Long May You Rock: Happy 65th Birthday Mr.Springsteen!!!!

We stand together shoulder to shoulder and  heart to heart

We stand together shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise, happy birthday to you Mr. Springsteen on this very special day. Greetings from Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. My name is Ryan Hilligoss, better known as “Ryan from Chicago” to regular listeners of E Street Nation and The Wild and The Innocent. While the music and programming on E Street Radio are excellent, what Dave, Jim, Vinnie and others, but more importantly, the listeners have truly accomplished has been creating an incredible community and collection of friends who have come together through this channel and developed true, meaningful friendships through your music. And because of this community, I was given the opportunity to speak today.

I’ve been thinking and stewing about this for a few weeks because what do I say to someone I’ve listened to on a daily basis for a very long time? What do I say to an artist whom I’ve admired since I was a ten year old growing up in Alton, Illinois where I was fortunate to have a cool, older brother who drove me around with The River, Nebraska and Born In The USA blasting from the tape deck as we rolled down the windows and let the wind blow back our hair? What do I say to someone whose music and art I’ve listened to and absorbed as part of who I am as a person all this time. What can I say that at this point in your life and career, that you haven’t heard a million times over? In the end, all I can say and would like to say, simply, is thank you.

In 1951, JD Salinger published his classic The Catcher In The Rye, in which his teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield had this to say, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” And while most of your “books” have been albums and songs, the same applies to me and you. With each song and album, I’ve listened, absorbed the music and words, reflected and wanted badly to call you and ask you questions or just let you know how much I enjoyed the music and the moment. Despite the fact I’ve seen you in person several times in concert, we’ve never met and probably never will, but by Salinger’s definition, we share a friendship over space and time built on the moments of time I’ve spent with you over the years watching or listening to a master craftsman at work. The point of culture and art is to connect us to our core humanity through the artists we come in contact with, and when we share those moments with our friends and family around us, those artists and their work become the fabric of our lives, our minds and our souls.

Well down at the end of Lonely Street is Heartbreak Hotel

Well down at the end of Lonely Street is Heartbreak Hotel

I have a blog site, unionavenue706 on wordpress.com where I write a lot about your music and a lot of other artists including Elvis Presley whom we both admire for his music, his impact on American and world culture, and for his personal story and his dreams of living in a better land where all my brothers and sisters walk hand in hand.  After Elvis died, you said “It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear and somehow we all dreamed it.” One of my favorite songs of yours is Follow That Dream in which you took one of Elvis’s songs and made it your own. Just like in Jack of All Trades when the character says, “So you use what you’ve got, and you learn to make do. You take the old and you make it new”, you took an existing piece of art, rearranged the music, slowed down the tempo to dramatic effect and added new lyrics to make a masterpiece in which you sang about following our dreams no matter how distant they are and no matter where they lead until we can find the love we need.

You once said, “I believe that the life of a rock and roll band will last as long as you look down into the audience and can see yourself and your audience looks up at you and can see themselves, and as long as those reflections are human, realistic ones.” In 1965, Elvis met the Beatles  at his Bel Air home and the five of them spent  a few uncomfortable hours making small talk and playing a little music. Elvis was too racked with self-doubt and low self-esteem around the four Liverpool Lads who had stormed America, and the Beatles were in awe being in the same room with one of their idols. You’ve long played in concert with many of your inspirations such as Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Chuck Berry, and now, you’re returning the favor to those who grew up idolizing you such as Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem, The Dropkick Murphy’s and Eddie Vedder to name a few. You allow those younger musicians an opportunity to make a human connection, to “make that dream real.” Bruce Morello Vedder Chicago That is the key difference between the two: Elvis’ artistry ended at a certain point in time, but you have continued to grow as an artist and as a performer. At the end of Elvis’ career, he could no longer look into the faces of his audience and see an accurate reflection because he could no longer see himself. Every night that you are on stage, you look into the faces of his crowd and make connections with the eyes and minds of your fans, bring fans onto stage to dance and sing, get help on vocals from younger fans on Waiting on a Sunny Day, and in the penultimate connection, literally puts your body and faith in the hands of his people by crowd-surfing from the back of the pit area back to the stage.  You put your faith in your fans, and as they pass you forward, hand over hand, they repay that faith and belief in the promise of rock and roll a thousand times over.

The Boss in the hands of his fans, literally and figuratively

The Boss in the hands of his fans, literally and figuratively

Like Elvis and his music did for earlier generations, you’ve helped your listeners create true friendships that stretch across states, regions, the nation and across oceans. You’ve helped foster a sense of community filled with fairness, respect and concern for those around us, and that has formed what I like to call the collective unconsciousness of E Street Nation which holds all that is decent and true and righteous down on E Street!!!! On many occasions, you’ve talked about wanting to have a conversation with your fans on the topics and subjects that concern you and the world around us. Well, you’ve been having that conversation with us for 50 years now and it’s been one hell of a conversation, one filled with joy, laughter, tears, a lot of good times but also a lot of dark times. We’re always here with open ears, open minds and open hearts listening to you talk and in turn, you listen to us talk back whether in concerts, interviews, letters or messages like this. The next time you’re ready to start another conversation with another project or album, we’ll be here waiting.

Good companions for this part of the ride. Ryan Hilligoss with Patricia Berdish

Good companions for this part of the ride. Ryan Hilligoss with Patricia Berdish

During your concerts, often times we raise our hands in a sign of solidarity with you and the band but also in solidarity with our friends and strangers around us. As time goes by, together, with these hands, we’ll continue to search for the things that come to us in dreams, wherever they may lead and we’ll find the love we need. We’re all riding together on a universal Mystery Train towards a land of hope and dreams. A train that carries saints and sinners, losers and winners, the brokenhearted, lost souls and sweet souls departed, but in the end, we’re all good companions for this part of the ride.

Thanks Bruce. Happy birthday and may you have many more. We’ll be seeing you up the road.

(Expanded text of message recorded as part of a special project headed by Kevin Farrell and to be played on Sirius/XM E Street Radio to celebrate Springsteen’s 65th birthday.)

Come Along and Ride This Train: The Music of Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen

By Ryan Hilligoss and Shawn Poole, February 26, 2014

“Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him- the greatest of the greats, then and now. Truly, he is what the land and country are all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English. I think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty. If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black. Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul. This is a miraculous and humbling thing. Listen to him, and he always brings you to your senses. He rises high above all, and he’ll never die or be forgotten, even by persons not born yet- especially those persons- and that is forever.” Bob Dylan

Two great American artists, The Man in Black and The Freehold Fireball

Two great American artists, The Man in Black and The Freehold Fireball

Come Along and Ride This Train

Today marks the birthday of Johnny Cash, the legendary Man in Black and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of fame and lastly, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Much like other early recording artists, Cash’s musical style included country, gospel, bluegrass, gospel, and rhythm and blues, helping form one portion of early rock and roll at the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, otherwise known as Sun Studio. Cash directly inspired, collaborated with or helped nurture the careers of musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Snoop Dog, Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, and Bruce Springsteen. And my friend Shawn Poole and I have collaborated to explore the musical connections between these two great American artists.

Like Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash came from very humble beginnings and went on to become a major figure in American music. Born in Kingsland, Arkansas in 1932, the family soon moved to Dyess, Arkansas as part of an FDR Works Progress Administration program to inject money into the economy. At a very young age, Johnny began working with the rest of his family in the cotton fields of what many called “The Sunken Lands” due to it’s tendency to flood and remain swampy, making the cultivation even more difficult than it already was. Part of the Dyess colony provisions was to purposefully exclude blacks as part of social engineering studies. But Johnny still heard a wide variety of musical styles on his parent’s radio as he, his brothers and sisters lay on the linoleum kitchen floor trying to cool down after working in the hot, humid cotton fields. On the radio he heard music coming from faraway places he could only imagine like New Orleans, Chicago, Memphis, and Nashville. He absorbed different sounds including the country and western of Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold, gospel blues of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, bluegrass of the Louvin Brothers, the pop of Bing Crosby, and some “race music” broadcast from Memphis, his future home. What mainly caught his ear and fired his imagination were all the great artists who performed on The Grand Ol’ Opry such as The Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers. Of those days, Cash wrote, “Nothing in the world was as important to me as hearing those songs on the radio. The music carried me up above the mud, the work and the hot sun.”

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The Johnny Cash TV Show aired from 1969-1971 and always opened with a segment of Johnny riding a train and inviting people to come ride along on a journey. Video would play over Cash singing: Come along and ride this train/Cross the mountains, prairies, reservations, rivers, levees, trains/come along and go with me/I know where there’s people you would like to get to know/I heard a story that I’d like to share with you/I will show you things that I’m sure you’d like to see/come along and ride with me/Come along and ride this train. In introducing his television show, Cash did as he always did throughout his career which was to invite all people of every shape, color, stripe, and background to come along a great journey and discovering new sights and thoughts. Over his 50 year career, Cash sang for and about people from all walks of life including the poor, prisoners, working class, forgotten Natives, criminals, blacks and whites, rural and urban, liberal and conservatives, presidents and paupers. As Tom Petty once said, Johnny was friends with Presidents and he was friends with people at the bus stop. Johnny also became a major figure in country music and even folk music, greatly influencing many artists. Like Bruce, Johnny had a very broad vision of American music and he tried to expose his audience to many different musical styles and artists. Also like Bruce, Johnny remained concerned with the problems of common people, even after he became wealthy and famous. In following their unique artistic visions, both Johnny and Bruce truly have walked the line.

So now let’s start our musical tribute to Johnny Cash on what would have been his 82nd birthday with a set of some of Johnny’s most famous songs covered by Bruce Springsteen. Fittingly, our first selection is Bruce’s beautiful version of I Walk The Line, recorded live in Landover, MD on September 13, 2003. It was the opening song of Bruce’s first concert after the news broke that Johnny Cash had died.

