Singer/Songwriter Al Stewart came out of the London folk scene, but by the mid-70’s struck it big with MOR/AM Radio hit, “Year Of The Cat“. But there’s more to this Mr. Stewart than just that one hit. On this episode, I’m joined by fellow podcaster (and Al Stewart fan extraordinaire) Craig Smith to discuss the deep cut “Life In Dark Water“.

“Life In Dark Water” – Al Stewart Copyright 1978 D.J.M./Frabjous Music Approximate Music


Brad Page: Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight, because I gotta get back for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network! I’m your host, Brad Page, and this episode, we’re exploring a song by Al Stewart– a deep cut from his 1978 album “Time Passages”; this is a song called “Life In Dark Water”.

Now, I gotta admit, I don’t know all that much about Al Stewart, really, but luckily, I happen to know somebody who does: Craig Smith, former host of the Pods and Sods Network, has joined us on this show before, and he’s the biggest Al Stewart fan I know. So I figured, let’s bring Craig back on the show, and we’ll all explore “Life In Dark Water”.

Brad Page: All right, well, Craig Smith, thank you for joining me on this episode to talk about Al Stewart. You are the biggest Al Stewart fan I know, so I couldn’t think of anyone better to come on and, uh, do this with me. So thank you for joining me.

Craig Smith: Absolutely. There are others of us around, too… you may be familiar with Brian Linnen…?

Brad Page: Yes, I know that young man– the upstanding citizen Brian Lennon. For the most part, my knowledge of Al Stewart is fairly minimal. You know, usually I do a ton of research for these things, but I thought I would be lazy and go to the expert I know to take care of that. So, let’s talk about Al Stewart. And what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna be talking about a song that, I guess I would put this maybe in, like, the middle of his career?

Craig Smith: Yes. Almost dead middle.

Brad Page: Yeah, from the “Time Passages” album. And let’s talk about how he gets to this record. If you could fill me in, because I know none of this, so tell me about Al Stewart up to this point.

Craig Smith: Okay. I should preface by saying that Eric and I were fortunate enough to interview Al Stewart in the very, very early days of Pods And Sods, which was a podcast that I was part of for ten years. But he comes from kind of the London scene in the mid-sixties, at a place called… now, I’ve heard it referenced as “Le Cousin”, but during our interview, I’m fairly certain he called it “Les Cousins”… which was a folk club. He played there with people like Paul Simon, Roy Harper, who was also somebody that I know you and I both admire, also comes from that same pocket of time. His first album came out in 1967. It was called “Bedsetter Images”. It was later re-released as “The First Album” with some different tracks. What is more interesting is that his second album, “Love Chronicles”, beat John Lennon by a year for throwing, uh, the very weighted f-word into a song, which is part of the title track, which is a sidelong folk number going through a bunch of relationships that he was in.

Craig Smith: His first four albums, very folky. And then, after that, starting with “Past, Present and Future” into “Modern Times”, snd then you start to move towards “Year of the Cat” & “Time Passages”. You’re getting into his commercial peak, as it were. He meets Alan Parsons– and Alan Parsons, I believe, did some work on modern times also— but he started to get more radio play around this time with a song from “Modern Times” called “Carol”.

Craig Smith: Of course, “Year of the Cat” is the song that, over here, propels him. It was a huge hit here, of course. “Time Passages” is the follow-up album. There’s another hit, the title track, flies very close to the blueprint “The Year Of The Cat” was built from.

Craig Smith: And then after that, he did a great album after “Time Passages” called “24 Carrots”, had a killer band called Shot In The Dark. Amazing live record after that. And then kind of after that, his releases get a little more, I don’t know that I want to say “electronic”… a little more “synthetic”, as eighties albums are want to do. But so much good stuff in that catalog. Even going in the later years, he never lost it.

So, to kind of just sum up what he is: I can’t remember if he said this during our interview or if I read it somewhere else, but he said ideally what he considers himself is a lyricist, period. And I think his singing is fantastic. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, it is a very mellow leaning towards yacht rocky delivery, which I happen to love. But I think once you get into the middle period of Al Stewart, it kind of goes from folk to more of like, I don’t even know if this is the right term, but like a “progressive folk”, there’s more arrangement-wise going on in these songs.  And across the board, fantastic lyrics. Amazing lyrics. I’m an idiot when it comes to history and things like that… the funny thing is, if you’re looking at an Al Stewart lyrics without looking at who penned the song, it could either be Al Stewart or Iron Maiden. Given the balance of British history in both of their catalogs, it’s amazing, right? But yeah, what a rich catalog. Absolutely love it.

Brad Page: I’m not familiar with any of the early stuff… like most people, my first exposure to him was “Year of the Cat”, which was a bit of a mixed blessing, because this is back in the day when AM radio was still king.

Craig Smith: Oh yeah.

Brad Page: And that song was a big hit on AM radio. And at that point, AM radio was so formulaic and formatted that you knew exactly what song they were going to play, at what time, to the point where, like, on the school bus, you know, they would play the AM radio and without fail, we’d always be at one kid’s bus stop and they would play “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. And then, like two stops later, it would be “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart.

It got to the point where I hated both of those songs, because you just heard them, like, every day. And it was, that’s what AM radio was like back then. When you have a song that just kind of– you’re sick of, sometimes it can throw you off a little bit. But “Time Passages”, that song I always liked quite a bit.

We’re gonna take a look at a song from that record. This is a song called “Life In Dark Water”, and it always jumped out to me from this record. I wouldn’t call it “heavy”, but it’s an intense song. It definitely has that Alan Parsons kind of Pink Floyd lite production to it. It’s very rich production, the whole album, but particularly in this song. Do you know the history of this song?

Craig Smith: Not too much of the history, aside from, there are some things that I can tell you about things that he said when introducing the song live on the “Time passages” concert. This is what he says: “This is a number which is about being stranded alive, thinking that you’re the last person in the world alive, alone on a seabed in a nuclear submarine. It’s a psychedelic sea song in which we never find out if the narrator is alone or not.” And then he goes on to say that “the Marie Celeste, which is referenced in the lyrics, was a ship found floating off the coast of the British Isles in the Atlantic Ocean with nobody on board, half eaten meals, and half smoked cigars. One of the great mysteries of the sea. In his trance, he thinks that he’s back in the Marie Celeste.”  However, Al is wrong about this…

Brad Page: Yeah, the ship was actually called the Mary Celeste, not the Marie Celeste, but he’s not the only person to misname it. A lot of people called it the Marie Celeste, but it was the Mary Celeste. It was a ship built in Canada, registered in the US, that just showed up off the coast of wherever it was, with nobody on board and, you know, some damage, but not trashed or anything. And the lifeboat was missing. And they never found any of the crew. Just kind of one of those creepy stories. But interesting.

Craig Smith: The kind of story that podcasters make a mint off these days, right?

Brad Page: If we were a true crime type podcast, we’d dig into that.

