My uncle Eric was my closest uncle and a wonderful mentor.
He gave me my first watch at 7, my first ukelele at 9 and introduced me to photography when he gave me my first camera at 13 or 14, showing me how to use it – the intricacies of combining shutter speed, f stop and film sensitivity to create a properly exposed photo. He did his own darkroom work and had an incredible ear for finding the right, very sophisticated chord on a guitar.
Eric and my mother’s younger sister, Rita, were wonderful to my sister Anne and me. Eric could pull an original bedtime story out of his head and we loved his stories. He was devoted to Rita and welcomed Stella, his mother-in-law, into their home, where she lived for many, many years.
His sense of humour was really original, as one of the macabre photos below and in this short, YouTube tribute I put together from old photos demonstrates.
For this song, another great one by Lionel Ritchie that was requested by a patient at the hospital where I volunteer, I owe the excellent chording to this great link on the ultimate-guitar.com website. All I did was do a little editing on the lead sheet (minor changes and placing the chords as close as possible over the syllables that match the changes – plus changing the font to Times New Roman – the genius here is in the work shown on ultimate-guitar.com. It saved me a lot of work on a beautifully arranged piece made famous by this masterful interpretation by Kenny Rogers. You can play along with Kenny if you capo up one fret:
Here’s another great performance of the song by Lionel and Kenny – there’s a wonderful, hilarious prelude on how the song was written told by Kenny, who appeared to be roasting Richie on MGM’s Red Carpet.
I volunteer at a local hospital twice a week singing for wonderful patients in the palliative and complex care wards who are too ill to leave their ward or their room. When I get requests for songs I don’t already know I put a lead sheet together. This is a recent addition to my repertoire:
If you capo up 1 fret you can play along with Lionel Ritchie’s official video of Say You Say Me.
Some of my adaptations are meant for my own interpretation of the song, and the chords ending the last chorus in particular don’t follow the video. For the most part this lead sheet is faithful to Lionel Ritchie’s version. If you find this helpful, please let me know with a comment or a like on this page.
This is a challenging piece to play and learn, but, if you have a good musical ear the chords aren’t hard. I dedicate this effort as an essay in hope.
The timing from line four on is 7 beats per bar. Once I figured that out the learning became easier. The song is in Tamil and sung by Jayashri Ramnath, one of India’s most hypnotic and drop dead beautiful voices. It is an example of Carnatic music in a classical south Indian style and does not easily lend itself to Western notation. I have sometimes indicated the timing of a chord using dots after the chord – three dots equals three beats, four dots equals four beats, etc. This is a common Carnatic usage, so I thought it appropriate. I have indicated the ornamented syllables by typing them in red. The song is in concert A flat major, so I have used the chords in the key of G and if you capo up one fret on your guitar you will be able to play along with this YouTube version from the soundtrack of the Life of Pi film based on the great book by Canadian, Yann Martel. The film’s music was the responsibility of the Canadian film composer, Mychael Danna, who interpreted this piece with wonderful sensitivity and skill. If you listen carefully you will be struck by the genius in the orchestration and timing that sets off “Bombay Jayashri”‘s magnificent rendition of her song.
OK. Still not about South America yet, but I warned you last time. Anyway – if I hadn’t gone to teach in Trinidad in 1965, I probably wouldn’t have done the two month South America trip in 1967. So kindly bear with me, or, if not, feel free to skip to the end of this post or go elsewhere with my good wishes and abject apologies.
Our West Indies CUSO volunteer contingent (young adults with university degrees or special skills who had selected to serve in the sunny Caribbean over more distant sunny places like Malaysia, India or Tanzania – about two dozen of us in all) assembled at Ottawa’s international airport on a very chilly morning in early September, 1965. We climbed an outside ladder, waved to our loved ones and entered Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Canadair North Star. This was not a jet, but a plane powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin propeller engines. They were proudly termed “turbo-props,” whatever enhancements that meant. Still slow and noisy compared to modern jet planes. Simpler times. It took us 19 hours of island hopping before our 8-member Trinidad contingent arrived at Piarco Airport in Port of Spain, the North Star’s last stop. Continue reading “South America Trip.2”
OK I lied. We’re not technically in South America yet. This was taken at Mayaro Beach in Trinidad in 1967, the last year that the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. I’m in the white shorts.
