Peter Case

Music

Bumble Bee (from Blues for Vets CD)

This is the Memphis Minnie blues, from the HWY 62 sessions at Sheldon Gombergs’s Carriage House Studio, in Los Angeles, performed on a guitar Ben Harper had just laid on me, a perfect replica of Lead Belly’s Stella 12-string. Bumble Bee was the first song I played on it.

This song is Track 1 on a CD of blues, by Buffalo musicians, released to help homeless veterans in the Western New York area. Here is a link if you’d like to receive a copy, and help out a very good cause:

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/buffaloblues

 

  • June 14 Blues 4 Vets Peter Case Buffalo Blues Benefit Band ft. Dave Constantino, Grace Lougen, David Michael Miller & more   5pm on at Larkin Square, Buffalo, NY
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A homeless veteran’s story (Buffalo benefit announcement)

POOR OLD TOM

A Tennessee boy joined the US navy

In nineteen-fifty he was seventeen

A quiet kid who’d never seen the ocean

His mama died his first trip at sea

He learned to work and he learned to whistle

He learned to gamble and he learned to fight

He learned to suck a bottle and go out whorin’

Somehow he learned to stagger in at night

 

Poor old Tom he don’t know

Why his teeth’s gotta rattle shiver and shake

The night wind’s free to blow wherever it pleases

Tom’s free to walk to the cold day break

 

Poor old Tom he’s tellin’ it all

His thoughts are roarin’ like a waterfall

He never cared about money and there’s no doubt

He never had much money to care about

Typhoons and calms on the great Pacific

Proud to be serving the USA

He worked hard on board and he got promoted

He got VD but it went away

 

Poor old Tom he ain’t right

He went out in San Francisco on a Saturday night

Sunday morning his ship set sail

Tom was resting in the Oakland jail

 

Now it’s thirty-fiveyears since his incarceration

On a morals charge the words he said to me

From the brig on Treasure Island to the institution

They treated his depression with shock therapy

 

Poor old Tom he don’t know

He’s got trouble a callin’ he’s history

At the drop of a coin he’ll start to ramble

How the whole damn thing’s a mystery

 

His eyes bulge out as we talk on the corner

Eight turns on the gurney  they held him down

One morning they wheeled him to another building

A surgery room with doctors standing’ round

He cried Lord help me as they put him under &

He sailed away on an ether sea

Ever since that day all he does is wonder

Did the surgeons perform a lobotomy?

 

Poor old Tom this story’s true

He’s got nothin’ to show, no one to show it too

The word for him is nevertheless

He fought for freedom, never took a free breath

 

Now the radios blare nusak and  musak

Diseases are cured every day

The worst disease in the world is to be unwanted,

To be used up and cast away

So as we make our way towards our destinations
Fortunes are still made with flesh and blood
Progress and love got nothing in common
Jesus healed a blind man’s eyes with mud

Poor old Tom he don’t know
Why his teeth’s gotta rattle, shiver and shake
The night wind’s free to blow wherever it pleases
Tom’s free to walk ’til the cold day break

 

from the 1989 album The Man with the Blue, post-modern, fragmented, neo-traditionalist Guitar    on Geffen Records, with David Hidalgo on violin.

 

available at iTunes

 

Blues 4 Vets Benefit Show

Larkin Square

Buffalo, NY June 14!

with the band!

 

The Man With the Blue Post-Modern, Fragmented, Neo-Traditionalist Guitar (1989)

 

 

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Dangerous Book (Plimsouls with Clem Burke) ( & a few words about my Bookstore Education, thanks to Acappella Books!)

Kool Trash (1998)

When I was a kid I read for hours in the local bookstores, working my way through the Hardy Boys detective series, then moving on to Ian Fleming’s secret service novels. I didn’t understand anything about detectives or spies, so it was strictly fill-in-the-blanks, piecing together a picture of the world from bookrack to bookrack, unguided, racing through the set-ups to the death-defying sex scenes.

I loved the nearest branch of the public library too, ever since the Friday night when I was six, in 1960: My pal Pete Damon and I had our first sleepover and brought five or six picture books about bugs back to the house to study by flashlight, all night in bed. That’s still one of the best times I ever had in my life, it was so much fun, reading about walking sticks, and praying mantises, sharing the pictures of anthills and beehives. Life seemed huge, friendly, ancient, inexhaustible.