Craig Smith: Never too late! But when he, when he introduces the song, he does say Mary, just to be clear. But in the lyrics, I believe it’s printed Marie. And he, in the song, he pronounces it Marie with a rolling r, which I cannot do. Yeah, that’s the Mary Celeste.

Brad Page: Yeah. It’s very interesting and intriguing lyrically, and I guess we can kind of talk about it as we go along. But that was one of the things that pulled me into the song.

Craig Smith: And musically as well.

Brad Page: Yes.

Craig Smith: When I got into Al Stewart, I don’t know that I would have expected a song like this. It’s just such an epic sound.

Brad Page: Yes.

Craig Smith: That was the word that I kept coming to.

Brad Page: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not really something that I would have expected from Al Stewart, if you only know the few hits. This is a lot… It’s darker, it’s a lot more atmospheric like. This is a lot spookier.

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: All right, well, let’s dig into the track. It opens relatively atmospherically with kind of a riff or chord change that sounds pretty familiar. It’s the James Bond chord change. Right?

Craig Smith: The chords, from what I looked up– and this can be wrong or not– but on the intro, the chords are D Minor, B Flat with a D bass, Dminor6. So that’s where that note is moving around, giving it that James Bond feel. Yeah. Good ear. I didn’t pick that out.

Brad Page: I mean, I’m not saying that it’s like a knockoff or anything, but it’s just, it’s very effective. I like it.

Craig Smith: It works really well.

Brad Page: And then the first verse, he’s talking about “Living in the bottom of the sea, down metal snake corridors, steely gray engines hum for nobody but me”.

Brad Page: I mean, it puts you in a place, right? You could feel this guy, alone on this submarine, right from the beginning. I’m wondering, “How did this guy get here? Why is he all by himself?”

Craig Smith: You’re dropped into the story.

Brad Page: Yeah, right! Yeah, you’re literally dropped in the middle of the story, trying to figure out what is going on.

Craig Smith: And even the line “No message crackles through the radio leads”, just another worded so well, you know?

This is one of those songs for me where it’s the music and the lyrics are both a ten out of ten.

Brad Page: Yeah. I mean, they’re intertwined, right?

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: The mood of the music fits the mood of the lyrics so perfectly. And it takes a certain level of confidence to just plop people down in the middle of the story. Like, there’s no setup for this, right? There’s no, “We set sail from the port”, none of that. Like you’re just suddenly at the bottom of the ocean, alone on a submarine with this guy, not knowing, as he doesn’t know, apparently, who else is out there.

Craig Smith: Yeah. Fantastic. That’s what that “Year of the Cat” money can make you write songs like that.

Brad Page: Yeah.

Craig Smith: Drop the listener wherever you want.

Brad Page: Right. And you can afford to make a record that sounds this good too.

Craig Smith: One of the things that I really love about the arrangement: the piano tinkles.

Brad Page: Yes. Me, in my notes, I had basically the same words you’re using. I had “tinkling glass-like piano”. Uh, yeah, just very… It’s like icicles in a way, you know what I mean?

Craig Smith: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Like something visual was coming to mind, I think that describes it very, very well.

Brad Page: Let’s talk about the second verse here. You’ve got some, like, sonar pings in the background. I really like that. They’re very subtle.

Craig Smith: Yeah. Not completely unlike the pings we hear in another masterpiece that I know you and I both love.

Brad Page: Yes. Where those are much more upfront. I mean, they’re kind of like the key to that song.

Craig Smith: These are very subtle.

Brad Page: Yeah, yeah. The bass is playing octaves.

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: The line, “jet planes nose through the clouds above me, they look for radar traces of me to see”.

So, then I started thinking, “Well, did this guy, like, hijack a submarine?” Like, why are they looking for him? How does he know that they’re looking for him? Are they really looking for him? Or is he imagining that?

Craig Smith: Right. That was my thought. Like, how does he know they’re looking for him? This is kind of likely all in his head.

Brad Page: Yeah, but you never get an answer to any of this, which is, you know, the song always leaves you to decide.

Craig Smith: Exactly. And it could also be just like his hope, you know?

Brad Page: Right.

Craig Smith: That there is somebody out there looking for him.

Brad Page: Right.

Let’s talk about his voice, because you kind of mentioned that it’s, um, it might not be for everyone. I guess it’s a little bit of an acquired taste. I mean, it’s an extremely “white guy voice”, right?

Craig Smith: Oh, yeah.

Brad Page: There’s no R&B or Soul to his singing. And he does have, you know, he’s got a bit of a lisp, which is something that I can relate to. You don’t hear that a lot on pop records. You certainly would never hear that today. You’d never make it on “American Idol”.

Craig Smith: Yeah. Oh, no, absolutely not.

Brad Page: But how did you take his voice? I mean, were you immediately taken by it?  Did it put you off at all or…

Craig Smith: It didn’t put me off. Um, “Year of the Cat” is part of my DNA. One of those songs that, before I got into Al Stewart, kind of like… and you know what, here’s another guy with a very similar voice” “Alone Again, Naturally”, by Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Craig Smith: But, um, I think that I didn’t have that roadblock at all. Like, I knew “Year of the Cat” from being a kid. And I’m like, oh, this is this dude’s voice. It doesn’t, there’s nothing about it that I find unpleasant. It’s– I don’t know that smooth is the, you know, because that’s going to make him sound like a crooner, but there’s absolutely no grit in Al Stewart’s voice in that respect. It is very smooth. So, like, Al Stewart’s voice isn’t going to, that’s not going to slow me down any. How about you?

Brad Page: Well, I think it, I’m not sure I’d say it was off-putting… I thought it was a little strange, I didn’t necessarily love it, but again, that was kind of all mixed up in the thing of just being sick of “Year of the Cat”.

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: It doesn’t bother me. Um, but I can see why some people might be turned off by it.

Craig Smith: I get it.

Brad Page: But what I like about it today is that it’s not generic.

Craig Smith: Oh, yeah.

Brad Page: Nobody else sounds like that. And today, I think because of the influence of things like “American Idol”, singers are so generic and they’re so auto tuned and everything, that we’ve lost a lot of this individuality.

And then there’s this bridge, which is pretty incongruous for the rest of the song. It’s kind of this very Beatle-y, a British music hall sound.

Craig Smith: Oh, yeah.

Brad Page: And there’s this kind of slapback delay on the vocal. Just a minimal delay time. Almost a radio broadcast sound.

Craig Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Radio EQ.

Craig Smith: And we’re moving into, like, tack piano. A very chorus-effected piano.

Brad Page: It’s that kind of player piano, old barroom feel.

Craig Smith: Stride. Like Stride piano.

Brad Page: Yeah, yeah. The guitar is there, but it’s just kind of doing these kind of staccato chords. It’s really the piano that comes to the front. The bass is almost, kind of feels like what a tuba would be playing, you know, almost an Oompa kind of sound. It’s a very interesting bridge to put into this song.

Craig Smith: The one thing that’s interesting about this part to me is that, on the record, it really feels shoehorned in, in terms of how the arrangement switches on a dime.

