Category Archives: Music

Me & Gregg, Hanging at the Stone Toad…Or Pony. Whichever.

Laid Back (Gregg Allman album)

Laid Back (Gregg Allman album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in college, we used to listen to live music at this little dive bar called The Stone Toad, a couple miles outside of Hattiesburg on the highway leading to the coast.  Well, some people called it the Stone Toad and others called it the Stone Pony, but I think the Pony camp was just getting confused with Linda Ronstadt’s band.  The truth is, by the time we were frequenting the place in the early 80s, it was no longer officially named Stone anything, and had changed ownership and names multiple times, but it was forever known by the college crowd as The Stone something.

One night, believe it or not, Gregg Allman gave a concert at the Stone Whatever.  I guess it was a low point in his career.  This was post-Cher, post-Laid Back, pre-the-comeback-with “I’m no Angel”, and pre-people-respecting-what-we-now-call-classic-rock.  The place was packed to the rafters, but there were two contingents in the audience: the people that knew what they were about to receive and were truly grateful, and those that were there just to dance and drink beer.

The “stage”, if you could call it that, was a little homemade-looking structure, barely rising off the floor.  At first, the dancers, oblivious to the greatness before us, actually got out on the tiny dance floor and blocked our view of the great one and company.  The listeners, of which I was obviously a part, slowly infiltrated the dancer-zone and sat on the dance floor immediately in front of Gregg at the edge of the stage.  Eventually, the dancers were either relegated to the perimeter of the floor or they gave up altogether and sat down to listen.  As it wound up, I was situated right in the front with a direct view of Gregg as he performed.  Unbelievable.

During a break, I was stuck in a gridlock of frat boys, trying to get to the bar for a beer, when I turned slightly and spotted, directly behind me, a sheet of long, blond hair.  Turning a little more, I saw, I swear by Odin, the tall, Viking-esque Gregg Allman – scrunched right up behind me; hedged in by the crowd.  He was going to the bar to get a beer too.  That’s right – not a flunky, not some groupie or hanger-on, but Gregg himself was going to the bar, in the midst of a bunch of frat boys (and me) to get his own beer.  Nobody was saying anything to him, no one was hounding him for an autograph – nothing.  Unbelievable again, I know.

So I’m basically crushed right up next to him, looking eye to eye with the man, and I say, startled as heck, “Oh, hey.”

To which he responds, “Hey”.

And from there we have a stilted conversation.  Him being a rock star guy and me being almost stunned speechless, it was kind of rough at first.  I weakly, lamely murmur something like, “I really love your music”.

He comes back with, “Thanks”.  Then he helps me greatly by saying, “Ya goin’ t’school down here?”

At this point, I proceed to bore Gregg Allman with all the details of my major and my future career plans.  I must say, he feigned polite interest very well.  Shortly after my presentation on the field of sociology and its many career opportunities (Ha!  Naïve child.), the crowd shifted and we were separated.  When we were back in our spots, he at his keyboards and me sitting on the floor at the edge of the stage, and he resumed playing, it felt like we were bonded, and we had a lot of eye contact.  Yep.  That’s right.  Extensive eye contact with Gregg Allman.  While he was singing.  Let’s have a moment of silence and just let that sink in.

…………….

So I had come to the Stone Whatever with a group of friends, and the guy that had driven us suddenly got all grouchy and weird acting and made us leave as soon as the concert was over.  Of course, I later figured out that he was a little perturbed because what appeared to be an ancient Nordic love spell had been cast upon all the girls to whom he had so nicely and without ulterior motives (yeah, right) offered a ride.

For a long time, I bitterly regretted that I was snatched from the hand of fate in such a way, but after I read Gregg’s autobiography, I came to terms with the fact that it was probably for the best that somebody got me out of there and quick.  Darn it.  Apparently, Gregg was something of a….ummm…ladies’ man in those days.  Oh well, it makes a great, amazing story with which to bore my teenage daughter as I sit here in my recliner.  And it was without a doubt, one of the best concerts and best evenings of my life.

