Johnny Cash is the only individual member of The Highwaymen who has been singing to me since I started collecting records. In fact, well before I bought first vinyl LP, I was listening to Cash. He was one of Roger’s (my father’s) favourites.
The Highwaymen took their name from the song. The four icons of country music had decided to do a project together while they were recording a TV special in Switzerland. Thy began recording in 1984. Marty Stuart played the song to Cash suggesting it would be perfect for this new country super-group – 4 verses, 4 souls, 4 singers. Then Glen Campbell(who’d recorded the song in 1978 but his record label refused to release it) played it to all four of the super-group – and they immediately had the group’s name, the title of their first album, and a song for their first single.
How are Highwayman & Stonelinked?
Both songs track a journey of reincarnation – birth, life, death, rebirth.
Stone (Ronnie Lane)
I’ve been tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor. I’ve known good times and disaster. But now I’ve found a teacher, and the teacher has a master, The master is perfection, so he’ll help us get there faster.
Highwayman (Jimmy Webb)
And when I reach the other side I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can Perhaps I may become a highwayman again Or I may simply be a single drop of rain But I will remain And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again…
It is somewhat inaccessible, Anthem of the Sun.Track 3, Born Cross-Eyed, opens with a descriptive couplet:
Seems like I’ve been here before Fuzzy then and still obscure – goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
Although there were parts of the album I loved, it meandered a bit much – a Dead trait I was not quite ready for. So, I said goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to The Dead.
I don’t think I even heard their next two releases – two of their best Aoxomoxoaand Live/Dead. Live/Deadremains one of the best live albums (well, if you ignore the 7m 49s of Feedback) … and definitely the best titled one.
My “Dead” hiatus came to an end in 1970 when they released Workingman’s Dead.They had been hanging around with Crosby, Stills & Nash and the influence was pretty clear.Workingman’s Deadhad 8 great tracks making up a great album – although for some of my mates it was perilously close to country.
The Grateful Dead circa 1970
New Speedway Boogie is track 4, it was also on the B-side when Uncle John’s Band was released as a single.
The song is supposedly about the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in December 1969 – four short months after Woodstock a dark curtain dropped on a colourful decade. The events at Altamont are well known. Perhaps less known are the circumstances that led to the staging of Altamont and its subsequent notoriety. But its impact has been most succinctly expressed in a verse of Don Maclean’s anthem:
Oh, and there we were all in one place A generation lost in space With no time left to start again So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick Jack Flash sat on a candlestick Cause fire is the devil’s only friend And as I watched him on the stage My hands were clenched in fists of rage No angel born in Hell Could break that Satan’s spell And as the flames climbed high into the night To light the sacrificial rite I saw Satan laughing with delight The day the music died
New Speedway Boogiewas written by Robert Hunter (lyrics) & Jerry Garcia (music), supposedly as an answer to the Ralph J. Gleason’s indictment of the Altamont affair. It must have been written pretty quickly because apparently it was first played at the Fillmore (SF) on 20th December – just 2 weeks after Altamont.
I know it is a device used often but I really like the “I don’t know but I been told” military cadence – I think the attraction is the feigned ignorance followed by a “pearl of wisdom”. In this song:
Now I don’t know but I been told, it’s hard to run with the weight of gold Other hand I’ve heard it said, it’s just as hard with the weight of lead. … Now I don’t know but I been told, in the heat of the sun a man died of cold. … Now I don’t know but I been told, if the horse don’t pull you you got to carry the load
* Gimme Shelter (1h 31m 41s) – the film chronicles of the Rolling Stones 1969 US Tour which finished with their performance at Altamont.
And the next road takes us to?
North: What Are Their Names – they’re back at the last stop. East: Long Black Veilby The Band South: Train Round The Bend by The Velvet Underground West: Piece Of My Heartby Big Brother & The Holding Company
Last year Neil Young released two albums Americana and Psychadelic Pill, both with Crazy Horse. This song – Oh Susannah – opens the Americana album.
It was written by Stephen Foster – his first success.First published in 1848 it is one of the best known of all American songs … and not only in America, I certainly recall singing it in either infants or primary school. In fact, besides Oh Susannah, there are 4 other songs on Amercana that would almost certainly have been known by pre-teens in 20th century Australia – Clementine, Tom Dula(Tom Dooley), Jesus’s Chariot(She’ll Be Coming ’round The Mountain), and God Save The Queen.
