Peter Case

Music

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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Blue Distance (from Flying Saucer Blues, 2000)

From the Flying Saucer Blues album.  I love this production, by Andrew Williams, that paints a picture, and captures the mood of the song. This track features Greg Leisz on lap steel, David Jackson on bass, Andrew on harmonium and harmonies, and Sandy Chila on drums. Though it never was promoted, and rarely received any radio play, this number has its fans, and its a frequent request at my shows.

 

 

The records for Vanguard, if you’re trying to keep score, are:

Peter Case Sing’s Like Hell   (folk, blues and country covers, 1994)

Torn Again (original songs with band, including Greg Leisz, Don Heffington, Jerry Scheff, Steven Soles, 1995) (produced by Soles, Hirsch, Case)

Full Service, No Waiting (the first of three produced by Andrew Williams, with Sandy Chila, Greg Leisz, and others, 1998)

Flying Saucer Blues (produced by A. Williams, 2000)

and

Beeline (prod. A Williams, 2002,  with  band inc. Sandy Chila, Joshua Case, Davey  Meshell)

 

These albums were some of the best I’ve made, and found many fans, but remained very obscure in the culture at large, maybe due to very little radio promotion. (Ok, I don’t usually go into this, but I’m trying to leave a trail here for people just getting into it.)  Full Service is my fave, being kind of a low-fi re-invention of my sound, once described to me as”Caseland music, country-blues plus Irish folk plus Spector-esque rock and roll plus me…something like that. And Flying Saucer Blues was Full Service vol 2 with expanded palette.

Beeline was the last record for Vanguard, and my last with Andrew Williams. It was twist on the sound incorporating electronic sounds into the mix.

I’ll feature songs from all these albums in upcoming posts, trying to draw a map to the area for first time listeners.

 

 

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Bumble Bee (out-take from HWY 62 LP)

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

 

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Can’t Stop Shakin’ & I Don’t Know Why

conspiracies–I never thought about them on the grey November—in the backyard with a football—“the president’s been shot”—it never occurred until Rolling Stone started blowing on their trumpet—or maybe news of Garrison—as time passed I began to feel the enormity of the wounds of those killings—then, late nights alone, reading the lore—a quickening of all the senses—life—ah yes—and it made as much sense as the tale of a lone gunman—sympathy & identification with Oswald—not as a killer but as a young lost soul—then feeling the truth was being revealed—as waves of contradiction pursued across the airwaves—lines of print arranged to re-confuse? And explanations for the explanations: the theories soothe, help us deal with the mysterious uncontrollable forces—but the truth mattered & I know a little about that—the sense of truth seems to get stronger as I get older tho’ that may be an illusion—see? you will always struggle with these tales—making sense of evil is a tricky business—and now absurd theories of Clinton sex cults & murders—explain what?—Obama birth in Kenya explains…the theorist’s anxieties—away—a glimpse behind the veil—the curtain that dropped a long time ago—Jon said “watch who keeps winning no matter what.”

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