The Front Porch Go to Mickey Newbury Back Porch
Back Porch


Author:  Chris
E-mail:  not available
Date:  9/18/2010 10:45:48 AM
Subject:  On Top of Old Smokey
Message:  This is an email I got from Chris Campion, who is running St. Cecelia Knows Records, and will be releasing a trilogy of Looks Like Rain, Frisco Mabel Joy, and Heaven Help the Child, all new remasters from the original studio tapes. We are very excited about it, and it should sound great. Elektra is doing the digital transfers, so it should be top-notch stuff. I can't wait to hear them.

This is the story Norbert Putnam told me that I adapted to use in the liner notes.


“Joanie called me and said, ‘Call Mickey, and see if he has a song for me’.”

Norbert Putnam is recalling the time he was about to start work on a second album with Joan Baez at his Quadrafonic Studios in Nashville (the sessions would yield her 1972 album "Come From The Shadows". Norbert continues:

So I called Mickey and I said, ‘Do you have a song for Joan Baez?’

‘I’m working on something,’ he said.

I said, ‘Well, we’re recording in 6 weeks.’

‘I’ll bring something over,’ he said.

Well, weeks go by and I don’t hear from Mickey. It’s about two weeks until recording date and I called Mickey. He was out at his cabin on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. I said, 'Mickey, do you have that song finished for Joan Baez?’.

‘I’m working on it,’ he says

‘Well, we don’t have any time, Mickey! Can you bring me something?’

‘No,’ he said, ‘but I’ve got a hit for her.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Wonderful!’

“I’ll come over tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock and play it for you”.

The next morning, he comes up the steps to my office with his guitar case. He puts the case down, takes the guitar out, he looks at me and he says, ‘Now, I’m going to sing you this song. It’s a hit for Joan Baez. But you cannot interrupt me until I’m finished. You will want to interrupt me. But do not. You must listen all the way through.’

I took a deep breath and I said, ‘OK, I promise I will not interrupt you.’

Mickey starts to strum his guitar, and he sings:

“On top of Old Smokey / All covered with snow,
I lost my true lover / For moving too slow...”

Well, it’s an old campfire standard. I’m about to say, ‘Mickey! I can’t do that song,’ but I’ve made a deal, you see—I can’t open my mouth. And he looks at me, stares me in the eye, and gives the greatest performance of “On Top Of Old Smokey” I have ever heard!

At the end of it, I had chill bumps on my arms. He smiles, puts his guitar down and says, ‘What did you think?’

It’s the greatest thing I’d ever heard! But I said, “Mickey Newbury, if Joan Baez could give a performance like that, I would record that song immediately. However, she can not… you son of a bitch! How dare you come up here with that!” And we both fell about laughing. But that’s how good he was at conveying emotion through a lyric to someone who might listen.

I think he was one of the greatest performers who ever lived. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t tour. Early on in his career, when the recordings were coming out, Mickey was reticent about going out and performing. He didn’t really want to go. He wanted to be Harry Nilsson or something, but he was magical—marvellous.

 On Top of Old Smokey by Chris at 9/18/2010 10:45:48 AM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Karen Runk at 9/18/2010 1:27:35 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Bill Smith  at 9/18/2010 1:54:49 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Dale Hamilton  at 9/18/2010 6:33:17 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Lib at 9/18/2010 10:44:11 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by BobC at 9/18/2010 4:55:48 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Bree Wilson Stone at 9/18/2010 4:57:24 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by erik "the dane" at 9/19/2010 1:22:33 AM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Craig at 9/19/2010 4:56:01 AM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Broasted at 9/19/2010 6:46:48 AM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Jonmark at 9/19/2010 3:01:21 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Chris at 9/20/2010 10:45:34 AM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Jonmark at 9/20/2010 12:25:52 PM
 Re: On Top of Old Smokey by Lib at 9/20/2010 8:32:29 PM