Veterans’ Songs

Nov. 23, 2016

Yo!

I’m finally getting around to posting the page of Vietnam-era songs that I’ve been meaning to create since I got up to speed on websites. A recent thread on the vwar-l discussion list reminded me that I have recordings of several Vietnam-related songs that not many people have heard or remember and which deserve a much wider audience.

Combat Assault

Rick Duvall

Rick lived down the road from me back in the 1980s when he was recording this album. He played at many veterans’ events in those years and was part of a group of anti-war Vietnam vet musicians that toured through the old Soviet Union in solidarity with the anti-war veterans of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Rick moved to Nashville in the early 1990s, and I hear he is doing very well.

Below is the cover of my copy of the cassette insert of his album Combat Assault, complete with autographs. The physical tape is kind of warbly and full of glitches after nearly thirty years, which results in the poor fidelity. Sorry about that. I’d be happy replace it, but the album does not seem to be available anywhere. After extensive Googling, I found that two of the songs, “Johnny Rambo” (written by Country Joe McDonald) and “What Kind of Men Are These,” are included on a 13 CD compilation of over 330 Vietnam-related songs with artists such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Country Joe, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and dozens of others that was released a few years ago: Next Stop is Vietnam, The War on Record 1961—2008

 

combat-assault-duvall

This is an interview with Rick from the Vietnam Veterans Against the War magazine in 1987, when the Combat Assault album was released. The three songs here are my favorites from the album. If Luck of the Draw ever gets made into a movie (dream on!), I hope to convince Spielberg or Coppola or Scorsese to use them in the soundtrack.

Combat Assault

Rick Duvall (Written and performed by Rick)

 

Sgt. Willie

Rick Duvall (Written and performed by Rick)

 

Missing

Rick Duvall (Performed by Rick, written by my good friend, Brad Smith)

 

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We Just Did What We Were Told

711nunfqkkl-_sy355_I’ve been an off-and-on member of what is now the West Coast Songwriters Association since 1984. In 1998 I was at one of the monthly competitions when Don Forbes knocked us out with this song. I asked him to send me a tape of his performance and for permission to forward it to the universe. The song with his full band, Don Forbes and Reckless, is on his album Somethin’ About Guitars or at Reverb Nation here. But being an old 1960s folkie, I prefer his solo performance because I was there in the audience and because of his heart-felt introduction.

Written and performed by Don Forbes at a West Coast Songwriters’ competition at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley, CA–1998

 

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After The War

A few years ago I attended the WCSA Songwriters’ Conference where one of the presenters was an award-winning Nashville songwriter, Jon Ims, whose performance brought the audience to its feet. Jon told us that he himself was not a veteran, but that he had a close friend who was a Nam vet and had been severely wounded. He spent many months in a VA hospital, and Jon became a regular visitor as his friend recovered and got to know many vets who collectively inspired this song.

 

Written and performed by Jon Ims at the West Coast Songwriters’ Conference

 (There is also a YouTube of this song performed at The Wall by his co-writer at the anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in 1993, with President Clinton and Gen. Colin Powell in attendance, but I like this version much better.)

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Gotta Save Pittsburgh

 This was recorded in 1994 (with the late Keith Allen on guitar). I have changed some of the lyrics over the years when I perform it (e.g., “played gooks and grunts with the Charlie Cong” is now “played shoot to kill with the Charlie Cong”). Also, the lyric in the excerpt from the novel Luck of  the Draw is slightly different than the recorded version due to the time-frame in which the novel is set (1972), as the character writes it while he was in Vietnam.

 

Scott Morrison (with Keith Allen on guitar.)

 

There is also a YouTube video that I recorded in 2008 in which I do the entire schtick from the open-mic bar scene below.

Excerpt from:

Luck of the Draw

by William Scott Morrison

The excerpt is a scene where the character, Sgt. McGill, is just back in The World after a year in Vietnam and goes to an open mic to play his new song:

He went into the hallway to be ready for his turn and watched her sing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” in a sweet, bluesy style. The crowd loved her.

“Next up,” said the emcee, “is Art McGill.”

“Boy,” he said as he stood in front of the mic, “talk about a tough act to follow. Well, I…I just got back this very afternoon from a year in Vietnam, and when we weren’t killing babies or burning down villages I wrote some songs.”

The bar went silent. His casual comment about killing babies and burning villages had grabbed their attention.

“Before I start, let’s clear something up. There’s a lot of confusion about whether it’s pronounced Vietnam, rhyming with ‘damn’ and ‘ma’am,’ or whether it’s Vietnom rhyming with ‘bomb’ and ‘mom.’

“Now I love Country Joe’s ‘Vietnam Rag,’ but he gets it wrong. He sings, ‘Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.’ But the correct pronunciation rhymes not with damn or ma’am, but with bomb and mom. And I can prove it.

