Joe Diffie, the hitmaker behind such timeless 90s country songs as “John Deere Green” and “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” has sadly passed away today, March 29, due to complications from COVID-19. Diffie’s rep shared the news of the diagnosis on Friday, March 27.
The Grammy winner and Grand Ole Opry member will be remembered for his great vocal range, and for being an unrivaled interpreter of neo-traditional country music.
“Even though I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s like I want to pinch myself still. It’s an awful neat deal to be able to live out your dream.” – Joe Diffie
Joe, thank you for all of the music and light you’ve given us. Thank you for letting us be part of your dream. ?? pic.twitter.com/QY0wzZAm08
— Grand Ole Opry (@opry) March 29, 2020
“Don’t spread my ashes out to sea don’t lay me down to rest / You can put my mind at ease if you fill my last request / Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die.”
As a way to mark his 30th birthday on March 30th and acknowledge the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas Rhett has released the all-star collaboration “Be a Light.” The “Look What God Gave Her” singer is joined on the uplifting track by Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, and Chris Tomlin.
Built around a strummed acoustic guitar pattern, the song — penned by Rhett with Josh Miller, Josh Thompson, and Matt Dragstrem — conveys an urgent message of radiating hope and positivity in the darkest of times. “Don’t hide in the dark, you were born to shine/In a world full of hate, be a light,” sings Rhett in the first chorus, followed by solo lines from his guest stars. It builds toward a big crescendo in the middle of the song, with drums and backing instrumentation swelling dramatically in the middle section. Rhett and his collaborators have announced that they will donate all proceeds from the song to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Rhett also recently released the video for “Beer Can’t Fix,” his breezy collaboration with Jon Pardi from Center Point Road, in which the two singers cruise through Key West on their mopeds. But as the COlVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all aspects of the entertainment business — including in country music, where singer Joe Diffie died on Sunday at 61 from complications related to the virus — Rhett is among the many performers making adjustments to touring schedules. As of now, his headlining Center Point Road Tour has been pushed back to summer, with dates getting underway in mid-July.
It’s April 1, 2018. There’s a blue Ford pick-up truck called BLUEOX. New Jersey musicians Kieran Sullivan and Donny Dykowsky have come together to jam. The two initially met at a local coffee shop, decided to jump into the studio, and ending up recording their first song. On April 1, the duo had their first jam session, and the Ford was stolen. No, this wasn’t an April Fools’ Day joke. BLUEOX was stolen, but its name lives on in the Jersey City duo.
Dripping in ’70s psych-rock, BLUEOX tap into something murky and melodic on new single “Black Star Road,” off their upcoming debut EP, out this summer.
“I came up to the studio at Ski Team and Donny was sitting there with his P-Bass shredding some lines with 6/8 backbeat and said, ‘we need a song in 6/8, it’s so hypnotic,” Sullivan tells American Songwriter. “I grabbed his Telecaster, plugged directly into his Fender Princeton, used the bridge pickup humbucker, and we jammed for like 40 minutes, in a trance, totally hypnotized. “
The instrumentals that they stumbled upon for the track were simple and perfect, says Sullivan. “We bounced the jam and listened to it for two weeks straight,” he says. “We knew we had something special and had to make it into a song.”
Clouded in old West legend, “Black Star Road” has a dark tale to tell. Inspired by the legend of Black Star Canyon Road in the Santa Ana Mountains of California, it’s a story of spirits past, held together by the slow hum of Sullivan and Dykowsky’s expansive harmonies and chunky riffs.
“Black Star Canyon has a bloody history and a supernatural reputation dating back to the 1830s when the Native American tribe of the Shoshone was massacred in the canyon by American mercenaries recruited by the Spaniards in retaliation for the tribe stealing horses,” says Sullivan. “More murders, history, and malevolent folklore follow throughout the years about Black Star Canyon.”
The narrative of this song wrote itself, says Sullivan, as if there were someone, or something, else at play. “It still gives me chills as I recall the process,” says Sullivan. “It was as if Donny and I really weren’t alone in creating this song.”
