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The Sound of America page 2

Liner notes continued

Anyway, Have Moicy! II, The Hoodoo Bash will be out after this one, also on the Red Newt label. The extended family, from both coasts, has grown. Although Michael, unfortunately, didn’t want to participate this time, Robin, Dave, and I from the 1975 session were there, along with the west coasters, Baby Gramps, Kristin Andreasson, and Tim Long. From the east coast, it was Jeffery Lewis, Eli Smith, Walker Shepard, Craig Judelman, Zoe Stampfel, and me. continued on

Getting back to this album, we recorded at least 25 tracks in two days, but we ended up with 18. They are:

1. Great Day/ Billy Rose and Edward Eliscue/ publishing ?. Originally recorded by Bing Crosby and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in the early ‘30s. I altered and shortened the introduction and added a nasty second verse. What a glorious damn tune.

2. Jawbone/ (traditional). We hadn’t planned on recording this, but John Cohen went into it at the session, and we all loved it, so we joined in. We did a second take to nail the sumbitch good. Well done, John!

3. Drunken Banjo Waltz/ Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ASCAP. I’ve been making up banjo tunes thick and fast since ’09 (over 50 and counting), but only three have words so far. I wondered what to call this tune. The lurching quality suggested inebriation, which manifested in the title, and the inevitable words followed in about twenty minutes flat.

4. Train on the Island (traditional). One of three songs from the Smith Anthology on this album, and one of four two-chord songs to be found here. I cobbled together verses from some other songs to stretch the verbiage out a little, and made up a few more. Gratitude to Dick Spottswood and his online broadcast from NPR out of Washington DC. He periodically does shows of only train songs, from which I heard the brilliant verse: “Top bunk’s ten dollars/ Bottom is five/ Boxcar cost two-bits/ Flatcar is a dime.” Just had to use that!

5. Shake It, Break It/ (traditional). I first heard this as recorded by my main blues man, Charlie Patton, in the ‘60s. But I was at the fabulously swell Jalopy in Brooklyn, where, as I mentioned, this album was recorded, and it was a Wednesday, which is Roots ‘n’ Ruckus Night, when all sorts of folks show up to play. I was in the front of the club when I heard “Shake It, Break It” coming over the speakers. Lordy, I thought, somebody’s sure playing that one right. I had to go see who it was. It was Hubby Jenkins, who I had never seen before. When he got off stage I said something on the order of, let’s play together. We have ever since.

6. Wild Wagoneer (traditional). A great fiddle tune from the Smith Anthology, originally played by Jilson Sellers. The B part is one of my favorite fiddle melodies of all time and Craig is great to do a fiddle duet with. We do it slower than the original because I can’t play very fast, and even if I could, I like fiddle tunes played slower so the melodies can be more deeply appreciated.

7. Last Chance/ music: Hobart Smith, words: Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ ASCAP. John Cohen showed us this one, and the tuning as well. It’s F tuning—D C F C F drone, although in this case, the bottom note is a D, not a C. (I’ve been having a great time exploring this tuning.) I thought this number really needed words. Hobart called it “Last Chance,” and I thought my words fit the title well.

8. Back Again/ music: Sam and Walker Shepard, words: Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ASCAP. When Sam got back to New York, I called him and asked if he’d like to play some music. He asked if he could bring his son, Walker, along, and I said sure. Walker was seventeen at the time and had been playing banjo for about seven months. He could already do stuff on it I couldn’t, after going at it for about fifty years. Even more surprising was his voice, which really sounded like an old Southern mountain guy from a hundred years ago. I was already playing with John Cohen by then, and John was amazed and delighted that Walker was playing and singing Roscoe Holcomb songs fifty-some years after John discovered Roscoe in Kentucky. I love the strange and myriad ways the people in this group connect. Sam and Walker picked up this tune, which was an instrumental, from an old recording, altering it in the process. I thought it really could use some words.

9. Golden Slippers/ James Bland/ 1880s. This wonderful song marks the period in which minstrel songs and life-on-the-old-plantation songs were fading, and the unfortunately labeled “coon songs” were coming to the fore. These depicted Blacks in a post-slavery urban context, usually in the most over-the-top racist manner, a typical title being, “De Razor Am De Weapon For De Coon.”

10. Shambolar/ E. Sheriff and Aki Leong/ publishing ?

11. Gonna Make Me/ music: John Cohen, words: John Cohen and Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ ASCAP. Back in the 90s, John asked me to help him with the words to this song. I was deeply touched by this request and delighted to help.

