“We didn’t find it difficult to write pop songs, but it was VERY difficult — and I think Mick will agree — to write one for the Stones. It seemed to us it took months and months and in the end we came up with ‘The Last Time,’ which was basically adapting a traditional gospel song by The Staple Singers. I think I was trying to learn it on the guitar just to get the chords, sitting there playing along with the record, no gigs, nothing else to do. At least we put our own stamp on it, as The Staple Singers had done, and as many other people have before and since. They’re still singing it in churches today. ‘The Last Time’ was kind of a bridge into thinking about writing for the Stones. It gave us a level of confidence, a pathway how to do it. And once we had done that we were in the game. There was no mercy, because then we had to come up with the next one. We had entered a race without even knowing it.”
—According To The Rolling Stones, 2003, pp. 89-90
Rolling Stones – The Last Time
Recorded January 11–12, 1965, at RCA Studios, Hollywood
Released as single February 26, 1965 (UK) and March 13, 1965 (US)
Released July 30, 1965, on Out Of Our Heads (US only)
Arguably the first Jagger/Richards songwriting effort where they became “The Stones.” It went #1 UK and #9 US in the spring of 1965, and in retrospect, you can see it’s a short leap from “The Last Time” to the summer of “Satisfaction.” The dirty secret of those early Stones songs is that they were mostly pretty great. OBVIOUSLY HE SAYS OBVIOUSLY, they weren’t Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, or Chuck Berry, but for an English bar band trying to find their own voice and 2 years into their young career, they were pretty good. Out Of Our Heads is probably their first front-to-back great album, especially the American version, but all of those earlier LPs had more good songs than meh. What sets “The Last Time” apart is that while it may have been adapted from the Staples’ 1960 recording, “This May Be The Last Time,” the only thing the songs really have in common are the two lines from the chorus: “This could be the last time/Maybe the last time I don’t know.”
The Staples arrangement is slow, mournful, and driven by piano and harmony vocals. By contrast, the Stones arrangement is driven by the menacing urgency that became their trademark, in particular, Brian Jones‘ signature riff, Keith’s reverby solo, and the funky syncopation of the Bill Wyman/Charlie Watts rhythm section. Of course, the notion that Wyman and Watts were the Stones rhythm section is misleading. What made the Stones great was the fact that EVERYONE in the band was part of the rhythm section, one of the tricks they no doubt picked up from James Brown and The Famous Flames, by whom they got upstaged on the T.A.M.I. Show in October 1964. It can’t be an accident that a more confident Stones both wrote and recorded “The Last Time” within 3 months of that fateful TAMI Show schooling.
And now we return to The Everly Brothers, partly in tribute to late brother, Phil, and partly to reassess their 1960s output. Conventional wisdom is largely correct that the brothers were anachronisms in a post-British Invasion, post-Dylan world. By the mid-’60s, they were regarded as old fashioned, a meme no doubt propelled by the brothers’ final American top 10 hit in early 1962, “That’s Old Fashioned.” Oops. Commercial success aside, the Everlys albums between 1961-68 are uniformly pretty good, with The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits (1963) and Roots (1968) damn near flawless. Granted, the others aren’t essential, but every album has a handful of good-to-great songs, the musicians are mostly Nashville/LA hotshots, and the brothers’ voices are always in top form.
In 1966, the Everlys released Two Yanks In England, a titular sop to Swinging London™ not unlike Chuck Berry‘s 1964 St. Louis To Liverpool LP. In fact, only 6 of the album’s 12 songs were recorded in England*, with the remainder cut in Hollywood. However, 8 songs were written by Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash of The Hollies (attributed to L. Ransford), and 2 songs — “Somebody Help Me” and “Pretty Flamingo” — were smash hits in the UK as the album was being cut, the former for The Spencer Davis Group, the latter for Manfred Mann.
* Fun fact: On guitar and bass, respectively, for the Everlys’ May 14 London sessions were Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Two days later, both men joined Jeff Beck, Keith Moon, and Nicky Hopkins in the studio to cut “Beck’s Bolero,” the session that was the ground zero for Led Zeppelin.
