Bob Dylan’s “Gates of Eden”

Richard

Richard

The 1960s was a very different time where popular musicians didn’t dance. They didn’t have to dress up in outlandish clothes and they didn’t perform in gigantic arenas backed by light shows and multimedia presentations. They stood or sat, played their instruments and sang into a microphone. And almost all of them had something to say.

I remember when news of a singer named Bob Dylan reached Canada. I was 13 years old. The word everywhere was that he sang about socially important things that people of my generation valued : peace, civil rights and everyone’s belief that young people were really changing the world. Then, in 1965, when nobody really expected it, things really did change.

Alrick

Alrick

Previously, Dylan’s songs had been laid out in front of you – nothing was hidden, nothing was obscure. But a change started to cast its shadow on us with Dylan’s 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home”, which featured some very different and disturbing songs. The lyrics began to be more surreal and non-linear. When I heard “Gates of Eden”, featured on the album, it made me wonder where this very new direction in music was leading us. I was a smart 15-year-old but I didn’t understand the song’s juxtaposition of plain English words that flowed into a foreign landscape of four-legged forest clouds, lampposts with folded arms and iron claws, wailing babies, ships with tattooed sails, black Madonna bikers and gray flannel dwarfs, all of this on display outside the gates of Eden, where no sound ever escaped, a place where there were no kings, no sins, no trials. Coming on the heels of Dylan’s previous songs, something as obscure as “Gates of Eden” simply did not fit.

Nobody expected Dylan to release 34 songs, excluding 14 outtakes and singles like “Positively 4th Street”, on three separate albums (“Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde On Blonde”, a double album), in a little more than a single year, This unequaled artistic output formed the heart of Dylan’s extraordinary impact on contemporary culture and created a path leading directly to his Nobel prize in Literature, awarded in 2016.

Roch

It should be noted that some of these songs were over 10 minutes long, which was controversial at that time. Songs over 3 minutes did not fit into any radio station’s commercial platform. To circumvent this, some disc jockeys created what became known as “underground radio”, where long and more controversial songs were played, often during the early morning hours. In Ottawa, the contribution of Brian Murphy, who developed a weekend overnight radio show called Free Form Radio on Ottawa’s CKBY-FM station, needs to be underlined and appreciated.

I’ve often wondered where Dylan’s exploding consciousness might have led him, had it not been for a motorcycle accident that left him with a broken vertebra and a concussion, on July 29, 1966. He was never the same afterwards and many say that the accident prevented him from pursuing his previously reckless and potentially destructive lifestyle. Certainly, Dylan’s later songs, many of them superb in their own right, never matched anything on those three mid-sixties albums. I intend to revisit this exquisite era in future posts.

My arrangement of “Gates of Eden” features our trio, with Roch Tassé on drums and Alrick Huebener on bass. We play “Gates of Eden” in honour of three of the most outstanding musicians of our time in Pat Metheny (guitar, b. 1954), Jaco Pastorius (bass, 1951-1987) and Peter Erskine (drums, b. 1954).

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic 12-string guitar
Alrick Huebener – electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Gates of Eden

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“Sitting on a Fence” by The Rolling Stones

Richard et sa mandoline Eastman

Richard and his Eastman mandolin

When The Rolling Stones came to North America in 1964, they brought with them American blues and R&B, with some stinging original compositions, everything as raw and electric as could be. As the decade progressed, many rock bands, both American and British, began to temper their electric repertoire with more acoustic songs, likely another Dylan influence.

“Sitting on a Fence” was recorded in late 1965, in LA, during the sessions for the album “Aftermath,” but did not make it onto the pressings of either the UK or US editions of that album. The song made it to North America on the catch-all album “Flowers” in the summer of 1967, the much publicized “Summer of Love” which introduced the “hippies” social phenomenon to the world. The song was a departure for The Stones, featuring a more bluegrass flavoured instrumentation.

I remember hearing the lyrics to the song and thinking that, as a child, I had been the direct opposite of Jagger’s persona singing the song. My older sister sometimes brought me a small trinket back from a date in Ottawa with her future husband, a small red, white and blue rubber ball or a stuffed animal. This was like heaven to me, the kids in our big family not used to being pampered. I was also raised Catholic so, contrary to the song lyrics, I was very easy to please and I definitely knew wrong from right.

By the time I was 18, things had changed. I had no idea what I would do with my life and could not see myself as an adult, living on my own, getting married, raising a family. Dreams that I had fostered had dissipated with the many setbacks in my life – the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, as Shakespeare so brilliantly put it. I found myself sitting on a fence. I could not commit to anything, I was angry and disappointed and simply resigned myself to going wherever my life would take me. I made no decisions for the next decade. So, this song that was so unlike me as a child, ended up fitting me like a glove as a young adult.