Blues-rock sax player/vocalist Evelyn Rubio announces a May 1st release date for her new CD, Crossing Borders, on the SeaSpeed Productions label. Produced by Grammy-winner Larry Fulcher, who also contributes his dynamic bass playing to the new disc, Crossing Borders features musical contributions from a host of A-list musicians, including Fulcher’s Phantom Blues Band buddies Mike Finnigan (keys), Tony Braunagel (drums) and Johnny Lee Schell (guitar), as well as former Spirit bandmates Al Staehely (guitar) and Mark Andes. Added to that mix are world-class guitarists David Grissom (John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, The Allman Brothers Band, Dixie Chicks) and Josh Sklair (Etta James) and it’s obvious that Houston-based Latina Ms. Rubio has cooked up one salsa-fying, soulful stew of blues, R&B and rock to satisfy any musical cookbook. It also includes three bonus tracks sung in Spanish to round out the album.
“Crossing Borders is an album in which I allowed myself to explore different sounds from what I had been doing,” Rubio admits. “Blues, Rock, Jazz, and a little Country weave love and heartbreak stories, not being able to understand pain and injustice and the pride of recognizing where I came from and where I am going. This combination happened with the guidance of Grammy-award winner music producer Larry Fulcher, who gave me the opportunity of recording in Los Angeles with tremendous musicians from the Phantom Blues Band. Also, we had the participation of Etta James’s guitar player of more than 25 years, John Sklair – wow! For me, learning from musicians who have worked with the best in this industry was such a great experience, and gave the bluesy sound to the songs ‘Mistake,’ ‘I Don’t Understand,’ ‘Just Like a Drug’ and ‘Still on Your Side.’ ”
Looking for a rockier sound, Larry decided to record some songs in Austin with another group of musicians who gave that one-of-a-kind vibe only Austin has. Musicians like the extraordinary guitar player David Grissom, alongside Kirk Covington on drums, Red Young on the keyboard, Zach Person on the second guitar, and Larry Fulcher on the bass gave life to ‘What a Way to Go,’ ‘One Last Time’ and ‘70s band Rhinoceros’ song, ‘When You Say You Are Sorry.’ Their energy gave me the punch to deliver my interpretation with my voice and saxophone.
The album’s title, Crossing Borders, was also inspired by the song “Border Town.” It was recorded by the legendary Houston music engineer Andy Bradley at Wire Studios. It was one of the first songs I recorded by my own at the start of this album, in which I had the incredible contribution of two members from the 70s rock band, Spirit, Al Staehely on guitar and Mark Andes on the bass, accompanied by Brandon Jackson on drums, Barry Seelen on the keys and the phenomenal Kenny Cordray on the guitar, who sadly we lost a few weeks after this recording. Two of his last songs on this album were “Border Town” and “He Did Me Wrong But He Did it Right,” written by Al Staehely, himself, and Patti Dahlstrom.
Born and raised in the barrios of Mexico City, Evelyn Rubio has now delivered her musical message to stages all over the world. It all began with Evelyn being introduced to the stage as a very young girl, later progressing to appearances on leading children’s television programs in her native country, where she performed as a singer, dancer and actor. Next came musical theater, where she landed the role of Mary Magdalene in a Canadian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. While all of this was going on, Evelyn’s soul was being touched by the music of American blues, soul, jazz rock and R&B – and the saxophone (tenor, alto and soprano). Evelyn left the stage to tour with a rock band in Mexico, honing her skills on the sax and building those now-famous musical chops that currently have everyone in he business raving about her skill-set.
As her range and passion for the arts continued to grow, Evelyn knew that to really achieve what she wanted for her career, America was the place to be. Shortly after arriving in Houston, she met the legendary Calvin Owens, who had been B.B. King’s band leader, composer and lead trumpet for many years. With an introduction from famed rocker Al Staehely she got an invitation to audition for the Calvin Owens Orchestra, who offered her a spot in the band and a multi-year record deal. From there, she began recording and performing as a front person vocalist and sax soloist with his 18-piece orchestra.