The version of Ring of Fire played here was from a November 18, 2009 concert played by Springsteen and the E Street Band in Nashville, Tn and includes the terrific, mariachi horn work of Curt Ramm. Ring Of Fire was co-written by Merle Kilgore and Johnny Cash’s wife, the late, great June Carter Cash. We’ll be discussing some more about Ring Of Fire a bit later when we get to Bruce’s song We Are Alive.  The other clip played was Bruce’s version of Give My Love To Rose, featured on the Johnny Cash tribute album Kindred Spirits. The version you heard includes Bruce’s spoken intro to the performance from when it first appeared on the 1999 All-Star Tribute to Johnny Cash television special. Bruce’s version of Give My Love To Rose was done in the same style as much of the material on his 1995 folk/country-influenced album The Ghost of Tom Joad. Speaking of that album, our friend and fellow Springsteen fan Jeannette Amodeo found online a very cool image of an undated, handwritten note from Bruce Springsteen to Johnny Cash. The note, most likely written to accompany a copy of The Ghost of Tom Joad album, reads as follows: “Hello, Big John. Here’s my latest! It’s got a lot of country and folk influences and I thought you might get a kick out of it. All my best. Always, Bruce Springsteen.”

A 'Dear John' Letter

A ‘Dear John’ Letter

Nebraska: Will The Circle Be Unbroken

According to Robert Hilburn in his recent biography, Johnny Cash The Life, In 1983, amidst a series of difficulties in Cash’ career with Columbia due to lagging sales and poor promotion on their part, Cash headed into the studio to record a new album. Cash brought with him a handful of songs he had written, but when he played them for his producer Brian Ahern, the producer was not impressed and instead played him two tracks from Springsteen’s Nebraska, Johnny 99 and Highway Patrolman. Cash was familiar with Springsteen and he seemed vaguely familiar with Johnny 99, but he had not even remotely considered recording it. According to Hilburn, “Cash loved the Springsteen songs for much the same reason he so admired Dylan’ songs: their daring, compassion, and commentary. He also enjoyed being back in the creative center of pop and rock, the music of young America. But, country radio ignored the album Johnny 99. The album never had a chance. In retrospect, all the parties may have been overly optimistic. You couldn’t have been any hotter than Springsteen in 1983. He was in many ways the, rock and roll equivalent of Johnny Cash, not just a record maker but a heroic figure who music and image reflected many of the traditional values of America. Even so, rock radio shied away from the downbeat Nebraska. Whereas Springsteen’s last three albums had sold a total of 14 million copies, Nebraska struggled to reach the 1 million mark.”

In 1992, Springsteen told Rolling Stone magazine that he listened incessantly to Cash’s Sun recordings in the days before he wrote his album Nebraska, a work haunted by the spare, gloomy sound of Cash’s early records. If you listen to Springsteen’s songs such as State Trooper, Mansion On The Hill, Nebraska, or My Father’s House, you can definitely hear echoes of Cash’s early recordings such as Give My Love To Rose, Folsom Prison, I Walk The Line and Train of Love. What is ironic here is that in 1983, both artists were simutaneously inspiring the other without the other’s knowledge. And the big old wheel keeps rolling around again. Cash’s covers of Johnny 99 and Highway Patrolman feature guitar work by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Burton, who’s played with Elvis Presley, Rick Nelson and hundreds of other artists, including Bruce Springsteen. Shawn recently had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing James Burton for Backstreets.com and James told Shawn that, like Johnny Cash, he loved to perform “Highway Patrolman.”

In 2003, Artist’s Choice, a series produced by Sony Music and distributed through Starbucks, released a Johnny Cash edition. The 14 track album consisting of handpicked selections from Johnny which begins with Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues and ends with Mahalia Jackson’s His Eye On The Sparrow, and has a wide variety of other styles and artists in between including Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee, Roberta Flack’s The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face and Bruce Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman. In the liner notes, Cash writes, “I just recorded a Bruce Springsteen song called “Further On Up The Road.” It’s from his The Rising album. I always have been a Springsteen fan, and my favorite album of his is Nebraska, and my favorite song of his is “Highway Patrolman.”

Further yet, in Johnny’s 2nd autobiography, Cash writes about his friendship with Bob Dylan back in the 1960’s and of visiting Dylan in Woodstock, NY. “Bob and I indulged ourselves in a lot of guitar picking and song trading. There’s nothing on earth I like better than song trading with a friend or a circle of them, except perhaps doing it with my family. As Bruce Springsteen wrote, ‘Nothing feels better than blood on blood.'”

"Johnny was more of a spiritual figure to me, always was." Dylan

“Johnny was more of a spiritual figure to me, always was.” Dylan

Included in that set was Johnny’s version of I’m On Fire which was recorded by Johnny in 2001 and was included as a bonus track on the album Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Our friend and fellow Springsteen fanatic Jeff Calaway also reminded us recently of how Johnny was among the first country artists to cover Springsteen. Johnny later listed Bruce among his favorite writers, saying that he drew inspiration from writers like Bruce just as Bruce and others had drawn inspiration from the music of Johnny Cash. “I want my songs to be as good as theirs,” Johnny said of songwriters like Bruce Springsteen. And who do we have to thank for turning Johnny Cash onto the music of Bruce Springsteen? His own daughter, of course. Shortly after Johnny’s first Springsteen covers were released, Rosanne Cash got to meet Bruce Springsteen in person for the first time, and he told her how thrilled and honored he was that her father had recorded some of his songs. She immediately replied, “Who do you think sent him Nebraska?” Before Johnny died in 2003, he gave Roseanne a list of the 100 of the most important songs. In 2009, she recorded 12 of those songs as part of her album The List including a duet with Bruce Springsteen, together singing beautifully on their version of the old Don Gibson hit, Sea of Heartbreak. Also below is a great clip of Roseanne talking about recording the song with Bruce and how he “was our dream date for the song”.

Bitter Tears: The Ballad of Ira Hayes

"Custer don't ride well anymore"

“Custer don’t ride well anymore”

In 1963, Cash scored his biggest hit to date in his career with Ring of Fire which peaked at number 1 on the country charts, crossed over to the pop charts and had made him one of the biggest selling country artists of the time. Most artists and record labels would keep pushing to maximize their hot streak by trying to score another big smash. In typical Cash fashion, he went in the opposite direction and chose to record a concept album on the treatment and troubled chapter in our nations’ history, the stories of the Native Americans.

Like other artists including Elvis who sold his back catalog to RCA in 1973 so he could form his own publishing house and record songs he wanted to sing and not what the label wanted, Sam Cooke who formed his own recording and publishing houses, and Bruce Springsteen who sued his former manager to obtain outright ownership over his own songs, Cash struggled for artistic autonomy throughout his career. Signed in 1955 by Sam Phillips at Sun Studio, Cash scored several big hits including I Walk The Line and Folsom Prison, but he grew frustrated with Phillips who refused to allow him to record any gospel or spiritual songs. Cash left for Columbia Records in 1958 on the sole reason that they agreed to let him record a gospel album.

While listening to artists perform in 1963 in Greenwich Village after a show in NYC, Cash heard native songwriter-performer Peter Lafarge sing several songs on the plight of his native people. Cash, always a student of history and current events, was transfixed and decided immediately that he wanted to work with Lafarge and record his songs. Cash got clearance from Columbia and tore into the songs with a vengeance his musicians had never seen before. The album Bitter Tears featured eight tracks including As Long As The Grass Shall Grow, Custer, and The Ballad of Ira Hayes which chronicled the travesty of the life of WWII veteran and hero who was part of the famous photo taken on Mt. Saribachi with Marines raising the flag. The album was not promoted by Columbia and radio stations around the country refused to play it for fear that their conservative listeners wouldn’t like the message and would no longer listen to the station. Cash was rightfully enraged and took out a full-page ad in Billboard, and in the blessed name of Elvis, well, he just let it blast. In his rambling screed, Cash lashed out with the famous question, “Where are your guts?” He also questioned people’s conscience by including American Indian rights among other civil rights issues of the time, “Ballad of Ira Hayes is strong medicine. So is Rochester- Harlem, Birmingham, Vietnam.” Despite radios quiet boycott of the album, it still sold well thanks to Cash’s own efforts in reaching out to friendly DJs and the fans directly by barn storming the country from town to town.

Recently, writer Douglas Bradley completed a story on Ira Hayes that is well worth the time and gives a lot more background on Ira Hayes story as well as Cash’s campaign to raise awareness of the issues of Natives. You can read it by clicking the imbedded link. Below you can hear Johnny sing Big Foot, recorded in 1972 and released on his America album. Cash wrote this song after going to visit the Wounded Knee Massacre site in South Dakota. Like Cash, Springsteen has used his artisitic freedom to speak out for those whose voices aren’t typically heard such as American Skin(41 Shots) which brilliantly opens a discussion on the roles of all parties involved in the Amadou Diallo incident in NYC in 1999, writing “we’re baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood, Youngstown which examines the end of the steel mills, jobs and a way of life for working class people in Ohio and everywhere, and Streets of Philadelphia which took a look at AIDS victims.

When The Night Winds Wail: Long Black Veil

We recently stumbled across this live version of Long Black Veil performed by Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band at their May 16, 2006 show in Amsterdam.  Long Black Veil was originally a 1959 hit recorded by country-music singer Lefty Frizzell, though it sounds as if it’s a much older folk song.  Johnny Cash performed a memorable version of the song on his classic album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.  Johnny also performed Long Black Veil with Joni Mitchell on the very first episode of his famous late-sixties television show, and now you’re going to get to hear Bruce & The Seeger Sessions Band’s beautiful take on the song, performed with verses sung alternately by Bruce and “The Chocolate Genius” himself, Mr. Marc Anthony Thompson.