And I want to say that Gregg Allman was the nicest, most polite, down to earth and approachable “rock god” imaginable.  As you may know, my dear follower, I read a lot of biographies of musicians, and I always enjoy learning about the people that make the music I love, but Gregg’s autobiography, “My Cross to Bear”,  was one of the most enjoyable for me – because it seemed like it could have been written by the guy next door.  In fact, I discovered that our paths have sort of crossed quite a few times over the years.  For instance, it seems that Gregg wrote “Melissa” at the little crummy “fishing motel” where I used to stay with my parents as a kid when we went deep sea fishing.  Very cool.

gregg allman book

You may recall that in an earlier post, I mentioned that my three favorite British blues-rock singers are the Marriott-Plant-Rodgers trinity.  Well, as far as American blues-rock singers, there’s only one that stands head and shoulders above all, and that’s Gregg Allman…and the Allman Brothers Band is my favorite American band, hands down…and my mousepad has a picture of Duane Allman playing slide guitar on it…

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I think that says it all.

I can’t listen to this beautiful song now without thinking about that little dumpy fishing motel where it was written, and the night I was almost another notch…I mean that fantastic concert.  With the marvelous Dickey Betts and the supremely talented Warren Haynes…here’s “Melissa”….

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Journey Out to the Fire Tower and Run With the Devil

Back in those storied days of the late seventies, we had an ancient fire tower out in the county, which was the ultimate destination on all those nights of strip-cruising and bowling-alley-sitting. The fire tower really belonged to the county kids, though, and you can imagine their anger and disdain when the feather haired, smart ass suburbanites with their shiny smart ass Camaros and dolled-up smart ass girls (me) rolled up and took over the prime spot for the keg and bonfire. Many a fight resulted, and a lot of other nefarious (we thought) activities took place there too, causing some of the smart asses, both male and female (not me), to burst into tears of shame and remorse at the Smart Ass Youth Rallies sponsored by our Smart Ass Suburbanite Church, which we all attended. These outbursts naturally attracted the attention of the smug, smart ass suburbanite parents, who tried to get the fire tower torn down or locked up. Never happened, though, thank Eddie, cuz it was also the scene of some of the most memorable events and fun times of our smart assed, long lamented youth.

My fire tower career started in ninth grade. You may recall that as a ninth grade band nerd, I first served as a (inappropriate slang)-blocker for the majorette, riding silently in the back seat of the cool senior’s Camaro, upholding my sworn duty of preventing the dude from driving that long road through the piney woods. By January, I had gotten my braces off and was no longer a (inappropriate slang)-blocker, but had been promoted to shotgun. I required no blocker of any kind. I could take care of myself,  thank you very much, and the fire tower, steeped as it was in mystery, drama, and excitement, called to me like a siren.

Only the most foolhardy and risk-seeking actually climbed the rickety tower once we got out there. Mainly, it was just the most testosterone-maddened boys, a couple of the um….best girl-softball-players, and me. The steps were rotting, and the bravest of the dudes went first, testing each step for the rest of us. Sometimes we would have to skip over a step, which being only 5’3″, was absolutely terrifying and stupid of me and I could have fallen to my death at any minute. I have wondered many times what caused me to do such a crazy, risky thing, and I can only come up with one answer – I wanted to impress the boys. That’s right – I risked my life for male attention. Let’s let that sink in for a minute.

******

And after I came to this conclusion, I realized something even worse – those boys didn’t give a damn if I could climb the tower or not. So the bottom line is that I risked my life for nothing. Nice.

*******

Two things happened at the very same time that I started fire towering – in January, 1978, Journey’s Infinity came out, and in February….wait for it…..wait for it….you know it…..Van Halen, Van Halen dropped like an A-bomb on the suburbs. We had a lot of fantastic music then, as you know, and as I’ve talked about ad infinitum, but it’s these two albums that take me back to the tower, and that I imagine playing in the background as I make that dangerous climb over and over in my mind. We were ready to run with the devil, all of us fire towerers, and this song was our fuel.

And of course, this is what you listened to once you ditched your blocker…

Fire tower

Sittin’ up there, so smug, feathers still perfect. What a smart ass. 😉

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A Summer of Pilgrimage, Part II: The Old Home Place

I’ve talked a lot about my Cajun granny and the swamp, and about my seventeen cousins and our lives up in Jackson, but I’ve been hiding something from you. Something about the Scotch-Irish side of my family – my mother’s side. I know you are shocked and disappointed in me, but you will understand when I say one simple word…

Plantation.

