09 August 2009
Take This Tune - Sunday Morning Coming Down
This week's "Take This Tune" takes a walk in the country and leads to a memory from twenty years ago.
After being back in Washington DC for a few years, I returned to California in 1989. I knew I didn't want to go back to Los Angeles so I settled into what is as close to a "home town" as I have ever known simply because it was the summer destination during childhood to visit maternal relatives. The Fresno I found wasn't anything like I remembered as the graceful old courthouse was gone replaced by some modernistic tribute to ugly. All of the old theaters were in disrepair as were all the old "downtown" stores and restaurants that had disappeared for suburban centers farther north.
One area had revitalized and that was the "Tower District". It was midway between the death of downtown and the McMansions up north. Here you could find Roger Rocka's live theaters, musical presentations at the converted Tower Theater, and a group of excellent restaurants, all surrounded by refurbished older homes and a mix of offices. I found an apartment in the "coach house" of one of those older homes and a job a block away at the premier Country stations in the market. KNAX was "modern" country and KFRE was "classic" country. In the still very Ag oriented Fresno country with it's mix of descendants from Oklahoma refugees, Mexican workers, Armenian, Basque, and oriental imports and a hodgepodge of every ethnicity on the face of the earth (Fresno is actually as "cosmopolitan" as many much larger cities.), Country ruled with close runner up being the News/Talk of KMJ.
Growing up, I had liked a few country artists and enjoyed recordings by Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, or Johnny Cash and sang along with major covered crossover hits such as "Ghost Riders In The Sky", I really didn't know anything about "Country" as a format. Suddenly at age 45, it was my job to know everything FAST in order to book national advertising, arrange coverage for tours, and marry country acts to various charitable and political events and advertisers. Talk about getting thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim! Fortunately, I had some of the best DJs in the business filling my ears a minimum of eight (usually 10) hours a day, five work days a week and drop ins on weekend, remote broadcasts.
As a result of the above, in middle age, I added "Country" as a beloved genre. This is not as good as it sounds. It wasn't enough that the "Great American Songbook" is part of my DNA, or that a father's nationality hadn't added folk music and everything Gaelic, or that close relatives hadn't tossed in Jazz, Gospel, Blues, and even opera ... Now it was everything from the earliest Grand Ol' Opry performers to Garth Brooks hitting his stride as the hottest thing since Bar B Q. Side note, I just finished "The Garth Factor", a biography by Patsi Bale Cox. If you like bios, Garth, country or just good writing, go grab it.
I once tried to program Pandora with songs I loved and ran out of radio stations. My CD collection looks like a library of music from 1400 to 2009, and trying to decide what to listen to at any given second simply means hitting "random". Like weather, if you don't like it, wait five minutes. Still the subject today is country, and I love lyrics. That right there is reason enough for all the story songs, the outpouring of emotion, the great voices, and the instruments never before considered. (What's a Dobro mama?).
Sunday Morning Coming Down is just one example of the great lyrics you will find in country. It would be virtually impossible to list my favorites as they probably change every hour, but the story songs such as "Pancho and Lefty" and "Fancy", heartbreak songs such as "Crazy", slice of life such as "80s Ladies" or the damned and drinking such as "Walking the Floor" or "Wurlitzer Prize" or or or ... well you get the picture. I can even throw in a tribute or ten to a town farther south with "The Streets of Bakersfield" and the whole Central Valley sound of Buck Owens.
There is a truth in Country that you rarely find anywhere else except maybe the Delta Blues (OMG ... another genre... somebody unplug the jukebox in my head!!!). If you have never been a country fan, take the time to get acquainted. The range is broad enough to reach virtually every taste and is always a good reason to listen to some of the links on "Take This Tune" and why for once, I wasn't able to single out a particular recording. You will have to decide your own brand of wonderful.