A Tribute to Greg Trooper

Greg Trooper passed away on January 15, 2017 at the age of 61.  Although he had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for some time, the singer-songwriter lived up to his last name, performing shows up until the end.

Chimesfreedom is a big fan of Trooper’s work, and we posted about his songs in the past.  The recent sad news reminds us both how much we will miss Trooper and how much we enjoy his songs.

If you are unfamiliar with Trooper’s work, you cannot go wrong with any of his albums.  He can break your heart with a love song, haunt you with a tale of murder, and give you new perspectives.  With just a voice and a guitar, he created magic.  Yet, he never received the acclaim and popularity he deserved.

Trooper, who was born on January 13 in 1956, brought a unique view, humor, and intelligence to his songs.  He could make you laugh or cry, having earned his diverse take on the world. Trooper was born in New Jersey, but he later lived in Austin, New York City, Kansas, and Nashville before ending up in Brooklyn.

Rolling Stone‘s headline on its article about Trooper’s passing stressed Trooper’s work writing songs for artists like Vince Gill.  But Trooper had a warm wonderful voice that made you think this was a guy you’d like to know (and by reports of those who knew him, he was a great guy to know).

Steve Earle once said he “coveted” Trooper’s voice. Trooper also could do a great cover, and he created one of my favorite Bob Dylan covers with “I’ll Keep It With Mine” off of his Popular Demons (1998) album.  And he gave that voice to many characters throughout his own songs.

I first fell in love with Trooper’s work in 2001 when he released Straight Down Rain, although I would later go back and discover his earlier albums. He had me as a life-long fan the first time I heard “Sometimes It Takes a Hurricane,” a plea for social justice. “Sometime it takes no more than a drop of water/ Sometimes it takes a hurricane.”

Perhaps Trooper never received broader fame because he does not fit squarely into one genre.  Some describe him as a singer-songwriter, some as a country singer, and some as a folk singer with a touch of Memphis soul.  Others place him in the realm of Americana or alt-country.

The title song from his next album, Floating (2003), comes from the folk tradition of ageless murder ballads. It is a beautiful song that will haunt you long after you hear the final lines.  In some ways, it was courageous for Trooper to sing an unusual song like this one.

Floating also contained one of Trooper’s most touching love songs that showed his love of Irish music, “Inisheer.” He named the song after one of the Aran Islands off the mainland of Ireland.

Chimesfreedom previously wrote about “Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas).” But it is worth posting again here as one of Trooper’s most beautiful songs. Other admirers of the wonderful song include Steve Earle (who covered Trooper’s song “Little Sister” for the U.K. B-side of Earle’s “Copperhead Road” single).

“I am the greatest,”
he said with a grin;
But he was talking about you,
Not about him;
And was teaching me
The meaning of Christmas.

On “This I’d Do,” a song from Trooper’s 2005 album Make It Through This World, Trooper wrote a song where a lover makes promises. In doing so, he took a typical love-song scenario and made it seem both touching and new.

Finally, Trooper shows his sense of humor and love of Irish music with “Mary Of The Scots In Queens.” The song appeared on his final album of original songs, Incident on Willow Street (2013). It also features one of the funniest music videos you will see anywhere.

Those are a sampling of some of my favorite Greg Trooper songs.  Again, you cannot go wrong with any of Trooper’s albums.  But if one were looking for a place to start, one place would be his outstanding 2015 live album, Live at the Rock Room.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family, including his wife Claire Mullally, who often sang with him.  Trooper will be greatly missed by his fans, who included Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Fullbright, Allison Moorer, and me. But we will keep enjoying the music. RIP Mr. Trooper.

What are your favorite Greg Trooper songs? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Songs About Homelessness

    Music can address societal issues in different ways. Sometimes a song will tackle a big issue head on.  But more often than not, issues are addressed through personal stories or observations. One important societal issue that occasionally appears in popular song is the problem that so many of our fellow humans live without a home. Below are some examples of some songs that address homelessness to varying degrees.

    In 2011, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran released ‘The A Team’ as the lead single of his first album +. Sheeran wrote the song about a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine after he visited a homeless shelter.

    “Ain’t Got No Home” is a folk song that was made popular by Woody Guthrie: “Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town. / And the police make it hard wherever I may go / And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”

    In this video, Rosanne Cash performs “I Ain’t Got No Home”.