In the years following the war, and you know which one I’m talking about, they tried to keep it going as one large enterprise. I know this sounds like a page out of the “Gone With the Wind” playbook, but go right ahead and picture women, old men, and children in tattered clothes trying to maintain a decaying house, a few livestock, and a garden. So a generation or two later when there were enough men, they divided up the land, gave each male member of the vast, extended family a chunk, and I mean a big chunk, because the original plantation covered a good portion of the county, and the family began breaking apart to run their own farms.

They used the lumber from the “out buildings” to build their own small farm houses. The big old plantation house was still standing when my mother was a child in the thirties, but after the war, and this time I mean WWII, they finally tore it down because it was too old and enormous and run-down and they couldn’t afford the repairs. They say there are pictures of it somewhere, but I’ve never seen them. The cousins and I used to hike back up into the woods for miles, all across Great Uncle Royce’s land, then Great Uncle Herbert’s land, etc., and go play around at the patch of rubble and dirt that everyone called “the old home place”. Then we would go to the creepy old family cemetery and hide behind the gravestones and scare each other.

My mother was the baby of her large family – she’s eighty now, and is the only one left of seven brothers and sisters. Some of the cousins are gone too. We don’t go “down home” that much anymore, now that almost everyone is gone. But for her eightieth birthday this summer, I took her down. Someone else, not even family, owns her Daddy’s little used-plantation-lumber farm house now, so we couldn’t go inside, and you can’t get down to the old home place or the family cemetery without a four wheeler, so all we got to do was drive by places – the farm house, her school, the church, and the general vicinity of the old home place.

Here’s a picture of the farm house where my mother grew up and where I played as a child. House is on the left; smoke house is on the right. There were also fields, gardens, pastures, a hen house, a well, an outhouse, a barn with a hayloft, etc. To the right behind the smoke house, one mule pasture away, is a clear, rocky creek that I used to swim in as a kid.

Farm

If you want to get a pretty clear image of what Mississippi looked like in the old days, you gotta watch “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, because they did a remarkable job of recreating the atmosphere. The clothes, the accents, the music, the food, the extreme, slightly ominous religiosity, the bizarre and deeply entrenched racism, the overall weirdness, and the look of the land itself – all of it is absolutely spot-on. Here’s a fine example…

I might have played this song before, but I’m playing it again because it was my Paw Paw’s favorite song. When the crops would fail, he would take the train out of McComb-city, as he called it, to New Orleans, about an hour away, to work on the docks and live in a Creole boarding house, sending money home each week. He loved trains…

My cousins and I used to spend weeks on the farm in the summer, helping to pick and shell peas and butter beans, canning vegetables and making jam and so on. The little Baptist church would have a week-long revival every summer, with a lot of singing and eating. We sang in “parts” – the men taking one part, the women the other. I would get mad at my cousins when they wouldn’t sing their parts right. I took it seriously, you see, and sang my part with all my might. Here’s one of the songs we sang over and over, “I’ll Have a New Body”, performed here by the great Hank Williams. The cousins and I would practice singing our parts while we were hiking to the old home place…

Mama is the little one.

Mama is the little one.

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Spotlight on the Rock and Roll Supermom: Marissa Bergen

bergenmarissa_1396834863_76

I’m extremely fortunate to have a few loyal friends and supporters of my little blog, especially considering that I have no particular background or expertise in music, about which I am ostensibly writing. All I really have is a burning passion for music and a strange desire to spill my guts to the world, no matter how painfully humiliating that may be. But the same can’t be said for the queen of all my blog buddies, rocker chick extraordinaire, Marissa Bergen. I mean, she obviously has the burning passion thing and the spill her guts thing too, but she also actually has some experience in the music biz that doesn’t involve playing the flute in band and taking piano lessons from the beehived Mrs. Sullivan. But enough cheap, sneaky plugs for my blog, let’s talk to Marvelous Marissa…

1. Tell us the story of how you started your band, Sisters Grimm – did you and your sister take music lessons, what motivated you, did your parents help and support you, etc.