After meeting another B.B. King Band luminary, James Bolden, Evelyn recorded the album Hombres in two separate versions, one in English and one in Spanish. Hombres went on to debut on the Billboard at #1 Latin Pop chart, #3 Top Latin and #6 Blues charts. Tours in Europe and other world markets followed, as Evelyn Rubio’s star continued to shine. And now, she has brought it all back home in the celebration of her new CD, Crossing Borders, crossing boundaries throughout the disc in both music and styles, singing in both English and Spanish on the album’s 15 tracks, including a totally unique take on the Latin music standard, “Besame Mucho,” transforming it into a Delta blues classic-in-the making.
“Finishing with a high note, the album includes a song from the Latin music repertoire, ‘Besame Mucho,’ in which I wanted to clarify that Blues can be sung in Spanish and a Latin song can be sung in Blues,” Rubio says. “I have had this idea in my head for a long time and thanks to Larry Fulcher’s musical flexibility and willingness, Mighty Orq’s fantastic work on guitar and Sonny Boy Terry’s harmonica, this concept was achieved. I am very proud and happy to present this project that would have not been possible to carry out without every single musician’s talent, energy, experience, and willingness to share their brilliance. And where would I be without the songwriters, engineers, and producers? The answer is nowhere. Now, it is here for you to enjoy…”
Aaron Egeland — who hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada — has been writing and recording high energy alt-rock since 2016. In collaboration with Chicago-based Diversion Records label head and producer Scott Simon, Egeland is now releasing his second album under the name Blume Hinges. The album is titled Build Your Castle Inside of a Mountain and is slated for release in August 2020 via Diversion Records.
Additionally, Egeland has released the record’s lead single, a catchy tune by the name of “One in the Same.” With obvious 90s alt influences, the single is as melodic and jangly as it is grungy and mosh-pit-worthy. It’s also a song that feels seamless — that is to say, you can hear that the song is an organic expression of Egeland’s musical sensibilities.
“This song just sort of happened… it came out like vomit,” Egeland told American Songwriter. “It was the last song that I wrote for the record, and I never initially intended for it to be included on it. However, it seemed to jive with the rest of the record and it’s a great pop song… so it became a last-minute addition. In terms of the actual composition I wrote this song because it was fun, it was fun to play. I love the chord progressions, especially the post-chorus section. I can zone out and just play that chord progression endlessly and never get bored of it.”
Which makes sense when you consider Egeland’s approach to songwriting: “I write at my best when I’m alone in a room, playing guitar and sometimes something magical happens,” he said. “I never sit down and play music with the intention of writing a song, sometimes it happens and oftentimes it doesn’t — I never try to force it. I do, however, obsessively refine the songs that come from the aforementioned process. Sometimes they change radically, other times the ‘finished product’ is essentially the same as the initial spontaneous demos.”
Listen to Blume Hinges’ new single “One in the Same” below:
After decades of drug and alcohol abuse, Ronnie Wood got clean in 2010 and has been in recovery for 10 years. “It’s like having a second chance at life,” the Rolling Stones guitarist said last year. “Seeing everything with clarity, gratitude; it’s unbelievable. I feel so good. And to have these little blessings is the icing on the cake.”
But with many countries and communities on lockdown due to the coronavirus, Wood has spoken out in support of people who can’t make it to their meetings. Holding up “one of my books that help me get through every day” (it appears to be Keep It Simple: Daily Meditations for Twelve-Step Beginnings and Renewal), Wood reads one of his favorite passages.
This reading on hope has helped me get through tough days, I hope it helps you too?#CoronavirusLockdown pic.twitter.com/9UympYFgXm
— Ronnie Wood (@ronniewood) March 24, 2020
“I will share my hope for the future with myself, my higher power, and my friends,” Wood said. “I will also share this with someone who has lost hope. Now, if anything, we have tended to be people who have wanted it all now. To hope is not to demand. Maybe we were a bit demanding. Maybe we were a bit impatient. Maybe that’s why we had such little hope. Hope is believing good will come, even in bad times; hope is knowing that ‘this too shall pass.’ Hope is knowing that no matter how afraid we are, our higher power will be with us. Hope is knowing we never have to be alone again. It is knowing that time is on our side. Hope is giving up control. Hope is knowing we never had control in the first place. I hope this helps you get through another day.”
