People are always interested to learn the stories behind their favorite songs. When Paul McCartney started “Yesterday” he didn’t have any lyrics so he sang “Scrambled eggs, da da da da da da scrambled eggs.” I’m not as famous as the Beatles but I thought that some of you might be interested in the stories behind my original songs.
“Loretta and Bernadine” is about my great aunt Bernadine and her long time companion. I never knew much about her because she lived in the Midwest and I lived in Arizona. Most of what’s in the song was told to me by my grandmother after Bernadine passed away. While I filled in a few minor details, the rest of the song is true – from her marrying someone who died young, to living with Loretta for many years after that. Bernadine worked as an optometrist – unusual for a woman then (I’m guessing the 50’s and 60’s) – while Loretta stayed at home, doing the cooking and cleaning.
After Bernadine was disabled my family couldn’t understand why Loretta was selling Bernadine’s silver and other belongings. She probably had few marketable skills and was trying to support them both. As the song says, my family took her to court and she was left with nothing. Bernadine was moved to a nursing home a few hundred miles from her home. She passed away not long afterwards.
Fortunately, Loretta had friends in Florida so she moved there in, I think, the early 90’s. For a long time I looked for Loretta but never found her. I doubt she’s still alive but in case you do know of her, I’d love to hear from you. Her full name is Loretta O’Shay. “Loretta and Bernadine” was originally on 1992’s Center of Balance CD which is out of print. I re-issued it on 2007’s Three Bridges.
Another family member who got a song is my dad. An avid musician, he was the guy at the center of every party, a big grin on his face and guitar in hand. He sang a lot of funny songs, most of them dirty; you don’t wanna know what he did with “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Unfortunately, he had a stroke a few years ago so he can’t play anymore. The song is true except the part where I sing that he was watching Buck Owens on TV. While Dad assures me that he likes ol’ Buck, he was actually watching the Lawrence Welk Show. Since that didn’t exactly go with the old country songs theme, I used my poetic license and changed it.
Dad loves the song and makes all of his Fox News watching Republican friends listen to it. You can see a video of “My Dad Loves to Sing” at my website (it’s at the bottom). The song is on Three Bridges and Better Than Chocolate.
I get song ideas on tour too. I played in Denver a few years ago. The next day I drove south to Colorado Springs for another gig. Coming into the city was a big sign that proclaimed “Focus on the Family next exit.” I kvetched about it at the concert that night and someone yelled out that they had a name for that place. I figured a place like that should have its own theme song so I wrote it.
There’s at least one venue who won’t hire me back because of this song. On the other hand, I played it once for a church and they lustily sang along. Go figure. “Six Flags Over Jesus” is not on any of my recordings but you can download it for free from www.jamieanderson.com/music.html
One of my most popular songs is “Dark Chocolate” and no, it’s not really about the candy but I guess that depends on your perspective. See, there was this woman I really liked. I hardly knew her but we’d been out on one date and I was so overcome with, um, longing that I sat down with my guitar and started playing this passionate blues lick and singing over the top of it. I thought about that old saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and thought, hmm, I think the way to a woman’s heart is through her lips. The body parts flowed after that. Not the actual body parts. Well, come to think of it … never mind.
I sang her the song after our second date. Some lesbians bring the U-Haul, I bring the song.
It wasn’t long after that that I set off to do a gig with my buddy Martie van der Voort. I was on stage doing a sound check and played a bit of the song then mumbled that it still didn’t have a title. Martie yelled out “Dark Chocolate!”
I wrote the song in ’88. Fans liked it so much I put it on three recordings – there’s one version on my first release Closer to Home, then another version on Drive All Night and Three Bridges. I get lots of requests for it and it’s one of my most downloaded songs on iTunes. I no longer associate it with one woman – heck, that was two girlfriends ago – but I still enjoy playing it.
That song was about love. This next one … isn’t. “Too Busy Being Blue,” known to some of you as the f**k you song, was written right after a break up. When I first wrote it I thought I’d take out that word for performances but really, it doesn’t work as well to say “forget you.” I know folk singers are supposed to sing about social justice and daisies and stuff but I’m the one who wrote “Menstrual Tango” so I’m not exactly Joan Baez. (And even she wrote “Diamonds and Rust.”)
I really was looking at the white spot on my left hand where our ring used to be – and that turned out to be the first line. Like the song says I did lose the house and her love, along with the dog, my health insurance and most of our friends. My ex may have dumped me unceremoniously but she was fair in the divorce settlement, regardless of what North Carolina law said she owed me. Heck the state didn’t even recognize our relationship. We’re on good terms now – I’m not big on dragging negative energy around – and I hope we can stay in touch. You can hear the song on Three Bridges.
I’ve got more songs but I’m running out of room. I’ll continue the song stories in my next blog. Y’all stay tuned. Meanwhile, don’t break up with any songwriters.