Thursday, June 29, 2017


I don't know what colour the devil's right hand may be, but it would not surprise me if it were, too, red, what with what he has in it, as the theme moves to another right hand. (And there are a few other right hands out there, should the rest of the team choose to follow.....)

The song, 'Devil's Right Hand', written by Steve Earle in the very early 80's, yet appearing first on 1989's 'Copperhead Road', down to an earlier record label owning the rights to it, on an album they never released. So already typically part of the Earle paradigm of paradox, luck never quite in step with his profligate writing talents. And, since then, much as Earle's fortunes have changed in every which way, down, up and sideways, so the song has morphed with him, appearing in many styles and with, often, subtle symbolic shifts in the lyric.  It was still his encore when I saw him live last year.

At face value it is a simple and almost traditional folk ballad, warning of the dangers of gunplay. Earle himself fought initially shy of citing it an overt anti-firearms/anti-handgun song. But, at at time when his own private life was under some federal scrutiny, there came a surprising life imitates art moment.  I will let Earle take up the tale:

And I make no bones about including a 3rd version, this time the re-recording for the 'Brokeback Mountain'. Why a re-recording? It seems there was some disquietude in having a film set between 1963 and 1983 featuring a song (nominally) from after that time. This faster version is designed to be in the style of relevant time period. (And you thought filmmakers just slap any old song in to fit a mood, with neither thought nor consistency! Well, of course most do......)

With a song of this sort, a message with a moral, a good ol' tale of ornery folk, it has been hardly surprising that it has been much covered by the great and the good, with the royalty of country outlaw chic leading the way. Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings have each performed it separately, as well as together, in tandem with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, as the Highwaymen. Webb Wilder, Bob Seger and, english folk giants, Show of Hands (not on youtube), have also done the song proud. (Strangely, and I cannot quite see why, youtube shows me that not a few white supremacist bands have taken it up. I had never quite seen them on that side of the gun lobby, not least as I might be reasonably happy to see them all shoot themselves up, but I digress...)

Devil's Right Hand, buy it and make him one-handed!! Even more versions than featured here!!!

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