors single “At the Hop.” He was an incredibly kind, charming man who met many great music stars in his life and played lots and lots of music — I know I speak for Jim, Mike, and I when I say he will be sorely missed, particularly this December…
On a happy note, I just downloaded the Wilco iPhone app, and it’s great fun. You can access all the latest band news, photos, and listen in full(!) to every song from their official catalog, including both Mermaid Avenue releases and their live Kicking Television concert album. If only my other favorite bands would jump on the iPhone application train… (cough, nudge – “Dylan, Beach Boys, Barenaked Ladies, Moody Blues, Pearl Jam” – cough, nudge)
Without further ado, I will leave you to watch this collaborative session. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed recording it…
My cover of “City of New Orleans” by Steve Goodman is influenced by Willie Nelson’s version of the song. The rhythm fittingly drives on like the wheels on a locomotive, and it has a fun chord progression.
** EDITOR’S NOTE **
This is one of those songs I feel like I’ve known forever. The more likely time frame is since I was about ten or twelve, listening to my father’s seventies music cassette tapes. Of course, I know the 1972 Arlo Guthrie version from his album, Hobo’s Lullaby. It turns out Steve Goodman played it for Guthrie at a bar called the Quiet Knight in Chicago, after which Guthrie recorded his cover.
If the quality of a song can be judged by the caliber of people who have recorded it, then this is an outstanding tune. It has been recorded by Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Judy Collins, and Jerry Reed, and has been performed most recently by Jimmy Buffett in 2005 and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante in 2006.
And now I’m thrilled to add Jeremy Hammond’s name to that long and prestigious list of cover song artists. Jeremy’s music video performance is an excellent, entertaining, faithful rendition that anyone who knows this song will enjoy. If this is your first time hearing the song, perhaps you’ll go out to a CD store (or at least YouTube) and check out the other versions. Jeremy continues to select songs that fit perfectly into the acoustic cover song format, so hurry back soon for another installment of the Guest Sessions at the Laptop Sessions music video blog!
In the political spirit we’ve all been in recently, I thought you might enjoy this one…
You know, this is one of those songs that first came to me in elementary school, as part of a string of patriotic songs that I had to learn and sing for one of our big assemblies. What I cared about then was more learning the words, and less what they meant. What I most cared about was putting on a good show for my parents and grandparents. But now, a decade and a half later, I’ve come back to this song and found more depth than I remember previously.
For instance, the final verse of the song (which was conspicuously absent from the version my classmates and I sang for our parents) refers to the narrator seeing “his people” in the line outside the relief office. The final line of the final verse deals with those people asking “Is this land still made for you and me?”
Wow. I can see why my elementary teachers stuck to the parts about the “redwood forests and gulf stream waters.” Much less controversial to deal strictly with geography. Once you start to deal with the issues taking place between “California and the New York islands” — now, that gets sticky.
And, in my opinion, much more interesting! I definitely like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” much more after learning the full version. It’s not even so much that I like it more, but I find it much more interesting. And I can’t believe I haven’t introduced Guthrie — one of the classic American acoustic guitar players and songwriters — to the Laptop Sessions. I realize that we focus more heavily on the sixties and forward (and on rock), but Guthrie is the original hero of my own musical hero, Bob Dylan. Anyway, I’m glad I could fill that gap.
I don’t think there’s much of a market for replica Woody Guthrie acoustics — unlike, say, the Eric Clapton Fenders… [drool…] — but I always liked how Guthrie’s guitar bore the slogan, “This machine kills fascists.” You never know…
Well, that’s about it for me for now. If you haven’t done so already, you need to listen to Jim’s Original Wednesday for this week. I usually try to hold my tongue, as there are only so many times a close friend and collaborator can say “Awesome song, man” before the credibility wears off. But I’m not holding my tongue this time. I didn’t really know what to expect, since it seems it was written in a quick burst and recorded directly after. But it’s catchy and has some interesting lyrics. So, go ahead, get over to that post and join the latest conversation starter at the greatest acoustic rock cover song music blog on the Internet!