Thursday, November 23, 2006

This Day In Music History: Billy Swan and I Can Help

On November 23, 1974 Billy Swan had the #1 song on the Billboard Charts with I Can Help. Mr. Swan started his musical career at 16. He wrote a poem in school and a couple of years later it was recorded when it was set to music. The song that it became was Lover Please and it was a big hit. Billy said that spoiled him and he thought show business was the easiest business in the world. Billy moved from Cape Giradeau, Missouri to Memphis, Tenn. to continue his songwriting career. When he got to town the first thing he did was drive past Elvis home. After he had been in Memphis for awhile he went back to Graceland and got to know Elvis’ Uncle Travis Smith. Travis watched the gate for Elvis. Billy told him he was a songwriter and looking for a place to stay. Billy said “There was an empty room at his place so I ended up living there…I even ended up watching the gate sometimes late at night so Travis could go home for a bit.”

Later Billy moved to Nashville and got a job as a recording assistant. He quit during the recording of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album. He gave his job to Kris Kristofferson. Billy and Kris became good friends and he wrote I Can Help on a little RMI organ that Kris and Rita Coolidge gave him and his wife as a wedding gift. Billy said “So I was just sitting at the organ and started playin’ chords and pretty soon the words came out…I did it in two takes and didn’t even overdub the vocals-just stood up and played the organ and sang.”

When I was a kid the only place I heard the song was at the skating rink. When I do hear it on the radio now I can’t help but feel someone should be saying “All skate please! All skate!” over a loudspeaker. In my mind that is part of the beginning of the song.

After his song was a hit Billy was a guest on many shows. It was when he hosted the Midnight Special that his name was in lights behind him. He said “It’s sort of like a dream come true, like the little boy in Johnny B. Goode, whose Mother says, ‘Maybe someday your name will be in lights saying Johnny B. Goode tonight.”

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