    Greg Trooper’s “They Call Me Hank” is about a homeless man named Bill. The song appeared on Trooper’s album Upside-Down Town.

    Here Trooper performs the song at Music City Roots live from the Loveless Cafe in June 2014.

    One of the more famous songs about homelessness is “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins. The song appeared on his 1989 hit album But Seriously, where the singer sees a man avoiding a homeless person.

    Collins asks us to think twice about living another day in paradise, but a lot of critics thought that the song seemed disingenuous coming from someone as rich as Collins.

    The great songwriter Guy Clark recorded a song called “Homeless.” The song appears on Clark’s 2006 album The Dark.

    Like several other songs by Clark, he talks us through much of the story with a memorable chorus.

    Finally, another famous song that is about a homeless person is the Christmas song “Pretty Paper,” which was a hit in an excellent recording by Roy Orbison. The song about a person who in the midst of holiday shopping sees a homeless person was written by a young songwriter who would later go on to have a pretty successful career himself.

    So here is that songwriter, Willie Nelson, singing his version of the song he wrote.

    Other songs with homelessness themes include Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” and “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” by Crystal Waters.

    Music, of course, cannot solve problems but it can help educate us. More than 60,000 people sleep in homeless shelters each night in New York City alone. Homelessness continues to be a problem across the U.S., and in particular, the number of homeless LGBT youth on the streets continues to rise due to a lack of support for them.

    A number of organizations around the country work to help the homeless, and this website lists a number of ways that you can help the homeless (besides writing a song).

    What other songs are there about homelessness? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Song of the Day: Will Hoge’s “A Different Man”

    While listening to my iPod on random play, a song started playing that I did not immediately recognize. I wondered if it were a lost Allman Brothers track I did not know. Eventually, though, I figured out it was “A Different Man,” a track from Will Hoge‘s album that I had recently purchased, Never Give In (2013). Hoge has been recording for years and is not as well known as he should be, although he boosted his fame a little in recent months with his song “Strong,” from the same album as “A Different Man,” featured on a Chevrolet commercial.

    There are only a couple of versions of “A Different Man” on YouTube. Here is Hoge performing the song on February 24, 2014 at The Rock Boat XIV in Miami, Florida The sound quality is not great, but hopefully you can still recognize what a great song it is, leading you to check out the recorded version and other music by Will Hoge. Check it out.

    As a bonus, check out this acoustic performance of his song “Strong,” which you might recognize from the commercial. Hoge’s voice and song remind me of some of the songs from the also under-appreciated Greg Trooper.

    What is your random song of the day? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Greg Trooper’s Popular Demons Available For Free Download

    Singer-songwriter Greg Trooper is giving a free download of his Popular Demons (1998) CD with your email request. You can also stream the album. If you download, be a good sport and make a small donation of a few bucks on NoiseTrade to help keep him in business making great music.

    The album has been out of print for awhile, so it is worth grabbing up. {March 2013 Update: The Popular Demons download was only available for a limited time but Trooper periodically is making other albums available for free download, so you might see a different album from him displayed. Whatever album is available for download, give it a listen.}

    Greg Trooper is a great talent, and I have previously praised his song about Muhammad Ali. Popular Demons has some great songs, so even if you do not go the download route immediately, give a listen by pressing the play button.

    Trooper’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” with a little help from Steve Earle, ranks with some of the best Dylan covers out there. “Lightening Bug” is a fun song too, and Emmylou Harris duets on “Bluebell.” Check them out, and if you like the music, download and send $5.00 to Mr. Trooper.

    What is your favorite Greg Trooper song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Songs for Muhammad Ali & Sonny Liston

    January 17, is the birthday of Muhammad Ali, who was born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali’s life has had highlights inside and outside the boxing ring, and some of the highlights inside the ring were his fights with Sonny Liston. Ali and Liston have inspired other boxers and boxing fans, but they have also inspired songwriters, including Greg Trooper, Chuck Prophet, and Mark Knopfler. Below are some of the songs as well as video of one of the matches between the two boxers.

    Greg Trooper: “Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)”

    I really love Greg Trooper’s song “Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)” from his Floating (2003) album, as the song captures something special about Ali. It is a shame that the video performance of this beautiful song only has 349 views, because everyone should hear this song.