I dedicate this song to all of the men, women and children in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, many of whom have been hard hit by our recent devastating storm. From what I have seen in my visits, I especially sympathize with the municipalities of Hammond and Bourget, where the devastation is very harsh indeed.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitars, mandolin, electric bass

Sitting on a Fence

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“Gotta Get Away” by The Rolling Stones

Richard

Richard

In my opinion, 1965 was the best year of the 20th century. I was 15 years old and Rockland high school had given me my first girlfriend and friends who are great friends to this day. I had started learning the guitar and formed my first rock group with three of these friends: Marty Cunningham, Pierre Lafleur and Roch Tassé. We called ourselves The Ravens, after Poe, and dressed in black pants, black socks and black turtleneck sweaters on stage. We played one dance at the high school and retired! To hear the current Ravens play The Rolling Stones hit “The Last Time” click here.

Marty

Marty

Roch played on my first albums in the 1970s and has played in several local bands, becoming a tremendous drummer and percussionist along the way. We live quite far apart but are still great friends and Roch is a regular contributor to this website. Although Pierre’s path has led him away from music, Marty, Pierre and I are friends for life and regularly meet for brunch.

Linda

Linda

We are now getting together, augmented by Linda Challes who lives with Roch at the Howlin’ Huskies Studio in Ste-Cécile-de-Masham, Qc, for yet another Rolling Stones’ song, “Gotta Get Away”, released in 1965, as was “The Last Time”, not to mention The Beatles “Nowhere Man’, Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by … oh yes, The Rolling Stones, who were everywhere in 1965. It really was an exceptional year.

Roch

Roch

Starting in 1964, rock and pop bands from the United Kingdom became popular in North America and contributed to the rise of the “counter-culture” on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The Beatles led this «British invasion» followed by groups such as the Rolling Stones, The Zombies, The Kinks, The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Who and Them (featuring Van Morrison). “Gotta Get Away” was released on the UK album “Out Of Our Heads”, the US/Canada album “December’s Children” and as the B-side of the single release of “As Tears Go By.” At that time, the albums released in the UK were different from the ones released elsewhere. Singles were released because popular individual songs were played on the radio and singles were much cheaper than albums, which contained songs most people didn’t know. Consequently, “Gotta Get Away” is one of the lesser known Stones songs.

“Gotta Get Away” is representative of The Rollings Stones’ lyrical depiction of discontent, disrespect and misogyny, which they have fostered from their very beginnings. After a series of blues and R&B covers which left no doubt as to their attitude, they released “It’s All Over Now” in 1964, followed by such likewise acerbic songs as “Time Is On My Side”, “Heart Of Stone”, “The Last Time”, “Play With Fire”, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” , “Get Off Of My Cloud”, “Gotta Get Away”, “Paint It Black”, “Stupid Girl”, “No Expectations” and “Under My Thumb”, to mention only a few. This was a very powerful message to some of the more impressionable kids I knew and some really took it seriously. I remember one Ottawa kid who was tall and skinny, wore a long black coat that went to his ankles, black jeans and black t-shirt, black Army boots and even his long hair was dyed black. He loved the Rolling Stones and his life was fueled by the profound negativity of their lyrics. He was the very personification of “Paint It Black.”

As the current active members of The Ravens, Roch, Marty and I intend to present more songs from our youth on this site.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, electric bass
Marty Cunningham – acoustic guitar, percussion (hand claps)
Linda Challes – percussion (hand claps)
Roch Tassé – drums, percussion (hand claps)

Gotta Get Away

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Chris Stapleton’s “Burden”

Richard

Richard

Chris Stapleton (b. 1978) is an American singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and record producer from Kentucky whose work has been recognized with five Grammy Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards and ten Country Music Awards. As a vocalist, his strong tenor voice is equally suited to R&B and other genres. His song “Burden” forms part of the soundtrack to the film of the same name.

The film “Burden” deals with Mike Burden (b. 1970), an orphan raised by the Ku Klux Klan in the small-town of Laurens, South Carolina. Like all others caught in this racist culture, he grew up violent and hateful of all but his own. It is only through the compassion of a black minister named Reverend David Kennedy that Burden’s life changed dramatically. When they first met in Laurens, Burden was grand dragon of the local KKK and Kennedy was an African-American pastor who had grown up in segregated housing. At the time, Kennedy was trying to fight the existence of the small town’s Redneck Shop — a store, which was Burden’s idea, that sold racist memorabilia and hosted an unofficial KKK museum.

After meeting and falling in love with his first wife, Judy Harbeson, Burden started to question his involvement with the KKK. The Klan retaliated against Burden for rebelling against them. Burden and Harbeson were locked out of the apartment they’d been renting from a Klan member and with nowhere to go, Burden, Harbeson and her two children ended up at the Laurens police department begging for help. Incredibly, Kennedy offered to give them lodging, saying he saw a father and husband trying to protect his family against the Klan.