Wood was set to hit the road with the Rolling Stones on their second straight U.S. summer tour, beginning in May. But those plans are off due to the spread of COVID-19. “We’re hugely disappointed to have to postpone the tour,” the band said in a statement. “We are sorry to all the fans who were looking forward to it as much as we were, but the health and safety of everyone has to take priority. We will all get through this together — and we’ll see you very soon.”
Prior to the pandemic, Wood had been playing solo gigs in support of Mad Lad, a live Chuck Berry tribute album.
Renowned Blues artist and Grammy winner John Hammond was inducted into The Blues Hall Of Fame in 2011. With a career coming up on 60 years, he has played with John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits, Duane Allman, The Band, J.J. Cale, Dr. John, Mike Bloomfield, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Musselwhite. He’s the only person to have Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix in his band at the same time. His 1963 album John Hammond was one of the first Blues albums made by a white artist. He provided the soundtrack to the 1970 movie Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman. In 1991 he hosted the documentary The Search For Robert Johnson.
Born November 13, 1942, in New York City, he’s the son of the famous Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond Sr. What most people don’t know is that Hammond didn’t grow up with his father. His parents split when he was young, and he would see his father several times a year. He first began playing guitar while attending a private high school, particularly fascinated with slide guitar technique. He saw his idol, Jimmy Reed, perform at New York’s Apollo Theater, and he’s never been the same since. After attending Antioch College in Ohio on a scholarship for a year, he left to pursue a career as a Blues musician.
In 1962 with the folk revival starting to heat up, Hammond attracted a following in the coffeehouse circuit, performing in the tradition of the classic country blues singers he loved so much. By the time he was just 20 years old, he had been interviewed for the New York Times before one of his East Coast festival performances. He was a certified national act. When Hammond was living in the Village in 1966, a young Jimi Hendrix came through town looking for work. Hammond offered to put a band together for the guitarist and got the group work at the Cafe Au Go Go. At that point coffeehouses were falling out of favor and bars and electric guitars were leaning towards folk-rock. Hendrix was approached there by Chas Chandler who took him to England to record. Hammond recalls telling the young Hendrix to take Chandler up on his offer.
Hammond continued his work with electric Blues ensembles, recording with people like Band guitarist Robbie Robertson (and other members of The Band when they were still known as Levon and The Hawks), Duane Allman, Dr. John, harmonica wiz Charlie Musselwhite, Michael Bloomfield, and David Bromberg. “John Hammond is a master,” adds T Bone Burnett. “He is a virtuoso. A conjurer… A modernist… John is in a very small circle of men with a guitar and a harmonica. Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, Bob Dylan. The guitar is an orchestra. He’s sending messages. Storytelling. All mystery. Protection. The language goes out through the night.”
How and why do you think Blues music touched your soul?
Blues is an honest look at real life. It has to do with passion, emotion, and the gamut of the human condition. It’s put in a way that is easily related as music is simple yet deep. It’s hard to put into just one capsule. It’s passionate music.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I’ve had a lot of shows cancelled due to the lockdown. I am semi-retired. I have done a lot of gigs and this is my fifty eighth year of performing. There are very few clubs I haven’t played. I’ve played in every state and all over the world. I am enjoying being picky choosy about where I am going to play. My wife and I are writing a memoir that we hope to get done by this year.
In your own words how would you describe your Blues style? What makes you unique?
I’ve always felt that the solo artist can be the most effective and have the biggest impact on an audience if you can pull it off by yourself. It’s so intense. I’ve always prided myself on playing solo and pulling it off. It’s like photography. The black and white photo is the most intense and boils it down to the basics. I’ve worked all these years as a solo acoustic artist. I don’t plug in into the microphone. It’s just me. This is my point of view and direction. My energy is focused on a style that is old time yet timeless.
