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By Geoff Hanson
Musicology is the art of musical genealogy. It works backwards. You start with a song or a band and trace it’s derivation as far back as you can. If I like a song I can’t help but probe into it’s DNA. What is the name of the band, how many people are in it, have they been in any other bands I might know, how long have they been around, how many records have they put out, where are they from, who are their influences and where and when can I go see them.
The Internet has made musicology infinitely easier than it was before information became available at the click of a button. These days, if I hear a song I like, I whip out my phone and use the Shazam app. Shazam will tell me the name of the song, the name of the artist and the name of the record. Then I go to Google, type in the name of the band and every answer to the questions posed above is instantly revealed.
I can then go to YouTube, Spotify or Rdio, to name a few websites, and listen to the song. If I like it I can download it from iTunes, or I can go to YouTube and use software that makes it possible to convert those YouTube files into mp3 files which can then be dropped into a playlist on iTunes.
This process used to take a great deal of time and was expensive as the only way to procure the desired track was to buy the entire album, unless your friend had it, in which case you could put the song onto a cassette.
The futile effort of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to prohibit copying music is a whole different story in itself. In short, the courts ruled that it was ”fair use” for a consumer who bought a record to record it onto a cassette as long as it wasn’t for commercial purposes. This ruling was the beginning of the slow destruction of the music business.
When I first got interested in musicology back in college in 1987, it was like detective work. It was the Grateful Dead that sparked my interest in looking backwards into the roots of songs. The Grateful Dead melded rock n’ roll, blues, folk, bluegrass, country and, jazz into their music. And I wanted to know from where those originated.
Here is a classic example: The Grateful Dead played a song called “Wang Dang Doodle.” I had a record called The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions with “Wang Dang Doodle” on it. From looking at the credit below the song title on the record, the songwriter was identified as Willie Dixon. Some research into Willie Dixon revealed that he also wrote “Spoonful,” and “Little Red Rooster,” songs that the Grateful Dead played. More research led to the discovery that The Rolling Stones, Cream, Jeff Beck, The Doors and Led Zeppelin recorded Dixon’s tunes. That was enough for me to go buy a Willie Dixon record.
The best source of information about the Blues in those days came from Robert Palmer’s book Deep Blues, which basically traced all rock n’ roll and blues back to Robert Johnson.
(My theory behind the legend that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil is that the devil came in the form of the white businessman that came to Mississippi wanting to make a deal for his music. When Johnson struck that deal, he sold his soul to “the devil,” and in a way every other black musician’s soul for the next 50 years who would be taken advantage of by record label executives.)
This brings me to a Grateful Dead song that gave me fits for 25 years. One of my favorite songs the Grateful Dead played was a tune with which they would open many of their shows, a song called “Let the Good Times Roll.”
The opening lyrics go:
Get in the groove and let the good times roll,
We gonna stay here ‘till we soothe our soul,
If it takes all night long.
I went looking for the song. The first tune I ran into is the most popular version of “Let the Good Times Roll,” written by Shirley & Lee in 1956, which had very similar lyrics but a completely different melody. My favorite version of this song is from the movie Rude Boy, where Joe Strummer plays it on the piano. I love Joe Strummer and this scene really moves me.
Not it. But great.
BB King has a great song called “Let the Good Times Roll.”
Hey everybody lets have some fun
You only live once and when you’re dead you’re done
So let the good times roll.
Not it. But fantastic.
Of course, there is the Cars 1978 song called “Let the good times roll” that is totally unlike any of the R&B versions and was a large part of the soundtrack of my youth.
Not it, but super cool.
Dr. John, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix recorded a song called Let the Good Times Roll
People talkin’ but they just don’t know
What’s in my heart, and why I love you so
I love you baby like a miner loves gold
Come on sugar, let the good times roll.
This recent discovery turned out to be lagniappe for me (a Cajun word meaning a little something extra). Turns out this song is actually called “Come on” and was written by New Orleans legend “Earl King,” who wrote the traditional Mardi Gras anthem “Big Chief.”
I never would have figured out that Earl King wrote that tune without the internet. Even Dr. John, who hails from New Orleans, recorded that song as “Let the Good times Roll.” That said, when you type in “Let the good times roll,” “Come on” turns up several times.
But where was the Grateful Dead’s song “Let the Good times roll?” Nowhere. And then one day it occurred to me to type the lyrics into Google. This should have occurred to me earlier, but it didn’t. So I typed in the opening lyrics and bam, the answer to my question, the end of the search.
It turns out the song is called “Good Times” and was written and recorded by Sam Cooke. It was released in July of 1964, five months before Cooke was shot and killed by the manager of a motel in California at the age of 33 (he had 30 songs that made the top 40). “Good times” hit No. 1 on the R&B chart and Billboard Hot 100.
The curious thing about “Good Times” is that it did not appear on any Sam Cooke Greatest hits compilations (of which there are dozens), until a box set called Sam Cooke Portrait of a Legend came out. For some reason, “Good Times” got buried in his catalogue.
Once I dove into Sam Cooke’s repertoire I learned the story of the song “A change is gonna come,” a song that was inspired by Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and was released ten days after his death. The song is regarded as a seminal anthem in the Civil Right’s movement.
That’s the way musicology works. You start to dig into a song, and the journey takes you to places you to places you didn’t expect to go.
The point of this story is the first radio show I did at KOTO upon returning the Telluride on October 5, 2013 started out with “Good Times.” That is why I went digging for it. I wanted it to be the first song I played on the radio in my return to the deejay seat at KOTO.
Here’s the show below.
Category: One Step Ahead of the Blues