My Pop Life #230 : That’s The Way Love Goes – Merle Haggard

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That’s The Way Love Goes – Merle Haggard

I’ve been throwing horseshoes over my left shoulder
I’ve spent most all my life searching for that four-leafed clover
Yet you ran with me chasing my rainbows
Honey, I love you too and that’s the way love goes

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My wife tells me I was born under a lucky star.  Because I met her, I assume is the backstory to that fantasy?  Well, yes, but there’s more.  I literally was born under Balthazar, a star in Gemini near the constellation of Orion. Does this have meaning?  What is luck anyway?

“The more I practice the luckier I get” is a quote attributed to golfer Arnold Palmer who also gave his name to a non-alcoholic drink of iced tea & lemonade combined.

Back in schooldays a few of us liked to study the geegees form in the Daily Mirror.  What are geegees?  They’re horses bred for racing.  I cannot tell you why they are called GGs.  Gee up horsey!   Anyway there are horse races pretty much every day in Britain and Ireland, either flat racing or over the jumps. I probably got this habit from Pete Smurthwaite, whose family I lived with twice due to my dysfunctional family situation which repeated itself on an almost continual basis from the age of seven til right now.  I have discussed this before in these pages, but the key entry for Pete and his family involved Jimi Hendrix in My Pop Life #84 All Along The Watchtower.   We also did other stuff – played bridge for example as a pair, played football, got stoned, analysed the politics of the day.  The horse racing was another challenge, and we had a system.  All gamblers have a system.  In other words, no gambler really relies on luck, perhaps because, like Arnold Palmer, they don’t really believe in it.

 

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The chairman of my beloved Seagulls, aka Brighton & Hove Albion has a family that has been with the club since the 1970s – been on the board of the club I mean.  Tony Bloom made his fortune as a professional gambler – poker mainly as a player, then he was in at the birth of online gambling.  I’ve never met Tony but I have been told, indeed it is an open secret, that his system is all based on numbers and probabilities.  I cannot reveal his poker system because I don’t know it, but I do know that he doesn’t sign a new player for the football team, spending his own money, without studying the form, the figures, the numbers.  Albion fans could argue that this has failed as often as it has succeeded – for every Trossard there’s an Andone, for every Maupay a Locadia.  But I have a short memory as far as football is concerned.  My brain doesn’t have room for previous football matches in it.  So I live totally in the present with the Albion.

I can’t remember exactly what our system was for the horses but it relied on the figures and numbers that the Daily Mirror supplied of that horse’s form – where had it finished in the last ten races? Was it ever a beaten favourite? Who was the jockey? Does it perform in the rain?  Points were awarded.  Bets were laid.  I can only imagine that betting shops in East Sussex weren’t too bothered about schoolkids gambling.  I know Phil Wheatley – who famously walked out of a French lesson announcing that he was going for a shit – looked older than us and would often be the layer of bets.  But not always.  I can remember the betting shop I frequented in Hailsham at that time – I was about 15-16.  They took my money.

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Traditionally, bookies or betting shops are situated near to scuzzy pubs & frequented by hollow-eyed alcoholics

And yes, I was lucky.  I won.  Not every bet.  But when I checked my weekly outgoings & incomings, winnings and losings, I was up.

This scared me.  I was dabbling really, messing about.  I felt that a lifetime of gambling would be a spiral down (despite what I now know about Tony Bloom I still feel a little bit Presbyterian about it).  So I stopped.  Just like that.  I had other things to think about – music, girls, football.  But it is a little like feeling the inner voice and realising that you are a small step from addiction.  And that wouldn’t be lucky, would it?   Jenny’s parents like to gamble, and she grew up with horse-racing too.  She has also been tempted by the habit and applied massive amounts of self-control (which she has a Phd in) to walk away.

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The paddock is on the right, the racetrack far left. In the distance is the sea

I went to the dogs in Hove one night for Mark Williams’ birthday (?), and then the races on Brighton Downs, just a short walk from our house in Kemptown.  We went to the paddock before the first race and watched the horses walk around in a slow circle.  I remembered the words of Trevor Cooper, an actor who had been to Edinburgh Festival with me twice in the early 80s, my formative years, himself a student of horse form :  “Bet on the horse that takes a shit.  It means he won’t stop for one on the way round.”

We were with Rula Lenska that day and it was Ladies Day AND Amanda Blanch‘s birthday., Mandy and Lucy were down.   Fizz fizz pop.  I can’t remember winning anything at all.  Maybe I wasn’t even there.  Didn’t matter.

The one time Jenny and I flirted most seriously with Being Lucky Punk was our First Visit To Las Vegas Together.  We’d moved to Los Angeles after Alien 3 and settled in West Hollywood, King’s Road near the Beverly Center.  Of course Las Vegas was a mere four hours by car – but at the time that seemed to us a long drive .  Across the desert in the white Lincoln Continental to The Luxor Hotel, later immortalised in Frank Ocean‘s song Pyramids.  On the strip.

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Any excuse to post a photograph of my Lincoln Continental 

People don’t go to Las Vegas to visit the zoo.  There are shows, of course, there are shows I wish I’d seen, of course… namely Elvis Presley in 1968, or 1970, or 1971.  And Count Basie with Frank Sinatra in 1966.

People go to Vegas to gamble.  I remember vividly my first visit to that glittering city of sin in the desert, in 1976 when I was a youth of 19 in my gap year.  I’ll write about that on another occasion, but that trip would be filed under LUCKY in the columns of my life, since I could have died that weekend.

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Luxor Hotel and Casino on the Strip, Las Vegas

So Jenny and I parked up, checked in and had some food downstairs.  Then, couldn’t delay any longer, time to gamble.  We’d discussed it over dinner. We had a system.  I shall reveal it to you now because what the hell.  First we would only play roulette. Second we would only have one bet per table and move on.  Third, we would always bet fifteen dollars divided into three $5 bets.  Cheap you say? It adds up is all.

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And 4th – these $5 bets would always be exactly the same – on the line between 9 & 12, 17 & 18, and 33 & 36. Payout is 17 to 1.

Most hotels had the same kind of chips as I recall which meant that you could move from casino to casino without constantly going to a cashier.  The Luxor Casino Cashier took some cash and handed us chips, small plastic counters, worth absolutely nothing outside this environment.  We sighed and dived in.  The first place we gambled was the Luxor casino.  One bet per table, as described above.  There were six tables.  We got lucky.  On the third table the little white ball span into the number 33, and since we had half of five dollars on that number we got 17 times five.  Is it $85?  And then on the final table in Luxor we landed on number 9.  Another $85, which meant we were eighty dollars UP on the first casino.   It was a good start and we left and walked a short way down the road into the warm night and the next place.

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The Excalibur.  There were more than six tables here, and we were once again successful twice, although I should add that we did get offered some free cocktails and yes, we drank them. We walked down to the MGM.  The Waldorf AstoriaPark MGM. The Flamingo. Caesar’s Palace.  And we’d been lucky.  Or else it was a good system.  By now we were over 3000 dollars UP on the night and it was just after 10pm.  We were light-headed and happy, gliding through the warm evening air loaded down with cash and chips.  Where next?  Far too early to go to bed….

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, The Strip

Winning is, in the end, a Mirage (unless you go home)

We walked past the Pirates Of The Caribbean exhibit and found ourselves at The Mirage Casino.  We went in.  We lost at the first table and the second.  On the third we made a fatal error and changed the system.  We stayed on that third table and played two more rounds.  I cannot remember much after that.  We were drunk.  At least I was.  Somehow it all went weird. We carried on.  It wasn’t shiny any more.  It was grubby and sordid.  It stopped glittering and winking and we could see the dirt and the dust.   Some croupiers had a look of pity in their eyes as we gambled that $3000 away.  Methodically.  It slipped rather miserably through our fingers.  We tried other numbers.  Red. Odd.  What about 27?  We couldn’t go home until it was all gone.  That happened around 1am.   Tails between our legs, we took a taxi back, stunned, trying to understand what had happened.  Jenny wanted to go downstairs and carry on, win back everything we had lost.  She found a credit card.  They take credit cards in Las Vegas funnily enough.  She was keen.  I didn’t think it was such a good idea.

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Roger Griffith & Jo Melville in our living room in King’s Road, W. Hollywood

About a year later we travelled to Las Vegas again to see our friends Jo and Roger who were touring the USA in a play.  To my shame I cannot remember the play. We must have gambled a bit on that trip too, then gone upstairs.  In the middle of the night I woke up with a strange feeling, turned over and Jenny was gone. I knew where she was.  It was 3.30am as I pulled my jeans on and a pair of shoes and went along to the lift.  In the casino I saw Jenny’s back standing at a roulette table.  I approached her gently as she laid some chips on the green baize. The big wheel span & the little white ball went against the spin then jumped and bobbled into number 24.  The chips were scraped in by the croupier.  Jenny felt me and turned around.  “What the hell are you doing?” I said.  “Come on”.  Roger had been there with her and already slunk back upstairs, so she accepted defeat and came back to the room.  I took the room key card off her and placed it under my pillow.  “You are gambling away our mortgage” I said.  And went to sleep.

We haven’t gambled since then really.  Are we lucky though? I feel lucky every day to be honest, even when I’m depressed.  I can’t look at the world and feel any other way.  I am lucky, lucky star or no.  I land on my feet.  It’s all a matter of perspective really isn’t it.  Choice.  Half-full or half-empty.  Grateful or bitter.  Richard E Grant said to me about ten years ago when he was doing a show in the West End “I don’t want to grow old in bitterness” which was a quote he’d got from Roddy MacDowall – the original chimp in Planet of the Apes.  I think its a key idea.  To smell the roses a little more as you grow older.  To stop comparing yourself to others, stop regretting the past, the decisions, the things that you could have changed.  It is what it is.  You have to forgive yourself for being you in the end.

None of this would be possible without my boo.  I’ve written about her a whole lot, but it’s the truth.  She ran with me, chasing my rainbows, and now I’m running with her, chasing hers.  That’s the way love goes.

 

 

The song was written by Lefty Frizzell and first came out in 1971.  For me it is inextricably tied to the moment when I embraced country music in the late 80s/early 90s under the guidance of Ken Cranham.  Saw some great gigs and bought some incredible music. Went to Nashville in 1988 (see My Pop Life #83 Country Boy) and remembered I’d bought cowboy boots when I was 18 in Santa Fe.  The guy in the shop said I should buy a pair half a size too small and they’d expand into my footshape.  They did that, then split along the sole.  Bought a few more pairs since that day though.  I never cared much about looking cool.  Not true of course, but I always walked the line of derision and mockery.  Ponced around the LSE in 1976 like a cowboy until punk’s sulphate urgency gripped me.  But I’ve always loved country music and style, and simultaneously felt I knew nothing about it.  Ken Burns Country doc fixed that.

Merle Haggard was in San Quentin when according to Legend he saw Johnny Cash playing to the prisoners and it turned his life around.  From Bakersfield, California he became a huge country star who championed the working man and whose songs are like the man himself  – unsentimental perhaps, but truthful and honest. Proper country music.  I bought this song as a 45 rpm single in Ernest Tubb’s Record Store in Nashville in 1988.  It has a warmth and generosity to the production, and an incredible quality to the vocal that really moves me.  And the guitar solo is pretty good too.   Merle has written and sung a ton of great songs.  This is my favourite.

My Pop Life #105 : Come Rain Or Come Shine – Ray Charles

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Come Rain Or Come Shine   –   Ray Charles

…days may be cloudy or sunny….

….we’re in or we’re out of the money…

I first heard this song on my wedding day, 23 years ago July 25th 1992.   Dear Ken Cranham (who has graced these pages before) made Jenny and I a ‘wedding tape’ which we played at home after the church ceremony in Holy Joe’s, Highgate Hill (St Joseph’s) and reception afterwards in Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park (next door).   I actually carried Jenny over the threshhold of 153 Archway Road N6  like you’re supposed to, much to the amusement of the two ladies opposite who ran the sweet shop who waved at us, beaming.   I smiled.   I didn’t have a free hand as I recall.    Jenny waved – she was still in her golden frou-frou wedding dress and we were both drunk on champagne and love and words and Chopin and wedding cake and delirious happiness abounded.  There was a huge reception in the evening at the Diorama, and dear gorgeous departed friend Neil Cooper was sorting that side of things, so we had a few hours to change and feed the cats etc.   Ken’s cassette (of course) had a wonderful selection of wedding songs and love songs which will be forever associated with the day, and I’ve done similar tributes on CD, paying that moment forward to other couples about to get hitched.  Nothing more glorious than a wedding playlist, and no better party than a wedding party.  Please, whoever is reading this, invite Jenny and I to your wedding !

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Ray Charles was always there somehow.  I must have heard Hit The Road Jack on the radio in 1961 when I was 4 yrs old, living in Portsmouth, & the Hoagy Carmichael evergreen Georgia seems to be made of earth and stone it feels like it has been around forever.   The other big hit from the early 1960s was I Can’t Stop Loving You off the LP Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, syrupy choir singing backing vocals, smooth like chocolate sauce, it’s almost too sweet.  But not quite.   But it was lounge music to me as I became sentient.   I would have to grow up a bit and grow some ears before I understood the genius of Ray Charles.

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Like Frank Sinatra or Elvis, he is a giant of music and in particular of interpretation and arranging of other people’s songs.   Not to say he didn’t write music – he did – unlike Elvis or Frank,  Ray Charles wrote plenty of music including some stone-cold red-hot classics :  I Got A Woman, Hallelujah I Love Her So, A Fool For You and the monster What’d I Say, which may or may not have been improvised live (as the film Ray would have it).   It’s difficult to encapsulate the full breadth of his work in one blog, so I won’t even try.  But if a martian were to land in my room today and say “One artist will represent pop music” it would have to be Ray Charles.  He’s played every kind of music from blues and jazz to soul (which he invented some say) gospel and country, big band and ballad to funk and pop.  It’s the phrasing in the end which is so astonishing – the phrasing and the arrangements are impeccable rhythmically, melodically, all delivered with taste, groove and soul.  Plenty of imitators, but only one Ray Charles.

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When I was going through my soul education period in 1978-9 (see My Pop Life #98 for example) I bought a large box set called Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974.  It remains “the answers” for anyone seeking to understand American music of the 20th century.   I guess it’s a CD box set now – I have five double LPs squished into a box.  It sounds like a lot – but it’s actually a surface skim of a huge period of artists and tunes, from race-music and blues 78s through R&B, soul, Stax/Volt right up to Roberta Flack.

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Ray turns up on Side Two and Three and Four with classics including I Got A Woman, the mighty Mess Around and the searing genius of Drown In My Own Tears which so many great artists have covered.  I had hit a golden seam of fantastic music and next I bought a triple LP box called The Birth Of Soul  now available on CD :

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which covered the same period as Sides 2,3 & 4 of the Atlantic collection but also had all the other songs they missed out – so many favourites but I’ll briefly mention What Kind Of Man Are You? which features one of the Rae-Lettes miss Mary-Ann Fisher on lead vocals, and which was a highlight of  the film Ray.  The story about the Rae-lettes is that they all had to Let Ray or they’d be out of the band.  The line-up changed frequently.

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 left to right : Gwen Berry, Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Alex Brown

Next I purchased Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music from 1964 – the smooth silky sound which includes the heartbreaker You Don’t Know Me, one of my all-time favourite songs,  Ken then turned me onto Ray Charles & Betty Carter (1961) which is a completely fantastic LP –

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Betty Carter is a wonderful jazz vocalist with sensational phrasing too and together they did the ultimate versions of quite a few songs including Baby It’s Cold Outside and Alone Together.    Then there was What’d I Say (1959) – pure R&B grooves, and Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961 again!) an instrumental big band jazz LP.  And then I probably sat down and patted myself on the back for buying loads of Ray Charles albums whom by now I completely adored.  But you see the thing with Ray is, he keeps on coming.  He was clearly prolific, just looking at what came out of 1961 for example it’s almost impolite how much music was produced.

Featured imageSo then came the wedding tape in 1992 and there was Come Rain Or Come Shine.   What a beautiful song.  The muted trumpets at the beginning are so romantic and late-night New York nightclub.   Lyrically it reminds me loosely of the wedding vows themselves which I guess is why it works as a wedding song.  And then there’s that middle eight :

I guess, when you met me
It was just one of those things
But don’t ever bet me
‘Cause I’m gonna be true, girl if you let me…

Pictured : composer Harold Arlen

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Johnny Mercer, lyricist extraordinaire

Written by the wonderful Johnny Mercer with music by ‘Over The Rainbow‘ composer Harold Arlen in 1946, it became a jazz standard almost immediately and has been covered by many artists both vocal and instrumental including Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, James Brown, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.   I can’t imagine any of them being better than this version though.   Although I can be wrong tha’ knows.Featured image

Come Rain or Come Shine appeared on an LP from 1959 called The Genius Of Ray Charles where he takes a stroll through the Great American Songbook and sings Sammy Kahn, Irving Berlin, Hank Snow (!) and others, stretching out from his R&B and gospel roots.  He would continue to stretch until he passed away.  There is still so much to discover – I recently heard his take on The Beach Boys’ Sail On Sailor and it was – like his Eleanor Rigby – a revelation.  Yes he was a musical genius.   Once you’ve heard him sing a song, his phrasing feels like The Way to Sing It.   Elvis and Frank also have this gift, yes it’s true.   As do others.  Ray Charles always felt to me like one of those bedrock people in music, you know when people talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, he is one of those giants. He may be the giantest giant.

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One of the Brighton Beach Boys felt the same way as me about Ray – notably Rory Cameron, now moved away from Brighton (as have I) – he would enthuse regularly on his timing and impeccable choices.

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I chose this song today because last night I was sitting alone in the local pub here in Prague, The James Joyce, nursing my third vodka and tonic, and thinking about my wedding anniversary, which was yesterday, and all the lovely Facebook family and others who took time to send Jenny and I love on our day of love.  And then this song came on.