Over the years the song has changed considerably. The original lyric and the way it was performed (black-faced minstrels) showed the embedded racism in American culture at that time. The song’s evolution has rendered it quite benign and most of its earlier meaning lost and forgotten.
In 1969 The BanjoSong reemerged as a new song with new lyrics composed by Robbie van Leeuwin. Robbie was the guitarist for Dutch band Shocking Blue – the song was Venus. It was a hit in 1969 and in 1986 it again went to the top of the charts for Bananarama.
This Tim Rose arrangement has been used by Neil Young here, he has reverted back to the lyric known universally.
(It was Tim Rose’s arrangement of Hey Joe that Jimi Hendrix used and was the trigger for his meteoric rise.)
What connects Oh Susannah to Days Of 49?
The gold rush!
Soon after Oh Susannah’s debut in Pittsburgh, the song swept through the United States and became a favourite of the forty-niners – the thousands who made their way to California seeking their fortune.
As well, one of Neil Young’s earlier albums was After The Goldrush.
Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.
* Explore Oh Susannaat Shmoop, an excellent educational website. This exploration examines all aspects of the song, its history and context.
In 1970 Bob Dylan releases Self Portrait.The opening sentence of the review by Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone read:
“What is this shit?”
I remember seeing the cover and a similar question arose. I read somewhere (years later) that Dylan had an old canvas square, some oils and 5 minutes later he handed over the painting for the cover.
A canvas, some oils, and 5 minutes and … voila! Album cover.
We were all confused …
It was strange enough dealing with Nashville Skyline – his musical shift to country the year earlier. But this issue from Dylan, according to many, spelled his end. Dylan himself has disparaged it. In Chronicles Volume One:
I released one album (a double one) where I just threw everything I could think of at the wall and whatever stuck, real eased it, and then went back an scooped up everything that didn’t stick and released that, too.
He didn’t name the album but it sure fits Self Portrait. Perhaps the most telling judgement of Self Portrait came when he was asked why it was a double album and he allegedly replied:
Well, it wouldn’t have held up as a single album – then it really would have been bad, you know. I mean, if you’re gonna put a lot of crap on it, you might as well load it up.
Back to the song – Days of 49 – the 4th track on the 1st of Self Portrait’s 4 sides of vinyl. I’d never really thought about who wrote the song – it just seems to fit with Dylan the Storyteller. In fact, to me it sounds more Dylan than all the Dylan-composed tracks on Self Portrait.
But it’s not. It was written around 1874 by Charles Bensell – a banjo player who also used the stage name Charlie Rhoades. It has also been attributed to Joaquin Miller – though his lyric is quite different.
Old Tom Moore was a 49-er, went looking for gold and, like so many, found disillusion instead. He also found himself a “jolly saucy crew”. In Dylan’s version they were,
New York Jake, the butcher’s boy – killed by old Bob Stein; Poker Bill – who lost his breath in a game of death; and Ragshag Bill from Buffalo who fell in a prospect hole.
In other versions you’ll find: Monte Pete; Hackensack Jim; North Carolina Jess, poor lame Ches, Big Reuben, Kentuck Jim and, if you search, you’ll probably find plenty of others.
How does Days of 49 link with Santy Anno?
Well it could be the “Spider” John Koerner-Bob Dylan link. Spider John also recorded Days of 49 for his 1996 album – Stargeezer. (I couldn’t find “Spider” John’s version online, unfortunately.)
What cause me to to think of Days of 49 while listening to Santy Anno was the verse:
Well, back in the days of forty-nine. Heave away, Santy Anno. Oh those were the days of the good old times. All on the plains of Mexico.
(October 2014: Damnation! It looks the honchos at Sony have got put the blocks on this. Unfortunately, I have been able to find another.)
* Every Bob Dylan Song – a blog, as the title suggests, giving the blogger’s opinion of every Dylan song. This link takes you to his review of Days of 49.
And the next road takes us to?
North: Oh! Susanahby Neil Young & Crazy Horse
East: Rambling, Gambling Willyby Bob Dylan. (Yes, I know)
South:Santy Anno– has sailed away. West: Nashville Blues by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and others.