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Across the Great Divide (Kate Wolf)
Always a Train in My Dreams (Steve Gillette, Charles John Quarto)
Starlight on the Rails
(Utah Phillips)
I Pity the Poor Immigrant (Bob Dylan)
The Cape
(Guy Clark)
Little Birdie (traditional)
Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
The Ones Who Made Home (James Keelaghan)
Planter's Bar (Jerry Rasmussen)
Stuff that Works (Guy Clark)
Weepy Doesn't Know (Utah Phillips)
Huckleberry Finn (Bob Dyer)
Larimer Street (Utah Phillips)
Johnny Hard (traditional)
Gone, Gonna Rise Again (Si Kahn)
Desperados Waiting for a Train (Guy Clark)
Last Train (Arlo Guthrie)

"Always a Train in My Dreams" and "Johnny Hard" were previously released on the casstte, "Thinking of Home"

Bluebird Café Berlin Records CD07-0027


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To learn more about the musicians involved click on the musicians.

Song lyrics on these pages only for the purpose of study, review, critical analysis or as a courtesy to the majority of people in the world whose mother tongue is not English. Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "fair use," for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Leap of Faith

„Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore.“ Bob Dylan

“Sometimes I think I ain't nothing but an old piece of dirt walking.” Woody Guthrie

“Of a certainty the man who can see all creatures in himself, himself in all creatures, knows no sorrow.” Eesha-Upanahad

“I always feel I am a traveler, going somewhere and to some destination. If I tell myself that the somewhere and the destination do not exist, that seems to me very reasonable and likely enouth.” Vincint Van Gogh

“His home is everywhere and nowhere.” Sri Krishna on yogis. Bhavagad Gita 99.

“Being asked by the Pharasees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, ‘The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Lo, here it is” or “There” for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.'” Luke, 17:20-21.

“The truth was obscure; too profound and too pure. To live it you had to explode.” Bob Dylan

 

 

After two collections of songs about the American West, here is a collection of some of the best songs I know, songs about life and death, about faith and the grace of God. Two-thirds of the way down the one-way road we travel, one stops to think about things, where one has been and where the road is leading. That why I made this CD. It is in memory of my father, Ben Shreve and dedicated to my children. This is not intended to be a CD that is used as background music.

* * *

I have been a collector of songs almost all of my life. The first songs I heard were from my mother and my grandfather, her father. He sang mostly religious songs such as “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Rock of Ages” and “Were You there When They Crucified My Lord?”, but also old songs like “Columbus Stockade Blues” and “The Bear Went over The Mountain.” My mother sometimes sang these songs, which she knew well, but she preferred pop songs from the forties. ….

When I was very young, my parents bought a collection of long-playing records from a door-to-door salesman. It was one of those collections which were supposed to introduce young people to the musical heritage of the Western world. There were records with classical music, opera, music from musicals, but also several with folk songs. Those are the one that fascinated me. I listened to them over and over again, until the sound was so scratchy, that the scratchiness became part of the song for my young ears. These songs were divided into traveling songs, songs of the sea, Civil War songs and other categories. There songs like “Blow the Man Down,” “Buffalo Gals,” or “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.” I am sure the renditions of the songs were less than original, but that mattered little to me. I was listening to the words.

In elementary school, we basically had no musical instruction. We just sang together. I enjoyed that though I was the only one in my class that wasn't allowed to sing in the choir. Many of the songs we sang were patriotic, but we also sang folk songs. For several years we square-danced every day to old 78 rpm records. I heard and danced to such old tunes as “Old Joe Clark,” “Buffalo Gal,” and “Cindy” again and again. One song I well remember in music class was “Oklahoma Hills,” the first Woody Guthrie song I had ever heard. But of course the name Woody Guthrie was never mentioned.

The music played in the pop music radio stations never interested me. I preferred country music. Those songs often had a hard edge of reality. Country music wasn't what teenagers listened to in those days, the “revolutionary” sixties, and so friends laughed at me for my musical tastes. I didn't really care. I was especially attracted to Johnny Horton. Among the first records I bought, 45rpm singles, were “Battle of New Orleans,” “North to Alaska,” “Johnny Reb,” and “The Sinking of the Bismarck.” Also Jimmy Dean's “Big Bad John” was a favorite. That is to say, I preferred songs that told a story. And my mother had an LP by of Rusty Draper. (Does anyone remember Rusty Draper? ) We listened to that record over and over and over again. I remember his versions of “Goober Peas” and Elizabeth Cotton's “Freight Train,” though at the time I had no idea who Elizabeth Cotton was.

