The second song on the Troubadour DVD is “Alberta”, the old Snooks Eaglin song but I have to admit I was introduced to it via Eric Clapton. Eric played “Alberta” on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977. I didn’t catch the show the first time around but did get to watch it years later when it was re-run on the BBC.
I remember enjoying it very much but truth be told I might well have forgotten all about it shortly after that if my flat-mate at the time – Steve Iredale – hadn’t been quick enough to record it. Now mind you, Steve probably has just about everything that was ever recorded, by himself or anybody else, be it cassette, 8-track, special edition vinyl or good ol’ 78’s but that’s probably a story for another day!
Anyway, he had a cassette copy of Eric’s OGWT show and the more we played it the more I fell in love with the song “Alberta”. It had a lovely laidback feel to it and it sounded like I could play it so I decided to sit down and work out a version of it. I started playing it at parties (I wasn’t playing any acoustic music in my shows at that time) and people seemed to like it a lot.
Around the same time Gary Eglington was playing bass guitar with us. He’d just moved on from playing with the Zen Alligators (the post-Horslips band from Eamon Carr & Johnny Fean). I always thought that Gary was the Keith Richards of bass guitar players. He had that same ‘vibe’ about him. I think he also wished he’d been a cowboy! He started playing harmonica on “Alberta” whenever I played it, which added a lovely country feel to it. If you closed your eyes you could just see him on his horse out riding the plains.
We were due to go into the studio to cut our first single in this same period and we had a rockin’ R&B song all ready as the A-side. We needed a B-side and for some strange reason we decided to put “Alberta” on the B-side. Well, few people ever played the B-side anyway, which was why some bands often put ‘strange’ stuff on their B-sides.
After we’d cut the single we sent it to some radio stations, RTE being one of them. RTE is Ireland’s national radio station and broadcasts all sorts of programmes from talk shows to music shows. We didn’t expect to get much airplay from them and we were right – when it came to the A-side. The B-side became a different story altogether. It seems some DJ decided to check it out, must have liked it and started playing it. Some other DJ’s picked up on it after that and in no time at all our version of “Alberta” was getting decent airplay on RTE!!
As we all know, decent airplay should translate into more people coming to the shows and sure enough we were playing out in Dun Laoighaire one evening when three girls arrived at the door and asked my brother (who was helping us out at that time) if this was the same Albatross that had “Alberta” out as a single. “Sure is” he said and they bought their tickets and headed inside. They came running out about three songs later looking for their money back. “Oh, this isn’t at all what we expected” they chorused in unison!! I can well imagine that – if you think you’re going to see a nice quiet acoustic, country band and you end up at a loud, hard-rockin’ blues-rock show!!
Later we turned the song into a slow blues, which always went down very well live everywhere we played. It became one of the big songs in the set. There’s a version of it on one of the “Absolutely Live” CD’s.
When it came time to compile a list of songs for the Troubadour shows “Alberta” popped back into my mind. I felt it could fit nicely into the concept of what I wanted the shows to sound like. As you can hear, we took it back into a more country feel. Ralph plays some sublime slide guitar on it and Bas adds some equally sublime harmonica playing. Please click here to listen to it on YouTube.
I’ll talk to you next week when I write about the next song on the DVD – If I Were A Carpenter!