Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die

This is about the song, not the album…Love the story and the way the words just flow in this song by Traffic. There have been many versions of this song. Jethro Tull has covered it but this is the version I’ve always known.

While researching this song there is not a lack of information. Everyone has an opinion on this one. The song was off Traffic’s album of the same name. The album peaked at #5 in the Billboard 200 in 1970 but the song did not chart.

 

https://musicaficionado.blog/2016/02/15/john-barleycorn-by-traffic/

When you first listen to the song you may think that you landed in the midst of a Middle Ages inquisition session. The lyrics describe all kinds of brutal methods inflicted by three men upon a poor fellow named John Barleycorn. However, a closer look reveals that the distressing lyrics are actually a metaphor to the process applied to barley in order to produce beer and whiskey. While it has its roots in old folklore tales about the Corn God and religious symbolism, it is really a satire on legally prohibiting the production of alcoholic beverages while still needing the drink to get on with everyday life, as revealed in the last verse:

The huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker he can’t mend kettle nor pot,
Without a little Barleycorn

but there are many interpretations.” 

This is an old British folk song that railed against the ludicrousness of prohibition. The joke was that all those “brave” teetotalers who claimed to be doing the work of the Lord were actually hypocrites and were ruining that work, because, as the lyric sums up, in the end, no one can do the rudimentary work necessary to build and grow the land “without a little barleycorn.”

John Barleycorn : A personification of alcoholic liquor.

 

John Barleycorn Must Die

There were three men came out of the west, their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die
They’ve plowed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in
Threw clods upon his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead

They’ve let him lie for a very long time, ’til the rains from heaven did fall
And little Sir John sprung up his head and so amazed them all
They’ve let him stand ’til midsummer’s day ’til he looked both pale and wan
And little Sir John’s grown a long long beard and so become a man
They’ve hired men with their scythes so sharp to cut him off at the knee
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the way, serving him most barbarously
They’ve hired men with their sharp pitchforks who’ve pricked him to the heart
And the loader he has served him worse than that 
For he’s bound him to the cart

They’ve wheeled him around and around a field ’til they came onto a pond
And there they made a solemn oath on poor John Barleycorn
They’ve hired men with their crabtree sticks to cut him skin from bone
And the miller he has served him worse than that 
For he’s ground him between two stones

And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl and his brandy in the glass
And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl proved the strongest man at last
The huntsman he can’t hunt the fox nor so loudly to blow his horn
And the tinker he can’t mend kettle or pots without a little barleycorn

 

 

 

 

Traffic – The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

One I really like from Traffic. It’s one of those songs you just let play, as you do other things. This song was released in 1971 but was not released as a single…It clocked in at 12 minutes long. Jim Capaldi started writing this in Morocco, where he was getting ready to make a movie called Nevertheless with actor Michael J. Pollard. The film project fell through but did lead to one of Traffic’s best-known songs.

From Songfacts.

Said Capaldi: “Pollard and I would sit around writing lyrics all day, talking about Bob Dylan and the Band, thinking up ridiculous plots for the movie. Before I left Morocco, Pollard wrote in my book ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.’ For me, it summed him up. He had this tremendous rebel attitude. He walked around in his cowboy boots, his leather jacket. At the time he was a heavy little dude. It seemed to sum up all the people of that generation who were just rebels. The ‘Low Spark,’ for me, was the spirit, high-spirited. You know, standing on a street corner. The low rider. The ‘Low Spark’ meaning that strong undercurrent at the street level.” >>

Never released as a single, this did very well on AOR stations in America, which didn’t mind playing all 12 minutes and 10 seconds of the song (it provided a nice cigarette break for the DJs). The album sold over a million copies in the US, but didn’t fare nearly as well in their native UK.

Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood are the credited writers on this song. Dave Mason had left the band at that point, but Traffic added some new members for the Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys album, including former Derek & the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon, which allowed Capaldi to focus more on vocals. Original member Chris Wood played the prominent saxophone parts on this track.

When Traffic toured in 1972, this was a highlight of their live shows. For that tour, they brought along two of America’s finest session musicians: bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins from Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (Traffic would record their next album with these guys). 

The colorful percussionist was Rebop Kwaku Baah, a Ghana native who played on the studio version as well. According to Steve Winwood, Baah was later fired for being “too outrageous.” Said Winwood: “He insisted on going onstage and singing – and he can’t sing!”