Into this anglophilic maelstrom is the rousing “Kiss Your Man Goodbye,” 1 of only 2 songs on the album written by Phil and Don, and cut in Hollywood. The song opens with a pair of guitars riffing in harmony, one low and one high, in a way that anticipates The Faces a few years down the line. At :20, the band kicks in and the lead guitar whips right into Brian Jones’ riff from “The Last Time.”
“Last Time” riff (Burton to Jones)
The devil’s in the details, which is to say the fleet fingers of ‘Caster master, James Burton. It doesn’t hurt that he’s playing off second guitarist and Wrecking Crew/Shindig! partner in crime, Glen Campbell, himself no slouch in the six-string department. Burton’s solo from 1:30-1:47 isn’t filled with notes, but it’s classic JB: a tightly wound, chicken pickin’ surgical strike filled with his customary syncopations and bends that play with the beat. If you’re wondering about the formative electric guitar influences on Clarence White, this is ground zero.
Meanwhile, Phil and Don’s harmony vocals are two degrees removed from a band that was only a few months old when Two Yanks was released.
The Dead are the kind of band people typically love or hate, but I’m closer to like than love. I’m not sold on the early psych stuff and I rapidly lose interest as we get into the ’80s and ’90s, but I’ve enjoyed many shows from the 1970s. And while they obviously weren’t a studio-centric outfit, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are legit records. I think their secret weapon was the power trio tucked inside the sextet: Garcia on lead guitar, Phil Lesh on bass, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. That’s where the mojo came from. I’m no GD obsessive, but I’ve heard enough shows to know that how those 3 musicians interacted usually determined the quality of the show.
On ‘Cumberland Blues,’ one part is modeled on the Bakersfield country and western bands, like Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and (Merle Haggard’s) Strangers. The first part of the tune is that style and the last part is like bluegrass. That’s what I wanted to do, a marriage of those styles.”
—Jerry Garcia to Blair Jackson, Garcia: An American Life, 1999, p. 177
On “Cumberland,” Lesh (who arranged the song with Garcia) drives the beat with a funky country swing that’s half shuffle, half walking improv. There are two electric guitar leads, I’m assuming Garcia and Bob Weir, with a biting lead on top (obviously Jerry) and Burton-esque chicken picking underneath (probably Weir). If you wanna hear the Don Rich (Buckaroos) influence, Garcia’s solo from 1:16-1:38 is a great place to start. Love how it starts in the left channel, moves to the right channel, then comes back to the center.
(To learn more about Buck and Don and The Buckaroos, check out Don Rich: Buckersfield Harmony.)
Up to this point, “Cumberland Blues” sounds like a Bakersfield mutation, with heavy twang in the guitars and almost a jazz swing in the bass and drums. While this would’ve been revolutionary in The Buckaroos, a country-jazz crossover was par for the course for Haggard and The Strangers. What, you don’t remember when I called Merle a country-jazz pioneer? Vocally, the three-part harmony is like a bastardized Crosby, Stills & Nash, BUT by way of The Everly Brothers. Listen to how Phil and Don’s harmonies work in “Kiss Your Man Goodbye,” then listen to “Cumberland Blues.” They’re not that far apart. Also, remember who co-wrote 8 of the 12 songs on Two Yanks In England? That would be Graham Nash, then in The Hollies.
At 1:39, Bakersfield begins giving way to bluegrass as David Nelson from New Riders Of The Purple Sage joins in on lead acoustic guitar and Weir’s Burton-esque rhythm guitar drops out. Nelson picks out some sweet runs in the left channel, obviously in debt to Clarence White because that’s how that works. At 1:54, Garcia enters on (uncredited) banjo, positioned right in the middle, and instead of walking the dog, Lesh plays it straight on the 1 and 5. From here on out, “Cumberland Blues” is a straight up bluegrass song. Well, straight up for the Dead.
