Its Just The Radio


He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. ~ Psalm 147:3

Long ago, and, oh, so far away
I fell in love with you, before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But it’s just the radio and you’re not really here

It’s a solid fact; since the days of the Hillbilly Cat – and probably way before that – girls have always fallen hard for the boys with guitars. And the nomadic lifestyles and aloof personalities that often accompany the young men that play that six stringed bandit just add fuel to the fires burning within their hearts. Before there was ever a name or term for those girls so madly in love with the boys in the band, the inevitable attraction simply was.

Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do

And there’s no hurt on earth like the pain of unrequited love. Promises made and never kept. Feeling it so strongly and knowing it will never, ever really be returned. And wallowing in such heartache, even in this self deceit is found such sweet anguish. The Bible tells us that He will heal us of such pain, but trying to tell that to those so afflicted with this particular brand of longing, is like telling an orphaned child that he’ll get over the fact his mother left him and said she would be back, but really will never return.

Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again?
Come back again and play your sad guitar

In the heady and wild, early days of what we now know as classic rock-n-roll, women like Bebe Buell, Bianca Jagger, Pamela Des Barres, and Anita Pallenberg brought fame to the term “groupie”.  They were professionals. But these were not the women that a young Bonnie Bramlett was writing and singing about in “Superstar” – a song with the working title “Groupie”. This was real – the girl next door kind of real.

Listening to the original version of the song – it was the B side of Delaney & Bonnie’s 1969 single “Comin’ Home” – gives one the impression that Bonnie had some firsthand knowledge of this kind of feeling. Like most kids back then – glued to Top 40 radio – my first intro to the song came from the Carpenters cover in 1971, with Karen Carpenter’s rich, pure contralto voice pouring out of the speakers. It wasn’t until many years later, long after becoming familiar with Delaney & Bonnie via their hit singles “Never Ending Song Of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know”, that I found “Groupie (Superstar)” tucked away on an album sandwiched between “Comin’ Home” and “Country Life”.  I wondered if it was the same song. Fortunately, I was working in a record store by that time, so I was able to simply pop the wrapper and find out for sure that it was.

Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do

Having become so accustomed to the Carpenters version – which was a huge hit – listening to Bonnie’s original was a rare treat. The Carpenters version was so ingrained in my head, it felt like D&B’s version was the cover. And while Bonnie’s vocal starts out strikingly similar to Karen’s, it quickly morphs into a delightfully soulful “Stax Records” sounding, blues-infused confession of longing love. Give it three more listens and suddenly Karen’s vocals sounded…well…more like a Carpenters record. A sweet and touching ballad for sure, but way more pop sounding – “Easy Listening” as the category was referred to back then – than real rock-n-roll.

Here’s a few interesting notes about “Superstar”:

  • It has been covered by dozens of artists as diverse as: Cher, Vikki Carr, Ruben Studdard, Usher, Elkie Brooks, David Sanborn, Chrissie Hynde, Luther Vandross, Sonic Youth and The Motels
  • It has appeared on multiple movie soundtracks including: Tommy Boy, Juno, The Frighteners, Wayne’s World 2 and Ghost Rider
  • The lyrics in the second verse were changed by Richard Carpenter from “And I can hardly wait, to sleep with you again” to the more socially acceptable – at that time – “And I can hardly wait, to be with you again”
  • The Carpenters cover version went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening chart

Bonnie’s career has taken a lot of twists and turns over the years and – as Hank Jr. might have said – she has definitely lived out her life in the songs she wrote, sang and backed up. One thing is for sure, no matter whether she was singing with Delaney or Eric Clapton, backing up Albert King, or belting it out as the first white singer to join Ike & Tina Turner as an Ikette, she did it in her own style and with that unmistakeable sound you can pick out on any recording she ever did – with your eyes closed.

And, as for all those love torn, rock star crazed young ladies; the bad news is he ain’t ever coming back. The good news is there’s someone out there who knows exactly how you feel.

