secret jokes, bad TV, worse food and now, tears, Gaffney always had my back. I never had to worry about nothing or nobody if Gaffney was with me. I don't know what I ever did to deserve it but, God, I was blessed to have Chris Gaffney as my best friend.
Chris's and my friend, B.J. in Omaha, said it best for me in a email yesterday. She said that I now have a "wild angel looking out for me." Yeah, I do believe that's true.
I'll still see you in Cuervo, brother. Dave, April 20, 2008
Dave Alvin - "Man Walks Among Us" Release: May 2008
The first record I ever owned was "El Paso" by Marty Robbins. I was four or five years old and forced my mother to buy it for me after hearing the song on the radio. The first mechanical thing I ever learned to operate was our family record player just so I could play "El Paso" over and over and over and over again. To this day if I'm in a barroom or a diner, and "El Paso" is on the jukebox, it's a damn safe bet what the first song I'm punching in will be. I often wonder whether the reason that I'm drawn to writing narrative style songs is based on the fact that "El Paso" (perhaps tied with Chuck Berry's "Memphis") is my favorite song of all time. A perfect piece of songwriting.
Many people tend to think that "El Paso" is a traditional old West folk ballad or was written by some extremely talented yet anonymous Nashville songwriter. Nope. It was written by the man who sang it, Marty Robbins. He was not only one of the greatest singers/performers in country music history but he was also one of country music's (or any kind of music's) greatest songwriters. Born and raised in Arizona, Marty had a deep emotional feeling for the West and its history, myths and landscape and that connection was expressed in the lyrics he wrote in some of his best songs. Which brings me to my second favorite song that Marty Robbins wrote, "Man Walks Among Us." Originally released on his 1963 album, The Gunfighter Returns, "Man Walks Among Us" is a bittersweet meditation on the tragic changes mankind was bringing to his beloved desert and it's non-human inhabitants.
When I first heard the lyrics to "Man Walks Among Us" years ago, I was completely blown away. Not only was someone expressing thoughts and emotions that I'd always felt but, what really floored me, was that these very personal sentiments were coming from Marty Robbins. Marty Robbins, country music icon and... tree hugger?!?! Or cactus hugger to be perhaps more accurate. While I may be exaggerating the tree hugger thing a little bit, Marty's wise and tender lyrics predate the modern environmental movement, and our society's slow acknowledgment of the damages to our fragile ecosystems, by several years if not decades. I'd always admired Marty Robbins not only for his songwriting prowess and stunning voice, but also because (like Ray Charles, Elvis, Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan) he was always wiling to explore various musical styles and not be hemmed in by musical genres or people's artistic expectations of him. Honky tonk, rock-a-billy, cowboy songs, pop ballads, blues, spirituals, even Hawaiian and calypso songs are all part of his recorded legacy. But after hearing "Man Walks Among Us," I also admire him for composing, in my opinion, one of the best environmental songs ever written.
Joining me on this track are some fellow tree huggers of one sort or another. Former forest ranger and current musical visionary, Greg Leisz on pedal steel and electric guitar, former Guilty Man Rick Shea is doing the pretty acoustic guitar work and harmony vocals, former Roger Miller/Hoyt Axton musical co-conspirator David Jackson plays the acoustic bass while former drummer for the likes of Emmy Lou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Big Mama Thornton and Bob Dylan, Don Heffington is keeping everything in time with his unique and sensitive drum styling. The track was recorded and mixed by the always patient and sonically astute, Craig Parker Adams at his Winslow Court Studio.
Normally I don't do this kind of thing but if you want to check out some environmental groups I support, I sincerely recommend looking into The Nature Conservancy, The Center For Biological Diversity and The Wildlands Conservancy to name a few. If you ever do run into me out on a hiking trail in the desert or in the hills, it's a damn safe bet what song I'll be humming to myself. - Dave Alvin, April 15, 2008
Dave Alvin - "Who Will Buy The Wine?" Release: June 2008
"Who Will Buy the Wine?" is an outtake of sorts from West of the West, my tribute CD to California songwriters. Its composer was Billy Mize, who is one of the true pioneers of West Coast country music and the Bakersfield sound in particular. A true unsung honky-tonk hero.