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

SIX-STRING LOVE SONG

Her voice was so sweet
And her shape, divine
And, wow, what a stunning blond!
Her family’s name, famous
And I, a black sheep
A ne’er-do-well vagabond.

With her in my arms
I could conquer the world
I said, as she sat on my knee
So we traveled the globe
Every mile, every smile
She was there to accompany me.

But I fell on hard times
And it tore us apart
My beloved, my Martin guitar
Now, twenty years later
I walk past the pawnshop
And wonder, my love, where you are.

2014

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 band back 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

TANGO

He was maybe twenty-three or -four
Younger than the diamond ring she wore
She was old enough to think the police were awfully young
Her favorite songs were vintage tunes that he had never sung.

Strangers sometimes thought she was his mom
A slip that she’d accept with sweet aplomb
So she ignored the phone that never rang
And while the morning coffee perked...she sang.

Dusty photos showed her way back when
A trophy on the arms of well-dressed men
He played her grand piano and made himself at home
She served him steaks and wine and curbed his tendency to roam.

She taught him how to tango, and just which fork to use
He taught her how to rock and roll and smoke away her blues
She dressed him up and showed him off to has-been movie stars
And then they laughed and danced all night in noisy neon bars.

Days they lunched and limousine and never looked ahead
Nights they wrote sweet love songs deep within her feather bed
And in her moonlit window seat, he cradled his guitar
And searched to find that sad, sweet chord for wishing on a star.

Down on Sunset Boulevard, the tan young girls strolled by
But he was hers, he let her know, by touch, by word, by eye
“You are my muse,” he smiled and crooned to softly strummed guitar
Or could it be, she thought, his newfound taste for caviar.

And when he left there were no big goodbyes
“I’ll see you soon,” he said with smiling eyes
And it was over just like that, except for scattered tears
And just a tiny spark of hope she gently fanned for years.

He never knew, those long years later, if she heard his song
But millions did and worldwide sales were strong
And many women claimed the song – alas, without a clue
But she knew. Ah, yes...she knew.

2004

BLUES MAMAS

They were hard on do-wrong daddies
And aggravatin' papas
Those hard-livin', hard-lovin'
Straight-talkin' mamas.
They were down-and-dirty divas
They shouted, they purred
And the echoes of their voices are still heard.

Blues mamas
Those uppity, uppity women
They sang about those mean mistreatin' men
Blues mamas
Those talk-the-talk, walk-the-walk women
They gladly walked Into the lion's den.
They were teachers, preachers
Sisters with soul
They were tellers, sellers
Of sweet jelly roll
They were movers, shakers
Brassy and bold
They showed a whole lot of class
And shook a whole lot of ass.

Blues mamas
Those uppity, uppity women
They more than paid their dues
Those ever-lovin' blues mamas.

1997

THE TROUBADOUR

He took the stage and smiled and glanced around
Waiting for the crowd to settle down
He tuned his old guitar and cleared his head
Is Phoenix where I just rolled out of bed?

Some pretty girls just barely drinking age
Trailed his hot-shot opening act offstage
He used to be the center of that swarm
But now it’s mostly whiskey keeps him warm.

From big arenas, classy back-up bands
He’s down to one guitar, two skillful hands
He scanned the crowd for fans from years gone by
But failed to find a single friendly eye.

His opening song got just a meager hand
But that’s a spark he knew just how to fan
He worked the crowd with skill and charm and wit
And when the time was right he sang his hit.

They might not know him, but they knew his song
And by the second verse they sang along
And he, as he had done throughout the show
Sang to the dark eyes in the second row.

He watched her hang on every word and phrase
He’d learned to take his cue from such displays
And, wrapping up the show with practiced charm
He waltzed backstage with Dark Eyes on his arm.

Up close, he fell into those lovely eyes
Was too bewitched at first to realize
That buried in her praise the thing he hates:
“My mother played your song on all her dates.”

She then was whisked away by some young cur
Who thanked him for the show and called him sir
And left him there still holding his guitar
Another wound, another little scar.

His gaze fell on the faithful old guitar
“It’s you and me, Babe, now we’ve come this far
And you’ve been more than just a pretty face,”
He laughed and laid her gently in the case.

He took a nip to guard against the cold
Jack Daniels was another friend of old
So off he went with friends into the night
To find that still unwritten song to write.

2009

© 2017 Ellen Griffith - RECALL MUSIC