Monday, September 17, 2012

For a Song: It Ain't Easy

The ying & yang of ease, has been explored by a multitude of songwriters. Keith Carradine, though better known for his acting roles, topped the charts in 1976 with "I'm Easy", a song he wrote for and performed in the Robert Altman movie "Nashville"  Carradine, the son of actor John Carradine (brother of David "Kung Fu" Carradine) eased into his role of Tom Frank, a manipulative womanizer, who when he sings the song for the first time and dedicates it to "a special someone" has every woman in the club that he's slept with, believing it's written for them. "Take my hand and pull me down, I won't put up any fight, because I'm easy"

Carradine the product of a dysfunctional family led by a drunken patriarch and a mother Keith described as "a manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic catatonic woman" makes it look easy. In fact, Keith hardly seems to be acting and he probably wasn't, after that shitty childhood, it was easy to play the cad. Easy is a word with a myriad of meanings and definitions, one of them being "sexually promiscuous" or "cheap and plentiful" It's a mantra of slackers and daydreamers, "just find a place to make your stand and take it easy" If you're standing on a corner in Winslow, Az. (or Taos, N.M. where I had my Jackson Browne moment) that may work for you. 

The Commodores topped the charts with "Easy" in 1977. Written by Lionel Ritchie, it was a slow ballad with a tinge of country that has since become a karaoke standard around the world. "know it sounds funny, but I just can't stand the pain, girl I'm leaving you tomorrow" songs written on the subject of easy, often deal with things that are anything but. In Carradine's case it was insecurity & self doubt, Ritchie's song is a remorseful break-up song "That's why I'm easy, I'm easy like Sunday morning" it's a dust off, an I'll see ya' later, but done with a deft touch that eases the pain of the breakup.

Faith No More covered Lionel's "Easy" on the Angel Dust album, and I know it may sound funny, but they easily slipped into the song, like one of Mike Patton's dresses and they did wear it well. Others haven't fared as well, poor Natasha Bedingfield slums it with those meatheads from Rascal Flatts on a totally different song called "Easy" Rascal Flatts lead singer, Gary LeVox (Gerald Vernon Jr.) is a cross pollinated dickweed who named himself after a piece of studio equipment (it literally means "the voice") he trades verses with Bedingfield, each one singing from the perspective of their gender. 

"But what she don't know is how hard it is to make it look so easy" he croons when he runs into her at the club. Natasha in turn sings, "It's easy goin' out on a Friday night, easy, every time I see him out" Down home is what Rascal Flatts do best and this is some corny shit. It'll take lots of Mountain Dew to wash that taste out of Natasha's mouth. Easy does it! as they like to say in twelve step programs, though we all know that easy never fucking does anything, that's why it's called easy. In the 1970s, Three Dog Night pointed out the contradictory nature of "easy".... "how can people be so heartless, how can people be so cruel, easy to be hard, easy to be cold"

Tupac Shakur had a similar take on the subject, while keeping it fashionably real. He tossed aside all notions of things being easy, "watchin the cops roll by, it ain't easy... that's right, It ain't easy, no it ain't easy being me" There ain't nothing easy 'bout this life, everything easy has been done and all we're left with are the hard parts "when you climb to the top of a mountain, look out over the sea, think about the place perhaps, where a young man could be"  In that sense and in a strange round-a-bout way it all ties in together. "It ain't easy to get to heaven when you're going down"

Tupac Shakur and Ron Davies were worlds and years apart, but they conveyed a similar message, "my baby mama gotta mind full of silly games" isn't all that different from "I've got the love a hoochie koochie woman and she's calling from inside" "It Ain't Easy" was the only track on "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" not written by Bowie. In any case the song (which closes out side one) slotted right into Bowie's tale of a sexually promiscuous alien rocker sent to earth with a message of hope in the last five years of its existence. 