If you had to choose from of all the artists you have played and performed with who is your favorite?
That’s very hard as I’ve worked with so many talented artists. When I started out the guys who created the genre were rediscovered: Son House, Bukka White, and Mississippi John Hurt. I could go on and on. These guys were phenomenal. I worked with younger contemporary artists who’d step right up. It would be very hard to pick one.
Can you talk about Hendrix and Clapton sitting in with you at The Gaslight Cafe in NYC?
I knew Jimi in New York when he was hanging out in the Village trying to get a gig. We had gigs together and then he went to England and became a huge star. I met Eric Clapton during my first tour in England in sixty five. When he came to New York with Cream in sixty seven he was hanging out in New York and had my number. He called me up and wanted to come to my gig. Hendrix was also in New York. I knew both of them and they both came down and wanted to sit in. I had a little trio with Charles Otis and Lee Collins. They both sat in and I was surrounded by royalty.
What did you learn from hanging around Bob Dylan and you introduced him to The Band?
Bob and I were friends when he first came to New York. He was a Blues fan but he was also an amazing performer. He was a Woody Guthrie fanatic. He had all these talking Blues he did but he was also a Blues fan. He and I hung out a lot and at one time we were very good friends. He came to my recording sessions and I went to his. That’s how I introduced him to The Band who I met up in Toronto. Their first recordings were with me. It was on the ‘So Many Roads’ album for Vanguard.
What’s your recording process like? How do you know when you have a take?
Sometimes you just know instantly that was it and it’s not going to get any better than that. Other times you do it two or three times and you listen back and realize this one has more that I was aiming for and this one has less. You go into record with an idea of what sound you want for each song. Each song has its own life and you go with whichever take you think is more on the ball.
Do you have a favorite cover song?
I have so many songs it would really be tough to pick one. I have some of my own songs that I’ve done in the last five years. I am not a songwriter as such. I have always felt that I can bring any song I choose to life. I have been inspired by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Willie McTell, and Blind Boy Fuller. The whole gamut is kind of a wide range.
Anything else you want to accomplish?
I have done a lot. It’s not like I am done or anything. I have become very choosy about the gigs I play. I have a lot to reflect on. My wife and I are compiling a memoir. That’s a lot of fun. I have been to a lot of places, met a lot of people, and have made a lot of records. I have some great stories.
“Who’s gonna play the Opry And the Wabash Cannonball? Who’s gonna give their heart and soul To get to me and you?”
– From George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”
Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and Brad Paisley performed together on the Grand Ole Opry stage for its 4,916th consecutive Saturday night show. They played not to a live audience, but rather a live broadcast on the digital multicast network Circle and other TV affiliates. The concert was also livestreamed on Circle’s Facebook and YouTube.
“We will all get through this because we’re gonna stick together,” said TV/radio personality Bobby Bones, who hosted the telecast. “We need to find ways to keep connected, and still be safe, which is why we’re here tonight.”
Facilitated by a skeleton support crew, The three Opry members sat at a safe CDC-recommended social distance, swapping stories and playing some of the most revered songs in country music history. It’s worth mentioning that their set included Marty Stuart’s rendition of the trucker classic “Six Days on the Road” and Vince Gill’s breathtaking “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” Gill began writing the song inspired by the death of country balladeer Keith Whitley due to alcoholism in 1989, and finished it after his brother’s death in 1993.
The three also paid a wholehearted tribute to Kenny Rogers, who passed away the night before, by harmonizing together (Gill leading vocals with Stuart and Paisley joining in) on Rogers’ “Sweet Music Man.”
“That’s one of the songs that Kenny wrote,” Gill says following the performance. “He didn’t write very many songs, and it was always one of my favorite songs that Kenny ever did.”
The world’s longest-running radio show has postponed shows with a live house audience until April 4, but they have vowed to continue live broadcasts every Saturday night without an attending audience.
