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At His Age, the Headmaster's Still Got Plenty of Soul

British blue-eyed soul singer Nick Lowe played London's pub scene in the '70s in the band Brinsley Schwarz, produced five albums for Elvis Costello, and played with Ry Cooder and Jon Hiatt in Little Village. Now he's back with a solo album, his ninth, called At My Age, and he joins Terry Gross for an interview and an in-studio performance.

As a producer, he's known for a rough-edged style; as a songwriter, he's famed for tunes including "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Cruel to be Kind" and "The Beast in Me," the last recorded by Johnny Cash.


Other segments from the episode on July 24, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 24, 2007: Interview with Nick Lowe; Commentary on Lorraine Ellison.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Singer/songwriter Nick Lowe performs songs from his
new album "At My Age" and discusses writing them

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is Nick Lowe. He's a great singer, songwriter, guitarist and record
producer. Lowe is probably best known for writing the songs "Cruel to Be
Kind," which made the American top 20 in 1979, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace,
Love and Understanding?" which Elvis Costello recorded, and "The Beast in Me,"
which Johnny Cash recorded.

In the '70s, as a member of the band Brinsley Schwarz, Lowe helped start the
pub rock movement in England. He also produced Elvis Costello's first few
albums. Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, wrote about Lowe's new CD in
Entertainment Weekly. Ken described it as a beautiful and provocative album
with fine original and cover songs that showcased Lowe's enduring knack for
rousing melodies and wry wordplay. Lowe brought his guitar to our studio and
is going to play some of the songs from his new CD for us.

Nick Lowe, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It is really great to have you back on
our show. I'd like to ask you to start by performing a song that leads off
your new CD "At My Age," and the song is called "A Better Man." It's an
original song. Do you want to introduce it for us?

Mr. NICK LOWE: Yeah, sure. This is a simple country and western song, my
favorite kind.

(Soundbite of "A Better Man")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) In my life I've done things I'm not proud of
And too often watched my dreams turn to sand
But it looks like I might have turned a corner
You make me want to be a better man

There's no new leaves left on me to turn over
I'm in a prison built by my own hand
I pray at last I've found salvation
You make me want to be a better man

I can't go on living this way
And that's a fact I know you understand
I don't know much, but one thing's for certain
You make me want to be a better man

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's such a great song. Thank you for doing that. You introduced
that as a country and western song. What makes it country western?

Mr. LOWE: Well, it's just got that lilt, I suppose. I can hear that little
lilt. And it's very simple. It's got a direct lyric. They're surprisingly
hard to write, really, those songs.


Mr. LOWE: Well, to get--in order to keep the message really direct, it's
very hard not to waffle and--what's the word? Obfuscate.

GROSS: One thing about country songs is that the title is often a catch
phrase, like in this, like, "A Better Man."

Mr. LOWE: Yeah. I got it from a Jack Nicholson movie I was watching one
night. He goes out with Helen Hunt, who's the waitress that he sort of falls
in love with and he makes a complete idiot of himself on a date they go on,
and she says, `Why are doing this? Why do you bother with me?' And he says,
`Because you make me feel like a better man. You make me want to be a better
man,' is what he said. It just, you know, I was watching it one night, doing
something else at the same time, but you know, a line like that came out of
the TV, you know, and that's, hey, presto, you know you've got an idea for a

GROSS: While we're on the subject of titles, the title of your album is "At
My Age"...

Mr. LOWE: Mm.

GROSS: Why did you give it that title?

Mr. LOWE: Well, it was just a snappy title, you know? It was suggested by
my other half's mother, who was reading an article about people who have
retired but don't really want to just put their feet up anymore. You know,
they might want to do something that's quite adventurous. And the article was
called "At Your Age?" you know, with a question mark. And it was suggested
"At My Age" might be a good title. So there's no more than that to it. It's
amazing, the album titles. After a while you could really call them anything,
you know, one, two, three, four, and five, like Chicago used to do it.

GROSS: And what is your age now?

Mr. LOWE: I'm 58 now.

