As I continue to practice on my Chapman Stick guitar, I have a list of tunes that I am currently working on and a list of tunes that I plan to work on. One of the songs that just went from the “will work on” to “working on” list is Work Song by Nat Adderley. When I first heard it on the second Paul Butterfield record “East – West”, it immediately sounded familiar. The song was already a bit of a standard by then, first appearing on a Nat Adderley record of the same name in 1960 with it subsequently being given lyrics a year later by Oscar Brown Jr. I have a vague recollection of seeing Bobby Darin perform it on T.V. as a kid (check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58Q4Q2KRVXU). The melody, with it’s call & response structure, harkens back to pre-blues while it’s harmonic structure is similar to (but not exactly) a minor blues. Given that combination, it’s not that surprising that the song would be performed by a wide range of artists.
Lets first start with the a clip of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet performing the tune live in Switzerland in 1963. With Cannonball on alto sax and the song’s composer on cornet, there’s Joe Zawinal on piano; Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. This was one of the great unsung bands in jazz. Cannonball Addderley, in my humble opinion, is one of the more under appreciated figures in jazz. He played on the Miles Davis records “Milestones” and “Kind Of Blue” where his bluesier style provided a nice contrast to John Coltrane’s tenor sax and Miles’s trumpet. You want more? How about having the jazz crossover hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”? That tune was written by the group’s pianist Joe Zawinul. Joe went on to become a important figure in jazz-rock (or, if you insist on calling it such, fusion), making essential contributions to Miles’ “In A Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew” and going on to form the group Weather Report.
The tune is taken here at a pretty brisk tempo. Cannonball takes the first solo which starts off in a typical hard bop vein with the occasional detour into slightly more oblique harmony. Nat Adderley solos next on cornet with more mainstream bebop lines but still swings like hell. Joe Zawinal’s piano solo is also more straight bebop with some cool block chords towards the end. Special mention to Louis Hays on drums, who’s playing here is kicking butt and taking names.
Work Song – Cannonball Adderley Quintet (1963)
Instead of presenting the “East-West” version of Work Song, the clip below is the audio of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band playing the tune at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on September 20th, 1966. Jerry Garcia had mentioned in interviews how these Fillmore West shows really put the local San Francisco bands on notice. Butterfield and company came to town to play.
The awesome Michael Bloomfield solos first. Almost immediately, his lines showcase a jazzy chromaticism that you wouldn’t hear from a traditional blues guitarist. Considering that this was 1966, I would say that Bloomfield was more harmonically advanced than almost any of his peers at that time (or any other time for that matter). That being said, by the end of his solo, it sounds like he’s strangling his guitar strings and mixing serious string bends with that aforementioned chromaticism. It’s interesting to compare Bloomfield’s solo with that of the group’s other guitarist, Elvin Bishop, later on. Elvin’s solo is great but compared to Bloomfield’s, his phrasing is more conventional and lacks Bloomfield’s across the bar line rhythmic abandon.
Work Song – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Live at The Fillmore West (09/20/1966)
Finally, here is a clip of The Animals doing Work Song on some TV show in 1965. Unlike the two previous clips, this version gives us the lyrics and features impressive vocals from Eric Burdon and a niffy electric piano solo from Dave Rowberry. I must admit that I’m not familiar with The Animals other than the hits but based on this cut, I will certainty make the effort to do so.
As the song says: “I still got a long way to go”.
Work Song – The Animals (1965)