“Now, the final arbiters of such matters are the drill sergeants of the United States Army whose primary job is to instill discipline in the troops. Whatever they say goes. There is no argument. Like Drill Sgt. Watson used to say, ‘There’s three things you don’t do. You don’t piss against the wind, you don’t shit standing up, and you don’t fuck with Sgt. Watson.’

“The most common method for instilling discipline is the cadence call, and every drill sergeant has his favorite. Sgt. Watson marched us around the sands of Fort Dix, New Jersey, singing this one.”

He turned his guitar sideways and put the neck up to his shoulder as if the guitar were a rifle, said, “Ten-hut!” snapped to rigid military attention then began marching in place and singing:

“I’m gonna go to Vietnam
Honey, honey
I’m gonna go to Vietnam
Babe, babe
I’m gonna go to Vietnam
I’m gonna kill the Charlie Cong
Honey oh baby mine

Gimee your left your right your left
Gimee your left your right your left.

 

“So you see what I mean,” he said as he slipped the guitar strap around his shoulder and into playing position. “It has to be Vietnom in order to kind of rhyme with Charlie Cong.

“Now when I was in junior high me and a couple of friends wanted to be famous folk singers like the Kingston Trio, and I recognized Sgt. Watson’s cadence call from an old Woodie Guthrie album. It’s called ‘The Crawdad Song,’ and it goes like this.”

He played a few bars in Woodie’s up-tempo style and sang:

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole
Honey, honey
You get a line and I’ll get a pole
Babe, babe
You get a line and I’ll get a pole
We’ll go down to that crawdad hole
Honey oh baby mine.

 

“Now one time when we were hanging out in our sandbagged hooch waiting for the next mortar attack I came up with some new lyrics, kind of merging Watson’s cadence call with Woodie’s folk song. I call it ‘Gotta Save Pittsburgh.’ Now, there are two real people in the song, Frank and George, both of whom graduated with me in 1966 from Milltowne High back in Pennsylvania. This song is dedicated to them. He began to play and sang:

 

“I’m gonna go to Vietnam
Honey, honey
I’m gonna go to Vietnam
Babe, babe
I’m gonna go to Vietnam
I’m gonna kill the Charlie Cong
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Gotta save Pittsburgh from the Charlie Cong
Honey, honey
Gotta save Pittsburgh from the Charlie Cong
Babe, babe
They say if Nam goes down like a domino
They’ll be paddlin’ up the O-hi-o-oooo
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

We’re gonna win their hearts and minds
Honey, honey
Teach ’em to wear suits and ties
Babe, babe
We’re gonna win their hearts and minds
Bomb ’em ‘till they’re civilized
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Gimme your left your right your left
Gimme your left your right your left.

Big George could really run the ball
Honey, honey
With a better defense we’d ’a won it all
Babe, babe
George could dunk and George could shoot
He was perfect for killin’ commies too
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Frank wrote songs and played guitar
Honey, honey
The girls all said he’d be a star
Babe, babe
They got drafted over to The Nam
Played shoot to kill with the Charlie Cong
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Frank and George ain’t here no more
Honey, honey
Frank and George ain’t here no more
Babe, babe
George never got to be a big pro star
And Frank’s mom still shines up his old guitar
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine

Gimme your left your right your left
Gimme your left your right your left.

Get a room with twenty Democrats in it
Honey, honey
Make ’em talk about nuthin’ but Vietnam
Babe, babe
Get such a room with twenty Democrats in it
They’ll wring their hands and fight and bitch
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Get a room with twenty Republicans in it
Honey, honey
Make ’em talk about nothin’ but Vietnam
Babe, babe
Get such a room with twenty Republicans in it
You’ll hear the same old lies and the same old shit
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Don’t gimme no left no right no left
Don’t gimme no left no right no left.

Fifty-five thousand already died
Honey, honey
Fifty-five thousand American guys
Babe, babe
Fifty-five thousand American guys
Are dead and gone because of those lies
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

They tried to save Pittsburgh from the Charlie Cong
Honey, honey
Died to save Pittsburgh from the Charlie Cong
Babe, babe
Fifty-five thousand American guys
Are dead and gone because of those lies
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.

Gimme your left your right your left
Gimme your left your right your left.

Gotta save Pittsburgh from the Charlie Cong
Honey, honey
Gotta save Pittsburgh from the Charlie Cong
Babe, babe
They say if Nam goes down like a domino
They’ll be paddlin’ up the O-hi-o-oooo
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.
Honey, oh baa-aa-by mine.”

 

He let the guitar droop from his shoulder, wiped back a few tears, and looked out at the crowd, which he could barely see because of the spotlights. There was total silence. They’d hated it. It was too ironic, too satirical, too cynical, too historical, too personal, too political.

“Thanks for listening,” he said. “I really needed to get that out of my system.”

He started to walk off when the applause began, then increased with cheering and whistles and bravos. As he came off the stage and looked out again everybody in the bar was on their feet in a standing ovation.

 

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