To learn more about what Bonnie is doing today check out her profile at: Leadership Artists LLC

Listen to the Delaney & Bonnie original here:

The hauntingly beautiful Bette Midler cover here:

And my favorite soulful cover by Luther Vandross here:

My sources for this song included:

Leadership Artists LLC:


What A Happy Sound


And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:10

The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Watching the people around
Baby please come home

There are no memories of Christmas quite like those of your childhood. And it’s not just the gifts you receive, but the warm love of friends and family which seems to magnify in intensity as the celebration of the birth of Christ approaches. Yes, it’s relationships, not gifts, that are the true “reason for the season”.

The churchbells in town
They’re ringing a song
What a happy sound
Baby please come home

And yet for many, it’s the lack of those relationships that can make Christmas a time of great sadness. The loss of a loved one, separation from family due to distance apart – or worst of all – a relationship gone bad at the worst possible time.

They’re singing deck the halls
But it’s not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
All the fun we had last year

The desire to keep relationships intact through the holidays is so strong, in fact, that January is regularly called “Divorce Month” in legal circles. The thought of being alone during the holidays is so depressing that even those who are desperate to sever ties will hold out -ever hopefully -until January.

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching ’em shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

So, it’s easy to understand how the subject of being alone and separated from loved ones gets so much attention in secular Christmas songs. As a teenager of the 70’s, I grew up with the Eagles haunting “Bells will be ringing…the sad, sad news” singing in my ears every year. Their soulful rendition of the 1950 classic “Please Come Home For Christmas”, written by famed blues pianist Charles Brown, was a mournful reminder of the unique longing that comes with love lost at Christmastime.

If there was a way
I’d hold back these tears
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home

But there was another song, reaching a bit further back into my childhood Christmas memories, that first evoked this stirring emotion in my soul. The year was 1963 and I was just a youngster riding in my parent’s car when I first heard it. Darlene Love was a perennial background singer that finally saw her chance to shine…and shine she did. The legendary 60’s girl group producer, Phil Spector (Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx, The Beatles, Ramones) had originally intended the song for the Ronettes, but after having both audition the piece, he declared Darlene’s version the more emotive of the two.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” became the quintessential “missing you at Christmas” song for me and set the bar for all those I heard afterwards. No sad Christmas song I ever heard – before or after – made you feel like this; not Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”, Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas” or even Loretta’s “Christmas Without Daddy”. Right from the the opening, it just grabs you with that simple, lonesome plea, “Baby, please come home.”.

A few interesting tidbits about Darlene and the song:

  • In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” as #1 on it’s Greatest Rock And Roll Christmas Songs list.
  • Darlene has performed the song live on David Letterman’s final show before Christmas every year since 1986. (She wasn’t able to perform in 2007, so Dave showed a rerun of her 2006 performance.)
  • During the original recording session, Phil Spector thought the song was so good that they should make a non-Christmas version for airplay at any time of year. He had Darlene record “Johnny (Baby Please Come Home)” which was finally released in 1977 as the B side to Darlene’s single “Lord, If You’re A Woman”.
  • Darlene didn’t really get credit she deserved for her biggest hit “He’s A Rebel” (it went to #1 on the charts); it was released as being performed by The Crystals. (Phil Spector’s manipulations again, I’d suppose.)

So, as you enjoy the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this year, please be mindful of the fact that, for some, this can truly be the coldest time of year. But as Darlene said at a recent show in San Francisco: “A barricade is nothing but something you have to get over. Once you get over it, the joy on the other side is very fulfilling.”

Check out U2’s great live cover here:

The Darlene Love original:

My sources for this post include:



When The Winter Comes


Children are the heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. – Psalms 127:3

When your summer days come tumbling down
And you find yourself alone
Then you can come back and be with me
Just close your eyes and I’ll be there

I’ve always believed that the greatest blessings that God gives us in this world are the human relationships we share. Family, neighbors, freinds, colleagues and yes, our social media families, too. But among these, our children have to be the absolute greatest of all.