“Lotta poor men got the Cumberland Blues
He can’t win for losing
Lotta poor man got to walk the line
Just to pay his union dues”
“Cumberland Blues” points back to the Everlys on another level. In my last post, Phil Everly is Dead, Long Live the Everly Brothers, I annotated the BBC’s 1984 Everly Brothers documentary, Songs Of Innocence And Experience, in which mining figured prominently. Remember, Phil and Don came from Kentucky coalmining country and it was that black-lunged reality that helped motivate the Everly family to get out of Muhlenberg County. Granted, the famous Cumberland Mine is in Pennsylvania, about 500 miles from where the Everlys grew up, and Cumberland, Kentucky, also coal mining country, is 130 miles away. Obviously, Robert Hunter didn’t write the song to Everly specifications, but in terms of conveying a similar reality, he more than did his job. As he said in Box Of Rain: Lyrics 1965-1993, “The best compliment I ever had on a lyric was from an old guy who’d worked at the Cumberland mine. He said, ‘I wonder what the guy who wrote this song would’ve thought if he’d ever known the Grateful Dead was gonna do it.'”
“Jerry Garcia: We’re kind of on the far fringe of it, but we’re part of that California/Bakersfield school of country and western rock ‘n’ roll — Buck Owens, Merle Haggard. We used to go see those bands and think, “Gee, those guys are great.” Don Rich was one of my favorites, I learned a lot of stuff from him. So, we took kind of the Buck Owens approach on Workingman’s Dead. Some of the songs in there are direct tributes to that style of music, although they’re not real obvious.
Elvis Costello: You can see the connection between Haggard’s ‘Workin’ Man Blues’ and ‘Cumberland Blues.’
Jerry Garcia: Absolutely. I can elucidate it point by point if you want to spend a million years studying it. I don’t think anybody wants to get into it that far.”
–Jerry Garcia Meets Elvis Costello, Musician, March 1991
Jerry Garcia obviously never met me.
If country music is historically white, working class blues, this song is one of its core anthems. There’s noses on grindstones, hands put to work, and those dings that sound like someone hammering an anvil? That’s a clever homage to the man who gave Hag his first big break: Wynn Stewart and his 1962 classic, “Another Day, Another Dollar,” his own paean to the working man. And while the line about not being on welfare is the obvious nod to the “silent majority,” as President Nixon (in)famously invoked in a speech that November, I think this stanza speaks to a greater human truth:
“Sometimes I think about leavin,’ do a little bummin’ around
Throw my bills out the window, catch me a train to another town
But I go back workin’, I got to buy my kids a brand new pair of shoes
I drink my beer at a tavern and cry a little bit of these workin’ man blues”
The narrator wishes he could pack up and go. Maybe not become a hippie in “roman sandals,” per se, but who wouldn’t wanna hit the road for some fun in, say, San Francisco? Who’s gonna pay the bills, though? Who’s gonna buy his kid shoes? Getting your freaky groove on at a Dead show sounds great and all, but some of us have to work for a living. So, maybe there’s some resentment because those hippies had the luxury of being free spirits (i.e. were essentially middle and upper class trust fundies living in a bountiful postwar economy). We usually experience the ’60s narrative from the left side of the aisle, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s good for your heart and mind to also see it from the perspective of a regular blue collar Joe.
And herein lies one of the interesting contradictions of the Grateful Dead. They were a band that openly embraced working class honky tonk while being leaders of a free spirit hippie culture known for many things, but a hardscrabble work ethic was not one of them. To some, this foray into country music is the same kind of carpetbagging the Stones perpetrated on black culture, but again, that’s misguided political correctness. On a grassroots level, music is like food. It’s meant to be shared. In my opinion, for the Dead to cover the writer of “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side Of Me” when those songs were at the height of their right-wing powers, was a ballsy crossover olive branch. Like The Byrds and The Band and a handful of other mainstream rock acts, the Dead were letting their audience know that it was OK to like country music, prejudice be damned.
Of course, there’s country, and then there’s Merle Haggard and The Strangers. Merle has always used country music as a base camp from which to explore and integrate different elements of rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, pop, western swing, and jazz. “Workin’ Man Blues” comes from the rockabilly wing of influence, with James Burton’s famous riff popularized by Scotty Moore on a pair of Elvis’ Sun-era recordings, “Milkcow Blues Boogie” and “Mystery Train.” Coincidentally, that riff again became associated with Elvis when Burton formed the TCB Band at Presley’s request within a few months of cutting “Workin’ Man Blues.”
