Classic documentary: Heartworn Highways – the best music documentary ever made!

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The best music documentary ever made: Heartworn Highways

For it is just that, the best documentary about music I have ever seen! It looks like a home movie, you feel like you get insight into a world long gone and you feel like looking into a world just for the invited.

It is up on YouTube , so catch it before it gets taken down (or better, buy yourself a copy so you can see it as often as you want).

Heartworn Highways is made by James Szalapski whose vision captured some of the founders of the Outlaw Country  and Singer/Songwriter movement in Texas and Tennessee in the last weeks of 1975 and the first weeks of 1976. The film was not released theatrically until 1981.

Highlights for me: The visit to Townes Van Zandt’s caravan and the Christmas party at Guy and Susanna Clark (especially Steve Earle singing Mercenary Song).

Heartworn Highways (full movie):

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November 16: The Louvin Brothers released Satan is Real in 1959

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The Louvin Brothers – Satan is Real

What is it about this album?
Why is it so important in the americana /country/gospel music canon?

Satan Is Real is a gospel album by American country music duo The Louvin Brothers.

Released November 16, 1959
Recorded August 8–10, 1958
Genre Country, Gospel
Length 31:54
Label Capitol
Producer Ken Nelson, John Johnson (Reissue)

The gospel/country duo Charlie and Ira Louvin was born and grew up in the Sand Mountain region of Alabama, they lived on a cotton farm south of the Appalachian Mountains, that’s where they developed their distinct harmony style in the deep Sacred Harp tradition of the Baptist church.

Ira Louvin died in a car wreck in 1965. Charlie Louvin died two years ago at 83 just a few months after publishing his story about The Louvin brothers.

In The recently published book, Satan is Real, the ballad of the Louvin Brothers, Charlie talks about their singing style.This is not a straight quote, but it goes something  like this:

…people who saw the Louvin Brothers perform were mystified by the experience. Ira was a full head taller than me, he played the mandolin like Bill Monroe and sang in an impossibly high, tense, quivering tenor. I(Charlie) strummed a guitar, grinned like a vaudevillian and handled the bottom register. But every so often, in the middle of a song, some hidden signal flashed and we switched places — with Ira swooping down from the heights, and me angling upward — and even the most careful listeners would lose track of which man was carrying the lead. This was more than close-harmony singing; each instance was an act of transubstantiation.

I could not find any live footage from Satan is real, but this clip of them singing, I don’t belive you’ve met my baby is a fine showcase for their intricate singing style:

“It baffled a lot of people,” Charlie Louvin explains in his fantastic memoir. “We could change in the middle of a word. Part of the reason we could do that was that we’d learned to have a good ear for other people’s voices when we sang Sacred Harp. But the other part is that we were brothers.”

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November 14: Gretchen Peters was born in 1957 – Happy 60th Birthday!

Gretchen Peters (born November 14, 1957 in Bronxville, New York) is an American singer and songwriter. She was born in New York and raised in Boulder, Colorado, but moved to Nashville in the late 1980s. There, she found work as a songwriter, composing hits for Martina McBride, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Anne Murray, as well as for rock singers Neil Diamond and co-writing songs with Bryan Adams.

She won the Country Music Association Song Of The Year award for McBride’s “Independence Day” in 1995. She was twice nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, in 1995 and 1996, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song in 2003.

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November 11: Dave Alvin was born in 1955

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I started writing poetry before I started writing songs. In my checkered college past I was a creative writing major at Long Beach State University, which had a great writing program, and that’s where I learned all the nuts and bolts that helped me out in songwriting. They forced us to write in traditional forms — sonnets, iambic pentameter — just so we could understand that writing wasn’t just splaying free verse all over the page. But then the more songs I wrote using all those poetic forms, the more my poetry become like prose, almost to the point of journalism…
~Dave Alvin (Interview by Jim Catalano)

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November 6: The late great Guy Clark was born in 1941

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“Buffett I guess. Lightfoot. Warren Zevon. Randy. John Prine. Guy Clark. Those kinds of writers.”
– Bob Dylan (on the question about favorite songwriters asked by Bill Flanagan in 2009)

I have no reason to sit home and write songs all day without going out and playing for the folks. And I have no reason to go play for the folks unless I’m writing new songs so they can sort of feed off one another. And I just try to do the best I can.
~Guy Clark

Guy Clark doesn’t just write songs, he crafts them with the kind of hands-on care and respect that a master carpenter (a favorite image of his) would have when faced with a stack of rare hardwood.
~Kurt Wolff (allmusic.com)

Desperados Waiting For A Train (FANTASTIC version from the legendary “Heartworn Highways” DVD):

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November 5: Johnny Cash released American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2002

johnny cash the man comes around

The selection here is at once so obvious and so inappropriate it feels redemptive–as if that old softy Rick Rubin gently advised his fast-failing charge that if there was ever a song he wanted to sing he’d better not put it off till next time, ’cause there probably wasn’t gonna be one.
~Robert Christgau (robertchristgau.com)

Cash’s first three albums with producer Rick Rubin won Grammys, and this one should keep the streak alive. Supplementing his own material with songs from such varied sources as Nine Inch Nails and Hank Williams, it’s an eclectic collection whose highlights convey the adventurism and heart that have characterized this country music great’s best recordings for half a century.
~Robert Hilburn (LA Times)

The Man Comes Around:

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