Listen to the sound
Of this old heart beating for you
Yes I’d miss you
But I never want to hold you down
You might say I’m here for you

And it’s funny how these blessings and the feelings we have for our children can be so distinctively different depending upon gender. Mother/daughter, Father/son and vice versa, they’re all filled with love, yet somehow unique.

Not to downplay any others, but it seems as if the relationship between a dad and his baby girl (and yes, she’ll always be his baby girl, even when she’s 40) will always be special. Mama Bear will always be protective of all their cubs, but not in the same way fathers can be for their daughters.

When the winter comes to your new home
And snowflakes are falling down
Then you can come back and be with me
Just close your eyes and I’ll be there

A father knows that his relationship with and the way he treats his wife will serve as the standard for how his daughter will set expectations for the men in her life. The Bible says husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and that’s probably a good guideline to follow. And, rest assured that Dad will be keeping a keen eye on any young man in her life and will expect no lesser standard from him.

In the spring, protective arms surrounding you
In the fall, we let you go your way
Happiness I know will always find you
And when it does, I hope that it will stay

In all seasons fathers seek to protect their daughters, while still taking pride in their growth and independence as young women and watching them develop in the pathways provided by their mothers. We hope only for their safety and happiness in their lives beyond us, while still secretly wishing they could stay with us forever.

Yes I miss you
But I never want to hold you down
You might say I’m here for you
Yes I miss you
But I never want to hold you down
You might say I’m here for you
I’ll always be here for you

“Here For You” was released on Neil Young’s 27th studio LP Prairie Wind in 2005. It was written for his daughter, Amber Jean, who was 21 years old and in her final year at college.  Prairie Wind  marked yet another distinctive twist in Neil’s constantly shifting musical stylings, following the 60’s soul-infused Are You Passionate? in 2002 and the rock opera-esq Greendale in 2003.

And just like a father’s reminiscence, Prairie Wind appeared to harken back to his writings on the Harvest and Harvest Moon albums. It came at a time in Neil’s life when he was feeling a bit of his own mortality, coming closely on the heels of the death of his father and an operation for a minor brain aneurysm in the spring of 2005.

The whole album has a lustrous and bittersweet country rock tone, and “Here For You” is surely no exception.

So, to all the Dads out there with daughters, you’ll definitely relate – either now or down the road. And just let them know, no matter what, we’ll always be here…just for them.

This post is dedicated to my daughter, Amanda (who is quite a gifted and creative writer herself).

Listen to the original here:

My sources for this post included:



A Brand New Story


For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. – Matthew 12:37

Smile an everlasting smile
A smile could bring you near to me
Don’t ever let me find you gone
‘Cause that would bring a tear to me

You know the feeling, right? It’s intense. And things like a glance or smile, or even just the smell on the shirt or jacket he/she left at your place can stir your heart mightily. Little things, but they can mean so much.

This world has lost it’s glory
Let’s start a brand new story
Now my love, right now there’ll be
No other time and I can show you
how, my love

You feel like you’re living in a world of your own, just the two of you. Others pass by, darting in and out, occasionally interrupting but only superficially. You pay them no mind.

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me

And then one day, IT happens. No, not that…it’s those words you just said. Hanging out there in the air. You can almost see them, as if captured in one of those comic strip “speech bubbles”, with the arrow coming out of your mouth. You’re frozen, unable to move or speak further.

Sometimes this can be a good thing, but more than often than not our mouths can get us in a lot of trouble. Sometimes a few carelessly spoken words hurt the ones we love more than anything else we can do. And once spoken, we can never get them back.

The Bible is full of warnings regarding the evils of the tongue and all the havoc it can wreak in our lives. To the point of our own condemnation. In the Book of James, it says that no human can tame the tongue and that it’s filled with evil. It cautions even those most pious, that to live with an unbridled tongue is to make their religion worthless.

It’s amazing how this tongue our Lord has blessed us with, can be such a force for good and happiness, yet can just as easily become a vessel of evil and heartache. Even so, many of us give very little thought to the impact that our words can have on others.

