Jackie DeShannon - vocals; Ry Cooder - guitar; David Cohen - guitar
The Ash Grove will long be remembered as the West Coast epicenter of the traditional folk and blues revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As such, the Los Angeles venue was a critical component not only in the careers of many important folk and blues artists, but as an educational environment to many younger musicians and songwriters, providing them with firsthand exposure to the best of the best in an intimate setting. Also a focal point for progressive thought, the Ash Grove would have an equally strong impact on the cultural and political perspective of these young emerging artists, laying the groundwork for what would become the rock music revolution of the 1960s. The Ash Grove's high musical standards and owner Ed Pearl's vision of facilitating interaction between young and old musicians made the venue a hotbed of creativity. Many important careers were launched on the Ash Grove stage, and the recording presented here is one of the many fine examples. Recorded on September 3, 1963, this remarkably high quality recording not only captures a 19-year-old Jackie DeShannon, but she is accompanied by one of the most respected guitar players of 20th century, Ry Cooder, then a mere 16 years old!
A year before DeShannon would gain great exposure opening for the Beatles on their first American tour and even longer before Cooder's trademark slide work would grace recordings by Captain Beefheart, Taj Mahal, Randy Newman, and the Rolling Stones, this recording helps illuminate what made the Ash Grove so special. It is a prime example of the torch being passed, and although these teenaged musicians are performing material that is not their own, they are encouraged and taken seriously. Fans of either artist will no doubt be astounded that such a high quality recording even exists, but it is the performance itself that will delight listeners.
Jackie DeShannon began her career as a pop-rockabilly singer in the late 1950s, but she soon developed into one of Los Angeles' most successful young songwriters, scoring hits for Irma Thomas, the Fleetwoods and Brenda Lee. DeShannon's early singles, "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room," which utilized circular, jangling guitar lines, would become even bigger hits for the Searchers, further establishing her reputation. In retrospect, these songs now represent the initial approach to what would develop into folk-rock by the mid-1960s. However, first and foremost, Deshannon was a gifted singer who defied classification, equally comfortable with traditional folk and blues, as she would become with pop, soul, rock, or country styles. Much like her self-titled 1963 album (often referred to as her folk album), this performance reveals DeShannon's gift for choosing material. Although all the songs are covers here, several dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, Deshannon delivers each song with determination and flare, with the 16-year-old Cooder providing remarkably tasteful accompaniment throughout.
Like the earlier set from this evening (also available at Wolfgang's), this second set provides insight into both DeShannon and Cooder's roots and also places a heavy emphasis on traditional blues, always a popular fixture at the Ash Grove. The set begins shortly in progress with Deshannon and her two accompanists, David Cohen and 16-year-old Ry Cooder performing one of the most familiar songs on the blues revival circuit, Richard Jones' classic 8-bar blues, "Trouble In Mind." A song they learned off the Harry Smith Anthology, "James Alley Blues", follows this. Originally recorded by Louisiana musician Richard "Rabbit" Brown in 1927, this song not only shines a positive light on DeShannon's interpretive abilities, but also demonstrates Cooder striving to grasp difficult and highly nuanced guitar techniques, even at this early stage. Next up is a lengthier exploration of "Betty And Dupree," which allows these young musicians to explore their interpretive abilities. This number showcases the tasteful interplay between Cohen and Cooder's acoustic guitars, and both take individual solos. They stay fairly reverent to the traditional approach here, but also convey originality in their interpretation. This song certainly inspired many interpretations and was indeed the basis for many other songs, including Robert Johnson's "Four Until Late" (later covered by Cream) and the Grateful Dead's "Dupree's Diamond Blues."
The set gets progressively more interesting as it goes on, and DeShannon fans will delight in her interpretation of Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave Can Hold Me Down" and a traditional folk song that would become a monstrous influence and a major hit the following year when Eric Burdon and the Animals amplified it, "House of the Rising Sun." This is followed by the traditional ballad, "Frankie and Albert," a classic tale of cheating, jealousy, murder, and incarceration, most often associated with Mississippi John Hurt.
DeShannon introduces Cooder and Cohen to an enthusiastic round of applause, before concluding the set with "Dink's Song," a very popular blues number on the early '60s folk circuit. Covered by many, including Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan, this song was initially preserved by historian John Lomax, who, for the Smithsonian, recorded a woman named "Dink" singing this song as she washed clothes in a Southern levee camp. The year was 1908. Lomax returned the following year to re-record her and investigate the song further, but was told she had passed away, thus the title "Dink's Song" (although it is often referred to as "Fare Thee Well"). Despite being young white musicians, DeShannon, Cohen, and Cooder's love for this music is obvious, and what they lack in authenticity, they make up for with honest, intelligent enthusiasm, and this final number is a fine example. As one can clearly hear before the tape stock ran out, the audience was clamoring for more. Tacked on the end is a brief snippet of DeShannon, Cohen, and Cooder playing Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," also found on this master reel.
Predating Cooder's recording debut with the Rising Sons by several years and long before DeShannon would score a number one hit with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic "What the World Needs Now" and her own "Put A Little Love in Your Heart," this recording is a fascinating example of two legendary artists very early on, just beginning to feel their way toward greatness. In the case of Ry Cooder, this recording captures one of America's most influential guitarists at the dawn of his career.
Written by Alan Bershaw