Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Singer, A Guitar, and A Memorable Song

Most of the recorded music we listen to features band arrangements of the songs - lead and backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, bass, drums, etc. These arrangements usually showcase the music well. Sometimes though, the power of a song is best displayed when it is pared down to the minimum: a singer and a guitar.

Steve Winwood has been around for decades, producing memorable music as a solo act, and in bands such as Blind Faith, Traffic, and the Spencer Davis Group. With this video, Steve proves (not that he needed to) that he is a master performer, just himself and a guitar.

Gram Parsons died more than 40 years ago, and is probably not well known by many modern music lovers. This recording of Tom Paxton's 'The Last Thing On My Mind' was made in the mid-1960's, but was not released until it appeared on a 2000 compilation titled 'Another Side of This Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons'. Parsons' version of this song is a powerful glimpse into his exceptional talent.

Bob Dylan has been a solo performer for much of his career. The basic pattern of singer, guitar and harmonica tended to accentuate the powerful lyrics of his memorable songs. 'The Times They Are A-Changing' is one of his best.

John Mellencamp is a rocker who sings about the things he knows best - growing up in the Midwestern US. Occasionally, he sits down with his guitar and shows what a talented musician he is by himself. This solo version of 'Pink Houses' is possibly more powerful than the full band recorded track.

John Fogerty commands a stage such that it doesn't much matter whether he is fronting a band or performing solo. He is equally convincing regardless of the setting, as this solo version of 'Lodi' shows. Any way you listen, John is a great story teller.

Nick Drake, like Gram Parsons, died far too young, and so long ago, that he is not well known today. Drake lived with depression, and he died in 1974 at age 26 from an overdose of an anti-depressant. His death was ruled a suicide, however that is still debated. 'From the Morning' appeared on Pink Moon, Drake's last studio album, released in 1972. I first heard this song a few years ago when it was used on an AT&T commercial.

When the great Buck Owens died in 2006, more than 2000 people gathered for his memorial service. Buck's long time friend Dwight Yoakam performed an impassioned solo version of Merle Haggard's 'In The Garden'. It is another perfect example of how a singer and a guitar alone can elevate a song to a remarkable level.

Neil Young has performed solo, with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, with Crazy Horse, and other versions of his own band. The best of Neil is usually him with a guitar and a harmonica, as in this performance of 'Heart of Gold'.

Jackson Browne had written most of the future Eagle's classic 'Take It Easy' when he met Glenn Frey in Los Angeles in 1971. He played the song for Frey, who after several attempts, convinced Browne to let him finish the second verse. The result was a huge hit for the Eagles, and made a certain street corner in an Arizona town a popular tourist destination. 

Rodney Crowell and Will Jennings wrote 'What Kind of Love', using a melody composed in part by Roy Orbison. Crowell performed this great song in 2010, at a benefit celebration of what would have been Roy's 74th birthday.

Arlo Guthrie is a great American story teller. With his unique voice, humor, and unique songs, Arlo has captivated audiences for decades. In this video, he pays tribute to Steve Goodman, who wrote 'City of New Orleans', a song that was a huge hit for Guthrie.

Steve Goodman received a posthumous Grammy Award in 1985 for 'City of New Orleans'. Goodman died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 36.

Paul Rodgers has long been the voice of hard rocking groups Free, Bad Company, and The Firm. Although those bands played primarily hard rock, Rodgers - one of the greatest of rock vocalists - proved that he can sing a powerful ballad with the best of them.

Stephen Stills, along with David Crosby and Graham Nash created magic pretty much every time they sang. 'Helplessly Hoping' was one of CSN's most memorable songs, with the layered harmony vocals guaranteed to give you goose bumps. Stills proves on this video that he can do spectacular justice to that song all by himself.

Roger McGuinn's unique guitar and vocal style were perfect for the Byrds and their compelling brand of folk-rock. His banjo rolls and hybrid picking on that beautiful Rickenbacker electric 12-string were important parts of one of the great bands in history.

Paul Simon and George Harrison are music legends. This performance of Simon's 'Homeward Bound' is as good as it gets.

In the middle of the Concert For Bangladesh in 1971, the army of musicians stepped aside, leaving George Harrison and Badfinger's Pete Ham to take the stage with acoustic guitars. This performance of 'Here Comes the Sun' is one of the greatest concert moments of all time.

Jack Mayeaux and Martin M., two men that live on different continents and have never met in person, produced this stunning Internet collaboration of Tom Waits' 'Innocent When You Dream'. Martin appears on lead vocals and guitar, with Jack on backing vocals.

This video of James Taylor performing 'Steamroller Blues' is a perfect example of a man, a guitar, a great song, and a legendary talent.

A huge number of music fans in Texas would swear on their mother that Jerry Jeff Walker is a native Texan. He looks and sounds the part, and his brand of Texas country music is proof for those loyal folks that Jerry Jeff is as Texas as a man can be. 

Not wanting to burst anyone's bubble, however, his name isn't really JJW, and he wasn't born in Texas. In fact, his real name is Ronald Crosby, and he was born in Oneonta, New York. 

I know - it's hard to swallow. 

Just listen to the man play and sing, and forget all about that Yankee stuff. Jerry Jeff got to Texas as fast he could, and he is as Texas as a man can be.

Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.


  1. Enjoyed the post, Larry. I'll work my way through the tunes and revel.

    I've been listening to a lot of one-voice-and-guitar music lately, largely because I'm learning to play it. The singing, we won't discuss!

    From the early bluesmen to Johnny Cash's American albums, the sound of one guitar and one voice can bring out a directness in music. It's extremely personal, maybe vulnerable.

    I look forward to reading more from you.

    1. Thank-you! I am also a guitarist (30+ years) with a criminally bad singing voice.