Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wednesday Cash Coverstravaganza: The Whippoorwill Whistle-Off

I love listening to Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferous).  Vociferous is a really good descriptor because once it starts calling it doesn't stop.  Randy Travis used it as an image of steadfastness in "Deeper Than The Holler," his song describing his love using rural symbols.  If you call, a whip-poor-will will always answer back.  My brother was the champion whip-poor-will caller on our summer vacations (I was never in the running because I can't whistle).  If you've never heard one they sound like this.

Whip-poor-wills have been used as a symbol of loneliness and rural America as far back as Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and it was a favorite of Hank Williams, Sr.  It's the first image in today's song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."  Williams wrote and recorded it in 1949 and it's been covered by just about everybody.  According to wikipedia Bob Dylan sings a piece of it in D. A. Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back but I don't remember that part (a reason to pull it out again, right?  Young Dylan is fascinating, especially when he's drunkenly bullying Donovan).  Anyway, in his lifetime Williams released thirty-one singles; albums appear to have been packaged by his estate after his death in 1953.  It appears to have been released as a posthumous single in 1966 but Williams did perform it live, as in this appearance with his Drifting Cowboys on "The Health and Happiness Show."

The timing of the single's release explains something for me.  I knew Johnny Cash had covered this song and went looking for it, obviously, on Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams from 1959.  There was a lot of legal wrangling over Williams' estate so it's possible that Cash knew the song but was unable to touch it until later.  He most famously covered it on American IV: The Man Comes Around  as a duet with the fabulous Nick Cave.  One is the lonliest number?  Somehow this record makes two voices sound even more bereft, as though they're each lost in their own inner landscape rather than truly together.

Really not a whole lot I can say after that.  Have a great day, whatever you're doing.

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