Whenever someone asks me a question about what motivated me in music, I often recall a quote made by, I believe Nancy Wilson (although it could have been Ann) who said something like “All the girls wanted to marry the Beatles, we wanted to be the Beatles.”

My father was in the music industry and had a lot of successful accomplishments as a musician and producer. He actually had a brief stint with Wings. I guess growing up with that influence helped put my sister and I in a rock n’ roll direction, but my father began pulling away from our family when we were very young, until he eventually had no connection at all. So it was up to my poor mother to carry our guitars around and deal with our off key singing. She also gave us all of her vintage Beatles albums when we were in preschool and, yes, she was very supportive.

2. What were some of the best gigs you played and best experiences you had with the band?

Since we took our music career from New York to Los Angeles, I could list many music clubs in both cities that are awesome to play, but nothing compares to going on tour to a city where you don’t know anyone, and you’re being asked to sign CDs, T-shirts, various body parts… Probably the best of these experiences was in Savannah, GA. I remember when we got there someone had written ‘Sisters Grimm rocks’ on one of the paper towel dispensers in the bathroom. How awesome is that?

3. Tell us the story of how you moved to California – did you have a plan in place, did you have any connections in the music business, etc.

At the time we moved, Giuliani had just come into office and he had a huge campaign to clean up New York which meant closing many of the local rock clubs. A lot of New York musicians saw ‘an end’ coming and Los Angeles was a logical move, so we knew plenty of other musicians who also migrated from New York and it wasn’t hard to make connections. We didn’t really have a hard and fast plan as to where exactly we would live, work or gig, but we had people to stay with while we were looking for an apartment and the rest came together rather quickly.

4. How and why did you start blogging and writing poetry? Also, were you always into writing, or was this an interest that developed later?

Yes, I have always written. Obviously, the most notable outlet for my poetry was my songwriting, which was very ‘lyrics’ oriented. When I became a mom and we decided not to do the band anymore, I didn’t write for years. My husband was the one who suggested I start a blog and I guess I’m lucky that all those ideas and words were still there waiting for me.

5. You are a very prolific writer, maintaining a steady output of high quality work, sustained over a long period of time. Very impressive! How do you accomplish this?

I guess that is how my work appears to you and other readers, which I suppose is an intended effect. When I think of myself, I think I am like a miser who is creating ‘gems’ (or not) which I dole out very slowly and very stingily. I write every day, but if I published every day, it would probably be a bunch of crap. Also, I try to do the Word Press Weekly Challenges and Yeah Write Challenges every week. The writing prompts help.

6. You also cover a wide range of topics in your poetry, from family life, to the rocker chick life, to the unexpectedly profound and poignant. You draw deeply from the creative well, so to speak. How do you come up with such diverse and creative material?

Just my latent schizophrenic tendencies coming out I guess! But seriously, I’m just hard on myself that way. I think about what I want to write about, but I will abandon a topic if it is too similar to one I wrote about in the past. If I write a poem that is sad, I will try to make the next few poems funny ones to offset that. Most of my writing comes from real life experience.

7. It’s great to see that you are involved in your kids’ musical development through the School of Rock. Can you tell us more about this program and your involvement with it?

Yes, all part of a dastardly plan to have my children vicariously live out my rock n’ roll dreams! No, actually since my husband and I were both involved in the music industry, we were of a similar mind to get our children playing music as well. Currently our son attends the School of Rock, one of the many rock schools that seem to be getting more and more prevalent. The school includes lessons and performance. Along with my not so gentle prodding, he’s turning into a little rock star!

My daughter just did her first term of rock summer camp and it seems she has now been vaccinated by the victrola needle and is hooked on rock n’ roll! What have I done?!

Actually I should mention here that there is a nonprofit organization called the Rock School Scholarship Fund which helps lower and middle class families with the funding of rock school tuition. My husband and I have been very active with this organization for years and it has helped us become even more involved in the rock school community and it’s wonderful teachers and parents. You can learn more about the organization here: http://rockschoolfund.org/.

Thank you, Marissa!

One of the many things I admire about Marissa is her raw, cut-the-crap honesty. I like to see that, especially from a woman, because it’s kinda rare. And it’s powerful.  Reading Marissa’s poetry inspires me, because this kind of uncompromising artistic integrity is something that I want to accomplish in my own writing. In this little interview clip, you will see the stunningly beautiful Sisters Grimm – Marissa and her sister Victoria – talking about being in a girl band. And grrl power. 😉

Be sure to visit Marissa’s blog, “Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth” (great title, Marissa)!