A Shot Rung Out Across The Land: I Hung My Head

Johnny and Bruce each recorded unique versions of Sting’s song I Hung My Head. Johnny’s version was released on his 2002 release, American IV: The Man Comes Around. This was a perfect song for Johnny to cover, fitting in well with the grand Johnny Cash tradition of murder-ballads and story-songs like his first big hit for Columbia Records, Don’t Take Your Guns To Town. Bruce’s version, featuring some blistering guitar work, was performed live with Sting’s own band, including former E Street Band member David Sancious, at Sting’s 60th Birthday celebration and released officially on Sting’s free iPad app. According to Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, Patti Scialfa gave that awesome version one of the best descriptions you could give it. According to Dave, Patti called it “Nebraska on crack.”

" I've given the dogs names, Sin and Redemption. Sin is the black one with the white stripe; Redmption is  the white one with the black stripe. That's kind of the theme of the album, and I think it says it for me too. When I was bad, I was not all bad. When I was really trying to be good, I could never be all good. There would be that black streak going through."

” I’ve given the dogs names, Sin and Redemption. Sin is the black one with the white stripe; Redemption is the white one with the black stripe. That’s kind of the theme of the album, and I think it says it for me too. When I was bad, I was not all bad. When I was really trying to be good, I could never be all good. There would be that black streak going through.”

The American Recordings: The Phoenix Rises Again

In 1992, Cash was struggling at Mercury Records which was not promoting his albums, and for financial reasons, Cash was feeling  forced to play in Branson, a mecca for aging entertainers set in the foothills of Missouri. He told Rolling Stone’s Steven Pond, “You know, I’m doing what I feel like I was put on this world to do. I just want to do more of the same, but I want to do it better. I want to make some records that people will pay attention to, you know? My new stuff is going to be real sparse. Never more than four instruments in the studio at any one time. I’m gonna keep it real clean and bare, use today’s technology with my old simple sound, and hope to come up with something big.” Little did he know that two years later, he would again hit it big with recordings done at American, produced by Rick Rubin who was co-founder of Def Jam Records and had worked with many artists including The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Slayer, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys, not artists you would consider in the same style as Johnny Cash.

Cash and Rubin produced some of Johnny’s best work in decades and included American Recordings(1994), Unchained (1996), American III: Solitary Man (2000) and America IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) and many others released after his death in 2003. At the time of their release, the albums received critical acclaim, commercial success and awards including the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Country Album for Unchained.

After the death of his beloved brother Jack when he was a boy, Cash became isolated and often times went out walking for hours as he sang to himself all the songs he heard on the radio, just trying to make sense of the world and his place in it. According to Cash, “The long walk home at night was scary. It was pitch dark on the gravel road, or if the moon was shining, the shadows were even scarier…But I sang all the way home….I sang through the dark, and I decided that that kind of music was going to be my magic to take me through the dark places.” Cash had been down many dark roads in his life fighting addiction, wildness, physical ailments, the deaths of family and friends, but through it all, he found the ‘magic’ in his songs to get him home. And during his time with Rubin, he went to some very dark places indeed with songs such as  Delilah’s Gone, The Mercy Seat and God’s Gonna Cut You Down.

The First Couple of Country, John and June

The First Couple of Country, John and June

Johnny and Rubin made inspired choices of songs to record including several new originals written by Cash as well as covers of musicians of a wide variety including U2, Neil Diamond, Trent Reznor, Tom Petty, Danzig, Dean Martin, Nick Cave, Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak and Bruce Springsteen’s Further On Up The Road. On the later albums you can hear Johnny struggling with his voice at times and you can hear him laboring to breathe at times. But as Rubin wrote in his liner notes to American V: A Hundred Highways released in 2006, “But in the end, his ability to convey words in a way the listener can truly feel and believe them is amazingly consistent. He was the master storyteller.”

At the time of his death in 2003, Johnny Cash was revered by a new group of fans including punks and hipsters, their parents and their grandparents. Johnny and June played at the Glastonbury festival in England. During his set, Johnny just sat on a stool, playing acoustic guitar by himself and was in awe of playing in front of 100,000 fans. They also loved June and The Carter Family classics she sang that night. As she came off the stage, a nineteen year old dressed in black, with tattoos, piercings and a Mohawk got her attention and politely said, “Mrs. Cash you really kick ass.” Johnny wrote that on days when June was down or discouraged, he would tell her, “Mrs. Cash, don’t worry about it, you kick ass.” Just as Johnny found new fans at the end of his life and career, Springsteen, who is 64 this year, has seen something similar occur to him, especially at live shows around the world. As he looks out on the crowd each night, he sometimes sees punk rockers, body piercings, ear gauges and mohawks. He looks out and often times sees three or maybe even four generations of fans, and often times he brings a little one onstage  to sing with him on Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. As he said recently on stage in Australia, “That’s good because they are the future of rock and roll.”

 

The Highwaymen: We’ll Stand Shoulder to Shoulder and Heart to Heart

In 1984, after being jettisoned from Columbia Records, the label he had produced album after album for 25 years, Cash formed the super group The Highwaymen with friends Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. What’s interesting about the song Highwayman is how coincidentally similar its subject matter is to that of Bruce’s song We Are Alive, a song that also was directly influenced musically by Johnny’s recording of Ring of Fire. In another interesting coincidence, Highwayman was written by the famous songwriter Jimmy Webb, whose music was a major influence on the kind of writing Bruce did on his Working On A Dream album. Give it a listen and see what you think

Johnny Cash served in the Air Force during the Korean War, and upon his return to the states, moved to Memphis after recognizing it for its central location of all musical styles and people. Cash tried several times to get a demo session with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios but was turned away. Cash decided to wait on the steps outside the door one morning so he could catch Sam going into work. Sam granted him a quick listen and was impressed with his voice and presence but did not care for the gospel music Johnny sang that first day telling Johnny that gospel music doesn’t sell. Sam told him to come back the next day with his backing band and some original songs. Cash returned the next day with his group the Tennessee Two consisting of Luther Perkins, no relation to Carl, on guitar and Marshall Grant on bass. They played a Cash original, written while he served in Germany, Hey Porter, the first of many Cash train songs. Phillips was bowled over and quickly recorded the trio in the studio. Phillips needed a B side and sent Cash home with instructions to write a “weeper.” Cash went home and got inspired while listening to the radio when he heard DJ Smilin’ Eddie Hill go through his on air rap, “We got good songs, love songs, sweet songs, happy songs and songs that make you cry, cry, cry!”

The signature Johnny Cash sound many call the boom-chicka-boom sound, and some call the ticky-tack sound, was honed in Memphis at Sun Studios with Cash playing rhythm guitar, Luther Perkins on electric guitar and Marshall Grant on upright bass. According to Grant, “We didn’t work at that sound, it’s all we could play. Our inability had more to do with our success than our ability and I’m not ashamed of it.” The minimalist sound provided room for Johnny’s big, masculine booming voice. Perkin’s electric guitar style was basic, yet distinctive as it was used both as rhythm and a basic lead pattern, often times only using the top 3 strings. Grant’s bass playing was unadorned and plodding. More distinct was Cash’s acoustic rhythms which sounded like rustling paper which was achieved by threading a dollar bill through the strings. Between the three of them, the sound was that of a train heading down the tracks, clickity clack. It wasn’t strictly a country sound but included folk, gospel, bluegrass, and when they went up tempo, it was pure rockabilly and rock and roll.

Two great American visionaries, Sam Phillips and Johnny cash

Two great American visionaries, Sam Phillips and Johnny cash

The horn riff played in Springsteen’s We Are Alive, from his Wrecking Ball album, is openly credited as being a note-for-note recreation of the mariachi horns featured in Johnny Cash’s recording of Ring Of Fire,written by Johnny’s wife June Carter and Merle Kilgore. It was first recorded by June Carter’s sister Anita, but after it failed to become a hit, Johnny decided to record it himself after having a dream in which he heard the song played with mariachi horns. Legendary producer Cowboy Jack Clement, who passed away in 2013, has been credited with coming up with the famous horn arrangements. Clement said, “Johnny didn’t conform to anything, except to to the world. At the time, having horns on a hillbilly record was kind of weird, and he thought I was weird enough to understand it. And he called me, thank the lord.”

Besides using Johnny Cash’s mariachi-horns sound, We Are Alive also has the same classic “boom-chicka-boom” bass patterns and guitar lines frequently used by Johnny Cash’s legendary Tennessee Two backup band at Sun Records. While Bruce has aptly described We Are Alive as “Johnny-Cash-meets-Ennio-Morricone,” there’s also much more here than a musical connection. The lyrical concern with social justice, the idea that the past remains very connected to the present and that the differences among us humans can be beautiful but never more important than our commonalities, are all key elements in the work of both Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. When I hear We Are Alive, I am reminded of something Sam Phillips said long ago when he heard Howlin’ Wolf sing for the first time in this studio, “Yes, yes. This is it for me. This is where the soul of man never dies,”

The Land of Hope and Dreams: Come Along and Ride This Train

Johnny once said, “There’s nothing that stirs my imagination like the sound of a steam engine locomotive. That lonesome whistle cutting through the night and that column of black steam throwing shadows across the land. When I was a boy, the trains ran by my house and they carried with them the promise that somewhere down the tracks, anything would be possible.” The truth of that statement is clear if you read through Cash’s discography which includes train songs of one kind or another from start to finish including The Orange Blossom Special, Train of Love, Come and Ride This Train, Folsom Prison Blues, I heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow, Rock Island Line, and John Henry.

