Looking for something else today, I stumbled across Danny Kadar’s 2015 ATCW group post, commemorating what would have been Chris’s 55th birthday and sharing a SoundCloud playlist that contained a demo version of “Clear Blue Sky”. This 1996 version of CBS was recorded at Blue Moon Racing, the Vermont property owned by Chris’s dad and immortalized as the site where Chris, Danny, and Craig Street recorded Dirt Floor a year or more later. I’d forgotten that I knew anything about such a demo, especially that it was recorded at this revered location. Listening to it, I was struck by Chris’s ability to play one song so many different ways.
Think of earlier iterations of this tune…
- a jazzy version from the Fathers & Sons movie soundtrack with I-don’t-know-what chimes and distinguished by a different title, “Blue Sky Blues”:
- or this one Danny captured (from a radio show?) and included on his Chris Whitley in New Orleans 1991:
- or this first-captured acoustic bootleg from Charlottesville (1992-11-02):
- or this one from The Basement (Sydney AUS 1993-11-03), featuring imho mesmerizing guitar and extraordinary vocal, the sonics of which have taken up residence in my soul:
All excellent, right? Yet each somewhat different from the other, especially Blue Sky Blues. In these 1991 – 1993 versions, it seems that he is still “working” on the song, experimenting with slightly different tempos and instrumentation. In fact, he says as much in some of the introductions to the song.
Now listen to the 1996 Blue Moon Racing demo:
The dissonance and stylistic phrasing/punch of certain words that define the ultimately recorded/released iteration appears, but the tempo isn’t quite up to the final. Still not as out-there, as bombastic as the album version. Talk about sonics! Surely one of the best guitar-sounding-like-jet ever:
I don’t know music from schmu-sic, but I’m endlessly amazed by Chris’s versatility.
Update: Yet another iteration of CBS, this one exceptionally jazzy, for the lack of a better word and given my very limited music vocabulary. It’s a close relative to the earliest iterations – Blue Sky Blues and the one captured from a NOLA radio show – but imo more forcefully swing-y.
Dougie Shares Some Stories re the Demo and Album Tracks
In commenting on an ATCW group post of this article, Dougie Bowne provided some background info and a photo. Dougie noted that, on the demo, it’s just Chris on guitars (Chris overdubbed the bass line) and Dougie on drums – amazing!, given the fullness of the sound they created. Dougie also recalled that they were snowed in: “I freaked out up at the cabin by the way- me and Chris were up there, it snowed so much that when we opened the door of the little wooden house, the snow was a wall almost blocking the whole space that would have been the exit. Taller than me. It was scary.” Perhaps that explains Dougie’s huddling by what Brett Hoffman described as the Glenwood/Round Oak stove:
Again, Dougie – our guy in the know – provided some info re the album version of CBS: “On Terra, the album- the beginning of Blue Sky starts off with the demo, a cassette recording we bounced to the 2 inch tape, which is the tape that you use to record a record. If you listen, the beginning is a crunchy sound, that’s mostly the demo (from cassette tape), maybe Chris overdubbed on it, then at around twenty five seconds in, the real recording kicks in, everything sounds different, no? More full, hi-fi…” And Alan Gevaert, who played bass on several of Chris’s Sony albums, recalled that he overdubbed the bass on this track: “I remember Electric Ladyland studio C; the bass was tuned down to low C, making it really hard to control. You guys were both there looking at my hands, so i was pretty nervous, and then i came up with that groove on that wonderful beat of yours.”