Saturday, February 28, 2015

Album notes for "Contrary - An Outlaw's Tale"

In the winter of 2011 I first took my best friend, the rez dog Edy, with me to Texas. We went to Padre Island where I had memories of my baby Forest Arturo Dunn in a Snugglie on Mama's chest and sea birds flying over his head. I practiced up on old and new songs that I thought might go well at open mics in Austin. As I described in the album notes for "Texas Dance Songs" I ended up recording with Big John Mills and Sterling Finlay at the Woodshed Studios of the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas. Russell Tanner, engineer.
With the thrill of a successful session in memory I was more inspired about writing than I had been for decades. For 2012 I had an idea for a song cycle - concept album - whatever you want to call it. I had some of it written but mostly I finished it on the beach. I scattered some of the few ashes I had of my son's body on the beach. I drank, wrote, played, and walked with dear old Edy who was obviously in her last years with me.
My concept was highly influenced by the news. I had been reading so many stories of men released from prison after DNA evidence proved their innocence. I was wondering how many poor innocent victims had been tortured at Abu Ghraib and were being tortured at Guantanamo and at secret prisons around the world. I knew in my heart that America was creating future terrorists by these actions. When reading about Americans released after being cleared of rape, murder, and other crimes by DNA evidence I was always struck by the statements and apparent attitudes of these men. Where was their anger? Had it been burned out by religion? Had they become passive due to an overload of injustice?
I wrote "Confession" from the point of view of a man who was confessing that, by God, he was going to kill that damn, lying judge who sent him away unjustly. But as I began "Tattooed With Regret" I knew I didn't want to finish the album with the concept of killing. And I knew I wasn't going to have the man find religion. No, I turned to a theme close to my heart - the idea of living invisibly - the theme of many of my short stories like "The Meadow." It's only in the last two songs that it becomes clear how the man will end up.
As a country murder ballad, I'm very proud of "Fear the Man." "Riverside Blues" is actually a song I wrote around 1969 and I use it as the turn-around moment when he turns his heart from hatred to his strange future.
Anyway, here's the story of the recording of "Contrary." I said to Kent Finlay, the American Treasure, patron of songwriters, that I wanted a drummer who just used a snare drum, but who used every inch of it - like I've seen on the streets and in the bars in Mexico. Poor guy who only has that snare drum, sticks, and brushes. And wails, Man. And I wanted to start with a song that is only drums and guitar. Kent said it was unusual but he got me Johnny Arredondo. Thanks Kent!
So Johnny shows up with a nice big kit and cases of percussion instruments. Oh well. Russell Tanner sets us up in separate rooms but where we can see each other and we work out for a bit. The sweet drum intro is where he was at about a minute into my original idea. He counted me in - 1,2,3,4."
I must say, I was not shy in asking to do something in the studio. I had recorded - the most important being the lovely year when Forest Arturo Dunn, my son, played with me. I'll talk more about those for the album notes of "Texas Socialist Infiltration Dance Songs Instigated and Agitated by Burl Dunn."
When we did the first track of "Light My Last Cigarette" I just played a 12 bar blues hitting one chord per measure on the first beat. The track was meant to be dropped, I just wanted to give Johnny free reign on how he played it. The next day (half drunk) I said, "Johnny, can you turn this s*** into wine?" But after about few minutes he asked, "What do you want me to do with this?" I said, "Play it like it's 1962 and you're backing the stripper at Jack Ruby's club in Dallas." And he grinned and did.

