The first of a new monthly column from Jeb Loy Nichols. Caught by the River supplied the dime:
Train Back To Mama (Broken Dreams)
Warner Brothers 1971
“Man, that’s terrible.”
I was sitting with Donnie Fritts, the great southern soul songwriter, and we were discussing some item of news. He shook his head sadly, thought about it, and added, “that’s human.”
In five words Donnie had summed up what it is to be alive. This song, by Turley Richards, manages the same balancing act. It’s all here: regret, loneliness, estrangement, hope; the impossibility of return.
It’s one in a long line of southern songs that inhabit the crawl space between desire and action. Hank Williams wrote I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Merle Haggard wrote If We Can Make It Through December. Al Green wrote You Ought To Be With Me. Turley Richards has written a song in which he might go home to Mama.
Could, If, Ought, Might.
That’s the South right there.
Maybe. Slow down. Let’s not make the cardinal sin of rushing into anything.
I first heard this song in Nashville. I was in a thrift store, looking through the dollar records, when I came across Expressions by Turley Richards. I knew his name but not his music. I took it back to the hotel and put it on a portable record player. The first song, Beautiful Country, all fevered hand claps and fatback drums, filled the room.
“Gather round everybody
and hear what I got to say
I’m going back to the beautiful country
going there today.”
And that voice! Some country, a little Otis, some Joe Tex; a combination of restraint, regret and churched up euphoria. Listen to him sing:
“I ain’t nothing but a broken down man
I guess I’ll lie here, I’m too drunk to stand -”
This isn’t self pity, this isn’t theatre, it’s simple honesty. It’s life. He knows the way things go. Failure is terrible. But as Donnie Fritts said, failure is human.
American born mid Wales resident Jeb Loy Nichols is an artist and musician who has worked with everyone from Adrian Sherwood to Rob Ryan. His forthcoming LP, The Jeb Loy Nichols Special, is a masterclass in country soul and acoustic roots. A special edition version is on upfront sale from the Rough Trade shops before general release in March.