But the reading experience at Ulbrich’s Books at the local suburban plaza, was different. They had popular titles, the latest things, like The Sport Of Judo by Kiyoshi Kobayashi and Harold Sharp. Me and Pete poured over that and eventually brought it home, learning to throw each other all over the yard, using Advanced Foot Sweeps, and the Major Outer Rear Drop Throw. That was 1965, when I was 10. I still have my copy of that summertime obsession.

Another big bookstore discovery, perhaps the most important, was in February, 1966, when a Dell paperback called Folk-Rock: the Bob Dylan Story, by Sy and Barbara Ribakove,  appeared one day on the same rack that held James Bond and Mike Hammer. “The First! The one and only!” shouted the cover in a red balloon. I purchased a copy for 50 cents. The book began with a list of all the times Dylan ran away from home, and told the story of his first flight, to Chicago, when he was ten.

“Destiny appeared in the form of a weathered Negro street singer strumming a guitar. Bob, awed, couldn’t pull himself away. ‘I went up to him and began accompanying him on spoons—I used to play the spoons when I was little.’ …Before the police corralled him and took him home to his parents, Bob spent three months tagging after the street player and his friends, one of whom gave him the priceless gift of an old guitar.”  Man, that’s better than Pinocchio.

As I got into my teenage years, I found and read Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, a book that still carries a message for me. Norman Mailer’s Why Are We In Vietnam?  amazed me because the story was of a teenage genius named DJ, along on his father’s demented hunting expedition to Alaska. The novels that spoke to me the most were Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. It seemed like you could base your whole life on those. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island Of the Mind, and Leonard Cohen’s The Spice-box Of Earth inspired me to make my own poetry.  William Blake became important to my survival, and as life got more psychedelic, I had my portable copy. All of these eye-opening texts came my way at Ulbrich’s Books. I spent hours perusing books in the store, but the owners were patient, and never once threw me out.

I grew up, said goodbye to my pals, and got out of that town a few years later. I remember reading Ed Sanders’ book The  Family, before I split. It was a terrifying vision of California, and Charles Manson.  At the time,The Greening Of America was a sensation as well, though I never bought it, just glanced into it. And Future Shock. Well, everybody was living that one.

Despite Sanders’ warnings, I landed in San Francisco at 18 years old and began living a precarious existence as a wandering street singer for several years, no doubt inspired by my reading about Bob Dylan’s nonexistent friend.

My bookstore of choice in San Francisco was City Lights, an iconic landmark even then. I knew it was Ferlinghetti’s shop, and had read much of the poetry he’d published by Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and others. I’d see him coming and going about his business, as I played on the busy corner across the street.

During the day, if traffic was too slow on the sidewalks to bother playing, or if it was cold or raining, I’d go into City Lights, downstairs into the basement, pick a book out from the shelves, pull up a chair, and read for hours.  The Travels of Marco Polo introduced my imagination to the magic, mystery and beauty of the East—what a story! Charles Dickens, and his street characters in Oliver Twist captivated me, with tales of running away into city-wide adventure. I bought Hunter Thompson’s satire of ’70s America, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and read it straight through, sitting all night at the counter in Hunt’s Donuts at Mission and 20th.

My next trip back to City Lights, I climbed the stairway above the front counter cash register and in the quiet room up there, devoured  Harlan Ellison’s  I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. But my bible at the time was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. The tales of Doc the marine biologist, and Mack, the king of the bums, mythically reflected the adventures I was having in San Francisco.  All of these books were spellbinders, opening up in vivid ways ideas of life beyond the world I knew.

Back downstairs, in the philosophy section, I was reading Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good And Evil, which left me dumbfounded. What the hell? I would have loved to go beyond that duality, but I didn’t get it. I was struggling, but enjoyed the aphorisms anyway. Martin Buber’s I & Thou—which I was led to believe by a writer named Stephen Pickering had been one of Dylan’s favorites—was about the quest for God. I reached, tried to understand, didn’t get so far. But it was fascinating. I was willing to know more, and that was a start. Not “getting it” was sometimes a major piece of my bookstore education, as I tried to come to terms with concepts that were beyond me. Anyway, I spent a lot of time in there, sometimes even nodded off, but the City Lights staff never pushed me out.

After joining a rock and roll band, I moved to Los Angeles in ’76. My favorite bookstore down there eventually became Dutton’s, where I became friends with a poet, the late Scott Wannberg, and once again spent a lot of afternoons hanging out reading, and talking, though I didn’t quite have the time for that I’d had before.

