Song of the Week – Down Home Girl – Alvin Robinson, Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal, Nic Armstrong


Today’s SotW is another installment in my ongoing “evolution” series. This one is solidly in the category of you can’t ef up a great song.

“Down Home Girl” was written by Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler and first recorded by New Orleans based Alvin “Shine” Robinson on the Red Bird Records in 1964. Red Bird was a label founded by Leiber and Mike Stoller after their long, successful run at Atlantic Records. They hit their stride with the Dixie Cups “Chapel of Love” and a series of hits by the Shangri-Las.

The original Robinson recording has a vocal that is reminiscent of Ray Charles’ singing style and was produced by Leiber & Stoller.

A year later, in 1965, the Rolling Stones covered the song.

Before Jagger and Richards began to have success as songwriters, they had an uncanny sense for selecting great songs to cover. Irma Thomas’ “Time is on My Side” and Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” are a couple of fine examples. The Stones use a harp to color the song a little more blue and translate the original’s distinctive horn riff with a guitar. Mick’s vocal is especially strong on this cut that was on the British album The Rolling Stones No. 2 and Now! in the US. Check out the movie Charlie My Darling for a cool, full live performance of the song.

“Down Home Girl” continued to attract more artists to take a run it. Later in ’65 the Astronauts, a Colorado based surf band, recorded it. The Coasters, who may have been the best interpreters of Leiber/Stoller songs, recorded yet another version in 1967.

Almost 30 years later, in 1993, Taj Mahal revived the song on his album Dancing the Blues.

Mahal expands the arrangement with a full horn section that’s featured about 2 minutes in and a sax solo that takes it through the fade out.

In 2004, retro rocker Nic Armstrong released his own version of “Down Home Girl.”

Armstrong’s take is similar to the Stones’. The novelty in his version is in the middle section where a guitar references Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Do you hear it?

I’m aware of another, slower, country take by the Old Crow Medicine Show that came out as recently as 2006. And I’m equally sure we will be hearing new versions for years to com.

Enjoy… until next week.

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