In a ten-year career tragically cut short by Leukemia, Kate Wolf wrote and performed over 200 songs. Her music is poignant, straightforward, honest, and beautiful. She performed at venues throughout her native state of California. Since her passing in 1986 at the age of 44, Kate’s audience has grown steadily as people like me discover her music. “September Song” (recorded on Kate’s 1979 album “Safe at Anchor”) is one of my favorites.
The song is replete with images. I particularly like the image conjured in the second verse illustrated below:
“The ghost of a frontier lady walks through the tall rooms/Of an old Ontario farmhouse under the full moon.”
Hi everyone. The voice I’m referring to here is not mine. It belongs to Kate Wolf (1942-1986). She wrote and performed (mostly in her native California) over 200 songs. Her music comes directly from the heart and tends to be bittersweet. In 1980, Kate released her fourth album on her own label, Owl Records. The album is titled “Close to You.” Many of the songs on the album have become fan favorites, including some I have posted on this blog: Across the Great Divide, An Unfinished Life, Here in California, and Stone in the Water.
A recording of Kate playing a song by Tom Paxon called “Hold On to Me Babe” drew me to Wolf’s music again. Her voice is transcendent as it is in most of her recordings. I haven’t been listening to Kate’s music lately, and her version of Paxon’s song reminded me of the beautiful realms she takes me to.
Another song on the album reminded me of the precious few people I have been close to in this life. Here is my cover of “Friend of Mine” with an original accompaniment.
“Crossroads” is another great song by Don McLean. It first appeared on his hit album, “American Pie.” Although the song is not as well-known as the title song and some of the other songs on the album (“Vincent”“And I Love You So” and “Empty Chairs“) Crossroads is nonetheless moving and beautiful.
On the surface, the song is about a man remembering a long-lost love with a sense of regret and a desire to turn back time. I believe the subtext of the song has a larger and more universal meaning: hope and happiness can be found with anything that joins us on the inevitable journey of life. It doesn’t have to be a lover or anyone in particular. It can be an idea, a thought, an emotion, or even an absence of something or someone. An absence can be as strong a motivator as a presence.
On the album, McLean performs the song on Piano. Fortunately, my good friend and tutor, Jerry’s Guitar Bar, has transposed the song for guitar. Here’s my version.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. BELIEVE IN A POSITIVE OUTCOME. AND, IT WILL BE SO.
Like many of us, Don McLean suffered through difficult passages in his life, many of which are reflected in his music. He wrote and recorded “Empty Chairs” when his marriage was failing. Despite the subject of lost love, I feel there is incredible beauty in the lyrics and the melody, and Mclean’s unique guitar style. If you are tired of lost love songs, I recommend listening only to the melody and the guitar.
Although the title is mentioned just once in the song, McLean chose the symbol to sum up his feelings and state of mind at the time. The title is inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of empty chairs. Mclean sympathized with Van Gogh and admired his paintings as revealed in his song “Vincent” recorded on the same album: “American Pie.”
The tutorial and the song are best played in the key of G. There are a few high notes I’ve done my best with. Please enjoy my version.
Be positive and stay faithful. Love will bloom anew.
I’m reposting a blog previously titled “Vincent: A True Lover.” I’ve decided to re-learn the song closer to the original.
“Starry, starry night/ Paint your palette blue and grey/ Look upon a summer’s day/ With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.”
Those words came to Don McLean as he gazed at Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting “The Starry Night.” Soon, he had a masterpiece of his own: “Vincent,” a 1972 hit that he released right on the heels of his defining epic “American Pie.”
Like Van Gogh’s painting, Mclean’s “Vincent” has touched a broad array of hearts and minds over the last 50 years. The song, the painting, and the book “Dear Theo,” written by Van Gogh’s brother, have certainly touched my heart again and again. I’ve always thought that Vincent’s style was at least in part inspired by his mental illness. To me, the brush strokes reflect an altered state of perception similar to the hallucinogenic patterns seen under the influence of Mescaline or LSD.
Van Gogh labored in obscurity until his self-inflicted death at the age of thirty-seven. He sold only a few of his paintings during his lifetime. Today, Van Gogh is a household word, and his paintings each sell for fifty million dollars or more. “The Starry Night” is one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings.
Here’s the updated version of “Vincent” played closer to the original recording by Don Mclean.
Thought for the Day
When your world shrinks, your issues amplify. Keep your world and your perspective broad, for your own happiness, and the happiness of others.
In 1964, Gordon Lightfoot wrote one of his most memorable songs: Early Morning Rain. Lightfoot, a Canadian singer-songwriter, has become a folk legend. Along with his crystal clear singing voice and accomplished guitar playing, Lightfoot has written a library of outstanding folk songs depicting historical events and all manner of love relationships. To single out a smattering of Lightfoot’s top hits is to do the man an injustice. “Early Morning Rain” appears on his 1966 debut album Lightfoot! Before he released the song, another Canadian duo, Ian and Sylvia, recorded it in 1964. Many other folk singing notables (Peter, Paul, and Mary) also adopted the song.