On his show, Cash opened every episode with his song Come and Ride This Train in which he asked his viewers at home and in the auditorium to come with him so he could show them interesting places and introduce them to interesting people; this was a theme in his life as well as in his art. The Johnny Cash TV Show was a “big tent” affair.  Cash welcomed everyone onto his show from all kinds of musical styles, cultures, and backgrounds. He excluded no one and stood up to the network on many occasions including his insistence on singing Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning coming Down and including the lyric, “On a Sunday morning sidewalk, I’m wishing lord that I was stoned.” Between 1969 and 1971, 58 shows were broadcast on ABC including guests as diverse as Ray Charles, Mama Cass, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, George Jones, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. All of his guests performed on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, site of the Grand Old Opry, and the artists who, both musically and racially, made a diverse rainbow of society were introduced to Johnny’s fans, both live and on television, on a weekly basis, and helped open minds of people everywhere during a tumultuous time in our history. On the meaning of the show to the country, artist Steve Earle states, “I think it’s really hard for anyone to imagine now how important the Johnny Cash Show was, especially to people like me. The knowledge that Johnny Cash knew who Neil Young was validated me, made me feel like I wasn’t so weird because I listened to both kinds of music.”

Pops and Cash

Pops and Cash

In a very similar way, Springsteen has been creating a big tent of his own between his audience and the artists he has collaborated with and inspired. Just in the last few years, Springsteen has played on stage and recorded with a wide array of musicians ranging from Paul McCartney, Alejandro Escavedo, The Dropkick Murphys, Arcade Fire, Brian Fallon, Eddie Vedder and others. In a recent move, Springsteen has become inspired by, recorded with and added guitarist Tom Morello to the E Street Band for live performances.

In 1999, Springsteen wrote a new song entitled Land of Hope and Dreams as a way to start anew with the E Street Band of which they had not played together mostly for over ten years. He took the old spiritual folk tune of This Train, made popular by Woody Guthrie and Bill Broonzy earlier in the 20th century and changed the lyrics to be inclusive: this train carries saints and sinners, this train carries losers and winners, this train…thieves and sweet souls departed, this train carries lost souls and faith will be rewarded once the big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams. In live versions, Springsteen throws in lines from Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready when he declares, “You don’t need no ticket you just get on board.” Springsteen, much like Cash, wants all of us to ride along with him so we could be ‘good companions for this part of the ride.’ As Dave Marsh wrote in Born To Run, each night in concert during the closer of Detroit Medley,Springsteen used to cry out to the crowd that he saw a train coming down the tracks and all aboard. “Springsteen made the song an invitation and a command. It was a promise of adventure, and each night as I heard him sing it, the same thought came into my head, “where are we headed, where are we bound? Then I’d shake my head and smile and hop aboard myself. The answer was clear: together, we would try to make it home again.”

We’re all riding on a great Mystery Train of sorts as we go through our limited time on earth, but with a little luck and some understanding, we can ride the train together and be good companions.

Coda: I’ve Been Everywhere Man

At the end of his autobiography, Cash sits in his dressing room before a show, lost in his reverie and what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” as he thinks of all the places he has traveled, the people in his life and all the music and closes with this, the essence of The Man In Black, “It’s about time for me to go to work, or if you like, to go play. That’s what we music gypsies call it, after all. I’ll put on my black shirt, buckle up the black belt on my black pants, tie my black shoes, pick up my black guitar, and go put on a show for the people in this town.” Much like Johnny, Springsteen often wears black when on stage and he states that one of his biggest thrills in life is to blow into a town, tear it up on stage while congregating with his audience,forging bonds between himself, the musicians, the fans and each other, and then heading out-of-town headed for the next destination.

One of the last songs Johnny recorded prior before passing was the old standard We’ll Meet Again. According to Rick Rubin, Johnny, knowing his time was drawing near, insisted all the session musicians sing on the final chorus. He insisted his family be brought into the studio to sing on the chorus. And then much to Rubin’s chagrin, Johnny insisted Rubin step up to the microphone and join in as well. He wanted everyone to join and help him out in a family way. That’s the way Johnny Cash always wanted it, everyone hopping aboard and riding the train together. Yeah, we’ll meet again, don’t know where don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day. Thanks Johnny. As the songs goes, we’ll see you further on up the road.

For those of you reading this who have access to Sirius/XM radio, Shawn and I have teamed up to record a special guest DJ spot that will be aired on E Street Radio Channel 20 in which we discuss Johnny and Bruce and play a lot of good music. The schedule is as follows in EST: Wednesday February 26 at 4:00pm, Thursday February 27 at 5:00pm, Friday February 28 at 9:00am, Saturday March 1 at 6:00pm and Sunday March 2 at 11:00pm(roughly).

Two American Icons, Cash and Springsteen

Two American Icons, Cash and Springsteen

The Ties That Bind:  More connections, sources, quotes, brushes with greatness

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While there are many solid connections between Cash and Springsteen as evidenced above, there are several others that we hear in some of Springsteen’s other work.

- On his album Devils and Dust, Springsteen’s Leah contains the line: I walk this road with a hammer and fiery lantern/with this hand I’ve built and with this hand I’ve burnt” which appears to be a direct homage to Cash’s album art for his classic concept album Blood, Sweat and Tears.

-In his song Trouble River, Springsteen writes, “Trouble River, six foot high and risin'” which is a direct nod to Cash’s own Five Foot High and Risin’ which Cash wrote to chronicle an event that occurred near his family’s farm in Dyess.

- In Tougher Than The Rest, Springsteen includes this:” Love is a thin, thin line/But I want you to know I’ll walk it for you anytime,” which is a direct link to Cash’s classic I Walk The Line.

- On Springsteen’s Matamoras Banks, the guitar melody and story line share a fair resemblance, at least in spirit, to Cash’s Give My Love To Rose, which Bruce covered in 1999.

- And lastly, one of Cash’s most famous and popular songs was Jackson, performed with wife June Carter included the lines: We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout/We’ve been talking about Jackson ever since the fire went out.” Springsteen has stated that starting around 1977, he started listening to punk music as well as classic country as a way of gaining new perspectives. His 1980 album The River contained Jackson Cage which looked at a dying marriage amidst boredom of a suburban life and contained the lyrics: The cool of the night takes the edge off the heat.”

Johnny Cash’s America- Full length documentary directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon

“I love songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgement Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak, and love. And Mother. And God.” Johnny Cash

Rosanne Cash essay, Long Way Home.

Johnny on advice: “Don’t ask me for advice. Whenever someone does, I’m reminded of the worst advice I ever gave to anyone. Thank God Roy Orbison ignored it. Roy and I became friends from Day 1. When he came to Memphis from West Texas. I had met him in Odessa where he and the Teen Kings did a show on local television. He was a little discouraged by the lack of progress he was making and asked me what I thought he should do. I said, “Change your name and lower your voice. You sing too high and no one will ever remember Orbison.” (Music lovers all over the world, including Bruce Springsteen who was inspired by and played alongside Orbison can agree it was a good thing Roy ignored the advice of Johnny.)

I've been Everywhere Man

I’ve been Everywhere Man

Better Angels Of Our Nature: Lincoln Pardons 264

By Ryan Hilligoss

Abraham Lincoln in lifelike color

“Common looking people are the best in the world. That is the reason the lord makes so many of them.” A.Lincoln

This past week marked the 205th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, born on Knob Creek Farm near Hardin County(present day Larue County), Kentucky to parents Thomas and Nancy. The occasion reminded me of one of the biggest shocks of my life which came as I stood in a souvenir shop in Gettysburg, Pa where we had made a trip to see the battlefield and historic sites. The store owner who stood behind the dusty counter in period dress was talking to a customer and stated, “It’s too bad Lincoln wasn’t killed sooner in the war.” I’m sorry, I thought, what was that?? A thousand thoughts ran through my mind including, “It’s too bad someone else doesn’t get shot right now!!!Anyone have any theater tickets we can lend to this lady?” Having grown up in Illinois, The Land of Lincoln, as our license plates proclaim, Lincoln is part of our natural DNA through history, geography and osmosis. (As part of the process to obtain a driver’s license in Illinois, you also have to pass an additional quiz on Abraham Lincoln. If you don’t know Abe, you ain’t driving.)

Every 5th grade class in the state makes a yearly field trip to see all sights Lincoln including New Salem where he owned a store, ran the post office and made his first adult friends and began his political career. Springfield holds the home he lived in before moving to Washington, his old law office, the Lincoln Presidential Museum, and the Lincoln tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery (a necessary part of touring Lincoln’s tomb is rubbing Abe’s nose on the bronze bust which stands near the entryway and has been worn to a shiny finish after being pawed by generations of tiny hands). Right or wrong, to many, Lincoln is seen as a demigod that descended to the earth from on high during dark times long ago, and his black and white visage is burned into our minds from an early age. Along with his craggy face, we also have absorbed the standard narrative of slavery, the Civil War, the South and his martyrdom. Not much room in there for wishing he had been killed sooner. Being born so long ago and being dead now for almost 150 years, it is easy for some to think of Lincoln standing on a pedestal, or sitting encased in marble as a national saint or deity, watching over a nation from his seat at Delphi. But, he needs to be remembered and though of as a mortal, someone who arose from abject poverty from the woods of Kentucky and Illinois to lead the nation through some of its darkest hours. He was an earthly man with a family who felt heartbreak with the deaths of two young sons, suffered from clinical depression and worried and paced the floor of the War Department, waiting for the news that would bring an end to the rebellion and the bloodshed. He also had a direct impact on saving the lives of 268 Dakota natives in Minnesota, saving them from the hanging gallows. But first a little background info on The Rail Splitter.

abraham-lincoln-quotes-funny-images

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” A.Lincoln

Little known facts about A.Lincoln: Continue reading

Baseball’s Perfect Gentleman: Hank ‘The Hammer’ Aaron Turns 80

“I never doubted my ability, but when you hear all your life you’re inferior, it makes you wonder if the other guys have something you’ve never seen before. If they do, I’m still looking for it.” Henry Aaron

"I don't want them to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember me." Henry Aaron

“I don’t want them to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember me.” Henry Aaron

Henry ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ Aaron was born 80 years ago today in Mobile, Alabama. Aaron’s family was large and modest and Aaron spent many years as a child helping his family pick cotton and developing the strong wrists and forearms that later allowed him to hit a baseball with such power and authority. Aaron loved baseball from an early age, but his family could not afford proper equipment so he used items he found in the streets and hit bottle caps with sticks. After excelling in football and baseball in high school, Aaron caught the attention of scouts in the Negro Leagues. He started to play as a 6 foot, 180 pound, shortstop. After relocating to Indianapolis, Indiana, eighteen-year-old Aaron helped the Indianapolis Clowns win the 1952 Negro League World Series. As a result of his standout play, Aaron received two offers from MLB teams via telegram; one offer was from the New York Giants, the other from the then Boston Braves. Years later, Aaron remembered, “I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars.” What a powerhouse that lineup would have been for years and years with two of baseball’s finest. Aaron and Mays were two of the last players to make the transition from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues before they were disbanded due to integration.

