dust boatman view thought

 

 

 

 

Tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas

 

Turn the wheel and let it spin.  Tip the glass and see the bottom.  Can’t you see you’ll never win… 

 

Slowly waking in his chair, bare feet on a bare floor, as another Nevada sun was peeking across the desert, he wondered if this was good.  He did not want to know; there were too many answers.  Every plastic man and painted girl had an answer for him. 

 

As weary as he was of singing the same songs night after night, the audience never tired of hearing them.  As his star flickered on, he flickered on and wondered about his half-life.

 

Memories of a childhood in another world as he and his brother, two young sons of country singers, touring with their parents and performing on the family radio shows. His dad worked a day job for a while, mining coal in western Kentucky, raising his family, teaching his boys to blend voices and guitar licks as he honed his music craft.  Ike and his friend Mose played thumb-picked guitar, long before it became popular with so many bluegrass and country musicians. 

 

He remembered singing, reading a commercial, he and his brother singing harmonies that developed into their tickets to stardom.  They listened as dad sang.  They heard him tell the story with each note and never forgot.  All these years later, he could hear his dad’s phrasing as he sang.  As an artist in the 40s and 50s, dad was ahead of his time, and apart from his time, playing what we later began calling uptown country, white blues.

 

From those roots of their father Ike’s teachings, the Everly Brothers were to be seen over the years as the most important vocal duo in rock music.  Everything that followed, every act with softly stated expressive harmony that followed, did just that, followed. 

All that followed, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Hollies et al, listened to how Don and Phil sang.  All heard the clean harmony of instrument and voice in their ears and hearts and were taught and influenced by them. 

 

The Everly Brothers are the thread from an affectionate old-time country music style to a modern sensitivity and harmony in popular rock music.  The audible and emotional thread is heard weaving through melodies of Gram Parsons, Rick Danko, Jesse Winchester, Harry Chapin and Neil Young.

 

Don and Phil were teenage songwriters and singers in Nashville in 1957.   They were given a song written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant that had been rejected by over two dozen acts.  Their recording of “Bye Bye Love” was the hit that established their signature sound of close harmonies with a rocking beat.  Their combined country and folk style had wide appeal, even to those that like neither country nor folk.

 

Touring worldwide with hit songs they wrote like “Till I Kissed You” and “When Will I Be Loved” and singing “Wake Up Little Susie”, “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “That’s Old- Fashioned” to sold-out crowds, the Everly Brothers were international stars selling millions of records.

 

Of course, like other business and personal relationships, their career together was not always as harmonious as their vocals.  The music business is always in change and artists they had influenced at times overshadowed them later in the 60s.  Always popular together, especially so in Great Britain and Europe, solo did not work as well as duo for them.  They and their audience found the Everly Brothers less interesting amidst all the other attractions.    

 

Where’s the last real place you’ve been.  Getting here is lots of trouble.  Oh, I’m not coming back again

The Everly Brothers, losing touch with each other and their audience, were stale and the beauty of their art was stale.  Even though Don and Phil performed through some lifeless years and lifeless self-parody club acts in the late 60s, they were not yet through with their music.

 

In 1968, Don Everly and Phil Everly, two individual artists from Kentucky, went into the studio.  Teaming with producer Andy Wickham, returning to their pre-rock perspectives, with polished skill and fresh voice, they recorded “Roots”, a thoughtful American classic that credits and respects their beginnings in Appalachia. 

 

On purpose, they took a side road away from the worldly pop music and cultural changes they were living in.  Taking refuge in their unique Kentucky heritage, floating memories of Ike and home within their harmonies, layered with influences of bluegrass, pop and not so pure country, they sang moody, coming of age uptown country white blues. 

 

Roots is both smooth nostalgia and shiny contemporary, with Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”, Glenn Campbell’s “Less of Me”, Jimmie Rodger’s “Blue Yodel No. 1” and a stunningly beautiful version of Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”.  Brilliantly done, and a few years ahead of it’s time, the brothers both established the style and set the standard for much of the country rock that followed in the 1970s.

 

Don and Phil barely escaped being trapped forever in their own pop past of the Everly Brothers.  They updated themselves without abandoning who they were, retooled and sharpened up on stage. 

 

We began to listen again, knowing they had more to say.  “Stories We Could Tell” is a brilliant but lesser-known triumph.  The album may actually be unknown to many who were fans of the Everly Brothers as pop artists.

 

Not writing a record review, in commenting on something I find meaningful, I do not think or write as a music critic.  When first seeing this album, I examined the album cover, read the song titles, made a consumer decision and bought it.  Even before listening, I felt a connection to the journey and the stories I was about to hear. 

 

Listening was a pleasure and hearing was beyond expectations.  Long before audio books or downloaded literature, here was a collection of short stories set to music.  A listener may not know the lyrics, but they sure knew the songs, knew the stories they were hearing. 

Tries to imitate the world.  Just like looking in a window.  Plastic men and painted girls.  Oh, I’m tired of singing my song in Las Vegas.

Monuments are built by man.  Pantheons with plastic columns.  Take a look at Boulder Dam.  Oh, I’m tired of singing my song in Las Vegas.

They did an old country style version of “Breakdown” by Kris Kristofferson.  In doing the title song, they confirm the listener is in for a unique experience.  I was living by myself in a little house in Cocoa, Florida.  Those who came over were more in the mood for the latest from Led Zeppelin, or at least the Moody Blues. 

I was hesitant to say this is the Everly Brothers but wanted my friends to hear this delicate treat.  Some listeners did not know, and did not want to know what this record meant.  When you hear the Dennis Linde compositions of “Christmas Ever Can Kill You” and “Ridin’ High”, you are either enjoying the soft country feeling or not.  When they do an autobiographical song of Don Everly’s, so aptly titled “I’m tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas”, either you get it or you don’t.  Most of my friends didn’t get it, but we stayed friends.  They just brought some of their own records with them next visit. 

Critics would barely respect these songs already mentioned, and verbally mistreat the rest.  Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind” got little respect, and “All We Really Want to Do”, written by Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett, joining Don and Phil on this recording, has been described as distorted and flawed.  I do not know what to say, other than beauty is in the ear of the beholder.  No big message, just a respectful nod to life, a reverent concept album that trusted in some contemporary lyrics to sing those old uptown white blues again. 

Del Rio Dan”, "Three-Armed, Poker-Playin' River Rat" and "Up in Mabel's Room", and the sentimental lyrics of “Green River”, are just fun songs meant to amuse, with no purpose except to entertain you, and that is okay.  Their version of Jesse Winchester’s “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” is a good summation for the defense, a sad song without tears or regret.  How a person feels about the album is a matter of personal likes and dislikes, and how you look at it.  A critic seeking musical perfection may find fault.  A mere mortal such as I will enjoy the emotion and truth in the words.

As you wonder where is the last real place you’ve been, turn the wheel and let it spin.