Tuesday, May 12, 2009

912 Toulouse St. with Ramblin' Jack

912 Greens is the title of a song Ramblin' Jack Elliott recorded on his album Young Brigham in 1968. It tells the story of a trip Jack made to New Orleans in 1953 to visit a banjo player named Billy Faier who lived at 912 Toulouse Street. The song is not sung, but a "talkin'" narrative with Jack accompanying himself with a flatpicked handful of repeated chords ornamented differently each time they cycle around; sometimes lingering and ruminating on one chord in that hypnotic flowing style that Jack had.

His idol and friend Woody Guthrie, (Woody's son Arlo too), had some talkin songs, as did Bob Dylan, who early on was referred too, not entirely in jest, as Ramblin Jack's son.
Jack's talkin narrative in 912 Greens has some similarity to those of the aforenamed but there is a distinct mixture of humour and sad resignation to this one - it's never quite one or the other and it's an odd mix of ordinariness (just friends sitting around getting acquainted) and absurd - "a lady that had once been ex-ballet dancer" dancing in the rain around a banana tree amidst the courtyard of the fenced in apartment pads that Billy and other musicians lived in.

This little sojourn is encircled with a kind of hobo fairytale magic; as far as Jack knew the only entryway to Billy's pad was though a back alleyway and over a fence. The two weeks Jack spent there were entirely under rain and rainclouds; he never saw the light of day in New Orleans and he hadn't returned since. It's the kind of tale told by campfire, or waiting out the rain huddled neath an awning in a train station between ramblers and drifters - and miscast poets - who may never see one another again.

Jack continued (and continues, to this day!) to sing the tune and it changes everytime. But I tend to believe this, the first recorded version of 912 Greens, is closer to the truth - if there is one.
Uh yes, if you listen to the very end you will hear the only sung lines in the tune, which add to ramblinesque proceedings:

"Did you ever
stand and shiver
just 'cause you were lookin'
at a river?"

* To understand better what the ramblin of Ramblin Jack is all about have a look at "The Ballad of Ramblin Jack" a documentary made by Jack's daughter Aiyanna.
A must-see, but, I would hope you listen to this song first.


Matthew H Camp said...

What a sublime recording this is! Tom, I read that this tune was released in 1968. Do you think Page ripped this whole concept for the Time is Gonna Come/Black Mountain Side arrangement? The organ, the finger picking style and progression, the touches of tabla - even a little bit of the vocal!. Or was this a more popular style at the time that both artists might have achieved separately?

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Did I give you the wrong link?
Is it he may equivalent of April Fools?
Of course I love Black Mountain Side; don't get me wrong...

Matthew H Camp said...

You steered me right (as always) but along the way I accidentally listened to "If I Were a Carpenter" instead.

Mesmerizing tune, that. Thank you for the happy accident!

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Actually, if you liked If i Were a Carpenter you should by all means listen to Tim hardin's original version - most of all listen to Tim's Red Balloon which was a seminal "folk/blues" tune in the 60's - said to have referred to the H addiction tim brought back from Vietnam.


Jearley said...

This song was played fairly often on KSAN, back in the 60's. Hearing it always made me feel strangely sad and nostalgic for something that I had never seen or known. What a wonderful song and story.