Everybody Cryin’ Mercy (Mose Allison)

Having recently proposed Dave Van Ronk’s “Losers” as our new national anthem, allow me to suggest an alternate and more serious contender: Mose Allison’s “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy.” Mose himself proposed “When My Dreamboat Comes Home,” but that was in more optimistic times. Nowadays, this downbeat masterpiece seems more appropriate.

I don’t recall whether I first heard this done by Mose himself or by Bonnie Raitt or John Hammond, but I was already performing it regularly during my first cross-country tour in 1983, along with “They Always Told Me There’d Be Days Like This” and some of his more upbeat pieces: “Your Molecular Structure,” “Fool Killer,” and “Your Mind’s on Vacation.” Which is to say, I was going through a heavy Mose phase.

One of the highlights of that 1983 tour was opening for Mose at Palms Playhouse in Davis, California. I loved that room, because the booker would hire me to open for crazy headliners: Mose and his trio that year, the Chambers Brothers the next, and finally Sonny Terry and his electric band, right at the end of his life, though that last gig got cancelled.

Opening for Mose was one of the most frustrating and exhilarating experiences of my touring days — exhilarating because his audience was perfect, listening in rapt attention, laughing in all the right places, and giving me encores both sets (unbelievably, since that meant delaying Mose’s arrival, but they did it); frustrating because they were the best audience I ever worked for, and would never have come out to see me under other conditions. They were not a folk, folk-blues, or acoustic guitar audience, and much as they liked me that night, there was no way I was going to reach people like them on a regular basis.

But damn, it was nice working for Mose’s audience, and finding that they liked me. He even said a couple of nice words himself, though he’d spent most if not all of my set in the green room, so I assume he was just being polite.

As for this version of “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy”… I loved Mose’s records, but could never figure out even a decent approximation of his hip chord changes. For a while, that meant I didn’t play his stuff, but I really wanted to do this one, and after a while I came up with a half-assed rationalization for doing it the way I do it. To whit: Mose did all sorts of old three-chord blues songs, reharmonized with his hipper chords, so why couldn’t I reverse the process and do his hip tunes with old-fashioned blues changes?

There may be a good answer to that, but if so, don’t tell me, because I’ve been playing this with these changes for forty years and I’m settled in my ways. Honestly, I think it sounds nice this way — and whatever the chord changes, it’s such a great lyric. All too timely, alas…