The 2018 film “Burden” was written and directed by Andrew Heckler and relates the events of Mike Burden’s life. Destined to be a low-budget effort, the film received a tremendous boost when both Tom Wilkinson and Forrest Whittaker, two world-class actors, decided to participate in the project.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, mandolin

Burden

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Sam Amidon’s “Blue Mountains”

Sam Amidon (b. 1981) is an American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Vermont born of folk musician parents. His surname is of French extraction and, oddly enough, means “starch.” Amidon tours extensively all over the world using New York City as a home base.

His song “Blue Mountains” was included in Amidon’s 2014 album entitled “Lilly-O” which was recorded in Reykjavik by Icelandic recording engineer Valgeir Sigurðsson. The album also features, among other talented musicians, master guitarist Bill Frisell.

The Blue Mountains are usually referred to as the Blue Ridge Mountains, a large Appalachian mountain range. The Alleghenies region is the rugged western-central portion of Appalachia.

Much of Amidon’s music consists of reworkings of traditional folk songs, bringing out their haunting dreamlike qualities. His parents performed and recorded in the early shape-note and Sacred Harp traditions common to sacred choral music and rural American church music in general. Their influence on their son’s music is significant.

In Appalachia, a particular type of ballad which singles out tragedies came to the front during the 19th century. Train wrecks, mining disasters and murders became the subject of many popular songs – dozens were written about the sinking of the Titanic alone. Murder being a purely human venture, those particular songs became very popular and were known as “murder ballads.” Murder ballads originated in Scandinavia, England, and lowland Scotland in the premodern era. These ballads came to America with European settlers, many of which populated Appalachia, a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from New York State to Alabama and Georgia.

It can be argued that the song “Blue Mountains” is a murder ballad although murder is never overtly mentioned in the song. At best, it is about philandering – a married man lures a young girl into the wilderness, “past dark cabin windows where eyes never see.” Evil lurks palpably.

The treatment of death in early Appalachian songs is something most of us have never experienced. In the 19th century, as much as 46% of all babies did not live past their 5th birthday. Infant mortality rates are higher in rural Appalachia than in other parts of the United States. The region’s low income, geographic isolation, and low levels of education all reduce access to modern medical care. Folk beliefs and superstitions, a very poor substitute for medical care, continue to influence birth practices : a dove mourning outside the window is considered a bad omen, as is a member of the household sweeping the steps after sundown.

The early recordings of Appalachian music are unique and the sharper edges of private and personal pain emerges from the very grooves of these recordings. The voices have their own notions of tragedy. How many times had these people seen, in their own valley, righteous innocent people senselessly wiped away by car accidents, drownings, tuberculosis, children falling down wells. A.P. Carter’s sister Etta was a 13-year-old schoolgirl picking berries one afternoon, fevered in bed that night and dead by morning. There was no reason and, worst of all, there was no time to mourn. There were other children to raise, planting, weeding, cooking, sewing, feeding hogs, milking cows, chopping firewood. Appalachia’s most famous author, Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) from Asheville, North Carolina, described his 12-year-old brother’s death in his novel “Look Homeward Angel” like so : “He was a quiet boy, and there were many, and he had gone unnoticed.”

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitar

Blue Mountains

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“Sail Away Ladies” by “Uncle Bunt Stevens

The old-time fiddle tune “Sail Away Ladies” was included in Harry Smith’s ground-breaking 1952 six-album compilation entitled Anthology of American Folk Music, which was instrumental in the rise of the American Folk Revival in the 1950s and 1960s. Although “Sail Away Ladies” was originally recorded in 1926 by John L. “Uncle Bunt” Stevens (1879-1951), the piece has its origins in the British Isles of the 18th century. Uncle Bunt’s magnificent playing, with its echoes of Cajun fiddle music, summons up the sound of folk activities from a long gone era, tasks like husking bees, barn raisings, quilting parties and entertainment like barn dances. It is, to me, one of the very best recordings of the first half of the 20th century.

John Stephens was a farmer for most of his life. He rapidly rose to fame in 1926 when he placed in regional fiddle competitions and then won the title of World Champion Fiddler, besting 1,876 other fiddlers in automobile magnate Henry Ford’s series of contests. The competitions were held at Ford dealerships through the East and Midwest and winners of the local contests were brought to Detroit to play in the championship round. Stephens’ prize was said to be $1,000, a new suit, a new car, and a new set of teeth. After recording four 78 RPM sides for Columbia Records and making a short tour with some appearances on the Grand Ole Opry stage, Uncle Bunt retired from public life and returned to his farm in Bedford County, Tennessee.

The lyrics to the song come from a 1927 recording by Uncle Dave Macon. Ever the entertainer, Uncle Dave’s lyrics are essentially nonsense and good-natured fun. I’ve chosen to incorporate lyrics from African-American versions of the song into mine. For more on Uncle Dave Macon and his music, click here.
Although “Sail Away Ladies” was recorded hundreds of times by hundreds of artists, almost all available versions are identical. The notable exception is a 1957 recording by Odetta (Holmes,1930-2008), a wonderful laid-back folk/blues interpretation. I based my version of the song exclusively on the recordings of Uncle Bunt and Odetta. I also chose to use my new mandolin exclusively on this piece. After all, mandolins and fiddles are identically tuned.

La fanfare de Rockland

The Rockland Marching Band

When I was 11, my mother didn’t like my downhearted demeanor after the death of my brother Gabriel and enrolled me in the Rockland marching band. I played baritone for two years and I remember that my older band mate sitting next to me always told me not to play so loud! I didn’t like the rigid formality of learning to read music and play compositions in a predetermined manner. I wanted to play like my brother had played and his playing, influenced by his hero Jerry Lee Lewis, was abandoned and very far from rigid. To me, that’s the way music was meant to be played and when my brother Bob guided me towards the guitar in 1963, I learned to play like my brother Gabriel played. I never wanted to play anything that was identical to what other musicians played. My style of playing is self-taught and certainly not as skilful as other players but it is mine and it is the living manifestation of my brother Gabriel’s gift to me.

After many, many auditions of Uncle Bunt’s and Odetta’s recordings, absorbing the essence of “Sail Away Ladies”, I proceeded with test recordings of the song the way it came to me. I was very surprised when my recording featured a Bo Diddley beat! Mixing Bo Diddley (Ellas McDaniel, 1928-2008) into an old-time fiddle tune might be sacrilegious but I’ve always loved Bo so I liked the result. Then, last December 31, I found that New Year’s Eve was the birthday of Bo Diddley … and Odetta ! I igured it was a sign or some kind of cosmic endorsement, so I went ahead with my version. For more information on Bo Diddley and his music, click here.

The most natural, unsophisticated musician I’ve ever known was Alcide Dupuis (1928-2008), a fiddler from Rockland. Yes, I also noticed that Alcide’s birth and death years are identical to those of Bo Diddley, as if I needed a further endorsement ! Alcide was a small imp of a man who learned to play from an uncle but he only knew where to place his fingers on the neck of the fiddle and how to move the bow to get the sounds he wanted. Alcide didn’t know chords, keys, notes, nor song titles. His repertoire included many jigs, reels and cotillions which changed keys in midstream, making it impossible for any other local guitarists he knew to follow him. When I started playing with Alcide, I had a good ear and a fair knowledge of music structure so I was able to follow him when he changed keys. The first time this happened, Alcide was astonished – for the first time, he was hearing his tunes as they were meant to be played. He was so happy to have found someone he could play with. We formed a good friendship and we started playing together, mostly for beers in the tavern of the King George Hotel in Rockland.

Moi et Alcide en plein vol, 1978

Me and Alcide in full flight, 1978


When my recording career took off, I was asked to play at an autumn festival held simultaneously at La Ferme Denis and the Plantagenet High School. I invited Alcide to join me and I also gave him half of the generous stipend I received for performing. For Alcide, this was the big time ! He had never been paid to play music in his life before. He showed up in a fabulous black silk shirt with a colourful flower motif, trousers with a crease that would have cut steel, shoes polished and hair slicked back! As you can tell from the photo, we had a great time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two happier men. The guitar I’m playing was made for me in 1976 by Marc Beneteau, a luthier, good friend and guitarist who played with me for a number of years, in concert and on my recordings.

Seeing Alcide initiate a song was like nothing else in this world. Songs were stored in his memory but he couldn’t identify them by title, key or any other method so he scratched at his fiddle until the notes led him to the song. He would find the path, gradually connecting the dots until the melody he wanted emerged. Then, Alcide would take off like a Boeing 747, driving the song out with complete joy, his feet stepping complicated rhythms in time with the music (he was a terrific stepper). Alcide Dupuis was a veritable force of nature. He was transformed when he played, his face twisting in a grin of pure joy. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing music and I’d like to dedicate my version of “Sail Away Ladies” to Alcide’s memory.

Richard Séguin – voice, mandolin, percussion

Sail Away Ladies

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“My Father’s House” by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album entitled “Nebraska” started as a cost-cutting measure to reduce the studio time that was required for his E Street Band to put together new songs. Initially, Springsteen recorded demos for the album at his home with a 4-track cassette recorder. Listening to the results, the consensus was that the songs were very personal and that the raw, haunting folk essence present on the home tapes could not be duplicated or equaled in the studio with the E Street Band’s brand of fiery, expansive rock & roll. Springsteen decided that these stories were best told by one man, one guitar. It was a bold decision to release the initial recordings as is.

