Category: Danny O’Keefe

Covered In Folk: Danny O’Keefe
(w/ Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Chris Smither, Chris Hillman & more)

August 28th, 2011 — 02:32 pm

A short post by Darius over at Star Maker Machine late last week rang a bell; I hadn’t realized that Danny O’Keefe had both penned and first performed The Road, which most of us know well through its coverage on Jackson Browne’s definitive album Running on Empty, but I did recognize his name from the songwriting credits for Well, Well, Well – a song often attributed to co-writer Bob Dylan alone, but first recorded by Maria Muldaur. Following the thread through the stacks, I found more than I bargained for: turns out there was a surprisingly large amount of coverage from the hugely undersung songwriting genius already sitting around on my harddrive. And so a feature blog post is born.

If I hadn’t noticed O’Keefe much as an artist, I suppose it can be excused: his biggest hit record came out the year before I was born; he’s produced but a single album in the last decade; most recently, he’s turned to poetry. But the Minnesota-bred, Spokane-based singer-songwriter has been writing, recording and performing for four decades, making millions off of eponymous 1972 sophomore album O’Keefe, which produced both The Road and the extraordinarily well-covered mega-hit Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues.

O’Keefe’s record as a co-writer and originator of song speaks volumes to his reputation as a songwriter’s songwriter. Good Time Charlie has been taken on by numerous names in the music world, from Elvis Presley to Cab Calloway, from Willie Nelson to Waylon Jennings. And unsurprisingly, given his primary modality and the audience it brings in, the majority of covers of O’Keefe’s larger catalog touch broadly on the country, folk and bluegrass worlds.

Danny O’Keefe’s lyrics trend towards the sentimental, touching on themes of nature and our relationship to each other through it; his voice is soaring and sweet, and his original performance contains elements of country, folk, jazz, and more; not for nothing has he been so well covered by the softer side of folk, blues, and folkrock, with Judy Collins, Harry Manx, and of course Browne himself taking on the songbook at one time or another.

But thanks in part to his hybrid style and lyrical accessibility, O’Keefe has found his way into the hands and voices of a larger set of folk-oriented artists, too. We’re skipping the hardcore country, save for a mellow country-pop pair from Byrds co-founder Chris Hillman, but bluegrass is well represented here, with Tim O’Brien turning in a sweet take on Into The West, Nickel Creek taking on When You Come Back Down (originally performed by O’Brien, but co-written by O’Keefe) with soaring mando-led harmonies, and Alison Krauss lending her beautiful vocals to Dave Mallett co-write Never Got Off The Ground. And bluesfolk Chris Smither and Pat Wictor – the former doubly; the latter both with and without recent folk supergroup trio Brother Sun – also turn in their own versions of songs either recorded or written by this gentle lyricist with the surprisingly political side.

Here’s the good stuff, a chronology of coverage that starts way back in 1975. Listen to the set in its entirety, and the odds are good you’ll hear a familiar song or two. If you, too, never realized all these songs came from the same pen and voice, well, that’s the point of coverage.

Cover Lay Down shares new finds and retreads through coverfolks sets and feature-length musings twice a week or more without fail.

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