ME AND BESSIE SMITH

In a maximum conformity suburb
I was serving sixteen to life
This cruel sentence loosely defined
By two forks and a butter knife
Famished by life at that genteel table
Starved for a real-life bite...
When I heard Bessie sing “Gimme a Pigfoot”
How could I eat turkey on white?

So I’ll slip into the dark
I’ll ask the devil to dance
I’ll take a dive into decadence
And try to atone for my past.

I’ll laugh all the way to the river
I’ll welcome its wayward force
I’ll chase down my rowdy roots
And find my natural source.

2005

PETE SEEGER

Pete Seeger was a man to move mountains
He did it one song at a time
Pete Seeger made rivers run clean
With a banjo and a radical rhyme.

Pete Seeger hammered out freedom
And justice all over this land
Pete Seeger was Everyman’s voice
Wherever that voice was banned.

Pete Seeger chopped wood till the day he died
To help our home fires burn
Pete Seeger stood up and sang out for us
So, ALL TOGETHER now! It’s OUR turn!

2016

PIANO MAN

With a handful of keys and a heart full of song
Catch him while you can ‘cause he’s here and gone
To the next big city or the last small town
To bring a little light when the sun’s gone down.

In an uptown bar or a low down dive
It’s a keyboard tradition he’s keeping alive
For Romeo Nelson and for Speckled Red
And for Jelly Roll Morton. ”Play it!” They said.

Here’s a ragtime riff from Eubie Blake
A boogie woogie binge for Pinetop’s sake
Some barrelhouse Booker and a little bit of Fess
And Roosevelt Sykes shouting, “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

There’s a Harlem rent party to celebrate
Whenever he activates the eighty-eight
You can hear Eddie Bo down on Bourbon Street
Whenever the black and white keys meet.

There’s James P. Johnson’s nimble left hand
And Meade “Lux” Lewis at the baby grand
Cow Cow Davenport, Sunnyland Slim
Fats Waller, Ray Charles all live in him.

He may be the last free soul alive
Long may the Piano Man survive
He’s coming your way, wherever you are
So stuff a couple bills in the old tip jar.

2014

BALLAD OF NEW ORLEANS

I saw the pirate Jean Lafitte
Lurking down a narrow street
The voodoo queen Marie Laveau
Casting spells by candle glow
I heard the drums from Congo Square
Saw the slaves dancing there
I saw a funeral marching band
Burying an old jazzman.

I heard a trumpet far away
Like Buddy Bolden used to play
I saw the ghosts of Storyville
Jelly Roll is playing still
I heard a Creole clarinet
Harmonies I can’t forget
I heard a brassy slide trombone
Taking the whole band home.

From the rowdy river clear to Rampart Street
There’s always music in the air
Up the river, down the river, feel the beat
There’s music everywhere.

I saw Satchmo raise his horn
And play until the day was born
With Papa Joe to lead the way
Until the last note died away
In every dark New Orleans street
I feel the pulse, I hear the beat
Of music that will never end
New Orleans…Play it again!

1996

COUNTRY SONG

It was a good old-fashioned country song
On the air most everywhere all summer long
It was a done-wrong, so-long kind of tale
With bitter tears, and wasted years, and dreams for sale.

And though we sang along
We laughed about that song
'Cause you and I were "evermore."
But now that summer's gone
That lyric lingers on
And now it's not so funny any more.

And it was on my mind all winter long
And though there's signs of spring, I still can't sing
That dumb old country song.

It was a good old-fashioned country song
Breaking hearts across the charts all summer long
It was a too bad, so sad tale of woe
With every bitter tear for all to hear in stereo.

For better or for worse
We laughed at every verse
‘Cause you and I were “for all time.”
But as the season changed
Our song was rearranged
And now it’s just another empty rhyme.

Now everywhere I go it tags along
But now I can’t relate, I really hate
That dumb-ass country song!

1997