And one more thing – why do we need girl bands and grrl power, as young Marissa called it? I think a great man said it best…

Support Girl Bands!

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Rocker Prof.

As you may know, I taught at a local college for many years. I actually still teach for them, but I do it online from my living room, so it’s different now. I teach from the comfort of my recliner. But in those days, the classroom I used was way across campus from my office, and I was always running late because students were continually stopping me as I made my way to class. Well, I say it’s because of that, but I’m sure my overall ditziness contributed to my tardiness too. But don’t tell anybody that. Anyway, I had to get to class within fifteen minutes of the start of the period, because students were allowed to leave if I didn’t show up within that time. If that happened, I was in big trouble with the Chair, so it was a stressful situation for me.

Picture, if you will, me running across campus, butt swaying dangerously atop my customary spikes, carrying messy stacks of papers and an old beat up leather satchel, students jogging alongside me, frantically asking me questions about their grades or trying to make small talk and be a teacher’s pet. I finally make it to the lecture hall with only seconds to spare, and running down the corridor, in order to prevent students from leaving, I start loudly singing “Here I am, rock you like a hurricane” to the accompaniment of the good-natured moans and groans of students that thought they were about to get a free pass from class that day. I did it every semester, multiple times. Countless times. It was kind of my theme song. Every semester, students would respond with stunned silence the first time it happened, then the next time they would smile a little, then the next time they would laugh, and by the end of the term, they considered me their rockinest BFF, I think. lol.

On my last day of on-campus teaching, as I walked down the corridor toward my classroom, I heard the familiar tune, growing louder and louder the closer I got.  Yes, someone had brought in a boom box, and they played my theme song as a going away gift for me. The sweeties. That rocked me like a hurricane. The memory of it rocks me still.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Memoir, Music, Teaching

The G-L-O-R-I-A Contest.

A couple days ago, I read a post about Van Morrison’s beautiful rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Don’t Look Back” on Thom Hickey’s “The Immortal Jukebox” blog, and I’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop ever since. But late last night, in the midst of a morass of Morrisony, Hookery blues here in the purple room, with the heavily framed Beatles picture hanging precariously above my head, which is probably gonna be the ever-s0-apropos cause of my long-expected rock and roll demise, something inside me belligerently revolted against too much bluesiness with six little letters…G…L…O…R…I…A.

A garage band standard due to the fact that it’s easy to play and easy to sing and ad-lib and can be stretched out indefinitely, it was written by Mr. Morrison in 1964. It was just a toss off, a B side, and it’s turned out to be one of Van’s most enduring songs, covered by a long, long list of well known bands. But this is not just because it’s easy to play. It’s also dramatic as hell and can be as sexy and bizarre as the singer has the nerve to make it. I guess I probably listened to the majority of “Gloria” covers on YouTube in the wee hours last night, and I now feel qualified to act as a “Gloria” judge. So ya ready? Let’s have a contest. She comes around here, just around midnight…

The prize for most uniquely mellow “Gloria” goes to the Dead. Got of bunch of Glorias in this clip too, lol…

Most bad ass version goes to the master. Just fantastic…

The Doors get the prize for dirtiest version, natch. My favorite part is the way Jim does the feigned interest in conversation with Gloria when she comes up to his room. That kills me every time, lol. This is not the uncensored, dirty version, though. I chickened out. The Spinster Cousins would listen to it and then tell my mother I have a dirty blog, which may have already happened, actually. But you can find it easily on YouTube. Heh heh.

The prize for overall weirdest version goes, of course, to Patti Smith. The song as done by a woman takes on a whole different vibe and underlying girl-power meaning…

And while we’re at it, let’s do my favorite Patti song. Maybe this could be Gloria’s story. Yes, I think it could be. We seldom get to hear the story from Gloria’s viewpoint. So…C’mon, now, try and understand, the way I feel under your command…

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A Summer of Pilgrimage, Part I: The Hodge Podge Shop

My kid started back to school this morning, so I’m in a reflective mood today, thinking back over the summer, which flew by at record speed, I think. It’s been a pretty significant summer, full of positive changes, like the fierce exercise program I talked about here. And, by the way, the fierce exercise is paying off in a big way – I had my yearly physical last week, and the doctor walked in the exam room holding my report with a big smile on his face and said, “this is what health looks like”. Yep, all my numbers have improved greatly, so I highly recommend fierce exercise if you’re of a mind to improve your health. But anyway, enough about me, let’s talk about me.

