‘It’s not a bad version of it, this one by Van,’ I thought as I drove into the Hobart city that blustery autumn day. Driving is not my favourite occupation as my mind tends to wander. At least having music on keeps me focused – to a degree. I was soon to leave the woman I loved for six weeks – enjoyable weeks, but nonetheless I knew I’d miss her very much. So with Van’s assistance there was a tinge of melancholy in my automobile that day. The car I treated myself to on retirement was in fact the first I’d owned that came with a CD player – all previous one’s had had redundant cassette affairs. Van Morrison’s oeuvre always features prominently on them, as well as on their up-market replacement.
Check out his version by all means on YouTube – but for my money nothing beats the original by its singer/songwriter author.
I first encountered this songsmith when I found his CD in a remainder bin years and years ago, at around the beginning of the nineties methinks. I examined it closely and purchased. When I had it home and slotted into my music machine, it certainly was a revelation – and I’ve been hooked on him ever since. I have now a dozen or so of his albums, including his latest, ‘Tarpaper Sky’. He also won an Emmy last year for his team-up with Emmylou Harris on ‘Old Yellow Moon’. This original album, though, was simply called ‘Collection’ – it was mainly stuff written by him for other people as he was yet to make a name for himself as a singer in his own right – that was to come later. It had such great tunes on it as ‘Ashes by Now’, ‘Stars on the Water’, ‘Shame on the Moon’, ‘Victim or a Fool’ and ‘Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight’. Hits they all were – but for others. It wasn’t until 1988 that he captured pay-dirt for himself with his ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ offering.
For me the stand-out track on ‘Collection’ was the one Van the Man was wrapping his tonsils around as I hit the Brooker during that morning drive – ‘Till I Gain Control Again’. This plaintive classic first saw the light of day on sweet Emmlou’s album, ‘Elite Hotel’, in 1975. It was soon after this that the songstress invited its writer, Rodney Crowell, to join her touring band as a guitarist – his start as a performer. He soon displayed proficiency as her back-up crooner as well. He then diversified into production – and this bought him into close proximity with country music royalty. He was hired to do the honours for Rosanne Cash’s debut (‘Right or Wrong’, 1974) – and we all know who her old man was. Producer and singer fell in love and were soon living together – much to the Man in Black’s disgust. They’d upset his Christian sensibilities. Young Rodney knew Cash senior’s views on pre-marital sex, but when he (after gaining an ample amount of Dutch courage on the flight down) joined Rosanne’s family on a Caribbean holiday and decided to take umbrage on John’s pronouncement that they were to have separate sleeping arrangement, he was soon cut down. ‘Son, I don’t know you well enough to miss you when you’re gone.’ was the great one’s pity response and the young buck pulled his horns in. Cash soon saw his qualities, musical and otherwise, so they became great mates – a relationship that lasted even after he and Rosanne split in 1991. The subsequent divorce is examined in his ‘Life is Messy’ release. Three daughters were the result of the marriage, but these days Crowell is hitched to another songbird in Claudia Church. As an addendum, one of his best tracts this century is an upbeat duet with the great Johnny Cash, ‘I Walk the Line (Revisited)’. Take to YouTube once more – it’s wonderful.
But back to the song that is the point of this exercise. It is now regarded as a country classic, with a veritable who’s who having placed their own take on the record for our ears since its gestation. I adore it. It contains some lovely couplets. There’s this –
‘You know I love to spend the morning time
Like sunlight dancing on your skin’
‘There is nothing I can hide from you
You see me better than I can’
or, because I’m male after all –
‘Out on the road that lies before me now
There are some turns where I will spin’
culminating with –
‘I only hope that you can hold me now
Till I gain control again’
It’s marvellous stuff – a true heartfelt country lament. In its words one can perceive the influence of Crowell’s tunesmith heroes – the incomparable Guy Clark and Townes van Zandt. He is quoted as saying that from the former he attained ‘…a real cold splash of what songwriting is about.’ With that knowledge he has produced songs for the ages, nonetheless of which is Keith Urban’s chart topper ‘Making Memories of Us’, originally composed as a Valentine’s Day gift for wife Claudia
It took me years till I personally felt I was in control again. It wasn’t until beautiful Leigh came into my world that I truly felt that. I have her to thank – but during that journey Rodney Crowell’s music was with me through the troughs and highs of getting to this contented point. May he keep on producing songs to live a life by.
Van Morrison singing ‘Till I Gain Control Again’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaVEKpGQkNw&feature=kp
Rodney Crowell singing ‘Till I Gain Control Again’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7i83gaDmyg
Rodney Crowell and Johnny Cash singing ‘I Walk the Line (Revisited)’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjbqMy3g46E
Keith Urban singing ‘Making memories of Us’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSgL01PuAjc
Rodney Crowell’s website = http://rodneycrowell.com/