Where I grew up, in St. Joseph, Missouri , the only authentic folk music we had the opportunity to hear was polka music on the accordion, played by Slovakian immigrants, of which there were many in the area. I loved it and still do today.

It was in the year 1968 in Germany that I discovered, or rather became conscious of two singers who were to become an important part of my life: Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger. I had come to Germany as an exchange student and on the evening of my first full day I went with the daughter of a teacher to some friends of hers. She was supposed to go with me to a meeting of the conservative Christian Democratic Union. Instead we landed in the attic room of a friend of hers. I couldn't speak any German, so I was not involved in the conversation. But they put on a record, “Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits.” I could hardly believe my ears. From the first notes of “Rainy Day Woman” I was hooked. I listened; I listened very closely. Never had I heard anything even like it, such incredible power. It was like a baptism and I'm still listening to Dylan today. Looking back, and considering my interest in songs, I cannot explain how I managed to miss Bob Dylan's early years or for that matter the whole folk music revival, but I did, all of it.

At my German school, we had a language lab. The English teacher suggested I help by correcting the pronunciation of my fellow students. It soon became clear to him, however, that my American English would totally corrupt his charges, who were supposed to be learning the King's English, though they preferred American English. So I spent the time in the language lab listening to a record. The teacher had only one – at least that is the only one I can remember – Pete Seeger's “At the Village Gate.” There was none of the power of Dylan, but the songs were great and I loved this stripped-down music, nothing like the over-loaded pop music of the time. Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger were the beginning of my real passion for songs.

The next revelation came during my first year at the University of Montana in Missoula , Montana, 1970. Not long after I had arrived, there was a sort of rummage sale at the University Center. I discovered a used record by Woody Guthrie. It was an incredibly thick old Folkways record in an equally thick cardboard cover, the wrong cover by the way. No matter. I already knew many of Woody's songs, but had never heard his voice. His records simply weren't in the record stores. Woody became the third element. His raw power and the quality of his songs were simply amazing.

I began to listen for and search out more songwriters and singers of good songs. I found a catalogue from Roundup Records and took chances ordering records by people I had never heard of. The two greatest finds were Utah Phillips' record “Good Though” as well as the first record of a then totally unknown songwriter by the name of Si Kahn. The record “New Wood” had just been released and it blew me away, and not only “Aragon Mill.” The record is a masterpiece.

Over the years, I searched for and discovered great songs and great songwriters, among the very best Ian Tyson, James Keelaghan, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Russell and Kate Wolf, as well as lesser-known people like Jerry Rasmussen and Bob Dyer. There are many, many more.

 

the musicians

Across the Great Divide
John Shreve– vocal
Güno van Leyen– guitar, mandolin
Insa Bernds - violin
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

Always a Train in My Dreams
guitar. vocal, John Shreve
guitar, Bernd Beusmann
bass, Beate Sieker
banjo, Rolf Sieker 


Starlight on the Rails

Heiner Thomas – banjo
John Shreve - guitar
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

I Pity the Poor Immigrant
John Shreve– vocal
Axel Rosenbauer – accordion, guitar
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

The Cape
John Shreve– vocal
Kat Baloun– harmonica
Axel Rosenbauer – guitar, dobro
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

Little Birdie
John Shreve– vocal

Pancho and Lefty
John Shreve– vocal
Stephan Gatti – guitar
Axel Rosenbauer – dobro
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

The Ones Who Made Home
John Shreve– vocal
Stephan Gatti – guitar
Thomas Baumgarte– bass

Planter's Bar
John Shreve– vocal
Olaf Block - banjo


Stuff that Works

John Shreve– vocal
Axel Rosenbauer – guitar, dobro, shaker
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

Weepy Doesn't Know
John Shreve– vocal
Stephan Gatti – guitar
Güno van Leyen – mandolin
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

Huckleberry Finn
John Shreve– vocal
Heiner Thomas– banjo
Bernd Eichler- jaws harps
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

Larimer Street
John Shreve – vocal
Stephan Gatti - guitar
Güno van Leyan - mandolin
Axel Rosenbauer – accordion

Johnny Hard
John Shreve - vocal
Jan van Roosendaal - guitar
Beate Sieker - bass
Rolf Sieker - banjo 


Gone, Gonna Rise Again
John Shreve– vocal
Stephan Gatti – guitar

Desperados Waiting for a Train
John Shreve– vocal
Axel Rosenbauer – guitar
Güno van Leyen - mandolin
Thomas Baumgarte - bass