Trinidad is less than 30 miles from Venezuela, though. Does that count as South America? This is our group of Canadian teachers who got on Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s North Star plane in September 1965. A couple of Canadians named Bill McWhinney and Terry Glavin had had a big part in forming Canadian University Service Overseas, an organization of people with varied skills who were prepared to go all over the world to do their thing. CUSO (still going; one of Canada’s best kept secrets) was only a few years old when they sent this exuberant group to Trinidad. We were the first group to go there. We happened to be all teachers. This meant, in those young and early days of CUSO, all you needed was a degree or a technical skill you could teach. A couple of us had their Bachelor of Education already. I was one month shy of my 21st birthday when I got on that plane in Ottawa and the only teacher training I had was two weeks of orientation with over 300 other worldwide destined volunteers at York University’s beautiful Glendon Campus in Toronto, Ontario. In that two week period we were also taught valuable things like how not to bite a snake and how to eat roti with your fingers. They put me in charge of organizing activities for the West Indies bound contingent outside of orientation. Among other things we went to the West Indies Federation Club for a dinner (curry goat – yum) and a local Torontonian named Anne took us to then hippie (now expensive shoppie) Yorkville for some quality folk music and cheap beer.
I remember the guitars. The ubiquitous guitars. It was, after all, the sixties. I had never sung or played guitar in public before. I clammed up at the age of 6 when my teacher called my parents, Lou and Angel, telling them that I had a beautiful voice. In Grade One we used to stand in a double line somewhere in the hall and sing hymns like Immaculate Mary. I hated to be singled out and was incredibly shy. So, whenever the teacher passed by I would just mouth the words. At least she didn’t hit me like she did when I innocently sat on my heels while practicing how to kneel at the communion rail for our upcoming First Communions.
In my teen years I developed a love for all the Hit Parade music and would once in a while attempt something like Ray Charles’ What’d I Say while walking to the local deli for french fries and a cherry coke after school. My Lachine, Quebec friends weren’t impressed and let me know. Cruel, perhaps honest, times. I also loved Frank Sinatra. Many a night I sang myself (quietly) to sleep doing one or more of his classy hits, like Nice and Easy. I had purchased a used Harmony dreadnought acoustic guitar at 12 years old and knew the basic nut position chords. The strings were so far from the fretboard on that thing that exploration beyond nut position was impossible. Those elementary skills were the basic musical tools I possessed when I took the train to Toronto from Montreal in 1965.
Orientation in Toronto was my first public performance. The atmosphere in that group was welcoming and non-threatening. I borrowed someone’s guitar in the lounge one evening and played a song I loved: Dona Dona. Here’s the version by Joan Baez I first heard. I hereby confess to a permanent love for her pure voice. After that I was never afraid or shy to sing.
Trinidadians love music. At a community meeting it was not unusual for a person to randomly get up at the end and sing a song. Regardless of the quality of the performance, the audience was warm and accepting. While there I bought myself a cheap guitar and learned to sing and play calypso and soca tunes. I started to listen carefully to bass lines, arrangement and harmony. My favorite calypsonian was then, and still is, The Mighty Sparrow. His songs were funny, frequently aimed at politicians and, more than occasionally, just plain smutty. Here is one of my favorite Sparrow songs, full of double entente and verve: Congo Man. I saw him perform it in his prime in 1966 at Naparima Bowl in San Fernando and he blew the place away.
In August 1967 I got home to Montreal from my two years in Trinidad and two months in South America – just in time to spend a couple of weeks at Expo 67. Later I painted this map on Bristol board and took a 35 mm slide of it so that I could show people the Caribbean islands in my slide shows. Trinidad and its sister island, Tobago, are at the bottom close to big, brown Venezuela. The Orinoco River is also shown. Jamaica is the big, pink island at the top. To give you an idea of scale: Kingston is 1133 miles from Port of Spain. Don’t ask me which are the Windward and which the Leeward Islands. I never got that right.
Oh yeah, this post is supposed to be about South America. Maybe one more on Trinidad first…
Below is a jpeg of the words and chords (“lead sheet”) to the hymn Abide With Me. I have been putting together a number of songs lately because I have started singing at the local hospital. I really want to work with people who are in long term or palliative care, who can’t leave their area to go to an auditorium. The guitar can go anywhere – even to someone’s bedside. Continue reading “Abide With Me – Lyrics and Chords”