Steve Youngs Notes on Primal Young
I grew up more or less in the foothills of Appalachia in northern Georgia and Alabama. I always felt that the richest, most nourishing part of the cultures around me was the music. As a child I did not form those words or know that consciously, but I certainly knew it. It was not something I thought about, but something I just followed. In a sense this song is a distillation of those childhood impressions and fascination with one of the major strands of the music I heard. The "mountain music ". There were other strands and other voices but the music of the mountains was one of the richest. I think the "Jig " is life itself. We attempted to record this song in a much faster more upbeat way, but for the time being it insisted on coming into this form. After failing to make it work in the fast way, Al and Andy (bass & drums) started playing this kind of rhythm and I joined in. We recorded it and this is about he first time I tried to sing it in this feel. It has some imperfections, but other more perfect cuts didn't seem as good. J.C. (producer) had some great ideas on the instrument parts on this as you can hear.
The greatest song,... by Steve Young
I have had the pleasure of standing in the room where the greatest song was written (or collected from the folkways and rewritten as the case may be). That song, "Auld Lang Syne" was written long ago by Robert Burns of Scotland. The desk he wrote it at is still sitting there and his name is still where he left it, carved in the old window pane with his diamond ring. "Auld Lang Syne" is perhaps the greatest human hit and most universally loved song of all time. One of the greatest versions of the song I ever heard was by a Romanian choir. And in the movie, "The Last Emperor", there is a scene about the British teacher of the last Emperor leaving China, and as he is waving good-bye and boarding his ship home, some Chinese musicians, who were part of his farewell entourage, raise their traditional instruments and strike up "Auld Lang Syne". It bought a tear to the stiff upper lip of that old Brit. Robert Burns is one of my all time heroes. He was a Hank Williams and a Bob Dylan and much more. A great man. Tremendously ahead of his time. Burns had a tender love of small animals and must have had great courage, too, for he once confronted a neighbor hunter about cruelty. Probably a bold thing to do in old Scotland. One of his dreams was to run away to Jamaica with Highland Mary, but she died just before they were to leave. And so, Burns never felt the balmy winds of Jamaica nor saw its clear waters. And he was never rewarded for his gifts and talents in life. Yet today he is "The National Poet Of Scotland" and there is a great monument at his grave. I have in my possessions a five pound Scottish note with a drawing that depicts the mouse that Burns disturbed one day as he was plowing in a field, a reference to the poem with the lines, "The best laid plans of mice and men are aft gane astray..." And I have been to the house where Robert Burns was born. And to the place where he died and is buried. And once I saw Highland Mary's father's silver snuff box in a glass case in a little museum that I accidentally stumbled into on the back streets of Edinburgh.
Worker's Song Notes :
Some years ago, I don't know if it was the late 80's or early 90's, I was in Scotland and heard Dick Gaughan's album "Handful Of Earth". I was blown away by the power and integrity of what I heard. It restored my faith in music. For the first time in many years I was hearing something that really and truly moved me. Here was an album of stunning artistry and absolute integrity. One of the greatest albums I have ever heard. The title of the album comes from this song, the "Worker's Song ",written by Ed Pickford. No matter what your politics, I don't see how you can deny the truth of this song.
East Virginia Notes :
In October of 1998, I did a writers night at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, outside of Nashville. This was a series sponsored by Tom T. Hall. Greil Marcus, noted writer and music critic, was there speaking about a book he had written on Bob Dylan. My friend, David Eason, who organized the presentation and who I have known for many years, asked me to do this folk song entitled "East Virginia", or "East Virginia Blues". When Greil Marcus got up to speak he said he liked my version and spoke of other versions of the song. One version was called "Dark Holler". I don't have a tape of that night but he said something like... (I am paraphrasing here...) The woman in this song is like a ghost, a phantom, we don't know if she even really exists..." I thought he summed up this enigmatic song very well. I love these kind of mountain folk songs and find them to be very fascinating and mysterious. I think my version has many influences. Mostly celtic, but it has Native American and blues influences as well. I've been playing this song forever. Again, its a part of that "primal memory "of my childhood. The rich mountain music I heard and imagined as a child.
