Pronounced sah-WAH-ro, these dignified sentinels grace the cover of Valley of the Sun. The undisputed king of the desert grows slowly and lives long, they're in no hurry and have all the time in the world. At 200 years a saguaro can reach a height of 50 feet and salute you with three or four dozen arms.
This track is clearly in no hurry either. Serenade to a saguaro? Why not?
I don't know if the expression is still used, but 'gunning' in this case refers to driving with single minded determination to a specific destination. Gunnin' is what we did in that '54 Cadillac convertible, blazing across the country on Route 66 from Chicago to Phoenix.
The Valley's horse racing track is Turf Paradise. The season opens in October after the brutal summer heat backs down and runs through the following spring when things begin warming up again. Once in a while my mother would take me for an afternoon, let me pick a race or two and put a couple of dollars down for me. I can't recall if I ever won anything. The track had an air of sophistication to me as did the people who attended dressed in cool, smart casual wear to watch the ponies. Blue jeans, t-shirts and shorts were frowned on. I imagined this song to be the kind of music folks who went to Turf Paradise might listen to.
In Scottsdale, the well heeled town just east of Phoenix, was a movie theatre called Ciné Capri. It was referred to as an 'art house'. The term sounded vaguely illicit and I thought they showed skin flicks in there, but really it screened foreign films or movies that might now be rated PG or R... things like La Dolce Vita, Never On Sunday, Mondo Cane, Ingmar Bergman films... you get the picture.
A theme for a film that might be shown in an art house.
WHEN BOY MEETS GUITAR
I got my first guitar in Phoenix, a birthday gift in 1962. My folks had been to Nogales on the Arizona-Sonora border and purchased it there. It was love at first sight, though I can't speak for the guitar. Two days later I wandered into Skaggs Music Center and began taking lessons. I couldn't have dreamed how far it would take me.
That little guitar still hangs on the wall of my music room.
It's a simple melody to the wood and wires that continue to challenge, confound and enrich me... an old love affair that's still going strong and not without the occasional spat.
She was queen of the Phoenix cocktail lounge entertainers, Nadine Jansen. At The Flame, The Band Box, The Westward Ho, The Fat Cat and so many other Valley night spots and hotels, Nadine played piano, trumpet and sang... all well. In fact she'd occasionally play trumpet or flugelhorn with one hand while comping piano with the other. Nadine packed them in wherever she took up residency, always attracted great musicians to play with her and did a bang up job on standards, jazz, show tunes and once in a while some r&b thrown in for good measure.
The Very Best of Nadine Jansen has just been released on Jantone Records #2009, featuring 16 of her finest from 1947 to 1989.
Here's to you Nadine.
In 1953 Lee Hazlewood was a disc jockey at KCKY in Coolidge, Arizona a small community southeast of Phoenix. It was there he met a young Duane Eddy. Lee had dreams of writing and producing records and in 1955 after a couple of false starts, he launched his own label, VIV Records. Recording local country talent, Lee produced the highly collectible "Cat Daddy" by Jimmy Johnson with Al Casey on guitar. After a handful of releases he sold VIV. Lee had written a song called "The Fool" that he produced and released on MCI, another local label. The singer, Sanford Clark, was recommended to Lee by Al Casey who again handled the guitar duties. After a slow start the record began to get some action in Cleveland, Ohio. Sensing a hit, Dot Records picked up the master and re-released it. "The Fool" went on to become a top 10 pop hit in 1956, the first of many to come from the Valley under the direction of Lee Hazlewood. A long string of chart topping instrumentals soon followed by Duane Eddy, the majority of them recorded in Phoenix at Ramsey's Studio on North 7th Street including the iconic "Rebel Rouser"... Jack Miller always at the recording console.
Lee eventually set up shop on the west coast producing records for various labels including Reprise and starting up his own LHI Records. "These Boots Are Made For Walking" by Nancy Sinatra, written and produced by Lee, was a smash. He and Nancy were duet partners for a while and had a few hits together including the sublime "Some Velvet Morning," also a Hazlewood composition. Along the way Lee recorded solo albums for himself that are now highly prized. For a couple of decades he became a citizen of the world leading a nomadic life before returning to live in the States.
Lee spoke low and slow, loved scotch, a good song, cigarettes and Stan Kenton. He could be brusque but was a good guy who never took himself too seriously. A man's man from a time when that kind of thing still mattered and he was OK in my book, not that he gave a damn one way or the other what anyone thought about him. Incidentally, Lee was his middle name. His first was Barton.
DOWN AN OLD ROSE LANE
4-bedrooms, large kitchen, living and dining rooms. Front yard, back yard and patio, paved double drive-way with covered carport... all the mod cons of suburbia at a whopping 11K! The house we lived in was on the west side of town a half block before Phoenix became Glendale, the next city to the west. It sat proudly in the middle of the block on a street named Rose Lane. I spent a lot of time practicing guitar there in my bedroom, trying to get from a C chord to an F without inflicting collateral damage and attempting to play along with records. I couldn't keep up with most of it, but early on I was a serviceable Luther Perkins!
A breezy stroll through the old neighborhood.
Oleander is a fast growing, dense shrub with narrow, dark green, spear-shaped leathery leaves. It thrives in hot dry climates, is drought resistant, nearly always in blossom and comes in four varieties, white, red, pink and yellow. The tall thick shrubs are common in Phoenix and a tight row of mature oleander makes an impenetrable fence. They also happen to be highly poisonous if the leaves are ingested or burned and the smoke inhaled. I suppose its year 'round flowering suggested something tropical and seemed a good title for this Polynesian-Phoenician number.
An exotic transplant from another time and place, Polynesian revues with native entertainers and back yard luaus were common to the Valley. Hawaiian music and particularly the Hawaiian steel guitar were still very popular in Phoenix in the early 60s and many people took lessons to learn how to play the instrument. The fellow who taught me guitar, Forrest Skaggs was an exceptional Hawaiian steel player. It was a sound and style very familiar to me growing up, one that I still love.
That's me playing steel as well as the regular guitar on this one.
A SUNSET RIDE
A red sun going down on the desert, the searing 115 degrees of the afternoon mellowing to a tolerably dry 95! Saddle up your horse, we're going for a sunset ride.
The Sunset Riders was the name of Forrest Skaggs' band, a revolving door of musicians always anchored by Skaggs who usually played string bass with the group. In the 1950s The Sunset Riders had regular shows on KRUX radio, a Saturday afternoon television program on KOOL-TV and served as house band for the Arizona Hayride, a live Saturday night shindig staged at the boxing ring downtown. The Hayride hosted every major country star that came through the Valley as well as local talent. Sunset Riders alumni include Duane Eddy and Al Casey. By the 1960s the Hayride was just a memory as was the band's radio and TV commitments but Skaggs kept the name going and could always put a gig together. The group was also a vehicle for some of Skaggs' students to get a little on-the-job experience.
I'm proud to say that some of the first live playing I ever did was as a Sunset Rider.
AND SO IT SEEMED
Not much to say about this one.
When I moved to Los Angeles it was with a dream in my pocket and a deep sadness to leave my adopted hometown.
It's a bittersweet love song, a final farewell to the Valley of the Sun.