Friday, June 29, 2012

Crow -- "Evil Woman (Don't Play Your Games With Me)" (1969)

Tomorrow will not change your shameful deed
You will bear someone else's fertile seed
They don't write songs like "Evil Woman" any more, do they? 
"Evil Woman" dates from 1969, when any young woman who got pregnant out of wedlock was branded (figuratively speaking) with a big scarlet "A."  

Today, women do that all the time, without any particular embarrassment, and a lot of them do it intentionally -- which would NEVER have happened when I was in high school.  

The "evil woman" in this song wants the singer to claim her child even though the singer knows that "it was he, not me" who fathered her child.  

There's only one way he can really be sure of that -- right?  If he never had sex with the woman, he can't  be the father.  If he did, how can he be 100% certain the baby isn't his?  (The plot thickens . . .)

A couple of guys with lust in their hearts --
and who can blame them?
The third verse implies that the singer may have known the woman (in the Biblical sense).  If he didn't know her, it certainly sounds like he lusted after her in his heart (to borrow a line from Jimmy Carter, who was brilliantly described by P. J. O'Rourke as "that most ex of America's ex-presidents"):

Wickedness lies in your moistened lips
Your body moves just like the crack of a whip
Black cats lay atop your satin bed
(That is soooooo hot -- especially the black cats on the satin bed.)
1969 was a great year for "one-hit wonders" -- including "Baby It's You" (Smith), "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" (Steam), "Polk Salad Annie" (Tony Joe White), "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" (Bubble Puppy), "In the Year 2525" (Zager & Evans), "Venus" (Shocking Blue), and "Vehicle" (Ides of March).

Crow's "Evil Woman (Don't Play Your Games With Me)" was not only one of the best of 1969's one-hit wonders, but one of the best songs of that year.  Crow was a Minneapolis group that released three albums between 1969 and 1971, but "Evil Woman" was Crow's only single to crack the top 40.  

I recently spoke to Larry Wiegand, Crow's original bass player, about the band's history:

2 or 3 lines:  You and your brother Dick were two of the founding members of Crow.  What kind of music did you like when you were growing up?  

Larry Wiegand:  Dick and I were really into instrumental music -- groups like the Ventures, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, Lonnie Mack, and Booker T & the MG's.  But we liked just about anything rockin' or soulful.  Doo wop, Chuck Berry, Elvis, early Motown, among others. 

2 or 3 lines:  When you started your band in 1967, you called it South 40.  What kind of music did South 40 perform?

Larry Wiegand:  We covered a lot of the soul and blue-eyed soul songs of the mid-sixties -- Wilson Pickett, the Rascals, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Otis Redding, and so on.  In 1968, we recorded a live album called "Live at Someplace Else," which was the name of a club where we used to play.  That LP sounds really cheesy to me now, but we had some regional success and we started working on taking it to the next level.  After we got a record producer interested, we decided to change the name to Crow because we thought South 40 sounded like the name of a country band.  The new name seemed to fit our music somehow.

2 or 3 lines:  Crow won a "battle of the bands" in Des Moines in 1968, which entitled you to a recording session at the Columbia Records studio in Chicago.  What didn't Columbia like about your demos?

Larry Wiegand: It's my belief that they were looking for another Gary Puckett, who was big for them at that time. We were a little funky for them -- we sounded more like Steppenwolf than Gary Puckett, and I think that's why they passed on us.

2 or 3 lines:  An A&R guy from Dunwich Productions was present at your recording session and liked what he heard.  

Larry Wiegand:  Dunwich had many successful artists at the time. The Shadows of Knight, Buckinghams, Coven, Styx, American Breed, Cryin' Shames, Minnie Ripperton, Mason Profit, H.P Lovecraft, Illinois Speed Press, etc.

Larry Wiegand (back row center) and Crow
2 or 3 lines:  Dunwich produced your first LP and shopped it to a number of record companies.  How did you end up signing with Amaret, which was a very small label?

Larry Wiegand:  The band wanted to sign with Atlantic, which had made us an offer, but Dunwich thought we'd get more attention as a big fish in a small pond.  So we ended up with Amaret.

2 or 3 lines: I can't imagine "Evil Woman" without the horns, but I've read that you guys weren't happy about horns being added to that song.

Larry Wiegand:  We didn't know they were going to add the horns.  Dunwich did what they thought was right about getting a successful record out.  I find it funny about what's been said on the internet about us not liking the horns. Those guys did a great job of playing the charts. Our only problem was that we didn't have a horn section when we toured, so we couldn't reproduce the sound when we performed live.

2 or 3 lines:  Tell me how the lyrics to "Evil Woman" came to be written.  

Larry Wiegand:  My brother Dick and I were working on that song's chord progression, and Dave Wagner, our lead singer, was in the next room listening. He started writing down lyrics and we put them together.  

2 or 3 lines:  The song's lyrics are very frank: "The morrow will not change your shameful deed/You will bear someone else's fertile seed" in the first verse, and "You want me to claim this child you bore/But I know that it was he, not me" in the second verse.  Not much doubt what is going on in this song.  What inspired the lyrics?  Was it totally fictional, or based on a true situation?

Larry Wiegand:  It was not a fictional story but had the same inspiration as Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."  Both tell the story of a guy who was accused of being the father of a gal's baby.  He claims he isn't the father.  "Evil woman, don't play those games with me" is his response to her accusations.  Not an uncommon story for young folks -- then or now. All the Crow songs were about what young folks had to deal with at one time or another.  I like to think each song is a snapshot of what was happening to us at the time.

2 or 3 lines:  "Evil Woman" was released as a single late in 1969.  Was it the first single off your album?  

Larry Wiegand:  "Evil Woman" was actually our second single.  The first was "Time To Make A Turn," which was also on our first album, Crow Music.  We didn't think "Time To Make A Turn" would be a hit and it wasn't.  "Evil Woman" was a different story.  Radio stations all over the country started to play it after a station in Seattle broke it out first.  For some reason, it wasn't especially popular in Minnesota.  We did get airplay there but not as much as in other cities. 

"Evil Woman" made it to #19 on the Billboard pop charts, but Cashbox ranked it at #7.  Over 600,000 copies of the single were sold.  

It's easy to see why it was such a success.  The lyrics certainly create some dramatic interest.  Larry Wiegand's bass part is quite distinctive.  And the horn part is very interesting -- especially the long instrumental break before the third verse.

The next 2 or 3 lines will feature the rest of the Larry Wiegand interview and another Crow song.

Here's "Evil Woman":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

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