Veteran Producer Joe Boyd Gives Us a Superb A-Z of Music
A is for “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” a jazz classic partly written by a Madagascan royal; G is for “Greenville,” a Lucinda Williams country putdown redolent of 20th-century Russian Acmeist poetry. Veteran music producer and author Joe Boyd is nothing if not eclectic in “Joe Boyd’s A-Z,” a podcast series running on iTunes, acast and his own website. Already up to J, it runs the music gamut – country, reggae, blues, folk, world, bluegrass, Americana, jazz and gospel.
Each drills deep into an aspect of music inspired by Boyd’s more than 50 years in the business working with artists such as Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, Toots and the Maytals, R.E.M. and Taj Mahal. Along the way there have also been books – “White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s” and a yet-to-be published delve into world music – and film work, including on scores for “Deliverance”, “Clockwork Orange” and “McCabe and Mrs Miller”. Now come the podcasts.
“Music is my business and my life,” Boyd told me in his London flat, a music geek’s heaven of obscure records, old- and new-style audio devices, books and vintage photos of the likes of Percy Sledge and Jimi Hendrix.
Towering over it all are more than 5,000 LPs and some 30,000 CDs. It is from these that “A-Z” is drawn.
Boyd, an American who has spent much of his career in Britain, said he prefers to listen to music via song rather than artist, especially when traveling. “I don’t want to hear Billie Holiday for an hour in a row,” he said, adding that he likes to pick one song alphabetically in his collection and let it all run on from there.
As a result his podcasts are either “horizontal” or “vertical”, by which he means they either follow a single song or leap from one to another by theme.
An example of the former is A, which essentially presents various versions of the 1920s song “Ain’t Misbehavin'”. It is not, however, simply about Fats Waller’s definitive version versus the rest.
Boyd weaves in the tale of one of America’s first black diplomats, John Waller (no relation to Fats), his post-U.S. Civil War assignment to Madagascar, the French invasion of the island in the 1890s, and the birth of his grandson, a great nephew of Queen Ranavalona III.
The child, Andriamanantena Razafinkarefo, cut his name down to Andy Razaf and went on to write the lyrics to the early 20th century classics “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, and “The Joint Is Jumpin'”.
In the upcoming L, Boyd goes vertical, taking The Pioneers’ reggae song “Long Shot Kicked The Bucket” and segueing into Richard Thomson’s folk-rocky “Angels Took My Racehorse Away” and Bill Monroe’s bluegrass version of “Molly And Tenbrook” – all three about a racehorse that dies.
To finish up – illuminating the wealth found in musical genres – Boyd brings in Carlos Gardel, whose 1935 tango song “Por Una Cabeza” (“By A Head”) links a tragic addiction to horse racing with a passion for women.
“Joe Boyd’s A-Z” can be heard free-of charge at: http://www.joeboyd.co.uk/podcast-player/ . I highly recommend it.
(This is an edited version of an article I wrote for my main employer, Reuters)