As a kid and young teen, I spent a lot of time riding around my neighborhood on my bike, especially in the summer. I would spend hours just riding around, going up to the Tote-Sum store for Now or Laters, riding by my crushes’ houses, visiting various dogs that I had made friends with, etc. But around age fourteen or so, my favorite thing to do was to ride up to the junk store.

Hodge Podge

It appears to be called the “Short Stop” now, but back in the seventies, it was called “The Hodge Podge Shop” and it was run by a nice old lady who would give me peppermints and let me rummage all day through the junk, although she knew I wasn’t going to buy anything. The place was musty and dusty and marvelous, chock full of odds and ends that would probably be worth a fortune now – collectibles and memorabilia dating back to the early years of the century, I now realize. There was an old trunk full of letters, cards, postcards, and ancient photos in one corner, and I would sit for hours, sucking on my peppermint, reading the letters, looking at the pictures, and making up stories in my head about the people in them.

But to get to The Hodge Podge Shop, I had to ride my bike a couple miles down a road that cut through the fields – there were no houses around and it wasn’t heavily traveled, so this was a forbidden activity. Naturally, I thought that was a ridiculous rule, so I paid no attention to it, but this meant that I couldn’t tell my mother where I was going on my Hodge Podging days. This is the road…

Road pic

So one day I was riding my bike down the road on the way to the Hodge Podge Shop when a carload of older teenage boys began messing with me. At first, it was done jokingly, nothing too bad or scary, just slowing down and catcalling, no big deal. I just kept my eyes straight ahead and kept on going. They eventually drove off and I thought it was over, but they came back. This time, there was a different vibe about them. I think one of the boys in the back seat was the main instigator and evil influence, because the whole time they were harassing me, while the other boys were cutting up and laughing and making crude comments, he was just repeatedly saying, in a low voice, “get her”.

As things got scarier, I frantically tried to figure out what to do. My first instinct was to jump off of my bike and run off across the fields, and I almost did it, which would have been a serious mistake, I think. Fortunately, something stopped me from doing that and I stayed on my bike and kept my head down, thinking it was best to avoid eye contact, but at one point, I turned my head slightly and looked straight into the eyes of the guy in the front passenger seat. I think he saw the terror and misery in my eyes, and I think I saw that he had a soul.

That’s when the epic battle between good and evil started. The guy with the soul started shouting, “just go; leave her alone”. The car pulled up ahead and I thought they were leaving, but then they stopped. A car door opened in the back. Then a car door opened in the front – on the passenger side. I’m pretty sure my fate hung in the balance. Since they were stopped ahead of me, I turned around and I rode as fast as I could in the other direction without looking back. But behind me I heard an eruption of angry profanity and the sound of someone being thrown hard up against the side of a car.

The fight must have turned out right and good must have prevailed, because no one came after me and I made it back home safely. I couldn’t tell my parents what had happened to me, because I wasn’t supposed to be on that road in the first place, and I never again went down that road or re-visited the Hodge Podge Shop. Until this summer.

Dan Fogelburg. I say that name and I think most people, if they know who he is, instantly have this connotation of cheesy, overly sentimental pop music. If so, that’s probably because they are thinking about his later albums, because he did kind of lose his touch a little, in my opinion, and drifted too far into saccharin sentimentality. But his first two albums, Home Free and Souvenirs,  were deeply emotional masterpieces. Souvenirs had back-up vocals by Don Henley, Graham Nash, Glenn Frey, and Joe Walsh.  Mr. Walsh produced the album as well. The whole album, which is so aptly named for a pilgrimage, is great, and I recommend you listen to it if you’re of a mind to, but this is my favorite song from it, hands down.

Better change before the sun goes down. Better raise your fortresses or tear them down…

 

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