On Thursday, February 9, 1961, The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe – performed for the first time at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, England.
Here’s a photo of the Fab Five taken on August 17, 1960, at the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany. (L-R: John, George, Pete, Paul & Stuart)
The Cavern Club was located in the cellar – 18 steps down from street level – of a 7-story former fruit and vegetable warehouse at 10 Matthew Street in the Liverpool city center. The claustrophobic venue had bare brick walls and arches, no ventilation, tables or carpets and a small, two-foot-high stage that was dimly illuminated by a minimal set of 60-watt white light bulbs.
The Beatles’ gig that day at The Cavern was a lunchtime session, running from 12:00-2:00 pm. Admission to the show was one sterling and the band was paid 5 pounds. But since these lunchtime sessions had only been going on for a few months and the membership of the club drew from parts of Liverpool where The Beatles hadn’t been yet, The Cavern was half empty on that Thursday afternoon.
On Sunday, February 9, 1964, The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – performed for the first time in America.
They played at CBS Television’s Studio 50. The studio was located in a 13-story building – initially called The Hammerstein Theatre and built in the 1920’s – at 1697 Broadway, Manhattan, New York, New York.
Studio 50 was home to The Ed Sullivan Show; an immensely popular, hour-long variety program that was broadcast live on CBS every Sunday evening from 8:00-9:00 pm.
The Beatles’ first performed in the afternoon of February 9, playing three songs for an enthusiastic studio audience of 728 people. This appearance was taped for the Sunday, February 23 broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show.
The Beatles’ second performance on February 9 was for The Ed Sullivan Show’s live nationally broadcast program, starting at 8:00 pm. That performance – three songs at the beginning of the show and two songs in the second half – was seen by a different studio audience and a television audience estimated to number 73,000,000 people in 23,240,000 homes across America.
I was one of those 73,000,000.
Here’s a photo of the band playing “I Saw Her Standing There” from the second part of the Sunday evening performance.
CBS Television received 50,000 requests for tickets to the February 9 shows.
The Beatles were paid $10,000.00 plus travel expenses for these two and one other appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The other appearance was a live performance on Sunday, February 16 from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.
February 9, 1961 – February 9, 1964. What a different three years can make!
All of these musicians – each one especially revered for her/his unique and extraordinary voice – were born in January.
Elizabeth Cotten – January 5
Elvis Presley – January 8
Joan Baez – January 9
Janis Jopin – January 19
Huddie Ledbetter – January 20 or 23
Richie Havens – January 21
Sam Cooke – January 22
Etta James – January 25
As you read those names, did you hear them sing?
However memorable and unquestionably worthy those musicians are, today I wanted to celebrate two voices from this past January. Two voices that made my spirits soar and left me as awestruck as any I’ve ever heard.
On the morning of Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, poet and activist Amanda Gorman took her seat on the Inaugural Platform on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building, looking out across the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Amanda was the day’s Inaugural Poet, chosen at the recommendation of Dr. Jill Biden. At 22 years old, she was the youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. history.
Holding the large black binder containing the manuscript of her poem on her lap, Amanda watched as Kamala Devi Harris was sworn in as Vice President and then Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. was sworn in as President – #46 – of the United States of America.
When finally the time arrived – after President Biden delivered his Inaugural Address and Garth Brooks sang “Amazing Grace” – Amanda Gorman took her place at the podium. At 12:18 pm ET, she began reciting her Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
That evening, 71-year-old singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen waited at the western end of the National Mall, lightly strumming his well-worn Takamine six-string acoustic guitar. He stood before a microphone, in an oval ring of white light on the upper platform before the last row of steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial.
Bruce was the opening act of “Celebrating America,” the primetime television special hosted by actor Tom Hanks that would “represent the rich diversity and extensive talent America offers” and cap-off the festivities of the Biden-Harris Inauguration Day.
At 8:30 pm ET, Bruce got his cue, welcomed his audience and introduced his 1998 song “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
Try as I might, I simply do not have the words to adequately describe how I feel about those two performances.
(I can tell you that having a new President and Vice-President feels absolutely FANTASTIC!)
I was fortunate enough to be able to watch each performance as it happened: Amanda Gorman on my iPad during my lunch break at work and Bruce Springsteen on my TV at home, standing in the living room with my arms around my wife.
I’ve watched them again online several times over the days since. I found and read the text of “The Hill We Climb” and I figured out how to play and sing “Land of Hope and Dreams” just the way Bruce did that night.
(JTLYK: Bruce’s guitar is in an open-G major tuning, but with the sixth string dropped down to C. It is capoed at the second fret thus sounding in Key of A major.)
I hope you took the time to watch and listen to these extraordinary Voices of January.