 

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys
And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys
The percentage you’re paying is too high a price
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car 
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead 
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was 
The low spark of high-heeled boys
If you had just a minute to breathe and they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?
Or something similar as this? Don’t worry too much
It’ll happen to you as sure as your sorrows are joys
And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of 
The low spark of high-heeled boys
If I gave you everything that I owned and asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride, and strip me of everything including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
The low spark of high-heeled boys

Traffic – Dear Mr. Fantasy

I could listen to this song on a tape loop forever and ever. This song came out in 1967 on the Traffic album “Mr. Fantasy.” It was written by Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood and Chris Wood.

Jim Capaldi on writing the lyrics for Dear Mr Fantasy

“It was the summer of 1967, and we were all living in this
cottage in Berkshire. We were one of the first English bands to live
together like that. We thought we’d try it and see if anything came of
it. I remember the day very clearly: A bunch of friends came over early
in the day and we had quite a party. It was sunny and the corn was
coming up nicely around the cottage, and we were quite enjoying
ourselves if you know what I mean. As things finally wound down in the
evening, I was sitting around just doodling, as I would often do,
drawing this character. It was this little fellow with a spiked sun
hat. He was holding some puppeteer’s strings, and the puppet hands on
the end of the strings were playing a guitar. Under that, I just
scribbled some words: ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy,’ play us a tune,
something to make us all happy’ and on a bit. It was nice, but I didn’t
think much of it; certainly, it wasn’t intended to be a song.

“I crashed out eventually, but I remember hearing Steve and
Chris playing around after. The next day, I woke up and found that
they’d written a song around the words and drawing I’d done. I was
completely knocked out by it. Chris wrote that great bass line. We
added some more words later and worked out a bigger arrangement, too.
Those were very happy days for Traffic.”

 

 

“Dear Mr. Fantasy”

Dear Mister Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these yearsDear Mister Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years

Dear Mister Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years

The Festival Express

Transcontinental Pop Festival… better known as the Festival Express. Great idea on paper… rounding up musicians in 1970 and placing them on a train going across Canada and stopping along the way to play festivals. What could go wrong? Actually, I would have loved to have been on that train.

The lineup:

The Band

The Grateful Dead

Janis Joplin

Buddy Guy Blues Band

The Fly Burrito Brothers

Sha Na Na

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends

There were more that were not in the film like Traffic, Ten Years After, Tom Rush, Ian & Sylvia, Mountain and more.

A DVD was released of this in 2004. All these musicians on a train full of liquor and an assortment of drugs… liquor was the popular choice among the musicians on this ride. The tour was to have events in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. The Montreal event was canceled as was Vancouver. In Toronto, protesters were saying the festival promoters were price gouging so The Grateful Dead played a free concert in a park nearby to ease tensions with the protesters.

There are some very good performances on the DVD. My favorite is Buddy Guy and Janis Joplin’s performance. I also like the Dead’s “Don’t Ease Me In” with Pigpen on blues harp. The festival lost money and the film was thought lost for over 30 years. Janis would be gone a few months after this but her performance of Cry Baby is electrifying.

The train was where the fun was at. They actually stopped at a liquor store and bought out the complete store…including the giant display bottles. The Dead’s crew even dosed some of the liquor…and cake as you will see below… on board. When watching the film you can see the performers are having a ball jamming with each other because they didn’t get a lot of chances to do that on the road.

Bill Kreutzmann (drummer for the Dead) from his book “Deal”

We celebrated Janis Joplin’s birthday at the last stop the traditional way: with birthday cake. In keeping with our own kind of tradition, somebody—within our ranks, I would imagine—had secretly infused the cake with a decent amount of LSD. So it quickly became an electric birthday celebration. Allegedly, some generous pieces of that birthday cake made it to the hands and mouths of the local police who were working the show. “Let them eat cake!” (To be fair, I didn’t have anything to do with that … I was just another cake-eating birthday reveler, that night.)
And that was it for the Festival Express. It was a wonderful time and I think what really made it great was the level of interaction and camaraderie among the musicians, day and night, as we were all trapped on this train careening across the great north. It probably helped that we were all trashed the entire time. Whiskey was in the conductor’s seat on that ride.

I would recommend getting the DVD of this event. It’s a great time capsule of that time in music and culture.