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Bartender's Blues (song)

"Bartender's Blues"
File:Bartender's Blues JT label.jpeg
Single by James Taylor
from the album JT
A-side "Handy Man"
Released 1977
Genre Soft rock
Length 4:10
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) James Taylor
Producer(s) Peter Asher
"Bartender's Blues"
File:Bartender's Blues George Jones label.jpeg
Single by George Jones
from the album Bartender's Blues
B-side "Rest in Peace"
Released 1977
Genre Country music
Length 3:43
Label Epic Records
Writer(s) James Taylor
Producer(s) Billy Sherrill

"Bartender's Blues" is a song written by James Taylor and first released on his 1977 album JT. It was also released as the b-side of the lead single from JT, "Handy Man." It has since been covered by George Jones and other artists.

Lyrics and music

"Bartender's Blues" is Taylor's attempt to stretch into writing country music, which was not the typical genre Taylor wrote in.[1] It was also an attempt to provide a different perspective from the common country music theme of a customer telling his troubles to the bartender.[1] In this song, the bartender gets to narrate his story.[1] The bartender feels trapped and unhappy in his job, and is looking for a "honky tonk angel" to come save him.[1][2] Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine described it as "James Taylor's impression of what life in a honky tonk must be."[3]

Author Aaron A. Fox sees the song as capturing a classic country music metaphor of the bartender who uses his talking skills to "repair social ruptures" but in the process becomes "the very kind of fool he despises, hating his job even as he lights the cigarettes and laughs at the jokes of his customers while watching them fall down on [their] knees."[4] Sue Simmons-McGinity remarks on how the song applies the common country music metaphor of a "honky tonk angel" who has the potential to save her man but unlike in many country songs, in "Bartender's Blues" the angel doesn't "become wife and mother to be helpful."[2]

Linda Ronstadt sings harmony vocals and Dan Dugmore plays pedal steel guitar, while Danny Kortchmar plays guitar.[1]

Critical reception

Allmusic critic Bill Janovitz says of Taylor's performance "Taylor sounds about as convincing in his attempt at straight-country performance as he is as a Nashville songwriter; that is, not very," although he considers it a "commendable effort at writing a genuine country song" that is "beautiful musically," particularly the melody.[1] He also praises Ronstadt's and Dugmore's performances.[1] Taylor himself stated that "I think it's an okay but lightweight song."[5]

Covers

George Jones covered "Bartender's Blues" as the title track of his 1978 album Bartender's Blues.[3] James Taylor sang background vocals on this version.[6] Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine calls "Bartender's Blues" the strongest song on the album.[3] Janovotz rates Jones' performance more favorably than Taylor's, claiming that Jones "shows how it should be done."[1] Janovitz praises Billy Sherrill's production of Jones' rendition, as well as Jones' vocal performance, especially in the "heart-wrenching" final verse.[1] Author Kurt Wolff calls the song a "vocal tour de force."[7]

Amy Grant covered "Bartender's Blues" on the 2007 tribute album George Jones & Friends: 50th Anniversary Tribute Concert.[8] Tammy Wynette sang the song with George Jones on the 1981 album Encore: George Jones & Tammy Wynette.[9] Harlem Hamfats covered the song on Harlem Hamfats, Vol. 4.[10]

Charts

James Taylor's recording reached #88 on the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1977.[11] George Jones' recording reached #6 on the same chart in 1978.[12]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Janovitz, B. "Bartender's Blues". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Simmons-McGinity, S. (1994). "Honky Tonk Angels". In Abernethy, F.E. Legendary Ladies of Texas, Issue 53. University of North Texas Press. p. 207. ISBN 9780929398754. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Erlewine, S.T.. "Bartender's Blues album". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  4. Fox, A.A. (2004). Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture. Duke University Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780822333487. 
  5. White, T. (2009). Long Ago And Far Away: James Taylor - His Life And Music. Omnibus Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780857120069. 
  6. Christgau, R. (1981). Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide. Da Capo Press. p. 203. ISBN 9780306804090. 
  7. Wolff, K. (2000). Country Music: The Rough Guide. Rough Guides. p. 124. ISBN 9781858285344. 
  8. "Bartender's Blues - Amy Grant/George Jones". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  9. Roland, T. "Encore: George Jones & Tammy Wynette". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  10. "Harlem Hamfats, Vol. 4". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  11. "JT Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  12. "George Jones Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 

External links