Swedish rising country star Ellinor Springstrike announces the release of her new single “This Fire.” Recorded in Nashville with Grammy nominated Jimmy Ritchey in the producer’s chair, this accomplished and melodic track has wide commercial appeal.
The up and comer was discovered in 2019 by Ritchey, a world-renowned hit songwriter and producer from Nashville, Tennessee. Active for 25 years in Music City, Ritchey has written, and produced number one songs for George Strait, Mark Chesnutt, Jake Owen, Pam Tillis, Sam Hunt, and William Michael Morgan, to name a few…
Ellinor has had a full schedule since she met Jimmy, writing and working on an EP to be released later this year. They did make time to release “A Country Christmas” last November, written by the duo along with hit songwriter Don Poythress. The track features Springstrike’s signature voice and Ritchey on guitar.
Taken from Springstrike’s forthcoming EP which will be available later in the year, “This Fire” is now available on all major streaming sites.
Among the most memorable moments of songwriting insight on national TV, as many of my fellow students of songwriting no doubt remember, is when Paul Simon went on “The Dick Cavett Show” in 1975 and did something rarely done: showed the host and his audience a brand new song in process.
Singing and playing beautifully complex chords on classical, gut-string guitar, he shared the seeds, both inspired and calculated, of what became one of his most iconic songs from his early solo, post-Simon & Garfunkel work.
It was called “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
Though Cavett continued to pepper the conversation with jokes, as was his job, Simon valiantly
played the song exquistely, smoothly articulating its beautiful progression of what musicians sometimes call “adult chords.” Unlike most songs, including almost all the ones he wrote, each verse ends on a different chord change. He plays the first two verses, leading up to the still-unwritten bridge, where he said he was stalled. (That bridge, which is discussed in the following account, changed keys and shifted the entire shape of the song.)
But at this moment in time, Simon had yet to have conceived of it, but seems content and even playful considering his options, which he shows.
It’s ironic that, in the following account, that on Cavett he says he transfered the song from guitar to piano (as played by Barry Beckett) “probably because it didn’t lay right on guitar.” Yet, as this performance confirms, it lays beautifully on guitar. And it even uses some chord changes -guitaristic passing chords – that were ultimately changed on the recording when it got switched to keyboard. (Beckett plays it on a Rhodes electric piano, a sound closely connected with the mid-seventies, as is the sax solo by Michael Brecker, which still is heard in the “Saturday Night Live” music, which was born at the same time.
As consummate as the studio version is, this solo Simon rendition, even unfinished, is stunning. Yet, as with “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which he also wrote on guitar and then transfered to piano for the recording, he stopped playing it on guitar, and forgot the changes to it. The piano arrangement worked so well, which it did, that it led him to conclude his original wasn’t as strong. But hearing this, it’s clear that it was very strong. Interestingly, at least to us admitted Simon nerds, is that the record is in G major (though shifts back and forth into A major), but on Cavett he plays it in D major.
This was among the greatest songwriter moments on TV to this day, and since. Countless songwriters and musicians have said how much it impacted them. Because not only did he do it at all, he did it with a song that became a standard. Had Lennon gone this when “Strawberry Fields” was still in process, it would have rung the same bells. But he didn’t.
The title alone was intriguing enough for millions of his fans to hunger for the finished record, as it’s so essentially Simon: funny and foreboding at the same time. And his demonstration of it in its nascent stages was staggering to behold, and shed a lot of light into his writing process, which was more deeply dimensional, thoughtful and yet receptive than we knew.
It showed how much focus he directed to each and every aspect of song-craft. For any who had the impression that Simon and his peers simply allowed songs to emerge, the truth was revealed. His songs were the result not only of a single process, but all at once. It was both following and leading the song while writing it, musically and lyrically both, allowing it to emerge and also shaping it.
The language is neither confessional or character-driven, but both, fusing these two schools of songwriting. It’s light-hearted but also heavy, and even portentous in certain understated declarations, such as “I fear I’ll do some damage one fine day.” Damage? To what? Not Garfunkel, we hoped.