Last Train
John Shreve– vocal
Stephan Gatti – guitar
Kat Baloun– harmonica
Thomas Baumgarte - bass


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Across the Great Divide
Kate Wolf

click here for lyrics

Whenever my wife and I are in Missoula, Montana, where I went to college and where my family lives today, we regularly stop in at Butterfly Herbs. The store existed already back in my student days, in the early seventies. Originally, it was a so-called head shop, where you could buy water pipes, incense and other such essential items of hippie culture. Not being a hippie, I never set foot in the store back in those days. Today, Butterfly Herbs has moved across the Clark Fork River downtown and sells tea, fine candies, post cards, tea pots and all sorts of alternative whatnots. You can also get a cup of coffee, a sandwich, cookie or ice cream in the coffee shop at the back. That was our reason for stopping in.

One day in the mid-eighties, we walked into the store and from an unseen loudspeaker we heard an incredibly beautiful female voice. I immediately asked the young lady behind the counter who it was singing. “Kate Wolf” she told me. I had never heard of her before. Before we left Missoula, I had bought a couple of her LPs.

The first song on the first record I listened to was “Across the Great Divide.” Before the day was over I had learned it. It is a song about the brevity but beauty of life. “Where the years went, I cannot say. I just turned around and they've gone away.”

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Always a Train in my Dreams
Steve Gillette ; Charles John Quarto

click here for lyrics

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I first heard this song on a Steve Gillette cassette and I had to learn it. It was the story of my life, though it had been written by another person. As a child we lived near a rail line and I often lay awake at night and listened to the train whistles. They struck a note in me which is still sounding. They are the sound of that terrible American loneliness that comes from distance and rootlessness. From early on, I dreamed of getting away from the place I had grown up. I did, and have never looked back. I don't miss my “hometown” any more than most Americans do when they have left it. I know many Europeans who, no matter where education or work may take them, remain emotionally tied to the town, the village and the area where they grew up. This rootedness is lacking in most Americans. Is that good or bad? That is a pointless question. It is the way it is. My ancestors arrived in the Plymouth Colony before 1640 and since then not a single person has died where he or she had been born.

Near our house, the railway tracks divided. The trains moved slowly until they were past this spot. As a result, it was a good place for hobos to catch trains and it was also a wooded area with a small stream, so they could camp near the tracks. Sometimes traveling men knocked at my grandparents' backdoor to beg for something to eat. I spent my days with my grandparents for several years after my mother went back to work and was fascinated by these drifters. My grandmother was less enthused, but my grandfather, who in his youth had himself hoboed around the country, always welcomed them.

Later, living in Missoula, Montana, just a block away from the freight yards, I used to go over and talk to the drifters. They were men who had hit hard times, a split marriage, a bankrupted business or other problems we all may face in our lives. Theirs was anything but a romantic life. It was filled with loneliness, danger and brutality.

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Starlight on the Rails
Utah Phillips

I can hear the whistle blowing,
High and lonesome as can be,
Outside the rain is softly falling,
Tonight it's falling just for me.

(chorus)
Looking back along the road I've traveled,
The miles could tell a million tales,
Each year is like a rolling freight train,
And cold as starlight on the rails.

I think about a wife and family,
My home and all the things it means;
The black smoke trailing out behind me
Is like a string of broken dreams.
(chorus)  

A man who lives out on the highway
Is like a clock that can't tell time;
A man who spends his life just ramblin'
Is like a song without a rhyme.
(chorus)

Starlight on the Rails

This song has to follow “Always a Train in my Dreams” because it points out the consequences of the dreams of my youth. “A man who lives out on the highway is like a clock that can't tell time.”

U tah Phillips wrote about “Starlight on the Rails”: “This comes from reading Thomas Wolfe. He had a very deep understanding of the music in language. Every now and then he wrote something that stuck in my ear and would practically demand to be made into a song.”

When he sings the songs, he precedes it with a quote from Wolfe:
“We walked along a road in Cumberland and stooped, because the sky hung down so low; and when we ran away from London , we went by little rivers in a land just big enough. And nowhere we went was far: the earth and the sky were close and near. And the old hunger returned - that terrible and obscure hunger that haunts and hurts Americans, and makes us exiles at home and strangers wherever we go.