On the live versions– or the live version, I should say, that the whole band plays on in the 1978 show– It’s a lot smoother transition, because they’re all playing it live. But, like, on the record, it does kind of feel like an edit. I’m not entirely sure if it is, but it feels like a splice onto a different, you know, something different. But then the way it kind of melts back into the song with that held note and the reverb is, is mesmerizing. So good.

Brad Page: Yeah. So we have this bridge out of nowhere that ends with this kind of big power chord that takes us into the guitar solo. And what a guitar solo.

Craig Smith: It is one of my favorites. It’s hard not for me to throw this in with, like, “Comfortably Numb”, but it’s one of those songs… I think this guitar solo, there is not one note that isn’t perfect. Tim Renwick playing it. A monster, monster guitar solo.

Brad Page: Yeah. Tim Renwick was, uh, one of those British studio guys that just played on lots of records. Of course, he worked with Alan Parsons a lot, which is probably how he ended up on this project. He played with Pink Floyd live, and he worked with Eric Clapton and Elton John; just, you know, one of those guys with a pretty impressive resume. I’m pretty sure he’s playing a Fender Strat. It sounds, uh, pretty Strat-y to me. But it’s just, it’s a great guitar tone; it starts kind of clean and then it gets a little more distorted, more bite to it, more echo in the middle. He’s doing these harmonics. It’s very cool.

It kind of gets heavier and more intense as it progresses, and just ends with that big power chord. It’s a really well-structured solo, really well performed. And the way they’ve recorded it just makes it even better. It’s a great moment. Yeah. He deserves a gold star for this one.

Craig Smith: Absolutely. And my favorite thing about the solo, this was actually the reason I kind of dug up the chords, I kind of wanted to see what that big moment in the solo, what it was doing. So most of the song’s in D Minor, or kind of moving around a D Minor chord. The part of the solo that I’m thinking of is when it goes, you’re moving into major chords there. You’re moving into an F, C, A, B Flat seven and a D Minor. And then, right as it goes to that run, that’s an A Flat Diminished chord, resolving to an A, which is just an amazing run of chords for that solo.  Because that solo, as great as it is, once it starts snarling, when it really takes off on that F chord, it is a chills moment. And great as the whole solo is, that one moment when that string bends is just one of my favorite things in the Al Stewart catalog. Absolutely fantastic.

It’s one of those things that, you know, when you’re listening to this record, this comes around and you’re like, wow, I didn’t expect a minor key, at least not moody like this song, by Al Stewart. You’re getting into the song and the song’s great, and then this guitar solo completely pushes it over.

Brad Page: Yeah.

Craig Smith: And you didn’t, you listen to the song and you’re like, yeah, this song probably can’t get better. And it does– you know, that’s one of the best things about it. Like the way it does soar during that section and we have the first verse, the second verse comes in, brings in the drums by the time we’re in the solo, like everything is kind of just  peaking. And I love it. Absolutely love it. It’s always a chills moment for me. Always.

Brad Page: It’s so well structured. It’s cinematic.

Craig Smith: Yes, absolutely.

Brad Page: Yeah. And like you said earlier, this is track number three on this album, which is an interesting placement for it. This, to me, feels like a side one ender, or a side two, or even maybe the last song on the album. But to put it that far up front on the record, it’s kind of a shock.

Craig Smith: Yeah. Yeah. And coming after… the one thing, the one issue that I kind of do have with the “Time Passages” album is I don’t love the sequencing of it. I don’t know how I would restructure all of it, but “Life In Dark Water” would absolutely be a side ender, on either side. I think that “End of the Day” is a great song to end the album with, but “Life In Dark Water”, I think, should absolutely be at least a side A closer. That’s me sidetracking on something not important to anybody except me…

Brad Page: Well, you know, I’m an album guy, and so a lot of times how I feel about songs is impacted on, in the context of an album, right? Because I tend to not listen to songs, I listen to albums. As much as this podcast is about songs, I typically, you know, I’m putting on an album and I’m listening it front to back, and how things feel in the context of that. So I’m with you.

So after the guitar solo, we get into the third verse. There’s guitar fills throughout the verse. More tasty Tim Renwick playing. This is the verse where we get the lines “No memory, tell me what’s wrong with me why am I alone here with no rest”.

Brad Page: And then there’s the Marie Celeste or Mary Celeste reference: “And now the name of the ship’s not the same. How long has it been Marie Celeste”.

Craig Smith: Now, this is something that I didn’t even realize this until I read the lyrics: Not kind of clocking what the line before it was. I always took it as “How long has it been” comma “Marie Celeste”. Like he was talking about another ship.

Brad Page: Or referencing it, right?

Craig Smith: Yes, yes. I never thought that he was speaking about the ship that he’s on, right?

Brad Page: He’s, I guess, kind of losing it.

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: And he thinks he’s on the Marie Celeste.

Craig Smith: Yeah. Which completely opened up as soon as I read it. I was like, “Oh, this?” I never even realized that’s what he was trying to get across there.

Brad Page: “Tell me what’s wrong with me”– I don’t know, we don’t know! We don’t. And then, um, the verse wraps up with “Now there’s nobody from the crew left. 500 years supply of food just for me”.

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: I mean, cinematic lyrics, right?

Craig Smith: Just the whole thing– and essentially the end of the story. That’s all we get.

Brad Page: Yeah, that’s all we get. And we don’t know what happens to him. We don’t know anything. Just, still to this day– 500 years of food, right” Still to this day, he could be an 80-year-old man still at the bottom of the sea in this submarine.

Craig Smith: I mean, Al Stewart could choose to write a sequel. He has chosen so far not to, and to leave the listeners hanging.

Brad Page: Yeah. Really intriguing lyrics. And then we’ve got, you know, there’s just a huge ending. More of that kind of tinkling piano. And then we ride out on, now very blatant, sonar pings.

Craig Smith: And also that last chord is fantastic.

Brad Page: Yeah.

Craig Smith: I would love to know what that is. Something tells me that if I was to look it up online, I would not get an accurate answer. But there’s something funky going on with that last chord. The site I’m looking at has it as a D Major 7 Sus 2. So I will need to try that later to see if that’s actually the case. But, uh, yeah, it’s just, it’s just one of those chords you haven’t heard in the song, so it’s just ending on this note of, uh, uncertainty is really the only way I could probably put it.

Brad Page: It’s not fully resolved. Right.

Craig Smith: Yeah.

Brad Page: Uh, just as the story is not resolved; just as those sonar pings just kind of fade, Like they could still be going today, right? It’s just cinematic.

You know, there’s a lot of ways to write a song: there’s the personal revelations, there’s opening your soul, there’s all, you know, those kind of things. There’s twists, and ways to turn cliches, and all of that. But one way to write a song is to kind of tell a story. And to me, this is one of my favorite story type of songs. You know, it’s not a personal thing, he’s telling a story, but you’re only getting this, like, one chapter in the middle of a book.

Craig Smith: Absolutely not what you expect from Al Stewart.

