Melody: Lost in translation

Once, I remember going through a couple of cassettes my co-worker — technically he was a subordinate in the Navy — in the ship’s office on the destroyer which I sailed. I think he may have been down in his rack. Walt was a black guy with fairly far ranging musical tastes though his favorites tended to range in jazz. That’s just like me, I have pretty far-reaching tastes with rock along with classic, and what we called back then, progressive country as favorites.

Back then I had never heard of the Crusaders or as they were sometimes known, the Jazz Crusaders. This lack of knowledge about them was despite the band’s Houston roots. This was no surprise though, my hearing so-called black music back then was limited to mostly Top 40 pop or soul. What was surprising, to me at least, was seeing a song on this cassette, Luckenbach, Texas.

Sure, I had heard the song before. In fact, the song came out about the time I prepared to head from my previous base in Mississippi for sea duty in California. It was sort of an anthem of Texas during those years, “maybe it’s time we got back, to the basics of love,” sang Waylon Jennings. The song peaked on the charts as No. 1 in Billboard’s Hot Country Singles and No. 16 in Hot Adult Contemporary Singles. It reached 25th on the Pop Charts. Obviously, the song had struck a nerve with the inner feelings of some Americans. It would be almost 30 years before I went to Luckenbach, Texas, and that was just for an afternoon with a few longneck beers.

I found myself both doubtful and curious as to what a group of mostly, perhaps all at the time, black jazz musicians would do with the song. Later, I found out the Crusaders were a very prolific group that incorporated all types of music into their jazz instrumentals. And I thought they did hit the song out of the park.

Sometimes one gets so caught up with the literal nuances of a vocal that you have a difficult time in really appreciating just how well a melody can be. For some reason, I started with this idea earlier in the afternoon listening to Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” I mean, I understand why I played it — the song being meaningful as I mourn an older brother’s passing two days ago.

If you are able to still hear the You Tube video of the Crusaders on the link, maybe you will understand my point of view. If you aren’t able to understand by listening to the great instrumental version, then perhaps you should just move on to the next topic. And I thank you for that.