Cover #16 is “River” by Bill Staines, originally released on his 1979 album The Whistle of the Jay and later on his 1984 live album Bridges.
Bill Staines was the first concert I ever went to. Actually, he was probably the first several concerts I ever went to, not counting Rosenshontz, or the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar I attended while in utero. I think my parents knew Bill from their days running the George’s Attic coffee house back in the ’60s.
I was raised in coffee houses. Did I ever tell you that? Coffee houses, church basements, VFW halls, school cafeterias… anywhere that folk music types were allowed to come and play, there you would find Alan and Peggy and little Andy. Bill was a mainstay in that scene for years around Boston – still is, I suppose, but there was a time when he was the man. And deservedly so.
Bill lives in New Hampshire these days. It’s like he stepped out of an alternate dimension, one where country music came out of a different tradition; not out of cowboys and prairies, but of loggers and maple sugar farms. You’ve probably never heard of him, which is really too bad. You know that song “All God’s Critters Got A Place In The Choir?” From camp? That’s his song. He wrote it.
Of course I liked that song when I was a kid, because my parents would bring animal puppets and their friends and I would all make them dance around in the audience (thus priming me for a lifetime of audience participation-related events, from Rocky Horror to Blue Man Group to my college thesis project, a staging of The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which was 50% audience participation and improv and included puppets) but that’s not the point. “River” was the song I always wanted to hear. It struck a chord with me as a kid, and I never knew why. Now, further on down the river of life, it still makes me think.
And in case you’re experiencing some sort of whiplash, going from The Dresden Dolls to Bill Staines in the space of a day, know this: both Amanda Palmer and Bill are graduates of Lexington High School, where the teachers are apparently doing something right. Both artists inspire their audiences to participate in the show, and both write songs with that inexplicable New England crispness. “I was born in the path of the winter wind”/”I’m half my mother’s daughter, a fraction left up to dispute.” Am I stretching? Oh yes I am. It’s late and I’m tired.
This is a fairly straight cover. I’m not a particularly good finger-picker, so I went with my typical flat-pick-no-subtlety acoustic style, with occasional nods towards folksy pleasantries.
Next up…: It’s a definite maybe.