Monday, April 10, 2017

Steel: Gordon Lightfoot/Steel Rail Blues

purchase [Sit Down Young Stranger]

Steel strings on a guitar take a lot out of you: they're harder to depress and they end up putting calluses on the tips of your fingers. You need to keep at it on a daily basis. For this reason, I more or less  gave  up playing steel string guitars a few years back. It may be because I can't afford a decent guitar (better quality = less effort), but it may also be on account of all that metal - it cuts into your fingers something bad. I'm now a nylon man - with a lot of respect for thems that bend the steel around.

It looks like the only other time SMM has mentioned Gordon Lightfoot is back in 2008. Away back in 2008 Paul -no longer an active SMM contributor- included Lightfoot in a post about a <History> theme. 

Myself? Gordon Lightfoot's 1970 "Sit Down Young Stranger" was a favorite. No ... more: a starting point for a budding guitar player. Someone to emulate.  As I look back over the song list from the album after many years away, there isn't one that doesn’t bring back memories - a most powerful album (and his best-selling one). He's got Ry Cooder, John Sebastian, Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman with him on the album. The Wiki says that maybe Kris Kristofferson also contributed. Pretty impressive. 

I guess (among all the good ones) it is the title song, Sit Down Young Stranger, that rings best: the steel strings are obvious here. The story is poignant. The quality of the vocals fits Lightfoot's folk-rock style. I read somewhere that Dylan thought this was Lightfoot's best - there are certainly a number of parallels: guitar style, vocal style and - to some extent, the lyrical/poetic message.

But I have chosen a different Lightfoot song to more closely match our theme and it's from a different album - his 1966 "Lightfoot!". If you look closely at the "Steel Rails" clip, you'll see that he has picks on his fingers - perhaps the true sign of a steel string player - if you want to make the strings ring, you kind of have to add some additional steel. Oh, and he's doing a variation of the "Travis" pick I mentioned earlier.

The steel rails, as per the ticket the girl sends, are the railroad tracks - made of steel. A bit thicker than the strings on his guitar, but made of the same material, capable of singing their own song.

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