Dear Prudence – The Story Behind the Song

Dear Prudence – The Story Behind the Song


During The Beatles’ Indian sojourn, John Lennon wrote “Dear Prudence” as a serenade for Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow. Along with Mike Love of The Beach Boys and a handful of other celebrities, they all had traveled to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

After ten days, Ringo Starr left. (Apparently, the food disagreed with him. The desired spiritual results eluded him as well). Paul McCartney left the meditation course after a month to pursue other commitments.  However, George Harrison and John Lennon persisted for another couple of weeks alongside the Farrow sisters and several others.

“Dear Prudence, Won’t You Come Out to Play?”

According to Lennon, Prudence had withdrawn to her hut, meditating nonstop. “She’d been locked in for three weeks and wouldn’t come out, trying to reach God quicker than anybody else. That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first.”

Worried friends selected John to reach out to Prudence and encourage her to socialize. As John puts it at the end of this early demo of his song:

“No one was to know that sooner or later she was to go completely berserk, under the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl because she was going insannnnnnne. . .So, we sang to her.”

From all accounts, Lennon’s simple serenade had a positive impact.

“Dear Prudence, Won’t You Open Up Your Eyes?”

Eventually, John and George left India, disillusioned with the Maharishi. (He was rumored to be womanizing.) Moreover, to John, the Maharishi seemed more interested in earthly wealth and fame than spiritual matters.

As a rebuke, Lennon wrote a scathing song entitled “Maharishi.” The lyrics castigate the Maharishi for breaking his own rules and for making fools out of his disciples. Out of respect for the positive lessons they had learned from him, George persuaded John to change the protagonist of “Maharishi” to “Sexy Sadie.”

“It’s Beautiful, and So Are You”

However, “Dear Prudence” remains unchanged from its original form. Lennon’s gently coaxing masterpiece reminds us that for a healthy spirituality, we mustn’t hermetically withdraw from the world. Rather, we must open our eyes, perceive, smile, and interact.

So that’s the message I shared with the audience in this set-closing psychedelic jam at the 2015 MWROC festival. Have a listen! Come out to play.

David Wallace: electric viola & vocals

Laura Kaye: vocals

Matt Vanacoro: keyboards & vocals

Sean Grisson: cello

Rob Bambach: electric guitar

Paul Ranieri: bass

Jason Gianni: drum set

Johnny Gimble: A First-hand Reminiscence

Johnny Gimble: A First-hand Reminiscence

UPDATE:

iFiddle Magazine issued a June 2015 Johnny Gimble commemorative edition. They asked me to film a video tribute where I shared a few memories and performed one of his tunes. -What an honor to share “Gardenia Waltz” in tribute to the great Johnny Gimble:

The Day the World Stopped Swinging

Today during Berklee College of Music’s graduation, Matt Glaser nudged me and shared somber breaking news: “Johnny Gimble just died.” In a split second, the world became a little less swinging.

Johnny Gimble and David Wallace; Waco, TX, July, 1996

Johnny Gimble and David Wallace; Waco, TX; July, 1996. Note “Roly Poly” chord progression on the blackboard in the Nashville number system.

Johnny Gimble: legendary fiddler; consummate entertainer; deft bandleader; witty raconteur; kind, generous teacher; family man. Only last week, Matt and some of our string faculty were enjoying and analyzing Johnny’s extraordinary “Beaumont Rag” solo from his “Fiddlin’ Around” LP (Capitol 11301, 1974).

After the second hearing, Mimi Rabson shook her head in admiration: “What a sound! We should require every Berklee string player to learn that!” Matt agreed: “It’s the greatest improvised violin solo on record.”

“Never Play it the Same Way Once!”

Though Johnny would have been tickled to see the joy his solo gave us, he would have shrugged off our urges to canonize it.

