David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 235: Eric Clapton (Lay Down Sally)

March 18, 2023

My recent blog on Mary Black, and how I truly butchered the lyrics when I guessed (so wrongly) what was being sung, reminded me of the mis-hearings my parents had with pop music when I was growing up. I suspect I have noted these before, but for Dad, the big two were "Rice-a-Roni" instead of "My Sharona" and "Cookie Jar" for The Cars' "Don't Cha Stop." Outside of the obsession for food, Dad's mis-hearings generally made sense. My Dad's hearing was always suspect when I was growing up, so these unique renderings were not so surprising. However, my Mom's hearing seemed finely tuned (she certainly could hear me sneaking back into the house), making her mishearing of "Way Down South" for Eric Clapton's "Lay Down Sally" a much more difficult one to see, or more accurately, to hear. 

South for Sally? There's the confusion. Doesn't everyone hear Clapton with a second syllable for the "S" word? I never challenged my Mom to explain what she heard for the whole line(s): "Lay down Sally and rest here in my arms," or later "Lay down Sally, no need to leave so soon." I wish I had. Did that second syllable end up merged in Mom's ear with "and" or "no"? Maybe "Way Down South, Leanne rested in my arms" (a frightening harbinger of things to [not] come later in my life), or "Way Down South, please, no need to leave so soon."  

Both would have been great interpretations, but I will never know. We are told to not have any regrets for things you never said to your loved ones when they pass away, but that wasn't what I regret with my parents. I know I had recently told Mom I had loved her when she died; however, I should have asked about her full interpretation of this 1977 Eric Clapton song.

The interesting thing is I am not a huge Clapton fan. I didn't have Slowhand, so I think it was my sister's album that would have been playing. Even now, I don't listen to Clapton much these days, so I had to pull out my CD of his Greatest Hits and listen to "Lay Down Sally" again while ruminating about these memories. Here's the thing: I should have loved "Lay Down Sally." A year later, I would be wowed by that kind of song on Dire Straits' debut album a year later.

The stylistic similarities in the rhythm guitar and the general countrified rock are really obvious. The albums feature similar rather austere covers, lacking much color, with lots of image "off the page," whether Clapton's full body from Slowhand or the slightly unfocused woman in a room cover of Dire Straits.

In fact, to my non-musical training, slightly change the tune and "Way Down South," Mom, could be "Southbound Again" from Dire Straits: same 4/4 beat (yeah, I know there are a zillion songs with a 4/4 beat). One guitar riff gets us started, then a second one comes in as a counterpoint. That title line of 4 syllables seems interchangeable.  The bridges are simply flashes of guitar showmanship.

So, Mom perhaps was on to something. "Lay Down Sally" offers a plea for someone not to leave, regardless of cardinal direction, while "Southbound Again" tells about the boy "that got to keep moving," as he "is bound to roam." 

Of course, the only thing I may be onto is obvious evidence that Mark Knopfler worshipped the kind of music played by Eric Clapton in the 1970s. Or, perhaps, it was more David Knopfler, Mark's brother, Dire Straits' Rhythm Guitarist, gone after the band's sophomore release, eventually to release a CD, Wishbones, that included John Martyn's "May You Never," also covered by Eric Clapton on . . . Slowhand. It all goes back to that rhythm guitar and the gentle strumming that has echoes of "Lay Down Sally" in "Southbound Again."

I have digressed from my original intentions here, which was to reflect on my lost opportunity to ask my Mother about the misheard lyrics, an opportunity that has gone southbound. Still, I would have never found that "May You Never" (a lovely song whoever covers it) connection if not going down this rabbit hole.

So, thanks for the memory, Mom, which, upon hearing "Lay Down Sally," gave me one more fantastic reason to miss you. As we come upon the anniversary of your (and Dad's) death, I will always miss talking to you. We would have had fun with this topic. If we do get a chance to reconnect in the afterlife, there is no way it will be way down South. I might end up south of Heaven, but I know you didn't.

Clapton, Eric. "Lay Down Sally." Slowhand. RSO, 1977. Link here.

Day 234: Gang of Four "At Home He's A Tourist"

Day 236: Buddy Holly "Words of Love"

See complete list here.