This piece goes on way longer than maybe it should. But, this song matters to me, and it will take almost fifty years to get to the reason. If you want to skip all that—and I hardly blame you— here is the link to the video. For the rest of you…
We are all products of our environment.
I wasn’t raised around music performance or participation- no one in my family played an instrument beyond my brother’s brief junior high experience with the French horn, but even that was before we lived in the same home. No jamming in our basement, certainly. No concerts.
But our house (and car) were far from music free. Dad had an (incredibly heavy) console stereo along with a stack of albums from the likes of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Teresa Brewer, and Bing Crosby. When our families blended, it seemed like there was always an 8-track playing in the Buick Le Sabre (or later in the Mercury Cougar); often these were country compilations purchased on the cheap from bins at Woolco (I recall one that included Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses,” Donna Fargo’s “Happiest Girl in the U.S.A.,” and Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors”) or those really cheap ‘In the style of…’ sets. It was through these that I was first exposed to the songs of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, and Anne Murray.
As well, the portable dual 8-track/radio was a permanent fixture in the kitchen, moving into the garage or downstairs (depending on the season) on evenings when cards were being played. Since dad was quickly advancing toward alcoholism, these evenings often didn’t end pleasantly, but music was almost always playing. (The same 8-track player would also introduce me to the music of Rainbow, Golden Earring, the Bay City Rollers, and the Steve Miller Band when my brothers would have it going while playing 8-ball; and yes, I know one of those artists doesn’t belong but—and they may deny it— I clearly recall listening to that tartan quilt-clad album in their presence!)
Mom and dad’s first dates were out to the local hotel, dancing to The Village Lads and The Emeralds. I’m fairly confident they met through a dating agency, and I believe their shared appreciation for music was important to their early courtship. (Mom and her first husband, my first dad, were big into square dancing, and I believe I recall falling asleep in more than one County of Parkland community hall while the grown-ups were dancing to a recording and caller.)
As someone who couldn’t find the rhythm in the pouring rain, listening to music was all I could do.
I had one experience with musicianship when my mother bought me a cheap, catalogue guitar for Christmas in Grade 3. My adult cousin Ross tuned it for me, but it remained a mystery; left alone with its plastic strings, I never figured out how to play the simplest of tunes on it. My other gift that Christmas, a globe, received much more use and, even as a kid, I felt guilt over relentlessly bugging my mom for that guitar and then never knowing what to do with it.
See, we were poor. Welfare poor. When mom left dad under cover of darkness one evening early in the summer of 1972, she took with her the clothes on her back and nothing else. Before that summer was over, she had secured an apartment in Edmonton’s west end, had it furnished through the goodwill of her sister and brother-in-law (and, I imagine, an area charity), and had wrestled my sister and me away from dad and the madness that was life on the farm.
Having lived on a farm for all of my eight years, moving to Edmonton was exotic. The two-bedroom, second floor apartment on 165th Street had a balcony! I don’t think I had even heard of such a thing, but I could play with my few toys—I had acquired a scuba diving GI Joe from somewhere—out on that balcony for hours. We had a courtyard to play within. And, as poor as we were, we soon had cable; overnight that winter, we went from two channels to six or seven—most of those based in Spokane. Saturday morning cartoons, weekend monster movies, and—eventually, The Waltons. Heady times.
I know mom pinched pennies so that we could afford the luxury of cable. Money was too tight; I remember she once deliberately wrote a bad cheque at Safeway so that we had food. The humiliation she felt when she next went to the store and was refused service was hard to witness, even for a kid. Dad #1 contributed next to nothing, and that irregularly.
Looking back, Mom had few pleasures in her life during that time. As poor as we were, she started smoking; I was frequently sent over to the neighbourhood store to buy her cigarettes—you could do so with a note in those days—and I believe a pack cost 75₵ then because on rare occasions she let me buy a 10₵ pack of hockey cards with some of the change—and she would often sit up after we were in bed smoking while watching The F.B.I., Maude, and Hawaii 5-O. Like Maude, she wore ‘caftans’—I think that is what she called them—around the house. Weird the things you remember.
