Another twist this week for the Friday Night Concert series…ever navigate YouTube searching out different versions of one song? It can surprise.
I started searching Asleep at the Wheel clips (just one), intending to feature it and them. If you follow Asleep at the Wheel, you know they memorialize the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, country swing in general and include a broad range of interpreted cross-genre classics in their repertoire. There are some fine examples on YouTube but as usual, I got distracted, this time by a version of “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” an old blues standard that although it’s been covered by everyone from Doc Watson to Cream, (including the one by Bob Wills, that jumped up and bit me) is attributed to two blues men: Walter Vincson ( Jacobs ) on vocal and guitar and Lonnie Chatman on violin. They wrote it in 1930 and it went like this.
When I first heard the song, it sounded like this. Please excuse static (screen shots).
Eric Clapton’s guitar and Jack Bruce’s vocals struck a nerve. Forgive the studio clip. The live 2005 version is superb but far more traditional than the blues rock adaptation I fell in love with.
Many blues standards have been updated through the decades. In the 6o’s white kids like me made English and later, American bands rich as they pilfered the catalogs of known to obscure blues artists, many of whom suffered miserable, hard lives and unceremonious, lonely deaths. Some of those white kids even had balls sufficient to record songs that copied a riff central to an old blues song but changed the lyrics to avoid the hassle of actually paying the original writers. In the early days of blues, however, record-keeping was indeed a dubious enterprise. And as the white kids got older, they helped promote careers of many of those they had wronged, not that this mitigates the ill treatment many original blues artists received at the hands of an exploitative entertainment industry.
The thing that to me, stands out about “Sitting on Top of the World” is that through its many iterations, it remained essentially intact. Although a musical chameleon, stylistically adapted to reflect both terrain and the times, it stayed true to itself–no matter how frequently it crossed countries, and even oceans.
As it rang out across the Mississippi Delta to urban centers like Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago, Montreal, London and points east, it crossed colors, generations and genres. Country blues begat straight-up Blues and Country versions, which became Country Swing, morphing to Rock, only to, decades later, return to a more traditional treatment by one of the many bands who made it famous.
So here are a couple other versions I found. Please forgive the static/slide show clips I posted live ones when I could find decent quality.