You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

If the Beach Boys are America’s original “brother” band, then certainly the Bee Gees (the Brothers Gibb) are the U.K.’s (though some might argue they were Australian).

The Bee Gees had two very distinct periods of success: from 1967-1975 (pre-disco) and from 1975-forward (post-disco). Their 1975 single “Jive Talkin'” was definitely the turning point, if you ask me. Even though their success after the release of 1977’s Saturday Night Fever was far greater than their earlier works – SNF alone sold over 15 million albums – I’ve always thought their pre-disco period material was superior. (That being said, I must admit “How Deep Is Your Love” is a favorite of mine and will always hold special meaning for me.)

“Words” was released in 1968 and charted at #15 here in the U.S and at #9 in the U.K. Interestingly, most all of their pre-disco songs featured Robin’s clear vibrato on lead vocals and most of the post-disco songs had Barry’s soul-infused falsetto, but “Words” was the exception. Barry took the lead on “Words” and it was also the first time one of the brothers solo-ed on one of their songs.

“Words” always stood out to me – it had that familiar Bee Gees sound, but was missing the harmony vocals. And with that unique “compressed” piano (sounded like 10 pianos playing at once), it had a spare, lonely, haunting sound that definitely stood out among the other songs swirling Top 40 radio at that time.

Barry actually wrote the song after the brothers had a few too many arguments in the studio, and to point out how hurtful some of the things the brothers had said to one another were. I guess you could say it was kind of an inter-group “make-up” song.

A few interesting notes about the song include:

  • Like a lot of their songs, they wrote it for someone else; in this case Cliff Richards. He never got around to recording it, so they did.
  • Elvis Presley chose to perform it in many of his early 70’s concerts.
  • The song was not on one of their albums; it was written for a movie soundtrack, The Mini Affair.
  • It reached #1 on the charts in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and China.

The Bee Gees went on to sell over 220 million records worldwide, making them one of the best selling acts of all time. The Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and their citation says “Only Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees.”

When my son, Trey, was about 13, he and I were traveling on a camping trip and I had the Bee Gees live masterpiece, One Night Only, playing in the car. After listening quietly to a few songs (with Barry on lead vocals), Trey turned to me and asked “Dad, why does he sing like that?”. I looked at him and said, “Son, because he can!”.

Listen to the original studio version here:

Listen to Barry and the Bee Gees live on Ed Sullivan 1968 here:

Almost 30 years later in Las Vegas:

Sources for this article include:









My Secrets To Reveal


Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. -Proverbs 27:5

Now I told you so you ought to know
It takes some time for a feelin’ to grow
You’re so close now I can’t let you go
And I can’t let go

With you I’m not shy to show the way I feel
With you I might try my secrets to reveal
For you are a magnet and I am steel
For you are a magnet and I am steel

Isn’t there something in the Bible about not “coveting” your neighbor’s things? I’m sure I recall hearing and reading that somewhere. But who hasn’t done this? I have to believe this is one of the most common sins we all have. As hard as we might try not to, somewhere along the way, this little bugaboo bites you.

I can’t hope that I’ll hold you for long
You’re a woman who’s lost to your song
But the love that I feel is so strong
And it can’t be wrong

Now, this sin can come in the form of material envy -say your neighbor’s classic 1968 ‘Vette – or wealth envy – how did he or she get that job? – and just occasionally in the form of thy neighbor’s significant other.

And sometimes this bite is so hard and the pull is so strong, that you just have to give in. As the late, great Luther Ingram once sang “If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”. You know in your heart it’s not right, but it’s just too good to resist.

With you I’m not shy to show the way I feel
With you I might try my secrets to reveal
For you are a magnet and I am steel
For you are a magnet and I am steel

Yes, the attraction is just like that; a magnetic pull so strong you just feel locked in. You throw all caution and rational thought to the wind and just go for it.