I laid down "Riverside Blues" on my nylon string guitar and wanted to try a better take the next day, but Johnny and Russell kept saying leave it so I did. I can't remember how many tracks they used for the drums and percussion. I just drank beer and enjoyed my money's worth! (As an aside, I'll tell you that working with pros at the Woodshed can be more affordable than you'd imagine.) Uh, that's not a dispersion on Johnny's playing. Russell must have told him that it was my daughter Hannah's and her brother's favorite. When he finished he said, "I'll live forever 'cause I played on that song." I wish it didn't look sappy on the printed page. Johnny treated me totally as a peer.
The last two songs where my twisted ideas appear have a funny musical story. Big John Mills, on about 10 seconds of hearing my playing before turning it over to him, improvised a sweet song along with Sterling Finlay. I rewrote the words and melody accordingly. "Let's Go Now" is the same chords as "Round and 'Round." ! You'd have to listen to them back to back to get the irony of that!
I was working on the lyrics to "Let's Go Now" in a motel early one morning. Rosemary was sleeping and I had headphones on. I forgot that my voice was something she'd hear. So she wakes up to me saying, "Shhhh, are you ready? Let's go now? Are you ready? I've got the feeling, I've seen the light..." Rosemary is fun.

If you google "Burl Dunn" that's me. Or just type my name into your favorite download page. I'm a "CD Baby." All albums on Spotify.
My Pandora station just added a lot of new songs from my two albums there.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The rich demand, the government enables, the poor supply

I applaud the Nebraska judge who has blocked the TransCanada Corp. from using eminent domain to acquire land for the Keystone Pipeline. Unfortunately, the issue has been ruled upon by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London. The standard is that the general benefits of economic development allow the forced transfer of private property even to another private entity.
When I hear Tea Partyers and others DEMAND that Obama and Congress approve a country-long pipeline to carry Canadian Tar Sands to the Gulf, I think of Gov. Rick Perry's dream of a mile-wide federal swath as long as the country. Once the path has been established for Keystone what is to stop the widening of that path to include rail lines, highways, electric lines and other pipelines?  Once the power of eminent domain has been used against citizens for the profit of foreign corporations (they are ALL foreign now - no allegiance to the U. S.) why not make it a mile wide? I think about the day in school when I first learned about eminent  domain. I was shocked. It was against every American principle I had been taught: private property rights, capitalism, human rights! You know these pipelines and pipe dreams are the real Socialist danger to America because government dollars and tax breaks will be used to benefit companies. We The People be damned! Supply and Demand has been turned upside down and we are NOT a true capitalist country because the rich demand, the government enables, and the poor supply. That's national socialism - ring a bell?
This song was written in response to the Supreme Court Decision Kelo v. New London.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Car Camping in the four corners

The Four Corners: New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Two out of three ain't bad, three out of four is good. They're my stomping' grounds, except for Utah. Utah's good when you have an adventure there; just get yourself to and from the adventure without encountering an activist cop. I've seen kids with backpacks unloaded onto the ground while cops looked for … well, pot in all likelihood.
I just completed a neat loop. I spent my first night in the Prescott National Forest. There's an exit off I-17 for the city of Prescott. I turned the other way and entered the National Forest within seconds. I spent the day in one beautiful spot, but moved before dark because I got stared at too long by some folks in a pickup truck. Didn't like the vibe and they looked local. Many locals think the woods belong to them because they live there. If you want to enjoy the American West you need to adapt to an alien mindset. These locals who think they trump you (damn tree-huggers, damn forest rangers- gov'ment) are the Indians. You're the army. Camp on, Smokey. American gun culture may be of benefit to me on these trips. They don't know but what I am armed.
Now this kind of car camping is what you should expect by all rights, even though I'm writing about pull-outs on National Forest roads, not campgrounds. You should expect other people to drive by and you must know they may not want you there. Don't spook, you have your rights, too, and they may be afraid of you.  But I love the Four Corners because, more often than not, those cars just drive by with a wave. You find your spot and it's yours. It's yours for two weeks, citizen.
The next night I went into the Coronado National Forest outside of Tucson. My pullout provided a view of the city. From dusk on my only bother was the three and four wheel vehicles heading down the hill. That was over by true darkness.
For two nights I camped for free with my dogs near Arizona's two largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson. It only gets better the farther you go from cities. I went to Safford, Arizona and headed toward the Gila National Forest. Aldo Leopold wilderness. A mile or so into New Mexico and the place was mine. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Album Notes for "When Hymns Bled Red: Words of Joe Hill in Red"