Brad Page: No, not at all. And I think that’s kind of one, that’s one of the things that drew me in from the beginning, is because it’s not what I expected. When I put this record on for the first time, I didn’t expect to hear a track like this. And again, as we said, it’s one of the first songs you hear and really grabs you. Just a great track.

So tell me how you got into Al Stewart.

Craig Smith: It’s a very strange story. So, always loved the “Year of the Cat”, but never sought it out, never owned it… I take that back, I did own it on a K-Tel album, I believe the album was called “Stars”, and it also had either “Beth” or “Rock And Roll All Night” on it.

Brad Page: Did it have, like, 30 songs on one vinyl record? Was it one of those?

Craig Smith: It’s a K-Tel album– Of course it did. So, it was one of those songs, like “Torn Between Two Lovers”, like all those are on this album and represent a very specific period of time of me being a toddler. So I grew up with this album in the house, so I knew “Year of the Cat” from that.

There was a friend of mine, Otto, who I used to, in my thirties, would often… here was a karaoke place. We were the two guys that might have been a little too old to be hanging out at the bar, but we would go there and we would do karaoke. And I remember one of the times coming out, it was like a block or two from my house, so we would walk there, but for some reason he had had his car and he drove there, and he’s like, “I got to hear “Year of the Cat” before I go home. And we’re sitting in the parking lot, and he’s just sitting in the car, and he’s playing “Year of the Cat” on his car stereo, and he is blissing out in his car, just like it’s the best thing he’s ever heard. And me, having always kind of enjoyed the song, I was like, “Okay, this might be the time where I dig further in”.

When I sought out “Year of the Cat after that, probably the next day or whatever, I specifically remember sitting at my desk at work listening to it on a loop for 8 hours while I worked. I did not shut the song off.  Shortly after, I bought the album, and then Otto turned me on to “Time Passages”. And then after that, I just kind of, I moved in different directions; one of the first things I grabbed was the “Uncorked” live album. So this had to be around 2009. I saw him shortly thereafter, uh, three times, with Dave Nachmanoff, who’s a guitarist. They were acoustic shows. Al pretty much played rhythm and Dave riffed on top of him like a madman. The “Uuncorked” album is also a nice way to get into other eras of Al Stewart. It’s not kind of hits-focused, it doesn’t have “Year of the Cat”, doesn’t have “Time Passages”. It’s all deeper cuts. “Life In Dark Water” is on there. Fantastic version.

But, yeah, after those three shows, I was like, “I’m in”.  One of the most disappointing moments of my life was buying the 8-track to “Year of the Cat” to have him sign it, because I was like, “this is a conversation piece right here”. He’s going to be like, “Oh, I haven’t seen one of these”. No, he didn’t say a word about it. He threw a signature on there and handed it back. So I was like, well, okay… Yeah, a super nice guy and just like a storyteller, which is something that we kind of talked about it in terms of song, but he is also a storyteller. His song intros are maybe second to none. But if you have a chance to check him out, I absolutely would.

And then I just started listening to the whole catalog, and realized I loved every bit of it. There are hidden gems all over the catalog, but right in the middle, you have “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages”. If you’re going to pick two, those are probably the two to pick. And then if you were going to go further, I’d go backwards a little bit. “Modern times”, “Past, Present and Future”. Maybe forward a little bit– Oh, absolutely “24 Parrots”. The live album “Indian Summer”. Fantastic, also great– except for that stupid thing they do where they fade every song out on the original vinyl. The CD is not like that. These are the kind of things I can contribute, Brad, from having owned literally every incarnation of Al Stewart CD’s that have been released.

Brad Page: That’s good to know; So on the vinyl, they fade out the live tracks, but on the CD, they do not, correct?

Craig Smith: Yeah, I bought a couple of vinyl copies, thinking maybe it was like the first run, but every vinyl copy I got fades them out. So, super weird. But remember, there’s a 38-disc box set called the “Admiralty Lights” at the end of this, if that’s a road you want to go down. And that is a road that I did go down. So, um, yeah, tons of Al Stewart out there, and I couldn’t be happier.

Brad Page: Thank you so much for the recommendations. Thanks for coming on and talking about this song and for the, edumacation on Al Stewart. I really appreciate it.

Craig Smith: Thank you for having me on. Always a pleasure.

Brad Page: It’s always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you, Craig.

And thank you for joining Craig and I on this journey deep into dark water. If you’d like to revisit any of my previous episodes, you’ll find them all on our website at, or just look for them in your favorite podcast app. If you’d like to support the show, all I ask is that you share it with your friends. Tell people about the show, because we count on your word-of-mouth to grow our audience and to celebrate and preserve this music.

I’ll be back in approximately 15 days with another new episode, so let’s get together then. Thank you for coming aboard for this edition on Al Stewart and “Life In Dark Water”.


Al Stewart

Time Passages album

Pods and Sods Network

Roy Harper

Bedsetter Images album

8— Love Chronicles album

9— Modern Times album

10— Year of the Cat

11— Alan Parsons

Marie Celeste

Tim Renwick

Admiralty Lights box set

Few bands left a legacy as deep and as lasting as The Ramones.  You literally couldn’t count the number of bands who were influenced by these 4 New York ne’er-do-wells. They created a sound and a look that virtually created a whole genre of music.  Let’s have a listen to one of their classic tracks, “I Wanna Be Sedated”.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” (Jeffrey Hyman, John Cummings & Douglas Colvin) Copyright 1978 Bleu Disque Music Co., Inc and Taco Tunes


This ain’t no Mud Club or CBGB’s– this is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. My name is Brad Page, and each episode of this show, I pick a favorite song and we poke it and prod it, unearthing all the elements that go into making it a great song. Musical knowledge or experience is not required here, the only prerequisite is a little curiosity and a lot of love for music.

On this edition, we’re digging into a song by the progenitors of punk, the forefathers from Forest Hills– The Ramones and “I Want To Be Sedated”.

The Ramones came together around 1974, when guitarist John Cummings and bassist Doug Covid recruited Jeffrey Hyman to play drums in their new band.

Doug was the first one to change his name. Inspired by a fake name that Paul McCartney used to use, he changed his name to Dee Dee Ramone. He convinced the others to change their names, too. So, John became Johnny Ramone and Jeffrey became Joey Ramone.  It didn’t take long for Dee Dee to realize that he wasn’t any good at playing bass and singing at the same time, so Joey took over lead vocals, and then he realized that he couldn’t sing and play the drums. So their would-be manager, Tommy Erdelyi, changed his name to Tommy Ramone and became their drummer.

They played their first gig in March 1974. Their songs were fast, short and loud. Dressed in black leather jackets, these guys were not Greenwich Village hippies. This was something new. They became regulars at CBGB’s, and in 1975, they signed a contract with Sire Records. They released their first self-titled album in 1976, a total of 14 original songs. The longest song clocking in at a breakneck 2 minutes and 35 seconds. That album is a classic.

