Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Arlo: Highway in the Wind

purchase[Highway in the Wind ]

Most everyone with some music background knows that Arlo Guthrie is the son of Woody Guthrie. Most everyone knows that he wrote <Alice's Restaurant> if not the fact that it was an exaggerated "Massacree". But, the times being such as they were (Vietnam War, Nixon and more) ... the song gained a foothold in the popular imagination.

Before he breaks into the song here/above, Guthrie opens with an entertaining story about an early trip out West when he stayed with Ramblin' Jack and when/where he first saw his wife to be. Possibly, you have to have been a contemporary to fully appreciate the humor, but the audience seems to be in tune. But it is a wonderful example of how the Guthrie musicians were able to (a) place their songs within a relatable socio-economic time-frame and (b) draw in said audience.

Perhaps a word or two about Ramblin Jack Elliot is warranted - Guthrie mentions that his dad (!) and Ramblin Jack had been on the road together. Born in 1931 and scheduled to play this week in Santa Cruz and the following week in Texas [], the man is has been mentor to many musicians, ranging from Bob Dylan to The Grateful Dead.

Back to the lyrics of this one ...
Seems to me that the first phrases of the song show the lingering effects of the night before (not that I've ever been there myself, but there's something in the choice of words that suggest to me  that ... a change... a revelation ... has occurred.)

Says he:
Sail with me into the unknown void
That has no end
Swept along the open road
That don't seem to begin


Kate Wolf above

Hearts and Flowers

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Arlo: Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

There comes a moment on Thanksgiving Day, right about noon, when my wife and I, and whoever is cooking with us, or just kibitzing, stop what we are doing, and listen to WFUV’s annual broadcast of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” an 18 plus minute talking blues about how littering on Thanksgiving kept Arlo Guthrie out of the Vietnam War. It is a funny song, clever in its "shaggy dog" structure, and how it ties together so many disparate threads, with a message—a message that Guthrie has specifically noted was not anti-war in general, but rather against the Vietnam War in particular.  Actually, Guthrie likes to say that it is actually an “anti-stupidity” song. I’m not going to discuss in any great detail the history of the song, or what it is about—because I’m betting that most people reading this already know most of it, and Google is our friend.

Listening to this song on Thanksgiving has become a family tradition for our family and for many others, and is the Thanksgiving connection—which is tenuous at best—is why we are running this theme now. But, of course, there is much about Thanksgiving traditions that makes little sense. Nowadays, we identify Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and (sometimes) the Wampanoag, who celebrated what is considered the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621. It is unlikely that there was turkey, but there was waterfowl, venison, ham, seafood, fruit and berries, pumpkin and squash. But probably not marshmallows on anything. And how did an over-hyped parade in New York, sponsored by a department store, featuring huge balloons, marching bands, celebrities, and Santa Claus, become a centerpiece of the celebration (not to mention the inflation of said balloons). Or football?  Just repetition, over a long period of time.

Interestingly (to me, at least), the tradition of tying our Turkey Day to the 1621 feast is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although there have been official and unofficial Thanksgiving celebrations in our part of North America going back to that “First” one, Thomas Jefferson didn’t continue the Thanksgiving proclamations of his predecessors, but James Madison renewed the tradition at the end of the War of 1812. Its observance was spotty and localized during the following era, but since 1863, Thanksgiving has been a national holiday in the United States (usurping “Evacuation Day,” commemorating the withdrawal of British troops after the Revolutionary War. I’d hate to know what people ate on Evacuation Day.)

In the mid-1800s, around the time that Thanksgiving was getting a publicity boost, the publication and popularization of Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish and the recovery of Governor Bradford’s lost manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation, began to spark interest in the Pilgrims and Wampanoags, and by the end of the 19th Century, the First Thanksgiving story became inextricably interwoven into the holiday, in part because of its message of American freedom, citizenship, and, I’d argue, propagation of a “noble savage” role for Native Americans.

How did it become a Thanksgiving tradition? I don’t know, and the Internet isn’t helping. Even Arlo doesn’t know, although he certainly appreciates the royalties. One thing that I can say, though, is that since radio programmers are not always the most creative folks (anymore—and that’s not a boast about my college radio programming days—OK, not completely—but more of a look back to the 60s and 70s, a time when FM radio really was progressive and interesting), someone thought it was a good idea, and everyone copied him. (And I say “him,” because I don’t think there were too many female program directors then, but it could have been a woman, because who knows.)

