It’s been a long time since the last installment of Bootleg Country, and I’m sorry about that. The truth of the matter is that I do most of my primary musical listening in the car. Sure tunes are often playing in the homestead, but it is usually regulated to the background as when I’m at home I’m either cleaning, or reading, or playing on this here computer and definitely not paying that much attention to the music that fills the aural cavities.
The thing that makes sense of that above paragraph is that I was laid off from my job back in the month of August. Without a daily trip to and from the workplace, my automobile driving is rather limited. Well, I should say my automobile driving of my own car, for when I do go out these days it is usually with the misses and since she owns the better car, we take it.
Thus I’ve had little opportunity to do any listening to bootlegs, and without the listening there isn’t much to write about.
Thanks to a long drive to visit my folks out in Oklahoma I’m happy to present the newest edition of Bootleg Country. I’d like to promise regular upcoming editions, but there still isn’t a decent job in sight.
Back in the days of college I had a friend, well I had lots of friends, but there was one in particular that stood out. Musically that is. He had this big giant tape collection filled with all sorts of musicians I had never heard of.
You see when I was in the age of growing up I only knew music through the pop radio station, MTV and my mom. MTV and the radio both played basically the same songs, that is to say whatever was a hit at the moment, while my mom had a nice collection of classic rock vinyl. It was there I first heard Dylan, the Beatles, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and many others. But even all this was not cutting very deep into the pantheon of rock music.
It was in the latter days of high school that I began to search out music out of the mainstream. With magazines like Spin and Alternative Press I began to learn of bands like Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr., All, and Operation Ivy. Periodically I actually had the cash to actually buy the albums I was reading about and my musical knowledge grew.
Then there was this fella in college who had such a lovely collection of tunes. We became friendly enough, and I dropped by enough that he gave me a key to his dorm room and I would often slip in while he was at class or on a date or whatever. I would sit all alone in that room playing tape after tape, filled with new music.
It was within those walls that I first heard a Grateful Dead bootleg. It was there I first fell in love with a man named Willie Nelson. And it was there I discovered Lyle Lovett, John McCutcheon, and John Prine.
West 54th Street
New York, NY
In the liner notes to the first John Prine album, Kris Kristopherson tells the story of hearing an unsigned and unheard of John Prine play a few songs in a little club, after hours. He relates that moment to what it must have been like to hear Bob Dylan at the Gaslight in the early sixties. Kristopherson, no stranger to great songwriting, knows of what he speaks.
Prine laughs off the Dylan comparison in an interview on this bootleg with a breezy, “yeah there were four or five of us,” and while Dylan comparisons aren’t really necessary, Prine has written some of the best danged folk songs this country has ever seen.
This bootleg is from a taping of the television program, Sessions at West 54th and as such you get a few things that differ from the normal bootleg. The sound quality is great, though having been compressed for television signals, the extreme audiophile may beg to differ. The set is relatively short, fitting nicely onto one blank CD. And there are a few interview sections with John Hiatt.
I should also note that my bootleg is missing a few songs from the official set list, which makes me assume that it was recorded straight off of the television show, and not the later DVD release, or soundboard feed.
As an added bonus there are a few duets with the always lovely Iris Dement. The taping comes off of Prine’s release of the album, In Spite of Ourselves, which heavily featured Ms. Dement.
The show starts with a rollicking, rambling “Spanish Pipedream” with a full band, and they sound like they are having lots of fun, even if the music is a bit of a mess. It still remains one of my favorite songs and contains an oft quoted (at least by me) chorus:
Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own
The band settles down to a gentle “so sad it’s pretty” version of “Six O’Clock News” followed by the relatively new, but still utterly sad “All the Best.”
Iris Dement sings on four songs (“(We’re Not) The Jet Set,” “Let’s Invite Them Over Again,” “When Two Worlds Collide,” and “In Spite of Ourselves”) and while she is always a welcome voice to my ears, on this set she only accentuates the raggedness of Prine’s natural voice .
There is an amusing anecdote given before “In Spite of Ourselves” where Prine discusses how he had to cajole DeMent a little to sing the song with him due to it’s “questionable lyrics” (which include sniffing undies and convict movie fetishes.) Ultimately she was won over and we have a song that’s pure Prine – raunchy, sweet and hilarious – and the world is better for it.
During one of the interview sections Prine mentions how he got started in the business by playing at an amateur hour for a local club. After hearing the first three songs he’d ever written Prine was hired permanent.
Those three songs? “Souvenirs,” “Paradise,” and “Sam Stone.”
As Hiatt says in the interview, “Good God, I would have hired you after that too.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Prine or those songs, that would be like Dylan saying his first three songs were, “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and “The Times They Are A-Changin.”
This is the best sounding Prine bootleg I have, and despite a somewhat ragged performance, it is still a great disk.
The entire session has been released on DVD and is available through Amazon.
I’m always up for some bootleg trading, if you have a list, drop me a line. Or if you’re just starting out, I can always help a kind soul with a B+P.
Here’s a couple of MP3s from the show for your listening pleasure.
Six O’Clock News
In Spite of Ourselves