Other than the television and the kitchen radio—tuned variously to CJCA (old-people music and talk) and CFCW (country), the only entertainment in the house was a record player on a wobbly brass-coloured cart. There was only four or five albums stored underneath the player, and one of those was a Glen Campbell album.
I don’t recall which album it was, and scanning a selection of covers tonight it might have been one entitled Gentle On My Mind. I don’t recall ever listening to the record, but I remember staring at the cover, reading the song titles on the back. It may have been the first record I ever touched, as I don’t recall records around the farm, at least not then; later, when I went back ‘every second weekend’ and a new family was sharing the place, I recall stacks of 45s—Paul Revere & the Raiders and Clarence Carter stand out, for some reason.
But, in that little apartment I imagine my mom must have listened to her small album collection late at night or when we were at the farm for the weekend. I think she lived a fairly solitary existence, at least during the first year that we lived in Edmonton, subsisting on government assistance and the kindness of family.
I remember the presence of that Glen Campbell album, if not the details, because I had a boyhood hero-worship thing going on with him. Along with Johnny West, Glen Campbell was the definition of cool in my books, likely before I knew the word ‘cool’ meant more than a temperature.
While living on the farm, I can recollect watching television rarely. I recall the didactic religious program with Davey and his dog, Goliath. I remember Untamed World, my first exposure to world music. The Friendly Giant. Mr. Dressup. The Edge of Night would be on during afternoon visits at one aunt or another’s house. Don Messer’s Jubilee and Popcorn Playhouse. And I remember The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
For this six or seven year-old boy, Glen Campbell was it. He had great hair. He had wonderful songs—no need to list them all—played guitar, and—as I stated earlier—was cool. He had great clothes, including a scarf which I always associated with cowboys. I didn’t understand how he made the guitar sound like he did, but I was mesmerized. I think my failure with my near-toy guitar was that I just thought the guitar automatically made those sounds when you held it.
I’ve thought about it a lot over the years—’cause that is what a music nerd does—and I think Glen Campbell may have been the first singer I noticed, certainly the first I can recall liking. (The Monkees, the subject of my first grade lunch kit, weren’t far behind!)
The fact that there would come the day I would disavow any knowledge of his music—once I learned that others had different definitions of ‘cool,’ that such mattered within the fragile constraints of the childhood social order, and Glen Campbell certainly wasn’t it—never overwhelmed my basic appreciation for his music. I don’t recall ever turning off “Rhinestone Cowboy” even at the height of its super-saturation of the radio, and I liked “Southern Nights” even more, a couple decades before I learned about Allen Toussaint (who, coincidently, was also the songwriter of one of my favourite Three Dog Night songs, “Brickyard Blues.”)
Others would supplant Campbell in my esteem: three hundred seven rock bands and singers, from The Who to Billy Bragg to Cowboy Junkies, but also country singers. First George Jones, Emmylou Harris, and Johnny Cash, then Rosanne and Rodney, Carlene, Dwight, Marty, and Doc, and scores of others. Bluegrass, too, would come into my life; take it over for no short while. Still, Glen Campbell would be there on the periphery, acknowledged occasionally if no longer adored.
That Glen Campbell became a running joke as a bad actor who ran around with a youthful Tanya Tucker, maybe beating her, supposedly spent years in a coke-and alcohol-induced haze, and later got arrested for drunk driving and assault only impacted me on an academic level. His songs, his voice, his guitar playing always impressed me. I’m not saying he is deserving of forgiveness for his many transgressions—he called them “wrong turns,” I believe—and he has come off a bit sanctimonious at times as a born-again Christian. Still, those 60s and 70s recordings have stood the test of time.
I wasn’t overly taken by either of his recent ‘comeback’ albums as they seemed overly manufactured and even desperate in an attempt to lend Campbell a Johnny Cash-like gravitas he neither possessed nor necessarily deserved. But his newly released and final single “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” has brought my appreciation for him back and to a new and profound level. The song, written by Campbell and Julian Raymond, is absolutely devastating and may be the most honest and raw song about Alzheimer’s that I’ve heard. It is stark and one is tempted to suggest simple, but that would be a discredit to a songwriter who has always been more regarded as an interpreter of others’ words.
