ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE BLUES | Assembling the ‘Scrapple’ Soundtrack

04/18/14 | By More

This is the second in a two-part series about the music in the film Scrapple. It will be helpful if you’ve seen the movie as I am going to discuss the music in the context of the film. (If you haven’t seen it, you can download the music here and rent the movie at the Wilkinson Library or on Netflix, or purchase it at  www.scrapplemovie.com).

People are always asking me where they can get a copy of the soundtrack. It has been out of print for years. The soundtrack featured 16 songs from Scrapple. The playlist below included every song in the movie in the order in which they appeared. There are also songs that were in Scrapple at one point but did not end up in the movie for one reason or another.

The music in Scrapple serves as a narrative device in the film. The music is almost always referring to what is happening in the plot. Those are the songs on which I am focusing here.

The movie opens with Sam Bush’s cover of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes.” First and foremost, I thought it was an interesting play on words to refer to skis as Sailin’ Shoes – sailing on snow. And secondly, I wanted to pay homage to Sam Bush and New Grass Revival, who play such an important part in the history of Telluride.

I did not know who Sam Bush was when I moved to Telluride in 1990. That, despite the fact that I saw New Grass Revival open for the Grateful Dead at the Dead’s 1989-1990 New Year’s show (Bonnie Raitt was also on the bill).

It was the last show New Grass Revival ever played. Little did I know that I would be moving to the town where Sam Bush and John Cowan, members of New Grass Revival, were musical royalty. Legend has it that the Bluegrass Festival was created as a way to bring New Grass Revival to Telluride.

“Really Love the Rain” by Toots Hibbert is a cover of the Ann Peebles song “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” It’s a great cover of a fantastic song.  The music takes a positive spin on what is originally a negative view on the idea of rain. The song plays as Al Dean, the main character, makes his way through the fictional town of Ajax, pitching the arrival of the mythical Nepalese Temple Balls. The symbolism of the song is that Al Dean is, at the core, an innocent character with a sunny outlook on life.

We always thought of Al Dean as a drug dealer with a heart of gold.  He has the best intentions, even if he is pursuing his goals nefariously.

The song appears on Toots Hibbert’s record Toots in Memphis. It is, as the title suggests, Toots playing Memphis soul.  It is an incredible record.

I wrote last week about “Farther on Down the Road.” It was the song in my head when I sat down and wrote the script. The line, “if we’re fools in life, then a happier fool I’d rather be,” is more about Al Dean (and most of the denizens of Ajax) than it is about Tom, but the main narrative about eventually being together is a nod to the Tom and Beth relationship. It is during this scene that we first meet Beth, when her friends ask her about Tom.
The scene itself is a nod to Easy Rider, which also used music to drive the narrative. We meet Tom as he rides his motorcycle on the open road. It might just as well be “Born to Be Wild.” The influence of Easy Rider is all over Scrapple. Tom’s nickname is “Easy,” and there is a shot later in the film when Al Dean is being confronted by the sheriff in the van that pays homage to the opening scene of Easy Rider. Both scenes involve a vehicle and a drug deal and in both scenes the camera picks up one of the characters in the mirror.  Needless to say when Men’s Journal called Scrapple, “A ski bum’s version of Easy Rider,” we were overjoyed.

Jonathan Edward’s song “Shanty” is an obvious narrative device as the lyrics “pass it to me baby, pass it to me slow, take some time to smile a little before you let it go, we gonna lay around the shanty mama and put a good buzz on” is precisely what is happening inside of the boys’ house, which Ophir folks know as Cabin 3.

JJ Cale’s “One Step Ahead of the Blues” is perhaps the biggest “tell” in the movie. JJ Cale sings, “I ain’t high on cocaine, I don’t need the pain, it’s bad for your brain and that’s true.” Al Dean and Tom open the door of the bar and bump into Cy Sloane, the DEA agent who is out to bust the real estate developer Kurt Hinney (Al Dean gives him a dismissive look). This is the first scene that connects Al Dean to the cocaine deal in which he later becomes involved.

