Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gravel Road


Colorblind James: Acoustic guitar
Jimmy Mac: Drums
Bernie Heveron: Upright Bass
Phil Marshall: Electric Guitar

This is one I'd love to go back and remix. I think it's a really lively, bare bones recording of a classic Chuck Cuminale uptempo twelve-bar blues. It was clearly recorded after G. Elwyn had departed the band. Given the line up of drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, it's the closest thing in the catalog to the Beatles '65 LP, one of my favorite U.S. Beatles albums.

Given the classic form of the song, I believe what it holds over most other examples is that it has such a strong melody. This more readily connects it to the 12-bar excursions of Hank Williams Sr. than Chuck Berry (believe me, I am not taking away anything from Mr. Berry!)

I'm pretty sure I was in the control room and probably going direct into the board. My sound is thin and toneless, like my guitar was strung with rubber bands. Too bad, 'cause I love everything I'm doing on the song. The chunky rhythm fills, the Chuck Berry riffing on the solo, all typify the loose approach I'd developed with Chuck's songs. Over the years, I'd worked on jumping into a song without trying to second-guess too much.

Gravel Road is also the only song I recorded on my 1941 Gibson ES-100 before I traded it. Beautiful guitar, it just wasn't right for any of the goose-neck riffing I was doing. After one show during which I was playing pretty loud (not uncommon for awhile there), the whole guitar began to vibrate and the binding started to peel away. There was something about treating an old guitar thay way that just didn't sit right with me. It eventually led to my getting a '59 Gibson ES-175 however, so...it's all good, as they say.

The song itself is of such a high standard: three simple verses tell the story of a young girl who is struck down and killed by an aging motorist who'd thought he'd struck a mailbox post. The story, sadly, is true and describes a female friend of Chuck's when they were both in early adolescence. According to Chuck, the death of this girl was a critically defining moment for him. She turns up in other songs, most notably Purple & Gold (recorded but never released) although Gravel Road is a more literal casting, especially the 2nd verse, of the terrible accident.

For having stated on an earlier post that Chuck rarely wrote about actual people or events, with this song and Why'd The Boy, the first album contained two stories about friends he'd lost. As life and death are clearly themes that run through a good percentage of Chuck's songs, he might very well argue that the girl in Gravel Road is somewhere to be found in most of them.

Gravel Road
Words & music © Chuck Cuminale

I went down to Gravel Road
I went to have my fortune told
The fortune teller robbed me blind
Now I can’t get her out of my mind
I don’t know where I’ve been since then
I’ll never go down Gravel Road again

Gonna visit the place, gonna stand in the spot
Where her young life was blotted out
Some old codger, white as a ghost,
Thought he’d hit a mailbox post
I don’t know where I’ve been since then
I’ll never go down Gravel Road again

I went to sleep with a smile on my face
But I woke up in a different place
I never did scream, I never did shout
But I gave up trying to figure it out
I don’t know where I’ve been since then
I’ll never go down Gravel Road again

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