Best of 2021: Don’t Look Back – The Year Ahead,

“All Out of Tears” was the standout song of the standout concert of the year for me. And it’s a prime example of where we all are as a society heading into uncharted territory in the new year. 

Blues rocker Walter Trout played a sold-out Sunday afternoon concert at The Strand Theater in Hudson Falls on October 12th, the last show of his fall tour before heading home to his wife and family. He picks up the story of how “All Out of Tears” became the 2021 Song of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. 

It was a song that just was meant to be. 

“It wouldn’t have been on the album Ordinary Madness without my wife. Let me tell you the genesis of that. Me and Marie were in Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. We were walking down Beale St. And we saw (blues singer) Teeny Tucker. 

“We said, ‘Hey, Teeny, it’s good to see you. How are you?’ And she told us that her son had just passed away, and we were like, ‘We’re sad to hear that.’ She looked at us and said, ‘My heart is crying, but my eyes are clear because I’m all out of tears.’  

“I immediately said to her, ‘Is that lyric from a song? Is that something that you’ve read,’ and she said, ‘No, I’m just telling you how I feel,’ and I immediately said, ‘Let’s write a song about losing a loved one. Let’s use those lyrics, and let’s dedicate that song to your son.’ 

 “So, Marie, Teeny and I wrote that song very quickly. But the thing was the album was already finished. We got home from Memphis. Marie said, ‘You’ve got to put that song on the album,’ and I said, ‘But the album is about done. It’s already mixed. This means I have to rent the studio. I have to get the band and the producer back in there and have the producer mix it. It has to be mastered. Then, we have to add it to the record.’   

“And Marie said, ‘Well, whatever you have to do, you have to do it.’  

“So, I called the producer, I rented the studio, I called the band. We went in, and we recorded that song in about two hours, pretty much live only because of the insistence of my manager, Marie. Let’s not call her my wife. Let’s call her manager.  

“She said to me, ‘That song has to be on there. That song has a universal message because everyone out there has lost or is going to lose someone they love, and that is a universal message you’re giving them. And so I went back in the studio, did the song, and we sent it to the label and said add this to the record, and it ended up winning Song of The Year at the Blues Music Awards, you know? 

“So, maybe Marie had the vision of what was coming, you know!” 

More than half a century ago Dylan sang to us that there’s something happening here, and we don’t exactly know what it is. At a time when one tornado can open a wound 130 miles long, we as a society are coming to blows over whether to wear masks and get vaccinated to keep from dying by the hundreds of thousands. The enemy?  A virus that changes the game with ever new variations. 

One thing is unequivocal. Our music – art in general – is the key to our sanity. No, it is the key to our survival. It is the war cry for conquering an enemy right out of a horror movie. One that we can’t see. One that we can’t vanquish. One that, if we let it, pits us against each other. Divide and conquer is its mantra. Weaken us. Cause us to lose focus. Destroy our means for survival and kick us when we’re down. 

Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen. 

Two years ago, musicians were telling me that recorded music had been reduced to being  “calling cards” used to sell promoters on booking acts to put asses in the seats. Live concerts had replaced recordings as the primary source of income. 

The pandemic squashed live shows like a bug. It almost instantly changed the paradigm of getting music to the fans. 

Samantha Fish was reeling when I called her to advance her November 9th show at Empire Live in Albany. Her home in New Orleans had been damaged by a hurricane, but she was on the road advancing her new album Faster, and hadn’t even been able to assess the damage at home. 

“To be honest, it’s kind of a shitty day. I’m trying to figure out how to get there, and it’s like do I want to get there? I feel like I’ve got things to take care of that I never got to take care of before the storm. We were out on the road when it hit. So, you can’t get back just yet, and not being able to go and work on it. It’s just killing me to be in the dark essentially. It’s one of those things where it’s gonna get better every day, so we’ll see what we’ve got to do. 

“I’m like I need to do this interview, but my head’s in a weird place. It’s weird to continue on. It’s a localized thing. So, it’s just weird talking about other stuff on the phone. My whole world is (out of) focus right now, but I have to keep moving because we have this new record coming out. I talked to my manager today.  He’s from Louisiana, and he’s like, ‘Hey, this doesn’t stop the show. We gotta keep on moving,’ and that’s just it. You gotta do what you gotta do. So, here we are.” 

Photo by Claude Sawyer

Her show at Empire Live was like a vaccine – both for her and her fans. I haven’t seen such charismatic hard rock energy since witnessing Johnny Winter take control of the Fillmore East in 1969. It was like she sucked the energy right out of a crowd that stood like Stonehenge figures totally captured by her larger-than-life presence. 

In my review, I said, “She has a command of the slide guitar like Johnny Winter had; razor sharp with a dexterity unparalleled. Winter, even more than Duane Allman, took Elmore James’ primordial slide into a complex execution. But while Winter drew blood in his delivery, Samantha takes her slide into the fundamental melody structure of her songs. Her metal on metal becomes more than an exclamation point during a solo. It’s fundamental to the primary melody line.” 

Of the pandemic, she said, “Well, once we get to the new normal, I’ll assess it. We gotta get back to normal a little bit before the newness will take over. As much as I want it to be over, it’s not over. We still have a long way to go.” 

Sometimes, life itself takes our breath away. 

Music is a lifeline. It is a beacon in the darkness. Albert Cummings has a new album in the can. Recorded in Nashville with Vince Gill and some of the world’s best studio musicians, it does the impossible, maintain his childlike wonder while acknowledging his mortality. Tentatively called Ten (It will be his 10th release), it contains an original, “Meet The Man:” 

Darkness it has fallen It has reached the end of the day. Guess it’s time for me to be leaving. I guess it’s time to be on my way. I’m going home way up yonder. I’m going home to the promised land. Don’t you cry when you see me leaving cause I’m gonna be ok. I will meet you in the valley. I will meet you there some day. I’m going home way up yonder. I’m going home to the promised land. 

Walter Trout came down to the lobby to greet me before his Strand concert. No one recognized him behind the mask. It was a gesture to get close at a time when the world seems to conspire to make us feel alone. We talked about his next album titled Rise

“Every song on it has a story behind it. The story behind the title track is about a house I loved in New Jersey where we lived right next to the railroad tracks. The train that went between Atlantic City and Philly, and the track was right there. It went through every night and would shake the whole place. When my parents bought the house, I was a little kid.  

“They said, ‘This will be hard to deal with,’ but I loved it. And one of the reasons, and it says it in the song is my childhood was full of disfunction. There was violence. I would dream of that train and escaping, and that’s what that song says. I dreamed that train would take me away from the trouble. I knew all the places I would travel, the things I would see, and the things I could do. I would hear the whistle blow. I would hear the wheels singing on the track. I’m gonna climb aboard and ride, and I ain’t ever coming back.” 

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