I know. It sounds melancholy. But I’m not melancholy, and I’m not trying to make you melancholy. I knew I’d eventually get around to writing this story. Because my young friend (more like a nephew) Peter Garami has been making YouTube videos from various songs I recorded with my late wife, Sally Jo Davis.
We had a folk duo and sometimes trio, called Spirit Ridge. Thus far, Peter and I have made videos from some of the more positive, inspirational songs SJ and I recorded. — Songs I’ve written which have titles like “Walk With A Light Foot”, “Isn’t It Good To Be Alive”, “So Ready To Go, and “There’s A Small Town In Every Big City”. You may have read my blog posts I’ve written about those videos.
For my next video – this one — I wanted to do something a little edgier. So Peter and I decided to use the now-public domain, practically traditional, African-American blues dirge Sally Jo and I recorded, entitled “One Kind Favor” (aka “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”). You’ll find the YouTube video embedded here (below). It features my vocals, lead acoustic guitar playing, and some of my original photography. Peter also contributed a photo he took in Hungary; his truly great photo is the last one in the montage.
The song also features the finger-picked acoustic guitar playing of Sally Jo. Our engineer, Rick Ruskin, who actually recorded with John Fahey, ran her guitar through a chorus unit, to give it a little “FX”. Sally Jo was an excellent finger-picker. When we met, she had a nylon-stringed (classical) guitar. She tried out my steel-stringed acoustic, and found that she really enjoyed finger-picking on it. So she got her own beautiful, vintage Gibson acoustic guitar, which is heard here.
The story behind the song: “One Kind Favor” is sung by a dying man (or woman) who asks a person (perhaps his spouse or lover) for a special favor: “When I’m gone, will you see that my grave is kept clean?”
I heard the song hundreds of times, on a great Canned Heat LP, “Living The Blues”. I loved it; but I never learned how to play it. Then, in the late 1980’s, I heard an acoustic version of the song done by John Hammond, Jr., and I was inspired to learn it. It’s odd: Peter Garami recently sent me a link to a vintage Grateful Dead version; it sounds quite a bit like my version. But I’d never heard their version. – Coincidence…. In order to give him proper credit, let me mention that Blind Lemon Jefferson is said to have originated the song.
In addition to this song about death, Sally Jo and I used to play an old-time/bluegrass tune entitled “The Walls Of Time”. In it, the spouse who has been widowed sings, “I’ll come to you when I die”. In other words, they would be reunited in Heaven. I used to playfully say to SJ that I would do that when she passed. I would wait until it was time for me to come to her. She would always come back with, “You’ll be the first to go, and I’m having you cremated. And there is no Heaven”.
Well, not only is SJ my late wife; she’s my late ex-wife. We divorced in 2000. However, we maintained a fragile friendship via email, until she passed away on January 10, 2015. But I never had the chance to visit her grave. She was cremated; her ashes were scattered at a beautiful river north of here. I wasn’t even invited to the memorial, because we were divorced. Often, when you get divorced, you wind up being divorced from a whole lot of people; not just your spouse. Very sad.
As I mentioned, Sally Jo and I emailed back and forth, on and off, for fifteen years. Once in a while, she’d write about her beautiful, New Mexico cabin, where she lived with the deer, coyotes, snakes, birds and lizards. And her two cats. She loved living in the desert. She’d send the occasional photo, which she’d take from her front porch, just to give me a taste of what she saw every day. Here is one of those photos (above).
I recently visited Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Queen Anne Hill. One reason for my going, was to take a long walk. I love to go on long walks. However, another reason was because I have no relatives in Seattle who are buried in a cemetery. I have no one’s grave to visit. I wanted to see what it would be like to walk through the graveyard. I hadn’t been in one for many years. I wanted to see what feelings would be stirred in me. — Actually, I felt a kind of disconnect, because no one I ever knew is interred there. Also, I was lonely. Because in that huge cemetery, I was, apparently, the only living person there. But, I took many photos during my visit. Those are the photos which appear here, and in the YouTube video (along with a couple of creative commons ones, and Peter’s very-fitting winter scene).
It’s not in the cards for me to have a conventional grave. — Over the years, I’ve benefited from the good care provided me by the University of Washington’s medical system. For instance, they gave me hand and eye surgery, free gratis, when I desperately needed it. I have no relatives here – no one to put me in the ground; no one to “see that my grave is kept clean”. — Not even a soul to have me cremated. So, I have made arrangements to will whatever remains to the U of W medical research department. When I go, I’ll make one final contribution to humankind. And that’s the way I want it.
I hope you’ll enjoy the YouTube video of “One Kind Favor”. (Please click on the arrow.) I wish I could share our version of “The Walls of Time” with you too (since I can’t I’m giving you a link to Peter Rowan’s great version, below). Sally Jo and I recorded it live in concert, on a cassette tape. Our friend Jules De Giulio played the saw on it for us. Yep, the saw. Right now, I don’t have a way to digitally convert it, to share it with you. But here are the words to two of its verses:
The wind is blowing cross the mountains
And out on the valley way below.
It sweeps the grave of my darling
When I die that’s where I want to go.
Our names are carved upon a tombstone,
I promised you before you died.
Our love would bloom forever darling,
When we rest side by side.
Things aren’t going to work out the way they did in “The Walls Of Time”. Sally Jo has no grave, I will have none. And, we got divorced. Which makes me wonder: who will I be with in Heaven?
Here is Canned Heat’s version of One Kind Favor:
Here is Blind Lemon Jefferson’s version of See That My Grave Is Kept Clean:
Here is Peter Rowan’s version of The Walls Of Time (there is a one-minute introduction):