Today’s post was written by Paul.
Our first song in the story song series was in 3rd person; the next two were in first person, and this last installment is in 2nd person, sung directly from one friend to another upon his passing.
I didn’t set out to sing four consecutive songs where a character dies. It just happened. Perhaps death is simply a part of most good stories.
When I was a kid, I had a cassette of The Highwaymen (Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, & Johnny Cash), and that’s where I heard the song “Jim, I Wore a Tie Today.” My brother and I loved to listen to that tape. We found some of the lyrics, like “beer guts and dominoes” in “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “You’d have said that I looked like a dummy,” in “Jim, I Wore a Tie Today” funny every time we listened, even though we’d heard the tape many times.
Later on, when I was in high school, as I was traveling home from a baseball game with the rest of the varsity team, I overheard a senior (I was only a sophomore or freshman) talking about the song I’m sharing today in the back of the bus, and I was surprised to hear this burly football player get choked up talking about this song. He said it was the saddest song ever written. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it did get me thinking about the song in a more serious light.
When I began to consider including it in the song series, I searched YouTube and discovered that the song was recorded much earlier by Jimmy Dean (who did the entire song as a recitation) and Eddy Arnold (who sang the first verse and spoke the second, as did the Highwaymen).
Cindy Walker wrote the song (according to the internet). She really came up with some great lines and a nice melody.
The versions by Dean and Arnold featured a slightly more complex chord pattern, with quick changes from the high chord to low chord in the latter half of the chorus (where the line is “the preacher said a lot of things”).
The Highwaymen simplified this portion of the song. I followed their arrangement there, partly because it made it simpler for Corie and Tipper to play along without having ever really played the song before, and the melody is still plenty original with this approach.
For the picking, I had the song go back to the base chord (F) an extra time, rather than staying in the high chord. This change frustrated or threw Corie the first couple of times we played the song, because it makes the picking different from the singing.
I have another specific memory about one of the lines in this song. Once, I was singing the song in the living room of my parents’ house, and Pap overheard me sing, “when you reach those streets paved with gold.” Pap smiled and said that I should sing: “made of gold,” not paved with gold. I knew that Pap was talking about the Bible, not the song. I checked, and sure enough, the one time in the Bible (Revelations 21:21) where it talks about the streets of Heaven, it never uses the word “paved,” which would imply a surface covering, but instead says that the streets are pure gold, like clear glass. At least, the word “paved” isn’t used in the King James Version that I grew up with and that Pap studied incessantly. To Pap, every single word in the Bible mattered and had specific meaning. I thought this was a really nice thought: that the streets aren’t gravel or some other substance merely coated with gold but are pure, solid gold. Anyway, I digress.
I’ve often heard the phrase about panning for gold “on the cuff,” but I don’t know what that means exactly. The Eddy Arnold version features some clippity clop sounds in the background as the song fades to an ending. I couldn’t resist asking Katie to try her hand at some equine accompaniment! 🙂 We grabbed the best available “instruments” in the kitchen and gave it a shot–possibly the first and last time that Katie ever played percussion on a song. 🙂
She was in another room when Corie, Tipper, and I ran over the song a couple of times before the take that you see in the video. To me, there’s a cool little moment in this video, in the second verse, where Katie’s expression gets much more serious. I think it was at that moment when she understood what the song is about. I don’t think she was paying close attention to the lyrics in the first verse, and she said that at first, she thought “Jim” was the narrator’s horse. Perhaps it was the part about being placed in the back of the wagon that made her realize that Jim couldn’t be the narrator’s horse and instead was the narrator’s human friend.
Go here to see the lyrics.
We hope that you enjoyed the story song series and heard some songs that you hadn’t heard before. Lord willing, we’ll do it again next March. As always, thanks for watching. Next month, I hope to share an upload of Pap singing a very special song (no video, just audio). Sometime after that, I also hope to share a video or two relating to a CD of some gospel songs that he wrote, which I have been recording for the past few years.