I won’t rehash Aaron’s entire career or all of the records but here are a few that standout:

- Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982

- Named as 5th best baseball player in history by The Sporting News

- 25 time All Star

-National League MVP Award winner 1957

- 755 career Home Runs, currently second only to Barry Bonds whose career is highly suspect at this time due to the alleged use of performance enhancing chemicals

-3 Gold Gloves

- Holds record for most RBIs with 2,297

-Top five in career hits with 3,771

Henry Aaron Quote

Henry Aaron Quote

I have had a wide array of heroes in my life including writers, musicians, artists, family members and sports including Kurt Vonnegut, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Gehrig and Henry Aaron. Henry broke Babe Ruth’s record for home runs months before I was born in 1974. Starting in 1973, Aaron received hate mail by the sack full, death threats and public taunting by narrow, small-minded and mean-spirited racists who were offended that a black man would try to break the most sacrilegious record in baseball held by a white man. Aaron did what he always did best, put his head down, worked hard and kept on swinging while he kept his pride, dignity and humanity at the fore front. Since his playing days were well over by the time I was cognizant, I think what attracted me to him as a role model was his quiet dignity and the way he carried himself as a man. With his wit, charm, personality, quick smile and decency, Aaron gives those who watch him a path to follow and try our best to follow in his footsteps. His humor, grace and humility can best be defined by his self-evaluation of his golf game, “It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course.” Below is a video clip of Aaron appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1982, shortly after he was elected into the Hall of Fame. And he tells of hitting his famous home run and the White House invitation he received from President Nixon.

In Search of The Hammer

About 10 years ago, I was reading a profile on Aaron and learned that he owned and operated a Krispy Kreme Donut location a few miles from Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga where the Braves play their home games. According to the article, on most days, Aaron stops in the store on his way to Turner Field where he exercises and holds an executive position with the team. On his daily stops, he checks on operations, talks with staff and stays involved. Knowing that there was a chance we could meet a legend and maybe have a donut and coffee with him, I asked my dad and Uncle Rick if they wanted to go on a road trip for southern sights, and was answered in a resounding affirmative.

We made our way from St.Louis down to Atlanta, a drive of only 8 hours with Rick in the back seat reading a Kinky Friedman novel and dad narrating the entire trip on all things historical, political and memories from his own trips to the south including an early family Christmas day trip through Atlanta on their way to Florida years ago, “I remember all the kids riding their bikes out in the streets that morning on their new Christmas presents.”

Robert Lee Hilligoss, Richard Eugene Hillligoss and Ryan Barr Hiliigoss. Krispy Kreme, Atlant, Ga 2005

Robert Lee Hilligoss, Richard Eugene Hillligoss and Ryan Barr Hiliigoss. Krispy Kreme, Atlant, Ga 2005

Up early the next morning, we got some vague but promising directions from a maid at the hotel. After driving around for a few hours looking for one of many variations of a street, avenue, boulevard or place with Peachtree in the title, we pulled into the Krispy Kreme parking lot around 9:00. After buying our donuts and drinks, we sat around for a while, eyes peeled to the doors and heads jerking everytime someone walked in. The manager sauntered by, asked us if we were Braves fans and after telling him we were Hank Aaron fans, he told us hank had already been there today, really early in the morning and wouldn’t be back. After pouting for a good while and blaming all of our woes on Rick as we often do, we headed for the stadium to at least get some good scenery. We found the parking lot that covers what used to be Fulton County Stadium and found the spot where Hank’s record breaking blast from 1974 stands.

Robert Hilligoss and Rick Hilligoss, Atlanta, Ga

Robert Hilligoss and Rick Hilligoss, Atlanta, Ga

We also drove downtown and visited the boyhood home of Mrtlin Luther King Jr and the MLK Center with it’s history and resting place of the civil rights leader. The next day we headed for points south and visited Warm Springs, Ga where President Franklin Roosevelt often visited in an attempt to alleviate his polio symptoms in the warm natural waters. Roosevelt’s Little Whitehouse and museum tucked in the woods was a treasure to witness and to think of the beautiful surroundings that FDR enjoyed on his many trips and the trees he saw before he had his fateful stroke.

We went in search of a hero and legend and even though we came up empty on that score, we saw many other great things and enjoyed moments together as family and travelling companions. We didn’t get to meet Hank, but we talked about him a lot and that is stuff that legends and folk heroes are made of. Looking for one thing, we found others in their place. Searching for one road, we travelled a detour on the blue highways. All roads lead somewhere. And some are blazed by our heroes. Thanks Hank and happy birthday to one of the finest, classiest players and humans to grace the earth.

Henry Aaron

“Trying to throw a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.” Curt Simmons

Ryan and Graham in front of the Henry Aaron statue outside of Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wi

Here stands baseball’s perfect gentleman. Ryan and Graham in front of the Henry Aaron statue outside of Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wi

 

For Pete Seeger: Hobo’s Lullabye

By Ryan Hilligoss, February 1, 2014

“I look upon myself as a planter of seeds. It’s like the Bible says, some land in the stones and don’t sprout, some land in the path and get stomped on, but some land on good ground and grow and multiply a 1,000 fold. My job is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help save the planet” Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger's banjo. This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender

Pete Seeger’s banjo. This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender

Pete Seeger died this past week at the age of 94 and I think the picture above is a perfect microcosm of Pete’s life: two strong hands, a banjo, his voice leading others TOGETHER in song. Pete often said, ” The best music I’ve ever made in my life has been when I can get the folks, all of them, young and old, the conservative, liberal and radical, get ‘em all singing on the chorus.” And he did just that for over 75 years. Pete Seeger lived a good, long and meaningful life and used the tools he had at hand to get out and do his work of singing, playing and passing the songs along that he picked up from Woody, Leadbelly, Paul Robeson, from cultures around the world and from countless others while trying to influence the people and to make this a better, more fair and decent place for all of us to live.

 

It is fitting that I write this while in Springfield, Il, The Land of Lincoln, for  Pete and Abe were very similar despite the fact they were born 100+ years apart. Both were tall men with beards, both chopped wood on a regular basis :), both believed in the power and goodness inherent in the Constitution and The Bill of Rights, and they both believed in the beauty of this country and world and were willing to use their voice and influence to fight for them. Pete Seeger chopped wood everyday of his life as a form of exercise and to help clear his mind and spirit and to keep the rhythm of his songs and life. On days where his  schedule did not allow for his chopping, he complained bitterly to friends and family. And according to Arlo Guthrie, Pete was still chopping wood until about a week before he passed. If only we all can be so lucky to live to a similar age while doing the things we love.
A few  weeks ago, my dad and I went to the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Il to see a new exhibit there of stage props, settings and clothes worn in the Spielberg directed Lincoln. Wasn’t much to see and was fairly disappointing on that end, but we also walked through the main museum for the 100th time as you can always find something new if you look hard enough. (By the way, as a standing offer, if any of you ever make your way out to Illinois at anytime and wish to go, I would be happy to take you down to Springfield and see some Lincoln sights. I’ll be your personal chaufer, tour guide and overall general raconteur :) It’s well worth the time)
One of the exhibits is on the Gettysburg Address which celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, 2013. The library collected several letters from notables around the country and world on the importance of the speech including WJ Clinton, Colin Powell, poet Billy Collins and one Mr.Pete Seeger. His letter was simple, to the point and showed his wit, charm and intelligence all in one brief letter and the additional page he attached with his own design of Lincoln’s speech which he changed to allow for an easier memorization for his listeners. Classic Pete and a prime example of what Pete did his whole life: passing what he thought was important in life, in sustaining a democracy and continuing to build a connection between the people.
Pete Seeger's letter and redesigned Gettysburg Address. Springfield, Il ALPML

Pete Seeger’s letter and redesigned Gettysburg Address. Springfield, Il ALPML

The picture I took isn’t the greatest quality so here is the text: “Dear friends at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Since November 19, it will be 150 years since Old Abe gave the address. I try to get people to memorize it. Written out as 10 sentences and 4 clauses, it’s much easier to memorize than the way it’s normally provided in 2 or 3 paragraphs. I’m curious to know what you think of it. I am sorry I can’t visit you in person but at the age of 94, my travelling days are over. Sincerely, Pete Seeger.”
(With his famous drawing of his banjo underneath)
Rock music critic and historian Dave Marsh wrote a great tribute to Pete this week, A Golden Thread, A Needle which can be read  by clicking this sentence. In his essay, Marsh writes of a night in 1996 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Woody Guthrie Tribute concert. As  a finalee, Pete led a song along with many musicians joining him on stage and getting the entire audience to sing with them. Marsh writes, “I think it was the first time I’d ever truly seen him. He was pleased, I understood, not so much that the night had carried Woody and what he represented forth in such grand fashion. What I remember seeing in Pete Seeger’s eyes was a sense of relief. He knew something that night—if I’m right—something important about not just Woody’s work, but his own. Which meant also the work of all the people he’d learned from, and all those who’d taught them, from the slaves who came up with “O Freedom” to Mother Bloor writing the labor history Woody made into music. He knew that folks would try to carry it on, in both spirit and substance.
That linkage is the golden thread and its purpose now is weaving the garment of human survival, which was the explicit theme of Pete Seeger’s last few decades on the planet. A rainbow design without which we cannot live. A design that shows us why and how to keep the most important thing that Pete Seeger represents alive.
We cannot experience the full measure of what it means to lose Pete Seeger until we realize that this burden is not his to carry, anymore. Now, it’s on you. And me.”
Marsh is right, it’s up to you, me and all of us to make the world a better place for all of us. And it’s time to pick up an axe and start chopping wood.
Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, 2009

Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, 2009

“Pete was one of those guys who saw himself as a citizen artist and an activist. He had a very full idea about those things, how it connected to music and what music could do. The power that music has to influence, to inspire. And that’s the power of folk music. That’s the power of Pete Seeger.”  Bruce Springsteen

Coda: This Land Is Your Land
 In 2012, my dad and I took a road trip to see sights in Kansas and Oklahoma like DDE Presidential Museum, Mickey Mantle’s boyhood home in Spavinaw and Commerce, OK and we went to Okemah, Oklahoma where Woody Guthrie was born. After searching for a while and with a little help from friendly people, we found what remains of Woody’s boyhood home which now is simply some of the original stone foundation. In the yard stands one of the last remaining trees and a local artist carved a message from Woody into the side. And in one of life’s great ironies, there was a small white sign in the yard that says “It is a crime to steal stones from this property.” On the other side, it doesn’t say nothing, that side was made for you and me. This Land was written by Woody in 1940 and would have been a dust speck of history if not for Pete Seeger picking up the song and singing it time after time for crowds, school children, unions, and presidents alike.
Bob Hilligoss at site of Woody Guthrie's first home, Okemah, Oklahoma, 2012

Bob Hilligoss at site of Woody Guthrie’s first home, Okemah, Oklahoma, 2012

Original foundation of Guthrie's boyhood home, Okemah, Oklahoma

Original foundation of Guthrie’s boyhood home, Okemah, Oklahoma. One side is a warning to trespassers. On the other side it says nothing and that side was made for you and me

Top 10 Pete Seeger Songs, written, sung or inspired by
10) Goodnight Irene- Written  by Leadbelly and taught to the Weavers who performed this version on early television

 9) Forever Young- Written by Bob Dylan and sung by Pete along with child’s choir. From Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan honroing 50 years of Amnesty International.

8) If I Had a Hammer

7) Waist Deep In The Big Muddy

6) Johnny Cash on Pete Seeger’ Rainbow Show

5) Bring Em Home- From Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Tour

From The New Yorker profile on Seeger from April 17, 2006 by Alec Wilkinson.

“Springsteen began listening to Seeger in 1997, when he was asked to provide a song for a Seeger tribute record. To choose one, he told me, he “went to the record store and bought every Pete record they had. I really immersed myself in them, and it was very transformative. I heard a hundred voices in those old folk songs, and stories from across the span of American history—parlor music, church music, tavern music, street and gutter music. I felt the connection almost intuitively, and that certain things needed to be carried on; I wanted to continue doing things that Pete had passed down and put his hand on. He had a real sense of the musician as historical entity—of being a link in the thread of people who sing in others’ voices and carry the tradition forward— and of the songwriter, in the daily history of the place he lived, that songs were tools, and, without sounding too pretentious, righteous implements when connected to historical consciousness. At the same time, Pete always maintained a tremendous sense of fun and lightness, which is where his grace manifested itself. It was cross-generational. He played for anyone who would listen. He played a lot for kids. When I set the musicians up in my house to make this record, and we started playing Pete’s songs, my daughter said, ‘That sounds like fun—what is that?'”

Seeger typically performed with the simplest instrumentation—by himself, with banjo and guitar, and, in the Weavers, with another guitar player. Springsteen is accompanied by drums, bass, piano, guitar, accordion, banjo, double fiddles, horns, and backup singers. His versions include more references than Seeger’s did—Dixieland, Gospel, stringband music, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll among them. It is as if folk music, temporarily dormant, had been revived in a more populist and modern form. “The Seeger Sessions” does not include any songs that Seeger wrote, such as ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!” which was a No. 1 record for the Byrds in 1965. Springsteen recorded “If I Had a Hammer,” but felt that it asserted itself too forcefully among the other songs, possibly because it was so well known. The songs he chose, he said, are “ones that I heard my own voice in. When you’re going through material that way, you’re always trying to find your place in the story. With the songs I picked, I knew who those characters were, and I knew what I wanted to say through them to transform what we were doing. That’s your part in the passing down of that music. You have to know what you’re adding. Every time a folk song gets sung, something gets added to that song. Why did I pick Pete Seeger songs instead of songs by the Carter Family or Johnny Cash or the Stanley Brothers? Because Pete’s library is so vast that the whole history of the country is there. I didn’t feel I had to go to someone else’s records. It was very broad. He listened to everything and collected everything and transformed everything. Everything I wanted, I found there.”

4) Hobo’s Lullabye- Written by Woody Guthrie, performed by Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger. For my grandfather Hubert Barr who rode a train from central Illinois to work in the CCC during the Great Depression.

3) The American Land- Bruce Springsteen, inspired by Seeger’s He Lies Here In The American Land

2) Turn Turn Turn- Written by Seeger, performed by Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band and Roger McGuinn

1) Co tie- We Shall Overcome- History told by Pete Seeger

1) This Land Is Your Land- Written by Woody Guthrie, performed by Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger, 2009, Washington DC

Rememberance from Tom Morello, guitarist/musician/songwriter and political activist Tom Morello. Much like Lincoln, Pete was willing to actually excercise his Constitutional freedoms and not just claim them. In a recent post in Rolling Stone by , Morello writes, “He was a hardcore bad ass when he stood up to House Un-American Activities Committee, saying, “How dare you question my Americanism because I play music for people whose politics are different than yours?”

Dreaming of a Promised Land: The Music of Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen

By Ryan Hilligoss and Shawn Poole, January 8th, 2014

(A version of this was used for a special guest Be The Boss episode on E Street Radio, Sirius/XM which aired January 8, 2013)

Two Hearts: American Icons Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen

Two Hearts: American Icons Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen

Merry Elvismas!! To celebrate American icon Elvis Presley on what would have been his 79th birthday, I’ve put together something special with a lot of help from my good friend Shawn Poole from Philadelphia, contributing writer for Backstreets Magazine and Backstreets.com. Shawn and I became fast friends through E Street Radio where we both are regular callers on Live from E Street Nation with Dave Marsh.  We’re both major fans of Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen.

Just over a year ago, Shawn, his wife Dawn and I traveled to Memphis, Tennessee and Tupelo, Mississippi to see the shotgun shack where Elvis was born, the areas where he grew up, where he made his first records and, of course, Graceland, the legendary house and property that Elvis bought for himself and his family after he became a superstar.  We stood together outside the same wall at Graceland that Bruce climbed back in 1976 in his legendary, though unsuccessful, attempt to meet his hero in person.

Shawn and Ryan jumping the wall, ala 1976. That's a copy of Backstreets Shawn is holding, not Time or Newsweek

Shawn and Ryan jumping the wall, ala 1976. That’s a copy of Backstreets Shawn is holding, not Time or Newsweek

We also saw a special exhibit at Graceland that, for the first time ever, features items belonging to other artists who continue to be influenced and inspired by Elvis, including Bruce Springsteen, but more on that later. We’ve prepared a very special post for you today that was inspired by our travels. Since Elvis’ birthday falls on January 8th, we’re going to play eight tracks that connect Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Presley in some very unique ways.  So let’s get this birthday party started with a double-shot of Elvis-themed songs that were not written by Bruce Springsteen, but on which he appears as a backing singer and musician.  These excellent songs explore both the glory and the tragedy of Elvis Presley’s life and career.  Here are Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers performing Joe’s song Talking to the King with Bruce Springsteen on guitar and backing vocals, followed immediately by Ms. Patti Scialfa performing her song Looking for Elvis with Bruce on harmonica and bullet mic. So take it away, Joe, Bruce and the Houserockers. It’s Elvis’ birthday here at 706unionavenue, let the rocking begin!

 

I think a lot of us have been looking for Elvis down Memphis road in one way or another over the years. For those of you who are interested, you can read my essay on our pilgrimage to Tupelo, Mississippi entitled “That’s All Right Mama, I’ll Get The Guitar”, by clicking on the link in this sentence. I took the title from a joke from Howard Hite, an employee of Tupelo Hardware Co, where Gladys bought Elvis his first guitar in 1946. According to Howard, Elvis came in to store on his 11th birthday to buy himself a present earned by running errands for family and neighbors. He had his eye set on a .22 rifle, but Gladys told him no and the store clerk that day handed Elvis a guitar to avert his attention. After he played the guitar for a few minutes, Gladys said, “Elvis if you want the guitar, I’ll pay the difference.” And Elvis thought a moment and said, “Ok mama, I’ll get the guitar.” In Howard’s version, he has Elvis saying, “That’s All Right Mama, I’ll get the guitar.”

For those of you who may not know, 706 Union Avenue is the address in Memphis, Tennessee of the Memphis Recording Service which later became Sun Studio, owned and operated by musical pioneer Sam Phillips. Many argue that the first rock and roll record was recorded at Sun Studio, Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88.  Many early American musicians recorded at Sun including Rufus Thomas, Howlin Wolf, BB King, Junior Parker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and of course Elvis. After hearing Howling Wolf for the first time in the studio, Phillips reportedly said, “Yes, yes. This is it for me, This is where the soul of man never dies.” Just as Phillips and the artists at Sun  mixed musical styles of country, blues, rhythm and blues and gospel among others to form the basis of rock and roll, on this next track, Bruce and Little Steven blend music styles of rock and hip hop in the song’s use of samples, loops and various styles of percussion riding over a driving bass line. So here, in the ‘blessed name of Elvis’, is the Little Steven mix of 57 Channels.

