ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE BLUES | A Very Personal Soundtrack From 2001

05/05/14 | By | More

Back in 2001, my wife Alison and I put together the compilation below. This is one of my favorite mixes. It was a big year, as our first daughter Zella was born. Peace to the Neighborhood was the theme, from the Pops Staples song “Peace to the Neighborhood,” a cover of a Los Lobos song.
The compilation starts with a Dolly Parton cover of Collective Soul’s song “Shine.” I saw Dolly play this song on Austin City Limits, and I was blown away. First and foremost, Dolly was playing with a Bluegrass Band and her music never sounded better.  She released an album with the outfit called Little Sparrow that is fantastic.

Secondly, I had heard Collective Soul’s version before, but like much stuff I hear on the radio, I never gave it much thought, or really listened to the lyrics.  But when Dolly sang them, they resonated instantly and it was clear how beautiful they are….

“Give me a word – give me a sign
Show me where to look – tell me what will I find? (What will I find?)
Lay me on the ground and fly me in the sky
Show me where to look – tell me what will I find? (What will I find?)
Oh – Heaven, let your light shine down
Oh – Heaven, let your light shine down
Oh – Heaven, let your light shine down
Oh – Heaven, let your light shine down

Love is in the water – love is in the air
Show me where to look – tell me will love be there? (Will love be there?)
Teach me how to speak – teach me how to share
Teach me where to go – tell me will love be there? (Will love be there?)”

I’ve always loved the “shine” theme, in both life and music. The idea of “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” is as good a life philosophy as I can imagine.

As I write about these old compilations, I am reminded of what it took to put together compilations in those days. I could not cherrypick “Shine” from iTunes; I had to buy the entire CD. This is a great example of why the music industry has seen its revenues plummet to a mere fraction from what it was in the pre-iTunes era.

Finley Quaye’s song “Even After All” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I got hip to it through the soundtrack to Jack Johnson’s movie Thicker than Water, a great collection. The song has such a good groove, and it’s a beautiful love song. “Even after all…your soul is beautiful” is a powerful sentiment that cuts to the core of enduring love to which anybody in a long-term relationship can relate.

I’ve always loved “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. The band recorded the song on Let it Bleed, which was released in 1969.  The record is the first of a mind-blowing rock ‘n’ roll trifecta that included Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile on Main Street (1972), the latter of which is a top candidate for best rock ‘n’ roll album ever made.

When I put Gimme Shelter on my annual Holiday Compilation, I wasn’t really aware of the lyrics and their content.

I learned the lyrics from Dave Schools, the bass player for Widespread Panic. I was working with the band at the time, and living in Baton Rouge. Dave has family in Baton Rouge, so I drove him from Pelham, Alabama, where the band had played at Oak Mountain, to Baton Rouge.  On the drive I asked him if ever thought about playing “Gimme Shelter” with Dottie Peebles (with whom the band was playing at the time). He responded, “Dottie would never sing the lyrics, “Rape, Murder, it’s just a shot away.” That’s what they are saying? Oops. Not exactly fun family lyrics.

Before working with Widespread Panic, I was a huge Panic fan, or Spreadhead, as they are known.  And as cool as it was to work with them, get to know them, and produce music with them, looking back, I cherish the memories of being a fan and chasing them around the country just as much.
I saw countless Panic shows back in the day, but of all of the shows, the single musical moment that stands out for me was in 1999 at Red Rocks. There is a saying in the Panic world, “never miss a Sunday show.” That saying rings particularly true for their Red Rocks runs. The Sunday Red Rocks shows start in the late afternoon, providing a first set in the day, second set at night atmosphere, which is the way the Grateful Dead did it back in the 80s when I saw most of my Dead shows.

In 1999, they opened their second set on Sunday with “Surprise Valley.” In the vernacular of hardcore live music fans, this was an FTP – first time played. I was with my favorite people, watching my favorite band, at my favorite venue in the country. They played a long groovy intro, and I had no idea what the song was. And when JB sang, “Kiss the mountain air we breathe, it’s time to fly,” it was simply one of those moments that keep you chasing live music. To use an analogy JB would like (as he is a big golfer), It was the musical equivalent of hitting a three wood 230 yards on a par five to ten feet and then sinking the putt for an eagle. Perfection. It was with that memory in mind, that I included Surprise Valley from their 1999 record Till the Medicine Takes in the compilation.

Robert Bradley’s tune “Once Upon a Time” is another classic. Bradley is blind and was performing live on the streets of Detroit when the band Second Self discovered him and formed a new band with Bradley as the leader.  I always thought that was pretty cool of those guys, and selfless, as they humbly backed Bradley up and even let him take the name of the group. The album Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise is fantastic, and this tune is pure butter, “I remember Marvin Gaye, singing, Let’s get it on.”

The Kudzu Kings were a band from Oxford, Miss., that was together from 1995-2000. Col. Bruce Hampton once told me that of all the bands from the South in the 90s, the best band he saw that didn’t quite make it to the next level was the Kudzu Kings. Living in Baton Rouge, I got to know all the guys in the band. They are top-notch people and players, and their live shows were epic. This version of “It’s a Play” was recorded at the Sunday Panic Red Rocks show in 2000 (double rainbow anybody?), where the Kudzu Kings opened.

“Please Be With Me” is a song by the band Cowboy, which featured Duane Allman. This tune appeared on The Duane Allman Anthology Series, Vol. 1.  My wife Alison and I had this song played twice during our wedding tour, first at a party we threw in Telluride, by the great band Jess Grew, and then at our wedding by the great Savannah, Georgia group Stewart and Winfield. Obviously, this song has deep meaning for me.

“Won’t you please read my sign be a gypsy,
tell me what I hope to find deep within me,
honey you can’t find my mind, please be with me.”

I get chills just writing those words.

“Angel to Be” is a song written by Johnny Ray Allen of the Subdudes about the death of his mother. Sam Bush performed this version at the 2000 Bluegrass Festival, when Subdudes accordian player John Magnie sat in with him. I believe it is the only time that Sam Bush ever performed this epic tune, and it was released on his 2003 record The Peaks of Telluride. This is as powerful, yet joyful song about death as I can possibly imagine.

“Giant Step” was written by Carol King and Jerry Coffin, and Taj Mahal has covered it twice, first on 1969’s Giant Step/De ole folks at Home and again on 1991’s Like Never Before. I’ve written about Taj several times, so I’ll just say this is one of my favorite songs he covered. It was also recorded by the Monkees, which strikes me as pretty strange. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s kind of cool that the Monkees tried to slip in some metaphysical lyrics into their mainstream pop trip  (“come with me leave your yesterdays, yesterdays behind, and take a giant step outside your mind”).  Can you dig it, Davey Jones?

And finally, Pops Staples’ version of Los Lobos’ “Peace to the Neighborhood” is another song that resonates profoundly for me.  I saw Pops Staples in 1991 at Blues on the Rocks at Red Rocks. The lineup featured Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Albert Collins and The Staples Singers among others.  Pops was ancient. I’ll never forget that Mavis literally had to pull Pops off the stage.  He did not want to leave.

The following lyrics rang powerful in 2001 in the wake of 911 and still resonate deeply.

“Thank you lord for another day,
help my brother along the way,
and please bring peace to the neighborhood.”

Amen Pops, Rest in Peace.

Downoad the music.

Geoff Hanson’s “One Step Ahead of the Blues” radio show airs on KOTO-FM radio, in Telluride, on alternating Wednesdays, 3-5 p.m. His next show airs on Wednesday, May 14.

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