Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Busker Days: Cocaine Blues

It had been a rather steady task for some time: log out, elevator down, hit the street, turn left, walk down Post to Montgomery BART, slide my ticket through the turnstile, get on the right train, get off at the right station, call home, then get on my bike and get on home.

One day it all changed when Johnny Cash was playing at my station. No joke!

OK, it wasn’t exactly the man in black, but to my ears it didn’t matter. This was the real deal, as if Johnny himself anointed this rough and tumble busker every day to play it right. The whole catalogue was at hand, so it seemed, from Sun to American, and he was quite a regular performer too, this prolific, pink-haired punker. I’d say two days a week I could count on him … and have to pony up. For a year and a half and more he played the hits, but he also played songs I didn’t know, so I began to wonder. Put him to the request test I thought, something a little less known. I plopped a buck in his case and asked him if he could do Train of Love, an early Cash-penned song I had been learning on my own time. No pause at all and he nails it!

One day I introduce myself and ask him - Jesse Morris is his name it turns out - for recording privileges, to which he kindly obliges. Listen here to Jesse’s kick-ass version of Cocaine Blues, a song made famous by Johnny on his At Folsom Prison live album released in May, 1968, which, Jesse kindly informed me, was written and recorded by one T.J. Arnall in 1947.

Although I haven’t seen Jesse too much lately (this was my first busker recording, by the way) and when I have seen him he is just as likely to be playing punk as he is Cash, I would be happy to make a request for you (and perhaps make a recording). What’s your request?


  1. This is truly fantastic. He is quite good and does a lovely version of this gold-standard song. I must admit, I would like to hear some of his punk repertoire. Here is my request. From 1982. Berkeley. The band is FANG and the song is "The Money Will Roll RIght In."

  2. Here is his MySpace page for those who would like to learn more about him and his music: http://www.myspace.com/jessemorrisandthetenderlointwo

  3. I totally expected to hate this. As much as I like Johnny Cash, I tired long ago of (ex-) punkers and other sundry ne'er-do-wells covering his songs (even though I was just as culpable as the next guy for perpetuating this crime), and I've heard more crappy, overwrought versions of "Cocaine Blues" to last me a lifetime. And then clicking the song link I was confronted by another of my pet-peeves: the "middle-finger salute" photo. (And yes, I've been guilty of that one as well.) But then the song started and I'll be damned if I wasn't really impressed. I truly enjoyed it. He has a fantastic voice, and he manages to keep the tempo snappy-but-controlled (quite rare in my experience). I gotta hand it to you, Jack, you can really pick 'em. I'll never doubt you again.

    (Now that I think about it, the photo may have been a homage to the famous photo of Cash giving the finger. So now I even like the picture a little bit.)

    Nice call on using "Train of Love" to test his mettle; that is a magnificent song, but not exactly one of the more well-known.

    My request? I'd like a felonious two-fer: "Stealing People's Mail" (Dead Kennedys) and "One Piece at a Time" (Cash).

  4. Listening to this, I note that everyone does Cash's lyrics. The original (or at least versions prior to Cash) has the singer going, not to the "Folsom State Pen", but to "San Quenten".

  5. To hear more, this time a cover of a Black Flag song, go here: http://ontheflip-side.blogspot.com/2010/09/busker-days-jesse-morris-six-pack.html