The times being what they are, and my emotional state being what it is, I'm engaged in a process of catharsis. In that spirit, I've taken on the ineffably pleasant chore of recording a version of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City"; could there be a more perfect song for Life Under Bush? "This old earthquake's a-gonna leave me in the poorhouse/It seems like this whole town's insane..."
Now, I thought I knew country music pretty well. I've owned a banjo since 1984, and nearly everything I know about guitar playing ultimately has its roots in country. When I pick up a guitar and idly play it, what usually comes out is at least traceable to country, if not the thing itself.
So when I listened to my efforts with "Sin City," I was rather taken aback to find that I just wasn't feeling it. Something was, well, just wrong about it. It was too waltz-y, it didn't swing the way it should.
So I did what I should have done in the first place, which was to listen to the Burrito Brothers' version; I'd been operating from memory, and not from the magnificent template set down by Gram and the Boys. And what I heard was an absolute revelation.
The song's pedestrian beat is a waltz, no question about it, but you wouldn't know it from the rhythm section; they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge waltz-time. The rhythm guitar plays a ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta eighth-note figure, and the bass walks on the waltz beat, without accenting the one. I'd been playing the rhythm guitar in waltz time -- boom-chuck-a-chuck, boom-chuck-chuck -- and the bass as your standard country one-five, one-five on the first beat of each measure. That was why my recording was so weak.
It's a ubiquitous country beat, but I've been beating my brains out around the Internets to try to figure out what it's actually called. Here's a snip from Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," which, while not a waltz, is a good illustration of what I'm talking about:
I Fall to Pieces (pops)
Now, there are thousands of country-songs that use that loping beat, especially from the Fifties and Sixties, and it's also the core beat of lots of New Orleans music as well, Fats Domino and that ilk. It's also the essence of ska as well -- that music came about as a result of Jamaicans doing their own take on country and R&B. You can sing "My Boy Lollipop" right over "I Fall to Pieces" and it fits perfectly.
But here's what blew the top of my tiny little head off. Not long ago I raved about Paul McCartney's walking bass in "All My Loving," saying I couldn't think of a pop song from before it that used the bass that way. Well, go ahead, give it a try: Launch that Patsy clip again, ignore the harmony and just hear the beat. "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you..."
You just never stop learning, man.
(I'll post up "Sin City" when it's done, but one other tragic flaw has revealed itself to me: I am not now, nor have I ever been, Sneaky Pete Kleinow.)