    “I am the greatest,”
    he said with a grin;
    But he was talking about you,
    Not about him;
    And was teaching me
    The meaning of Christmas.

    I remember they called him a clown;
    Then Sonny went down,
    In no more than six rounds;
    And he was teaching us all
    A new day was coming.

    Johnny Wakelin: “Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)”

    I remember Johnny Wakelin’s song when it was released in 1975, and I even had it on a 45 record when I was a kid. It is a catchy tune, using quotes from Ali in the lyrics (“He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee”).

    Wakelin, who was from the UK, had his biggest success in his songwriting career with “Black Superman,” which was a number one song in the UK. He recorded another tribute to Ali called “In Zaire.” Wakelin is still around and has his own website.

    Freakwater: “Louisville Lip”

    Freakwater’s song “Louisville Lip” focuses on one alleged incident from Muhammad Ali’s life.  In 1960, Ali returned home to Louisville, Kentucky from winning the light heavyweight gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Rome.  Yet, the 18-year-old faced discrimination in his hometown. Reportedly, after being refused service at a restaurant, Ali threw his gold medal into the Ohio River.

    Ali later received a replacement medal, and according to some reports, he had merely lost the first one.  But Freakwater knows a good story and builds a song around the incident in “Louisville Lip.”

    The song appears on Freakwater’s 1998 album Springtime. (Thanks to @revRecluse for pointing me to “Louisville Lip.”)

    Whip the world whip this town;
    Whip it into the river and watch ’em all drown;
    When the king threw off his golden crown,
    Floating down like butterfly wings,
    It sank without a sound.

    Chuck Prophet: “Sonny Liston’s Blues”

    While Ali has become an American icon, few remember much about Sonny Liston except for his connection to Ali. Chuck Prophet reminds us that we should not forget about Liston.  Prophet reveals that Liston’s life also has meaning for us with his song “Sonny Liston’s Blues,” the lead-off track on his Let Freedom Ring (2009) album.

    In an interview with the Press Democrat, Prophet explained why he chose Liston for a song choice: “To me, he’s the perfect analogy for the American dream. He’s part reality and part myth — always just out of reach. He had to open the record. There was a myth people had that they were going to be able to comfortably retire and they woke up one morning and realized that reality was not quite what was sold to them.”

    Mark Knopfler, “Song for Sonny Liston”

    Mark Knopfer also performs a song about Sonny Liston, portraying him as a tragic figure and again reminding us that we cannot forget those who fought and lost. “Song for Sonny Liston” is from Shangri-La (2004).

    Joe Louis was his hero;
    He tried to be the same,
    But a criminal child
    Wears a ball and chain;
    So the civil rights people,
    Didn’t want him on the throne,
    And the hacks and the cops
    Wouldn’t leave him alone.

    In Trooper’s “Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)” his reference to “no more than six rounds” indicates he is referring to the first of two fights between Liston and Ali held on February 24, 1964. In that fight, Ali (then Cassius Clay) upset Liston to win the heavyweight title. After the sixth round, Liston did not come out of his corner for the seventh round, claiming his left shoulder was injured.

    Most had expected Liston to beat the 22-year-old Clay. Some later claimed that Liston did not adequately train for the fight.

    The next year there was a rematch that Ali again won and was captured in a famous photo of Ali standing over Liston. Because many did not see Ali hit Liston when Liston went down, some claimed the fight ended with a “Phantom Punch” and that Liston took a dive.

    Below is video of the May 25, 1965 fight Between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. Although this rematch, where Liston went down in the first round, is one of the most famous heavyweight fights in history, attendance was low due to the remote location of the fight in Maine.

    After the fight, Ali was a star. Liston took a year off from boxing but then started working his way back with some important wins in the ring during the next few years.

    Not long after winning a fight in June 1970, Liston was found dead in his home in January 1971. The cause of his death is still a mystery.  Some believe that he died from a heroin overdose and others believe he was murdered by some of his underworld contacts.

    On Liston’s headstone, the epitaph under his name says simply, “A Man.”

    Yes, Liston and Ali are just men. But no matter what you think of boxing as a sport, we can learn a lot from their lives. Their legends will live a long time.

    What do you think of these songs and the Ali-Liston fights? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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