“Oh, I went go up and down the country and back and forth across the country. I will go out West where the states are square. I will go to Boise and Helena, Albuquerque and the two Dakotas and all the unknown places. Say brother, have you heard the roar of the fast express? Have you seen starlight on the rails?” Thomas Wolfe

Phillips: „I think that if you talk to railroad bums, or any kind of bum, you‘ll see that what affects them the most is homelessness, not necessarily rootlessness. Travelling is all right if you have a place to go from and a place to go to. It‘s when you don‘t have any place that it becomes more difficult. There‘s nothing you can count on in the world, except yourself. And if you‘re an old blown bum, you can‘t even do that very well. I guess this is a home song as much as anything else.“ (Utah Phillips, Starlight on the Rails & Other Songs. P. 60.)

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I Pity the Poor Immigrant
Bob Dylan

click here for lyrics

A deep and moving song, which probably has little to do with people physically immigrating to a new country, and of course at the same time has everything to do with that as well as with the fate of all who leave home or the place we belong but never arrive at our destination.

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The Cape
Guy Clark

click here for lyrics

The first time I heard it, I wasn't attracted to this song by Guy Clark, then listening again – that is to say really listening for the first time – I picked up the line, “He did not know he could not fly, and so he did.” It is a classic Guy Clark line and it is what the song is all about. Yes, life is a leap of faith. We have no answers. We have no guarantees. We have no map. We must have faith.
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Little Birdie

Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes you fly so high?
It's because I'm a true little bird
And I do not fear to die.

Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes your wing so blue?
It's because I've been a-grievin,,
A-grievin' after you.

Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes your head so red?
After all I've been through,
It's a wonder I'm not dead.

Little birdie, little birdie,
Come sing to me your song.
I've a short time to be here
And a long time to be gone.

Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes you fly so high?
It's because I'm a true little bird,
And I do not fear to die.


While working in Bremen around 1980, I heard this song in Radio Bremen , during a program about Pete Seeger. I quickly wrote down the words. It's an old banjo tune known in many versions. In that I couldn't (and can't) play the banjo, I learned to sing the song unaccompanied. I know no better song about the brevity of life and the inevitably of death.

discography
Red Allen, Classic Recordings 1 954/69, Collectors Classies No. 21, LP (197?)
Benji Aronoff, Two Sides of Benji Aronoff, Prestige PR 7416, LP (1965)
Gaither Carlton, Clawhammer Banjo. Vol 2 [More Clawhammer Banjo], County CD 2717/717, LP (2003/1969)
Wihie Chapman, Mountain Music of Kentucky, Smithsonian/Folkways SF 40077, CD (1996)
Coon Creek Girls, Early Radio Favorites, Old Homestead OHS 142, LP (1982)
Vernon Dalhart, Ballads and Railroad Songs, Old Homestead OHCS 129, LP (1980)
Greenbrian Boys, Better Late Than Never, Vanguard VSD 79233, LP (1966)
Greenbriar Boys, Newport Folk Festival 1964. Evening Concerts, Vol. 2, Vanguard VSD 79185, LP (1965)
Greenbriar Boys, Greenbriar Boys, Vanguard VRS-9104, LP (1962)
Roscoe Holcomb, Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward, Folkways FA 2363, LP (1962)
Roscoe Holcomb, High Lonesome Sound, Smithsonian/Folkways SF 40104, CD (1998)
Kossoy Sisters, Bowling Green and Other Folksongs from die Southern Mountains, Tradition TLP 1018, LP (1956)
Contrasts, Front Hall FHR-o14, LP (1978)
Wade Mainer, Old Time Banjo Tunes, Old Homestead OHS-90168, LP (1984)
Old Reliable Stning Band, Old Reliable String Band, Folkways FA 2475, LP (1963)
Frank Proffitt, Memorial Album, Folk Legacy FSA-o36, Cas (1968)
Ola Belle Reed, Land of Yahoe, Rounder 8041, CD (1996)
Robin Roberts, Banjo Music of the Southern Appalachians, Olympic OL-6173, LP (196?)
Robin Roberts, Fair and Tender Ladies, Tradition TLP 1033, LP (1959)
Art Rosenbaum, Art of the Mountain Banjo, Kicking Mule KM 203, LP (1975)
Mike Seeger, Southern Banjo Sounds, Smithsonian/Folkways SFW 40107, CD (1998)
Pete Seeger, Children‘s Concert at Town Hall, Columbia CL 1947, LP (1963)
Morgan Sexton, Shady Grove, June Appal JA oo66C, Cas (1992)
Morgan Sexton, Rock Dust, June Appal JA 0055, LP (1989)
Glenn Smith, Clawhammer Banjo, Vol. 3, County 757, LP (1978)
Rosalie Sorrels, Winterfolk X Live, Sisters of the Road, CD (1998)
Stanley Brothers, Stanley Brothers on the Air, Wango 115, LP (1976)
Ralph Stanley, Man and His Music, Rebel SLP 1530, LP (1974)
Pete Steele, Banjo Tunes and Songs, Folkways FS 3828, LP (1958)
Molly Tenenbaum, And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes, Cat Hair, Cas (1994)
Fields and Wade Ward, Country Music - Fields and Wade Ward, Biograph RC-6002, LP (1968)