“Nebraska”, the title song, refers to Charles Starkweather, who senselessly murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1957 and January 1958, when he was 19 years old. During his spree, Starkweather was accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The song certainly sets the tone for the rest of the album : many of the songs are stark, violent and full of despair. Others, like “My Father’s House”, are deeply personal and drawn from Springsteen’s past, in particular his complicated relationship with his father.

In 2009, several artists performed at Washington, DC’s opulent Kennedy Center to honour Bruce Springsteen’s life and music. During the ceremonies, Jon Stewart famously said “I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. And they abandoned this child on the side of the road, between the exit interchanges of 8A and 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike. That child is Bruce Springsteen.” Ben Harper also performed an abbreviated version of “My Father’s House” which left the audience either speechless or in tears. I have borrowed a few parts of Harper’s brilliant rendition.

La maison de mon père

My father’s house

“My Father’s House” has a special meaning for me and our family. My sister Diane was born in late 1951 and my father already knew that his rented house next to Annie Powers, our town’s celebrated doctor, would no longer comfortably hold nine people. We were to be six kids and my grand-father Villeneuve was also part of the family. My father started building a house of his own design, with the help of friends, relations and neighbours, the way things were done in our francophone community at that time. We moved into our new house in 1952.

My childhood, growing up in my father’s house, in our small community, was as perfect as any childhood can be. We were comfortable. My parents had their bedroom on the ground floor and everybody else slept upstairs. My two sisters had their own bedroom, as did my grand-father, and the four boys shared a large room that featured two double beds – the elder boys, Jean-Guy and Gabriel in one bed, my brother Bob and me in the other. I always felt safe.

My grandfather was a man from a different world, a contemporary of Wyatt Earp, Jesse James and Mark Twain. He was as strong as an ox and as imposing as a tree. He was kind and built us wooden toys in my father’s downstairs workshop. His wonderful, silent presence stays with me still and I wrote an instrumental piece in his honour, which you can hear by clicking here.

Jean-René Séguin

Jean-René Séguin

My father, Jean-René Séguin (1908-1975), was a Renaissance man. Born in Rockland, he started working at the age of twelve, trying to support his family. This was the fate on many boys at that time. My father would get up early, have breakfast and walk to the Ottawa River where he had a rowboat moored on the shore. He crossed the river, anchored his boat, and worked all day in the forest industry in Thurso, cutting down trees and doing whatever other work was required. At the end of the day, he crossed the river to the Ontario side and walked home for a late supper. He was paid a dollar a day.

Even though he only had a grade 6 education, my father mysteriously understood mathematics. He regularly produced blueprints for many local builders and they always met all provincial standards, at a fraction of the cost that a professional architect would have charged. He was the only one in town who could build a staircase, a very complicated, formulaic operation involving the relationship between tilted angles, horizontal angles and height. His workshop featured a lathe and he made some astounding things, everything from elegant, curved table legs to two-toned wooden salad bowls. He stopped at nothing to care for his family, even trapping for furs. Our basement often had furs drying on wooden frames and he even had a whole bear skin in the basement which my brother Bob donned to scare the daylights out of me. He even dabbled in taxidermy for various clients. For relaxation, he built scale models of locomotives installed on a sheet of plywood, complete with water towers, tunnels, bridges and depots, all done to scale.

All the members of our family were fortunate to have a father like ours. I play “My Father’s House” in his memory.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitars, mandolin

My Father’s House

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The Carter Family’s “Single Girl, Married Girl”

Hard is the fortune of all womankind
They’re always controlled, they’re always confined
Controlled by their parents until they are wives
Then slaves to their husbands the rest of their lives

“The Wagoner’s Lad,” traditional song collected and published in 1916.

Originally labeled as “mountain music” or “hillbilly music,” the rural music of the 1920s was a very far cry from the multi-billion-dollar international industry that we now call “country music.” In its original sense, country music, i.e. music made by people from rural areas, was what the cajuns call “la vraie chose, chère.” It was the music of life, warts and all, some of it coming across oceans of time from the British Isles, some of it coming from the local cotton mill, mine or tavern.

Commercial recordings of country music began in 1922 with such artists as Uncle Dave Macon and Vernon Dalhart traveling to New York City to record in the studios of the major record labels. For more information about Uncle Dave Macon and his music, click here.

With the advent of electrical recordings in 1925, equipment became much more sophisticated and much more portable. In 1927, producer Ralph Peer (1892-1960) of the Victor Talking Machine Company took a two-month trip through the southern Appalachian cities of Savannah, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina and Bristol, Tennessee to record different styles of country music played by artists who would have been unable to travel to New York. At the time, personal contact among musicians was the main connection that had allowed old songs to be kept alive, The music was played and sung from grandparents to parents and from parents to children.

Peer recognized the potential of mountain music, as even residents of Appalachia who didn’t have electricity often owned hand-cranked Victrolas or other phonographs. Coupled with the advent of more powerful radio stations which brought country music into homes all across Appalachia, the orthophonic recording technology made it possible for people to listen to music whenever they liked.