That my mother, someone who accidentally was impactful on my appreciation of music and always herself liked Glen Campbell—one of those 8-tracks heard in the car and in the sand-floor garage in the mid-70s was a bargain basement issue of his greatest hits—is now dealing with her own journey with Alzheimer’s is at least part of the reason “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” impacts me so powerfully. But I think the song would resonate even without these personal connections. The song lasts less than three minutes, as the finest country songs often do, but it packs a wicked, heartfelt, and honest punch.
“I’m still here but yet I’m gone,
I don’t play guitar or sing my song,
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
Best of all, I’m not gonna miss you.”
It sounds harsh, but that is exactly what we’re all hoping for—at least, I am— for my mother, that time when the confusion ends, and the present situation is accepted. Fortunately, she still knows her immediate family, and can still have really good days, but she does get upset and agitated when she can’t remember something she feels is important, or fails to navigate a situation. She doesn’t have peace.
We’re told it is coming. At our last care team meeting, one of the nurses explained that as the disease progresses, Mom will likely find a relaxed comfort in her condition; essentially, she’ll forget that she should be upset that things aren’t making sense. Cruel, indeed, and I don’t want to lose our connection and certainly don’t want to fast forward to this state, but there will be some blessing when she can again live in the moment with calm acceptance. With peace.
And, all of that is the reason why Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is my Roots Song of the Week.
Thanks for sticking with Fervor Coulee. Donald
The band Red Molly has received a great deal of positive attention the last few years, but I can’t say I’ve paid too much attention. I did buy their album James a few years back, and have quite enjoyed it the two or three times I’ve listened to it. Covers of “Gulf Coast Highway” and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” are what initially attracted my attention, and the rest of the album sustained my interest. They have a song on there called “Black Flowers” that I quite like- listen to it and, if you know anything about me, you’ll figure out why- and “Can’t Let Go”- a Lucinda cover- is a fine way to end a disc.
They have a new album out, this one called The Red Album and I may not have noticed it had I not received an email announcing the release of a video for the song “Clinch River Blues.” I listened, and was again enamoured with the group. This is a good one, with a deep groove, a strong lead vocal presence and engaging harmonies, and the video is quite interesting to watch- it has an appealing mood.
The video to “Clinch River Blues” can be viewed via this link.
I’ve streamed parts of the new album- just haven’t had time to listen to the whole thing- and I think I’ll come back to it this weekend when I have some time. They cover Darrell Scott again, and perform a Mark Erelli song (“Pretend”) and also take on the “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” as seemingly every folk and Americana artist has. I do like Red Molly’s style.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Please look around and I hope you find some music of interest. Donald
The Earl of Leicester had nothing to do with bluegrass music. But, The Earls of Leicester are most certainly bluegrass through and through. The ‘Earl’ refers to Scruggs and ‘Leicester’ is pronounced Lester, as in Flatt, and this six-piece band, whose performance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival of a couple weekends ago I am currently streaming, is pretty darn exceptional. So is their debut album, released last month on Rounder Records.
The Earls of Leicester
The Earls of Leicester
A welcome breath of grassiness, The Earls of Leicester are not most obviously about innovation, ‘big tents’, or pushing the music forward. This bluegrass supergroup is all about celebrating and honouring the past, recreating the lively, engaging music of arguably bluegrass music’s greatest outfit—Flatt and Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys—for the generations that never had the opportunity to experience their groundbreaking music during the band’s long run, 1948-1969.
The Earls of Leicester are, to use the words of founder Jerry Douglas, “an event band.” While the band may eventually progress beyond the current intent, for now and on the basis of their debut album, The Earls of Leicester are all about recreating the formative bluegrass music of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and their Foggy Mountain Boys. And if you can’t get enough of digging holes for Darlin’ Corey, spending time in the calaboosh, dim lights, thick smoke, and corn shuckin’ there is plenty within these 38-minutes and 14 songs for you to find of interest.
Shawn Camp doesn’t attempt to replicate Lester Flatt’s relaxed, unforced style of bluegrass singing. Rather, Camp has found his own way of singing these songs that is comfortably within the parameters established by Flatt while maintaining his own personality. Listening to “On My Mind” and “Big Black Train,” one begins to feel that Camp has dug deep to find within himself a new way of singing, a new voice…one that is, in places, pleasingly similar to that of Flatt.
