‘ABOUT THE SONGS’
New album "BLUES FOR HARD TIMES" is out now!!!
People often ask for me for the stories behind my original songs. My previous CD - "Blues Woman" - had extensive liner notes for this reason, but with this new release I wanted the cover artwork to be less cluttered.
The photographic images on the new album are mine as well - and they have stories behind them too!
But let's start with the songs...
Nickels & Dimes
When my father was feeling happy he’d give a big grin and say - ‘Gee, I wouldn’t be dead for quids!’ Many of us are experiencing hard times these days, making it difficult to appreciate the good things in our lives. I was on the road when I wrote this…trying to stay in touch with family and friends…and conscious of wanting to lift the spirits of some people close to me. Here’s a song of encouragement from a possibly deluded but incurable optimist.
Despite the fact this song is about a specific situation, I think it is a universal comment on power and its’ potential misuse. It’s very difficult to write about this one while keeping my own personal ‘pact of appropriate confidentiality’. Having said that, it is amazing how many people directly involved worked out exactly who it was about…
Guys Be Wise
This fabulous piece was brought to a blues songwriting workshop that I was teaching at Augusta ‘Blues Week', WV, by songwriter Dan Grove. So much fun…and so truly in the classic blues era tradition! Apparently it was several years ‘in the making’ – but I’ll let Dan explain:
“Guys Be Wise is an answer song to Sippie Wallace's Women Be Wise, which I first heard from my college classmate Bonnie Raitt. Sippie gives advice, "Don't advertise your man," that most women don't follow, and my song gets playful with the implications of that. It addresses the testosterone-based life forms in the audience, but the most enthusiastic response has been from women, hopefully all of them kept happy!”
Mean World – Rev Gary Davis
‘Mean World’ has been in my repertoire for many years (another version appeared on my first solo album ‘Blues in My Heart’) and playing it literally changed my life! I was playing a solo acoustic gig in a biker bar…
It was pretty polite for a biker bar, actually, but nobody much was paying attention to me as I picked my guitar in a corner. This song is not typical bar music, but I decided to play it for myself that night. Everyone continued with their drinking, except for one guy at the bar who sang along. That man is now my husband.
Do you ever have this feeling? This is a gentle song of rebellion against the busy, fast-paced world we increasingly inhabit. After 9 weeks on the road, I got back home and considered the accumulated backlog of office work. Bravely ignoring all my many commitments, I picked up my guitar and wrote this song instead. Sometimes it’s ‘High Time’ for a little mental re-adjustment!
Kaz Kazanoff and I had lots of fun playing this in the studio. He’s a fine harmonica player, although better known in his roles as producer, saxophonist and arranger for The Texas Horns.
Baptized in Muddy’s Sweat
Late one night, over a bottle of very fine Oregon Pinot, my friend Betsy shared her experience of a Muddy Water’s gig… Her description was so compelling and exciting that I grabbed a pen and started scribbling as she spoke. The lyrics are essentially paraphrased from that conversation. I couldn’t have imagined recording this song unless she liked it – nor would I have felt happy to have such a song on the album without Bob Margolin’s deep and powerful slide guitar. Bob’s long association with Muddy Waters and his soulful mastery of Muddy’s style provides a vital link to the story, both personally and musically.
I Let the Blues In
The true story of how the Blues changed my life! Yes, once I did have a proper job, money and stuff…but, like a passionate love affair, the music claimed me.
I consider every recording project a sort of musical snapshot, documenting my current interests and influences. This is a song I wrote several years ago, but here I’ve rearranged it as slide tune; a style that is a recent addition to my repertoire. Alan Stafford, founding president of the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society, loved this song and I started playing it again at his suggestion.
Maybe I Could Be Your Girl?
A sense of deep loneliness; the feeling of a bar late at night when there’s no one special to accompany you home… I’ve watched people sometimes as I pack up my gear after a show, and, a few times in my life, experienced this sense of longing and dislocation myself. This song has hovered, unfinished, in my subconscious for a very long time. This version features my newest enthusiasm, lap steel guitar – and here I must sincerely thank Cindy Cashdollar for lending me her beautiful instrument for the session. As a fledgling lap steel player, I hoped Cindy’s considerable abilities on the instrument would somehow rub off on me!