musical notation
Ned Alterman and Richie Mintz. Bluegrass Bass, Oak, 1977.
Joellen Lapidus, Lapidus On Dulcimer, ALMO, 1978.
Lilly May Ledford, Sing Out! Reprints, Sing Out, 196?.
Lilly May Ledford, Sing Out! Reprints, Sing Out, 196?.
Lynn McSpadden, Four and Twenty Songs for the Mountain Dulcimer, Dulcimer Shoppe, 1970.
Eric & Barbara Koehler, Frailing the 5-String Banjo, Mel Bay , 1973.
Art Rosenbaum, Art of the Mountain Banjo, Centerstream, 1981.
Art Rosenbaum, Old-Time Mountain Banjo, Oak, 1968.
Pete Seeger, How to Play die Five String Banjo, Seeger, 1962.
Harry Traussig, Advanced Guitar, Oak, 1975.
Pete Wernick, Bluegrass Banjo, Oak, 1974.
Pete Wernick, Bluegrass Songbook, Oak, 1976.


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Pancho and Lefty
Townes Van Zandt

click here for lyrics

Maik Wolter, of Bluebird Café Berlin Records once asked me what this song was about. I said I didn't know. Well, maybe that's what it's about: not knowing what it's all about. The mysterious images and events in this song are a dark version of what “The Cape” is talking about. We only do what we have to do. Bob Dylan: “You do what you must do and you do it well.”

But “Pancho and Lefty” is the other side of the story. We don't always achieve our goals. There is not always a happy ending. We have no guarantees. Sometimes we are simply dependent on the kindness of others.

 

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The Ones Who Made Home
James Keelaghan

 

From the banks of Belle Isle
To the Manhattan canyons
From Dad‘s scallop draeger
To working high steel
All of the roads we all have to roam
Let's drink to the ones who made home

From the corner of Main
To the rigs north of sixty
From the wheel of a combine
To pushin' the tool
From back lane to back road
And places unknown
Let's drink to the ones who made home

Many are leaving to seek out their stories
Their fortunes and fates are well known
There's one thing they crave
More than riches and glory
That they find some place that's their own

From the welfare hotel
To the single men's hostel
From barracks and shelters
To those in the streets
They don't need your pity
They can't be disowned
Let's drink to the ones who made home  

From the banks of Belle Isle
To the Manhattan canyons
From Dad's scallop draeger
To working high steel
All of the roads we all have to roam
Let's drink to the ones who find home

 

Those are the lucky ones. Of all those who set out on the road, some, a few only, make it home. That's probably has little to do with returning to the place we were born or grew up – could though – but rather arriving where we belong and recognizing who we really are. For those who don't it: I Pity the Poor Immigrant.

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Planter's Bar
Jerry Rasmussen

Used to be I'd walk downtown
Down to Planter's Bar
Half the guys I knew those days
They didn't own a car
But if you knew the reg'lars
They were just like family
And it was, "How the hell you doing, Roy?"
And, "Have a drink on me."

And now they tore old Planter's down
To build another bank.
And no one evr goes downtown
To have a couple drinks.
And when you walk into a bar,
Nobody says hello. And it's getting so it's hard to find
A friendly place to go.

And now they ride the circuit
From Main to Courthouse Park,
And stop and have a couple beer
Down at the Bear Trap Bar.
And when the fights and music spill
Out into the street,
As I lie here on my bed,
I find it hard to sleep.

I never thought I'd end up living
In a hotel room,
Lying half awake all night
And sleeping until noon.
I guess I'll walk down to the Star
And grab a bite to eat,
Maybe see someone I know
Or sit and watch the street

 

A song from Jerry Rasmussen's hometown, Janesville, Wisconsi . He tells the story about how the song came about. „ Early one morning in the summer of I982, when I was home visiting my family, I walked down to the 'Star' to pick up a paper. Even though there wasn‘t much happening, so early in the day, there was an old codger sitting on the steps of the London Hotel, watching the street. For some reason, he stuck in my mind, and I started to think about how much the town must have changed in his lifetime, and how the town had been taken over, at night, by the kids. Now that the main drag is one-way, the kids race down Milwaukee Street and back up Court Street to Court House Park . The old-timers call them 'Circuit Riders.' Most of the old bars have either been torn down, or taken over by the Circuit Riders. Even Star Billiard is gone now... moved across the street and gone respectable as the Star Restaurant and Tobacco Bar. But you can sit at a front table and get a good view of the street while you nurse a cup of coffee, and it‘s still a good place to run into old friends. If you stop by, say hello to Frank for me.“ (Booklet in the LP The Secret Life of Jerry Rasmussen, Jerry Rasmussen. Folk-Legacy FSI-I0I.)

