There’s an old bit floating around the internet talking about the requirements for singing the blues. It makes the point that you can’t sing the blues if you live in a beach house in Hawaii. And blues can’t be about flying around in your private jet or driving your Ferarri through the Alps. No, you wanna sing the blues, you need to have a broke down truck and you better be living in a shotgun shack. Well, today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl is more rhythm and blues than straight blues, but the songs come from the same emotional place. In fact, these songs are all about place. See, you couldn’t have written these songs if you grew up in a penthouse on Central Park West, or a gated community in the greater Dallas area. These songs were written by and about people living on the edge, check to check and frequently it was a check of the welfare variety. Songs about living below the poverty line fall roughly into two categories: rural and urban. If you lived out in the country, you might have been struggling to make ends meet “Down in the Boondocks” as Billy Joe Royal called it. In some places you’d be living in what Johnny Rivers called “The Poor Side of Town” which was usually on the other side of the tracks.
But if you were poor and living in the big city, you were probably hanging your hat in the projects. Back in the day this is what was called the slums or ‘the ghetto.’ The term ‘ghetto’ goes back a ways and originally meant a part of a city where a specific ethnic group was essentially confined or separated from the majority. In the U.S., in the Sixties and Seventies, the word came to mean a poverty-stricken, overcrowded, crime-ridden, part of town. In other words, you weren’t separated because of your race so much as your bank balance, though the overlap of the two things was noticeable. And there were plenty of songwriters who took that as the subject for their songs. So today we’re going to leave the relative affluence and comfort of the Way Back Studios and head for the sort of neighborhood where hope is hard to come by. We’re going to the ghetto.
|War||The World is a Ghetto (Pt. 1)|
|Marvin Gaye||Inner City Blues|
|War||The World is a Ghetto (Pt. 2)|
|Donny Hathaway||The Ghetto|
|War||The World is a Ghetto (Pt. 3)|
|Elvis Presley||In the Ghetto|
That’s Bill Withers singing about the struggles of living up in “Harlem.” Not that he lived there. Bill was actually born and raised in West Virginia coal country where times were hard for most people most of the time, which just goes to show that you don’t have to live above 110th Street to understand what it is to struggle. That’s from one of the great debut albums in the Deep Tracks library, from 1971, it’s called Just as I Am, produced by none other than Booker T. Jones. Before that, a little bit of a curve ball in the middle of all that rhythm, blues, and laid back jazzy California funk. “In The Getto” is a tragic tale about the unbroken cycle of generational poverty, a subject that seems unlikely to appeal to a wide radio audience, but Elvis Presley took the song written by Mac Davis and nearly got to the top of the charts with it in 1969. The starting point for that set was the title track for War’s number one album, “The World is a Ghetto.” Now, they hit the charts with a four minute single version of the song but here we took the original ten minute version of socio-political commentary and chopped it into three parts. In the first break we got a bad case of the “Inner City Blues” from Marvin Gaye’s seminal long player, What’s Going On, an album Rolling Stone ranked #6 of the 500 greatest albums of all time. After that it was back to the War for the sax solo before we heard Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto,” from his album Everything is Everything. Well, it makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands that we’re all out of time but instead, I’ll just remind you that we’ve got the set lists and the show commentaries on my website, bill Fitzhugh dot com, and we’ve got a nice little place on Facebook where we can do the whole social media thing. I’m Bill Fitzhugh from the Way Back Studios, thanks for listening. I’m gonna start on a new batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl for next time and I hope you can join us, right here in the Deep Tracks.