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 released “In My Eyes” in April of 1970, years before his conversion. Like many of his songs, it is simple yet extremely poignant. It speaks of the impermanence of human love and of life itself. Paradoxically, “Fill My Eyes” flows like a sweet river and the meter is upbeat.
Here’s my cover of the song played in Yusuf/Stevens’ unique guitar style.
Ian Tyson began making a living as a rodeo rider. After breaking an ankle in a spill, Tyson began playing the guitar. As things turned out, rodeo riding was not to be his destiny. Tyson went on to become a famous Canadian folksinger and songwriter. After spending an evening with Bob Dylan, Ian wrote his first song, namely “Four Strong Winds.” It is widely recognized as one of the best folk songs ever written.
While singing in clubs and on college campuses, Tyson met Sylvia Fricker. The duo began singing together and eventually became known throughout North America as Ian & Sylvia. After some time on the road, the duo decided to go to New York to seek a manager and a record label. They succeeded. Vanguard records released their first album titled “Ian and Silvia” in 1962. The couple married three years later. Ian & Silvia, along with Gordon Lightfoot, are the most popular folk and pop recording artists to emerge from Canada.
“Four Strong Winds” is another song about lost love, but I find great beauty in the words and the melody. I hope you can too. The song is usually strummed, but I’m using a finger-picking method. Here’s my cover.
I always thought Phil Ochs was your basic regular-guy-folk-music-icon until reading a few articles about the man. I’ve learned that Phil Ochs was anything but regular.
As a boy, Ochs enjoyed going to the movies. His favorite heroes were James Dean and John Wayne. Always a dreamer, Ochs fantasized about becoming a stoic cowboy like John Wayne, a teenage rebel like James Dean, or a rockabilly sex symbol like Elvis Presley. He took his early love of Hollywood to New York where he became one of the most celebrated folk singers in the world. He surfaced in Greenwich Village where he wrote songs so profusely that friendly rival Bob Dylan complained that he couldn’t keep up with him. At the same time, Ochs became a social activist leading protests against the Vietnam War with songs like “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.”
Recognition came too late for Phil Ochs. He suffered from undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder. Ochs committed suicide in 1976 thinking himself a failure.
His song “Changes” is a soft philosophical ballad exploring the transient nature of human life. Everything changes, including our relationships, the seasons, our ages, and our circumstances. Through it all, Ochs believed we have an obligation to make a meaningful contribution to life. Ochs left behind his beautiful music and deeply held beliefs.
“Sky Blue and Black” by Jackson Browne is an emotional roller coaster looking back on the joys and sorrows of love and its lasting impact. Browne wrote the song over a four-year period and released it on his album “I’m Alive” in 1992. The source material comes from Jackson’s relationship with a famous actress. However, Browne never wants his songs to be identified with his specific life events, so he rarely speaks about his real-life relationships, especially in context with his music.
“It’s a drag to even imagine that people are thinking about [the] relationship instead of their own lives,” Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. “I think if a song is any good, eventually it’ll turn out to be about the life of the listener and not about the life of the writer. Anyway, that’s my hope.”
Have you heard of Steve Gillette? If you were alive in the 1960s and liked folk music, there’s a chance the name rings a bell. Gillette never reached 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 including John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, Nanci Griffith, and Linda Ronstadt.
The Bells in the Evening appears on Gillette’s debut album released in 1967. 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 incredible beauty. The song is also replete with imagery. When you listen, what images come to your mind?
I’ve revisited “The Bells in the Evening” adding some embellishments and the sound of my new guitar. Here’s my cover.
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.