Monday, August 17, 2009

Blinded by the bluegrass

When I was growing up, I was familiar with two songs that were both called "Fox on the Run." One of the songs that I knew about came from over the water and was done by Sweet.

There was another song called "Fox on the Run." Here's Manfred Mann's groovy performance of the song.

However, I was not familiar with Manfred Mann's "Fox on the Run." The only Manfred Mann song that I know is "Do Wah Diddy Diddy." (Note that the cover version of "Blinded by the Light" was performed by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, a different outfit.) You see, the version of the Manfred Mann song that I knew was performed by Tom T. Hall. I couldn't find a Tom T. Hall video on YouTube, but this Country Gentlemen video gives a flavor of what Hall's version sounded like (without the growl).

So how did a groovy 1960s song morph into something completely different? Wikipedia credits Bill Emerson (of the Country Gentlemen) with the transition. Emerson's website says this in passing:

A founding member of the famed bluegrass ensemble "The Country Gentlemen", billed as a featured artist while with "Jimmy Martin" during the height of that bluegrass legend's career, the man who introduced the classic "Fox on the Run" to bluegrass....

Rebel Records contains a little more background:

The association with [Charlie] Waller led to the creation of the genre-shifting group, the Country Gentlemen. This was followed by stints with Bill Harrell, Red Allen and Jimmy Martin. It was with Jimmy that Bill gained the utmost recognition and Martin’s Decca recordings and persistent touring kept the picks firmly planted on Bill’s fingers.

In the late 1960s Bill joined forces with Cliff Waldron to form the New Shades of Grass. Their influential Rebel recordings helped to loosen up some of the strictures of the bluegrass mold, while still remaining firmly within its boundaries. It was this grouping that introduced the now classic "Fox On The Run" to bluegrass.

So what did Emerson do after that?

After a second stay with the Country Gentlemen in the 1970s, Emerson eventually enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

To my knowledge, Emerson has never performed any Village People songs on the banjo, however.

I couldn't find a lot about Hall's take on the song, but this site, which celebrates Hall's songwriting skills, did mention the song briefly.

Even in his autobiographical songs, Hall maintains a certain writerly detachment. He may be writing and singing about his past, his experiences and his hometown but he never loses a writer’s cold, analytical distance from the people they’re writing about. “That’s How I Got To Memphis” is probably the closest Hall gets to the soul-shaking, transformative personal pain that informs so much great country music. “Fox On The Run” has the same sense of loss but it was written by Tony Hazzard and was originally a hit for Manfred Mann.

So who is this guy who can write a song for a British band and a Navy banjo player alike?

Tony Hazzard's songs are known to millions. During his first flurry of pop success in the mid-late '60s he scored huge hits with "Ha! Ha! Said The Clown" and "Fox On The Run" for Manfred Mann, "Listen To Me" for The Hollies, "Me The Peaceful Heart" for Lulu, "Hello World" for The Tremeloes and "You Won't Be Leaving" for Herman's Hermits. In addition, his "The Sound Of The Candyman's Trumpet" was recorded by Cliff Richard and entered into the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest (note the word SONG there, folks). "Maria Elena" was beautifully rendered by the great Gene Pitney while the Jimmy Page-led Yardbirds turned Tony's "Goodnight Sweet Josephine" into a psych-pop classic. Simon Dupree & The Big Sound, The Casuals, The Family Dogg, Cherry Smash and The (formerly Swinging) Blue Jeans all turned to Hazzard's effortless pop tunes in the late '60s too.

What a long strange trip it's been.
blog comments powered by Disqus