Peer set up his recording facility and, through radio and newspaper ads, invited musicians to come to Bristol and get paid to record their music. The recordings that followed, often described as the “big bang” of country music, led to the discovery of two of the greatest talents of this era, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. For more information about Jimmie Rodgers and his music, click here.

The Carter Family came from Virginia and was comprised of A.P. (Alvin Pleasant) Carter (1891-1960), his wife Sara Carter (1898-1979) and Sara’s cousin and sister-in-law Maybelle Carter (1909-1978) who was married to A.P.’s brother Ezra “Eck” Carter (1898-1975). Throughout the group’s career, Sara Carter sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar or autoharp, while Maybelle sang harmony and played lead guitar. On some songs A.P. did not perform at all; on others he sang harmony and background vocals and occasionally sang lead.

Maybelle’s distinctive guitar style became a hallmark of the group, and her “Carter Scratch,” as it came to be known, has become one of the most widely copied styles of guitar playing. It was a way of playing both lead and rhythm, making the guitar a lead instrument and inspiring countless musicians after her. Case in point, when I was 13 and learning to play the guitar, the first song I learned to play was the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” which featured Maybelle’s artistry. Every kid learning the guitar at that time learned “Wildwood Flower,” one of the most didactic pieces ever written. An African-American guitar player called Lesley Riddle taught Maybell how to simultaneously play melody and rhythm. Riddle accompanied A.P. Carter on several of his “song-catching” trips he made in order to collect songs to play and record after the Bristol Sessions.

“Single Girl, Married Girl” was the Carter Family’s second 78-rpm record for the Victor Records label, recorded on August 2, 1927. This version was later included in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the blueprint for the 1960s folk revival. Notably, the song does not feature A.P. Carter, but is instead a solo by Sara Carter playing autoharp accompanied by her cousin Maybelle playing lead on a cheap Stella guitar.

The lyrics to “Single Girl, Married Girl” not only describe the deterioration of Sara and A.P.’s marriage, which ended in divorce in 1936, but they are also a stark comparison of the fates of married women and single girls in the 1920s. At that time, married women dedicated their whole life to taking care of the family. Single girls, often called “Flappers,” smoked, drank, wore their skirts short and their hair even shorter. Married women would have children, do laundry, make meals and feed the children, clean the house, and, in Sara’s particular case, chop firewood and plow fields. A. P. was gone from his home in the aptly named Poor Valley for extended periods, trying to sell cuttings from fruit trees and traveling extensively in many isolated communities throughout Central Appalachia with his friend Lesley Riddle, collecting songs from various singers and musicians that would eventually make their way into the repertoire of the Carter Family.

Even after gaining voting rights in 1920 (only white men could vote in the U.S. prior to 1920), women were not on equal footing with men in virtually all areas of life. Married women were expected to devote themselves to running the household, raising children and to acquiesce to their husbands’ judgment. At the beginning of the decade, most Appalachian women lived in rural areas without electricity. They had to keep food fresh without a refrigerator, iron with an iron that had to be reheated constantly, cook on a woodstove, go to an outside well for water, and always visit an outhouse instead of a bathroom. Rural electrification did not reach many rural Appalachian homes until the 1940s. Most Americans believed that women should not work outside the home if their husbands held jobs. If women did work, employers had the right to fire women after they married or had children, a practice that still plagues non-unionized women to this day. Single, divorced or widowed women also faced many challenges. Male co-signers, for example, were required for unmarried women to make any credit application.

Although divorce was more attainable in the 1920s than it had been in previous decades, it still carried a heavy stigma. There were few legal resources or options for women who were stuck in abusive relationships. One of my childhood friend’s entire family suffered greatly at the hands of an abusive father. His mother pled the Catholic church to grant her a divorce but she was ignored. Divorce was only allowed in situations where there was adultery, although exceptions were made in cases of bigamy or impotence. In cases of divorce, women had to prove that they were of sound mind if they wished to gain custody of their children. Divorced women were universally viewed as failures, too weak and unfit to be mothers.

Sara Carter married Coy Bayes, A. P.’s first cousin, and moved to California in 1943. The original Carter group disbanded in the late 1940s. Maybelle began performing with her daughters Helen, June and Amita as The Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle (the act was renamed The Carter Family during the 1960s).

In 1949, guitarist Chet Atkins (1924-2001) left his Knoxville, Tennessee job to join up with the Carters. Their work soon attracted attention from the Grand Ole Opry, although Atkins was originally banned from all of their shows. Opry performers thought, and rightly so, that Alkins was too good a guitarist and would make everyone else look and sound foolish. They eventually relented and Atkins became a member of the Opry in the 1950s. Atkins began working on recording sessions and he is widely credited with creating the “Nashville Sound” which, for all its popularity, sank country music to the level of pop songs from the 1960s onward.

