What Did I Do/God As My Witness – TBT SOTD
I remember when I was young and in love with music, I was the kid that was in my room in the cold winter months (and there were quite a few) sitting in front of my old school stereo with tape decks. Back then we didn’t have mp3 players or smartphones or even YouTube for that matter.
I got my music without buying it like many others, through listening to your favorite radio station and recording the songs on tape that I liked. I remember one of those being “This is a Call” by Foo Fighters in 1995. I fell for this band along the way like many others (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden) and realized the deeper reason was due to the love of stories. I love history because I believe if I don’t know the story, I can’t possibly ascertain the content of the art. For this reason, I am reviewing Foo Fighters “What Did I Do/God As My Witness” off of their Sonic Highways album.
Upon listening to this gem of a song, I couldn’t help but hear the snippy incendiary sounds of the guitars followed by Dave Grohl’s soft but guttural a capella vocals, “There you go again, putting words in my mouth. This one’s for me to know, and for you to find out”. Followed by a tiny semi-buried timbre of a piano, I have a sneaking suspicion that these lyrics are remnants of his interviews with several artists that have shaped the annals of Austin, Texas’ live music scene and the world.
Dave Grohl interviewed several musicians before deciding to incorporate some of their responses into his songwriting, which I must say is something unprecedented. One is legendary blues vocalist and guitarist Gary Clark Jr. Gary is a man who joined in the song’s lead guitar part after respectfully confiscating Pat Smear’s newest guitar after finding out that it makes sounds that were sylph-like to his ear. What follows is his solo renditions that are nothing short of awe-inspiring, love-making notes relegated to a level that steps up into being the epic kind of romance most talented musicians have with their instruments; you know these sounds you hear are from a man who wants nothing more than to emit those full range notes of the sonic spectrum.
Clark Jr. has been making this soulful music since he was fifteen years old. He rocked with greats like BB King and The Rolling Stones and even had some time next to Eric Clapton. The motivating and beguiling rock riffs of the attractive song is an anthemic one that builds to this gigantic peak before finally fading into the emotional and soft, “God As My Witness.”
Billy Gibbons, lead vocalist and songwriter of ZZ Top in his interview with Dave describes growing up in Houston as HOT! But it did not deter him from sneaking off down the street with his family employed maid’s youngest daughter (Little Stella) into a club notorious for artists we would come to know later like Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf and of course BB King. When he said to the next generation of artists, “Learn to play what you want to hear,” I was gushing; It will leave a soft spot on my heart forever.
Lead vocalist and songwriter of 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson contributes his wonderful words to Dave’s symposium of interviews. For those who are not aware, this man is known as the Father of Psychedelic rock which makes me think that some of those lead bass guitar riffs are his influence in this song. This man knows pain and struggle, so his art is deserving of a spot in this wonderful series because once you go through the fire and emerge alive on the other side, you have this wonderful thing called spiritual expression. Upon seeing this interview, you know that man has had some luck and grace in navigating the world of creativity and prominence with those supportive of him.
Dave’s interview with Terry Lickona (Executive Producer of Austin City Limits) leads into an amazing proposition that places the band in legendary Studio 6A for recording this track. The venue has a history that is rich in reward and perseverance, since it was once home to KLRU-TV station show Austin City Limits. ACL was the only show on T.V. that has been awarded the prestigious National Medal of Arts (2003) which is presented by the President of the United States on behalf of the American people for artistic achievement. It has also laid claim to another very rare award for broadcasters known as the Peabody Award. ACL is the longest running music T.V. show in American history.
When I think of this song’s lyrical content, it is this writer’s belief that Dave decided Austin’s Live Music Scene needed extreme coverage due to the decline of the city’s live event atmosphere. To start, Austin, Texas has been well known for being a musical capital since the 1880’s when General Custer and his men were stationed in Texas after the Civil War. They would go out and frequent the many German Music Halls that permeated Pecan Street (present day 6th Street) and it is still the mecca of live music venues where artists of any exposure can come and play today.
The vibrant musical scene of Austin catches acts from Folk and Country to Ethnic Rap and Reggae. However, recent hardships and rent changes have forced some of the once booming musical venues to close (replaced by condominiums) and the lack of rental control has made it hard for new artists to make it like their predecessors have.
Recent efforts to restore the musical scene have been made but unless there is a big undertaking of finances, the city may not come back with the title of Live Music Capital. For now, I am content to write this report on the state of musical history in the country where there are so many histories on both sides of the same coin to be known. Time will only tell if Austin’s live events will continue or decline and I hope the latter.
If the Foos live up to the definition of their name, we will see some mysterious phenomena in this great city take hold that may very-well save the music. Thank you, my readers, for being interested in American Musical History and joining me on this path of artistic preservation. Together, we will broadcast histories of forgotten bands and sounds we built and expanded upon. If you are interested in learning more about Sonic Highways (A film about the album of the song I just reviewed) and its rich history please find episodes for season one on HBO GO.
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