it leaves me paralyzed I can’t look away I hold my hands up to my eyes but I’m blind and it’s too late it leaves me powerless to the brilliant blazing high the way she moves her summer dress leaves me paralyzed
La Rondalla was one of the best bars in San Francisco. It offered a harmonious Mission blend of local latinos, buttoned up hipsters, dykes wandering over from the Lexington on 19th, torn up punkers, hippies from the Haight, and just every day folks hanging at the dim serpentine bar, drinking high-octane margaritas under the year-around christmas lights, and listening to mariachis blow their soulful sounds from south of the border.
Big Tom Gold was my go-to drinking pal there. We’d amaze at the age range of the house band, a Mexican family led by dad on violin and the rest, 8-9 in all, strumming guitars, bowing on fiddles, or blowing their trumpets. Everyone sang. They were brothers, dads, cousins, or uncles.The youngest were under 10 and learning their craft. And that’s what makes this song interesting.
I wrote Paralyzed after a memorable evening at La Rondalla, and when it came time to record, … well it just seemed to scream for a mariachi treatment. I reached out to one of the top bands in San Francisco – Nueva Generacion – and started a discussion with the leader Eduardo about backing me in the studio. I came to learn that his group was the younger generation of the La Rondalla house band Tom and I would listen those many years before. Eduardo was one of those little tykes all sombrero’ed out and playing guitar with his dad and cousins. It is a small world. Eduardo’s arrangement on this song really brings the mariachi sound, and the musicianship is incredible. I hope you enjoy.
walking on a bed of coals
I dive into the falls below
I handle snakes and sell my soul
anything for you
cause you’re my baby
you’re my babe
What do Adam & Eve, Tony & Maria, and Howard Marshall & Anna Nicole Smith have in common? They were irrational, dangerous relationships that confounded everyone in their sphere, … except the couples themselves. When you are willing to face the ridicule and scorn of friends and family, face all of the well-intended “what the hell are you thinking??” judgements, and the only real reply you can come up with is, “she’s my babe”, well then you know you have something worth fighting for.
Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello fame was invited to play drums on this track and it was his idea to give it a rockabilly spin. Jon Followes raves it up with a wicked flurry of lead guitar riffs, inspired by the original playing done by my good friend Wayne Ditzel, who played on the demo way back when. She’s My Babe reminds me of those great Blasters hits from the early ’80s, the golden age of LA-based rockabilly revival. I hope you enjoy it.
stay close to me
don’t let go
so close to me
Our modern lives run on hyperdrive these days it seems. Too few of us take time to truly appreciate the important things: a great meal enjoyed with close friends or family, a long but easy Sunday wander, getting caught up over a pot of tea, or resting warmly, intimately with someone we love deeply, … particularly after the main event. It’s one of life’s divine pleasures, but too often cut short as we rush off to rejoin the tedium of our daily quotidien.
Linger With Me was recorded at the amazing La Buissonne studios in Provence, France. Sony recording artist Daniel Mille brings his special genius on accordion and Laëtitia Costechareyre delivers the french heat purred sensually through the musical interlude.
This song also serves as an homage to Serge Gainsbourg, my favorite french songwriter of the popular music era and a man who never let an excuse for provocation go unfulfilled. I’ll be Gainsbourg and you Jane Birkin, linger with me.
lift me up
don’t let me break
don’t let me lose
this life of faith
but tough ain’t enough
Physical pain can drop us to our knees. Emotional pain can too, and then so much more. It breaks us from within, aching the heart and stirring tears of anguish or fury. Sometimes we beg, sometimes we howl. Anything to cut the pain. Anything to stand again.
There are 2 opposing versions of How Hard on this record, placed at different points in the Last Night at the Ha-Ra story arc. I howl through take 1, a rollicking blues adaption backed by the Vivid Stage group. I asked Rie Sinclair to take a shot at the reprise version, paired with just a simple, sad piano and guitar arrangement. Her unique voice on the song is transcendent and tender. I won’t explain the song’s role in this rock drama. It’s not important. How Hard is meant as a psalm really for all of us in pain and asking why.
show me what you need
spend my final dime
then tell me you need more
and I’ll glad turn to crime
live my life by your design
your wish is mine
soon you’ll find
that I’m mad
Mad is another pre-release from the Last Night at the Ha-Ra album. It is an ode to the rash and reckless behaviour that stems from a mad passion for someone, someplace, or something. At some point I think most all of us have considered it, some have embraced it, and if you have no idea what the song is about then you’re not diving deep enough. The original version, in a softer arrangement, was recorded on my 1996 LP Eskimo in the Sun and can be heard here.
David Bouet joined us on drums for this track, all the way from London! The piano coda played so soulfully by David Dower replaces the guitar on the original version. David, any chance you can come up with something sweet to replace my guitar track on that outro? I’d say he did in indeed.
put the needle in my arm
let it drip and I’ll be gone
in a fog of summer holidays
then plant your kiss upon my head
lay me back upon our bed
and when I’m dead
the love you see
will never be
I have few fears, thankfully. Some of us spend much time suffering over the state of the planet, the incompetents in power, that mole on our back, how we are perceived by others. I do care, I just don’t dwell.