Speaking of the Piedmont singer-songwriter Dorsey Dixon (1897-1968), historian Dr. Patrick Huber said that he “possessed a rare gift for expressing complicated … social messages in an ordinary plainspoken language that is all the more poignant for its simplicity.” The same could be said of Sara Carter. In the context of early twentieth century American culture, “Single Girl, Married Girl” is not only one of the bravest songs ever recorded and a shining tribute to Sara Carter’s great ingenuity, it is also one of the most profound vehicles for social change to come out of American roots music.

“Single Girl, Married Girl” bears some similarities to Roba Stanley’s “Single Life”, recorded in 1925 when she was just 14 years old. Both songs, rooted in Appalachian folk culture, harshly indict marriage and motherhood for its suppression of women’s personal and social mobility. The appeal of roots music to a wider audience beyond those with immediate Appalachian connections is also evident in the immediate commercial success of “Single Girl, Married Girl” After their initial Carter Family recordings were released, Sara was surprised to see that “Single Girl, Married Girl” was the best-selling song when her first royalty payment arrived.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo

Single Girl, Married Girl

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Joe Callicott’s “France chance”

It’s difficult to accept that a great bluesman like Joe Callicott lived his entire life in almost total obscurity. His date of birth is unknown, as was his age when he died in 1969. He was born and lived his whole life in the small town of Nesbit, Mississippi. Most likely illiterate, he gave no known interviews in his lifetime, wrote no letters or postcards. He married a woman and stayed with her for 52 years, until his death. He worked at the same workplace for 38 years.

Joe Callicott met up with Garfield Akers (circa 1902-1959), of whom even less is known, in the 1920’s and they became lifelong friends and partners, taking turns to play lead and second guitar as they sang at house parties, fish fries and various social events. In 1929, Callicott first appeared on four 78 rpm discs, playing second guitar to Akers. The pair were taken to Memphis by Jim Jackson (1876-1933), already a recording star and a Hernando resident and neighbour of Callicott. In 1930, Callicott also recorded two tracks with Jim Jackson.

Garfield Akers also toured with Frank Stokes on the Doc Watts Medicine Show and was active on the south Memphis circuit throughout the 1930s. No photographs of Akers are known to exist. He lived in Hernando, Mississippi, the community which also gave us several great bluesmen like Jim Jackson, George “Mojo” Buford, Frank Stokes and Robert Wilkins. For more about Frank Stokes and his music, click here. For more about Robert Wilkins and his music, click here.

Joe Calicott worked for PEMCO Aviation, a firm that specialized in passenger and freight services, for 38 years. He was an uneducated man and his work was likely handling freight, possibly in a custodial or janitorial capacity. His wages were certainly slight as Joe and his wife Sue Parrish Callicott (no data available) lived in abject poverty in a shack that a dog would think twice before entering. They had one son, Jeff.

Callicott almost completely gave up the guitar in 1959, the year Garfield Akers died, but picked it up again in the mid-1960s for his own personal enjoyment. In 1967, blues documentarian George Mitchell sought out Callicott and recorded eleven tracks with the then slowed down but still magnificent musician. These tracks would later surface in the 2003 album “Ain’t A Gonna Lie To You” Just before he died, in 1969, Callicott mentored Kenny Brown (b. 1953), a then 12-year-old white boy who skipped school to learn guitar from this unassuming master who lived just down the street. Kenny Brown went on to have a successful recording career, both as a guitarist and an artist.

Joe Callicott is buried in the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery in Nesbit, Mississippi. On April 29, 1995, a memorial headstone was placed on his grave by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, an organization that memorializes the contributions of numerous musicians from the Mississippi Delta interred in rural cemeteries without grave markers. This final tribute to Joe Callicott was supported by Kenny Brown and financed by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and John Fogerty, of the Creedence Clearwater Revival rock band. Callicott’s original marker, an ordinary paving stone which simply read “JOE”, was subsequently donated by his family to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the ceremony the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund presented Callicott’s wife Sue with a check from Arhoolie Records for the royalties earned from a CD reissue of Callicott’s recorded works.

I have chosen to play Callicott’s “France Chance”, a raunchy blues that’s odd in many ways. The title comes from a rhyming scheme used in the lyrics. The structure is also odd since Callicott starts singing on the IV chord, while the singing for almost every blues song ever written starts on the I chord. Some of the lyrics can be cryptic. “Fair brown” is a term of endearment, i.e. fair brown-skinned woman. “Brand new stream” refers to an Airstream trailer, a high-end stainless steel marvel that looks like a bullet! The best blues lyrics are those that are equally plain and profound, perfectly evoked by Callicott’s brilliant :

I kmow my doggie when I hear him bark
I know my baby when I feel in the dark

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, persussion

France Chance

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“The Heart of Saturday Night” by Tom Waits

For all the compasses in the world, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure. 

Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In 1974, at the start of his long and very successful career, Tom Waits released a sentimental and nostalgic song called “The Heart of Saturday Night.” It enclosed the early 1970s in a time capsule and immortalized that era when I became a young man, living in a small eastern Ontario rural francophone village.

Back then, my time was measured in weeks. Not hours or days, months or years, just a seemingly endless succession of weeks. I worked five days a week, more than 70% of my allotted time on this earth, trying to acquire the legal tender that would allow me to function in our capitalist society. It took a lot out of you, driving to and from Ottawa, fighting traffic, rushing through meals and trying to catch enough sleep to get you to the weekend, where time was finally your own.

L'Église Très-Sainte-Trinité de Rockland

The Très-Sainte-Trinité church in Rockland

Sundays back then were different than they are now. Most businesses were closed and everything was silent and hushed in town. Families spent time together, at church or around a dining room table and a good family meal. The
“quiet revolution” had not completely obliterated our religious values and people had not yet become the bland consumers they are now. You read a book, went for walks, called up a friend, and prepared for the hard week that forever loomed on the horizon.

But there was always Saturday, a day that stood apart from all the other days of the week. If you had a girl, you took her out. If you didn’t, you went to the places where girls congregated, invariably some kind of dance hall. For me, it was the second floor of the Clarence Creek Arena, where a disc jockey played the wonderful R&B music coming out of Stax Records in Memphis, with artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Wilson Pickett, Albert King, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and his fabulous daughter Carla Thomas.

La Légion

The Legion

In Rockland, bands from Ottawa occasionally came down to play in the main room of the Legion Hall. Local kids developed their own venues, hangouts like La Chandelle in the basement of the church, which also featured bands from Ottawa.. Across the street from the church, an old building that had served as City Hall, clerk’s office and municipal
La Bastille, avec l'ancien aréna à droite

La Bastille, with the old arena at the right

prison had also been transformed into a youth haven called La Bastille. In the east end of town, La Ste-Famille, a former elementary school building, became a thriving cultural center providing artistic activities for young and old. My fondest memory of this period is seeing the whole town come together to produce my first album – we went to Montreal to record it, had 1,000 vinyl copies printed in Ottawa and the album cover was designed at La Ste-Famille. People cut and silkscreened burlap and the ladies of the town volunteered their evenings to operate sewing machines that produced the burlap bags in which my first album was sold. It was a community project. I was so proud of my town and its wonderful people.
La Ste-Famille

La Ste-Famille


Rockland had character back then and was not the dormitory town for civil servants it has now become. There were small town attractions, like the Cartier theater run by the Béland family. The theatre showed two different films each week, one Monday to Thursday and one on the weekend, in addition to the upcoming attractions, serials and, of course, cartoons. There was also the billiard room run by the St-Jacques family. Like Lafleur’s neighbouring haberdashery, a second-generation store, the pool hall had tall tin ceilings and magnificent hardwood walls and floors, with a fragrance like no other.
Le Castel

Le Castel

When he was a teenager, my father used to go see silent movies that were screened in the back of the main room at St-Jacques, especially when they had a Charlie Chaplin movie, his favourite. On the main street at the height of l’Escale, our secondary school, there was Le Castel restaurant, which was always filled with hungry students. The benches around the walls each had a coin-operated juke box with the latest hits.

I played in a few rock groups, first with my good friends Martin Cunningham, Pierre Lafleur and Roch Tassé – we called ourselves The Ravens. To read more about The Ravens and to hear us play The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” click here. I then played with my brother Bob and my good friend Tom Butterworth in a group called The Trend. Later on, Tom and I joined a group with local singer André “Gus” Gosselin. There was also a popular group called The Elusive Butterflies (in the fashion of the day) which featured local guitarist Denis Bergeron and singer Don Boudria, who later became the Member of Parliament for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell in Jean Chrétien’s government. I also learned a lot just by watching two elite guitarists from Rockland, Denis Tessier and Gaëtan “Pete” Danis. Pete went on to play for the popular country singers Bob and Marie King and Pierre Lafleur and I followed Pete wherever he played, mostly in the hotels of Buckingham (Qc) and Bourget (Ont).

Alrick Huebener

Alrick Huebener


All the places I have mentioned are gone now, although La Ste-Famille still holds on as the Clatrence-Rockland Museum. The town’s population has tripled but there are no more attractions, no more sanctuaries for young people. Now, Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night” is indeed elusive, and more than a little nostalgic. I play the piece with Alrick Huebener, a superb bassist from Ottawa who has often helped me out with my recordings. I should also mention the assistance of Gilles Chartrand, the tireless curator of the Clarence-Rockland Museum, for the old pictures of our village.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

The Heart of Saturday Night

Photo of Alrick by Kate Morgan

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