Jerry Rasmussen's songs tend to sneak up on you. At first they seem like harmless little ditties, but at some point their depth suddenly becomes clear. I was initially attracted to this song by one line: “Never thought I'd end up living in a hotel room.” In the old part of almost every American town there used to be any number of small hotels, usually in close proximity of the railroad station, which provided them with their clientele. With the decline and virtual death of passenger rail traffic, these hotels either closed down or took on long-term borders, men – almost entirely men – who had no other home, no place to go, no family (or no family to whom they retained any contact) and became stranded there. I used to stay in such hotels, like one on Pike Street in Seattle , the name of which I've forgotten, or the Phoenix Hotel in Vancouver . The mattresses were lumpy, the sinks green, the sheets not clean, the toilets down the hall and the residents, when they weren't drunk, usually in the lobby watching television. It is for the lost and forlorn tenants I met in those hotels that I sing this song.

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Stuff that Works
Guy Clark

click here for lyrics

In our fast-pace, throwaway society, quantity has certainly been victorious over quality. The more we have, the happier we are supposed to be. That is of course nonsense. What really counts is quality, things that last, things and people on whom we can depend, things well-made, people of substance. I rewrote one line for my wife.
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Weepy Doesn't Know
Utah Phillips

Why's everybody laughing?
Weepy doesn't know.
He just stands there grinning,
I guess he's kinda slow;
But Weepy don't get sore,
Seems like he asks for more –
Look at all the broken dishes on the floor.

Weepy can't do nothin',
There's nothin' he can do.
Sometimes he takes all morning
To find his other shoe.
Hey, Goddamn it Sid,
Lay off the poor dumb kid!
Come on Weep, I'll show you where it's hid.

He's so damned good-natured,
Just laughs and takes his lumps.
You never see him angry
'Cept when he's croaking gumps.
But that's no big surprise,
It's right there in his eyes;
Looks like Weepy's found him something more his size.

Just like all these dishes
There's something in him broke;
Don't guess we mean to hurt him
When we play our little joke.
Still the social workers say
He might have to go away,
Well, you ask him – I bet he'd like to stay.

Why's everybody laughing?
Weepy doesn't know.
He just stands there grinning,
I guess he's kinda slow;
But Weepy don't get sore,
Seems like he asks for more –
Look at all the broken dishes on the floor.


A little gem by Utah Phillips. It used to be that people of limited mental capacity could find a place in the world, doing simple jobs that needed doing and which offered them not only a sense of dignity but also an income. The world, however, is changing and such tasks are being done away with through automation or being done by people of “normal” intelligence, who used to have “better” jobs. The mentally handicapped find it difficult to find a place in a society that neither wants nor needs them and are being pushed more and more to the edges, where they are unseen and condemned to senseless “therapeutic” activity, if any at all.

Utah Phillips: “ Weepy croaks gumps (kills chickens) and washes dishes for a small cafe in Western Washington state. Sometime a tramp will get the moniker Weepy from the rheumatic way his eyes run. But this one gets his from the Western Pacific Railroad which was always called The Weepy. I met Weepy flying through the kitchen door of that cafe with a tray full of dishes. Someone had tripped him and most of the dishes broke. “ [Booklet in the LP All Used Up: A Scrapbook, Utah Phillipp. Philo 1050.

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Huckleberry Finn
Bob Dyer

click here for lyrics

I have loved this song by the late Bob Dyer since the first time I heard it. The more often I sing it, the more I like it and the more meanings it takes on. In American songs, rivers are probably second only to the railway as a symbol of American life. The first verse was inspired by a painting by Thomas Hart Benton.

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Larimer Street
Utah Phillips


Your bulldozers rolling through my part of town,
The iron ball swings and knocks it all down.
You knocked down my hock shop, you knocked down my bar
And you black-topped it over to park all your cars.

