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.
Now listen to the 1996 Blue Moon Racing demo:
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:
And then CBS from the Terra Incognita CD – Talk about sonics!, surely one of the best guitar-sounding-like-jet ever:
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 “if you’re talking about the Terra version, then it was me that overdubbed the bass. I remember Electric Lady 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 haha and then I came up with that groove on that wonderful beat of yours.”
I don’t know music from schmu-sic, but I’m endlessly amazed by Chris’s versatility – and by his collaboration with such wonderful musicians/friends.