Y’know, if you get the chance to visit Tupelo, Mississippi, the town where Elvis was born, you’ve just got to stop at Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis’ mother Gladys bought him his first guitar for his 11th birthday.  It’s a great old-fashioned hardware store, where you can stand on the spot marked with an “X” on the very same hardwood floor where Elvis stood and Mr. Howard Hite, Tupelo Hardware’s sales manager and a true Southern gentlemen, will tell you the story of how Elvis got his first guitar.  As Springsteen fans, of course we thought immediately of Bruce’s beautiful song The Wish, which tells the story of how Bruce’s mother Adele bought him his first guitar for Christmas.  The very first time that Bruce performed The Wish publicly, at the November 17, 1990 Christic Institute benefit, he concluded his introduction of the song by saying, “I´m gonna leap into the void and the great line of mother lovers: Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard and every country and western singer you ever knew.”  Here is a live version played on the 2005 Devils and Dust Tour including the intro with some discussion on Elvis.

Every year, Graceland is the second most personal residence visited by tourists in America, only behind the White House. Much like Paul Simon, millions have been received in Graceland, ordinary and famous alike. One famous visitor was comedian, actor, performance artist and all around avant-garde artist Andy Kaufman, known by many as Latka from the television series Taxi. Kaufman had an obsession with Elvis starting from childhood. Knowing that Andy and his writing and performance partner Bob Zmuda could play loose with facts and reality, much of what has been said and written about his exploits cannot be verified for certain, but it makes for some very entertaining stories. Knowing that, it can be said Andy had quite the connection with Elvis.

According to Andy, in 1969, he tilted at windmills by hitchhiking  from Long Island to Las Vegas on a quest to meet his idol.  After hiding in a kitchen pantry for hours at the International Hotel where Elvis made regular appearances, Andy burst out when he heard Elvis exit a service elevator and begin walking through the kitchen on his way to the stage. Andy proceeded to show Elvis a manifesto he had written about his love of Elvis and he told Elvis that he was going to be famous some day. Elvis reportedly patted Andy on the shoulder and said he was sure that was true. Elvis has been cited by Johnny Cash and tv host Mike Douglas as stating that Kaufman was Elvis’ favorite impersonator. Elvis was a loyal Johnny Carson viewer and I imagine Elvis did watch Kaufman perform on March 3, 1977 during which Andy turned his clothes into a 70s Vegas jumpsuit and then proceeded to sing Love Me and Blue Suede Shoes in a 50s Elvis style voice replete with the appropriate dance moves. Most interestingly, according to Zmuda in his biography, Andy Kaufman Revealed, he and Andy were in Memphis for the infamous Jerry Lawler wrestling match when they decided to tour Graceland. A few of the guides recognized Andy and took him on a private tour including Elvis personal office and pointed to some video tapes that had Andy’s name written on them in Elvis hand. Kaufman became overwhelmed with emotion at seeing his name written on Elvis’ home recordings and excused himself to “the restroom” where a flush was soon heard and Andy came out and exclaimed, “I used Elvis’ throne,  I mean I really used it. It was amazing.” So in the spirit of two great American artists who were way ahead of their time, Andy Kaufman and Elvis Presley,  from the October 11, 2004 Vote for Change concert, here is Bruce and REM “goofing on Elvis’ on Man on The Moon.

My buddy Shawn Poole and I are the bosses today here at 706unionavenue and we’re celebrating the birthday of Bruce Springsteen’s very first musical hero, Mr. Elvis Presley.  We just told you some interesting stories about Graceland, Elvis’ legendary home and last year there was a special exhibit at Graceland’s Sincerely Elvis Museum.  It was called ICON: The Influence of Elvis Presley and it marked the very first time that an official Graceland exhibit had included items from artists other than Elvis.  Among the many artists included were Bruce Springsteen, of course, along with some video and displayed quotes on the walls from Bruce, Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa, too.  There’s also a glass case with a copy of the Born To Run LP, one of Bruce’s black leather jackets from the seventies and an authentic Elvis Presley King’s Court fan club button, just like the one you can see on the cover of Born To Run and in many other photos taken by photographer Eric Meola for the Born To Run album-cover photo sessions.  And right next to that, in the very same glass case, is a large display copy of a Backstreets Magazine article that Shawn wrote back in 2004.

Shawn Poole with a copy of his article from Backstreets magazine inside the ICON exhibit on the Graceland Grounds, December, 2012

Shawn Poole with a copy of his article from Backstreets magazine inside the ICON exhibit on the Graceland Grounds, December, 2012

It’s all about Al Hanson, the man who designed the Elvis fan-club button that Bruce is wearing on his guitar strap on the Born To Run album-cover.  I’m sure you’ll understand that, as a longtime fan of both Bruce and Elvis, I was immensely thrilled and honored to see my article on display in an official Graceland exhibit right alongside some of Bruce’s Elvis-related items.  Backstreets Magazine and Backstreets.com was honored, of course, to be a part of this unique exhibit, and we hope that many of you got the chance to see it before it closed last February. 

For a fascinating read on what might have happened if Bruce Springsteen had met his idol before Elvis’ concert in Philadelphia in the spring of 1977, click here to get a download of Shawn’s great story “Didn’t Have To Die: How an Encounter That Never Happened Might Have Helped to Change History If It Had” which was originally published in Spanish in The Stone Pony Magazine issue 53, September 2009.

And speaking of Born To Run, we think “She’s The One”, thanks to its Bo Diddley beat and Bruce’s singing style on it, is the Born To Run track that most closely resembles the musical styles found in many of the great Elvis Presley records.  So here is an incredible live version played in 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England on the band’s first trip overseas.

We’re back, rolling along on this great Mystery Train of Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen and American music.  In 1978, after enduring a struggle for his artistic freedom, Bruce wrote Promised Land for the album, Darkness On The Edge of Town. While it is unknown if it was purposeful, it shared the same title of a song written by one of his, and countless other’s, musical heroes, Chuck Berry, a man from a poor family living in a segregated St.Louis, Mo. Chuck’s version, written in 1964 while he was in jail and possibly influenced by Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963, tells the tale of a poor southern boy dreaming of a better life in California and struggling to make his way across the country in search of that dream. With names like Rock Hill, Atlanta, and Birmingham, some have claimed that Berry was writing a coded song about the Civil Right Movement. In the later stage of his career, Elvis recorded Berry’s Promised Land and turned it into one of his last great rock recordings.

Springsteen with Elvis button, BTR cover outtake from Eric Meola

Springsteen with Elvis button, BTR cover outtake from Eric Meola

Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, two huge influences on the music of Springsteen, were two of the most influential ”fathers” of rock and roll, one of the great unifying forces in modern American life and one that greatly influenced the civil rights movement. Elvis’ first recordings took place in a small, dusty Memphis studio called Sun Records situated at 706 Union Ave. In his extraordinary work on Elvis, Careless Love, author and music historian, Peter Guralnick writes “…in the end, there is only one voice that counts. It is the voice that the world first heard on those bright yellow Sun 78s, whose original insignia, a crowing rooster surrounded by boldly stylized sunbeams and a border of musical notes, sought to proclaim the dawning of a new day. It is impossible to silence that voice. Elvis continued to believe in a democratic ideal of redemptive transformation. He continued to seek out a connection with a public that embraced him not for what he was but for what he sought to be.”

We would like to dedicate this next song to two Beautiful Dreamers, Elvis and Bruce, who both dreamed of a promised land, a better country and world for all to be treated fairly and humanely. On those early Sun recordings, it was only Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. So, to create some percussion, Elvis would use his hand to bang on the guitar body to keep the beat along with Black’s bass line. Here is Bruce creating his own percussion, in a haunting, ghostly fashion on an acoustic version of the Promised Land, recorded June, 2005 during the Devils and Dust Tour.

If I Can Dream Of A Better Land

We’ve been the ‘bosses’ today at 706unionavenue  in a special post celebrating the birthday of Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen’s original and enduring influence. Well, we’re going to close our work today with one of Bruce’s songs from his Wrecking Ball album released in 2012, We Take Care Of Our Own.  The lyrics make direct reference to a shotgun shack and, if you get the chance to visit Elvis’ birthplace as we have, you’ll see that he really was born in a shotgun shack, which is an extremely small house built by Elvis’ father Vernon , who had to borrow $180 to build it.  Like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley was a very poor young man who later became very wealthy.  Elvis’ greatest music, however, was always about the struggle to dream the biggest dreams we can of a world in which everyone, not just a lucky few, can be liberated and free from poverty, loneliness and suffering.

For most of his life, Elvis lived and worked in Memphis, TN, a city with deep ties to the Civil Rights movement, and at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum we learned how so much of the music made by Elvis and so many other musicians was strongly connected to that great struggle.  It forced us as a nation to reconsider our assumptions about how we identify ourselves as both individuals and groups, how our culture should look, sound and feel.  That’s why it continues to influence and inspire so many people around the world today, over thirty-five years after Elvis himself died so tragically.  Bruce Springsteen, one of Elvis’ biggest fans, is making music now that continues to ask us the question that Elvis asked when he sang If I Can Dream on his 1968 “comeback” television special, a night of performances that Bruce himself counts among Elvis’ greatest.  That night, Elvis asked all of us, “If I can dream of a warmer sun where hope keeps shining on everyone, tell me…Why won’t that sun appear?”  Happy birthday, Elvis, and rest in peace.  Thanks for inspiring Bruce Springsteen and all of us to ask ourselves the questions that still need to be asked.