“Magnet And Steel”, the hit single off of Walter Egan’s second album, Not Shy, is a tale of exactly this type situation. In this case, the coveted object was one Stevie Nicks, the ex-wife of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. Now we may have to give Walter a bit of a pass on this, as I believe that Stevie and Lindsey were not exactly “together” at the time. But given the close relationship between Egan and Buckingham, it seems a bit too close for comfort, if you ask me.


Walter met Lindsey at a party in 1976, and as a big admirer of his work on 1975’s smash hit Fleetwood Mac, he asked Lindsey to help with his debut album, Fundamental Roll. Lindsey agreed to work with it a bit and brought in Stevie to provide some background vocals. Walter wound up naming Buckingham and Nicks as album co-producers, along with himself and Duane Scott.

After that, it was a natural progression for Lindsey, Stevie and Rumours producer, Richard Dashut to jump in full force on Not Shy. The rest, as they say, was history. The album’s hit single “Magnet And Steel” went on to sell over a million copies and reached #8 on the Billboard charts.

Walter tells the story “behind the story” on

“On the night when Stevie did the background vocals for my song ‘Tunnel o’ Love,’ (on the Fundamental Roll lp) my nascent amorous feelings toward her came into a sharper focus – I was smitten by the kitten, as they say. It was on my drive home at 3 AM from Van Nuys to Pomona that I happened to be behind a metal flake blue Lincoln Continental with ground effects and a diamond window in back. I was inspired by the car’s license plate: “Not Shy.”

By the time I pulled into my driveway I had formulated the lyrics and come up with the magnet metaphor. From there the song was finished in 15 minutes. It was especially satisfying to have Stevie sing on ‘Magnet,’ since it was about her (and me).”

Most folks regard Walter as another “one hit wonder”, but he actually went on to release a total of 9 albums, with the latest being 2011’s Raw Elegant.

A few more interesting notes about Walter:

  • He never had another Top 40 hit himself, but a cover version of his song “Hot Summer Night” went to #18 for the band Night, who also had a female lead singer named Stevie (Stevie Vann aka Stevie Lange).
  • In 1985 he was a four time champion on the TV game show Catch Phrase.
  • He got credit as a co-writer on Eminem’s hit “We Made You” because producer Dr. Dre felt the song’s bass line was influenced by “Hot Summer Night”.
  • Walter got his start in music with a group called the Malibooz, imitating the Pac coast surf music sound of the Beach Boys and the Ventures, although the group was entirely from NYC and had never even visited the West Coast.

So, quit admiring your neighbor’s new car and focus on the blessings you have in your own hand. And please repress those longings for beautiful “things” others may possess. Then again, just looking never hurt anyone…did it?

Listen to the great original studio version here:

Night’s hit version of “Hot Summer Night” here:

Sources for this post include:


Walter’s website:


First Wound Of Pride


The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. -Proverbs 14:8

Dying flame, you’re free again
Who could love, do that to you
All dressed in black, he won’t be coming back

It’s over, right? Yep. He’s/she’s gone right? Yep, gone, long gone, gone like yesterday, and gone like a freight train, as Montgomery Gentry once sang.

But it’s not over.

And the truth is, it never really will be. Oh sure, you move on and accept the new reality, but it’s always still there, burned in like the exposed images on the negatives from an old-time camera’s film.

Look, save your tears
Got years and years
The pains of seventeen’s
Unreal they’re only dreams
Save your cryin’ for the day

I turned 21 in April of 1978, and Chris Rea’s debut album, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini and the hit single “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” was all over the airwaves. Years of teen angst were still fresh in my mind and I was in the nether world between a high school romance lost and a long distance relationship via college separation gone awry. The song absolutely cut me to the quick. But it was so irresistibly catchy, I couldn’t wait to hear it again.

Fool if you think it’s over
‘Cause you said goodbye
Fool if you think it’s over
I’ll tell you why
New born eyes always cry with pain
At the first look at the morning sun
Fool if you think it’s over
It’s just begun

“The folly of fools” as the Bible said, was certainly all over me in trying to deceive myself. The real fool is one who thinks that just because you say it’s over, it really is. And yes, you must open your eyes and face the harsh light of reality, as painful as that may be.