The first time Bob Dylan recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man” was on June 6, 1964.
It was one of fourteen songs he recorded that day at Columbia Records’ Studio A in New York City. Eleven of those songs – “Mr. Tambourine Man” not included – would become Dylan’s fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan.
Another Side of Bob Dylan was released by Columbia Records on August 8, 1964.
Dylan returned to Studio A on January 13, 1965 to begin recording songs for his next Columbia LP.
These sessions continued into the next two days, producing some of Dylan’s earliest recordings where he is accompanied by a band including electric guitars and drums.
Among those now-classic tracks were: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.”
On January 15, 1965, Dylan cut four “acoustic” songs for the new album.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” was the third.
On this definitive recording, Dylan sings and plays acoustic guitar (in dropped-D tuning and capoed at the third fret) and harmonica. Guitarist Bruce Langhorne provides the sparkling high-note accompaniment.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” was released on March 22, 1965, as the first song on the second side of Bob Dylan’s fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written.
I have listened to it, played it, performed it and taught it a countless number of times and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.
Ballad: “A poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas, or verses.”
I can hear you.
“Christmas is over!”
However, according to the calendar of the festive Christian season known as Twelvetide, today is the Fourth Day of Christmas!
Therefore, I feel completely justified in putting up this post today and not just boxing it up with the twinkle lights until next year.
So here’s the story of six people – and one insurance company – and how they brought this song into the world.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was an English minister.
He also wrote hymns – just the words, not the music – and eventually compiled over 6000 of these texts.
In 1739, Charles and his older brother John put together a collection of these verses and published it under the title Hymns and Sacred Poems.
One of the entries in their book was called “Hymn for Christmas-Day.”
This is how it appeared in the fourth edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems, published in 1743.
Charles envisioned that “Hymn for Christmas-Day” would be sung with music that was slow and solemn. The tune he had in mind was the same one he liked for another piece found in Hymns and Sacred Poems: “Hymn for Easter-Day.”
“Hymn for Easter-Day” is now widely known as “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” It is most commonly sung with an anonymously composed tune called “The Resurrection,” published in 1708.
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was an English preacher.
In 1732, young George entered Pembroke College at the University of Oxford where he first met and became friends with the Wesley brothers.
Though George wrote several hymns of his own over the course of his career, he was inspired one day to make a few changes to Charles’ “Hymn for Christmas-Day.”
The most significant change George made was to Charles’ opening lines.
“Hark how all the Welkin rings Glory to the King of Kings” became…
“Hark! the Herald Angels sing Glory to the new-born King!”
In 1753, George published his new version of “Hymn for Christmas-Day” – now titled “HYMN XXXI” – in a book: A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship: More Particularly Designed for Use of the Tabernacle Congregation.
This image is from an edition released in 1758.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847) was a German musician and composer.
In 1840, Felix composed a cantata to be performed at a summer festival in Leipzig celebrating the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press.
Festgesang zur Eröffnung der am ersten Tage der vierten Säcularfeier der Erfindung der Buchdruckerkunst – also known as the Gutenberg Cantata – was originally scored for men’s chorus, two brass orchestras and tympani. The text was by Adolf Eduard Proelss.
The second song or movement in the cantata – “No. II. Lied.” – begins with the words: “Vaterland, in deinen Gauen…”
Here’s a look from an 1840 first edition copy of the piano-vocal score of Festgesang…
Apparently, Mendelssohn’s Gutenberg Cantata has never been recorded.
The only recording available of “No. II. Lied.” – aka “Vaterland, In Deinen Gauen” – is this transcription/arrangement for organ by Lyle Neff from 2011.
On April 30, 1843, Felix Mendelssohn wrote a letter to his English publisher, Mr. E. Buxton regarding a translation of Festgesang… by a Mr. Bartholomew.
Felix wrote: “I think there ought to be other words [than those written by Mr. Bartholomew] to No.2, the ‘Lied.’ If the right ones are hit at, I am sure that the piece will be liked very much by the singers and the hearers, but it will never do to sacred words.”
He concludes: “The words must express something gay and popular, as the music tries to do it.”
William H. Cummings (1831-1915) was an English musician.
In 1847, William was a singer in the chorus at the London premiere of Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, conducted by Mendelssohn himself.
William went on to be a big fan of Mendelssohn’s work, eagerly purchasing everything he composed as soon as it was published.
In 1855, while serving as the organist of Waltham Abbey in Essex, England, William discovered that the words of Hymn for Christmas-Day/HYMN XXXI perfectly meshed with the tune from “No. 2. Lied/Vaterland, In Deinen Gauen.”
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was born.