How many of us found the Wobblies through Joan Baez singing "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night?" I did not delve deeper for many years, but the seed was planted. Pete Seeger watered that seed. Years later I heard U. Utah Phillips. Decades later I finally heard Joe Glazer. I began thinking about recording my favorite IWW songs and  the source songs from which the melodies came for the great Wobbly parodies.
Joe Hill, the great Swedish immigrant was only one of many songwriters who took melodies from popular hymns and other songs of the day and turned them into anthems for worker's rights and economic justice. Joe Hill, the martyr, I read about first, but when I encountered Joe Hill the songwriter he came to life in my mind. 
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a singing union. The story goes that early members of the IWW, the Wobblies, sang their own lyrics when the street Salvation Army bands were playing their hymns. Now both the popular folk songs and the hymns are now fading from our culture, so what will become of the great International Workers of the World (Wobbly) songs? Would they not be better understood if people remembered the source song? As a folksinger, I want the original songs remembered, too.
I believe that knowing the original song helps appreciate the parody. On Top of Old Smoky deserves to live out it’s truth independently of On Top of Spaghetti, not just as “the source melody of …” I believe authorship and copyrights are to be honored but that, in the Public Domain, Mr/Ms Anonymous can tear it up! 
I begin each song with the first verse of the original hymn. If you detect from my singing that I love the old hymns, you are right. I grew up singing them in the Southern Baptist Church. "Power in the Blood" is one old hymn that is, in my mind, a rock song! It is fun to sing. All these songs have gone into the public domain and any changes I have added are not copyrighted. If my performances of these songs ever make money, I'll happily donate it to the still-active IWW. 
I call the EP When Hymns Bled Red: Words of Joe Hill in Red. The title plays upon those New Testament editions that print the words of Jesus in red.  
This is my second album recorded at Elephonic Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Jesse Korman, engineer and Jared Putnam on that fine upright bass. It's my fifth album since turning 60 in 2010.
I have no use for the Southern Baptist Convention and it’s affiliated churches; my last tie to them would be the hymns. But it was through these hymns and my early Christian faith that I connected with the Civil Rights Movement and came to love and honor Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. It was through his speeches that I came to understand what the battle between rich and poor was all about and the relationship between war and capitalism. So, let's keep the hymns and let them live out their own truth, and let's know the sources also to understand all the nuances of the Wobbly songwriters.
I left out some verses and added whole verses or words to these songs. I will not go into the kind of documentation that is readily available in the Little Red Songbook (Check out used book sources for reprints of older editions) and the Big Red Songbook. Most words you hear that vary from the 1923 songbook are changes I made. I wrote two new verses for this first song and took out some of the originals.
Here is the way I sing the most famous of all wobbly Songs:
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum
Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock
from Revive Us Again
(Revive Us Again, William P. Mackay)

We praise Thee, O God, for the Son of thy love         
For Jesus, who died and is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Hallelujah! Amen!
Hallelujah! Thine the Glory! Revive us again.

Why don’t you work like other men do?
How the hell can I work, ain’t no jobs to do.

Hallelujah, I’m a bum, Hallelujah, bum again;
Hallelujah, give us a handout to revive us again!

Oh why don’t you save all the money you earn?
If I didn’t eat I’d have money to burn.

Whenever I get all the money I’ve earned,
The boss will be broke and to work he must turn.

Oh I like my bosses, tell ‘ya how nice they are,
They drive me to the food bank ‘cause I can’t afford a car.

Why don’t you use that degree you earned?
They don’t want to pay - they hired an intern.