I will admit, however, to an uncomfortable fear of dementia. It comes down to the richness of life and a heavy dose of vanity. I know where I want to be interred, I know who I want at the podium and the music playing at that fateful fête (what’s on your playlist?), and I know how I want to be remembered. I don’t want to be remembered like that. No one chooses to be remembered like that.
Strange is another early release I’m sharing from the Last Night at the Ha-Ra album, sung by the character Reggie to his wife Daisy. There have been suspicions and now a prognosis, and he has asked her, the partner and true companion of his long life, to think about accepting this unthinkable favor.
Strange was recorded at La Buissonne studios in Provence in February 2018 with my Vivid Stage Productions group. Jon, David, and I played various instruments depending on the arrangement, and invited special guests to help create something truly soulful and melancholy. Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello and the Attractions joined us on drums, Sony recording artist Daniel Mille brought his sublime feel for the accordion, and Isabelle Cordier from the Avignon Symphony Orchestra packed her cello for the drive to Pernes les Fontaines, where we had hunkered down for a week of recording sessions.
Daisy am I looking grand ’cause your dazzling and we’re gonna shine in the bar light at the Ha-Ra leading the cheer out with the crowd singing our song out in the night tonight
Daisy is the opening track off the Last Night at the Ha-Ra album, just completed this summer. It’s a cabaret call to the night, a revelry to mix and mingle and shine, and to stop being “so bored with ourselves.” If it provokes you off the couch and out the door, well then I’ve done my job!
Daisy was recorded at La Buissonne studio in Provence, France with my Vivid Stage Productions group. Veronique Bourges of the Avignon Symphony Orchestra joined us on violin. The glasses clinking in the solo section were recorded at the Ha-Ra club in San Francisco, with the help of good friends and fellow drinkers Mike Sottak and Mike the Garbageman Page. The background chatter comes from the Lone Palm bar in SF’s Mission District. Both were recorded on my iPhone 5. Modern technology!
Click the orange button below for a listen. Please share with any and all who might enjoy enjoy. More coming soon.
Suggested Song: Bullet Made of Gold, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Jefferson’s Bourbon served neat or over a cube
You caught me, staring at the sun
I was paralyzed, my trigger finger numb
I had nowhere to hide, and no time to run
from your bullet made of gold
I wrote a piece about heartbreak last September (click here to go there). It was a work of self therapy and reflection on the creative potential of painful experiences. We can let these things destroy us, or we can mine them as artists for the purity of raw emotion they bring to the surface. And we are all artists in one form or another, at one time or another.
Bullet Mad of Gold was the positive product of this difficult moment and I was lucky to have been so inspired. It is the latest addition to the growing collection of songs for Last Night at the Ha Ra, 16 now and counting. If you’re a fan of my music keep an eye on my Soundcloud site (click here to go there), as new songs for Last Night … are in development and planned for release through the year.
Song Collection Suggestion: Last Night at the Ha-Ra, Bill Magill
Drink Suggestion: Maker’s Mark bourbon straight up
Last Night at the Ha-Ra marks the completion of my 2012 project to record a new collection of original pieces. There are 11 songs in total and additional pieces now in work may be added in 2014. Unlike my earlier CD – Eskimo in the Sun – the Ha-Ra collection was not backed by a gifted ensemble of musicians or recorded in a professional sound studio. All demos were recorded at Mirabeau Studios – my living room in Aix-en-Provence – and the final mix was polished up by Chris Graham Mastering. The SoundCloud player below allows you to listen to the complete collection without leaving this page. The collection is also available through iTunes and Spotify.
The Ha-Ra is a neighborhood bar in the colorful Tenderloin district of San Francisco. It is a throwback to an earlier era, long before wine bars and micro-breweries, when men were properly appointed in suits and fedoras and women sipped cocktails in real cocktail dresses. The 11 songs from Last Night at the Ha-Ra offer snapshots of life stories unfolding along the bar on any given night in any similar saloon, perhaps right down your street.
Song suggestion: Sea of Dreams, Bill Magill
Drink suggestion: Full Sail Amber Ale
Sea of Dreams is the most recent upload to a compilation of new songs I started to record in 2012. The SoundCloud player below allows you to listen without leaving this page.
Some Enchanted Evening is one my favorite songs from my all-time favorite songwriting duo, Rogers & Hammerstein. That “you may spot a stranger across a crowded room” who changes your life forever is an incredibly romantic notion to all of us I think. Sea of Dreams comes nowhere close to matching their mastery, but it was inspired by this song that I so love.
There were no crowded ballrooms in my youth, but plenty of Saturday nights spent at the high school gymnasium attending loud and often intense sporting events; basketball and wrestling primarily. There was little else to occupy one’s time, trust me on this. The interlude in Sea of Dreams refers to spotting someone across the court, and the possibility that one’s life would never again be the same. I hope that you enjoy.