No doubt some who watched the show concluded, “Aha! This songwriting thing is not so simple after all! Who knew?”
Songwriters knew. They knew that, unlike chefs who follow the same recipe for decades to create the same dish, or architects who devise an entire blueprint prior to building anything, songwriters don’t do this. They have no recipe, no blueprint, no plan or strategy by which their songs can be conceived and manufactured. Instead, they followed every lead, and led their own expeditions, in search of the song.
Sometimes, as Simon reveals, the process can be uncomfortable, as the songwriter is forced to confront aspects of his own life he’d rather avoid altogether. But in the service of the song, such sacrifices get made.
The title of the song, as Simon explains, is one that came to him out of nowhere. He did recognize it was song-worthy. But he wasn’t crazy about what “Still Crazy” told him about himself. Nor was he crazy enough to throw it out, and use something less personal.
The music for the verses, as he shows, came from the chords he played on guitar, all of which were informed and expanded by his study of jazz, as he discusses.
But the music for the bridge was a whole other thing, as it was built on all the notes of the twelve-tone scale he hadn’t yet used, so as to give it a musical freshness. It was a “mathematical game,” as James Taylor called it, but one which worked.
“Oh yes,” James said, “That worked! “
Other peers of Simon also expressed admiration and some incredulity at this and similar methods employed by Paul. ” Simon’s tough, ” said Randy Newman. “You can hear how hard he works, like the changes in ‘Still Crazy.’”
Those changes distinguish it from almost all his other songs, which are all rooted in one key center.
“Still Crazy,” however, veers back and forth between A major and G major from the introduction to the ending. This was not, as Simon said, the original concept. But after writing the bridge, which leapt a whole step from G major to A before returning to G, and loving the subtle but vivid lift it gave the melody, he decided to start the introduction also in A major, leading back to G for the first verse.
Then, in the final verse, he uses a substitution chord on the ending of the phrase “I fear I’ll do some damage one fine day,” which leads from the key of G into A. It’s a momentous modulation, yet placed in mid-stream, as it were, it gives a nifty but understated lift to the song that, unlike a typically dramatic Manilow-like key-change, is sweetly subtle. One feels it without being conscious of why.
Some music writers felt this use of shifting key centers reflected Simon’s secret soul. “It gives a faint sense of slightly demented triumph,” wrote James Bennighof, “to the singer’s declaration that he wouldn’t be held responsible for his potential mayhem.”
The writer Walter Everett wrote that the key-change was a sign of this songwriter’s “unpredictable emotional and mental state.” ]
When asked about the subtlety of this modulation during my first-ever interview with him, Simon’s eyes opened with some delight that at long last he was able to discuss this ingenious song-craft in a way he’d never before done. It led to the first of many discussions with this man over the decades, who revels in the opportunity to expound on such intricate guiding ideas, which are overlooked by most. Yet they have led to the creation of countless masterpieces, which constitute one of the greatest songbooks of all time.
So now, in his own words, is the story behind the song of “Still Crazy After All These Years,” by Paul Simon.
I met my old lover on the street one day She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled…
PAUL SIMON: It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true; if you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true that has a lot of possibilities is a nice way to begin.
Sometimes there are second verses, and I say,”Oh, that’s really not a second verse; it’s a first verse. In “Still Crazy After All These Years,” that title phrase came to me first and it didn’t come with melody either. It just came as a line, and then I had to create a story.
I remember well coming up with the first line of the song. I was stepping into a shower when the thought came to me, and I wasn’t very happy about it either. I didn’t say, “Oh, that’s clever, that’s a good one, I can use that.” It was, at the time, an assessment of where I was at in terms of my life. And I wasn’t very happy that that was my assessment, but I soon turned it into a song.
And that’s what you do with those things, and that makes it something else. In fact, now it has almost no relevance on a personal level to me. That was a long time ago. I’ve long since stopped feeling that way. I probably wouldn’t describe myself that way. I probably wouldn’t think that way at all.
