Gut Rumbles

April 16, 2006

the horse's mouth?

Do you believe that songwriters perform their own work better than anyone else can? I don't, and when I read this post, the first person who came to MY mind was Kris Kristofferson. Eric says:

… if you like a song, search out the writer…. and then listen to a recording of THEM playing it…. playing it as they meant it to be heard…. If you liked the song before, then more than likely you will LOVE the song after you have heard how it was supposed to be played…. often with just a guitar and a singer on stage.

I beg to disagree. Kris Kristofferson has written some GREAT songs, but he butchers them when he plays them himself. He's a half-assed guitarist, he sings as if someone is wringing his neck and he can't carry his own got-dam tunes. Just listen to HIS version of "Sunday Morning, Coming Down," and then compare it with the version done by Johnny Cash. Hear the difference? Good. I rest my case.

The same is true of townes van zandt. Back in my semi-professional guitar-playing days, I had a couple of Van Zandt's albums and I performed several of his songs. But he wasn't much of a singer, in MY humble opinion. He songs were damned good, but he was no all-star musician or vocalist.

If you don't believe me, just listen to Van Zandt play "Pancho and Lefty," then listen to Emmylou Harris perform the same song. Try it. See what I mean?

I'm not saying that these songwriters aren't highly talented people. They are. But just as some people have a face for radio and not television, Kris and Townes have voices for songwriting, not performing. I could name numerous other people who fall into this odd category. Sometimes you can watch them perform on "The Bluebird Cafe" or "Austin City Limits" and you'll see what I mean. You'll sometimes cringe at just how badly they can treat their own work.

I do not put John Prine in that category. Something about his gravelly voice and his simple guitar playing just fits with the kind of songs he writes. I like his style--- it shines because it ISN'T polished. Kinda like a grandma moses. But John Prine is an exception.

A LOT of good songwriters can't perform their own work worth a shit. Can YOU name one?


Bob Dylan

Posted by: Bobonthebellbuoy on April 16, 2006 02:00 PM

Burt Bacharach

Posted by: Sandy on April 16, 2006 03:19 PM

... as I said in the post, they may not have the best voices or be the best on their instruments... but you DO get a different perspective on the songs when they are played by the songwriters.. good or bad...

... and last night in the garage, Townes' version of "Pancho and Lefty" was the best I've ever heard.... not the most melodic, sure... not the most grizzled... but the best...

Posted by: Eric on April 16, 2006 03:40 PM


Posted by: Catfish on April 16, 2006 04:44 PM

Ha -- like I said in response to Eric's post -- just find, somewhere, anywhere, if any even exist anymore, a copy of "Jim Webb sings Jim Webb". c. 1968. He wrote some good stuff and was covered by a LOT of famous names, but this album is some of the most horrendous singing I have ever heard. Now granted, 30 years later, his website shows that he's supposedly getting good reviews currently for covering his own stuff, but, man, that first album was just awful. Probably poor production as well, but eessshhh. But now we wanna hear Rob Smith sing Rob Smith! (and I still, sentimentally, like KK's first couplea albums -- despite the less than stellar voice, the lyrics spoke to me in a way that overcame his voice and playing -- so there!)

Posted by: Marianne on April 16, 2006 05:02 PM

Kris K......... nort worth anything except for his writing........ singing, acting...both are shit.

Posted by: Jean on April 16, 2006 07:14 PM

it's Sunday morning coming down, not monday morning

Posted by: martin on April 16, 2006 07:46 PM

Bonnie Raitt.

Posted by: Pascale Soleil on April 16, 2006 09:44 PM

Tom Petty

Posted by: Kenway on April 16, 2006 11:51 PM


Posted by: Catfish on April 17, 2006 01:22 AM

I put Townes in the same category as John Prine. Which songs of his did your perform?

Emmy Lou sings prettier ("Angel From Montgomery", "Pancho and Lefty"). I don't think either of those songs were meant to be pretty.For me, it depends on the song.

Now, Patsy Cline's version of "Crazy" just blows the rest away (including Willie's),

Can we at least agree that no one other than Doc Watson should ever perform "Deep River Blues" ?

Posted by: oldtom on April 17, 2006 07:19 AM

How about the opposite... nobody does John Hiatt songs better than John Hiatt...

IMHO, of course! (Oh, wait... take out the "aitch")

Posted by: John V. on April 17, 2006 08:20 AM

michael murphy

hoyt axotn's version of geronimos cadillac is far better!

Posted by: leo on April 17, 2006 08:56 AM

John Prine? Simple guitar playing? Maybe simple chords but getting his finger pick just right is tough. At least for me it is. I have probably practiced Hello in There 1000 times and I almost have it right. Although what I can do sounds good.

You are correct in that nobody can do a Prine song like Prine can.

Posted by: Titan Mk6B on April 17, 2006 09:53 AM

Have to beg to disagree strenuously about Van Zandt's version of "Pancho and Lefty." I put that in the top 10 folk songs of all time, his rendition. Emmylou's is great, if you like sweet and over-produced.

By the way, I saw him perform that song at the old Last Resort (before it was a restaurant) in Athens in 1973. Tremendous show!

Posted by: rivlax on April 17, 2006 10:02 AM

Damn, rivlax! I spend many a wonderful evening at The Last Resort when I was attending the University of Georgia.

You just gave me a real nostalgia blast.

Posted by: Acidman on April 17, 2006 10:12 AM

Billie Joe Shaver. And, like rivlax, I'm kinda partial to Van Zandt's rendition of Pancho and Lefty.

Posted by: Arcs on April 17, 2006 10:59 AM

Robert Hunter, poet for The Grateful Dead.

Posted by: dom on April 17, 2006 11:08 AM

I'm with Eric on this one. I like the grittiness of a lot of songwriters and often like the originals better than the covers. There's only a couple of songwriters I can think of where the covers are better. I'd agree with Kris K, and also add Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen to the list.

Posted by: Libby on April 17, 2006 11:19 AM

Neil Young, writes great, can't sing worth a crap.

Posted by: Jilly on April 17, 2006 12:59 PM

I think John D. Laudermilk falls into your category, Acidman.

I really enjoy his performances, but when other's record his stuff it's much better.

Tom T. Hall is just the opposite.

Posted by: Gramps on April 17, 2006 02:02 PM

What about The Hag? Merle Haggard that is.
He's listed as singer and composer on :
Are the good times really over
Mama tried
Okie from Muskogee
Fighting side of me and several other of my favorites. He ain't quite Johnny Cash, but he's good. He can make you smile and cry.

Oh then there's Rob's old theme song, I think I'll just stay here a draank

Posted by: Ivan Ivanovich on April 17, 2006 09:41 PM

I was in the Army in 1962/1963, stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma....The big record played over and over on the radio (and the favorite song of my unit) was by John D. Laudermilk or Loudermilk and I think it was called "Milk Train". Has anyone heard of it as I would love to get a copy.

Posted by: Bill Walsh on November 6, 2006 03:10 PM
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