Category: RIP

R.I.P. Doc Watson
(a look beyond the appalachian fiddle tune)

June 3rd, 2012 — 01:01 pm

When Arthel “Doc” Watson passed on to the great jam session in the sky this past week, the ensuing nationwide recognition for the man and his impact on our culture was inevitable. Watson is and was rightly cited for his ethnomusical bent, most particularly for how the masterful fingerpicker transformed the fiddle tunes which he heard in his native appalachia for guitar and banjo, bringing traditional songs out of the mountains and hollers into the mainstream of popular music via the folk revival of the fifties and sixties, and creating a trademark picking style out of the transformation, in a time when bluegrass, folk, blues and country were at a crossroads.

The combination of timing, talent, and treatment became the perfect platform for fame and fortune, winning him multiple Grammy awards in both the folk and country categories. And many of the classic tunes he helped spread and salvage run strong in the tradfolk revival today; there is no questioning his legacy.

But though it is his prowess with the songs of Deep Gap, North Carolina which most impacted the folkways, Doc’s true impact on the culture goes far beyond the direct line between the appalachian hills and the folk movement which NPR and others so respectfully recognized in the last several days.

A child prodigy who learned from radio as much as he did from his elders, and who spent much of the fifties playing in a country and western swing band, Doc was a prolific performer and studio musician, and his ear for the popular was equal to his ear for the local.

As such, although it is predominantly for his traditional resurrections which we hear of him today, in his many years of recording and performing, Doc focused no small amount of attention on the swinging Nashville sound, using it to channel the hits and a small handful of originals. After a lifetime achievement of over fifty albums recorded live and in the studio, in collaboration and at the helm, his vast catalog came to include a number of hits from the country charts, plus standards from Elvis to the Everly Brothers, from Broadway to Tin Pan Alley, from The Mississippi Sheiks to Mississippi John Hurt.

We covered the traditional songs of Doc Watson way back in 2008 in a Vacation Coverfolk post, when a trip to North Carolina brought us to steep in the sounds of his particular south; those that might be interested in the deeper particulars of his story and style are invited to click back in time to read more. Today, we pay tribute to the man with a second set of song, which features Doc, friends, and family taking on the tunes of his own century. Listen, especially, for the two lullabies, recorded just after the untimely death of his son and life musical partner Merle, which mark a poignant turning point in our set below.

Download the entire 22 song set as a zip file!

2 comments » | Doc Watson, RIP

RIP: Charlie Louvin, 1927 – 2011

January 29th, 2011 — 01:24 pm

We pay tribute today to Charlie Louvin, long-time Grand Old Opry member and elder statesman of Country music, who passed this week after complications from pancreatic cancer.

Charlie Louvin’s work with his elder brother Ira in the fifties found familiar placement on the Country charts – indeed, until the brothers split up two years before Ira’s death in ’65, the close harmonies of the brothers Louvin, with their mandolin-guitar accompaniment, were arguably among the most heavenly sounds on the radio. And though he was ever-dismissive about his own contribution to the songs for which he was listed as co-author, claiming that he was the music-watcher, who brought titles and concepts, new sounds and instrumental flourishes to his alcoholic, inward-turned brother to turn into songs, it is these self-same connections to the world of music at large which Charlie brought to the table that make his legacy so notable from the folk-watcher’s perspective.

Originally trained in the country gospel tradition, Charlie and Ira started adding secular songcraft to their repertoire early in their career on the advice of a sponsor. In the end, though the broader base of inspiration surely helped bring them further recognition, their songbook remains dominated by hellfire and angels, the core question of how to live in balance between the demands of both the spiritual and secular worlds running throughout. And though his later solo work may have had less of an impact on the overall canon, it, too, continued the thread, marking Louvin as a keeper of the country tradition.

Thanks to its heavy, heady influence on harmony duos from The Everly Brothers to Simon and Garfunkel, and on country rockers The Byrds, Gram Parsons, and Emmylou Harris, it is predominantly their early duet work for which The Louvin Brothers will be remembered – and sure enough, it is that work which we find covered most often, as seen below.

But Charlie Louvin’s continued output in the half-century since deserves our recognition and respect as well. In the last ten years alone, like Johnny Cash before him, he enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, receiving two Grammy nominations – one in the traditional folk category, the other for best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album – recording with Jeff Tweedy and Elvis Costello, opening for Cake and Cheap Trick, and headlining Bonnaroo. Check out today’s coverage, a set unsurprisingly dominated by bluegrass, country, and americana folk, and then turn your ears to both his older recordings and the final decade of his work for broken, heartfelt takes on a myriad of originals, classics, and traditional country gospel ballads.

As always, Cover Lay Down exists first and foremost to connect artists and fans, for the betterment of all. If you like what you hear here, we encourage you to follow the links in each entry, to learn more and to purchase works from the artists we tout.

But it’s also worth pointing out that because we believe that advertising would interfere with the pure relationship between you and the music, we depend on your donations to support the continued existence of this blog.

All who donate will receive – within the next few weeks – a sampler of bootleg cover tracks recorded by yours truly at various concerts and festivals throughout 2010, and available nowhere else. And until the end of this month, 20% of all donations will be paid forward to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the better to support the local community through the long winter. We’ve already raised over $100 for the cause. Won’t you consider helping out?