Miss Teenage Dream, such a tragic scene
He knocked your crown and ran away
First wound of pride, and how you cried and cried
But save your tears, got years and years

I guess I’ll never really be able to understand the female side of this equation; I can only imagine what that must be like. I’ve always believed that women were much stronger emotionally than men, for all of our posturing and denial of feelings. I know that the key for men is to feel respected above all, and when not loved, we can justify that as less a loss of respect and more as a loss of value. OK, so she left me for something of higher value. No loss of respect there, right? It’s like she’s getting a new job or trading up for a new car. But a wound of pride? Definitely.

I’ll buy you first good wine
We’ll have a real good time
Save your cryin’ for the day
That may not come
But anyone who had to pay
Would laugh at you and say

Speaking of wounded pride, Chris would probably be chagrined to know that most folks here in the U.S. would probably call him a “one hit wonder”. While it’s true that his biggest hit came from his first album release here – instead of in his native U.K. – he later returned to Europe and recorded over 30 additional LP’s with several singles reaching the charts in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, as well as in the U.K..

In fact, his U.S. record label became so disenchanted with his efforts that they didn’t bother to choose a name for his fourth album (Chris Rea), and they just dumped out a bunch of his raw demo tapes as his fifth. Ironically, the fifth album ,Water Sign, became a surprise hit in Ireland and Europe, spawning a Top 20 single, “I Can Hear Your Heartbeat”.

Chris’ career in Europe took off like a rocket after that, with his breakthrough #1 charting LP The Road To Hell coming in 1989.

Fool if you think it’s over
‘Cause you said goodbye
Fool if you think it’s over
I’ll tell you why

No one here in the U.S. these days ever really wonders much about Whatever Happened to Benny Santini and Chris Rea, but here’s a few interesting tidbits to chew on:

  • The album’s title came about because Chris’ record label originally wanted him to change his stage name to – you guessed it – Benjamin Santini.
  • The album was produced by Elton John’s producer, Gus Dudgeon. Chris always wanted to try to sound more like Elton and/or Billy Joel.
  • Ironically, “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” was nominated for a Grammy (Song of The Year) but got beat out by Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are”.
  • And to prove it really wasn’t over, British pop singer, Elkie Brooks, scored a 17 on the U.K. charts with her cover version in 1982.

So light a candle, pour yourself a glass of good wine and admit to yourself that a great song, like a great romance, will never really be completely over.

Listen to the original studio version here:

Elkie Brooks cover version on Top Of The Pops here:

Sources for this post include:



A Red Coal Carpet


I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest. -Psalms 55:8


Ooo, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

Storms; life is full of them. And the Bible teaches us that we will face troubles in this life.  Some are major hurricanes, others minor squalls. It is some comfort to have the reassurance that Jesus overcame this world and so shall we. But that doesn’t make the troubles any easier to deal with in the present.

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin’
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

And so it was in the summer of 1969. On August 17th, the heat of the Gulf Coast night was broken by the howling 175 mph winds of Hurricane Camille. My Uncle Richard was living in Metarie, Louisiana at the time, near the shores of Lake Ponchartrain. Fortunately he, my Aunt and cousins were able to evacuate before it hit.

When it was all over, there were 259 people dead and over 1.4 billion dollars worth of damage. Camille was the second of only three Category 5 hurricanes to strike the U.S. in the 20th century, along with Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 and Hurricane Andrew in Miami in 1992.

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

And, yes the war in Vietnam raged on with still over 500,000 U.S. troops on the ground and more than 11,000 of those killed in battles that year. Even as Ho Chi Minh passed away in September, the war was still very much in question.

The flood is threat’ning
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I’m gonna fade away

So it was, and the mud and the blood and the flood all indeed seemed to be overflowing like a “red coal carpet” and a “mad bull lost it’s way”.

