Sunday, February 21, 2010

Highway 61 Revisited (Johnny Winter): Issa's Sunday Service, #43

This week is the birthday of Mr. Johnny Winter who, for our purposes today, is the smokin'est blues guitar player of his generation. On another day, we might discuss this in depth; today he's it. Today's selection for Issa's Sunday Service is the Bob Dylan tune "Highway 61 Revisited."

This is Bob's re-imagining of the Abraham and Issac story, played out in the larger contest of the then (and still) impending threat of nuclear war. For those alive back in the day who remember the Kent State protest and killings ("Tin soldiers and Nixon coming ..."), you might also remember the sculptor George Segal's controversial memorial "In Memory of May 4, 1970, Kent State University," that set off its own firestorm of protest, drawing on the same Biblical story for its resonance in modern times:

Looking back over the first 40 plus weeks of selected LitRock songs, it seems that there is a really formidable subset of songs drawing on the Bible. And this rock and roll was supposed to be the devil's music - who'd a thunk?

Back in 1992, Johnny Winter performed "Highway 61 Revisited" at Dylan's big 50th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden. What follows is that performance; watch Johnny signaling the drummer to speed it up (!), G. E. Smith telling the sound crew to turn it up, and Steve ("Hit it, Stevie") Cropper's fixed stare at one helluva amazing guitar slinger ...

There are also two other possible literary allusions in this song I'd never caught before. Take a look at the 3rd verse:

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don't ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
And he said yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61.

This song was written in the wake of the immense popularity of the Louis Armstrong rendition of the Brecht/Weill composition "Mack the Knife." Mack the Finger sung by King Louie: oh, yeah, I'd say so. Though one of his more popular numbers (a la "Hello, Dolly"), it certainly isn't one of Pops finer moments. However, I will never say anything negative about one of the great jazz musicians of the 20th century. Somehow, we all have to pay the bills.

The other allusion is a bit more generic: "Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night." Could be to Shakespeare but since Twelfth Night is a lot bigger than Will's take on it, I'll have to let that one go: the lyrical thread is a bit too tangled for me to undo.

Finally, why Highway 61 revisited? Well, it may be as simple as Highway 61 runs by Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan's hometown, on its 1400 miles trek to New Orleans. Also Dylan, ever the singer steeped in the folk and blues tradition, would have been well aware of Mississippi Fred McDowell's song "61 Highway," with its blistering slide guitar that even Mr. Winter could learn a thing or two from.


Today's feature poem comes from the California poet, Tom Riley, originally published in Lilliput Review, #67, April 1995. Think of it as an admonishment, think of it as a cautionary tale - think of it:

What You're Good For
The ice giants
fry the eggs of the snow serpent,
the tastiest morsels they know,
on the bare backs
of hot-blooded
lads like you.
Tom Riley


And here's one for those who, though perhaps success in avoiding those ice giants, have been breaking their backs with all the recent snow:

he's also in no mood
to sweep the snow...
translated by David G. Lanoue



Frank Parker said...

That does it! I'm gonna smoke some reefer and jam some blues today...

awoke with my socks on

brown splatter
by the black phone

forgot the
blue wash pan

stuffed with
worn T-shirt

before the
sound of rain

on Mexican tiles

21 Feb 2010

Ed Baker said...

a cpl of asides/addendums by the way nice re-discoveries via you to/for us-uns who
"dig it"


Kent State one of the lowest points in our 'merican 'isory

which I called in 1971 "hist-oh-rectomy"
and one (more reason) that Kent State crap) that I dropped out..


another conndection (for me) is letters and other 'stuff' sent to CC 1973-1975..

not sure what is there among this CC stash but.. too painful for me to make a trip to Kent State especially when I am sure the majority of the students ain't got a clue what went down... or care.

re highway 61 I drove my 1967 Chevy Bel Air down that highway all the way to The Levy

you might say:

I drove my Chevy to the Levy

Johnny Winter's neat stuff..

what was neat was that all these guys when performing live well neat when Dyland would cut into a tune with an un-prescribeed chuckle or stop dead in his track and make a comment that was (sort of) outside or off the main line..

like they all were in "the right now" playing as Winter tells the drummer
how fast to drum...



Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ok, Frank, we're all coming over (both of us)!

Ed, Kent State as a defining moment - I could go on for days - the riot that ensued at my school after the peaceful protest erupted when outside agitators threw bricks and rocks at the Newark riot squad who knew exactly how to break heads and did - all of us who had faith loss a good deal of it then ... political faith, activist faith, faith in human nature ... if ever there was a "dropping out" moment, that was it ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

On a lighter note, over @ Facebook there was this comment about the album "Second Winter."

From Dusty Pendelton:

"do you remember how it felt when you took 2nd winter home and found that there were only 3 recorded sides to the two record set?"

Ed Baker said...

worst that a blank side

bought a Charlie Parker album at that little
record store next to The Atlas (movie theater) in mid 50's.. the album

Bird Live at Birdland (or some-such title and

upon opening it the platter there-in.. a
Fats Domino lp!

so, now 88 years later
I ain't go a single Bird
but I do have just about every thing The Fat Man ever recorded.. in the 50's and 60's

you know

I do believe that The Beats came out of this Parker (et al) 'scene'

when before 'hip' was 'hep'

and before The Beats was...

everything else!

Ed Baker said...

speaking of vinyl record albums

here is a stupid movie with a neat (old-fashioned) record store central to the story:,,||443253,00.html

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Well, Ed, at least it wasn't it wasn't that Herb Alpert whip cream album ... here's a taste of Bird ... Fats forever!

