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.
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.
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.
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.