Black Land Farmer Notes :
I think I first heard this song in the late 50's though it could have been in the early 60's by Frankie Miller. It was and is one of the most "righteous " songs and recordings I have ever heard. No pretensions here. This is an honest song of joy, of true love of the land and wanting to do the right thing. It follows the heart with great zest and never looks back or has a second thought. It just soars on it's natural high and has no awareness of trying to be cool. I had trouble growing up with some of the characters of the deep south. I'm talking about the old "redneck ". But I also knew and remember a few of these Black Land Farmer types. They were hard working, sort of happy, optimistic, content... more comfortable with themselves. Usually gracious and kindly souls. Like everyone they were poor. They had maybe 50 acres of land, an old house, a barn, and a few animals, one of which was a mule. These farmers plowed with mules in the old and ancient way. They didn't own tractors or modern equipment of that day. These were the last of their breed. As I was growing up, I often went with my mother and grandparents to visit the Edward's family. There were 12 kids in the family and they were my second cousins. I always loved to go visit them because it seemed to me that they were the freest people in the whole wide world. They had their 50 acres of land and lived far out in the country down a lost maze of dirt roads. They had always lived off the land, in a way, like Indians. But then the times started to change. Moving away from farming they began to do odd jobs in the small towns. Somehow the quality of their lives seemed to go downhill a bit. One could begin to sense a tinge of sadness and uncertainty about them. Still, they always seemed happy and free and they always made me laugh. They would have a pet crow or a billy goat and they would show me how he would butt you with his horns as they became temporary clown matadors on a patch of red Georgia clay that served as their backyard and patio. As the sun started to go down we would sit on the back porch and they would tell wild stories and tall tales that illustrated their latest triumphs, tragedies, and defeats. They had a bunch of blue tick and other kinds of hounds and fed them by throwing table scraps off the back porch. This dog food was consumed in mid air by the hounds... it never touched the ground. Once when I asked why they didn't feed their dogs in a bowl or something they rolled with laughter and showed me how it was done. They always had great food and music, and said things like, "It gets so cold out here some mornings we have to pry the sun up with a crow bar." In earlier years I had seen the women of the family cook and can food fresh from the fields in the late days of summer. Cooking over a hot wood stove in the old house that had no power for even a fan to cool them down. One time, as my grandfather and I were going to visit the Edward's, headed down the road to their house, we saw Grady, the father of the family, leaning on a fence and gazing out into a field. My grandfather pulled over to the side of the road and as we walked up the hill Grady greeted us in his usual warm and sincere down-home way. He always let you know he was glad to see you and happy that you had come to visit, that you were welcome,. not only to visit, but to stay for as many nights and days as you wanted to. He was a small, wiry man with a big smile and a weathered face. As he and my grandfather spoke, I climbed up a wire rung or two on the fence so I would be at about the same height as the big guys . On the way up I pulled a sweet green weed stalk to chew on and we all leaned on the fence and looked out to the field where we saw Rayford, the oldest son of the family. He was straining behind a plow and urging the family mule forward as they struggled a bit to plow up the rich dark earth of a once productive field that had lain fallow for several seasons. He paused under the shade of a big oak tree at the far side of the field and wiped the sweat from his brow and waved a distant hello to us as one of his younger sisters brought him a drink of well water in one of those old silver aluminum buckets with a dipper bobbing in it. My grandfather spoke,"What's he doing Grady?" Grady..."He's going back to farming, he's gonna raise a crop.". My Grandfather..."You can't make no money doing that no more."... Said Grady..."He's gonna try... he's tired of working for other folks." They were having a last go at an impossible dream of returning to what their ancestors had done for a very long time. I'll never forget that moment. It has assumed a sacred place in my memory. Sometimes I revisit that place and time and watch for a moment as Rayford plows off into the sunset.