Ed Baker said...

ain't it

Herb Alpert and The Teaohwanna Brass

and I got that Whipped Cream album... too.. just especially for the cover!

when whipped cream, honey, and grape jelly were
to love-making!

OH them 60's!

Joseph Hutchison said...

On why "revisited" ... as I recall Dylan's album was his first all electric album. So maybe the Blues Highway revisited in electrified mode...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Joseph, that's got a ring of truth to it ...

Joseph Hutchison said...

Which reminds me of a favorite Dylan song, "Ring Them Bells." Haunting lyricslyrics, complex and affecting music. Maybe worth a Sunday Service?

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Hmn, I like that one, too - for the literary reference, are you thinking Bible for this one, too, or am I missing something I shouldn't be?

I am always looking for Sunday Service songs ...

Princess Haiku said...

Great post! I am going to pop in one of my Dylan DVDs instead of this Olympic stuff. I wasn't sure what the reference to Highway 61 was; now I know. Take care and happy Yr of Tiger to you.

Liked your featured poem too.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Princess ... perfect Olympic antidote ...

"Let's set some bleachers up out in the sun
and listen to Dylan's Highway 61"

Lyle Daggett said...

Have dropped by here a few times, though haven't commented before. I originally found the Hut through a link in Joseph Hutchinson's The Perpetual Bird blog.

I love the George Segal sculpture, with all the resonances behind it -- I hadn't seen it or known of it previously. (I was finishing my first year of high school in May 1970, here in Minneapolis, and a week or two after the Kent State shootings, took part in what was as far as I know the largest anti-war demonstration the city has seen to this day, maybe 50,000 people.)

Regarding Dylan's Highway 61 song, I'd never thought to wonder why "Revisited." But offhand --

Well, first a small hairsplit or hitpick: Bob Dylan's hometown was Hibbing (in the heart of the iron mining region in northern Minnesota), not Duluth. I knew someone years back who grew up across the street from him.

But early in his musician life, when he was playing (as Bobby Zimmerman) in local coffeehouses in Minneapolis, Highway 61 would have been his at least part of the way between the cities and Hibbing. I would guess he was taking a creative look at what lies under the surface of an otherwise routine highway drive.

Or he may just have been playing with words. A trick business with Dylan's lyrics, deceptively quirky at times.

I got curious and skimmed through all of the Sunday Service posts, just checking out the songs on parade there. Three songs I think might fit well:

"Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," another Dylan song, though I prefer the version Joan Baez sings on her live album "From Every Stage."

"Take a Giant Step," the inimitable rendering by Taj Mahal.

"Eli's Coming," yeah, the Three Dog Night song, though might be interesting to check out the version of it by Laura Nyro (who wrote the song).

Thanks for posting this.

Ed Baker said...

In the LYRICS 1962-1985 booK

just after Highway 61 Revisited is a Dylan sketch of a tanker-truck with "Gasoline" on the tank

then next song/poem is

Desolation Row

and a bit further on the liner notes of the album which (this quote from) may add to and thicken the stew"

"(...) & then Rome & John come out of the bar & they are going up to Harlem....we are singing today of the WIPE-OUT GANG - the WIPE-OUT GANG buys,, owns and operates the Insanity Factory - if you do not know where the Insanity Factory is located, you should herby take two steps to the right, paint your teeth & go to sleep....the songs on this specific record are not so much songs but rather exercises in tonal breath control...the subject matter-though meaningless as it is-has something to do with the beautiful strangers....the beautiful strangers, Vivaldi's green jacket & the holy slow train


there is a bit more (there always is) however

I am fading back into my memories of...

walking down Houston on the way to the corner pub 1972 (or so) in a mizzle

me, Pauline (Fay), Tony and Sienna, and their friend, David Zimmerman

I recall. I was wearing my Beatle Boots that I got at a shoe-store on Carnaby Street when on the way back to The States (they pinched a bit) and David says to me:
"My brother wears Beatle Boots"

"well, what size shoe does he wear.. these are 8 s and hurt. He can have these, then he'll have two pairs."

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Lyle, appreciate you stopping by and thanks for the clarifications and observations -

Love all 3 of the songs you selected (and would have went with Laura Nyro's version since I love her stuff) - the criteria I use for selecting LitRock songs is that there be a specific allusion to something literary, be it a poem, a novel, a play, an author etc. I should probably put an end note on the Sunday posts for clarification. To get an idea of this, you can see the allusions from all 42 songs at the standalone website, LitRock from Issa's Sunday Service.

That being said, I'd love some suggestions and, for your efforts, would be happy to send you the current two issues of Lilliput Review free. If you'd like them, just send along your snail mail address to: lilliput review AT gmail dot com.

Ed, thanks for pulling those linear notes, god, how I loved to read them when I was young. This is why the age of the cd sucked and the mp3 even more so. I'm drifting down Houston with you now ... if I could only pawn this Nehru jacket off somewhere ...

Lyle Daggett said...

I've sent an e-mail, with my paper mail address, and also a couple more song suggestions (perhaps slightly more on point). I then followed the link to the LitRock site, and found you've already featured one of my suggestions, "White Rabbit."

Thinking here now, another that comes to mind is the Joni Mitchell song "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." It's on her album Night Ride Home.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Lyle, thanks, got the email, have slated "Spanish Bombs" as a future selection ... have the Joni Mitchell song in the queue already ... new issues heading your way this weekend.

Appreciate the contributions ... feel free to send more as you think of them.