Wobbly Joe Hill picked some mighty fine melodies for his parodies.  Sweet By and By, melody by Joseph P. Webster, is pure beauty. I made some changes, all intended for the Public Domain.  (see the Little Red Songbook)

Sweet By and By
 G                        C                 G
There’s a land that is fairer than day
And by faith we can see it afar
     G                      C            G
For the Father waits over the way
                           C  G/D D      G
To prepare us a dwelling place there
In the sweet by and by
                D7                                        G
We shall meet on that beautiful shore
                     G7/B   C
In the sweet by and by
                G/D              D7          G
We shall meet on that beautiful shore

The Preacher and the Slave 
By Joe Hill
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
What's wrong?  You need is a job and something to eat
They answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

You can work hard for children and wife –
No guarantee you’ll make it in US life–
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight:
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

Last Chorus:
You can eat bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry;
Chop some wood, ‘twill do you good,
And you can eat in the sweet bye and bye.

I first heard Joe Hill's Last Will sung in a pub in Dublin. That musician (can't remember his name, sorry) sang it to some melody of his own, I think. I put the words to the tune of Sweet Hour of Prayer. Unlike the songs whose words I tinkered with, there is no excuse to tinker with a last will and testament. Ain't it funny how Christian in nature this "dangerous communist's" last will is?


If you grew up singing, "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow..." like I did, you may enjoy this little nugget from Australia. As in other songs I got from the Little Red Songbook I made my changes according to our beloved folk process, but I sure as hell did not change the emotion!
Dump the Bosses Off Your Back
Dump the One Percent. Let's start there, shall we? Once again, I changed a few words. Changes can be detected by buying and reading a Little Red Songbook. My changes are Public Domain, intended to stay that way. The original song What a Friend We Have in Jesus was adapted by John Brill.
The simple truth is that the poor, forlorn, and hungry did have a great friend in Jesus, but most of today's "Christians" are not followers of Jesus. They are not "a thousand points of light." 
Neither is the United States an anti-Communist country. Why? Because Nixon went to China. 
So don't be afraid to sing the Wobbly songs even if you aren't a "Red." Do you want your children to have healthcare? Do you think if you work hard at the best job you can find that you should be able to support your family in a decent life? Then sing for economic justice my friends. That's not communism and don't let the 1% fool you that it is.

What a friend we have in Jesus                                   
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Dump the Bosses Off Your Back
By John Brill 
Are you poor, forlorn, and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the one percent off your back.

Are your clothes all patched and tattered?
Are you living in a shack?
Would you have your troubles scattered?
Then dump the one percent off your back.

Are you almost split asunder?
Loaded like a long-eared jack?
Mule!  why don’t you buck like thunder?
And dump the one-percent off your back.

All the agonies you suffer,
You can end with one good tax..
Buck up! You orn’ry voters,

And dump the one percent off your back.

If you can, get a copy of the reissue of the 1923 songbook in addition to the latest one.

Joe Hill's Power In a Union
Singing Power in the Blood (at Trinity Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas) was thrilling. Some hymns soothe, others exalt, this one ROCKS!
Get the latest edition of the Little Red Songbook or the others still out there as reprints and you'll see the changes I chose to make to Joe Hill's words. My changes are in the public domain. The edition I used most was the 1923 version.

A                                            D              A
Would your be free from your burden of sin?
           E                            A
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood.
                            D         A
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
           E                               A
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
                            D                      A
There’s pow’r, pow’r wonder working pow’r
           E                 A
In the blood of the Lamb
                             D                         A                 E7                               A
Ther is pow’r, pow’r, wonder working pow’r in the precious blood of the lamb.

 There Is Power In a Union
By Joe Hill     

Would you have freedom from wage slavery,
Then join in the grand industrial band;
Would you from mise’y and hunger be free?
Then come! Do your share, like a man.

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of workingmen,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

Would you have mansions of gold in the sky,
And raise your kids in a shack, way in the back?
Would you have wings up in heaven to fly
And starve here with rags on your back?

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of working women,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

If you believe corporations and all they’ve said
Then don’t organize, all unions despise,
If you want nothing before you are dead,
Shake hands with the boss and look wise.

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of working humans,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.

Come, all ye workers, from every land,
Come join in the grand Industrial band,
Then we our share of this earth shall demand,
Come on! Do your share, like a human.

There is pow’r,  pow’r
In a band of working humans,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land –
One Industrial Union Grand.