But as a rhythmic title, it worked. I mean, in a way, it’s amazing that it appears that I originated that. It seems so idiomatic, but I don’t think there was a “Still crazy after all these” anything before that.
The song could have actually been more accessible. It was kind of personal on a dark level, but it doesn’t matter because it’s just the title, and the melody of it. People know that melody in a way that they know “like a bridge over troubled water.” That melody attached to those words. They know the melody of “Still Crazy.”
That title, it has the kind of catchiness that country music titles have. You get the whole story in the title. People relate it to their own lives immediately just from the title.
There are very few other of my titles that are catchy in that way. “Fifty Ways” to do whatever, that also became a catchphrase. If “Mrs. Robinson” had been called “Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?”, well, I guess it wouldn’t have made any sense, but that also has the same kind of quality. It just applied to a lot of situations .
I was studying with a bass player and composer named Chuck Israels at the time, so I was doing more interesting changes. I was studying harmony with him, so I was more concentrated on that kind of stuff.
One of the things I know that was his suggestion was the modulation in the last verse; taking that minor chord and turning it into a major chord, and therefore going up a whole step in key. That was a nice idea. The rest of the changes were things I was working on.
It seems that once I was working with Chuck Israels, I began to write some songs where the bridge jumped a whole step up, and went to the major seventh, a whole step up. I don’t know if that was his suggestion or something I inferred from studying with him. But prior to studying with Chuck, I didn’t use that device.
I don’t remember exactly, because I wrote “Still Crazy” on guitar and then made the record on piano. I didn’t play it, so I forgot.
I wrote the bridge based on something I learned from Antonio Carlos Jobim. In fact, I once mentioned that to [Jobim] and he said that he wasn’t aware of it at all. [Laughs]
It was kind of an exercise that I did, which was to try and get every note from a twelve-tone scale into the song, So what would happen is that I would cover most of the notes in the song and there would be maybe three notes that I couldn’t get into the scale of the key I was using. And those three notes were really the key to the bridge.
Usually it would be a tritone away from whatever key you were using. If you are in the key of C, the farthest away you can go is at F#. That’s the key that’s least related to C.
I can’t recall exactly why I chose to make it a piano song. Probably because it didn’t lay right on an acoustic guitar. I don’t know, it was just some instinct. The same with “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I just knew immediately. So when I write the song on guitar and transfer it to piano, I lose touch with what I did.
Also, because I was working with really gifted pianists like Richard Tee and Barry Beckett, they might change the chords suddenly, change the bass note of the chord. So the song might have evolved harmonically because of some other musician’s input after I took it off the guitar and gave it to them.
The words are personal. It sounds like I was talking about where I was then. I have the same instinct as all writers: if something from my life works, I use it. If I have to change it and exaggerate it because that works, I’ll change it and exaggerate it.
I’m not committed to telling the truth. I’m committed to finding what the truth is in the song. But that’s not a commitment to telling everyone what’s going on with you. That’s very common.
The original record of that is a very satisfying record; it’s one of the best records I’ve ever made.
“Still Crazy After All These Years” was the title song and opening track of Simon’s third solo studio album,”Still Crazy After All These Years,” 1975. It was produced and engineered by Phil Ramone.
Paul Simon, vocals Barry Beckett, Rhodes keyboard David Hood, bass Roger Hawkins, drums Michael Brecker, saxophone Bob James, woodwind arrangements, string arrangements
“Still Crazy After All These Years” By Paul Simon
I met my old lover On the street last night She seemed so glad to see me I just smiled And we talked about some old times And we drank ourselves some beers Still crazy after all these years Oh, still crazy after all these years
I’m not the kind of man Who tends to socialize I seem to lean on old familiar ways And I ain’t no fool for love songs That whisper in my ears Still crazy after all these years Oh, still crazy after all these years
Four in the morning Crapped out Yawning Longing my life away
I’ll never worry Why should I? It’s all gonna fade
Now I sit by my window And I watch the cars I fear I’ll do some damage One fine day But I would not be convicted By a jury of my peers Oh, still Crazy Still Crazy Still Crazy after all these years