I’m back in San Francisco now,  after years of living in Southern California, and I’m happy to report that City Lights is booming. With online book sales and high rents shutting down bookstores almost daily, that is quite an accomplishment. I still make a pilgrimage there, going up to the poetry room, which is, without wanting to get too saccharine about it, like a visit to a sanctuary, a peaceful spot where life can be appreciated and contemplated, and important and beautiful voices can be heard.

I went there for the 60th anniversary of the store, walked upstairs, and there was the man himself, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 94 years old, pouring champagne for well-wishers and enjoying the day. I had a copy of his new book Time Of Useful Consciousness and I asked him if he would please autograph it. I took the opportunity to thank him for the poetry, as well as the store, for allowing me to read my way through it, in the ’70s.

“I used to go up in that room above the front door, and read. I was homeless at the time, and I want to thank you for your hospitality. Sometimes I’d even fall asleep up there. You and the staff were always so kind. I feel like I got a lot of my education here.”

“Ah yes”  he replied, “That was the science fiction room.”

 

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Every Twenty-four Hours (with Richard Thompson)

Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John (2007)

 

 

 

 

Richard was scheduled to come in and record with me the next day at Village Recorders in Los Angeles . In a panic after realizing I had no song ready, I whipped this one up in my kitchen that night. I really had no idea if the tune would work for us or not until Richard heard it in the studio and gave it the thumbs up. We did three versions, which were all very different, so I picked this one. I asked Richard to sing at the very last moment, and he did a great job. Between takes I mentioned John Williams and Julian Bream and he treated us to an off-the-cuff medley of music from side two their great album “Together!”  Every Twenty-four Hours became an often requested number at my shows, and that phrase often lifts my spirits. Live now, get things done, the whole world turns around every 24.

 

Driving 12 hours after the show

Hit the boarder at dawn and kept going

As the moon crossed my path, I was doing the math

Will I make it? There’s no way of knowing

I should’ve called home ‘fore she went to sleep

I pray the Lord for her soul to keep

Tomorrow will tell who’s been tending the sheep

The world turns every 24 hours

Ah, turns every 24 hours

Ah, it turns every 24 hours

 

Under a bridge in the black squalling rain

I could see then but just for an instant

The wind hauled, the morning roared like a train

And the skyline was lost in the distance

Who moves the furniture? Who hit the light?

Every thing’s changing but nothing seems right

I thought I was smart but that was last night

The world turns every 24 hours

image: http://static.urx.io/units/web/urx-unit-loader.gif

Ah, turns every 24 hours

Ah, turns every 24 hours

Turns every 24 hours

 

So the arrows were down and the way through the town

Was blocked by the flood and a crash site

The cop waved me through but I thought of you

‘Cross ten thousand miles of moonlight

Our life’s opportunity moves with great speed

Pay close attention, it’s not guaranteed

We live in the whirl of wonder and greed

And it turns every 24 hours

Ah, turns every 24 hours

Ah, turns every 24 hours

Ah, turns every 24 hours

Ah, turns every 24 hours

 

This cd can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Let-Now-Praise-Sleepy-John/dp/B000RPCEDE  It was nominated for a Grammy™  and it’s one that I’m very proud of.

 

 

 

 

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A Walk In The Woods At Ben Frank’s.

I’d left the band. I was disorganized in that cottage up there in the canyon, living alone, banging on the piano I’d rented, with records scattered all over the couch and floor, and notebooks too. All I did was write and demo songs. There was never anything in the refrigerator except beer. On the shelf were boxes and boxes of sake. And I powered down coffee like mad when I wasn’t drinking beer or wine, sake or brandy. Not being much of a cook, I took all my meals out, down on Sunset Boulevard usually, at one of the places down there. My two favorites were Ben Franks’s twenty-four hour diner, and the famous natural food restaurant The Source, where I could pretend I was doing great things for my health.

One night I was sitting in a booth at the Source, picking at an avocado, beet, and bean sprout salad, when I realized Muhammad Ali was seated at the very next table, in discussion with a number of men. I listened in, couldn’t help it, and from what I could pick up, straining my ears as best I could, the guys were from the Olympic Committee, doing their best to convince the Champ to host the Olympic Boxing that was coming up in LA later in the Summer. I was trying to be cool, and not let on I was eavesdropping, but I nearly fell out of my seat when I heard Ali tell them, “I threw my medals in the river.” He was turning them down, and they were beseeching him. His no was solid, no matter how they begged, and finally he got up to walk out, right past my table. He was big as life, looking very strong, totally cool, and he winked at me as he walked out.