Johnny frequently summarized his improvisational approach by relating a life-altering conversation that he and his elder brother had when they were teenagers. One night, after a Saturday night dance in rural Texas, his brother took him to task:

As he was driving me home in his pickup, my brother said, “Johnny, I’m disappointed in you.” I said, “Why?! I thought I played well tonight!” He said, “Johnny, you played the same solo you played last Saturday.” From then on, I decided to never play it the same way once!

I spent many happy hours listening to Johnny Gimble, learning from him, jamming with him, and even teaching by his side at Mark O’Connor’s San Diego String Conferences. Ceaselessly, Johnny amazed me with the freshness of his improvisations and musical ideas.

Johnny Gimble, Fiddling Scholar

In reality, his fecundity was rooted in an encyclopedic knowledge of Texas swing. He could teach you classic riffs and solos that he had learned from many of his heroes and role models: Cliff Bruner, J.R. Chatwell, Jesse Ashlock and many others. By breaking tricky licks down, he made them simple and accessible. If you did want to learn a tune or a solo note-for-note, he would teach you.

Johnny constantly enriched and deepened other musicians’ knowledge. If you loved Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, he made sure that you also knew Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies. If you admired one particular “Beaumont Rag” solo, he made sure you knew about several others by multiple artists from different eras. Often, he would demonstrate them from memory.

When Johnny found out that I also played viola, the first thing he asked me was “Have you heard Don Decker? He played viola in T. Tex Tyler’s band. There aren’t a whole lot of records, but he was really good.” Johnny should know; he was one of the first fiddlers to add a fifth string to his fiddle so that it could encompass the viola’s deeper range.

The Ears Behind Johnny Gimble’s Distinctive Voice

Throughout his career, Gimble also distinguished himself with his voice. Fronting his own bands with lead vocals, he also sang in unison with his improvised violin lines and harmonized fluidly. I can’t recall a concert, class, or jam that didn’t include a healthy dose of Johnny’s singing.

Johnny Gimble knew his music theory. More than anything, though, his playing was rooted in his ears and in hours of listening, both on the bandstand and off.

At his 1996 Texas Swing Camp, Johnny taught an advanced group one of his formidable, double-stop augmented riffs. I asked, “How do you know when to use it?”

He smiled. “Just keep your ears open. You’ll start to hear it.” Surely enough, time proved him right. Hear that augmented lick for yourself at 2:36 in this video of Johnny playing “Fiddlin’ Around.

We musicians could easily spend the rest of our days studying Johnny’s music, striving for his impeccable rhythmic drive, and seeking to embody his generous, gregarious stage presence and personality. However, in many ways, we would be missing the point.

Johnny Gimble strove to be creative, not merely imitative. In full measure, he shared his musical gifts for the joy and the sake of others- not for his own gratification or glory. We should definitely transcribe his solos, teach his licks, and play his tunes. More than anything, though, we should preserve his legacy the way he lived it: jam, sing, laugh, share, teach, and never play it the same way once!

Thank you, Johnny!

Doc Wallace, May 9, 2015

Enjoy an excellent documentary on the life of Johnny Gimble:

And a vintage “Sweet Georgia Brown” video featuring yours truly. There’s certainly a lick or two from late night jams on this tune with Johnny at fiddle camps:

 

Berklee String Chair: A New Life

Berklee String Chair: A New Life

Berklee Logo Berklee String Department

It hardly seems possible, but it’s been a full semester since I moved to Boston and became Berklee College of Music‘s String Department Chair. Beyond the busyness and the whirlwind of changes, I feel a tremendous joy and excitement:

As Berklee String Chair, I serve and lead the most creative string department in higher education. I have so much to share, but for now, I’ll do it through a few media items:

Violist David Wallace Takes the Reins at Berklee College by becoming Berklee String Chair

Check out the third headline: Violist David Wallace Takes the Reins at Berklee College!

Strings Magazine Cover Story

The December 2014 edition of Strings magazine includes a cover story about my transition from New York City to Berklee. It’s rare that something another person writes or says about me brings tears to my eyes, but writer Rory Williams really got the story right. -That includes the embarrassing and difficult parts of my musical journey.