1,155 comments » | Charlie Louvin, Louvin Brothers, RIP

RIP: Alex Chilton, 1950 – 2010

March 17th, 2010 — 10:04 pm

The New York Times has confirmed that Alex Chilton, lead singer of Big Star and the Box Tops, passed on today of a suspected heart attack.

Chilton’s music was potent, and his influence immense; I still find new meaning in those simple lyrics, and nuance in those deceptively plain chords and melodies, each time I listen to them anew.

And tonight, I’m listening to them again, over and over.

In memory of the man who crafted some of the finest, most direct songs I know – the master of our adolescent hearts, still beating unbidden in our chests even as his own has stilled – today, we revisit one of my favorite features from last year.

Covered in Folk: Big Star
(Kathryn Williams, Son Volt, Evan Dando, Kelly Willis +10 more!)

Bloggers love Big Star. So much so, in fact, that mere mention of their names to a certain sort of audiophile is like a secret handshake, a wink and a nod that marks the listener as a well-informed, well-cultured aesthete of a particular underground substream which defined the modern musical map.

And deservedly so. Led by highly conflicted and conflicting personalities Alex Chilton & Chris Bell in the early seventies, the original incarnation of Big Star never had much mainstream success, perhaps because they were way ahead of their time, though label mismanagement and inter-band tensions certainly took their toll. Lineup changes had an effect, too: Bell left the band before Chilton and remaining band member Jody Stephens came back to record Third/Sister Lovers, a third and final masterpiece, and after that, the project pretty much petered out.

But thanks to mid-eighties back-catalog attention from both labels and the rising alt-rock movement, the post-British invasion proto alt-rock which Big Star produced during their short-lived first-wave career would go on to become a strong and heady influence for musicians and fans searching for a pound of powerpop truth in the lean rock decades which followed.

Singer-songwriters prone to pensive coverage love Big Star’s songbook, too. Short enough to fit in a thin box set, it is nonetheless chock full of easily learned, easily covered odes to timeless angst and adolescence, ranging from brooding acoustic ballads to powerful rockers.

The band’s underground cachet allows coverage to serve as a nod to smart listeners looking for an acknowledgement of the history of music which creates the time/space of performance and its corresponding experience. The songs themselves remain powerful enough to speak raw emotion in oft-hushed tones to anyone who might care to hear, regardless of familiarity with the original. It’s the ideal situation for covers, allowing the recreation of songs to serve as a community grounding for those that need it, while simultaneously providing a stage for just plumb good performance.

Which is not to say that it’s impossible to mess up a Big Star song. Only that there’s more than enough gems out there, and that we have the whole process — from the songwriters and original performances to the interconnected history which brings forth our experience of interpretation — to thank for it. We’ve posted a few of these before, and I’m certainly not the first to share most of ‘em, but for completeness’ sake, here’s the breathtaking best of a surprisingly large collection, from grungy electric folkrock to hard-edged alt-country to sparse and sultry singer-songwriter.

*You and Your Sister was a Chris Bell solo track, released as a b-side just a few months before Bell passed in a car crash at the age of 27 in December, 1978. It also featured Alex Chilton on backing vocals.

What with multiple Big Star reissues and compilations coming at us this year — most notably upcoming four-disk Rhino demos-and-all retrospective Keep The Eye On The Sky, which drops September 15 — I’m not the only one to pick up on the buzz. For more relatively recent blogger paeans, including links to a few more great Big Star covers, check out August tributes from Mainstream Isn’t So Bad and Aquarium Drunkard. And don’t forget to pick up 2006 tribute album Big Star, Small World if you’re up for some additional coverage of the late nineties post-grunge and Americana type.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and sets Wednesdays, Sundays, and the very occasional otherday.

1,790 comments » | Big Star, RIP

RIP Davy Graham, 1940 – 2008

December 16th, 2008 — 09:46 pm

It’s hard to overstate the influence of multiracial and multitalented guitarist Davy Graham on modern folk music. A seminal figure in the 1960s British folk revolution, Graham’s broad interest in pushing the boundaries of folk music to include jazz, blues, middle eastern, and other global musical forms opened up the genre to a world of new possibility, enriching the very foundation of folk while making it accessible to a much wider folk audience. And his distinctive use of D modal or “Celtic” tuning, which allowed artists to easily maintain an open-string harmony while noodling around in the treble strings, became a “second standard” for picked and acoustic guitarists throughout the genre spectrum, making possible the very conceit of the “folk instrumental”.

As separate elements, Graham’s genre-play and his popular transformation of technical possibility each revolutionized what folk could be; taken together, the two make a case for Graham’s fifty-year body of work as definitive in driving both the body and soul of what we now consider the essence of folk. Certainly, by their own admission, his impact on peers and subsequent folk luminaries such as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Fairport Convention, and Martin Carthy was unparalleled; farther from the center of the British folk scene, Paul Simon and Jimmy Page, among others, cite him as a major source of inspiration.

Like many folk fans, while I recognize the Graham’s influence on song and structure when I hear it, I don’t know enough of his original work as I’d like to, though I plan to rectify this post-haste. But oh, how fitting to celebrate his life’s work in covers, given his history. In a wordless tribute to a man who brought such breadth and potential to a fledgling form, then, here’s a few versions of the work which made him most famous…followed by a pair of great and traditional jazz covers, and two vocalized songs of upbeat albeit bluesy comfort, from the man himself.

Rest in peace, Davy. Long may your songs and sound reside in our strings and our voices, our ears and our hearts.

1,169 comments » | RIP