(chorus)
And where will I go? And where can I stay?
You knocked down the skid road & hauled it away.
I'll flag a fast rattler and ride it on down, boys,
They're running the bums out of town.

Old Maxie the tailor is closing his doors,
You knocked down my pawn shop and the big Harbor Lights,
And the old Chinese cafe that was open all night.
(chorus)

You ran out the hookers who worked on the street,
And built a big club where the playboys can meet;
My bookie joint closed when your cops pulled a raids,
But you built a new hall for the stock market trade.
(chorus)

There little storekeepers they don't stand a chance
With the big uptown bankers a-calling the dance,
With their suit-and-tie restaurants that,s all owned by Greeks,
And the counterfeit hippies and their plastic boutiques.
(chorus)

Now I'm finding there,s just one kind of war,
It's the one going on 'tween the rich and the poor;
I don't know a lot about what you'd call class,
But the upper and middle can all kiss my ass. (chorus)


In 1858, the town of Denver was laid out. The name honors the governor of the Kansas Territory (James W. Denver), of which Denver was then a part. One of the founders of the city was William H. Larimer, Jr. In the year of the city's founding, gold was discovered in Colorado and in 1859, when the gold rush began, Denver became the place the miners were fitted out and the leading commercial center of Colorado . After the gold rush ended, the city stagnated. In 1870, it had 4,759 inhabitants. Decisive for Denver was the rail connection. By 1880, the city could boast a population of 35, 629. A decade later, more than 100,000 people lived in Denver. Today, it is home to almost half a million.

In the 1960s, the period of urban renewal began. For Denver , as for many other American cities, it meant the destruction of many old buildings. In Denve , only a few buildings could be saved and are now overshadowed by shining towers.

Larimer Street was once Denver 's skid row. The original „skid road“ was in Seattle . The company Yester had oxen pull tree trunks along a skid to the harbor. Along the skid there grew up bars, dance halls, whore houses, labor exchanges and cheap hotels for migrant workers, miners and railroad men. Soon that whole section of town was known as skid road. „Skid road“ became „skid row“ or simply „the skids.“ That explains the expression, „He's on the skids.“

William L. Hindman, chairman of the Los Angeles Social Welfare Planning Council, said in the 1930s,: „'Skid row' is a very heathy institution. It has sprung up spontaneously to meet the demands of the homeless ones – the men who have resigned from society. It is not something that was dreamed up by a grkoup of arm-chair planners without any real notions of the needs. It has resisted change for more than a century. It is meeting certain needs and meeting them well.“ [Kenneth Allsop, Hard Travellin', p. 182.]

In 1973, Utah Phillips wrote: „ I came into Denver on the train a little better than a year ago. From the train station I caught a bus to go up to Fort Collins . The bus route took me through the back side of Denver , the skid row. I was surprised und appalled at what I saw. The were 26 square blocks bulldozed out. It looked like a bomb had hit, like a desert. There was one clock tower left standing.

„That used to be Larimer Street , the center of pioneer Denver , the main street where all the big shops used to be. Being the oldest part of town, it became the skids. If you‘re ever in a strange town und wondering where the skids are, start walking down hill. You‘ll wind up at the skids, because towns are built up at the bottom of a valley where the river is, or at the lowest point where the railroad comes in.

„To me the skid row is the most human part of a city. You can find the best and the worst in city people. You find people helping each other and hurting each other. They hate each other and they love each other. You find the working class bars, you find the cheap flophouses where the old pensioners living on $60 a month can find a room. They've got to have a place like that; there's no other place for them. That's where you find the hock shop, the neighborhood fence, where you can unload some stolen merchandise you've picked up and get yourself through the world a couple more days.

„I wouldn't say the skids are a pleasant place, just that they are a very human place. It's as you move out from the Skid Row toward the suburbs that things begin to look the same. People look the same, they talk the same, they dress the same, they live in the same kind of houses, and they do pretty much the same sort of things. When the urban renewal and the model cities come in and they tear down the skids. I wonder where they think these people are supposed to go, These people whose skills have run out on them, who are just old and have been turned out by the system.

„We live in a system that uses up all kinds of things. It uses up air, it uses up water, it uses up trees and minerals. Our politicians have a lot to say about that, especially if they want to get votes. They never talk about how the system uses up people, how it will take somebody and milk them for their sweat, for their energy, and for their skill, and as soon as they can't deliver any more, just chuck them out on the back side of town.