Life in the Berklee String Department

As I work to stay one step ahead of my students, I sense that my ear, technique, and rhythm improve each week. Through the walls, I even learn by osmosis as I hear amazing Berklee String teachers impart their wisdom.

Without a doubt, I look forward to Mondays more than I have in years. When you watch this four-minute video that we produced, you’ll know why!
Each week, new opportunities surface as I learn of new job responsibilities, or find myself faced with unexpected opportunities. (The latter has ranged from redesigning Berklee’s summer string program to being called to play “Songs in the Key of Life” with Stevie Wonder.)

Recruiting Berklee String Department’s Next Generation

Naturally, one of the major responsibilities of the Berklee String Chair is recruitment. You might enjoy a fun video describing some of my job responsibilities that I posted to my YouTube channel. Because this particular video targets my high school YouTuber audience, the style is quirkier and less formal:

Doc Wallace, Berklee String Chair, 16 November, 2014

A Surreal Drugstore Encounter with Hank Williams & Charlie Parker

A Surreal Drugstore Encounter with Hank Williams & Charlie Parker

Every now and then, my inner-city radar picks up something that is not quite right. In these moments, my subconscious throttles my awareness because the atmosphere is wrong. -Something is about to happen. Something peripheral is asserting itself. The circumstances do not match the circumstances; be ready to react!

Once upon a Labor Day. . .

I was picking up some odds and ends at a Rite Aid Pharmacy in Washington Heights right under the George Washington Bridge. As I compared per-ounce prices of various products and pondered whether Rite-Aid’s generic knock-off of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser was truly as meritorious as its box proclaimed, my nervous system went into high alert. I felt particularly startled because nobody was standing close enough to cause it. A split second later, I realized why I had suddenly dropped a can of Ajax and looked up at the ceiling: it was the steel guitar.

Instead of hearing muzak, hip-hop, pop, salsa, or smooth jazz on the Rite Aid P. A. system, I was actually hearing a steel guitar. Not just any steel guitar, mind you- this was one of the most recognizable and beautifully recorded steel guitar licks of all time. My jaw dropped. Here, in a drugstore at West 179th Street and Broadway, Hank Williams Senior‘s original posthumous 1953 hit recording, Your Cheatin’ Heart, was filling the air.

Exhibit A: Hank Williams (NOT Muzak!)


At first, I didn’t quite know what to do; this wasn’t supposed to be happening. It’s not so unusual for me to dream musical incongruities, but I was certain I was perfectly awake. The music seemed slightly louder than usual for a drugstore; I glanced around to see if anyone else detected anything unusual. The women coming down my aisle browsed and conversed in Spanish as if they heard nothing but their own voices.  I stood still, listening, involuntarily and silently mouthing a word or two as Hank entered with his inimitable vocals:

Your cheatin’ heart 
Will make you weep
You’ll cry and cry
And try to sleep

I decided I’d better continue shopping before two security guards (looking my way) mistakenly decided I was the anomaly that demanded immediate attention.

I made some swift decisions about cleaning agents and moved to the next aisle.  A young Rite Aid stocker stacked Cheerios boxes and mumbled along, dropping syllables and consonants as he phonetically rendered the instrumental breaks: “Slee’ won’ come. . . Bearw! Bearw! Bearw!. . .whole night through. . .Hmmm cheatin’ heart. . . . will tell on you!” Although this made the scene a little weirder, something about the nonchalance and absentmindedness of his singing encouraged my own mind to drift again.

A Timelessness Time-Trip

When did I first hear this song, anyway? I don’t even know. It’s something that’s always been there like the sun or the moon or gravity. . . my father occasionally used to sing it and accompany himself on guitar. I used to spin a 45 RPM record of it that I either permanently borrowed from him or got from a garage sale. In Texas during the seventies, the song could still make an occasional appearance on the radio, at a pizza parlor, or on the country music shows that formed the mainstay of primetime weekend television.