Clayton Delaney Notes:
A great Tom T. Hall song. I have long been a fan of Tom T. Hall's writing. This song really captures something about guitar players and some of my early experiences. As a very small child I had announced to my family that I would play music and sing someday and that I would write songs. I made them up even then. The songs would go on and on until the folks would finally say "Ok, ok... enough." I couldn't get my hands on a guitar, though I always wanted one. In that child's dimension, I dreamed of guitars. My vision of them was astral-like. To me they were mythic... magical... mystical... other worldly. A form and sound that someone found on some heavenly plane and brought back down to life on earth, to soften, to enhance, to bring solace. And to soar. As I got older I never forgot this desire for a guitar. Once I even answered an ad on the back of a comic book that showed how a kid could sell seeds door to door and win valuable prizes. One of those prizes shown was a brilliant looking guitar. Some graphic artist had done a good job of representing the instrument on the back of that comic and I projected my considerable imagination onto his work. It really looked good. I worked hard going door to door selling seeds until I had enough points to get the guitar. It was a con. They sent a pasteboard guitar that really was not tunable or playable. Another clever American capitalist had turned a buck. Oh well, live and learn. When I was a bout 14 I did get a real guitar. My mother consented and bought it for me. There was a fellow in Gadsden, Alabama that gave me a few lessons and he seemed to see in me things that I hoped were in me. He believed that I would be a good guitarist and singer and that I would write great songs. He seemed to think I had some ability to do that. Assuming for a moment there's even one iota of truth to that thought, I have no idea how he could have known it. Anyway, he seemed to go out of his way to teach me some things. He helped me to get started. To begin to play. Some years later I ran into his sister and she told me her brother had died, and about how much he believed in me. Where she told me, and the way she told me these things was something I never forgot. It was at a place called Lake Rhea in Attalla, Alabama. A place where there was music and people danced on summer nights as lights shimmered on the water.
Lawdy Miss Clawdy Notes:
As a kid I sometimes lived with my grandparents on my mother's side of the family. Milton Arlin Horsley was my step grandfather, but the only grandfather I ever knew and he was a good one. He operated various fruitstands in Georgia and Alabama over the years as I was growing up. Sometimes he did a bit of bootlegging to certain people as we lived in "dry counties" where it was illegal to sell alcohol. I didn't learn about this until I was grown, though at times I worked in these fruitstands. In the 1950's he had a fruitstand on the edge of Carrolton, Georgia and we use to make trips to the Atlanta Farmer's Market to buy produce at wholesale prices to resell at the fruitstand. Though it wasn't really far to Atlanta, it seemed a long way to me in those days and it was a thrilling adventure for me. I loved to go with him on those trips. He would wake me up well before dawn and we would get on the road in his big red International truck. It was like a hugh pickup except it had a fenced-in wooden bed on it. There was always the smell of cigar smoke in the cab of the truck and he had various good luck charms in there. Going to Atlanta was my introduction to the big city and to white line fever... the road. We would wind through the little towns, by the fields, across creeks and rivers and various scenes along the way. Once I remember stopping at a little cafe in Villa Rica, Georgia about the break of dawn. They had these great old home made southern breakfasts with grits, biscuits, and the works. Now children, this was back in the olden days when they had real food with real taste. I noticed a big juke box and I badgered my grandfather to let me play some songs. Since he was flirting with the waitress he was in a generous mood and didn't want to argue and he gave me two quarters,.... three plays for a quarter... 