Is Marc Cohn a one-hit wonder? The answer, in a word, is “yes.” That being said, Walking in Memphis is a noteworthy accomplishment for a man who has spent most of his career steadfastly under the radar.
To his credit, Marc won a Golden Globe Award in 1991 for Best New Artist. Now, well into his fifties, Cohn is still touring with an ambitious schedule ahead in 2023.
Working on this song made me wonder: What made Elvis Presley so popular? In case you may be wondering too, here’s an article that helps to explain it.
Jackson Browne’s music is lyrical and penetrating. He is a poet as well as a prolific songwriter, musician, and vocalist. I became a long-time fan upon hearing his hit song, “These Days.” The song appears in the inspirational film “Invincible,” a story about an average guy who eventually realized his dream of playing in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Most of Browne’s music is bitter-sweet. “My Opening Farewell” is a fine example. The melody, lyrics, and guitar technique are evocative. The song is played in an open D tuning which Browne uses brilliantly to paint pictures, emotions, and moods. I feel it is sad/beautiful, like the woman described in the song. It’s about one of Browne’s early love relationships that lasted a few years.
In an interview, Browne had this to say about the relationship and the meaning of My Opening Farewell:
“Elektra [Records] had this recording ranch up in northern California and we stayed at this hotel. And a train ran by it. So: ‘there’s a train every day, leaving either way,’ and the whole idea [being] that you could go one way or the other. And this relationship was struggling. The song is about the particular moment when you recognize that the person you love wants to be anywhere else. Wants to be gone; wants to move on.”
Here’s my cover.
Played with Martin D-35 Guitar
Played with Martin D-45 Guitar
*Both tracks have minor flubs. Can’t get through this piece without them.
“Song for a Winter’s Night” is one of Gordon Lightfoot’s earliest love songs. It is also one of his biggest hits.
As folk music became commercially viable in the late sixties, clubs blossomed featuring promising folk musicians. Gordon Lightfoot landed a job in one of them in downtown Toronto. He stood apart from the crowd because he performed many of his own songs in a characteristically pure voice. After he developed a following, a club owner invited Lightfoot to perform at his club across the street at twice the salary. Lightfoot gratefully accepted the invitation to perform at the Riverboat, Toronto’s premier folk music club.
With his beautiful voice and prolific outpouring of quality music, it was only a matter of time before Warner/Reprise records rewarded Lightfoot with a one million dollar recording contract, an unheard-of number for a Canadian singer.
Lightfoot recorded “Song for a Winter’s Night in 1967 on his album, “The Way I feel.” Many recording artists covered it, including Sarah McLachlan in the soundtrack for the film “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Gordon wrote the song on a hot summer night while performing in Cleveland. He missed his wife at the time, Brita Ingegerd Olaisson, and his thoughts turned to winter. Here’s my cover.
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.”
Cat Stevens rose to prominence as a folk and pop artist in the 1970’s. I’ve always enjoyed the thread of childlike innocence and spontaneity that runs through his music. After a near-death experience, Stevens began a serious search for a deeper meaning in life. In 1977, he left his rock and roll lifestyle and converted to Islam adopting the name Yusuf Islam.
Stevens wrote “The Wind” five years before his conversion. The song has always been one of my favorites. It’s a simple song that speaks volumes. In a 2022 Rolling Stone interview, Stevens (Yusuf) shared these thoughts about The Wind:
“I’m talking to somebody; I think it’s the divine, but I’m not quite sure, and because I’m not sure, it’s universal. My goal was to be able to detach myself from my physical surroundings and material things. I was very earnestly searching. I would visit esoteric bookshops whenever I could, and pick up whatever new pathway to the truth I could find.”
Here’s my cover of the song played in Yusuf Islam’s unique guitar style.
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.
I’ve always wanted to learn Kate Wolf’s guitar-picking style. Granted, she plays every song she’s written differently, but I just wanted a glimpse. Since Kate has mostly been an under-the-radar, brilliant singer/songwriter, no one has taken the time to create an accurate tutorial of her guitar method. That is until now. My go-to-teacher, Jerry Lamberth, best known for his unequaled guitar tutorial site (Jerry’s Guitar Bar) has finally posted the first of what I hope will be many lessons of Kate Wolf’s songs.
We lost Kate almost forty years ago to Leukemia, but her music has endured across the barrier of time. Coincidentally, the song is about memories of times past.
Not surprisingly, “Across the Great Divide” is one of Wolf’s most popular songs. Without Jerry’s help, I would never have figured out how to play the song Kate’s way. She uses a simple and at the same time complex alternating base method the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Kate wrote “Across The Great Divide” specifically for Robbie Osman’s folk-oriented show of the same name on KPFA radio, San Francisco. Robbie and Kate were friends who shared similar experiences.
This exercise might be a case of “careful what you wish for.” I busted my ass and fingers to learn this. Here’s my cover of the song.
If you love life with abandon, everything you want will come to you quickly and freely.
Jefferson Airplane was one of the premiere psychedelic rock bands of the nineteen-sixties. The Airplane epitomized the subversive love and drug culture that emerged from psycho-active drugs like LSD, Marijuana, Mescaline, and Peyote. The band came to prominence in San Francisco in 1965. The original group of six, featuring lead singer Grace Slick, had a seven-year run. Later incarnations of the group lasted until 1990, but the original group spawned the songs that mattered. “Comin’ Back to Me” is one of those hits. The piece appeared on the band’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow.
The story behind “Comin’ Back to Me” goes like this. While sharing a joint of righteous Marijuana with blues guitarist and harpist Paul Butterfield, Marty Balin wrote the song in five minutes. “It just popped out,” Balin said in an interview. He immediately went to the studio to record the song with any available musicians there. Jerry Garcia happened to be one of them.
In addition to being one of the Airplane’s greatest hits, the song was covered by major recording artists like Richie Havens, and versions of it appear as background music in several Hollywood feature films.
A telephone call changed the life of Julie Gold. Although she had solid management, steady gigs, and a powerful repertoire, she failed to progress as a singer/songwriter until becoming involved with the Greenwich Village singer/songwriter scene. Performing at open mikes, Gold was befriended by Christine Lavin, who became her mentor.
When Julie’s parents sent her a piano she played while growing up, the first song she wrote on it was titled “From a Distance.” Lavin sent a tape of the song to a rising star on the country/folk music scene.
While working as a secretary for HBO in New York, Gold received her life-changing phone call from Nanci Griffith. Nanci wanted permission to record “From a Distance” on her cross-over album, Lone Star State of Mind. The album and the song went on to become big hits.
“From a Distance” became even more popular and won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year when Bette Midler recorded it in 1990.
Here is my cover of the song accompanied by an original guitar composition.
This blog post is dedicated to Toby Aurora Bentley. Toby was taken from us too soon. May she rest in peace and love until we can welcome her back.
Even if you aren’t a fan of seventies music, you’ve probably heard Don McLean’s hit song, “And I Love You So.” What you may not know is the song was widely covered by other recording artists, most notably Elvis Presley and Perry Como. Yes, I said Perry Como.
In a career that spanned decades, Don McLean wrote and recorded twenty-two studio albums, four live albums, and 16 singles. He is best known for his song and album of the same name, “American Pie.”
I’m constantly amazed at the way major recording artists create unique compositions to express their music. “And I Love You So” features an original picking method combined with interesting chord shapes. Learning to play a song the way the artist does is a great way to expand your musical scope and technique.
Here is my cover of McLean’s hit. I’ve re-recorded it one fret lower.
Take the next step that’s in your wheelhouse. This is the path to your success.