Black Lightning
June 23, 2007 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I've always been a huge Del McCoury fan, but seeing them do this song at Merlefest a few years back sealed the deal. Classic song. For completeness, Richard Thompson is the composer.
posted by joecacti at 7:41 AM on June 23, 2007

I've seen Del play this a couple of different times. I don't like bluegrass generally, but they kick all kinds of ass. And now I have a visual!
posted by everichon at 8:01 AM on June 23, 2007

To hell with the song; awesome bike!
posted by ba at 8:25 AM on June 23, 2007

Thanks for this; I'm a big fan of both Richard and Del, and this is one of the best motorcycle songs out there.
posted by Knicke at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2007

This is one of those songs that I thought could only be made worse if not performed by Richard Thompson, but Del really takes ownership of it and makes it his own. His voice actually fits the feel of the song better than Richard's - almost as if Richard wrote it with that voice in mind.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:49 AM on June 23, 2007

I had the PBS bluegrass show playing in the background and wasn't paying much attention to it, when Del's cover version of VBL1952 slowly insinutated itself into my consciousness: "Holy fck, that's a Richard F. Thompson song!"

Not for the first time, RT has written a timeless classic. (Really, now: the song sounds older than the internal combustion engine.)

Thanks for the links.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:54 AM on June 23, 2007

Also linked from that YouTube page with the Thompson version, Richard Thompson and David Byrne in duet performances! I'm in heaven. How did I not know they'd worked together like that.
posted by hwestiii at 9:06 AM on June 23, 2007

I love the Del McCoury version , and got to hear it at Bristol TN's Rythmn and Roots festival last fall.
posted by nola at 9:09 AM on June 23, 2007

"Del really takes ownership of it and makes it his own"

I love how he changes Box Hill to Knoxville. And that high lonesome voice really complements the song.

and cool link DN.
posted by vronsky at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2007

For completeness' sake it should be mentioned that the Vincent appears to have been resurrected.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Shame on Del McCoury for transposing little Box Hill , Surrey to Knoxville Tennessee like that! This is my favourite RT song - driven more by a love of guitars (and redheads) then by big scary bikes. They could probably expand the plot out to make a good feature length film. I seem to remember hearing him talk about writing this and saying that he wanted to try to make up for the relative dearth of British songs about being on the road (relative to the thousands from the USA). Great post.
posted by rongorongo at 9:32 AM on June 23, 2007

I think this motorcycle was just mentioned on the TV show The Loop last week.


Very cool machine though.
posted by quin at 9:42 AM on June 23, 2007

OK, I didn't think that anyone else than Thompson could do that song justice but McCoury does kick butt on that. Cool post.
posted by octothorpe at 9:54 AM on June 23, 2007

vronsky: I love how he changes Box Hill to Knoxville.

Wow - I didn't even notice that! I like it even more now.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:57 AM on June 23, 2007

Saw the Del McCoury band perform this a couple years ago. It's always been one of my favorites and I had no idea that they covered it. I couldn't stop smiling for hours. It's a fantastic song, and the cover is perfect.
posted by felix betachat at 10:09 AM on June 23, 2007

For when Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do.

(PS: It'll always be "Knoxville" for me.)
posted by absalom at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2007

That is a top cover that I'd not heard before but still preferring RT's voice I think. Great post.
posted by Abiezer at 10:33 AM on June 23, 2007

Love this. Excellent.
posted by sy at 10:50 AM on June 23, 2007

It's difficult for me to believe that anybody besides Thompson could do justice to that song, though Del comes close. Only Mary Lou Lord's cover of "Beeswing" rivals this for best interpretation of a Thompson original (the latter found here).
posted by Rangeboy at 10:50 AM on June 23, 2007

Ah yes, the Vincent Black Lightning, sister bike to the Black Shadow, the preferred bike of ... carp, doctor_negative beat me to it.
posted by Relay at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2007

Coincidently, today's LargeHeartedBoy links to an NPR stream of a Richard Thompson show from last night at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club! Over 2 hours of piping fresh Thompson!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:36 AM on June 23, 2007

Saw him do this in Ashland, KY with Rhonda Vincent opening. Amazing show.

posted by chuckdarwin at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2007

I saw Richard Thompson perform this at the Palms Public Playhouse in Davis before it came out on the album. Richard Thompson shows are great for the neat surprised he throws in: unreleased songs, covers, etc. Needless to say everyone was floored after he performed it. When the album came out, I wouldn't have believed one guy on a guitar and singing could perform this if I hadn't of already seen it. (Oh, and live RT often sticks Harleys in with Nortons and Indians...)

As for Del McCoury doing this, there was a story about them recording this, and how the idea came about. It was the Bluegrass song of the year or some such thing. It's nice that people are covering RT songs, but in this case I really prefer his version. To me it was perfection the first time I heard it so long ago.
posted by Eekacat at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2007

Be sure to also see Reckless Kelly's version, which I think is an even better interpretation than Del McCoury's (the harmonies of the Braun brothers on James' last words are chill-inducing).

(bizarre, my second time in 15 minutes posting about the same band on MeFi)
posted by pineapple at 1:15 PM on June 23, 2007

I discovered the song through Greg Brown, who used to perform it pretty regularly when I'd see him in Iowa City. It didn't take me long to trace it back to Richard Thompson, and I became a fan.

