Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Emerson & Waldron – "Fox on the Run" (1970)

The game is nearly up
And the hounds are at my door

The British, who began hunting foxes with scenthounds in the 16th century, essentially banned traditional foxhunting in 2004.  (There are a few exceptions to that ban.)

Foxhunting is still legal in the United States, but there's a big difference between English and American foxhunting: in the U.S., foxes are rarely killed during a hunt.  

The American practice is to call off the pursuit once a fox has "gone to ground" – that is, found an underground den or burrow to hide in – but the British use terriers to locate a fox that has gone to ground, and then kill it.

That's because foxes are considered a threat to chickens and other small farm animals in the UK, but foxes are not viewed as a serious agricultural pest in the U.S.)

A red fox enjoying a chicken dinner
"Fox on the Run" was first recorded by Manfred Mann.  Manfred Mann (who was born Manfred Lubowitz in Johannesburg, South Africa) probably never went on a fox hunt – the proper term is "rode to hounds."

The song was written by Tony Hazzard, whose songs were recorded by British invasion bands like Herman's Hermits, the Yardbirds, and the Hollies.  

Hazzard grew up in Liverpool and eventually moved to London to pursue his musical career.  I'm guessing he never rode to hounds either.

Tony Hazzard in 1967
The lyrics to "Fox on the Run" don't make a lot of sense.  For example, here's the last verse:

Well, take a glass of wine 
And fortify your soul
We'll talk about the world 
And friends we used to know
I'll illustrate a girl 
Who put me on the floor
The game is nearly up
And the hounds are at my door

"I'll illustrate a girl who put me on the floor" – say what?  

The last verse of the Emerson & Waldron cover of "Fox on the Run" that is featured in today's 2 or 3 lines is slightly different.  They change "illustrate" to "filistrate" – which seems to be a made-up word.

Bill Emerson in 2010
Later covers of the song by Tom T. Hall and others change the line to "I see a string of girls who put me on the floor."

I was enjoying some free barbecue, beer and country music at a local bank's "Customer Appreciation Celebration" last week when I heard "Fox on the Run" for the first time.  (Am I an actual customer of that bank?  If you want to get all technical about it, I suppose I'm not.)

There's another song called "Fox on the Run," of course.  In 1974, Sweet wrote and recorded a very different song by that title, which it released on the Desolation Boulevard album.

(In case you're wondering how Sweet could give their song the same title that Tony Hazzard had used for his song, song titles are generally not copyrightable.)

I was intrigued that two such dissimilar songs shared the identical title, and I decided to write about both of them.  But just before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you want to get all technical about it AGAIN), it was brought to my attention that I had already written about the Sweet song – which has nada to do with foxhunting, by the way – back in 2011.

The Country Gentlemen in 1972
Bill Emerson, a great banjo player who was born in Washington, DC, in 1938, was one of the founders of the Country Gentlemen, a legendary bluegrass band.

In 1967, Emerson hooked up with guitarist Cliff Waldron, and they recorded three albums as Emerson & Waldron – including Bluegrass Country, which included "Fox on the Run."

In 1973, Emerson joined the Navy Band – he was 35 years old at the time – and stayed there for twenty years.

The Navy Band, which consists of 172 enlisted men and four officers, actually encompasses a number of different musical ensembles.  There's the Concert Band, the Ceremonial Band (which performs mostly at Arlington National Cemetery funerals), the Sea Chanters (a choral group), the Commodores (a jazz ensemble), the Cruisers (which plays pop, R&B, and classic rock music), and Country Current (a seven-piece country-bluegrass band).

In addition, there are ten small chamber music ensembles – including a brass quartet and quintet, a saxophone quartet, and a . . . tuba/euphonium quartet?

I hate to be the you-know-what in the punch bowl, but why the hell does the U.S. Navy have a jazz ensemble, a pop-R&B-rock band, and a country-bluegrass group?

The U.S. Navy's "Country Current" ensemble
Bill Emerson was a very accomplished bluegrass musician, and it would have been a shame if he had given up the banjo because he couldn't make a living playing it.

But why is it the Navy's business to subsidize underappreciated musicians?  Does the Navy have a company of Shakesperean actors?  Do they have a ballet or modern dance ensembles?  Are there Navy poets or painters or sculptors?

It would be one thing if sailors were allowed to form musical groups as an extracurricular activity, practicing during there spare time.  But it strikes me as totally bizarre that the U.S. Navy has a country-bluegrass band whose members included someone like Bill Emerson – who presumably did nothing but play banjo during his twenty years as a member of the Navy Band.  (Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Emerson operated shipboard sonar or radar equipment, or was trained as a medic, or helped maintain carrier aircraft.)

Here's Emerson & Waldron's cover of "Fox on the Run," which was released on their 1970 Bluegrass Country album:

Click below to purchase the song from Amazon:

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