Douglas was greatly influenced by long-time Foggy Mountain Boy Uncle Josh Graves, and—no doubt, since it is his band—the Dobro is front and center on many of these songs, perhaps given a tinge more prominence in places than Flatt & Scruggs would have considered. On the whole, the arrangements of the songs and their performances are quite true to the originals recorded from the mid-50’s to the mid-60’s.
Tim O’Brien fills Curly Seckler’s shoes on this recording, and does an admirable job in recreating the clean mandolin playing of the period while reaching high on the tenor parts; when he steps up to the mic on “Dig A Hole in the Meadow,” it is evidence that some ‘warhorses’ should never be retired. Son of Foggy Mountain Boy fiddler Paul Warren, Johnny Warren takes care of all the fiddle parts, while Charlie Cushman has the unenviable responsibility of recreating Scruggs’ 5-string work. As expected, their performances are excellent, as are the contributions of Barry Bales, reigning and three-time IBMA bass player of the year.
Many of the songs and tunes most frequently associated with Flatt & Scruggs—”Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Earl’s Breakdown,” and “Salty Dog Blues,” to name a few—are avoided in favour of some that may be less commonly heard on amateur stages. Great decision. Ditto, “Polka on the Banjo,” thankfully. Only four of the songs appear on The Essential Flatt & Scruggs while the Mercury recordings are entirely avoided. “The Wandering Boy and “I Don’t Care Anymore” are highlights, but so are the frequently encountered “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” on which Warren contributes bass vocals, and “Dig A Hole in the Meadow.”
The recording appears flawless: the bottom end is appropriately heavy, Camp’s guitar notes ring true, the vocal stacking is precise, and the instrumental mix is stellar. It is one of the better sounding bluegrass albums I’ve recently experienced. Find a flaw, I dare ya!
If such matters are important to your listening pleasure, the only instrument on the album that couldn’t have appeared on a Flatt & Scruggs recording is O’Brien’s 1976 mandolin: the instruments range from 1929 and 1930 Gibson banjos to Paul Warren’s fiddle, used on Foggy Mountain Boy recording sessions.
By performing the music of Flatt & Scruggs in such an honest and true manner, The Earls of Leicester can’t help attract those not deeply familiar with these classic sounds but who are interested in acoustic, or jam band, folk, and bluegrass music. Therefore, it could be argued, The Earls of Leicester are all about pushing bluegrass music forward, expanding that ‘big tent’ that gets so much attention, and encouraging others to find innovation within the beautiful constraints of this wonderful—and timeless—music.
Addendum- 2014 October 24: I received an email today that included Jerry Douglas’ reaction to my review, and which I felt I needed to share- one doesn’t often get positive feedback from those reviewed: “Hallelujah! I have been heard. This fellow gets what I wanted to do. Never seen a better review. Let’s hope these continue. Hallelujah! Just what I need to start my day here in Tokyo.” I’m pretty sure he was jet-lagged, and (not knowing if Flux- let’s see if Chris Jones catches me nickname dropping here- drinks) perhaps inebriated. Still, pretty cool! Glad someone thinks I hit the mark. Donald
Shari Ulrich, forgive me, is a legend in the Canadian folk world. I purchased her most recent album Everywhere I Go several weeks back and have listened to it repeatedly.
I’ve been quite negligent with the Roots Song of the Week since summer, but was inspired to post something today when I learned that Ulrich is in San Francisco this weekend performing as part of the High Bar Gang at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, select performances from which can be streamed. A great event HSB is, and someday I would love to get back there: I do find it ironic that Hardly Strictly goes the same weekend as the IBMA`s World of Bluegrass, all be they on other sides off the continent.
I don`t know if I`ve ever been a huge, `gotta` buy every album fan of Ulrich, but I`ve certainly always appreciated her. As did many, I most likely first heard her on Top 40 radio as a member of the Hometown Band singing “(Fear Of) Flying.“ Many years later I discovered the recordings of The Pied Pumpkin Ensemble and UHF, as well as her many solo recordings. Talk Around Town is a favourite.