They recorded two more albums, but by 1978, Tommy was tired of the relentless touring and left the band. But he would continue to work with them as their producer. They recruited a new drummer, Mark Bell, who had played with Richard Hell, Wayne County, and a band called Dust, and rechristened him Marky Ramone.

They started work on their fourth album, “Road to Ruin”, co-produced by Tommy and Ed Stasium. The Ramones never strayed far from their trademark sounds. But “Road to Ruin” shows just a tiny hint of advancement. There’s some acoustic guitars, short guitar solos, and some of the songs even crack the three minute mark. I think it’s one of their better records, and it contains one of their most enduring songs. “I Want To Be Sedated”.

Their constant touring schedule brought them to London during Christmas 1977. The band was exhausted, and when everything in the city shut down for Christmas, they were stuck at their hotel with nothing to do, nowhere to go. Apparently, after one show, Joey had said to their manager, “put me in a wheelchair and get me on a plane before I go insane”. All of this would work its way into the lyrics to this song.

The song is credited to Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone. It’s the track that opens side two of the album.

Like so many great Ramones songs, the track kicks off with a bang, with all instruments coming in together.

From what I can tell, there are probably four guitar parts here. There’s a guitar panned all the way to the left and another to the right. It’s possible that that’s just one guitar in stereo, but I think it’s two separate parts. Those guitars are just chugging away on the power chords, while there’s a third guitar in the middle playing in a higher register. Then there’s another guitar, also in the center channel, playing a twangy single note part, Dwayne Eddy-style. This is a good example of how multiple, pretty simple guitar parts can be layered together to create one big guitar sound.

Let’s take a listen to Joey’s vocal. There’s some classic 1950’s Sun Studio style echo on his voice.

And let’s check out the bass and the drums.

And that guitar break is even simpler than it sounds.

And here’s a key change.

And the hand claps return for this final section.

And that one note guitar part comes back here, too.

The Ramones – “I Want To Be Sedated”

The Ramones recorded over a dozen albums of original material. None of the records were that commercially successful. The band struggled their entire career. It’s so ironic that now that the band has long since broken up and all the original members are gone, now they’re probably more well-known than ever. They still probably sell more t-shirts than records. I bet half the people wearing Ramone’s t-shirts barely know anything about the band. But there’s no question how important they are in the history of rock and roll and how influential they were. Spanning decades, they inspired the British punks in the ‘70’s well as bands like Nirvana in the 90’s. It’s just a shame the guys didn’t live long enough to enjoy this success.

Joey Ramone died from lymphoma in 2001. Dee Dee died from a heroin overdose in 2002. It was prostate cancer that took Johnny Ramone in 2004, and Tommy died from cancer in 2014. But Marky Ramone, who plays drums on this song, is still with us today.

And that will do it for this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. New episodes are released on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so I’ll be back with you in about two weeks with a new show. You can find all of our previous episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon, Google, pretty much anywhere where podcasts are available. And of course, they’re all on our website too:

Keep in touch with us on Facebook, just search for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, or on Podchaser, where you can leave reviews and comments and feedback.

This show is part of the Pantheon family of podcasts, where you’ll find plenty of other great music related shows to check out.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. Remember to support the artists you love by buying their music. Take a few bucks out of your pocket and buy that album, that CD, or those m p three files. Now everybody sing along, as the Ramones play us out with “I Want To Be Sedated”.


The Ramones


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Wayne County

Dust (Band)

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A teenage summertime love affair with a foreign exchange student was the inspiration for this song by Wishbone Ash. Though overlooked in the US, Wishbone Ash reached #3 on the UK charts with the album Argus, which features “Blowin’ Free”. Wishbone Ash’s twin lead guitar sound would inspire many band that followed.

Wishbone Ash – “Blowin’ Free” (Martin Turner, Andy Powell, Ted Turner, Steve Upton) Copyright 1972 Colgems Music Corp./Blackclaw Music Inc – ASCAP

— This show is just one of many great Rock Podcasts on the Pantheon Podcasts network. Gotta catch ’em all!  


Hey, it’s Brad Page. I’m back in the studio, powering up the mics and cranking up the headphones because it’s time for another episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, here on the Pantheon Podcast Network. Each episode of the show, we take a song and look at it from every angle, trying to get a handle on what makes a song work. No musical knowledge is required here– you don’t have to be technical, all you got to do is listen.

This time around we are listening to a track from a band that was big in Europe and the UK, but just never really caught on here in America. This is Wishbone Ash with “Blowing Free”.

Wishbone Ash came together in 1969 with Andy Powell and Ted Turner on guitars, Martin Turner on bass and Steve Upton on drums. Though Ted and Martin share a last name, they’re not actually related.

The thing that distinguished Wishbone Ash right out of the gate were those twin guitars of Andy and Ted. Though there had been other bands with two lead guitar players– the Allman Brothers come to mind– Wishbone Ash was one of the first to make harmony guitar parts such an essential element. That was the Wishbone Ash sound.

They released their first album in December 1970. Less than a year later, they released their second record, and in May 1972 they released their third album called “Argus”. It’s the album that most people consider to be their best.

“Argus” was well received, both critically and commercially. It was their biggest selling album, reaching number three on the UK charts. The “Argus” album flirts with progressive rock and hard rock, but it was the upbeat track “Blowing Free”, the closest thing to a pop song on the album, that got them on the radio and exposed to a wider audience, at least in the UK.

The song almost didn’t make it onto the album. The band thought it was too poppy compared to the rest of the record, but Martin Turner insisted that they keep it on the album.

The song is credited to Martin Turner, Ted Turner, Andy Powell and Steve Upton. Martin Turner wrote the lyrics and he plays the bass. Ted Turner and Andy Powell are on guitars and Steve Upton is on the drums. The album was produced by Derek Lawrence and engineered by Martin Birch, both known for their work with Deep Purple.

The song kicks off with a great guitar intro by Ted, and it didn’t have the same impact here in the states, but in the UK, learning that guitar intro was like a rite of passage for British guitar players, like “Stairway To Heaven” or “Sweet Child of Mine”, it’s just one of those intros that seems like every beginning guitar player had to learm. That introduction was actually inspired by an old song by the Steve Miller band called, “Children of the Future”.

They took that and turned it into something of their own.

Before the band fully kicks in, they’re going to change up the guitar riff.

Let’s listen to those guitars again.

You can hear how they’ve panned the guitars to the left and the right to add some differentiation and some dimension to the sound. Martin Turner’s bass part is also great here, too. Let’s listen to some of that.

When Martin Turner was a teenager growing up in a seaside town in southwest England, he had a summertime romance one year with a Swedish exchange student. Her hair was golden brown like a cornfield. When he was looking for lyrics for this song, he reminisced about that relationship and that story of teenage love and loss; that became the song.

Following that verse is a guitar solo played by Andy Powell, most likely played on his Gibson Flying V guitar. He was mostly known for playing Flying V’s. This is a great guitar solo.

Next up is the second verse. Martin’s Swedish girlfriend didn’t speak much English and he didn’t speak any Swedish, but I guess they found some way to communicate. Apparently when he asked her if he could kiss her, she said, “you can try”. That phrase appears a couple of times in this song.