„If we're going to talk about ecology, in terms of our natural resources, we ought to talk about ecology in terms of our people. There isn't any difference between a skid row Salvation Army soup kitchen, a transient barracks like the Harbor Lights, and the automobile graveyard on the edge of town, or a tailing heap by a mine, or a slag heap by a mill. It's all waste.“ [Utah Phillips, Starlight on the Rails, p. 80.]

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Johnny Hard
traditional

Johnny Hard he was a desperate little man
Carried a gun and a razor every day
He cut down a man on the free state line
You oughta seen Johnny Hard gettin' away, poor boy
You oughta seen Johnny Hard gettin' away.

Johnny Hard made a run for the free state line
There he thought he'd be free
But a man come walkin' and grabbed him by his arm
Sayin', Johnny come along with me (X2)

Johnny Hard he wrote his mammy and his dad
Sayin', "Come here and go my bail."
But money wouldn't go his murdering charge
So they laid Johnny Hard down in jail, yes, Lord (etc.)

Now the first one to visit Johnny Hard in jail
Was a girl with a rag on her head
Said, "I never thought I'd live to see you in jail.
I believe I would rather see you dead, Johnny Hard. (etc.)

Now the next one to visit Johnny Hard in jail
Was his little loving wife so brave
Said, "I'd rather see you in your winding sheets
Than to see you on that long rattling chain, great God."(etc)

Johnny Hard he stood in his jail cell
And the tears running down from his eyes
Said, "I've been the death of many-a deputy sheriff
But my six-shooter never told a lie, God knows," (etc.)

"I have run to the East, I have run to the West
Run just as far as I can
If I ever get loose from this ball and chain
I'm gonna make it for that free state line," (etc.)

"You got guards in the East, got guards in the West
Got guards this whole world round
But before I'd be a slave I,d rot down in my grave
You can take me to my hanging ground, Mr. Jailer," (etc.)

 

This is Woody's version of the old outlaw ballad, “John Hardy.” On the Asch Recordings it is listed under the title “Johnny Hart.” Like other outlaw ballads, it is not only a song about a bandit, but a song about freedom. It's a radical song. “You've got guards in the East, got guards in the West, got guards this whole world around, but before I'd be a slave, I'd rot down in my grave, and you can take me to my hanging ground.” And this is only a song about outlaws?

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Gone, Gonna Rise Again
Si Kahn

click here for lyrics

 

This is a song from Si Kahn's first album, “New Wood,” the song from which the album took its name. Many “primitive” people got it right. Life is not a straight line, but a circle, a cycle of day and night, season after season, of life and death. Our straight line mentality limits us, it warps our identity, focuses us on our ego, instills fear of “the end” and what will come after. Life after death? Of course. Life is an endless cycle. We are links in a chain. Anyone who has witnesses the birth of his child and has buried a parent should know this.
Si Kahn explains that t his song is based on a story from the Talmud, which his father, a rabbi, told him. „A very old man was digging a hole in his yard. Someone asks him why and he says, ‘Tomorrow, I'm going to plant an olive tree.‘ They laugh at him. ‘Old man, maybe your great-grandchildren will pick the fruit - but you'll be long gone before then. Don't you know an olive tree doesn't bear fruit for ninety years.‘ ‘In that case,‘ he says, 'I'd better plant it today.'“ (Si Kahn Songbook, Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Company, 1989. p. 26.)

Si Kahn recorded this song in a major key and that is how I first learned it. Then I heard John McCutcheon's minor-key version on his album “Gonna Rise Again” and heard the song with new ears. It is definitely an improvement. That is the folk process which today is often hampered by copyright laws. Good thing that Si and John are friends.


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Desperados Waiting for a Train
Guy Clark

click here for lyrics

This is a song based on a true story. Guy Clark's grandmother ran a hotel in Monahans , Texas and one of her permanent guests was an old man who became Guy's substitute grandfather. This is his story, but like any fine piece of literature, it is universal. There comes a time when we look at elderly parents and accept their mortality. It is the moment when we must accept our own.

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Last Train
Arlo Guthrie


click here for lyrics


This is probably Arlo Guthrie's finest song. At first, it seems to be a song about death, but it is also about life, about faith and about the grace of God. There are contradictions in the song. In the best songs there are always contradictions. We are only passengers on that last train for glory and we won't need to get ourselves prepared. It is the message of Christian grace, yet Arlo writes about our ticket on that last train, which may be the stranger who is sleeping on our floor. Grace yes, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't look out for others along the way. We too must exercise grace toward others, yes, and toward ourselves. The most beautiful line in this song, written by a young Arlo Guthrie, who knew he might be carrying the disease which disabled his father? “I am not a man of constant sorrow.”

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