Drink to Your Health
This is about a real relationship breakup. I always dedicate it to my ex, a habit that was only ever awkward once – the time, several years later and unbeknownst to me, that he was actually in the audience! Most songwriters have a bunch of sad songs about love gone wrong. What is more challenging is to write a funny song about your broken heart…
God & The Devil
This song has started some lively discussions with my husband (who really is a philosopher and theologian). Lots of impenetrable words like ‘theodicy’ were bandied about, so, after the fact, I’ve tried to grasp some of the historic debates on the problem of good and evil in the world of philosophy and religion. Whew….it’s hard going… I’ll let you know when I’ve got it all worked out.
In the meantime, I can tell you that this song is based on the classic dilemma of the blues musician. Despite traditional implications of the Blues as ‘the devils music’, even blues legends like Pinetop Perkins preferred to play gospel music on Sundays!
She Could Play That Thing
This is my tribute to the famous female blues guitarist, Memphis Minnie. These days Blues is often considered a male-dominated style of music, but this neglects the rich tradition of women in the genre. Although all the stars of the Classic Era were women, female guitarists – then and now – remain in the minority. Minnie stands as the preeminent female guitarist of her generation; a very influential player who continued to evolve in style as her career progressed. Despite recording and performing extensively, she’s not as well known as many of her male contemporaries. A perennial song in my repertoire, I still play this one often to let people know about Minnie, and to encourage the acknowledgement of her place in the Blues guitar world.
The New Orleans style instrumentation on this track belies it’s origin as an acoustic ‘guitar groove’ song. To my mind it definitely shows the influence of my mate, Lloyd Jones, from Portland, Oregon. Lloyd, both as an electric and acoustic guitarist, has a unique funky finger-style of playing. Our first musical meeting was arranged by my PDX bass player, Dave Kahl*, who describes us as ‘long lost finger-picking brother and sister’… It’s always fun to jam with Lloyd – and it’s always fun to have at least one double entendre tune on every album!
*By the way, that is Dave’s fine bass playing on ‘Nickles and Dimes’ and ‘Baptized in Muddy’s Sweat’.
A sweet little song with a moral sting in its tail! Usually I write my own songs but I’ve started a tradition over the last couple of albums of purposefully including songs written by fellow-Australian blues songwriters. This one was discovered recently on a demo that my friend, Nick Charles, had given me some years ago. Nick is a well-known guitarist on the Australian scene. He has exquisite technique….and is also a rather private person…so I was curious to know a bit more about this song too. Here's what Nick had to say:
"I suppose I believe in Karma and I'm generally inclined to let sleeping dogs lie as it were! This is one of my quiet revenge numbers and probably inspired by a long time love of Bessie Smith songs and Biblical reference. The target is interchangeable; the original target surely got their dues some time back!"
It’s no secret that I am a JB Lenoir fan! I have written elsewhere about the galvanizing effect that JB’s ‘Alabama Road’ album had on me as a young follower of the Blues. This is the third of his songs that I have covered on various recordings. It’s a deceptively simple one chord groove….and I love the way the lyrics flow; blending bible references, parables, homespun wisdom and earthy blues sensibilities into a seamless whole.
I have explained the background to this song many times at my shows….maybe you’ve been at one of them and have already heard the story? People may think that Rap or Hip Hop music invented sexual bragging, but the Blues was doing it long ago. Here I boldly claim that ‘there’s nothing but a yellow-haired gal to make a preacher lay his Bible down!’ Well, for a change of pace, I’ve actually invited The Preacher himself to write a bit about this song…so watch this space!
Jesus Took Possession
This haunting piece was written by Australian singer, songwriter and harmonica player, Chris Wilson. It seems to be the perfect ending to this collection of songs, with its themes of sin and salvation…barrel-house and church house… It’s an interesting song, particularly in the context of Chris’ public personae and the highly secular nature of Australian society in general. I’ve asked Chris if he might give us a bit of insight into the background of this song… Check back on this page and I’ll keep you posted!
These are songs that are boldly in the Blues tradition - drinking, lust and partying – alongside songs that are explorations and commentaries on religion and spirituality. Often the creative impulse is not immediately clear, but as I recorded these songs I could increasingly see the two ‘opposites’ sitting together, two sides of the same coin, all part of what it means to be an authentic human being – and that is just as it should be…
Thank you so much for your friendship and support!
- Fiona xxx