Coda: Sources, videos and other material

*Sirius/XM’s Outlaw Country, NASCAR Radio, Blue Collar Radio and Raw Dog Comedy DJ Mojo Nixon did one of the best E Street Radio Guest DJ segments ever.  Bruce Springsteen himself loved it so much that he asked E Street Radio’s Dave Marsh to get a copy of the show for him.  Back in the eighties, Mojo wrote and recorded the great, hilarious tribute record “Elvis Is Everywhere.”  Mojo also has called Dave Marsh the man who’s forgotten more than the rest of us will ever know about Bruce Springsteen.  In 1973, Dave wrote his very first Springsteen record-review of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. coincidentally in the same Creem Magazine column that also featured his review of the album Elvis Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite. Speaking of Greetings…, although we won’t be playing it on today’s show, that album’s closing track, “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” is one of the earliest examples of Bruce singing in the tough, bluesy style that Elvis used on many of his best records.

Prince From Another Planet

Prince From Another Planet

On June 9, 1972, the same day he was signed officially as a Columbia Records recording artist, Bruce Springsteen attended Elvis’ very first Madison Square Garden concert.  Bruce said that Elvis’ performance that night was “really great.”  Almost thirty years later, when Bruce released the Live In New York City CD and DVD of some of his own Madison Square Garden concerts, he could be heard shouting “Elvis is alive!” during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” after an audience member threw a white shirt onstage.  Bruce mopped his sweaty face with the shirt and threw it back into the audience like Elvis used to throw his scarves into the crowd during the seventies, and he even copped an Elvis-like stage move.  The cover for Bruce’s Live In New York City CD booklet was created using an old-fashioned letterpress concert-style poster designed by the legendary Hatch Show Print with die-cut star designs used originally on a 1956 Elvis Presley concert poster.

A toilet fit for a King, restroom in Sun Studios, Memphis, Tn

A toilet fit for a King, restroom in Sun Studios, Memphis, Tn

Letha’s Boy Turns 72

By Ryan Hilligoss, January 3, 2014

Robert Samuel Hilligoss holds Robert Lee Hilligoss in his palm, 1942, Humboldt, Il

Robert Samuel Hilligoss holds Robert Lee Hilligoss in his palm, 1942, Humboldt, Il

Many great people share a birthday on January 3rd including actor Ray Milland, First Lady Grace Coolidge, hockey great Bobby Hull and legendary Beatles producer George Martin. A great American born on this date was none other than the man, the myth, the legend: Robert Lee Hilligoss, who turns 72 today. According to the records, Robert was born at 11:45pm at Jarman Hospital in Tuscola, Il, 15 miles from the family home in Humboldt, Coles County. Robert was delivered by Doctor Gross to parents Letha Cook Hilligoss and Robert Samuel Hilligoss. Robert’s maternal grandparents were Edward  and Ruth Mitchell Cook. His fraternal grandparents were Kenneth and Eva Wright Hilligoss. According to his baby book, Robert’s first journey took place on January 7th, 1941 when the family was transported from the hospital in Tuscola to Kenneth Hilligoss’ farm in the Schrader Funeral Home ambulance and the temperature that day was 12 degrees below zero.

Baby Arrive page from baby book

Baby Arrive page from baby book, written by Letha Hilligoss

Robert Samuel Hilligoss, Letha Cook Hilligoss and Robert Lee Hilligoss, 1942

Robert Samuel Hilligoss, Letha Cook Hilligoss and Robert Lee Hilligoss, 1942

Upon their arrival home, the baby’s first visitors included: Mr. and Mrs. George Wilson, Ms.Mildred Mitchell, Mr. and Mrs. Mildred Barnhardt, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Cook, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Hilligoss, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Hilligoss, Grace Louise Orndoff and Joe Evans.

We do not remember days, we remember moments

For the purposes of this piece, I asked dad to give me some early childhood memories in his own words so we can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, or mule’s depending  on who you ask.

Robert Lee Hilligoss, 1945

Robert Lee Hilligoss, 1945

1) On the morning he was born, father Robert asked Dr.Gross how much the delivery would cost, to which the doctor replied, “Do you think that boy is worth $25 dollars?”

Robert Lee being held by Kenneth and Eva Hilligoss

Robert Lee being held by Kenneth and Eva Hilligoss

2) “The day mom and I caught a train at the Humboldt Depot in Oct. or early Nov. 1945, early, early morning.  The milk train, for Chicago.  Sat in the ICRR station all day awaiting for dad to return from the USMC.  He failed to show for some reason.  We returned to Humboldt dad showed up a week or so later right at Thanksgiving time, 1945.  There are photos of that day.” Yes there are and below is one of them. The baby book states, “Came back (sic Robert) to the states September 20, 1946 and his 30 day furlough began October 13, 1946. He was discharged November 27 at Great Lakes Naval Training center.”

Robert Samuel Hilligoss returns from WWII. On the Hilligoss farm, Humboldt, Il with Kenneth, Eva, Gladys, Paul and Herman

Robert Samuel Hilligoss returns from WWII. On the Hilligoss farm, Humboldt, Il with Kenneth, Eva, Gladys, Paul and Herman

Robert Lee Hilligoss plays on Kenneth's farm, 1943

Robert Lee Hilligoss plays on Kenneth’s farm, 1943

3) “1st grade. Seems as if we had a lot of snow, and being the only 1st grader I was an easy target for older students. I’d come in from the playground wet from being rolled in the snow.  One day Miss Emily took my to the cloakroom had me strip down to my underwear, put me in a smock.  I sat in the first desk, front row of this one room schoolhouse, grades 1-8, in a dress.  The are two points I’d like to make about this simple story.  1.  In a day of frivolous law suits, the teacher would probably face trouble, she would be accused of damaging my self-esteem, she was concerned with saving my life from pneumonia.  She faced charges that bullying was allowed, I think in reality it was a lesson of life that needed to be learned.”

Letha Hilligoss with Robert Lee, Cook family farm

Letha Hilligoss with Robert Lee, Cook family farm

4) “One day I was standing in Granddad Cook’s front yard probably 6 years old, I think
I was watching Ed Cook and dad dehorn cows.  Mom pulled up in a hurry and
shouted that Ronnie had just swallowed Kerosene. Dad dropped his tools, ran and
hurdled the picket fence that sat out front of Ed’s house.  I was
astounded, my dad could jump that high.  Dad, for a person who never played
organized sport, was a natural athlete.  He could do it all.  In his
forties he, Ronnie, and Rick would go to the Arcola football field where he
enjoyed kicking field goals.”

Robert Lee Hilligoss on Ed Cook's farm, 1946

Robert Lee Hilligoss on Ed Cook’s farm, 1946

5) ” In the second grade in 1949,  many people
in the USA were being struck with polio.  One day one of my classmates
was absent.  He may have been absent for several days, but on this
given day, I raised my hand and asked, “Miss Emily , Where is
Kenny?”  Miss Emily replied, “Kenny died.”

That was a jolt in the seat end of your pants!  We got through it
without any scars that I am aware of and without anyone holding our hands.”

Humboldt Elementary School with Ms. Emily

Humboldt Elementary School with Ms. Emily

6) “In 1953, right before harvest time and before school started, my parents
decided to visit my mother’s half-brother living in Pueblo, Co.  When we
travelled there were no motels to speak of, plus we travelled on a
shoestring budget. We’d sleep in the car, and on roadside picnic tables.
One day dad wanted to rest a bit, and pulled into a city park in the middle of
Kansas, Dorothy wasn’t there.  Ronnie and I jumped out of the car to
play and went running for a swing set.  Out of nowhere this man who
was waving a pistol came up to us and told us to get out of his park.  Mom
stuck out her famous chin, charged into the playground.  The next thing I
knew dad had her by the arm and threw her into the car.  Ronnie and I were
close behind. Dad drove out of the park in a flash.  He was yelling
something about never challenge a crazy man, who is waving a pistol in your
face. “

Family Vacation 1957. Robert Samuel, Letha, Robert Lee, Ronald Edwin, Richard Eugene and Ruth Marie Hilligoss

Family Vacation 1957. Robert Samuel, Letha, Robert Lee, Ronald Edwin, Richard Eugene and Ruth Marie Hilligoss

In his email to me with his thoughts, he closes with this, “Favorite memories are tough to separate from all memories.  Today sitting here at McDonald’s watching snowbound traffic, snow clouds my memory. “Over the river, and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.” I can understand as my thoughts are often clouded with my own memories and of those of others who came before and after. We all share the same memories and hand them down from generation to generation. Happy 72nd birthday pop.

Rick_0002

Dad 7_0001

Robert Lee Hilligoss with Graham Ronald Hilligoss. Old barbershop in Humboldt, Il

Robert Lee Hilligoss with Graham Ronald Hilligoss. Old barbershop in Humboldt, Il

Pine trees in front of Humboldt Elementary school. Dad first points to where the trees stood in height when he was a student and then recreates how he used to jump over them everyday at recess.

Pine trees in front of Humboldt Elementary school. Dad first points to where the trees stood in height when he was a student and then recreates how he used to jump over them everyday at recess.

Letha’s Boy, by Sharon Hardin

Behind blue drapes with cabbage roses

Hat watches the paper boy,

the grin on his freckled face,

when he sees cookies she placed

with the Journal payment,

in the Mason Jar kept

for that purpose on the porch

“Letha’s boy’s a cute little fixen,

Not like the boys that chant

From the bushes—

‘Three old, grey witches,

A biddy, a crazy, a stringy old maid,

Living in an old grey house.”

When the bike rattle fades

She steps out on the porch

For the paper, then back inside

Thinks, “If me and Paul had married,

Had a house full of freckled-faced boys,

A grandson the age of Letha’s boy,

I wouldn’t be a sour old maid,

Hiding with ‘Crazy Glade’

Here in Mamma’s house.”

Baby Book cover

Baby Arrive page from baby book

Baby Arrive page from baby book

Baby Book page 3 baby Book page 4 Baby Books page 2