And just a couple of weeks before Camille struck, we were all shocked to the core by the horrific Sharon Tate murders, committed by the truly evil Charles Manson and his desert based “family”.

Dark days indeed.

And they were for the Rolling Stones, as well. In that same fall of 1969, the Stones were struggling with the year long prospect of pulling their latest album, Let It Bleed, together without the help of the band’s founder, Brian Jones. Brian had been dismissed from the band back in June due to increasing personal issues and drug problems, and was found dead a month later in the bottom of his swimming pool.

Let It Bleed was a somber tome, perfectly matching the events swirling at the time and “Gimme Shelter” was no exception. In the book Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones , author Stephen Davis wrote: “No rock record, before or since, has ever so completely captured the sense of palpable dread that hung over its era.”

Mick and the boys had surely captured a sign of the times.

I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away

In an interview just a year ago on NPR’s All Things Considered, Mick Jagger talked freely about the dark lyrics and the making of the song. “It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit…When it was recorded, early ’69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that’s reflected in this tune. It’s still wheeled out when big storms happen…”.

But some of the most intriguing factors in the recording were created by the incredible background vocals provided by gospel and soul singer, Merry Clayton. Like many great singers, Merry grew up singing in the church. Her father was a Baptist preacher in New Orleans, so I’m sure you can imagine what some of those church services sounded like!

She later pursued singing as a career, performing backing vocals for Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley and The Supremes among many others, but is probably best known for her work as a member of The Raelettes, Ray Charles’ backup singers.

As the story goes, Merry got a call in the late evening (she was already in bed for the night) from a producer she knew – Jack Nitzsche – begging her to come down to the studio to lay down some backing vocals for this project he was working on. At the time, she didn’t even know who the Rolling Stones were.

Merry was reluctant; she was pregnant at the time and her husband even got a little miffed at Nitzsche for calling so late. But once he understood who it was -the Stones – and what was going on, he said  “Honey, you know, you really should go and do this date.”

The rest is history.

She got out of bed and went down to the studio – curlers still in her hair – and met with Keith Richards, who ran through what they wanted her to do. She was bit put off by the dark lyrics at first, but once she understood the gist of the song and it’s meaning, she was ready to go. She did three takes and said “It’s late, I gotta go back to bed.”

Those three takes were some of he most powerful backing vocals ever recorded. She put so much into it that her strained voice began to crack right in the middle of the “Rape, Murder” part.  And, if you listen very closely on a good recording of the song, you can actually hear Mick, Keith and Jack hooting and hollering in the control booth in sheer amazement at the emotional delivery she poured into the track.

It was one of the greatest performances of her career.

Ironically, it also turned into tragedy, as she lost her baby to miscarriage shortly after leaving the studio. It has been widely assumed that the strain of the performance caused it. Years later, Merry still found the song hard to hear, and nearly impossible to sing, due to the dark memories of the night.

“Gimme Shelter” went on to be named the 38th ranked song on Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list in 2004 and was also the name of the documentary film detailing the final weeks of the Stone’s 1969 U.S. tour culminating at the disastrous  free concert at the Altamont Speedway in California.

Martin Scorcese must have also been a big fan, as he has used the song in three of his films: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed. Interestingly enough, he chose not include it in his 2008 documentary film about the Stones, Shine A Light.

So, crank it up loud and let it roll, as only Mick and the boys can do. And though things may seem grim; remember that love truly is, as Merry sang “just a kiss away”. And be sure to listen for Merry’s voice breaking. Wow!

Unbelievable footage w/Merry Clayton track exposed

Awesome Playing For Change cover here:







Every Word Rings True


And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:4

The boys were singing shing-a-ling
The summer night we met
You were tan and seventeen
O how could I forget
When every star from near and far
Was watching from above
Watching two teenagers fall in love

What a picture these lyrics paint and definitely one I can remember from my own teenage years. I was seventeen and, yes, she was very tan. I had just moved to Atlanta and was trying to meet and make new friends in the summer of 1974 and she was the step-sister of one of my coworkers. He called her up to get a ride home one night after we closed and when she arrived, he introduced us. There must have been a little magic in the night air because, after a few minutes of conversation, he got his ride home and I got a date with her the next day.

