Billy Hill knew how to write songs that were easy to hum (although not always easy to sing) and that stuck lovingly in our ears, memories, and hearts: THE GLORY OF LOVE, THE LAST ROUNDUP, WAGON WHEELS, EMPTY SADDLES, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?, and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. And he breaks stereotypes. He was born in Boston and died there at 41, and although he spent the most productive decade of his life in New York, another of the Tin Pan Alley demigods, he seems to have deeply understood Americana in much the same way Willard Robison did. His songs touch us.
I’ve been thinking about cabins these days. The soundtrack is his 1933 melody:
The lyrics are somewhat sad, but Hill and his peers knew, I think, that songs with a center of heartbreak — that would be repaired when the lovers reunited — were more likely to find audiences than songs saying “My baby and me, we’re so happy,” perhaps because of demographics: more people were yearning than satisfied. Or that’s my theory for the moment. However, he did write THE GLORY OF LOVE, so he was emotionally even-handed.
Here’s a version I fell in love with immediately this morning, by the San Francisco-based singer / guitarist Sylvia Herold. I am sorry I didn’t encounter her in “my California period,” because she can really get inside this song and others:
She has a most endearing little cry in her voice, and she swings. I knew I loved this performance because I am now playing it for the sixth time.
Here are my heroes Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred, from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, introduced by the splendid singer Dawn Lambeth:
Now we move to the most Honoured Ancestors. Please note that they are not presented in some value-hierarchy: they all move me deeply in their own ways.
Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:
Al Bowlly (I prefer this less elaborate version):
I ask myself, “Why are you in tears?” But I know why.
The soul’s home can be an urban apartment, or right across from the BP gas station, but with the right vibrations it can become a dear rustic haven.
May your happiness increase!