I dig the High n' Lonesome sound of Del McCoury, but I definitely prefer the original. I think I prefer it as a British song. The American/Southern transposition doesn't work for me.
posted by aladfar at 1:17 PM on June 23, 2007

I agree that McCoury really makes the song his own. Reckless Kelly's sounds more like an homage to me. Though I think actually makes me like the Reckless Kelly version a little more.

Of course, I am a person who first heard Richard Thompson at Exactly The Right Age, and I imprinted on him like a little baby duck.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:58 PM on June 23, 2007

Gives me goosebumps every time.
posted by suki at 2:12 PM on June 23, 2007

Gives me goosebumps every time.

Same here. Not many songs do that, but this one does.
posted by tommasz at 3:08 PM on June 23, 2007

Possibly true bit of trivia.... I believe that Linc in the Mod Squad rode a Vincent.
posted by rdr at 3:58 PM on June 23, 2007

Ariel square four
posted by hortense at 4:26 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I saw once a Black Shadow in the flesh, so to say.

What an absolute beauty. I don't think I'd have liked to have "Mr. Duke" as a neighbour, but I sure as hell approve of his taste in motorbikes.
posted by Skeptic at 4:50 PM on June 23, 2007

This is one of those songs that I thought could only be made worse if not performed by Richard Thompson

I was in a band that covered this once. It was WAY worse than Richard Thompson performing it!
posted by snofoam at 5:19 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

The goosebump inducer for me was the lead guitar work from about 5 min in to the end. After playing that drone riff the entire song he cuts out wit some killer bluegrass riffs mixed with just the right amount of vintage, stratocaster dirt.

Both new interpretations are sweet - a good indicator of quality songwriting craftsmanship. Nice to hear different takes and styles. I actually like these versions better. Don't get me wrong. I like RT's voice, but sometimes he sounds too much like he has the flu or completely collapsed nasal cavities. When listening to his songs I often expect him to start into "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
posted by HyperBlue at 7:37 PM on June 23, 2007

Man I can be dense sometimes. I thought it was "angels on aerials" like he was seeing angels standing on rooftop antennas as he was dying, coming to take him home. Then I see hortense's link and am like, oh, Ariel motorcycles. Duh.
posted by vronsky at 7:58 PM on June 23, 2007

And Reckless Kelly (first I had heard of them) reminds me of Steve Earle, who could probaly do a pretty cool cover of this song as well.
posted by vronsky at 8:18 PM on June 23, 2007

Jo El Sonnier (sp?) does a pretty good cover of "Tear Stained Letter" with a nifty Cajun beat.
posted by hwestiii at 8:44 PM on June 23, 2007

when i lived in los angeles, i once saw a vincent. i was so taken by the beauty of the bike that i didn't realize the rider was jay leno.

and as for those new line of vincents; it just seems wrong to build them with a standard frame.
posted by cazoo at 9:22 PM on June 23, 2007

There is also Hunter Thompson and the Vincent Black Shadow.
posted by dopeypanda at 11:52 PM on June 23, 2007

I did not know the song was so popular; I had a friend who kind of would not stop playing it when it first came out and have only rarely heard it since.

The Del McCoury version was/is really terrific and that really was great to hear. I think I prefer Thompson's, I really like the guitar in it, but I am very very glad to have heard this other version.

< derail>
You gotta understand what the Vincent Black Lightning was; not even necessarily for the song, but just because it was a milestone of engineering. It was a machine of unalloyed speed. It was the fastest motorcycle ever built. It was the fastest motorcycle you could get until the early seventies. If you wanted to drag race cars or bikes or cars and bikes and airplanes and you had a Vincent then you knew that if a bumble bee didn't fly up your nose and distract you by starting to sting you, then you would win.

To see one live, one that is being ridden, not paraded around coffee shops and/or events, but ridden, is to understand that the intersection of man and machine is at times a locus for religious sentiment:
It is sexy like a Ferrari but without all that bulky body-work. Rollie Free (the guy in the photo of your last link) is going over a 125 mph when that photo is taken. He's half naked not because his leathers ripped earlier in the day but simply because the bike is that beautiful and he knows clothes so close to its sublime form would only be the baseset kind of insult.

That few things could compare to flying a fighter jet on the street.

It is a paragon of engineering on a par with Diesel's little contraption and the Brooklyn Bridge. It is one of the valves at the heart of the 20th century.

It is on display at MoMA. It is something to aspire to, and from which all the smart bits were taken to build better motorcycles.
< /derail>

posted by From Bklyn at 12:43 PM on June 24, 2007 [5 favorites]

one of the best things I have read on metafilter.
posted by vronsky at 1:10 PM on June 24, 2007

color me impressed From Bklyn.
posted by vronsky at 5:36 PM on June 24, 2007

Thanks, vronsky, that's really decent of you.

posted by From Bklyn at 12:08 AM on June 25, 2007

And now I know another deadly sin, Lust.
posted by MapGuy at 7:11 AM on June 25, 2007

posted by paddyboy at 5:19 PM on June 25, 2007

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