Everywhere I Go is a quiet, but energetic recording comprised of several outstanding songs. Perhaps it is a coffeehouse record, but it is not something that just slips inattentively into the background. It grabs you and encourages you to search for meaning and comfort in its sounds. Quite beautiful.
She is up for a five (!) Canadian Folk Music Awards this year, including for Solo Artist of the Year and English Songwriter of the Year as well as a further three as a member of the High Bar Gang.
I`ve chosen to feature “Rain, Rain, Rain“ as my Roots Song of the Week today. It is definitely a song that deserves your attention, and Everywhere I Go does as well.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
For the evening’s final award:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Balsam Range Blue Highway Dailey & Vincent The Gibson Brothers The Del McCoury Band
I haven’t seen a whole lot of live bluegrass during the past two years, so I’m going on past experience and ‘word-of’mouth’ in naming The Gibson Brothers as most deserving of this award. Without doubt, the nominated groups have large fanbases and are enthusiastically received most everywhere they go. I’ve considered the Del McCoury Band the pinnacle of bluegrass performance of a couple decades, but the Gibsons are just a wee bit fresher in my mind, a touch more relaxed than BH, and, having heard a couple live shows, they’ve never made me cringe or hang my head as D&V almost always do.
I wrote the above before tonight’s broadcast, and have to wonder if Balsam Range isn’t going to sneak in and dethrone the Gibson Brothers this time. This award tends to go to performers in spurts- the last two times to the Gibsons, three times to Dailey & Vincent, a couple times in a row to The Grascals, and a bunch of times to Del and ‘Em. The Gibsons may have ‘one’ more in them, but…with a few weeks hindsight and considering what else has happened tonight, wouldn’t be surprised if Balsam Range gets it.
And. Balsam Range is the IBMA Entertainer of the Year, 2014. Hopefully, Blueberry Bluegrass booked them for next year ’cause the price is rising, I’m thinking.
And that is the show, except for the finale which I am simply going to enjoy: no idea what it will be, but it is usually special.
Thanks for visiting at Fervor Coulee tonight. Please come back, and consider following me on Twitter. And thanks to Music City Roots for streaming the show; for those of us thousands of kilometres from the north.
No finale?? Seriously? Must have blown the budget on the cloggers!
The Del McCoury Band performs, bringing the show back to bluegrass!
Three awards to go. I’ve predicted six of the winners…which is pretty good, but I’ve been whiffing of late.
INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Balsam Range Blue Highway The Boxcars The Del McCoury Band Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
I think Balsam Range is poised to continue their ascension to the highest reaches of the bluegrass world. Of course, this award should go to AKUS and John Reischman & the Jaybirds in an annual rotation, but the voters saw things differently. Yes, I made the same comment for the Vocal Group award; I was right then, too. Wouldn’t be upset if DMB won.
Please recall, I did suggest Frank Solivan might sneak in at the mando award. I just picked the wrong award. Another surprise, but hard to argue with- a good band. I am a bit surprised that a band that is marginally ‘highbrow’ won such a significant award. May be a sign the bluegrass world is changing, again. Or, perhaps that it isn’t as closed minded as I think it is.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Hall of Fame Bluegrass – Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins (artist), Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins (producers), Rebel Records It’s Just A Road – The Boxcars (artist), The Boxcars (producer), Mountain Home Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe – Noam Pikelny (artist) Gabe Witcher (producer), Compass Records Streets of Baltimore – The Del McCoury Band (artist), Del McCoury (producer), McCoury Music The Game – Blue Highway (artist), Blue Highway (producer), Rounder Records
Worthy noms each, but of these five, Streets of Baltimore is the one I have listened to most consistently, and really, the only one I’ve listened to since reviewing. Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe was a very significant recording, and very enjoyable despite the ‘hard lifting’ its creation entailed, so I’d be okay with that, too.
And, the award goes to…the one with the hat! I think I might have called this one before Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe was even released. It had that X factor that gave it an edge. A great recording.
With Balsam Range now performing, if anyone wonders why Buddy Melton is the Male Vocalist of the Year, give a listen.