The first publication occurred on December 24, 1855 and the first edition – “adapted and arranged by William H. Cummings” – was deposited at the British Museum on December 2, 1856.
Richard R. Chope (1830-1928) was an English clergyman.
In 1857, while serving as the Curate of Stapleton, Richard compiled and published The Congregational Hymn & Tune Book.
Richard’s book contains – under the title “Christmas – Hymn 18” – possibly the earliest printing of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Here’s how it looked in an edition published in 1859.
When I was a kid, my main source for the music to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was a small booklet of Christmas carols published by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company of Boston, Massachusetts.
The copy of Christmas Carols that I still have has a copyright of 1960 inside the front cover and a printing date (“Litho. In U.S.A.”) of 1967 on the back cover.
This truly pocket-size pamphlet (It measures 4 1/8″ by 6″) presents fourteen of the most classic carols in beautiful 4-part choral arrangements with at least three verses for each. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is on page 8.
(I wonder who came up with that third verse?!)
John Fahey (1939-2001) was an American finger-style guitarist.
In 1968, John recorded and released an album entitled The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album.
This gorgeous and ground-breaking collection contains John’s syncopated fingerpicked instrumental acoustic guitar arrangements of 14 seasonal songs and carols.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is on track 3 in a medley with “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
I don’t recall when I purchased my copy of the LP, but my initial listenings to John Fahey’s performances on The New Possibility profoundly affected my conception of how a song could be played on an acoustic guitar.
In the mid-1980’s I wrote out a melody, chords & words transcription of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and started the annual process of working out a Fahey-inspired fingerpicked arrangement of my own.
Finally, in December, 2018, I recorded a brief one-verse statement of my arrangement of “Hark!…” to share in a holiday text message with my family.
Here it is.
I consider that a work in progress.
Giving credit where credit was due was obviously not the standard operating procedure among the persons that participated in the more-than-a-century long story of how “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” came to be.
George Whitefield did not credit Charles Wesley when he published “HYMN XXXI.”
William H. Cummings credited Felix Mendelssohn but did not give credit to Wesley or Whitefield when he published his adaptation and arrangement of “Hark! The Hearld Angels Sing.”
Richard R. Chope credited Mendelssohn but did not give credit to Wesley, Whitefield or Cummings when he published “Christmas – Hymn 18.”
But, when The John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company published “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in their little Christmas Carols pamphlet, they gave full credit to Charles Wesley for his words, F. Mendelssohn for his music and W.H. Cummings for his arrangement.
The information used in the writing of this post was gathered from the following sources:
“‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’: An Illustrated History” by Cait Miller – from In The Muse: The Performing Arts Blog of The Library of Congress, December 20, 2016.
“The Book of World Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk” – Fifth Edition, Revised and Enlarged (2000) by James J. Fuld.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – article author unknown, The Musical Times #38, December 1, 1897.
The Wikipedia pages for Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, William H. Cummings, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Felix Mendelssohn, “Festgesang” and “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.”
This is the seventh installment of this category featuring recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or – outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen! Let me introduce to you…
“Buffalo” by John Renbourn.
Give a listen. (You’ll be glad you did!)
John Renbourn recorded “Buffalo” in 1966, using his recently purchased Gibson J-50 acoustic guitar. (Most likely the guitar John is playing in the picture above.)
The piece was released on his second solo album Another Monday on Transatlantic Records.
John Renbourn was born on August 8, 1944 in Marylebone, London, England. He got his first guitar at age 13. His recording career started in 1965 with the release of his first album, John Renbourn. He passed away on March 26, 2015 at his home in Harwick, Scotland.
I posted a tribute to John Renbourn on April 12, 2015. (Here’s the link, if you’re interested.)
At the time, the studio recording of “Buffalo” was not available on YouTube. (I did, however, find a very cool video of John teaching “Buffalo” which is included in that post.)
If you enjoyed “Buffalo,” John Renbourn left an extensive legacy of equally brilliant recordings as a solo artist and with the British Folk-Rock group, Pentangle. They are well worth searching out!
I found this recording in the Voice Memos app on my phone back in early June when I was looking for something else.
What I think of as an “audio snapshot,” it was dated February 22, 2019 and titled “Blue Friday.” Check it out!
“Not bad,” I thought after giving a listen, “but it could use a B section.”
So, having some time, I picked up the sultry siren that had been occupying the guitar stand next to my desk since March… my Fender “Custom 90’s” Telecaster…
… and went to work.
The new B section was completed on June 12, 2020 and pencil sketched on pg. 18 of Volume 4 of my Passantino Music Papers notebooks.
When I could play the piece well enough to attempt an “official” recording, I decided to use my Tele for the voice of “Blue Friday.” This was a major break – Ooo! – with my long-standing tradition of using an acoustic guitar for documenting my instrumentals.
