I’ve rarely found songs that give equal play to my political and musical tastes, so I was thrilled to hear this one from George Gritzbach. I spent a weekend opening for George at the Caffe Lena in 1982 or thereabouts, and when I played Leon Rosselson’s “We Sell Everything,” he countered with this one off his Sweeper album. It was a similar piece of writing, a wittily worded satire of capitalist marketing and conspicuous consumption — except that it was cast in a blues framework. Aside from Mose Allison, I hadn’t heard any contemporary artists use blues to comment on political conditions, so I took to it immediately.
I took to George as well. He was a tall, solid, handsome guy who wrote well, played well, talked well, ate well, and drank well, and we hit it off because both of us were similarly cranky about the state of the folk scene, which was increasingly dominated by singer-songwriters — which is to say, generally sub-par poetry readings with guitar accompaniment. Gritz was a solid ragtime-blues guitarist, knew his Gary Davis backwards and forwards, but was also a smart writer who didn’t want to be known as just another blues revivalist. He was feeling inspired by what Waylon and Willie had done in Austin, and wanted to start an “outlaw folk” movement, and he seemed to think I might fit in as a kindred spirit. I was more than happy to go along with that, and he tried to get me booked on a bill with him at the Iron Horse in Northampton, which didn’t work out, then got me a gig opening for Odetta at the First Encounter, his home base on Cape Cod, which was a pleasure.
Along the way I learned a couple more of his songs — “The Sweeper and the Debutante,” a shaggy dog story complete with shaggy dog, and “American Car,” which I still think could have been a hit if he’d done it with an electric band, or gotten it into the hands of someone with connections. It was a wryly patriotic rock ‘n’ roller, with the catchy tag line, “Got to go fast, not far — need an American car.”
That came out on Gritz’s next album, All American Song, but with acoustic backing that didn’t do it justice. I sang it for a while, along with yet another topical offering, “Off the Wall Street Blues,” which started, “Wall Street fell again today — look out below!” Then I lost track of him. He was still on the Cape, as far as I could figure out, but there were problems of one kind and another, and my attempts to reconnect hit some dead ends, and that was that.
Thirty-some years later, I still play this song and still recall George with affection and admiration. I just looked up his fan page on the internet, and he seems to be going strong, fronting an electric rhythm & blues band and working regularly on the Cape. I wonder if he still does this one… it sure hasn’t lost any of its timeliness.