"Then you jump back down to the rooftops and look out over the town, think about all the strange things circulating round" Ziggy Stardust was a composite of leather clad rocker, Vince Taylor (who was born in England, raised in California and rose to fame in France) and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (Norm Odam) a bizarre musician from Lubbock,Tx. who released a novelty single called "Paralyzed" (he was accompanied by T-Bone Burnett on drums) Norm Odam is considered the originator of hellbilly music, he had his brief heyday between 1968 & 1970. 

"Satisfaction, satisfaction, keep me satisfied.." Bowie's version of "It ain't Easy" replicates the original, which Ron recorded in 1970. It was included on his excellent debut album "Silent Song Through The Land" (vinyl copies now go for $120 and higher) Davies presents the song in a spiritual deep blues style, complete with some very effective "old timey" vocals. (somewhat similar to Dave Edmund's vocal on I Hear You Knocking) It's a chameleon of a song and no matter who records it and when, the song just seems to mold itself to the artist.

"It Ain't Easy" strikes at the heart of our most basic and primal urges... to feel that our lives have  purpose and fulfillment. Standing on a rooftop, Ziggy looks down on the streets, rock & roll has fallen out of favor because there's no electricity with which to play it anymore. Yet he needs a way to convey his message, Ziggy Stardust resurrects rock & roll as his medium of communication. All the young dudes carry the news, but the news was all bad and in the end Ziggy is ripped apart in order for the formless aliens who have arrived on earth to achieve human form.  

At the time of his death in 2003, Ron Davies was described as "the Davies family's artistic trailblazer, though less celebrated than his younger sister, country music star, Gail Davies"  Ron and Gail were the children of country singer Tex Dickerson (both took the name Davies after their stepfather adopted them) Ron was born in Shreveport, La. and along with Gail grew up on steady diet of country music, Louisiana Hayride style. After their parents split up and his mother remarried, Ron and Gail were raised in the Port Orchard/Bremerton area (Washington state) 

Ron started playing guitar and writing songs at an early age. His precocious musical talent got him noticed and he was hired by United Artists as an in-house songwriter. In 1966 he wrote an album's worth of songs for the Wailers (the sole exception being Out of Our Tree, written by Kent Morrill) "Outburst"  was an attempt by UA to reinvent the raunchy Wailers as a psychedelic folk rock, garage punk band. Davies' material is top notch, classic sixties garage rock, but "Outburst" was a commercial flop and failed to rejuvenate the Wailers' fan base 

In 1969 Ron signed with A & M Records, he would record two albums, the aforementioned "Silent  Song Through The Land" (one of the session players was Leon Russell) released in 1970 and U.F.O., an understated but mature effort that featured a who's who of session players (Billy Preston, David Spinoza, Clarence McDonald to name a few) U.F.O. was released to much acclaim in 1973, journalist John Bream declared Ron Davies "the best new talent to emerge this year" (by this time Ron had been active for 10 years) 

"Well all the people have got their problems, That ain't nothing new, With the help of the good Lord, We can all pull on through" In 1980 Ron moved to Nashville and established himself as a songwriter, his compositions (including It Ain't Easy) have been recorded by David Bowie, Long John Baldry, Joe Cocker, Helen Reddy, Dave Edmunds, Maria Muldaur, Anne Murray, Dobie Grey, Joan Baez, Vince Gill, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ricky Skaggs, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Mitch Ryder & Gail Davies. Ron Davies,  died at his home in Nashville on Oct. 30, 2003, of a heart attack. He was 57 "

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jon Little's Greatest Hits

Meow or Roarrr?, I'm a mellow fellow... I choose meow. There's currently a resurgence of Jon Forrest Little's music or maybe a revival would be a better way to describe it. No matter, this is a turn of events that makes me very happy. If you're not familiar with Jon's music, here's your chance. Jon Forrest Little's greatest hits.... as it stands.

I had posted this last year as part of a feature on Jon Little, Carl Petersen & The Ant Farmers. To my dismay the link to the embedded mp3 player  no longer works. I use Podbean as the host server for my podcast posts and they are a miserable service. My yearly rate for hosting services started at $29 a year and rose to $199, I pulled the plug. (If there's a playlist that you'd like to hear, message me on FB and I'll repost.)

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