On this day, in 1967, Bob Dylan recorded “All Along the Watchtower” during a three-hour recording session at Columbia Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Dylan would perform ‘Watchtower’ live more than any of his other compositions in the 45 years since its release. It would be covered by countless artists in a variety of genres, most famously by Jimi Hendrix for his 1968 Electric Ladyland release.
Other artists who have covered the song include the Dave Matthews Band, U2, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Supetramp, Van Morrison, Paul Weller, T.S.O.L., Bobby Womack and countless others.
While Dylan may be widely praised as a singer/songwriter, with countless artists covering his songs, he is just one in a long line of troubadours that have braved stages armed with little more than their words and an acoustic guitar. In Dylan’s day, singers that wrote their own tunes were relatively rare in popular music. Most pop singers sang other people’s songs or, occasionally, co-wrote their own songs.
What separates the “singer/songwriter” from other musicans is that they often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition, typically using only a guitar or piano and the compositions are written primarily as a solo vehicle. While in Dylan’s day, singer/songwriters were largely associated with the folk tradition, Dylan influenced many in the rock community to follow a similar path. As a result, singer/songwriters became a powerful force in popular music in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the success of artists like Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, James Taylor and countless others.
While the presence of singer/songwriters is more common today, with many of them spanning different genres, it’s still a task to rise above the noise and create something unique that connects with a larger audience. It takes exceptional musical and songwriting skills to succeed as a singer/songwriter and today on the Mid-Week Beat, we’re going to highlight some of the gems of the singer/songwriter scene who are performing around the country over the next few weeks.
If you’re in the neighborhood of any of these shows, pick up tickets and be sure not to miss the show. If you’re not, I encourage you to look into each of these artist’s back catalogues. You won’t be disappointed.
Thursday, November 14 I For The Sake Of The Song: A Tribute To John Prine – Cambridge, Massachusetts
For the Sake of the Song is a Boston-based concert series that brings together performers to play original material and to pay tribute to the singer/songwriter who has most inspired their own songwriting. In addition to the bi-monthly A Tribute To concert series, the traveling For the Sake of the Song Roadshow features a mixture of handpicked artists from the Boston music community as well as top local performers in each tour stop, giving every performance a fresh intensity. Each show delivers a passionate and loving homage to some of the greatest songwriters of all time and provides audiences with an opportunity to discover current performers and to get a peek into the songwriting process.
This installment of For The Sake Of The Song pays homage to the great John Prine widely considered one of the most influential songwriters of his generation. Discovered in the early 70’s by Kris Kristofferson, Prine is known for humorous lyrics about life, love and current events and more melancholy stories of his struggles.
Thursday, November 21 I Peter Case – Tucson, Arizona
Peter Case, whose legacy began with The Nerves and later The Plimsouls, ventures out on yet another cross country tour playing solo acoustic material from a variety of genres including blues, roots and rock.
Case was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in nearby Hamburg. A veteran of several rock bands and the local bar scene as a teenager, Case dropped out of high school when he was fifteen and after several years of traveling arrived in San Francisco in 1973, where he performed as a street musician. In 1976, he teamed up with Jack Lee and Paul Collins in to form the early new wave band The Nerves in San Francisco. The group’s 1976 single, “Hanging on the Telephone”, was later recorded by Blondie.
When the Nerves disbanded, Case moved to Los Angeles and formed the pop-rock band The Plimsouls in 1980. The Plimsouls found a measure of success when their songs “A Million Miles Away,” “The Oldest Story in the World,” and “Play the Breaks” were featured in the movie Valley Girl, but by that time the group had already broken up.
Case struck out on his own with a self-titled album released in 1986 on Geffen Records. Produced by T-Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom, the record included three songs co-written by Burnett and one by Victoria Williams, and also featured the talents of Williams, Morlix, Klein, Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), John Hiatt, Jim Keltner, Jerry Marotta, Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds), and Van Dyke Parks, among others. One of the songs on the album, “Old Blue Car,” was nominated for a Grammy award.
In 1989, Case released a second solo disc, The Man With the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, this time with the help of artists like David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Ry Cooder, and Benmont Tench. While not a major commercial success, the album was a favorite of critics and other musicians: Bruce Springsteen told Rolling Stone magazine that he was listening to Peter Case more than anyone else that year.
Still one of the most beloved singer/songwriters of a generation, Case has performed all over the world in hundreds of venues. Don’t miss your chance to see him in Tucson in the intimate setting of The Monterey Court. *
Saturday, December 6 I Sera Cahoone – Seattle, Washington
KEXP & Abbey Arts presents CATHEDRALS 6: a rare contemplative indie concert at St Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill. This show is the sixth in the series put on by local nonprofit Abbey Arts which also hosts concerts and events at it’s home venue, Fremont Abbey. This installment of CATHEDRALS 6 will feature Sub Pop recording artist Sera Cahoone.
Cahoone is a singer-songwriter from Seattle and her music combines elements of both classic country-western and modern indie rock and lo-fi.
She is the daughter of a Rocky Mountain dynamite salesman and grew up in Littleton, Colorado. She got her musical start on the drums at twelve years old. Her first stage performance came in a suburban Denver bar, where, at the age of 12, she played drums behind a bunch of bluesmen on open mic night. At twenty-one Cahoone moved to Seattle and drummed for many artists including Carissa’s Wierd, Los Angeles musician Patrick Park, and on Band of Horses’ debut, Everything All the Time.
In 2006, Cahoone focused on singing, songwriting, and guitar playing, skills she’d been honing for nearly 15 years on her own. Her first album was Sera Cahoone (2006). The album was praised by indie-rock radio station KEXP along with NPR. Seattle indie newspaper The Stranger called Sera’s debut “…a breathtaking collection of sad and dusky songs that reveal an artist of remarkable depth as well as a truly stunning voice.”
In 2007 Cahoone was signed to the Seattle label Sub Pop Records which was home to former Carissa’s Wierd band mates Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) and later Mat Brooke (Grand Archives). Cahoone’s second album, Only As The Day Is Long, was released in 2008.
Sera and her band recorded her most recent record at Bear Creek Studios in Woodinville, Washington over a two-week period by Los Angeles producer Thom Monohan. Additional vocals and tracking was done in L.A. over several weeks in early March. The new record, Deer Creek Canyon was released September 25, 2013. **
Sera will also be performing with Grant Olsen (from Gold Leaves), Tomo Nakayama (from Grand Hallway) and S (Jenn Ghetto, formerly of Carissa’s Wierd). All artists will be performing unique sets adapted to the acoustics of this epic, old, unfinished cathedral.
* Biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia.
** Biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia.