Sunday, January 16, 2011

Them Injuns

Matt came by the other day with a turntable for me. I was complaining on Christmas morning that I hadn't owned a working turntable for years and Matt promised to find me one - he has a way of getting stuff like that. So I've been playing a lot of vinyl. I started off with my old Tom T. Hall albums. I had dozens of his albums when Arlene and I were together but when we separated she kept them. I have never understood why she wanted them - probably because she knew I did. Tom T. Hall used to make an album a year back in the 70's and 80's, each with 10 songs that all sounded pretty much the same. When CDs came around his albums were quickly deleted and only his greatest hits packages crossed the digital divide. I had to go to Ebay to find the ones I remembered. It was a nice stroll down memory lane. I also listened to Pete Townshend's White City and the first  album by The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie.

After the first Le Bonx session in the summer of '77, I wanted to issue "Them Injuns" as a single or at least include it on the still-in-progress Won Out album. Arlene, who had enthusiastically participated in the recording, was dead set against it ever seeing the light of day so she voted an emphatic "no". Steve, like me, thought we were on to something but he was all for making an entire punk jazz album.

For most of the Le Bonx material I would introduce a theme or motif on the bass and the others would follow along and we'd let the song develop until it reached a logical conclusion or I figured it had gone on long enough. For "Them Injuns" I grabbed a pair of maracas that were lying around and improvised the break. Originally I was planning to recite a story about a battle between cowboys and Indians while Steve thumped away in the background, but, very much in the tradition of "Wa", I cut it short and kept it simple. The result is,  I think, one of the best songs on the album. When I pulled the song "Whatever You Want" out of mothballs for theb "Wa" single, I mixed "Them Injuns" into the track. You can hear it faintly in the background between verses.

My new turntable - it's a Dual and it's coo-al, heh heh
Matt found a box of letters I'd written to his mother, Nancy, and was kind enough to let me read them. In 1977 I was working at the Gingerbread House in Oakland. At the time it was a fledgling greeting card company - it morphed into the famous restaurant a few years later.  As the office manager, it was my job to organize the place and fend off sales reps from different suppliers. Many of the letters to Nancy are written on Gingerbread House stationary. My biggest weakness (and strength?) as a songwriter is that I can only rarely write about anything but me. My songs read like a diary of my many romantic missteps. The songs on Le Bonx gave me an opportunity to climb out of that rut - or get out of that groove. There's not a single lyric about love and no references, however obscure, to matters of the heart. The letters make it very clear that I was still very much in love with Nancy although it appears that at that particular time we were not seeing a lot of each other.

"Them Injuns" was one of the first handful of songs we recorded for Le Bonx. It's got a lot of energy - we'd just discovered this great new way of expressing ourselves and it was pretty exciting. Arlene in particular came up with some amazing stuff. Her playing up to that point had been efficient but not terribly interesting. It always amazed me that someone with as much musical training as she had could have a hard time improvising. Her parts on the records were usually dictated by me. But on Le Bonx she really cut loose - especially on the earlier tracks.

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