California Stars (1998) – Billy Bragg & Wilco

This is the second song to feature here from Billy Bragg and Wilco’s wonderful tribute album to Woody Guthrie called Mermaid Avenue (see image above). More information about the album and my connection to it can be found in my previous article – Birds and Ships. Today’s song California Stars is my favourite song from the record although there are 5 songs from the record which I greatly admire and will feature here. The lyric was written by Woody Guthrie, but Guthrie never recorded it or wrote music down for it. No exact date is known for the lyrics – it could have been anytime from the 1930s to the 1940s. Thus, the song is a collaboration piece that took place 30 years after Guthrie died. Simple and direct, Guthrie’s words paint a picture of sleeping beneath the beautiful California stars, and the lovely dreams that follow.

I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d love to feel your hand touching mine
And tell me why I must keep working on
Yes, I’d give my life to lay my head tonight
On a bed of California stars

Guthrie’s recording career was more or less over by 1947, but his estate approached Billy Bragg in 1995 to set Woody’s handwritten, unrecorded lyrics to music. Thus, the song is a collaboration piece that took place 30 years after Guthrie died. Woody’s daughter, Nora Guthrie told KQED that the lyrics for the song contained the location where it was written. “He was living at a friend’s house in Long Beach, 827 Cedar Avenue, the lyric says,” Guthrie said. “So, whoever’s living there now, this song is yours…’
Bob Seger performed the song during his 2013 Rock and Roll Never Forgets Tour of North America. The following year he recorded it for his Ride Out album.

Reference:
1. Mermaid Avenue – Wikipedia
2. California Stars – Songfacts

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Music
9 comments on “California Stars (1998) – Billy Bragg & Wilco
  1. Badfinger (Max) says:

    I can’t tell you how much I love both of these artists… How could anyone not like that sound??? It’s beauty… great selection today.
    I also like their song Secret of the Sea… a pure joy.

  2. Thank you for that! Billy Bragg is one of my favourites – a brilliant folk song writer too.

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