As Tom and Al Dean walk in the alley there is a close up of Scrapple and then a close up of Al Dean. Symbolically, it is Scrapple that keeps Al Dean one step ahead of the blues. He saves Al Dean’s hind when he eats the temple balls (because the sheriff finds nothing when he searches the boys cabin) and when Tom pulls the switcharoo and rescues Scrapple from his inevitable fate, Al Dean is unable to complete the drug deal for which he was headed, and therefore does not end up either being arrested or killed by Klaus.

Professor Longhair’s song “Junco Partner” is played as Tom enters the bar after an afternoon of heavy drinking while thinking about his old girlfriend, Woody. The first line of the song is “Down the road, came poor little Junco, oh we has loaded as he could be….” Professor Longhair is a hero of mine. I love things all New Orleans when it comes to food, music and having a good time, and Professor Longhair is a kind of patron saint of Louisiana music.

When Beth takes Tom home and puts him to bed, there is a beautiful piece of banjo score music we call “Tom and Beth’s Lick.” It was composed and performed by a Mississippi musician named Alvin Youngblood Hart. Standing at least 6’4” with dreadlocks, Alvin is an imposing figure. He is an incredible musician and an even nicer guy. When he plays the electric blues, he reminds me of Jimi Hendrix. Alvin also wrote the music that plays while Al Dean cruises around Ajax once the deal has gone south. This funky piece is curiously called “Porch Monkey’s Theme.” If you’ve never heard of Alvin or seen him live, check him out if you ever get the chance.

The Dream Your Life, Live Your Dreams scene is set to Sam Bush’s song “Samantha Lynn.” It comes off of Sam’s record Late as Usual.  It’s such a beautiful song, and in the context of the scene it is both celebratory and melancholy in the same breath.

The idea of dreaming your life and living your dreams is what brings so many free spirits to mountain towns like Ajax. The whole point of the Woody part of the movie is that death is a very real part of living in these towns. Everything is fun and magical and then, boom, somebody you were just hanging out with at the bar dies two days later. When people push the limits, whether it be skiing, climbing, paragliding, partying, you name it, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets caught in an avalanche or, in Woody’s case, skis into a tree.

The song “How Far” by Stephen Stills is noteworthy because it was the one song for which we could not clear the licensing rights. Back in those days, you procured what is called a festival’s license for the soundtrack that basically gives you the right to take your movie to festivals and then negotiate the rights for the songs once you obtain distribution.

After we did the festival circuit, we went back and licensed all the songs for a very reasonable rate. When we went to Stephen Stills’ people, they would not agree to the fee to which everyone else had consented, so we had to take the song out of the movie which was a huge hassle and very expensive. We then approached Widespread Panic about using their instrumental “The Take Out” and they agreed and that was what appeared in the “summer montage” as we call it.

Scrapple became popular on the band’s chat group Spreadnet, and we ended up making a full length concert DVD for Widespread Panic called Live at Oak Mountain (which was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America) and a movie called The Earth Will Swallow You. 

“Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes” is an obvious commentary on the love scene between Tom and Beth. The next time we see Tom and Beth in the bar after Tom has been squeamish about their relationship, Jorma Kaukonen’s song “Genesis” plays in the background. The key lines in that song are the opening ones, “Time has come for us to pause, and think of livin’ as it was, into the future we must cross, must cross, I’d like to go with you.” Tom is trying to get to that place, where he can think of the past and move into the future. But he is stuck and can’t get there, as much as he wants to.

Mixed in with these Tom and Beth love songs are two songs by the group Cymande, “Dove” and “Bra.” Cymande is my kind of band – obtuse and incredible. They was a group of musicians from Guyana, Jamaica and the island of St. Vincent that got together in England in 1971 and played music that was deeply funky, with elements of jazz, calypso, reggae and soul.

Cymande released records in 1972 (Cymande), 1973 (Second Time Around), and 1974 (Promised Heights). There is an excellent collection called The Message that is worth checking out.

Beth (Ryan Massey) sings a song called “Sweet Tender Lovin’” in the bar (yes that is Ryan Massey both singing and playing guitar). The song was written by Liza Oxnard (Liza).  She also wrote the song that Beth plays earlier in the movie. Liza is an amazing writer, singer, performer, and lately, mother. The version included herein is one she recorded with Billy Nershi from String Cheese Incident on their 2001 record It’s About Time.

