My Country Heart

It’s a bit embarrassing, but I’ve recently got more and more into country music.  If truth be told, I’ve had some Randy Travis records hidden away as a guilty secret for decades, but just lately, I’ve been getting more into the off-the-beaten track guys and gals who describe themselves or are described as “Country”.

Now I’m aware that “country music” covers a multitude of sins.  (And some of them really are sins.)  I might as well tell you I like pop music or jazz, for all that its helpful.   Maybe I should say what I don’t like?  I have nothing against Shania Twain as a musician, infact I think she’s pretty damn cool.  But I couldn’t eat a whole one, if you know what I mean.  LeAnn Rimes et al make me a little bit sick.  I mean, not them personally, just that is not the “country” I’m talking about.  I probably could sit through Dixie Chicks for half an hour or so, but I’d want to leave before the line dancing got going.

On the other hand, while Willie Nelson has a mile high stack of cheese in his back catalogue, his voice is (still) sublime.  Johnny Cash had, long before his death, reached that point of cool, you know, where all the young dudes could say, “I hate country, but aw man that Johnny Cash, he’s cool, he transcends country.”  Well, no, he doesn’t really.  He’s just the end of country that you like.  And I like too.  Dolly Parton of course had a bit of Glastonbury Cool rub off on her a few years ago, but I’ve been loving her since 1980. (9 to 5: gotta love that film!  My somewhat older boyfriend-of-the-time had a crush on Jane Fonda and took me to see it.  Ignored him, crushed on Tomlin, Parton, Fonda myself, what a team.  Sorry, I digress.)

I’ve made a playlist of some country type stuff I’m listening to at the moment. Probably some of it would be better described as alt country, or indie folk or something like that, but it all has a country heart to my ears.

There’s some newcomers I’ve been listening to a lot lately:  Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams, both New Zealanders.  The former I came across slightly geekily, by googling the soundtrack for NZ crime drama Brokenwood  (yeah, crime dramas – another guilty not-so-secret secret).  The latter of course appeared on Later…With Jools Holland.  Can’t get enough of them.  Weepy and dirty, (in a muddy way, though there’s probably some smut too, I’m just not very good at listening to lyrics).  And Sarah Shook and the Disarmers.  I have no idea how I came across her.   Maybe through the consistently wonderful She Shreds magazine/blog.

There’s the music that doesn’t quite fit, and yet it does.  I was listening to Richard Hawley’s 2015 album, Hollow Meadows this morning and thought, you know, I have no idea how he would describe it, but there’s some stuff on there that definitely screams country to me.  Back in the 1980s Elvis Costello was slammed for his more country than country Almost Blue, but you know what I’ve always loved that album.  (I love most everything he did in the 1980s and 90s tbh.)  Where does Bluegrass sit?  I’m throwing it into the mix anyway with Cahalen Morrison and Eli West.

Also JJ Cale.  No excuses for including two from him.



Guitar Time

The sad truth is I have barely picked up a guitar in weeks. Okay let’s call that months. Working long hours, flitting between work commitments and home commitments, I don’t seem to have room for it. And there’s only so many things I can stay motivated about. Remaining focused on the business has been my number one priority.

But if my business is all about the music, it’s time to get down to it. So along with all the other challenges, to do lists, plans and scheduled (I do not and will not ever have a bullet journal btw … ) I now need to set aside some guitar time.

Here’s the plan:

  • Move a guitar, any guitar, back to the sofa end of the living room
  • Tape a practice list to it
  • No turning on the TV till I’ve picked up the guitar for 10 minutes
  • We know 10 will turn to 20, 30, 40
  • Every day.

National Storytelling Week

It’s National Storytelling Week this week and I was wondering what to post. Of all the ballads and musical stories I could have chosen, this one just kept jumping up.  My grandparents had it on vinyl when we were kids.  We loved it.  Pete Seeger was a great storyteller.  Share it with a child today!

Barbara Lynn, You’ll Lose A Good Thing

Barbara Lynn was one of the first women to play lead guitar in an R&B band. Her song You’ll Lose A Good Thing topped both R&B and pop charts in 1962.


If you look up Barbara Lynn on t’internet, she’s listed as “singer”, but infact this she’s a guitarist, songwriter and singer.  A star of the 60s, we seem to have forgotten her now, but she’s a force to be reckoned with.

She was born in 1944 in Texas.  Lynn started out playing the piano, as a child, but after seeing Elvis Presley on TV she decided the guitar was for her.  As well as being a huge Elvis fan, she also liked the appeal of playing an instrument that wasn’t often associated with female musicians.  She wanted great songs to sing and play, so she started writing her own material as a teenager.

