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.
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.
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.
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.
I started out with the intention of learning the song “Beautiful” by Jim Brickman, and then stumbled upon a song by the same name taught by my good friend Jerry at Jerry’s Guitar Bar. Both songs are true to their titles, but the one by Brickman has some complex chords I’d have to figure out how to play. So, I took the easy way out and decided on “Beautiful” by Gordon Lightfoot because it comes with a tutorial. Please note: I really did try NOT to do another Lightfoot song, but here we go again.
Lightfoot had this comment about the song. “It’s about love fulfilled. One of those songs I’ve played every night for over a quarter-century, and I don’t get tired of it.”
Here’s my cover with help from Jerry.
Make the most of your time now because the world will get along just fine without you when your time comes.
Gordon Lightfoot is one of those rare individuals who resides in the top echelon of his profession. It takes a huge deposit of raw talent, hard work, intestinal fortitude, and luck to reach the level of success Lightfoot has achieved in the music business. Amidst all of this recognition, Gordon remains a simple and straightforward man. He is a survivor with no plans to retire. At 83 years young, Lightfoot once dodged death when his manager found him lying on the floor of his dressing room with a burst aorta. Lightfoot has navigated numerous romantic relationships, spawned six children and five grandchildren, remained close with his offspring, and outlasted most of his contemporaries, not without some regrets.
When he comes on stage these days, Lightfoot often uses a misquote inaccurately attributed to Mark Twain: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In November of 2021, Lightfoot had the honor of re-opening the newly renovated Massey Hall in Toronto in a live performance. He has played the historic concert venue more than 160 times.
Lightfoot released his fifteenth original album in 1982 on Warner records. The songs on the album are slower and more contemplative than many of the songs he released in the prior decade. As is his custom, Lightfoot compiled the album’s songs from scraps of notes he collected in his briefcase and tapes he recorded at home.
Of the album’s title song, “Shadows,” Lightfoot has made a few somewhat vague comments. He says it was the best song he had at the time, and that it is about a particular problem he was going through in his life involving a man and a woman and nature.
I feel the song is quite beautiful. I’ve learned it the way Lightfoot plays it. Here is my cover of “Shadows.”
I’m watching an interesting film titled “If You Could Read My Mind.” The Canadian documentary is about the life and career of Gordon Lightfoot.
Lightfoot arrived in downtown Toronto as a young man after growing up in Oridella, a small rural Canadian town. Since there were no clubs to play in at the time, Gordon landed a job in a bank to earn a living. Lightfoot was about to earn a promotion when he told his manager that he had decided to leave the bank to accept a role as an extra on a square dancing Canadian TV show. Lightfoot’s manager found it hard to believe that the young man was leaving a good job with a future to go square dancing.
As folk music became commercially viable in the late sixties, clubs began to spring up featuring promising musicians. Gordon landed a spot in one of them. 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. His first album with the new label was released in 1970 when Gordon was forty-two. Lightfoot had left United Artists after five albums because he felt they did not represent him adequately. “Sit Down Young Stranger” shipped 80,000 copies before sales stopped dead. The album “had no legs” in the industry’s parlance. Warner changed the name of the album and picked a new single to lead it off. “If You Could Read My Mind” became a runaway hit when an announcer on an important local radio station kept playing it. Sales of the album ballooned to 650,000 copies. The rest is history.
Here’s my cover of the song.
Gordon Lightfoot is not a “legend in his own mind” as Dirty Harry said about the perp he was about to blow away. Lightfoot is a genuine “legend in his own time.” He has been performing live well into his seventies and beyond. It is said that time waits for no man. Time may have made an exception in Mr. Lighfoot’s case.
“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.