The song “Over the Hill” by John Martyn is an all-time favorite of mine. The lyrics of the song touch on all the different plot lines. The melody is beautiful and the mandolin plays a central role in the instrumentation. From “Sailin’ Shoes” in the very beginning of the film, to “Samantha Lynn” to “Over the Hill,” the mandolin figures prominently in the score. There is also a fair amount of banjo throughout Scrapple as well. This is a nod to the importance of bluegrass in mountain towns and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in particular.

The Over the Hill Montage is my favorite scene in Scrapple. Film at its most basic level is sight and sound, and in this scene both are so beautiful. From a narrative perspective the scene essentially wraps up all of the storylines in the movie without a single line of dialogue. It is the scene of which I am most proud.

“Never Let Your Fire Go Out” by the Radiators is a nice song to go out on. Thematically, it relates most to the Tom/Beth storyline, “You might live in pain and fear and doubt, never let your fire go out.”  The song is symbolic to me of the way music is used throughout Scrapple. It sounds good, comments on the action and it lays out some great philosophy. Ed Volker sings “when the cards are stacked against you, lord you got to be tough, you got to stand up tall, when the game gets rough.”  I can’t say it any better than that.

At the end of the film Al Dean has no idea about what has happened to him. He does not know that Tom resents him for what happened to Woody and he cannot connect the dots between his fate and that of Scrapple.

Al Dean is, at the core a simpleton. When his brother says at the end of the film, “Al, you’re smarter than I thought”, that line is filled with irony. He is not smart at all, the fates have merely shined their fickle light on him. The fact that Al Dean offers a cookie to his brother in the cigar box, which once held his drugs, symbolizes the fact that he has changed his ways. Al Dean achieved his goal. He is no longer in the drug trade.

The playlist features Keller Williams’ song “Temple Balls.” I was deejaying in Wilmington, NC at a commercial radio station called The Penguin.  In 2007, Keller came into the studio and I interviewed him before a show.  I gave him a copy of Scrapple and that was that.  A few days later his manager called and said that Keller’s dvd stopped playing and he wanted to see the end of it.  So I sent him like 10 dvds.  We broadcasted a show that Keller syndicates called Keller’s Cellar. On one of the episodes he played a bunch of music from Scrapple and spoke about how much he loved it.

Then one day I got a call from my station manager telling me that Keller was trying to get in touch with me.  He sent me an mp3 of the song “Temple Balls” and I could not believe it. He was literally singing the words verbatim from the temple ball scene in Scrapple. I was knocked out to say the least.   I included a radio interview with

Keller that explains how he came to write the song.

Well, if you’re still reading you get extra credit.  Enjoy the music.

http://www.sendspace.com/pro/dl/oipdin

01 Sailing ShoesSam Bush

02 Really Love the Rain          Toots Hibbert

03 Pigskin FlatsTuey Connell

04 Farther on Down the RoadTaj Mahal

05 ShantyJonathan Edwards             06 Mink JulepTom Rush

07 Fish n’ whistleJohn Prine

08 One Step Ahead of the BluesJJ Cale

09 Mud SeasonTaj Mahal

10 Junco PartnerProfessor Longhair             11 Tom and Beth’s LickAlvin Youngblood Hart

12 Samantha LynnSam Bush

13 MoonburnTaj Mahal

14 How FarStephen Stills

15 The Take OutWidespread Panic

16 CorrinaTaj Mahal

17 Lovin in My Baby’s EyesTaj Mahal

18 DoveCymande

19 Lovin’ ScoreTaj Mahal

20 GenesisJorma Kaukonen

21 Sunshine on My SoulTaj Mahal

22 Al’s Five SpeedTaj Mahal

23 Porch Monkey’s ThemeAlvinYoungblood Hart            24 BraCymande

25 Sweet Tender Lovin’Billy & Liza

26 Over the HillJohn Martyn

27 Never Let Your Fire Go OutThe Radiators

28 Ajax Piano RagTaj Mahal

29 Dream Your Life, Live Your DreamsTaj Mahal

30 Keller Williams on ScrappleKeller Williams

31 Temple BallsKeller Williams

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