I also have no clue how “Alice” became a tradition in my family—it wasn’t part of mine growing up, and I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a tradition in my wife’s family. For a while now, my wife and I have hosted Thanksgiving for our families, and do the bulk of the cooking. Which is fine—we like to do it, and like having quality control. I suspect that one year, while we were all working in the kitchen, we dialed it up on WFUV, and we all enjoyed it, including my kids, who love a good song, a good joke, and a good message of peace. And we did it the next year, and the next. Boom—a tradition!!!  One year, my in-laws were there, and my father-in-law enjoyed it, but had trouble understanding all of Arlo’s words, so the next year, we printed the lyrics for him to follow along.

That 18 minutes around noon is like the calm before the storm—the dishes you started early are humming away, but you have some time before the later-prepared items need to be done. Also, it’s lunch time.

"Alice" isn’t a tradition in Arlo’s family. As he said in an interview with Rolling Stone a few years ago, he doesn’t listen, and “no one in my family does either. There are better things to do for us and I’ve got grandkids now.” They really should.

Last year, I wrote about how Thanksgiving traditions change over time, and it is still pretty accurate, although my son’s fiancée is now his wife (yay!). But because this is their year to go to her parents, and my daughter still living in Spain, it is likely that this year’s “Alice” tradition will just be me and my wife. Which is fine, for now, although it is more fun to listen to it with a group, especially one that isn’t familiar with the song.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Well is this the one to finally get me my marching orders? The 'Thanksgiving' theme is the one I generally sit out, it being a holiday I neither partake or understand fully, together with (this theme's) Arlo being someone I know precisely 2 songs about, the restaurant and the 'sickle. Other Arlo's have me stuck after the Good Dinosaur. But then I remembered the penchant for abbreviating names so de rigour your side, you know, J-Lo and, um, I can't think of any more, but, hey, never let evidence get in the way of a good idea. So I give you R-Lo. (Drumroll.) No, not that one.

Robert Lockwood, Jr, was one of the last credible links between the very early days blues of the blues and the appropriation of their legacy by white boys in the 60s, managing to haul back some of the credit, if little of the cash, raked in by these latter-day pillagers. Robert Johnson was the King of the (Delta) Blues, and Lockwood was (almost) his step-son, Johnson living, albeit intermittently, with his mother over a 10 year period, the seminal part of his childhood and early adulthood. What better guitar tutor could he have had, and he spent these years picking up many of the tics and trades of his default stepfather, performing with him and other local luminaries. Indeed, such was the similarities in style that an early nickname was Robert Junior.

During the 30's he plied his trade as a working musician, coming into contact with a who's who of who is who, even if it was before they were. So Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson were all contemporaries with whom he played, until he was able to kick off his own career, in 1941, with a brace of 78rpm discs, which includes the song, 'Black Spider Blues', featured above, before he and Williamson started a long connection with the King Biscuit Time radio show. Cited as an influence on B.B. King, he later played in an early version of his band, before working in the band of harp player extraordinaire, Little Walter, the Coronets, which also included the likes of Willie Dixon and Otis Spann. Quite a c.v.!

In his mid-40s he moved to Cleveland, becoming a well-established local performer and bandleader. with residencies at many a venue that lasted right up to his final years. But it was in his 60s that he made a further notch in the bedstead of blues history, discovering the 12-string guitar, adopting it and using it near exclusively for the final 3 decades of his life, in 2008 winning a posthumous Grammy for his performance with 3 other veterans, 'Honeyboy' Edwards, 'Pinetop' Perkins and 'Mule' Johnson, as the Last of the Great Missisippi Delta Bluesmen, made in 2004. And this a decade or so after he was an endowed with the highest honour in folk and traditional arts bestowed in the U.S., a National Heritage Fellow.

Modern history is full of tales like this, largely often forgotten footnotes. But there are possibly many other than enthusiasts who are familiar with his material. I refer back again to my earlier comments about the late 60s and early 70s blues boom, from the Rolling Stones, Mike Bloomfield and John Mayall, through and via Cream and the Allmans to, ultimately, Led Zeppelin and beyond. There have been a slew of records reinterpreting the music of said bands, often with performances by the individuals who influenced them in the first place. One such was 'Whole Lotta Blues: Songs of Led Zeppelin', which featured Lockwood on both parts of 'Bring It On Home'.

He died, age 91, in 2006. Here's a great short film about him.

This is a good place to start listening, emanating for his time in the 50s a a band leader, but he also appears in just about any compilation of blues greats that you might find.

O, an afterthought, harking back to the intended theme of my imposition, Thanksgiving by way of Arlo, Lockwood was born in the town of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.