Left to right: Willie Greene Jr., Terry Evans, Bobby King
Why Jennifer Warnes Sent Me A Photo Of Willie Greene Jr
Just before Christmas, the Heck Of A Guy mailbag included the photo seen above accompanied by this message from Dee:
Ms Jennifer Warnes asked me to send this photo to you at your website…so here you go.
left to right: Willie Greene Jr.. Terry Evans. Bobby King
Photo by Roscoe Beck
So, why did Jennifer Warnes send me a photo of Willie Greene Jr?
The short answer is “I asked her for a photo of Willie Greene Jr.”
No one who has read more than three Heck Of A Guy posts will be surprised to discover that we won’t be going with the short answer.
The Famous Blue Raincoat Album
That photo of Willie Greene Jr., Terry Evans, and Bobby King can indeed be found at the official Jennifer Warnes site in the Famous Blue Raincoat: 20th Anniversary Edition Photo Gallery. At that location, the legend includes, in addition to the names of the singers and the Roscoe Beck photo credit, the explanation
Recording vocals, “Coming Back to You”
Willie Greene Jr contributed backing vocals on three tracks of Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album, which was released 1987: Coming Back To You, A Singer Must Die, and Bird On A Wire.
It was his efforts on that 1987 cover of Bird On A Wire that led to a concatenation of events culminating – 24 years later – in the posting of this photo today.
Famous Blue Raincoat As Audio Equipment Testing Instrument
A query about that track on that album, posed by the guy who had installed, revised, and cajoled into operation sound and TV systems for me over the past decade, precipitated the posting of Famous Blue Raincoat By Jennifer Warnes: Audiophile Addendum on August 6, 2007:
When listening to Bird On A Wire with a very high resolution sound system you can hear what sounds like a deep guttural humming along with Warnes’ vocals. On anything less than that is does not turn up at all, or sounds like a partially blown woofer. Is that Leonard Cohen humming along?
Knowing my correspondent was not one given to hallucinations or the mid-day ingestion of intoxicating doses of legal or illegal substances, I investigated, only to discover that Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat, or as the vinyl-philes affectionately call it, Cypress 661 111-1, has a second career as a test LP for audio equipment. In tech circles, in fact, the Bird On A Wire hum is quite well known.
The review of the Origin Live “Advanced” power supply and DC-100 Motor at Vinyl Asylum, for example, describes it in this manner,
On Jennifer Warnes “Famous Blue Raincoat” the song “Bird On a Wire” has a low background humming by a bass. [With the equipment being reviewed,] This humming is more distinct, with greater weight and greater extension. Musically, the humming is more integrated with the melody. The integration between octaves is tighter, vocal transitions between chest and throat are clearer and more natural sounding.
A few straightforward web searches revealed substantial information about the technical aspects of the recording, a summary of which is available at the Audiophile Addendum post. At that time, however, those web sites did not identify, as far as I was able to determine, the singer of the extraordinarily low tones on the Warnes version of Bird On A Wire.
Since there was a tie-in with with Leonard Cohen, I sent a few emails to members of the Cohen cognoscente. I only received one positive response; on the other hand that same source had been correct about obscure details on a handful of other queries. So, …
I wrote that I had received
… information from that usually reliable source1 that the referenced hum in Jennifer Warnes’ Bird on a Wire is the sound of Leonard Cohen’s voice doubling behind and an or octave below Warnes.
The original post included a caveat in the form of a footnote:
This source has been 100% correct about such matters in the past, but I have no way to double-check this tidbit so if anyone has information that confirms or conflicts with the answer I’ve reported, I’d appreciate an email.
At this point, a year passes, …
… after which, word arrives from Jennifer Warnes:
Hi Dr. Hguy;
While doing some research on Jennifer’s behalf, I came across your column from Aug 6 of last year in which your usually reliable source named Leonard Cohen as the source of low humming on Jennifer’s version of “Bird on a Wire”.
I sent the article to Jennifer; she asked me to send you the true details, straight from the diva’s keyboard:
“Will you write back for me and say that this low voice is Willie Greene Jr. He sings also on Ry Cooder’s records. His bass can reach lower than the lowest note on an acoustic piano. We proved it. Ask Billy Youdelman who was the recordist or my co producer, Roscoe Beck, for proof. Leonard’s voice dropped down after many years chanting during Zen practice.”
I hope this is helpful.
Well, it was certainly helpful. As I wrote in Blog Error On Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat Corrected – By Jennifer Warnes (posted September 15th, 2008):
There you have it. The ultra-low voice belongs to Willie Greene Jr. Searches for Willie Greene Jr. turn up batches of credits, including work with Lyle Lovett and the afore mentioned Ry Cooder, but, alas, no photos in which he is unambiguously identified. I did find this brief but compelling mention of Mr. Greene at the July 28, 2008 entry in Jack Bog’s Blog in a description of a Lyle Lovett performance:
But all of the side men were upstaged by the background singers who stood to the star’s immediate right. What to my wondering eyes did appear — two of them were from the earth-shaking front line of Was (Not Was), who knocked our socks off (as we knew they would) at the Wonder a while back. Sure enough, it was Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens! Next to them was bass singer Willie Greene Jr., whose voice knows no bottom and whose bottom, along with the rest of him, moved smooth as silk in synchronicity with Sweet Pea and Sir Harry. (Emphasis mine)
I extend my apologies to Mr. Greene and Mr. Cohen for the error and my thanks to Mr. Kramer and Ms Warnes for the correction.
And that was that – until three more years pass,
… at which time I received the photo of Willie Greene Jr displayed near the top of this post, which is, I assume, the response to my request for a shot of Mr Greene that I included with my thank-you note written just before that 2008 post correcting the misidentification of the humming source.
The Willie Greene Jr Gallery
Happily, with the photo Jennifer Warnes forwarded and additional help from the webmaster of the aforementioned Jack Bog’s Blog, I’ve been able to identify a few other online images of Willie Greene Jr.
The middle three men in the above shot, found at Concert review: Lyle Lovett and His Big Band at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg by Tracy May (Daily Loaf: Nov 27, 2010), are the backup vocalists for Lyle Lovett. From left to right, they are Willie Greene Jr, Sir Harry Bowens, and Sweet Pea Atkinson.
The two photos below are identified as Willie Greene Jr at Discogs.com:
And finally, Willie Greene can be viewed as supporting vocalist in this Lyle Lovett performance of I’m Going to Wait at Chastain Park in Atlanta on July 6, 2008.
I hope Willie Greene Jr, my sound & TV installer, Jennifer Warnes, and Heck Of A Guy readers are now satisfied with the completeness of the answer to the original question about the source of the humming on Bird On A Wire from The Famous Blue Raincoat album if not the length of time required for that answer.
I even more fervently hope the information now offered is correct. If not, I’m sure I will (eventually) be notified, occasioning another post on the topic.
In respect to the four year lag between this post and and the first entry in this series, I have chosen to interpret it as an indicator of the tenacity and persistence characteristic of both Jennifer Warnes, who has recently been back on Tour and who performs on Leonard Cohen’s forthcoming Old Ideas album, and yours truly, who keeps blogging along for reasons as unclear to him as it is to others. I suspect, in both case, it has to do with the trait also shared by and exquisitely expressed in the lyrics of Leonard Cohen:
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay, I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet