February is nearly in the rearview mirror, and I haven’t blogged about my January video yet. What can I say, but that I was busy! Nevertheless, I still had time in January to modify my Telecaster, learn a new old song, and try out a cool effects pedal that I got for Christmas, all combining to bring you a swampy, slap backy version of a Tex Mex Country classic.
About the song
Have you ever been stuck in an airport, walking from one end of the gates to the other, just killing time during a layover, when an old song pops into your head out of nowhere? That’s what happened to me with Wasted Days and Wasted Nights. And I just kept singing it to myself as we sort of aimlessly roamed around O’hare Airport during our holiday travels. It seems obvious from the title that it might come to mind, but other than that I haven’t a clue why this popped into my head. But it’s a great song, and great fun to sing, and I immediately thought it would make a great cover for my January video. Especially since I had just been gifted a cool analog delay pedal from Sioux Guitars, and I had a hunch that playing my Fender rig with a slap back echo would be just perfect for this song.
When I got home and started looking for versions of this song online, I quickly stumbled on Freddy Fender’s original recording from 1959. I love this recording, and I think it is much better than the one he recorded in 1975 that was such a big hit. Why? Because the original one is just chock full of the classic elements of 50’s rock-n-roll balladry and has some New Orleans style swampiness stirred in with Freddy’s Mexican roots to boot. Lazy walking bass line like Fat’s Domino? Check. Plaintive teen romantic lyric? Check. Slap back echo for reverb, like Sun Studios? Check. R&B backing band complete with sax solo on the break? YEAH BABY!!! It is just a fantastic combination of ingredients for my taste. In contrast, the 1975 version is just straight country schmaltz. The song is simple and great, either way, but it really shined back in ’59.
As I did the inevitable Wikipedia reading, I learned a few interesting tid bits about Freddy as well. It seems Freddy Fender was a stage name that he legally changed to in 1958. Fender, chosen from the popular musical instruments, and Freddy, because, according to Wikipedia, the alliteration would sell well with the gringos. For you see Freddy was born Baldemar Garza Huerta to Mexican immigrant parents in San Benito, Texas. His talent was apparent from an early age, and he was singing on the radio by the age of 10. He was a bit of an alcoholic highschool dropout who was bounced out of the Marines before 20. He toured the south playing the Tex Mex equivalent of the chitlin circuit, and had some minor success releasing Mexican language covers of early rock and country songs in Mexico and South America. Eventually, he wrote and recorded this song, and started generating some buzz with it in late 1959. But Freddy wasn’t just a drinker, and he wound up arrested on Marijuana charges in Baton Rouge in 1960. The arrest torpedoed this song and his career for several years. In fact, he wound up spending 3 years in the Angola prison farm before being released through the intercession of then governor Jimmie Davis, a sympathetic songwriter himself. I can’t help thinking that the fact that his given name was Baldemar Garza Huerta might have been a factor when he and his band mate first ran into trouble in Louisiana. He eventually turned things around and got to enjoy success later in life. But I don’t think any of it was easy.
About the recording
I’m playing my MIM (Made In Mexico) Tele with its custom Charlie Christian style pickups through my glorious 1965 Fender Showman amplifier. Pretty appropriate, given Freddy
Fender’s back story, huh? Adding to the fun, I’m using a new pedal that was a Christmas gift from my in-laws, who like to give away Sioux City shopping expeditions during the holiday season. Usually, I go to Bomgaars Farm and Ranch Supply looking for snap button shirts, but this year I did some pre-holiday websurfing recon and spied that Sioux City had a boutique guitar business located down town. Seems there is a guy in Sioux City that makes a line of custom amplifiers and guitar effects pedals that are favored by 1990’s era Southern California punk bands. Who knew? I contacted him on Facebook and he agreed to meet up with me and show me his wares the day after Christmas at his storefront in the old Frances Building. It was very cool. The store is in what looks to have been an old law office. It makes an impressive showroom for the guy’s very loud amplifiers. My father in law was along, and it was great hearing him reminisce about when the Iowa Public Service utility (his employer for most of his career) was in this same building. I have a real soft spot for these types of old downtown office buildings, the guitar pedals were fun to try out, and the other swag that was for sale was neat, including the Sioux Guitars jacket I’m wearing in the video. All in all, a great day and a fabulous present! The pedal is called the Dakota County delay and is a classic analog delay pedal. Because the typical Sioux Guitar clientele skews to punk and psycho-surfer-rockabilly, the proprietor/designer includes some extra gain, and allows one to push the feedback circuit into unstable oscillations. Here, I’m using the pedal in a much more pedestrian fashion, mimicking the old analog tape slap back echo effect that was on many of the early rock-n-roll songs. It does this like a champ and works great for this song. The pedal is much more convenient than the old Echoplex tape loop machine that I have, but never use, because the tape is inevitably hopelessly snarled and damn near irreplaceable these days. I didn’t show it in the video, but Sioux Guitar effects pedals are all done in a Red and White color scheme. I was just incredibly tickled to learn that the Red is actually the same Red used by Massey Ferguson tractors. Seems that the metal work for the boxes is done by a local Sioux City outfit that does (did?) parts for MF tractors.