GROSS: Well, a lot has happened in your life since you were last on the show
in 2001. Both your parents died. You have a son now? You have a young son.
You've become a father.

Mr. LOWE: Mm.

GROSS: Do you feel like your life is in a completely different place than it
was a few years ago?

Mr. LOWE: Oh, I'll say. It certainly is, yeah. Especially with a son and
heir coming along. I mean, I never thought I'd ever have children, and he
suddenly turned up and, it's--well, he's absolutely delightful. You know, I
think he's great, but he is a blooming nuisance, there is no doubt about it.
There is--I'm misquoting somebody here, but somebody said, `When the pram's in
the hall, inspiration's out of the window,' or something like that. And it's
quite true. It's very, very difficult. I find that in order to write songs
the way I did, I have to have an unlimited amount of time to just to stare out
of the window, to go and do, you know, whatever I needed to do. That is but a
distant memory now.

GROSS: Is there's something that's compensating for that in terms of

Mr. LOWE: Well, the boy is so great, you know. I mean, I can remember so
clearly what it was like before I had children and how, you know, when my
friends had kids, how my eyes would glaze over, you know, when they would talk
about them. And I'm absolutely terrified of being one of those sort of, you
know, doting parents, you know, especially at my age. But they are so--I
mean, I never understood the word "delight," you know, really, until I had a
child, because you really do delight in your children and thank goodness you
do, that nature has it like that. That you fall in love with them more and
more. Because if you didn't, you would ring somebody up and get them to come
and take them away.

GROSS: Is it taking you into any different musical directions because, you
know, because you might want to put your child to sleep with a song or
introduce him to songs that you want to be in his kind of genetic material?

Mr. LOWE: Yes.

GROSS: You know, like his basic musical vocabulary when he grows up?

Mr. LOWE: Yes. I suppose so. I mean, I make up little silly songs with him
in the bath, you know. But he likes--a game, you know. You meet parents who
say, `Oh, my kid loves The Clash.' You know. No, they don't. You know, the
parents are trying to force feed their kids this, you know, the poor little
devils. You know, but he does seem to like rockabilly music, which is quite
handy, because it's got that chugging beat. I mean, I play him this...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) Well, a country boy named Shorty
And a city boy named Dan
Decided they were going to race
To win Miss Lucy's hand
Now Dan had all the money
He also had the looks
But Shorty must have had something, boy
That can't be found in books

Well, cut across Shorty,
Shorty, cut across,
That's what Miss Lucy said
Cut across Shorty,
Shorty, cut across
It's you I'm going to wed

(End of soundbite)

Mr. LOWE: He loves that thing. I can play that all day and night
and...(unintelligible)...he likes as well and I play that one, too. But it's
that beat. That...

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. LOWE: He just goes crazy for that beat, really.

GROSS: So that's just going to be embedded in him from here on in?

Mr. LOWE: Well, I'll...

GROSS: Not a bad thing.

Mr. LOWE: I'm going to try not to embed anything in him, really, but it's
hard not to. And he does like it, but he's a little boy. And he might, you
know, reject it completely.

GROSS: So you've found it hard to write songs since becoming a father because
there's no like uninterrupted time?

Mr. LOWE: Yeah. It is very, very hard indeed. But I've just got to find a,
you know, find a way around it. I mean, I can feel now that there's something
about to go. It's going to be different from how it's been in the past.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. LOWE: But I can feel that there's something is going to happen, and I
don't know what it is, but you just have to find a way around it.

GROSS: He's what? Two or three?

Mr. LOWE: He's two and some now, two and a half, yeah.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

My guest is Nick Lowe. His new CD is called "At My Age." He'll play more
songs from it after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Nick Lowe and he has a new CD called "At My Age," and I'm
going to ask you to do another song from the CD.

Mr. LOWE: Sure.

GROSS: And this is called "I Trained Her to Love Me," and it's a really funny
song. I'd like you to introduce the song and tell us about writing it.

Mr. LOWE: I'm so glad you think it's funny, Terry, because you're right. It
is, of course, a funny song. A funny song about misogyny. You know, that's
just what the world needs, another one. But it's funny. When I wrote this
song, I started doing it on tour in the United States. I just thought I'd put
it in the set, and usually people like to hear a song on record a few times
before--they'll give you a nice clap, you know, when they hear something they
don't recognize. But usually you don't get any reaction. But this song
immediately sort of galvanized the audience, and a lot of women knew what I
was sort of getting at, that it wasn't me talking. You know, it's just a
character that I've made up. But it's amazing how many--and some men get it
as well--but it's amazing how many of the male members of the audience were
sort of jumping to the feet and punching their air, you know, going, `Yeah,
Nick, way to go, man!'

GROSS: Not the reaction you wanted?

Mr. LOWE: Well, any reaction is great, you know. But anyway. So I'll play
it, then.

GROSS: Great.

(Soundbite of "I Trained Her to Love Me")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) Do you see the way she lights up
When I walk in the room
That's good
And the skip in her step
When we're both out walking in the neighborhood
This one's almost done
Now to watch her fall apart
I trained her to love me
So I can go ahead and break her heart

If you think that it's depraved
And I should be ashamed
So what?
I'm only paying back womankind
For all the grief I got
I've got the latest believing
Forever I'll be true
I trained her to love me
Now, excuse me, I've got work to do

I trained her to love me
And I'm going to start working on another after this
And when I get that one in a state of bliss
Betray her with a kiss

Well, one time one cut up rough
Told me I only do this 'cause I can
And I'm bound to wind up
One lonely, twisted old man
But look out, look out
Here comes a prime contender
For my agenda
If ever there was one
And I'm going to train her to love me
Until it's time to do what must be done

Train her to love me
And I'm going to start working on another
After this
And when I get that one in a state of bliss
Betray her with a kiss

I trained her to love me
Too late to stop now

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Nick Lowe performing the song "I Trained Her to Love Me." He
wrote the song, and it's also featured on his new CD "At My Age."

I remember once when you were on our show, you were talking about how when you
write songs, you often think of a character, and then basically write a song
for that character to sing, and this strikes me as an example of that.

Mr. LOWE: Yes.

GROSS: Let's hope.

Mr. LOWE: Yes, of course. Of course. Well, it's a provocative title. I
mean, I don't know where the title came from. I thought it up one day and you
don't, you know, you can't just say, `Oh, I don't want to write a song about
that, you know, it will upset too many people.' You know, if something like
that comes along, you think, `Fantastic. You know, I've got a live one here.'
But, yes, it's quite fun to write a song about someone who is so unrepentant
and, as I say, when I was doing it on the tour, it was great fun to see
people, you know, get so--well, some people would laugh, and some people got
quite upset, and other people, as I say, the air-punchers, you know, were
doing something else.

GROSS: Now, just to show, like, your versatility in taking different points
of view, you have a song on the same CD, "At My Age," that's written from the
point of view of somebody who's patiently trying to woo the woman...

Mr. LOWE: Yes.

GROSS: ...he loves. Would you just do a few lines of "Rome Wasn't Built in a

Mr. LOWE: Yeah. Sure.

(Soundbite of "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) You don't know it, but I've made my mind up
You'll wind up in my arms
First I have to break down your resistance
To my charms, yes, darling,
I know it won't be easy
But I won't rest until I find a way
Everybody knows that Rome wasn't built in a day

(End of soundbite)

Mr. LOWE: That's...

GROSS: You know, that's great. You know, one of the things I really love
about you is when I listen to your songs, I hear influences. Like on your new
CD I hear some Sam Cooke, I hear Memphis, I hear a little Arthur Alexander.
But whatever I'm hearing, it's all you. I mean, it never sounds like anything
but Nick Lowe. Do you know what I mean? And I just think that that's so
great that, you know, there's so many influences that have gone into making
you but you never sound like you're imitating anybody.

Mr. LOWE: Oh, well, that's wonderful to hear. Yes. I think when you start
out writing songs, you copy your favorite artists, you know, slavishly,
really, just rewrite their stuff. And then when you've done them, you move on
to somebody else and do somebody else, and then the day comes when you'll be
working on rewriting your latest, you know, favorite songwriter and you will
add a little bit of the first guy that you did. You know, you'll put that in.
And and then as you go on, you'll put a bit of the second bloke in as well,
and the fourth, you know, and so, it is--I mean, because it's all been done
before. There isn't anything original under the sun, only the way you tell
it, you know, in the way you put it together.

GROSS: You know, early in your career, you did a lot of covers.

Mr. LOWE: Yes, of course. Yeah.

GROSS: Was that helpful to you as a songwriter because you got so deep into
the architecture of other people's songs?

Mr. LOWE: Well, I think so, yes. I was, also--well, I think of it as being
lucky enough to--when I started out, the situation was still prevalent of
being--you could go to Germany and play in these clubs. Everyone knows The
Beatles did that, you know, went to Hamburg...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LOWE: Well, it was dying off, really, then but you could still do that,
and you went to these clubs in Germany and France, and you had a residency for
a month in these places. And you'd play all night, or at least until 2 or 3
in the morning, and then weekends, you'd play all day and all night, and in
those days, we used to do two 45-minute sets. That's what all the bands did,
so it didn't take very long for our puny little hour and a half that we had,
even though we larded it up with drum solos and things, guitar solos, we'd try
to make a go of it further, it was driving us mad to have to play all of those
hours. So we'd go in in the afternoons and get in the deejay's booth and
learn up all the songs that the punters, you know, the clients in the club
were dancing to. At that time, it was mainly soul and R&B. And we did "Who's
Making Love?" I remember that one. Johnny Taylor. That was a very, very big
one. Because I'd never heard that one. It always reminds me of Paris,
actually, in 1969, that song.

GROSS: Can you name a couple of songs that you used to cover back then that
were so, like perfectly made that you almost like studied how they were put
together to see like what makes a really good song?

Mr. LOWE: Oh, yes. There was one...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) If you need a little loving
Call on me
And if you want some kissing
Call on me
I'll be there
Right there at home
All you got to do is pick your telephone
And dial it
That's my number

(End of soundbite)

Mr. LOWE: All that sort of stuff we used to do.

GROSS: Now, what makes that a great song?

Mr. LOWE: Well, it's just an extremely easy song to sing. "If you need a
little loving, call on me. Six-three-four-five-seven-eight-nine." What pure

GROSS: Nick Lowe will be back in the second half of the show. His new CD is
called "At My Age."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) How I make it happen
I'm not certain
But I'm working on a plan
And when I get it tight
You'll believe I'm your man
You don't know it yet
But you'll surrender...

(End of soundbite)


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with songwriter, singer,
guitarist and record producer Nick Lowe. His best-known songs are "Cruel to
Be Kind," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" and "The
Best in Me." Before Lowe plays more song for us, let's hear a track from his
new CD "At My Age." This is an original song called "Long-Limbed Girl."

(Soundbite of "Long-Limbed Girl")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) Long-limbed girl,
Where are you now?
When I think back in my mind
A sweet memory I find
But the edges are starting to curl
Where are you now,
Long-limbed girl?

The other day I was going through
Some old papers in my desk
When I came upon a photograph
And I had to catch my breath
It was a picture of a girl
Tall and slender as a willow tree
And she had her arms 'round me

Long-limbed girl,
Where are you now?
Well, I wonder about you
And if you made it through
And had all your dreams come true now
Or has it been a long and bumpy road,
Long-limbed girl?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Nick Lowe from his new CD "At My Age." Let's get back to our

Did you ever have like a songwriting mentor who sat down with you and went
over your songs with you and said, `This works and this doesn't'? Or, you
know, who you could like ask questions to about songwriting.

Mr. LOWE: No, but I met a guy called Jim Ford when I was very young who I've
been extremely influenced by, an extraordinary man who came to London to make
a record, and the band I was in was hired to back him up, and he was way, way
better than we were. Not apparently, you know, when you saw him, he could
barely play the guitar, but he had soul, really, that's what he had, and he
also had this blues timing, which we didn't know anything about. We were just
kids, you know?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. LOWE: But he would play sixteen and a half bars or seventeen bars and
you know, wouldn't even know he was doing it and we, of course, we would say,
`Jim, how long do we stay on that before we change chords?' and he'd show us,
and then the red light would go on and he'd do it a different way. And we
were too green, you know, to understand, that you just watch, you just watch
and keep your ears open and everything will be fine. But we didn't know that.
But we got fired from the session eventually...


Mr. LOWE: Well, because we just weren't cutting it.


Mr. LOWE: We weren't good enough. And in fact, they wheeled in The Grease
band after us, Joe Cocker's group, who were much better musicians than us and
even they couldn't actually do it. But he was an extraordinary man. He wrote
lots of songs for Bobby Womack. And he also, he claimed to have written, "Ode
to Billie Joe." You know this song?

GROSS: Yeah, sure.

Mr. LOWE: And really in the light of what Bobbie Gentry has done, I mean,
such an extraordinary song and it's so typical of a Jim Ford song, and Bobbie
Gentry's really never done anything that's remotely like that, I think that,
you know, it might be possible.

GROSS: Well, my guest is Nick Lowe and he has a new CD called "At My Age,"
and since we've been talking about covers, you do a really good Charlie
Feather song on your new CD...

Mr. LOWE: Oh, yes.

GROSS: ...called "The Man in Love," and I'd you to play it for us, but could
you tell us why you chose this..

Mr. LOWE: Well...

GROSS: ...for the CD?

Mr. LOWE: Actually it was my friend Jake Guralnick sent this song to me and
it coincided with me--I bought myself a 12-string guitar for some
unaccountable reason, and I was trying to--well, apart from the fact that it
takes ages to tune them, you know, they're very difficult to tune. But I was
trying to play some sort of Leadbelly-Big Bill Broonzy sort of stuff. And it
makes you wonder how they used to get it into tune, in fact. But when this
song turned up, I sort of adapted it, you know, into a Big Bill Broonzy song.
And then I used to play it as a party piece, you know, really, at parties, I'd
get this thing out. And then one day I was playing it in the studio when we
were recording the record, and all these people I was playing with said, `Oh,
that's good. Why don't we do that?' and so we just knocked it out, you know.

GROSS: Lyrically, I really like line, `There's not enough glow in the moon
above to shine down on a man in love.'

Mr. LOWE: Yeah.

GROSS: That's a great hook.

Mr. LOWE: It is. It's a super song. I'll have a go. This is the only song
I use a plectrum to play.

GROSS: And why do you need a pick for it?

Mr. LOWE: For my dazzling guitar playing, which I'm now going to
demonstrate, my big Bill Broonzy impression, only it's
not...(unintelligible)...anyway. I'll have a go anyway.

(Soundbite of "The Man in Love")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) Like a man in love
I'm walking around
Trying to figure out why you put me down
I've traveled over mountains
Valleys, too
Trying to find a way to get to you

Everyone says you're just a flirt
But I know you love to see me hurt
There's not enough glow in the moon above
To shine down on a man in love

Well, if you get lonesome and you're blue,
Call me up and I'll come to you
I won't come a-running, I'll be flying
I'll be laughing, and I won't be crying

Everyone says you're just a flirt
But I know you love to see me hurt
There's not enough glow in the moon above
To shine down on a man in love

Everyone says you're just a flirt
Maybe you just love to see me hurt
There's not enough glow in the moon above
To shine down on a man in love
To shine down on a man in love
To shine down on a man in love
I said, there's not enough glow
To shine down on a man in love

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Oh, that's just great. And that's a song Nick Lowe also does on his
new CD, and the CD is called "At My Age." You know, we had mentioned earlier
that both of your parents died in the past few years, and you also became a
father a couple of years ago, so it's one of those odd coincidences that seems
to happen an awful lot that, at just more or less the same period, that a
parent dies, a child is born someplace in the immediate or extended family. I
don't know...

Mr. LOWE: Hm.

GROSS: ...that there's any accounting it but I've seen that happen like so
much. So, in your life, you lost parents and became a parent within a short
distance, and I'm not sure what my question is, I guess, but that certainly
changes the way you see yourself, doesn't it?

Mr. LOWE: Yeah. It does. Yes. My mother, when she heard that I was going
to be a father, she rolled her eyes, you know, and said, `Oh dear, oh dear.
You know, this is not a good idea.' But she came 'round to it, you know, and
she absolutely loves the boy, you know, and...

GROSS: So she was alive when he was born?

Mr. LOWE: Yes, she was. For about a year, yes. But she was sad, you know,
because she was, you know, quite ancient herself, you know, and so she
couldn't really do her gig, you know, her granny gig, which upset her quite a
lot. You know, obviously, really. But there you are, you know, there you

GROSS: And what about your father? Was he alive when your son was born?

Mr. LOWE: No, he wasn't. No. That is a great pity, because I think he
would have really gone for him.

GROSS: Did you spend a lot of time with your parents when they were sick
toward the end?

Mr. LOWE: Mm. Well, yes, of course I did. Yes, I was a dutiful son. But
my mother, actually, she just sort of made her mind up that she was going to
go. She practically sort of danced into the crematorium, really. She was
very--she just saw the writing on the wall that she was going to be in
hospital for, you know, they were going to have her in and out, that was it.
She was in a nursing home which she loved, but she had a fall and she realized
that she was going to be in and out of hospital and she said, `Oh, this isn't
for me.' You know, she was very bright and sparky woman...

GROSS: Did she break her hip?

Mr. LOWE: Yeah, and her arm, which was quite nasty. But then she went--they
put her on oxygen, you know, and she started hallucinating. It was a bit like
being back with one of my old bands actually... When I said that, I'm since.'
But quite funny as well. You know, it was quite funny and she saw the funny
side of it but she said, `I don't want this, you know. It's time for me to

But when the old man went that wasn't very pretty, because he was a very
dignified old boy and he came from that generation where you don't complain,
you know, and you don't make a fuss and it was awful to see him in this
terrible hospital that he was in, you know, lying there next to the
television. It was blaring some ghastly soap, you know, people shouting. You
know, so it was heartbreaking, actually. That was horrible. But when my mama
went, you know, it was actually quite cheerful.

But I'm being sort of flippant about it. It's not much fun. You know, as
most people know, it's not much fun when they go. But we were a close family
but not actually in each other's pockets. We rather prided ourselves on that,
you know, that we really liked each other, but we didn't you know, phone each
other all the time, for instance. You know?

GROSS: So do you have that feeling now that you don't have parents anymore
that, like, you are that generation now, you know what I mean? Like, there's
nothing--there's no generation separating you now...

Mr. LOWE: Hm, I suppose I do really, yes, yes. I suppose it's inevitable,
yes. And I was always used to being the youngest, you know. Seems a bit rum
now. But yes, yes indeed.

GROSS: My guest is Nick Lowe. His new CD is called "At My Age." He'll play
more songs from it after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is songwriter, singer, guitarist and record producer Nick
Lowe. He has a new CD called "At My Age."

I want you to end with another song for us, and this is a song called "Hope
for Us All."

Mr. LOWE: Yeah.

GROSS: And I'd like you to talk about writing it and...

Mr. LOWE: Yes. This is a--yes, this is a nice optimistic song with some
pretty chords in it. Quite a lot of chords, actually, for me. I normally
favor just two or three, but...

GROSS: I know a lot of your songs really are about characters and they're not
autobiographical at all, but since you are in a relationship and do have a
child now, is this song related to that?

Mr. LOWE: Well, it could well be. It certainly wasn't conscious, but if you
get in a groove and you open, you know, open yourself up, suddenly you're
singing just, as far as I'm concerned, just a pop song, really. But you're
singing it with sincerity and heart, so I suppose it has got, you know, some
sort of autobiographical thing to it.

GROSS: Well, it has been just absolutely great to have you back on the show
and to hear some of your new songs. I really appreciate your performing for

Mr. LOWE: Not at all, Terry. Thank you.

GROSS: And could you leave us with "Hope for Us All"? Could you play that
for us? And this is one of the songs on Nick Lowe's new CD "At My Age."

(Soundbite of "Hope for Us All")

Mr. LOWE: (Singing) People are remarking on the change that's come over me
It can be explained very easily
Out of the blue someone's come into my lonely world and now I'm walking tall
And if even I can find someone
There's hope for us all

I had a reputation as a stay-at-home so-and-so
'Cause when my friends would call me up and say, `Let's hit a club'
I'd tell them, `No, no, no, no'
I must admit there were times when all I ever did was climb the wall
But if even I can find someone
There's hope for us all
If even I can find someone
There's hope for us all

Even in my darkest hour
There was still a light somewhere
Letting me know by its glow
That I'd find comfort there

I walked a lonely street
Waiting for love to call
And if even I can find someone
There's hope for us all

Da da, da da da da da
Da da, da da da da dum, da da dum

I must admit there were times when all I ever did was climb the wall
But if even I, a feckless man
Who's thrown away every chance he's ever had
Who...(unintelligible) check his fall
There must be hope for us all
Whoa, yeah,
If even I can find someone
There's hope, hope for us all

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Oh, I love that. Thank you so much. And one more thing I have to ask
you. I feel like I said goodbye to you before the song but I have to ask you
this. The first time I heard the song, I was listening to the CD in my car
and when you got to the part when `Even I, a feckless man,' I thought,
feckless? Wow, what a great word to put in a song. And I realized, although
I've heard that word 1,000 times and I've read it thousands of time, I didn't
really know exactly what the word meant, so I figured like I'd look it up in a
dictionary, so you sent me to the dictionary and I wrote down all the words
that it means. It's feeble, futile, ineffective, aimless, irresponsible.

Mr. LOWE: Excellent.

GROSS: Is that a word you would typically use in conversation or did it just
come to you for the song?

Mr. LOWE: I think I would use it in conversation, yes, because it is sort of
an old-fashioned word, and sometimes it's quite fun to, you know, to shove in,
you know, it's just showing off, I suppose. But yeah, it is. It's a great

GROSS: And it's so parenthetical in the song. It's like, `and even I, a
feckless man.' It's so great. That's a beautiful song. Thank you so much.
And I just want to compliment you. You know, like on the CD, like there are
some songs that are really moving like that one, and some songs that are
really kind of like funny and ironic. And you have such range. I just really
thank you for that.

Mr. LOWE: It's very kind of you. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Nick Lowe's new CD is called "At My Age."

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward remembers soul singer Lorraine Ellison, who
made the original recording of "Stay with Me." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ed Ward discusses soul singer Lorraine Ellison and her hit
"Stay with Me"

Lorraine Ellison is a name known only to soul music connoisseurs, but whenever
it comes up, it's almost invariably followed by three words: "Stay with Me,"
the title of her most famous song. Today Ed Ward tells us the story of the
gospel singer from north Philadelphia who became a legend without really have
a hit.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) I can't get along without you
No no no
Just can't get along without you
No matter how I try

I'm not used to the loneliness
Since you said goodbye
You gave me so much happiness
When you were by my side
And, baby,
I can't get along without you
No no no
I can't get along
Just can't get along without you...

(End of soundbite)

ED WARD reporting:

Lorraine Ellison was born Marybelle Luraine Ellison on March 17th, 1931, and
grew up in Philadelphia. Like many another soul singer, her career started in
the church--although unlike many of them, her gospel success took her far.
Her family group, consisting of one of her sisters and two cousins, was first
known as The Ellison Singers and then The Golden Chords.

Almost from the start, The Golden Chords negotiated the territory between the
sacred and the secular, performing frequently at a New York gospel nightclub
called The Sweet Chariot, which is where a young musician named Al Cooper
recorded them singing a song called "Wake Me, Shake Me," which he passed onto
his rock band, The Blues Project. The Chords also recorded a live album for
Columbia there. Lorraine, meanwhile, was writing secular songs with another
Philadelphia musician, Sam Bell, and getting them recorded by Patti LaBelle
and the Bluebelles, Howard Tate and Didi Warwick.

In 1963, The Golden Chords were selected by the prestigious Festival of Two
Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, to perform and found the experience so much to their
liking that they stayed in Italy for a couple of years. In 1965, Lorraine
returned to America and made a couple of records for Mercury, which never got

Meanwhile, Sam Bell had introduced her to the great soul producer, Jerry
Ragavoy, who had just signed a contract with Loma, a new soul label Warner
Brothers was about to introduce. Ragavoy, Bell and Lorraine sat down to write
some songs for her first Loma album. In the middle of doing so, Ragavoy got a
phone call. Frank Sinatra had booked a session with a large orchestra and had
then cancelled. Since the union said the orchestra had to be paid, session or
no session, Warners was offering Ragavoy the studio and the orchestra.
Although it wasn't strictly true, he told them he was ready to record with
Lorraine and then stayed up for 72 hours finishing a song and an arrangement.
Not only did he succeed in doing this, but the orchestra and singer nailed it
in one take. The song was "Stay with Me," and ordinarily I'd play a bit of it
here, but I'm not going to. You'll have to wait till the end of the piece,
because it's my experience that you can't follow it with anything at all,
that's how powerful it is. It was also too powerful for radio, although it
briefly got to number 11 on the soul charts and 64 on the pop charts.

Then Ragavoy had a brilliant idea. He'd turn Lorraine Ellison into a jazz
singer. Warners OK'd Oliver Nelson to write arrangements, and an entire album
introducing Miss Lorraine Ellison, "Heart and Soul," was recorded. To be
honest, it's unlistenable. Tail between his legs, Ragavoy went back to what
worked and came up with another song that should have been a hit.

(Soundbite of "Try Just a Little Bit Harder")

Ms. ELLISON: (Singing) Try...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Try...

Ms. ELLISON: (Singing) Just a little bit harder
To make him love, love, love me
I tell myself

Backup Singers: (Singing) Try...

Ms. ELLISON: (Singing) Oh, I'm going to try

Backup Singers: (Singing) Try...

Ms. ELLISON: (Singing) Just a little bit harder
So he won't leave, leave, leave me
For nobody else

Backup Singers: (Singing) Try, try...

Ms. ELLISON: (Singing) Waited so long
For someone so fine
I ain't going to lose my chance,
I ain't going to lose my chance,
He may be mine

Backup Singers: (Singing) Mine all mine

Ms. ELLISON: (Singing) Oh I'm going to try...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Try just a little bit harder

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "Try Just a Little Bit Harder" never made it out of the starting
gate. Instead, Ragavoy fan Janis Joplin recorded it and at least got some
radio play out of it. Lorraine tried a little bit harder too, but nothing
worked. She had another small hit, "Heart Be Still." She changed producers,
finally making a superb album with Ted Templeman, but it was made in 1974,
when Lorraine Ellison's version of deep soul was becoming outdated. Plus, she
was 43 years old.

So she retired, sang in the church, and died in 1983 at the age of 51. She
left behind a lot of fine music and one great, transcendent three minutes and
33 seconds called "Stay with Me."

(Soundbite of "Stay with Me")

Ms. ELLISON (Singing) Where did you go
When things went wrong, baby?
Who did you run to
And find a shoulder to lay your head upon?
Babe, wasn't I there?
Didn't I take good care of you?
No, no, I can't believe
You're leaving me...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Lorraine Ellison. Our rock historian, Ed Ward, lives in

You can download podcasts of FRESH AIR by going to our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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