Musical Influences: Live-Only Covers [Draft]

JJ Cale:  Old Man and Me

If I had to limit my CW catalog to exactly one recording of one song, Chris’s cover of JJ Cale’s “Old Man and Me” for the Radio Bremen concert (2003-09-08) would probably be it.  Something about the guitar and vocal tone and syncopation of this track makes me feel that all is right in the world.

An early cover 1992-02-24 Batschkapp Germany: 


A later cover 2003-09-08 Radio Bremen: 


JJ Cale: 

I love Chris’ treatment of this song.  He alters the beat and speed and pretty much everything:  I don’t speak Music, but I think what’s very different here is the syncopation.

As a contrast, here’s Tom Petty’s cover from The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale.  Petty’s cover is more a mimicry than an interpretation of Cale’s song.

D’Angelo:  Brown Sugar

I always thought this was a song about a brown-skinned woman, but as I learned via a Google search, it’s about loving to get high on marijuana.  Recall that, in an interview with Barnes & Noble in the late 90’s, asked about the negative characterization of a woman in New Machine, Chris said

I’ve often felt misunderstood when I use a relationship as a kind of metaphor in writing. Really, this song is inspired by my feeling like the media is running our culture, and because I’m a guy, I’m using a woman as the highest thing that shouldn’t be messed with. I’m not really into political songs unless you really feel it, and I can sing it and mean it a lot of the time if it’s a “her”‘ or a “you.” It’s not about a woman. My imagery is abstract while most of the lyrics in pop and folk music are kind of literal.

Knowing that Chris sometimes used a woman as a metaphor for something else probably explains some of his appreciation of this song.  In that same interview, Chris listed D’Angelo’s “new” album as one that he was listening to at the time.

With Joe Lawler at Martyrs (Chicago, IL) 2002-05-24: 


Bob Dylan


with Pat MacDonald at Quasimodo’s (Berlin, Germany) 1999-02-05: 

Dylan (Pecos Blues Album): 


Jimi Hendrix

Little Wing



Machine Gun

With Joe Lawlor at Tin Angel (Philadelphia, PA) 2002-05-29: 



Hear My Train a’ Comin’

At KFOG Concert for Kids, Warfield Auditorium (San Francisco, CA) 1993-12-11:




Buddy Holly: Well Alright





Howlin’ Wolf:  Moanin’ at Midnight

In one of those Artist’s Picks lists popular in music magazines, Chris listed this song and described it as “the meaning of life.”





Elton John: Love Song


Possibly the most unexpected of all covers, Chris recorded a demo of Elton John’s Love Song, which Danny Kadar shared on his SoundCloud channel.




Robert Johnson: Hellhound on my Trail

Chris in 1992: 


Chris at the Robert Johnson tribute: 


Traveling Riverside Blues


Prince:  Erotic City

Solo at Charlottesville 1992-11-02: 

With Sebastian Steinberg and Yuval Gabay at The Metro (Chicago, IL) 2000-10-13: 

With Alan Gevaert and Max S. at Burgerhaus (Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg DE) 2001-03-17: 

Listen to Prince

Here’s an example of how Chris frequently incorporated EC into Phone Call from Leavenworth

Cafe de la Danse (Paris, FR) 2001-11-07: 

Taj Mahal: Light Rain (traditional)

Chris in 1992:


Taj Mahal’s original: 

Townes Van Zandt:  Pancho and Lefty

With Joe Lawlor at Martyrs (Chicago, IL) 2002-05-24: 


Townes Van Zandt’s original: 


Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield)

Down South Blues

Played only once, this is a cover of a song written and recorded by Muddy Waters.  Identifying the song’s origins proved difficult because there are several old blues songs that have the same title (e.g., one credited to Ethel Waters/Fletcher Henderson/Alberta Hunter, another – or possibly a cover of the previous – sung by Dock Boggs, two totally different ones performed by Dave Von Ronk and Sleepy John Estes, and who knows how many others).  Adding to the confusion is Chris’ changing (and mumbling!) some of the lyrics.  For example, the first verse is mostly Muddy Waters

Well I’m goin’ down south child
This weather here’s too cold
You know I’m goin’ down south child
This weather here’s too cold
I gotta lay around Chicago [Chris swaps for NYC]  I ain’t got change in clothes

… but Chris substitutes “New York town” for Chicago and “I don’t got my ass no change of clothes.”

Chris at Blues Harbor (Atlanta, Georgia) 1992-10-08: 

Compare to Muddy Waters (definitely the one Chris covers):

Standin’ Around Crying

Chris in 1992:


Muddy Waters:

Too Young to Know

Originally released in 1952 as the b-side of “Honey Bee,” Too Young to Know   featuring “features dark, chilling Delta-styled guitar from Waters” []  Re-released in 1979/1981 on King Bee, an album produced by Johnny Winter.

“The next year’s “Too Young to Know” is even better. Waters plucks at his strings like the guitar is a blues-accessorized violin, adding vibrato as the bridge approaches, and then announcing, like a compère, “All right! Little Walter!” Walter’s harmonica plays off of Water’s rubato inflections, and we have both bounce and solidity at once, rubber and glue, blues-style. Notice was being served by this Paganini of the harmonica: The blues may have been the music of inner-city beer halls and down-home get togethers, but here was a form of American chamber music. There may have been grime underfoot where you heard it, but any recording of music this stellar could be revisited again and again, and pay off intellectually as well as emotionally. For the first time since the Delta heyday, the blues functioned as legitimate art music, but a kind now primed to reach the masses—something that would have blown the collective minds of Patton, House, and Johnson.”

This is another one of those songs that Chris seems to have performed live exactly once, in this case Batschkapp, Frankfurt (GER), 1992-02-24.



Listen to Muddy Waters: 

Johnny Winter: Dallas


He switched to the acoustic National Steel after hearing “Dallas,” a slide blues number from Johnny Winter’s first album.  “It was a crazed record,” he said. “I got into it, really, because all of that sort of blues/rock stuff – that sound – was just one guy playing and singing his thing. I didn’t even think it was blues. The sound was really appealing to me somehow – on a spiritual, almost subliminal level.”  The Cleveland Plain Dealer 1992

Certain albums hold sacred places in people’s hearts. They know every chorus, verse, and bridge of one particular LP. ….  For dobro ace Chris Whitley, it’s definitely Johnny Winter’s Johnny Winter.  “To me, it’s just the best blues-rock record ever made,” says Whitley, on the line from Nashville, Tennessee. “There’s one track, ‘Dallas’, where he played National steel guitar, and it’s the song that made me get close to a steel guitar. But the electric guitar on it’s incredible, too.”  The Georgia Strait 1991




Steve Winwood:  Can’t Find My Way Home





ZZ Top: Jesus Just Left Chicago

This track is clearly a cover of the ZZ Top song – again, seemingly played only once.  Billy Gibbons (ZZ guitarist) provides an interesting note about the song’s origins:

There was a buddy of mine when we were teenagers — everybody called him R&B Jr. He had all these colloquialisms. He blurted out “Jesus just left Chicago” during a phone conversation and it just stuck. We took what could have been an easy 12-bar blues and made it more interesting by adding those odd extra measures. It’s the same chords as “La Grange” with the Robert Johnson lick, but weirder. Robert Johnson was country blues — not that shiny hot-rod electric stuff. But there was a magnetic appeal: “What can we take and interpret in some way?”

Chris at Blues Harbor (Atlanta, Georgia) 1992-10-08: 

Compare to ZZ Top:





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