Thursday, February 18, 2016

"Blue Sky"

Dickey Betts, 1974
Back when I started this project, the acoustic part for "Blue Sky" was the first thing I recorded. It took me a while to get to it, but I'm glad I waited (more on why later). Dickey Betts is pretty much my biggest influence as a guitarist (unless I'm playing slide). The man has the sweetest tone, I don't think there is a guitar player with a better sense of melody. I'm surprised it has taken me as long as it has to get to a Dickey Betts-penned tune, but perhaps that is due to the immense respect I have for his material. It's a lot to tackle.

"Blue Sky" is pure ear candy. It is one of the first Allman Brothers tunes to grab me. The original was set in the key of E, which really brought out its sweetness. Eventually Dickey would move the tune to G to make the song more easy to sing. With "Blue Sky" being such a signature tune for him, The Allmans took a 4 year break from playing "Blue Sky" after they parted ways with Dickey in 2000. He would continue to play the song in his own band, Great Southern, but it wasn't until the Allman Brothers were asked to recreate Eat A Peach live in the studio in 2004 that they resurrected the song themselves. It was controversial with fans at the time, many having sided with "mom" or "dad" in the beef that has largely endured to this day. Upon revisiting "Blue Sky", the Allman Brothers returned the song to its original key of E. The E>A progression is similar to another song from the last record side of Eat A Peach that the Allman Brothers rarely played until 2004, Duane Allman's "Little Martha". The two songs would be combined as an instrumental homage to its founding guitarists on rare occasions beginning with 2009's Beacon run.

Eat A Peach gatefold artwork by Flournoy Holmes
I always preferred hearing and playing "Blue Sky" in the key of E. It just belongs there to my ear. It is true, however, it is incredibly hard to sing in the key. I went low instead of high, but the lyrics aren't really the focal point to this song. I wanted to do 2 solos, but only 1 as a slide solo. That meant I would have to decide what instrument the 2nd solo would be on - tricone? Mandolin? Acoustic guitar?

It just so happened that I received my Daddy Mojo Cigar Box Biscuit Resonator around the same time. It has a longer neck, so I was able to push the solo past the 12th fret. The guitar also happens to echo Dickey's own tone on Les Paul - sweet, resonant, but with a plucky bite. I will write more about the Daddy Mojo guitar, but for now here is "Blue Sky".

"Into the Mystic"

Van Morrison, Moondance
I was a little late to the Van Morrison party. As a young kid listening to oldies radio stations, I always knew about his big hits - "Gloria", "Moondance", "Brown Eyed Girl" - but hadn't really ever felt the need to explore the rest of the Irish songwriter's vast catalog. But I still remember the moment one of the sweetest bass lines I've ever heard made my world stop while watching some inane rom-com I was forced to go see. I looked up the song and picked up Van Morrison's Moondance album, maybe not immediately (I was in college) but eagerly soon after.

It was probably only a year or so later when I noticed the set list for a 2003 Allman Brothers Instant Live concert recording from Walnut Creek and was surprised to see the Van Morrison tune smack in the middle (next to a Bob Dylan tune and Wynton Marsalis' name as a guest). Even though I consider myself a monster fan of the band, I had mostly given up on the Allman Brothers after they parted ways with Dickey Betts in 2000. I saw them that summer with Jimmy Herring, and although they had reintroduced some forgotten jam tunes ("MOUNTAIN JAM"!) to make up for the lack of a 2nd singer, it just didn't seem the same to me. Former Allman Brothers guitarist, Warren Haynes, would take over for Jimmy Herring in 2001 after he took time off from his own band, Gov't Mule, following the passing of his longtime band mate, bassist Allen Woody.

Fast forward to 2004 and the epic Fox Box, a boxed set of three Allman Brothers shows at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA, caught my eye. I checked out a few more recent shows to see what I had missed out on, to find that my favorite band now was playing Van Morrison tunes. It seemed like an odd pairing, but it worked. It also made a lot more sense when I learned that Bill Graham, famed promoter and owner of the Fillmore East who proclaimed The Allman Brothers his favorite band, also claimed "Into the Mystic" as his favorite song. So his favorite band was now playing his favorite song. Although I've been lucky enough to see Van Morrison in concert twice, I haven't heard him dust off "Into The Mystic", but he notoriously shies away from his well-known material.

The Allman Brothers would retain "Into The Mystic" in their set lists over the next 10 years (occasionally with horns!), including their last Beacon run in October 2014. I decide I wanted to take a crack at the tune, especially after I saw a rather mellow, horn-less version Van performed on TV in the 1970s. Though the Allman Brothers substitute the signature horns with Derek Truck's slide, this version gave me an idea of how to stretch it out. The hardest part was finding the right key to keep my pedestrian singing from sounding the least bad. I mean, a Van Morrison song? What was I thinking? I really just wanted to jam me some slide on the end and arrange a "horn part". Also, it's my girlfriend's favorite song, and I was hoping she might like it.

UPDATE: I have since re-recorded "Into the Mystic" because I came to find this version pretty rough.