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I had to make an emergency run up to Santa Fe to grab some signed books, so this is woefully late and probably somewhat curtailed, but I hope you enjoy it all anyway. I like story songs probably better than any other kind, so here’s three of them with disparate but interesting origins.

The first is “Spanish Johnny” performed by the incomparable David Bromberg. It was adapted by the unjustly totally forgotten Paul Siebel (I’m sure I’ll get to writing more about him later) from — of all things — a poem by Willa Cather. Here’s the poem, also entitled “Spanish Johnny:”

THE OLD West, the old time,
The old wind singing through
The red, red grass a thousand miles–
And, Spanish Johnny, you!
He’d sit beside the water ditch
When all his herd was in,
And never mind a child, but sing
To his mandolin.

The big stars, the blue night,
The moon-enchanted lane;
The olive man who never spoke,
But sang the songs of Spain.
His speech with men was wicked talk–
To hear it was a sin;
But those were golden things he said
To his mandolin.

The gold songs, the gold stars,
The word so golden then;
And the hand so tender to a child–
Had killed so many men.
He died a hard death long ago
Before the Road came in–
The night before he swung, he sang
To his mandolin.

Here’s the song.

I’ve probably seen David Bromberg in concert more than any other musician, with the possible exception of Arlo Guthrie. When he saw him play the Palo Soleri (I may have spelled that wrong) in Santa Fe, I let out a big “Yeah!” at the distinctive opening chords of this song. He stopped playing and looked right at me and said, “So, you like the sad songs?” In the mid-1970s, at the height of his musical prowess, Bromberg stopped making music and started making violins. He was silent for thirty years, but the good news is that now he’s back. And the better news is that he’s as good as he ever was, and he may be the greatest musician I’ve ever heard play. I missed you, David, and thanks for coming back.

Here’s a video from circa 1972 of the British band, The Pentangle, playing the great “Willy o’ Winsbury.” “Willie” is Child Ballad #100, from Scotland, and dates to at least 1775. I really should nail down the historical figures (if any) to which this song refers, but that’ll have to wait for another post (unless anyone out there in Cheeseland knows, in which case, please chime in). Pentangle was a great folk/jazz band with the incomparable Jacqui McShee on vocals (one of the sweetest and clearest voices, ever), the duo of John Renbourn (I believe he’s the bearded face you see briefly) and Bert Jansch (I believe he’s playing the zither), and Danny Thompson on upright base. (The drummer, Terry Cox, is not in the video.).

Finally, here’s Guy Clarke, backed up by another incomparable singer (That’s three incomparables in one blog!), Emmylou Harris, whom I’ve been secretly in love with since 1972. The video is from the 2005 American Awards. This one is also a heartbreaker. Lots you can quote from this song, but I’ll mention these lines:
“I have seen the David,
I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, too,
And I have heard Doc Watson
Play the Columbus Stockade Blues.”

and just add, me, too, Guy.

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