Now the song shifts gears into a quieter, more melancholy section. Every good memory has a tinge of sadness for those lost moments you’ll never relive again.

I really like what Martin Turner’s bass and Steve Upton’s drums are doing behind this section. It’s simple but really effective. This leads us into another guitar solo. This one played beautifully by Ted Turner. Just incredibly tasteful. I think that’s just great. To me, he captures that wistful feeling of recalling old memories.

But that melancholy doesn’t last long. They kick right back into the verse riff, and Andy Powell takes over with another solo.

Let’s listen to some of that guitar.

And they return to the first verse.

More guitar work by Andy Powell. Now some of their trademark guitar harmonies start to appear in the background.

And here we have a slide guitar solo played by Ted Turner. Ted had started to listen to Ry Cooder, one of the great slide players of all time, and it inspired him to play a little slide guitar here. This is the first time Ted had ever tried playing slide.

Guitars start to build up from the background.

“Blowing Free” by Wishbone Ash

In the UK publication “Sounds” magazine, which was a big deal at the time, the readers voted “Argus” the best album of 1972, beating out albums like David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”, Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” and the Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street”. That’s some serious competition– that just shows you how big Wishbone Ash was in the UK.

But here in the US, “Argus” didn’t get any higher than 169 on the charts. America just wasn’t that interested in Wishbone Ash, but guitar players– guitar players were paying attention. Bands like Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden would adapt that twin guitar harmony style, and, though largely forgotten by the average listener, Wishbone Ash left their mark on generations of guitar players.

A couple of years ago I was reading an issue of “Classic Rock” magazine and they had an article on this song, which inspired me to dig out that album and eventually inspired this episode. It had probably been 20 years since I last listened to this record, and you know, it’s always great to go back to an old album you haven’t heard in ages and hear it again with fresh ears.  And it reminded me of my past loves, and loves lost.

Thanks for listening to this show. I really appreciate it. New episodes of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast come out on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so I’ll be back soon with another new edition. You’ve been warned.

You can keep in touch with the show on our Facebook page or on our website,, where you’ll also find all of our previous episodes. And, of course, we’re available on Amazon, Apple, Google, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, pretty much anywhere you can find podcasts, you’ll find this show.

And we are part of the Pantheon network of podcasts, home to many more music related shows, so check those out too.

Thanks again for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on Wishbone Ash and “Blowing Free”.


Wishbone Ash

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Introducing a new segment of the podcast – “Creation & Evolution“, where we explore songs that travelled a long & winding road before they reached their final version. In this episode, we trace the history of a song that started from a phone call with Farrah Fawcett and ended up as Gladys Knight’s biggest hit.

“Midnight Train To Georgia” (Jim Weatherly) Copyright 1971, 1973 Universal-PolyGram International Publishing, Inc


There’s the telltale theme music… it means it must be time for another episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network.  My name is Brad Page, and I’m your musical tour guide, your geologist of another sort, as we explore the rock that made history.

This time, I’m introducing a new segment I’m calling “Creation and Evolution”, where we’ll take a look at both the birth and the journey a song takes before it ends up in its final form. Some songs have a rather short path from the writer’s pen to the final release, but some songs take the long way around, and that’s what we’re going to explore here on “Creation and Evolution”.

For example, what do airplanes, Houston Texas, and Farrah Fawcett have to do with “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips? Let’s find out.

Jim Weatherly was a songwriter from Mississippi who had written a few songs for Dean Martin and Peggy Lee. No hits, though he hadn’t really made his mark yet. One day in 1970, Weatherly called his friend, a struggling actor named Lee Majors, who would find fame as TV’s “Six Million Dollar Man”.

Majors wasn’t around, but his girlfriend, a struggling actress named Farah Fawcett, picked up the phone. She, of course, would eventually star in “Charlie’s Angels”.

Farah and Weatherly got to talking, and she told him she was just about to head out of LA to visit her family, leaving on a midnight plane to Houston. That phrase, “midnight plane to Houston”, stuck in his head. And as soon as he got off the phone, he sat down and in about 40 minutes, he wrote a whole song.

He based the song loosely on Fawcett and Majors. It was about a girl who went to LA to make it big, but when it doesn’t work out, she goes back home and her boyfriend follows her back. Weatherly recorded the song and included it on his 1972 solo album called Weatherly.

It’s a pretty modern country song, but the publisher had some faith in it and sent it around, hoping to find other artists to cover it. They even offered it to Gladys Knight.

But at this point, she passed on it.

They pitched it to another artist, singer Sissy Houston, Whitney Houston’s mom. She liked the song, but not the title. She said, “my people are from Georgia, and they didn’t take planes to Houston or anywhere else”. They took trains. And this is just a guess, but I think she might have been concerned about some confusion since her name was Houston and the song was about the city of Houston. Either way, Weatherly agreed to change the lyrics to “Midnight Train to Georgia”.

And besides the title change, this version also changes the genders. Now it’s the man who has failed and is going back home, and it’s the woman who follows him.

Sissy Houston released her version in February 1973.

Meanwhile, in 1973, Gladys Knight and the Pips had left Motown Records and signed a deal with Buddha Records, which gave her more freedom to pick her own material. By this time, Gladys had already had a hit with another Jim Weatherly song, “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye” in 1972.

And when Gladys heard Sissy Houston’s version of “Midnight Train to Georgia”, she knew she could make it work.  She envisioned it as an Al green style soul number.

Producer Tony Camillo had worked with everyone from Diane Warwick to Grand Funk Railroad. It was his job to record the instrumental tracks for “Midnight Train” for Gladys. But she wasn’t happy with what he came up with. Too polished, too orchestrated. She wanted something more stripped down. So he cut another version– and she rejected that one, too.

So working with engineer Ed Stasium, who would later become a legendary producer in his own right, working with The Ramones, Talking Heads, Motorhead and Living Color, just to name a few, they put together a small band: Jeff Mirinoff on guitar, Bob Babbitt on bass, Andrew Smith on drums, and Tony Camillo himself on piano. They banged out a simple backing track in an hour and sent it to Gladys, and that was exactly what she was looking for. They overdubbed horns and some strings, but for the most part, they kept it straightforward.

Gladys recorded her vocal in almost one take. No warm up, no run through, no punch-ins. She was well rehearsed and she knew what she wanted. She stepped up to the mic and four minutes later it was almost done. Except for some ad libs at the end, which we’ll get to later.

I love how she’s singing pretty softly there– she’s holding back, but then she lets loose a bit for the next part.

And here’s the first chorus.

Now, notice how the backing vocals by William Guest, Edward Patton, and Bubba Knight, along with Gladys herself, aren’t just singing harmonies or repeating lines from the lead vocal, they’re actually adding commentary. They’re in dialogue with the lead vocal. That’s something that Gladys and The Pips brought to the song. None of the other versions do that.