Brushing aside an impulse to ponder the song’s sudden reappearance for any omens or personal relevance, I envisioned the music filling a darkened bar or a diner in Harlem almost sixty years ago . . .

Legendary be-bop musician Charlie Parker was notorious for pumping Harlem jukeboxes full of nickels as he punched in requests for Hank Williams tunes. His friends ribbed him for it:

“Bird, how can you listen to that hillbilly music?!  It’s so corny!”

“Listen to the words, man; do you listen to the words?!”

Parker died only a few years after Williams, but I’m sure he spun this record many times. I’ve never quite managed to connect the chromatic complexity of a chart like Parker’s “Hot House” with the earthy directness of a three-chord Williams ballad. Once again I struggled to build an aesthetic link from one to the other.

Exhibit B: Charlie Parker’s Hot House (Also NOT Muzak!)

But I couldn’t bridge that gap, nor could I imagine what Charlie Parker might have been thinking as he silently brooded over his beer and listened to Hank’s sad story unfold because I was becoming aware of some strange sounds emanating from deep within the Rite Aid stock room. Once again, I had the sense that something wasn’t right, but this time I couldn’t identify the sounds. I only knew that they were vaguely human.

Then it hit me: somebody is yodeling.  Badly.

The sporadic muffled yodels unpredictably joined the song at various intervals. Either somebody in the stockroom was loving the music and having a great time exulting in it, or he was mercilessly mocking it and Williams’ tendency to pass fluidly and frequently between his head and chest voice in the great American passaggio tradition of artists like Jimmy Rogers.

-Or worse. Maybe this whole scene was the brainchild of some sadistic manager who was using Hank Williams’ music for evil. I tried to stifle the image: a bound, blue-and-red-uniformed Rite-Aid employee is being tortured. He’s being forced to yodel along to an endless-repeat cycle of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” until he finally breaks into a chorus of “Please Release Me,” flees the building and drowns his sorrows at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, where he can listen to an Upstarts! group perform a sophisticated, Charlie Parker retrospective set curated by [email protected] Center, after which there will be absolutely no Hank Williams tunes playing on the nonexistent jukebox.

Somebody even deeper within the bowels of Rite Aid laughed and bantered happily. The yodeling continued.

Your Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell on You

Slowly, I realized this was not a yodel of duress. Whether exulting or ridiculing or merely groaning because he had to endure somebody else’s favorite music, the employee in the back was definitely having a good time. Like it or not, great music of any kind refuses to be ignored.

No longer on alert, I savored the moment. In twenty-two years of living in New York City, I had never heard any Hank Williams music in any store. It will likely never happen again, unless the guys in the Rite Aid stockroom have a deep and abiding love for timeless music. (Or a penchant for the quirky inside jokes that help us to tolerate tedious work environments.) Bring it home, Hank!

When tears come down,
Like falling rain,
You’ll toss around,
And call my name,
You’ll walk the floor,
The way I do,
Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you… 

After the steel guitar tag faded away, a forgettable, more contemporary country song softly wafted through the P.A. system. Appropriately, everyone ignored it. The scene gradually shifted to resemble any other chain drugstore in New York City.

-Some brilliant producer needs to bring back the steel guitar and the yodel.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

-Doc Wallace

Biennial! – My New York Philharmonic Premiere

Biennial! – My New York Philharmonic Premiere

I am SO EXCITED that the New York Philharmonic and soprano Lucy Shelton will perform the world premiere of my orchestral song cycle William Blake Rhapsody! Part of the Philharmonic’s 2014 Biennial Festival, my concert is on Saturday, May 31st at 11:00AM at Merkin Hall.

Curated by Jon Deak, this free program features music from the Philharmonic’s  Very Young Composers project.  Emerging teen composers will have their own new works performed alongside premieres of their mentors (me, Daniel Felsenfeld and Richard Carrick).

I genuinely believe that William Blake Rhapsody has something for you. . . so, let’s take a closer look!

