Hash’s Faves: “Ramblin’ Jack & Mahan”

22 May

Guy-ClarkTexas singer/songwriter Guy Clark died on March 17. He was part of the great Texas songwriters’ tradition, and considered a big fish in a big pond that included Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Willie Nelson, Mickey Newbury, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely, Kris Kristofferson and many others. Probably his best-known song was ”Desperadoes Waiting On A Train,” but many of his songs were covered by many great singers. Clark also had one of “those” voices, a voice that expressed many hard years of wild livin’, a voice that compelled you to listen to the words it was singing. He was also a luthier, and evidently a fine one. Texas is crying this week.

This week’s pick is Guy Clark’s “Ramblin’ Jack and Mahan,” from his 1992 album Boats To Build. It’s Clark on guitar an vocals, Verlon Thompson on guitar and vocal harmony, Travis Clark on bass and Kenny Malone on drums and congas.

boats-to-buildThis was the first Clark album that I bought, and although there are many great tunes on the record, this one just grabbed me. I have a confession; I truly believe in reincarnation and past lives, and I firmly believe that in a previous life I was a Texan, perhaps a Native American (I know the mental image of me outdoors is unimaginable for many of you, but I can read animal tracks and I’m a good spotter). I love everything about Texas music, and for some mystical reason the entire mythology of Texas touches something deep down in my soul. The Mahan referred to is rodeo rider Larry Mahan; saying that Mahan is a rodeo rider is kind of like saying Charlie Parker was a saxophone player. And Ramblin’ Jack is, of course, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, neé Elliott Charles Adnopoz. Elliott is one of those semi-mythical characters on the folk music scene; born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents, he reinvented himself as an itinerant guitar picker and singer, running away from home as a teenager to join a rodeo, later hoboing around America with Woody Guthrie, and greatly influencing a young Robert Zimmerman along the way.

I love this verse:

So, ol’ ramblin’ Jack said, he said, “I recall a time 
I set my soul on fire just for show. 
All it ever taught me was 
The more I learn the less I seem to know.” 
Ol’ Mahan crawled out from behind a couch and said, “Jack…” 
He said, “As far as I can see, mistakes are only horses in disguise. 
Ain’t no need to ride ’em over 
’Cause we could not ride them different if we tried.”

Those are words to live by, my amigos.

You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u3pQc9rbB0

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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