7 for 50 cents! I saw "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Elvis and played it though I had never heard it. The pounding piano introduction grabbed my attention and when I heard Elvis start to sing I was sold. I thought it was one of the greatest songs I had ever heard. It seemed to me to fit perfectly into the spirit of the road. I played it several more times. I never forgot hearing that song that day and I have held it inside with great awe ever since. Now, in my mind, I'm singing like Elvis on this song. Of course, it doesn't really sound like Elvis, that's just the way it went in and the way it still exists in my head. Its been distilling there a long time and this is the way it came out. A lot of songs made deep impressions on me in those days . One was "Dark Moon" by Patsy Cline. I would hear it a lot at the Farmer's Market. There were many vivid scenes there of drunken heart broke looking men trying to sell their produce for almost nothing. Black eyed peas and butterbeans fresh from the fields for five cents a bushel. But sometimes they prospered... hit a good streak when something was in demand or the prices were up. I'll never forget all the beautiful and lush colors and smells of the produce. It instilled in me a love for the earthiness of open markets... the colors, the smells, the taste. I knew every kind of watermelon and cantaloupe. There was something sensual and wonderful about it all. And there were women and girls around too. Some of the women were hookers. I remember once as a very small kid I was waiting in the truck while my grandfather went upstairs to "see somebody". The somebody's turned out to be working at a house of ill repute and the ladies waved to me down on the street and just though I was the cutest thing as my grandfather pointed me out and proudly beamed down from the window up above surrounded by the smiling ladies. He told me never to mention this to my mother or grandmother.... but somehow, they got it out of me and, needless to say, it caused my grandfather some severe problems in family relations. All that, the road, the colors, characters, the good and the bad of it went into the music of my mind. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy " is a good example of a song that's connected to all that.
Sometimes I Dream Notes:
A great and honest song. I would say this is one of those songs that doesn't care what anyone will think. Its just telling it like it is. Sadness and all. There is no effort to cover over anything with positive statements, or hopes and wishes, or affirmations loudly shouted into a void. It accepts a certain reality that is perceived and deeply felt. It is a surrender.
Heart Break Girl Notes:
Not a lot I can say a bout this song except its "true life". Based on some women I have known and observed throughout my life. A beautiful kind of feminine, giving, loving woman. And a little bit lost and unattainable. I have sometimes thought some of these women may really be the noblest of angels incarnated to somehow teach us, and themselves, something about and through their suffering. Of walking with a grace and beauty through their suffering. And finally finding a point of dignity within it all.
No Longer Notes:
The way this song came out intrigues me. J.C. suggested this rhythm feel and had the great idea for these vocal parts. Its a very sad song that somehow finds hope within its own sadness . This is the kind of song that comes when you really don't care about anything anymore except expression . To me, its the real meaning of "getting down". Again , it has no regard for what anyone will think, or whether it will sell , or whether anyone will ever even like it. It just is. An expression of longing. Years ago I read a sad and disgusting story about some kids in Florida with aids. They got it from a blood transfusion. Their neighbors became terrified and burned their house down in order to drive them and their families away. In Nashville on the local news I saw footage of crowds of people in East Tennessee demanding some kids who had aids to get out of their schools and neighborhoods. These were among the most shameful things I have ever seen. I'm sure these things happened other places too. Somehow hearing about these kids helped to inspire this song so I want to dedicate the song to them and to those like them.
Little Birdie Notes:
And again, we are back to a symbol of life itself. This is an old folk song I have rewritten and adapted to some extent. Some of it is just the old folk song itself. Some words I wrote and added and I have made changes in the melody and added a sort of refrain melody part with some original lyrics. People don't seem to remember taking folk songs and reworking them anymore. Its an old troubadour thing. Woody Guthrie did it all the time. I like the way this song came out. Van Dyke Park's accordion captures the bird in flight for a moment, then quickly sets her free. Vern Monnett's steel sings to the little bird as she flies and seems to call to her in the hope that she will return someday. Someone once told me this sounded like ancient music. I thought that was a great compliment. I hope it sounds ancient, and like the now too. I love this song. And it really is the only way to feel alive.
Introduction Notes On Primal Young written by Steve Young.
© 2008, Steve Young
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