JB’s lick anchors the song, but The Strangers hit that rhythm like a freight train (leaving town?), giving James a deep, spare pocket within which to ply his genius, including a fluid, biting solo from 1:33-2:00. That rhythm section — Chuck Berghofer on funky, walking bass and Jim Gordon on train beat drums — occupies a unique place in the Haggard canon. They played with Hag and JB on exactly 1 song, “Workin’ Man Blues.” How did they end up at this recording date? Berghofer and Gordon were, like Burton, on-call members of The Wrecking Crew, and the 3 men previously played together on a handful of sessions with ……. The Everly Brothers.
Everly Brothers w/James Burton (guitar), Chuck Berghofer (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) — All dates are when recording session took place
September 18, 1965 – “I’ll See Your Light,” “Nothing Matters But You” (how is this stunning ballad not more well known???)
February 3, 1966 – “Leave My Girl Alone,” “(Why Am I) Chained To A Memory,” “(You Got) The Power Of Love” – All from In Our Image (1966)
Everly Brothers w/James Burton (guitar) & Chuck Berghofer (bass)
January 6, 1967 – “Even If I Hold It in My Hand (Hard Luck Story)”
March 22, 1967 – “Bowling Green,” “I Don’t Want To Love You” – Both from The Everly Brothers Sing (1967)
April 28, 1967 – “Mary Jane” – Also from The Everly Brothers Sing
Fun fact: Chuck Berghofer played on only 9 Merle Haggard sessions and 4 resulted in #1 hits (see below). Berghofer also sat in for a pair of brilliant, non-charting story-songs in November 1969, one about a prison break, the other about an interracial romance. I haven’t been keeping up, mainstream country songwriters still write about stuff like that, right?
Merle Haggard w/Chuck Berghofer (bass)
May 16, 1969 – “Workin’ Man Blues” (#1)
July 16, 1969 – “Okie From Muskogee” (#1)
November 8, 1969 – “Huntsville,” “Irma Jackson”
December 23, 1969 – “The Fightin’ Side Of Me” (#1)
June 21, 1974 – “Movin’ On” (#1)
Roots is arguably The Everly Brothers’ most fully realized LP, combining their country roots (hence the title) with just enough “rock” arrangements to be relevant to 1968 audiences. The album begins with an excerpt from a 1952 radio show featuring dad Ike, mom Margaret, and the boys, who were then 15 (Don) and 13 (Phil). That intro flows right into the thematically appropriate “Mama Tried,” which is taken for granted now as a country classic, but when the Everlys went into the studio to cut the track, Merle’s recording was brand spanking new, debuting on the country charts a week later (July 27, 1968).
The Everly version is buttressed by the acoustic guitar picking of, you guessed it, James Burton, who played the same part (in a different key) on Hag’s recording a couple months earlier. If the Haggard original benefits from Roy Nichols‘ brief, but superlative lead guitar and Eddie Burris’ whipcrack shuffle drumming, the Everlys benefit from the brothers’ singing, especially Don’s lead vocal, which I’m sure is shocking information. Love that driving acoustic guitar, which I think is Don. Jim Gordon again plays drums, and while he’s good, he’s no Burris, plus he’s a bit buried in the mix.
Those atmospheric noises that sneak up on you during the second half of the song were conjured up by Van Dyke Parks, co-conspirator of Brian Wilson, and friend of Roots producer, Lenny Waronker. Parks actually performed a similar role for The Byrds when he played organ on the backside of “5D (Fifth Dimension),” the (sort of) title track of Fifth Dimension, recorded 2 years earlier. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that “Mama Tried” was a concert staple of the Dead, with nearly 300 setlist appearances between 1969-95.
The final word brings us full circle back to the Stones. With so much love being rightfully heaped upon James Burton, here’s Keith Richards speaking about the man’s impact. Most people don’t realize there’s a sideman wing of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame because most people are smart enough not to care about the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. But, saluting sidemen is a one good defense of the Hall, and in 2001 Keith inducted JB, famously saying, “I never bought a Ricky Nelson record. I bought a James Burton record.” This is pretty great and clearly heartfelt.
BTW, if you’d like to hear these tracks outside of this blog, I’ve created a few playlists on Spotify. There’s the main playlist named after this post, but I also included playlists for the Everlys recordings with Burton and Berghofer, as well as Burton, Berghofer, and Gordon. Obviously, you have to sign up for Spotify, but once you’re in there, search for Lance Davis. Thanks and enjoy!