12. Hey-O/ music: Mark Bingham, words: Mark Bingham and Peter Stampfel/ ti bon angi/ BMI. Mark and I were in the back room of our loft, playing around in the key of F, and my daughter Lily dropped something on the floor. Mark instantly started singing about it to this tune he made up. We had a great time working on this one.

13. Memphis Shakedown/ (traditional). The Dust Busters were playing this one, and Eli thought it would be fun to tackle together. It sure was. Jim Bertini and I fooled with it a little, while mixing it, and that was as much fun as playing it. I’ve always taken great joy in bending and twisting traditional material.

14. Comes Around/ Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ ASCAP. This was in that same F tuning we learned from John for “Last Chance.” One day I opened the case of my F-tuned banjo and started fooling with a melody, using my right hand on the open strings while it was still in the case. I’d long thought of simple and easy-to-play tunes as being lazy and, in some way, artistically backward, but I had recently decided to embrace the principle that a melody cannot be too simple, or too stupid, or too stupidly simple. Take the four notes a bugle plays all those famous bugle calls in. You know, You’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up this morning. And the race track one, da da da dutdada dutdada dut dut dut da. And the loveliest one I know, “Taps.” They’re all done with just four notes, the top and bottom one being the same, but an octave apart—so in a way, it’s only three notes. I’ve been trying to make up bugle calls, with “Taps” being my touchstone; trying to make up a tune that good with just those notes. It’s amazingly hard. I’ve made up some pretty good ones, but I haven’t come close to “Taps.”

Anyway, I came up with this tune, and Jeannie and I did some overdubbing in the studio. If we had listened to it at home and come back to the studio a few times it would have been a lot tighter, but it wouldn’t have been in keeping with the fast and dirty Tao of this particular album. We are also constrained timewise by our nine-to-fives.

15. New Fortune/ traditional, with new verses by Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ ASCAP. This was a one-verse song I learned from Eli. The single verse spawned the others almost instantly. The cuicas put it nicely over the top.

16. La Danseuse / (traditional). The third Smith Anthology tune here, originally recorded by Blind Uncle Gaspard. This two-chord song is so strange and beguiling that it took me years to realize it had only two chords, and it took me years to figure out how to play it. When I showed it to Eli and Walker, it took them just a few hours to learn it. It’s in the key of F, which it took me years to realize was a fairly easy key to play fiddle in. Aya Yamamoto, Lily’s friend since high school, plays terrific violin. I showed to her and she picked it up in ten minutes flat. She’s now in an excellent band called the Vanderbilts.

17. DITHOT/ melody: “Deep in the Heart of Texas” by June Hershey and Don Swander/(public domain), new words by John Morthland, edited by Peter Stampfel/ Stampfelocity Songs/ ASCAP. My ex-partner and fellow original Holy Modal Rounder, Steve Weber, has refused to speak to me since 2003—something to do with me stealing “the Rounder millions” and his girl friend’s issues with the Rounder DVD documentary, “Bound To Lose”—but during the last few years we played together, he was unwilling and/or unable to work out new songs, even if they just had three chords. I was going nuts just playing the same songs we had been doing for decades, even though they were still good songs. I really love working out new stuff all the time. Then I found he could still learn a two-chord song, and finding good new two-chord songs was an interesting challenge. This was a good song, but when I looked up the words, I found some were fine but most were not too hot. So I tried writing new ones. I quickly realized I knew dick about Texas. So I asked my friend John Morthland, who had moved to Texas in 1984, and had written for the Texas Monthly to help me out. He promptly deluged me with verses. I kept asking for more, then finally chose my favorites and put them in some sort of order. I found the song went over well, but at a certain point (he wrote thirty or forty verses, and I kept about a third) people would lose interest. So I cut verses until folks were attentive for the duration.

18. I Will Survive/ DG Fekaris & FJ Perren/ Perren-Vibes Music Inc./T.B. Harms Co. (ASCAP When this album gets put to bed, I’m getting back to my long-delayed project of recording a song for every year of the 20th century, from 1901 (“I Love You Truly”) to 2000 (“Yellow”). This is 1979’s song, and we’re gonna use this version. I’m doing this project with Mark Bingham, who is doing all the heavy lifting—arranging, recording, mixing, and occasional guitar. This song annoyed the hell out of me when it was out in 1978-79, but when I was looking for a 1979 song, I thought what the hell, lemme try it. Hey! Really nice chords, and it’s fun to sing. I love it when I fall in love with a song I thought I hated. Just like in the movies.

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