Here’s the second verse, and let’s bring up the vocals again so we can hear more of that interaction between the lead and the backing vocals.

I love this part.

And check out the backing vocals here.

James Jamerson is the bass player most associated with the Motown sound, and he’s a legend. But Bob Babbitt also played on many Motown classics, too, and he’s a phenomenal player as well. Let’s listen to some of Bob Babbitt’s bass work here.

You gotta love those woo-woos.

Now, I mentioned before how Gladys recorded her vocal in one take, and that’s true, right up until this point in the song. They wanted to have Gladys do some ad-libbing during the final choruses, some of those inspired, energetic interjections that can really add some emotional weight to a song.

The problem was that Gladys didn’t feel like she was a natural at that kind of thing, at least not at this point in her career. She didn’t feel comfortable and kind of froze up at the mic.

Merald Knight, who everyone called “Bubba”, was not only one of the pips, he was also Gladys’ brother.  He took a mic into the control room, and with the backing track playing, he fed Gladys some lines into her headphones, and she sang them back as the tape rolled.

Now picture Bubba Knight in that control room looking at Gladys through the glass, singing these lines to her like, “my world, his world, our world”. And she’s singing them back and putting her own spin on them.

Gladys Knight and the Pips – “Midnight Train To Georgia”.

Buddha Records issued “Midnight Train to Georgia” as a single in August 1973, and eventually it worked its way to number one. It won the Grammy for best R&B vocal performance, and it would become Gladys Knight and The Pips calling card for the rest of their career.

Of the original Pips, Edward Patton passed away in February 2005; William Guest died in December of 2015, but Merald Bubba Knight, Gladys’s brother, is still with us, and Gladys herself, as of this recording, is still alive and well.  She released her last album in 2014.

Jim Weatherly passed away in February 2021. He was 77.

Thank you for joining me for this episode. We’ll be back in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, you can binge on all of our past episodes, they’re all on our website,

You can find us on Facebook to share your thoughts and feelings, just look for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, and you’ll find us. You can also send me email at

This show is one of many great podcasts on the Pantheon Podcast Network, so be sure to seek out all those other great shows.

To listen to the song again, complete and uninterrupted, stream it, download it, or buy it and support the music you love. Thanks again for joining me for this “Creation And Evolution” episode on Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia”.

  • Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High”
  • The classic 70’s band Humble Pie
  • Nick Drake
  • New Orleans legend Dr. John
  • Roger Waters from Pink Floyd
  • and then there’s Oasis
  • KLF
  • and Peter Gabriel

It’s never a recipe for making great art when you’re under pressure to deliver an album to a rival record label due to contractual obligations… though Jimi Hendrix was never satisfied with the result, the Band Of Gypsys album became a very influential album and remains a favorite among Jimi fans and guitar players of all stripes. On this episode, we journey back to New Years 1970 to explore “Message of Love” from this legendary album.

“Message Of Love” (Jimi Hendrix) Copyright 1970 Experience Hendrix LLC

 — Hey, I was just thinkin’… now would be as great time for you to check out the other Rock Podcasts on the Pantheon Podcasts network!


Greetings to all, here on the third stone from the sun and beyond. This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast beaming across the cosmos on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode of the show, I pick a song and we explore it together, listening to all the nuances that make it one of my favorite songs. You don’t need any musical skill, knowledge or experience here– just a love for music and a little curiosity.

Well, here we are at the start of a brand new year, and I was trying to think of an appropriate subject for a January 1st episode. I thought, “we’ve talked about a lot of guitar players on this show…” I love guitar players. But I realized that, after over 140 shows, we’ve still never talked about one of the most important guitarists of all time. So let’s rectify that. It’s about time we talked about Jimi Hendrix.

Of course, Jimi Hendrix is a legend, with a legacy of some really important and influential records. It’d be tempting to pick a song like “Purple Haze” or “Voodoo Child”, “All Along The Watchtower”, or his version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Those are all historically important tracks. But I wanted to do something different.

So, I chose a song from very late in his career when Jimi was at a turning point in his career– at a crossroads, to use a cliche. So, we’re going back to a New Year’s Eve over 50 years ago, when 1969 gave way to 1970, with Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys ringing in the new year at the Fillmore East, playing “Message Of Love”.


Everybody knows that Jimi Hendrix is a legend, an icon. There are literally dozens of books written about him; there are documentaries. So I’m not going to go over a detailed history of Hendrix, but to understand how Jimi Hendrix ended up playing at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve, first we have to go back to his early years in New York City.

Jimi Hendrix was a working musician, paying his dues and playing as a sideman to people like the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. In 1965, he ended up as a guitarist in Curtis Knight’s band, playing cover songs on the New York and New Jersey circuit. Jimi eventually grew tired of that and formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

It was during a stint playing in Greenwich Village, New York, when he was“discovered” by Chas Chandler, former bassist for The Animals, who was transitioning into being a manager. Chandler brought Jimi over to England, and they put together the Jimi Hendrix experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 Now here’s where things get messy. Back in ‘65, when he was playing with Curtis Knight, Jimmy had signed an exclusive recording contract with a guy named Ed Chaplin. Jimi had also signed a contract with producer Juggie Murray. But hey, look, Jimi was a struggling musician, just trying to find some success– any success. He was a guitar player, not a lawyer, and he was naive. He’d sign anything if he thought it could help him at the time.

But now, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience having hit records on the Warner Brothers label, Ed Chaplin came a calling in 1967 with his contract from two years earlier, and he sued.

Hendrix had made some recordings with Curtis Knight back in ‘65. Those records are not very good, but Chaplin licensed them to Capitol Records, who then released two albums worth of that stuff. In fact, at one point, you had the legit Warner Brothers records competing against the Capitol stuff at the same time.

Here’s a song from the Curtis Knight sessions; it’s an instrumental called “Knock Yourself Out”, which Jimi got a co-writing credit on.


Eventually, a settlement was arranged with an agreement that Ed Chaplin and Capitol Records would get the rights to one Jimi Hendrix album. Hendrix had just finished recording “Electric Ladyland”, which was a double album, so it was agreed that the next album would be given to Capitol.

But things in the Hendrix camp were tough. First, Chas Chandler had left the fold, and not long after, Noel Redding quit.  Jimi brought in his old army buddy, Billy Cox, to play bass. Then Jimi rounded up a bunch more musicians, adding additional percussionists and a second guitar player. He called the band “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows”, and this was the band that played at Woodstock.


But a month later, Jimmy broke up that band. It just wasn’t working for him.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on. He still owes one album to Capitol, and Jimi didn’t even have a band. So, Jimi, Billy Cox, and drummer-vocalist Buddy Miles put together a band. They made a deal with promoter Bill Graham to play four shows at the Fillmore East in New York: two shows on New Year’s Eve, and two shows on New Year’s Day, 1970. All four shows would be recorded, and they would release the best tracks as a single live album to fulfill the Capitol Records contract.

Before the show, Jimi, Buddy and Billy, calling themselves “Band of Gypsys”, worked up a set consisting mostly of new material, including “Machine Gun”, one of Jimi’s most incredible guitar performances.