NY Philharmonic Biennial Rehearsal of “William Blake Rhapsody:” (l to r) Michael Adelson, Lucy Shelton, David Wallace

William Blake Rhapsody

William Blake Rhapsody embodies our struggle to find enduring love, joy, and faith amidst a broken world fraught with suffering. Blake’s poetry and imagery drive the work.

In each of the three songs, a soprano personifies, amplifies, and deconstructs Blake’s poetry with her melodies. (Yes, you heard that right: I’m a composer who actually believes that singers should have melodies.)

As the soprano projects our love, joy, grief, and woe, the orchestra conjures Blake’s poetic images with sound. Sometimes, we hear literal depictions of birdsong or infants. Other times, recurring themes and motifs symbolize Blake’s theology and worldview. Occasionally, the orchestra represents malevolent or benevolent forces acting upon the soprano’s personal Heaven or Hell.

Are you curious to know which poems I chose, and to hear how the music sounds? You can read the full program note and libretto here, but I also play and sing a bit of it in the “making of” video below:

The Making of a Philharmonic Biennial Premiere

Because I wanted to share some behind-the-scenes secrets, I filmed a “Making of the William Blake Rhapsody” video for my YouTube channel. Although I’m embarrassed to be singing instead of Lucy, you’ll still get a sense of the piece:

Lucy Shelton

Lucy Shelton, soprano & Elliott Carter, composer.

Premiere Musicians

As I mentioned, William Blake Rhapsody features phenomenal soprano Lucy Shelton. Through the years, Lucy has premiered and recorded works of Elliott Carter, David Del Tredici, and countless other masters. Longtime New York Philharmonic conductor Michael Adelson conducts a chamber orchestra consisting of New York Philharmonic members. To a person, everyone involved in the project has been a dream.

William Blake Rhapsody Eternity Manuscript David Wallace New York Philharmonic Biennial

Blake’s Manuscript for “Eternity,” the first song: “He who binds to himself a joy / Does the wingéd life destroy / But he who kisses the joy as it flies / Lives in eternity’s sunrise”

NY Phil Biennial in the News

For more information on the New York Philharmonic Biennial, please enjoy this NPR All Things Considered broadcast. Since this festival only comes every two years, I really hope you’ll make it!

Doc Wallace Trio to Record New Live Album

Doc Wallace Trio to Record New Live Album

Yes, it’s true! This fall, the Doc Wallace Trio will record a new live album at The Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village. Join us for one hot live set at 6:00PM on Thursday, September 12th and another at 6:00PM on Monday, October 14th. A $15 cover charge includes one drink.  Although reservations are not required, they are recommended.

A Follow-Up to a Live Album

Live at The Cornelia Street Café will be a long-overdue sequel to Live at the Living Room (2001), our first CD as a trio. In keeping with the original CD’s spirit, the new live album will consist of complete, unedited live takes. Once again, the repertoire will consist of rollicking old-time fiddling and swing tunes from the Texas fiddling tradition.

Live at the Living Room completely sold out of its first printing, but is still available for download. The entire album may now be streamed from the Doc Wallace Music YouTube channel; however, your purchases help us to fund the new record:

The Cornelia Street Café

Designated as a New York City culinary and cultural landmark, The Cornelia Street Café combines great food with over 700 stimulating performances a year. The warm ambiance and professional sound system make it an ideal venue for our jazzy, soulful music.

To get a better picture of the venue’s history and significance, please enjoy this short documentary. Learn why singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, Tony award-winning playwright Eve Ensler, jazz musician Gerald Cleaver, and other artists love The Cornelia Street Café:

Our New Record Needs YOU!!

As you can tell from this performance at Lincoln Center, the Doc Wallace Trio definitely plays its best in the presence of friends and fans:

For that reason, we want to record our second record with YOU in the crowd at The Cornelia Street Café. Please join us for one or both nights!

-Doc Wallace 9 September 2013