But I’m very glad that I did!
Listen for yourself.
Finally, in July, I wrote out a complete Guitar Tablature transcription of “Blue Friday,” thinking that maybe someday another guitar player might want to try their hand at my little composition…
…or, that I would eventually write about “Blue Friday” on sixstrstories.
Like every other obsessed fan of The Beatles that I know, I have accumulated a sizable collection of books about The Beatles.
One of those books is Beatlesongs by William J. Dowlding.
The front cover of this 1989 Fireside paperback proclaims that its pages contain: “Firsthand quotes, little-known facts and details about the production of each song/album, including: where song ideas came from, who contributed how much to each song… and much more!”
The back cover states that “drawing together information from sources that include interviews, insider accounts, magazines, and news wire services,” Beatlesongs has “a complete profile of every Beatles song ever written.” The bibliography, for instance, lists forty books.
Mr. Dowlding then, in each song’s profile, organized the information he gathered under headings: Chart Action, Authorship, Recorded, Instrumentation, Miscellaneous, Comments By Beatles and Comments By Others.
(Under that last heading, I now know that “Albert Gore, politician, and wife Tipper, played ‘All You Need Is Love’ as their wedding recessional.”)
Authorship is the one that has fascinated me the most.
The reason for this heading is the not-so-obvious fact that, even though every song they wrote while they were in The Beatles was published under both of their names, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not actually co-write all of those songs.
Some Beatles’ songs are “John songs” and some are “Paul songs.”
Mr. Dowlding created a full/partial credit system to estimate the division of songwriting labor for each “Lennon & McCartney” song.
The Authorship of “Eight Days A Week” is tabulated as: McCartney (.9) and Lennon (.1).
“She Loves You” is Lennon (.5) and McCartney (.5).
“Let It Be” is McCartney (1.00).
From the many hours that I have spent over the years pouring through the pages of Beatlesongs (and other more recently published sources), I have discovered that the vast majority of the Beatles’ songs I have listened to the most often; the songs I have loved so much that I learned to play them, sing them and perform them… have been “John songs” – Authorship: Lennon (1.00).
They have been…
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”
“You Can’t Do That”
“It Won’t Be Long”
“I Call Your Name”
“All You Need Is Love”
…to name a few.
As clichéd as it may be, it is still so true: my life has been incalculably enriched by the songs of John Lennon.
I therefore could not let this day go by – October 9, 2020: the 80th anniversary of the day that John Winston Lennon was born – without paying tribute to him – without in some small way again saying “Thank you, so very much” – here on sixstrstories.
So, to wrap things up, what “John song” should we listen to?
The song was “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan.
But Bob wasn’t singing it.
Martin Simpson was.
Martin Simpson is the exceedingly accomplished British Folk musician rightfully revered as one of the best acoustic guitarists on the planet.
I first heard Martin Simpson sing and play “Boots of Spanish Leather” in the late 1990s.
Back then, Martin would travel each December to southeastern New Hampshire to join local fingerpicking phenom Ed Gerhard for a Christmas Guitar Concert held in the sanctuary of a local church.
My daughter and I attended many of these truly magical evenings and the instrumentals and songs – often including “Boots of Spanish Leather” – that Martin presented ranked high among our favorites year after year.
Martin released a live recording of his rendition of “Boots of Spanish Leather” in 1999 on his Bootleg USA album. He contributed a studio recording to the 2001 Red House Records compilation A Nod To Bob: An Artists Tribute to Bob Dylan on His Sixtieth Birthday.
That’s the performance I know and love and was the music that started my day.
I heartily recommend that you take a few minutes and listen to this.
Martin was accompanied on that track by bass guitarist Doug Robinson and cellist Barry Phillips.
In the liner notes to the A Nod To Bob CD, Martin writes: “I think that no one took me further than Dylan, or showed me more possibilities. I’m still exploring the roads and sidewalks, dare I say it following the signs. Some of those songs feel like mine now. Thank you, we all owe you so much.”
I think it is safe to say that Martin Simpson definitely succeeded in making “Boots of Spanish Leather” his own.
Martin Simpson was born on May 5, 1953 in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He got his first guitar at age twelve, gave his first paid performance at fourteen and recorded his first solo album – “Golden Vanity” – in 1976 at the age of twenty-two. His 21st solo album – “Rooted” – was released in 2019.
The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards honored Martin as the Instrumentalist of the Year in 2002, Musician of the Year in 2004 and having the Best Album – “Prodigal Son” – in 2008.
“Boots of Spanish Leather” originally appeared on Bob Dylan’s third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, in 1964.