Another time I was up at Ben Frank’s restaurant in the small hours of the morning, sitting at the counter drinking cup after cup of the bad coffee they served there. David Bowie was just a few seats down from me at the counter, wearing a khaki coloured jacket, drinking the coffee too, leaning on his elbows and absently chain smoking, looking off into the imaginary distance. No one else seemed to notice him there, or seemed to care. That’s the way it was in Hollywood, it still had a few surprises left in it back then.

I was studying songwriting, trying to catch a ride to the next level, looking to tap secret power, pouring over the Song Of Solomon in the Old Testament, Robert Browning, the complete Hank Williams catalogue, and the ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound. EP laid it down as “dichten = condensare,” poetry as concentrated verbal expression. To condense. Highly charged language was the goal. Every word, every note is important to the whole. Whenever I saw the word poetry I read the word “songs.” I was consciously trying to expand my mind on the subject. I had a box set of Lotte Lenya singing the Brecht-Weill songs from Three Penny Opera and Mahogany, and I followed the lyrics in print in German and English. I was developing a love for condensed, colorful , concrete language. The best songs told their story by referencing the world of people and things directly, vividly evoking the senses. Dylan’s records reflected all of this in a big way. And I was digging Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, plus all the pre-war blues, and somewhere in there I was still working on the lessons I’d learned as a street singer, as one of the Nerves. I was brewing up a hybrid.

I’d work on songs alone up at my pad for days, then flip and need to go out and make contact with friends. I never really dated anyone, didn’t call it that anyhow. Cathy turned me on to the Love ‘Forever Changes’ album one night. I couldn’t get that out of my head.

I was sitting at the counter in Ben Frank’s one afternoon, drinking black coffee and doing the crossword puzzle in a newspaper, when the lines came to me. I wrote “out past the cemetery down by the willow bend,” in the margins of the paper. I was thinking of my hometown Hamburg New York, the old graveyard I used to walk through, above the winding Eighteen Mile Creek. “Half a mile from the railroad track.” That easily fit into the picture. “Last seen together these two lovers hand in hand…took a walk in the woods and they come back.” I wrote all of this in pen on the margins of the paper. The lyrics were pouring out in rhythm as fast as I could write.

Out past the cemetary, down by the willow bend

Half a mile from the railroad track

Last seen together, these two lovers hand in hand

They took a walk in the woods and they never come back

They took a walk in the woods and they never come back

 

Metal from the radio, it rang out through the fields

Just when they thought they’d found the track

Through a patch of four leaf clover that vanished in thin air

They took a walk in the woods and they never come back

They took a walk in the woods and they never come back

 

Never before in history has this town been so up in arms

You never heard such misery as those bloodhounds ‘cross the farms

Between God and the police they were protected from all harm

Until they walked in the woods and they never come back

They took a walk in the woods and they never come back

They never come back

They never come back

 

Sirens wailed emergency, no evidence was removed

You never heard such theories, but none of them could be proved

For the missing children, no conscience could be soothed

They took a walk in the woods and they never come back

 

Well,that was fifteen years ago,I guess we’ve come a long, long way

I never heard the end of it, you know, I couldn’t stay

When I’m not stuck for time or money, I still wonder ’bout that day

I took a walk in the woods and I never come back

I took a walk in the woods and I never come back

I never come back

I never come back

I took a walk in the woods and I never come back

I was thinking about my home town that I’d left for good ten years earlier. I was thinking about specific places there, and particular people, but the whole song took shape before I even had time to figure out the meaning. It just arrived. I paid my check and left a tip at the counter, picked up the newspaper, and still scribbling as the words hit me, I made my way across the parking lot to my car (a red ’69 Barracuda ragtop with hounds tooth interior) and I got in, putting the paper on the passenger seat. I started it up and drove East on Sunset, took a left on Laurel, and continued on up to Kirkwood, all the time getting lines for the second bridge.

I had most of the song as I pulled up in front of my place. I ran up the steps opened the door, and grabbed the Gibson Hummingbird laying on the couch. I sat down, spread the newspaper in front of me, and began to strum. I played an F#m chord, picking up the first finger and replacing to create a bass line in a rolling rhythm on the bottom string. I pretty much sang the whole thing right then, first time through. I had the words, and the music just came. I’d never played anything like it before.

 

My first solo album is available in an expanded cd edition with many bonus songs at http://omnivorerecordings.com/music/peter-case/

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The Long Good Time

 

 

Mother was doing her ironing

while she listened to Nat King Cole

Teenagers came & went in cars

all tuned to rock’n’roll

Windows were open in the summer heat

Locusts were buzzing out there street

The feelings passed now I can’t recall

How we never thought that we had it all

 

Everything has been erased

that’s the way it goes

First the laughter then the light now they’re all gone

& locked up tight where the cold wind blows

But we’ll all meet again at the end

of The Long Good Time

We’ll all meet again at the end

of The Long Good Time

 

Sweet little flowers called snowdrops

in the backyard with the fresh mint leaves

A cherry tree with a rope to climb

& robins nests under the eaves

My band was playing in the basement

driving folks out of their minds

Mother called down from the top of the steps

“Boys, play that nice song about suicide”

 

Everyone everyplace everything has been erased

that’s the way it goes

First the laughter then the light now they’re all gone

& locked up tight where the cold wind blows

But we’ll all meet again at the end

of The Long Good Time

 

The powers cut, the house is cold

Books are boxed, the furnitures sold

Memories drift, our souls drift too

The world keeps turning

whats it turning to?

 

Me and Pa were circling the table

fighting the war with our fists

Papa said to Mama, “The boy’s insane

there’s a viper in our midst”

Years later we made amends

guess those ribs didn’t hurt no more

You could even say we became good friends

when we saw what we had in store

 

Everything has been erased

That’s the way it goes

First the laughter then the light now they’re all gone

& locked up tight where the cold wind blows

But we’ll all meet again at the end

of The Long Good Time

We’ll all meet again at the end

of The Long Good Time

 

From the lp/cd/digital HWY 62 available from Ominvore Recordings

http://omnivorerecordings.com/music/hwy-62/

 

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Spell Of Wheels

Full Service No Waiting (1998)

 

Greg Leisz, lap steel, Sandy Chila, drums, David Jackson, bass,  Andrew Williams, harmonium, harmonies, production, Don Heffington, percussion,

The B section of this song was composed in 1976, the rest 19 years later.

 

Kansas City as the first snow of the year begins to fall

she’s at a Westport party drunk & leaning against the wall

Skip & Wolf come stomping in someone has a plan

Faceboy goes to fetch his clothes I go to lend a hand

we leave KC at midnight heading north on the interstate

snow is falling hard & fast we’re glad to get away

five kids in a beat up car kickin’ up their heels &

heading out into the dark beneath the spell of wheels

beneath the spell of wheels

 

across the land this car will roll

past places we’ll never know

flashing lights & highway signs

mark the miles & keep the time

beneath the spell of wheels

beneath the spell of wheels

 

it’s an empty stretch of pitch black road

& we’re feeling quite upset

the snow is falling harder now

we’re scared as we can get

’cause the black car that’s been chasing us

has rolled its window down

& when I see the shotgun there

I know we’re graveyard bound

 

high above us in the light

a thousand faces sleep in flight

down here the road turns like a screw

I’m on my way back home to you

beneath the spell of wheels

beneath the spell of wheels

 

now we’re sinkin’ low as we can go & waitin’ for the blast

Skippie jams down on the brakes that demon car blows past

we pull off on the roadside everybody pulls their knives

the black car keeps on goin’ & I guess so do our lives

we get to Minnesota spend the winter in monochrome

fall in with small time criminals just like the ones at home

watchin’ through the windows for what the night reveals

& waitin’ for the spring to come

beneath the spell of wheels

beneath the spell of wheels

 

 

© 1997 Peter Case and Joshua Case BUG Music (BMI)

 

 

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Here comes Blind Luck swingin’ his cane…

 

 

From 1995, this track from the Torn Again CD features Greg Leisz on lap steel, Don Heffington on drums, Jerry Scheff – a veteran of both Elvises – on a Hofner bass, and Steven Soles on vocals (and co-production, with Larry Hirsch and myself.) It was recorded (as were most of the album’s tracks) at Capitol Records Studio in Hollywood.

I co-wrote this song with Fred Koller.

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