Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Goodbye Mama Shrimp, Papa shake my hand

Last Thursday, Danny Michel came through town on the last leg of his tour. He's headed back to the studio this fall to start working on a new album (yay!), but this time it'll be his home studio in "an old farmhouse" he recently bought. It was the fifth time I've seen him live and every time someone inevitably shouts out for him to play the "Shrimp Song". Usually he says no because he promised himself he'd stop playing it, but this time he relented when it became apparent most of the crowd hadn't heard it before (or they kept silent because they secretly wanted him to play it). Now the Shrimp Song AKA Song of the Shrimp is a cover of a bizarre, tragic, hilarious ditty originally performed by The King of Rock 'n Roll himself, Mr. Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley - Song of the Shrimp [written by Roy Bennett and Sid Tepper]
Song of the Shrimp was written by the songwriting team of Bennett & Tepper for the 1962 Elvis film Girls! Girls! Girls!. In total, they wrote 42 songs for various Elvis films and albums. In its original incarnation, it's a light-hearted albeit warped Belafonte-esque tune about a baby shrimp saying goodbye to his loving parents and jumping on a shrimp boat to Louisiana to "find his fortune" (he reads an ad in the Shrimp newspaper for a free trip to New Orleans!). Little does he know there's a "Big Creole gal" waiting to help young shrimp such as himself out of their shells. Essay topic: in 500 words or less, discuss how Song of the Shrimp is a metaphor for sending young men to war.

Townes Van Zandt - Song of the Shrimp [originally performed by Elvis Presley]
In this live cut, Van Zandt can barely make it through without breaking down, frequently laughing and commenting at the inherent absurdity of the song. Carolyn Mark who was co-headlining with Danny Michel has a free "living room tour" album for download on her site with a handful of covers that coincidentally includes Van Zandt's Lost Highway [EDIT: actually it's originally written by Leon Payne and made famous by Hank Williams].

Frank Black - Song of the Shrimp [originally performed by Elvis Presley]
Frank Black sings this one straight on his 2005 album Honeycomb, showcasing a darker side to the lyrics. In an interview, Black reveals that he was inspired by Van Zandt's version and has actually never even heard Elvis Presley's version. This time when hearing Danny perform the Shrimp Song (I'd only heard him play it once before at my very first show) I realized that his version seems to be based in turn on Frank Black's cover. So, a cover of a cover of a cover. Over a year ago on his blog, Danny teased about posting his version of Song of the Shrimp, so I suspect he has a recording in his archives somewhere and hope we'll hear it someday...


Anne said...

Wow! I have a version of this song by indie folk singer The Naysayer which I've always loved, but she sings such quirky songs I never thought twice to see if it was one of her songs or not. So surprised to hear it has such a rich history. Thank you so much for schooling me!

Marchbanks said...

I'm not quite sure where Carolyn Mark got the idea that "Lost Highway" was written by Townes, but it cert'ly wasn't--it was written in 1949 by Leon Payne, and made famous by Hank Williams!

Fongolia said...

Well, I'm sure she learned it from Towne Van Zandt's album Highway Kind and didn't realize it was a cover, just as I'm sure many attribute the original to Hank Williams with no knowledge of Leon Payne. Thanks for the correction, I've updated the post.