The way we danced was not a dance
But more a long embrace
We held on to each other and
We floated there in space
And I was shy to kiss you while
The whole wide world could see
So shing-a-ling said everything for me

The movie Grease was still a few years away from reminding us of a time when the sounds of doo-wop ruled, but there were still a few songs rolling out of the speakers in my 1970 Chevy that could carry you back to those days. Ringo Starr was singing “You’re Sixteen” by Johnny Burdette, Grand Funk had a hit with Little Eva’s “Loco-Motion” and The Guess Who had us all singing along to “Clap For The Wolfman”.

And oh the poor old, old folks
They thought we’d lost our minds
They could not make heads or tails
Of the young folks’ funny rhymes
But you and I knew all the words
And we always sang along to
Oh sham-a-ling-dong-ding

Every generation has a hard time understanding some of the musical styles and preferences of the next – and vice versa- but I think the translations from some of the great old doo-wop songs and their trademark nonsensical lyrics had to be hard for the generations on either side to fathom.

“Shama-lama” and it’s cousin “Rama-lama”, “Sh-boom”, “Rat da tat tat”, “Shinga ling”, “Bomp bomp ba bomp”, “Dip-de-dip-de-dip”, “Oo-wah, oo-wah” and even “Doo-wop” itself are just a few examples of the lyrical style incorporated in the genre.

It may have sounded like gibberish to some, but young hearts in love instinctively understood every word.

So after years and after tears
And after summers past
The old folks tried to warn us
How our love would never last

And so intense that romantic swell must have been, just as those who are filled with the love of the Holy Spirit also sometimes burst out into languages that no one can understand.

I’ve never seen anyone “speaking in tongues” firsthand, but I know folks who have. If you ever want to experience it for yourself, just check out your local Pentecostal church and ask them when they are going to have their next Revival. It’s not my usual taste in worship style, but I do think it might be invigorating every now and then!

And oh the poor old, old folks
They smile and walk away
But I bet they did some
Sham-a-lama-ding-dong in their day

Jesse Winchester was a southern born and bred singer-songwriter who I believe could have been every bit as influential on the 70’s music scene as James Taylor, if not for his having left the country for Canada to avoid service in the Vietnam war. Branded a “draft dodger” and prohibited from playing in the U.S., he never achieved a high level of popularity as a performer, but his work as a songwriter flourished nonetheless.

Jesse’s songs were recorded by countless artists as diverse as George Strait, Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Reba McEntire, Emmylou Harris, Wilson Pickett, The Everly Brothers, Nicolette Larson and many, many more.

Elvis Costello included Jesse Winchester’s 1970 debut album in his “500 Albums You Need” list created in Vanity Fair in 2000.

Oh those sweet old love songs
Every word rings true
Sham-a-ling-dong-ding means sweetheart
Sham-a-ling-dang-dong does too
And it means that right here in my arms
That’s where you belong
And it means sham-a-ling-dong-ding

Jesse, along with many others who left for other parts of the world to avoid the war, was granted amnesty by President Jimmy Carter in 1976. His first U.S. concert was sold out in Burlington, Vermont and was covered by Rolling Stone magazine who dubbed him “the greatest voice of the decade”.

“Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding” was on Jesse’s final album Love Filling Station in 2009 and quite fittingly was featured that same year on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle TV series. I think it showcases not only his tremendous gift songwriting and vocal style but his great talent as a guitar player, as well.

Jesse lost his battle with cancer and passed away at his home in Virginia earlier this year, but his gift lives on through the many hit songs he penned for others.

So, young or old, and even though we might not understand exactly what some of those old doo-wop lyrics meant, just as Jesse sang, I’m sure we’ve all  experienced a little “Sham-A-Lama” of our own sometime throughout our days.

Listen to Jesse live on Spectacle here: