I’m A Rolling Stone, All Alone And Lost…

LeonPayne copy

‘For a life of sin, I have paid the cost’. So, there be’s more to that new mix there than ol’ John Fogerty I hope y’all have noticed. This feller up top here is Mr Leon Payne and if’n you ain’t familiar with his name you’ll surely know some of his songs. The song he wrote for everyone is ‘Lost Highway’ which is pretty much damn near the archetypal country song. Like ‘Proud Mary’ it just seems as old as time, part of the earth itself. While it’s been recorded by near enough everyone and their sister since then it was first made famous by Hank Williams and is associated with him to such a degree most folks probably think Hank wrote it. There’s a couple versions on the mix there – one old, one new and a couple of tunes by Payne himself including ‘I Love You Because’ which Elvis recorded at Sun and has gone on to become another much loved country standard. Now, he might be best remembered as a songwriter but Payne, born blind, toured through the forties as ‘The Texas Blind Hitchhiker’ and played with Bob Wills on and off all through his career. He recorded a good deal under his own name too,5810094642_87a8b1e305_z ‘I Love You Because’ being his biggest solo hit in 1950. The late, great George Jones had himself a hit with ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces’ and liked Payne’s songs so much he recorded a whole album’s worth of ’em under the poetic and evocative title of ‘George Jones Sings The Great Songs Of Leon Payne’. Yeah, I guess the bar was open or something. Elsewhere on our mix here we got Freakwater taking on another song George done,  ‘Selfishness in Man’ which is an unusual and strongly felt contrast between nature’s wonders and our sorry human frailty and basically a gospel song with only the very slightest, passing mention of the good lord in the second to last line there. It contains this truly striking verse…

Little children painting pictures of the birds and apple trees
Oh, why can’t the grown up people have the faith of one of these
And to think those tiny fingers might become a killer’s hand
Oh, there’s nothing that stands out more than the selfishness in man.

Which I guess leads us on to the dark heart of ‘Psycho’. The shadow of ‘Lost Highway’, ‘Psycho’ is very possibly the darkest, coldest murder ballad in all country music and, let’s be honest here, it ain’t for want of competition. Payne never recorded it himself, a fact that seems to have only fed the splendid myth that he told his publisher not to let anyone record it until after his death. Sadly, Eddie Noack’s first version of it came out in 1968 at least a year before a heart attack killed Payne at just 52, so it seems more than unlikely to be true. It’s also unlikely to be about the Hitchcock movie either. Turns out the Jackie White in the first verse is named for Payne’s steel guitarist, and it was conversations about serial killers between the pair of ’em that led to the song, hence the name check there. What’s so unique about ‘Psycho’ is that it’s neither a tale of vengeance or sorrowful regret over bloody violence but is told in the killer’s voice by someone who is clearly not understanding what is happening to him, he appears to be experiencing murderous blackouts, unable to control his actions. Porter Wagoner’s ‘If I Lose My Mind’ is similar in tone but his character fears losing his grip where Payne’s isn’t aware that he has. The version here by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (or ‘That Slut girl’ as my friend Amber calls her) works well because Gaiman isn’t really a singer and speaks it in a fairly ordinary kind of voice. It feels a little childish to say he does comics so let’s call him a writer, his stuff is heavy on the gothic and horror and such like so you can see why it would appeal. As for becoming a true country standard well, it still lags some way behind ‘Lost Highway’ and is probably never a mainstream type of tune but there are plenty of versions including ones by Jack Kittel, Elvis Costello, Teddy Thompson and perhaps most scarily of all Andre Williams. Still, despite his triumph with ‘Proud Mary’ Leonard Nimoy does not yet seem to have recorded a version. Y’know that’s a damn shame right? Not Shatner. Shatner would ruin it, but Nimoy could do OK  I reckon. Here’s the link again for the mix friends…

Rollin’ With Randy & Earl

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or find it on the mixcloud too

~ by Mumblin' Earl on June 20, 2013.

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