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Thread: "Covers"

  1. #1
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    Default "Covers"

    How do you use the term, "cover," when playing someone else's song? If, for example, you played "Pancho and Lefty" would you say you're doing a Townes Van Zandt cover, since he wrote the song, or a Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard cover, since they had the most popular, biggest hit, recording of the song?
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  2. #2
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    If somebody asked I'd say I'm doing a cover of a Townes Van Zandt song, made famous by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
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    It depends, but everyone has their own arrangement of songs and they are different. I mean, how many people have done House of The Rising Sun? I have a Woody Guthrie recording of it and you wouldn't even recognize it. Most of the time I take a song and make it my own more or less, so if I'm going to give someone credit in the introduction I just pick whoever I stole the song from when I found it in the first place.
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    Good question. I always credit the songwriter. When I see a chord chart that says, for example, "I've Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra" I want to slap somebody. And yet... I've never heard anybody say they're doing a "cover" of Cole Porter. "Cover" seems to be about recordings, not songs. There are Beatles cover bands, but I've yet to see a Lieber & Stoller cover band.

    I don't use the word "cover" to describe my playing. I'm obviously not clear on the exact definition and I've always assumed it's a term used by music industry insiders, therefore not relevant to me. I'll say here's a song by [Townes Van Zandt] that I learned from a recording by [Emmylou Harris].

    From what I saw on Ken Burns' country music documentary, it might be correct to say you're playing a cover of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's cover of Emmylou Harris' cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty"

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by acmespaceship View Post
    Good question. I always credit the songwriter. When I see a chord chart that says, for example, "I've Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra" I want to slap somebody. And yet... I've never heard anybody say they're doing a "cover" of Cole Porter. "Cover" seems to be about recordings, not songs. There are Beatles cover bands, but I've yet to see a Lieber & Stoller cover band.



    From what I saw on Ken Burns' country music documentary, it might be correct to say you're playing a cover of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's cover of Emmylou Harris' cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty"
    Of course legend has it that Merle was so drunk when he recorded his one verse, that he didn't even remember the session.
    Anyway, in my mind, no matter the version, it's always a cover of a Townes song.

  6. #6

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    Personally, I'd say a cover of whoever wrote it unless there's a particularly different version that you're aping. "Try A Little Tenderness" wasn't written by Otis Redding, but chances are that whatever version you're listening to is based on his version rather than the original sheet music. For something like "House of the Rising Sun" that would mean that I would consider something patterned after the Animals' version to be a sort of Animals cover. This follows conventions in a lot of folk/traditional genres, where an Irish fiddler might say (for example) "I'm playing Michael Coleman's version of the Tarbolton Reel."

    The concept of a "cover" is really very recent, arising in the mid-20th century when it was still common if not expected that the songwriter and performer would be two (or more) different people. The idea was to "cover" a song that was a hit for another label or band, hoping to piggyback on or even eat into their sales. You could also "cover" a song for a different demographic/audience (a white rockabilly singer doing a song that was a hit for a black R&B singer, for example). Look at just about any genre besides the popular Western musics of the past 50 years (rock, country, rap, pop, and associated genres) and the term is essentially meaningless. Otherwise, just about any straight-ahead jazz band would be a "cover band," as would orchestras, gospel choirs, folk singers, and Irish trad players.

  7. #7
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    I've been in this situation a couple of times and I usually credit both.
    I credit the writer and then because I'm covering the song with a twist in the style of a different artist I credit them as well.

    An example of this is "Killing the Blues". The song is written by Rowland Salley yet I perform it closer to the style of Chris Smither as that's who I heard it from first.

  8. #8

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    Sounds like the perfect opportunity for Story Time! John Pizzarelli often uses patter that goes into a songís history and you get the vibe that we arenít necessarily covering a song, but helping to move it along and keep it in the public consciousness.

    And some of those stories are super interesting!

  9. #9
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    When I'm writing something up I try to credit both the song-writer (always) and the performer, especially if the canonical performer isn't the original or if there are multiple major covers. Different performers versions can be very different in key, tempo, feel, melody, and lyrics while still being essentially the same song, and knowing which one you targeted can be very helpful.

    I have several songbooks that list a song on the outside or contents under a canonical performer and as the writer in the actual sheet music. For example, Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah on the outside and Leonard Cohen on the inside.

    It drives me kind of nuts when I’m looking for a song and can’t find it because it’s listed under somebody I’m not familiar with so having both is useful

    It gets weirder when a songwriter comes back and “covers” a song they wrote that became famous by somebody else: Willie singing Crazy, Dylan singing Mighty Quinn, Carol King singing Natural Woman, etc...

  10. #10
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    This is such a perplexing question that I long ago promised myself that I would never perform in front of an audience in any situation in which I would have to worry about getting it right.
    I will, however, eagerly correct other performers when they credit a song to an artist that did not write the song itself.
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