The genesis of “Early Morning Rain” can be traced to Gordon’s 1960 stay in Westlake, Los Angeles. At the time, Lightfoot became homesick for his Canadian roots. He remembers going to the Los Angeles International Airport on rainy days to watch the aircraft take off and land. The memories of the flights launching into the overcast skies stayed with him. In 1964, while caring for his 5-month-old son, Lightfoot remembers thinking, “I’ll put him over here in his crib, and I’ll write myself a tune.” In that moment, “Early Morning Rain” was born.
The lyrics refer to someone down on his luck who stands at an airport fence to watch the thunderous take-off of a Boeing 707 airliner. The theme of the song suggests a jet-age musical allegory to a hobo of bygone days loitering at a railroad yard to steal a train ride home. Lightfoot credits the popularity of the song to his steady improvement as a songwriter.
I’ve always loved this song. Lightfoot strums it. When I heard Eva Cassidy perform the song using a picking technique, I had to learn it her way. Unfortunately, there were no guitar tutorials available. Since Eva plays “Early Morning Rain” close to her version of “Kathy’s Song,” I was able to figure out how to play EMR three-quarters of the way she does.
Why do I bother to learn how to play these songs the way these great artists do? It’s simple. I become a better guitarist with each song I learn. Most importantly, I enjoy it immensely. Here’s my cover of the song.
Thought for the Day
Am I doing the world a favor if I add one more sad voice to the wailing, no matter how artfully I express it?
Who doesn’t remember Simon and Garfunkle singing Kathy’s song? The answer is probably tons of people under the age of thirty, but who’s counting? The remarkable Paul Simon wrote Kathy’s Song. It was released in 1966 on the album Sounds of Silence. Along with the title tune, Kathy’s Song remains one of the duo’s most popular tracks. It is poetic, lyrical, and deeply moving.
Nearly thirty years later, along comes Eva Cassidy with her celestial voice and consummate guitar playing. Her version of Kathy’s song is characteristically unique and beautiful beyond words. If you like this kind of music, I urge you to listen to Eva’s version on YouTube. Eva doesn’t need an orchestra or a band to back her up. She plays and sings Kathy’s Song solo, and steals your heart away.
I’ve enjoyed learning how to play this song “Eva Style.” I found a good online tutorial by a guy who calls himself Ivor Sorefingers. Here’s my version.
Have you ever heard of Steve Gillette? If you were alive in the 1960’s and liked folk music and folk ballads, there’s a chance the name rings a bell. Gillette never made it to the top of the charts, but he’s a very talented singer/songwriter. Many of his songs have been performed by artists you have heard of like John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, Nanci Griffith, and Linda Ronstadt.
Steve has recorded seven solo albums. In 1989, Steve married Cindy Mangsen. Together, Steve and Cindy have recorded seven albums while touring across the country for decades. Steve and Cindy are truly wandering minstrels.
The Bells In The Evening appears on Gillette’s debut album released in 1967. In my opinion, the album, simply titled “Steve Gillette”, stands as one of Steve’s finest recordings. “The Bells” is a bittersweet (actually sweet bitter) song of love blossoming in the spring and fading away in the fall. It’s a song full of immense joy and sorrow that combine in a mixture of awesome beauty. The song is also replete with imagery. When you listen, what images come to your mind?
Please enjoy my version of “The Bells In The Evening.”
“Our actions entrench the power of the light on this planet. Every positive thought we pass between us makes room for more light.”
“I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I’ve loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it’s to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself.”
Kate Wolf–Singer Songwriter–1942-1986
Perhaps Kate Wolf had these thoughts in mind when she wrote the song “Unfinished Life.” It’s a haunting ballade filled with hard won wisdom, exquisite beauty, grace, and focused determination. The song is also ironically prophetic. Kate Wolf died tragically of Leukemia at the age of forty-four. Despite her abbreviated life span, she wrote over two hundred songs and performed them at venues in her native state of California and around the world. Kate’s life was, indeed, unfinished, but she left behind a treasure trove of beautiful music.
I first recorded “Unfinished Life” using a free-form guitar strumming method. Recently, while driving in my car, I listened to the song with a different pair of ears. I noticed the unique and highly effective guitar picking technique Kate used to express the words and melody of the song. After some trial and error, I’ve come up with a version that approximates Kate’s unparalleled recording.
“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”
Kate Wolf left a legacy of over two hundred songs that she recorded and performed in live concert. I’ve played a number of those songs here and in online groups. I’ve tried to embody and share Kate’s love, beauty, compassion, pathos, and joy. Now, it seems my journey with Kate’s music is ending with a few songs from her last albums. Here’s an upbeat one titled “Stone In The Water.”
Linda Ronstadt made this song famous. I’m playing Eva Cassidy’s version of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” close to the style she used to perform it. Paul Anka wrote the ballad for Buddy Holly, and Holly was the first to perform it in 1958. The song reached number 13 on the charts at the time.
Ronstadt and Cassidy, two great artists, are no longer with us. They both sang like angels and their legends have grown over time. Their music lives on and is enjoyed by a worldwide audience. This track is dedicated to the memory of Linda Ronstadt and Eva Cassidy.