Both Buddy and Billy were veterans of R&B bands, and they brought a funkier, soulful groove to the songs that the Jimi Hendrix Experience just never had. Buddy was also a great singer, too. His lead vocals are featured on two songs on the “Band of Gypsys” album. Buddy introduces this track on the record.


The song starts off with a chromatically ascending riff before kicking off into the main riff of the song.


Let’s just hear Jimi’s guitar on that riff.


Behind that, Billy Cox is playing a pretty busy bass part over a pretty simple drumbeat, laid down by Buddy Miles. Let’s hear their parts.


They only play through that riff twice before starting the first verse, which is a variation on the main riff, simplified a bit to leave room for the vocals.


I really like the backing vocals there. One of the things about Jimi’s previous band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was that they didn’t have a strong vocalist in the band to back up Jimi. Buddy Miles was a powerhouse singer, and he adds a lot. And with Billy Cox chipping in, these backing vocals were kind of a whole new sound for Jimi.


After a few lines of the verse, we get a new short riff with Jimi and Billy playing the same part together mostly. And that brings us back to the verse riff.


And that brings us to another new riff. This one’s a little more rapid fire, with Jimi and Billy doubling the part, and Buddy scat singing the riff with them.


Now here we have a somewhat quieter or gentler part. Jimi is playing some of those chords he was famous for; as much as he’s thought of as an incredible lead guitarist– and he was– he was also a killer rhythm player.


Jimi’s rhythm guitar playing is as identifiable as his lead playing. Let’s hear this part again without the vocals, so that we can hear a little more of his guitar.


The verse riff, the backing vocals come back in, but this time, Jimi’s just going to vamp a bit around the riff. At this point, Jimi is going to crank up the volume and play a solo, and I think now is as good a time as any to talk about Jimi’s guitar sound. Though he played other guitars, Jimi was primarily associated with the Fender Stratocaster. As a left-handed player, he would take a right-handed Strat, flip it upside-down and restring it, and that’s what he was playing this night with the Band Of Gypsys.

Now, playing the guitar upside-down like that meant that things like the volume & tone controls and the vibrato arm were in a different position than they would be if you were playing it normally. And Jimi was able to take advantage of that, particularly with the vibrato or whammy bar.

Jimi also pretty consistently used Marshall amplifiers, I think typically Super 100’s, but don’t quote me on that. But that was the standard beginning and end of his signal chain: a Fender Strat into a Marshall amp. But what went between his amp and guitar? That’s another story that changed frequently.

Jimi was always looking for new sounds, and he would explore any new effects gadget that came his way. Guitar effects pedals were still a relatively new thing in the late 60’s. Jimi was friends with a guy named Roger Mayer, an electrical engineer who had worked for the British Navy. He started building effects devices for guitars, like fuzz pedals, and one of the earliest units he built was the Octavia, which takes the input signal from the guitar and generates that sound one octave higher, then mixes it back in with the original guitar sound, and adds distortion or fuzz. Like most guitar pedals, it would sit on the floor between your guitar and amp, with a button you’d press with your foot to turn it on and off.

Jimi first used the Octavia on the solo for “Purple Haze” in 1967. Roger Mayer would continue to tweak and modify the Octavia for Hendrix. And Jimi was using one of those later versions for this Band Of Gypsys show.

You can hear the Octavia most notably on the song “Who Knows” from this show. Jimi was also using a fuzz pedal built by Roger Mayer. It was either a Fuzz Face or an Axis Fuzz, depending on what you read. He had two other effects pedals on stage this night: a Vox wah-wah pedal, which you can hear on the song “Changes”:


And he was using a Univibe, a new and pretty innovative pedal for its time. It’s a little tough to explain what a Univibe actually sounds like– it’s a cross between phasing, a chorus sound, and vibrato, but you can hear it in action on the song “Machine Gun”.


Now, there is one other thing to take into account regarding Jimi’s guitar sound, and that’s the order in which the effects are plugged into each other. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference in the sound. For example, a wah-wah pedal plugged into a fuzz pedal sounds significantly different than the other way around, a fuzz pedal plugged into a wah. This can lead to endless rounds of debate and conjecture, but luckily, we have some photographs from this show that pretty clearly show the sequence of his pedals that night:

His guitar is plugged into a Vox wah-wah pedal, which is plugged into the Octavia, which is plugged into the Fuzz Face, that’s plugged into the Univibe, and then that is finally plugged into his Marshall amplifier. Wah pedal, Octavia, Fuzz pedal, Univibe.

Okay, so back to “Message Of Love”. At this point, the fuzz is really going to kick in, and Jimi’s going to go for his first solo.


And now, Jimi’s going to step on that wah-wah pedal.


Now Jimi’s gonna hit a harmonic and quickly bend it down with the whammy bar, then turn off the wah pedal for the rest of the solo.


You can hear them slow the tempo down there.


The band is going to break, and then Jimi is going to do a little scat singing, this time singing along to his guitar part.


They’re gonna build it back up here. Jimi and Buddy are gonna add some vocals.


It sounds a little rough coming back into the riff there. I can’t imagine they had more than a handful of rehearsals before these shows, so there’s bound to be some rough spots. But that’s what makes this a truly great live album. There’s a real “edge of your seat” energy to this record. They didn’t go back and fix up every mistake– this is how it really went down that night, New Year’s 1975.

Jimmy’s gonna cut loose with the second solo. Let’s focus in on Jimmy’s guitar.


They bring back that chromatic climb from the beginning of the song to wrap it all up. Jimi’s just messing around with the whammy bar and some feedback.


The Band of Gypsys – “Message Of Love”

The song has also been credited as “Message To Love”, but on all the versions of “Band of Gypsys” that I have, it’s referred to as “Message Of Love”. So that’s what I’m sticking with.

The “Band of Gypsys” album was commercially very successful. Critics didn’t necessarily love it, and Hendrix himself was never satisfied with it; he felt it was rushed and it didn’t sound great, and if it wasn’t for the contractual obligations, he wouldn’t have released it. Not that it mattered. By the time the album was released, the band had already broken up.

But the album has gone on to be very influential, paving the way for future funk rock acts. And it was an important touchstone, particularly for black artists making their mark in the rock world, like Living Color and Lenny Kravitz. And it remains one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix records, and just favorite guitar records in general.

Thanks for joining me for this musical journey on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. As always, I’ll be back in about two weeks with another new episode. Until then, get your fix of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast by listening to any of our previous shows on our website,, or find us on your favorite podcast app.

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On behalf of the Pantheon Network of podcasts, I gently remind you to support the artists that you love by buying their music, and I’ll see you back here next time. Thanks for listening to this episode on Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys. Happy New Year, everyone.

Jimi Hendrix

Band of Gypsys

Message of Love

Fillmore East

Fender Stratocaster

Marshall amplifier

Octavia pedal

Fuzz Face


Wah-wah pedal

Billy Cox

Buddy Miles