Lynn’s song You’ll Lose A Good Thing topped the R&B charts in the US 1962, and unusually for the US, also reached the TOP 10 in the pop charts.  That was her first really big break, after which she got to play with other top musicians.  She wrote plenty of other hits too.  She was one of the first women to play lead guitar in an R&B band, and wrote much of her own material.  What’s more, she was popular not only on black music radio stations and charts, but across the board.  Which was quite a feat back then in the US.  She toured with Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder Smokey robinson, Jackie Wilson, sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and B.B. King and plenty more.   In 1964 the Rolling Stones recorded her song Oh Baby (We Got a good Thing Going).

During the 1970s she largely withdrew from the music business to raise a family, making only occasional recordings and performances.   But in the mid 80s she started recording and touring again.  She is still touring and performing.

She’s much loved in her home town of Beaumont  where she still lives.  So much so that in 2010 the city named her street Barbara Lynn Street in her honour.

Lynn is not often credited as guitarist on her recordings, because she used session musicians in the studio, so she could concentrate on the vocals.  But she always played lead when performing live. A left-handed player, Lynn has a unique playing style.  She uses a thumb pick, and strums with her finger.  She says she just made it up and it suits her.  Which it most certainly does.  Here she is performing her 1962 hit You’ll Lose A Good Thing.

The Blues Ain’t Sad

So where to begin with exploring the blues? Well I started with B B King, and really that’s not a bad place to start is it?

I’m not sure what it is about The Blues. They certainly don’t make me sad. Something visceral I think. And as I’ve improved as a guitarist, I’ve also come to appreciate that what sounds at a glance like simple music is a multi-layered, multi-faceted mirroring of the human voice and of course the human condition.

The first time I properly noticed the Blues was in a roundabout way, through Gil Scot Heron’s Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues, which I listened to, along with all his other work a lot in the 90s.  But I think the roots go back somewhat further to a childhood hearing Billie Holiday, Leadbelly, Nina Simone, Mose Allison and  later Jimi Hendrix, as played by parents and grandparents.  So all that just sat around in my head for years, waiting for the moment!

So where to begin with exploring the blues? Well I started with B B King, and really that’s not a bad place to start is it?  I hung out in record shops, read books and sleeve notes, trawled through catalogues, borrowed cassettes from the library. I’m kind of glad I did it the old fashioned way but how amazing that with a few clicks we can now have it all in an instant.

From Memphis Minnie to Ana Popovic, Son House to Rory Gallagher, different styles, different eras, different continents: here’s a short collection of Blues.   I’m pretty sure you’ll want to add some more, so let us know what they are.

Saved by Punk

(First published 2015)

So Punk…. It’s 1977, I’ve just hit teenage, and there’s something wrong….I don’t know who’s in the Top Twenty, and my friends are taking the p.  Plus, I’m always wearing the wrong clothes or shoes, or being too gobby, or not lady-like enough, and I don’t have a boyfriend (did any of them?).  And it appears that these are the MOST IMPORTANT things in the world.

Then along comes this grubby set of characters, and I’m on a roll.  It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t clever, and it was calling my name. Punk was more than just the music. Punk validated me.  It said you don’t have to be a nice young lady, you can be clever and witty and a bit gobby, and you can voice your opinions and climb trees and wear trousers.  All the things my Mozart and Miles-loving family had taught me, but that 1970s Britain said a girl shouldn’t be.  I shouldn’t be a trouble maker.  I wanted to be a trouble maker and punk helped me.  By 16, I was running political campaigns, standing up to authority, and being generally arsy.  Could I have done that while listening to Abba and wearing blue eyeshadow?  Possibly.  Was it easier with Poly Styrene and Chrissie Hynde and Siouxsie Sioux and Viv Albertine and Ari Up and Patti Smith standing behind me?  Without a doubt.   Punk held my hand and walked me into Attitude.  “Girl-power” : ha!, this was proper, grown up, don’t-mess-with-me-power.

It was also about justice for people who didn’t have power. Punk spoke about something other than romance – and I know that’s why I was particularly drawn to that Marmite of a band, The Clash.  There’s a ’77 interview where they are telling Tony Parsons what makes their music better than the Rolling StonesPunk, and Joe Strummer says “it’s rubbish: they’re singing about – well I went down to see my baby but she weren’t there… you know what I mean like, oh I kissed a girl on ‘er lips – Oo What?  I don’t wanna sing about that …when we write songs right, we don’t write them about rubbish…”  Hell, I’ll let him talk for himself: