Monday, July 12, 2010

Central Two O Nine (Band of Joy song of the week, No. 3 of 12)

Each week until the release of Robert Plant's new album Band of Joy, Lemon Squeezings is focusing on the roots of a different song featured on the album. For this third installment of the 12-part series, today we look at the track with perhaps the most diverse history, "Central Two O Nine."

The track "Central Two O Nine," the press have been informed, was "built around a studio jam" between Robert Plant and his studio group that came to be called the Band of Joy. It may have been one of the group's early studio cuts Plant said "sounded like Moby Grape outtakes." CMT, upon hearing the finished product, described "Central Two O Nine" as a "country blues stomp ... with banjo and acoustic guitar combining for an old-time string band vibe."

An official press release also says the song has "jangling blues imagery." A song called "Hello Central (Give Me 209)" recorded by Lightnin' Hopkins appears on his 1965 album for Mainstream Records, called The Blues. If you define "jangling" as harsh or discordant, that's what the lyrics are in this solo acoustic guitar performance.

They seem at least partially reflective of the discrimination experienced by a black man in segregated society. The words "It seems the buses done stopped runnin', [and the] trains won't allow me to ride no more" may simply be the result of the bus and train schedules having expired for the night, but that may just be the singer's logical excuse for illogical discrimination. Either way, the singer has a woeful communication breakdown. He is nearly desperate, needing "to talk to my baby," whether it be by long-distance telephone call or face-to-face discourse that would first require mass transit.

Without either option available to him, he gives up, turns away and starts walking home, with his thoughts along the way focusing on what he'd done wrong. The downtrodden man whose image is painted on the cover of the Lightnin' Hopkins album certainly looks like he's suffering a fate like this.

A Document Records compilation called Rare Country Blues Vol. 4 (1929-c. 1953) contains an earlier recorded version of "Hello Central (Give Me 209)" from Robert Lee Westmoreland. This rendition from the singer and slide guitarist in the St. Louis blues tradition is believed to be from around 1953. It's also a solo guitar performance with basically the same set of lyrics Hopkins would later perform.

Songwriting credit on this track -- as is the case with both "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" and "Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday" -- will go to Plant and co-producer Buddy Miller. This will be true for one more of the 12 songs on this album.


  1. I'm really enjoying these makes the wait time for the new album somewhat bearable :)


  2. I'm confused. It's precisely the same tune as the song 'How Long?' by The Boggs, from 2002. Is there any credit there at all? Am I missing something massive?

  3. Interesting! For reference, a video for that song can be found here.

  4. I genuinely can't tell if it's meant to be being passed off as an 'original' song. I can't see anything in the way of crediting The Boggs. The only explanation I can think of is that the tune isn't by them originally, or something - I don't have my copy of their album to hand to check their sleeve, unfortunately.

  5. If you're a member of Facebook, check out the discussion going on there about the song's origins:

    Among the comments, Helen Aqua says that while the melodies are identical, "it sounds familiar enough to have possibly pre-dated both of them.")

    Sharon Knapic opines, "Imagine the Bogg's found this in some old scratchy 78 record somewhere. The real shame is that old artist's from the early 20th century don't have the rights to their records...and to be fair, they probably picked up some of the music from locals from earlier times. It's said that all music is derivative. Finding the chicken that first crossed the road can be a challenge..." Notably, the sound man from Robert Plant's crew, Roy Williams, clicked "like" on her comment.

  6. Interesting that after having covered "Darkness, Darkness" by the Youngbloods, no one has commented on that particular overt musical similarity... only so many notes anyway & the trick is always to give a "nod" w/o "screwin' the pooch".

  7. Hey, now that you say that, it does sound like the Youngbloods original. I wonder if that was intentional. I know I once unintentionally ripped off the title track of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King and it wasn't until a year or two after I wrote my original that I heard the KC song again. It was in my CD collection, and I know I heard it. But it's not like I first happened to be singing that song live at every concert for five years.


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