Two for Tuesday: Harry Chapin (#blogboost)

I was a sophomore in high school when I first heard Harry Chapin’s “Taxi.” At the time, I just thought it went on and on and on and thought the guitar part was just D-Am7 over and over. The more I heard it, the more I liked it, though, and eventually I saw him do it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It really blew me away: he was accompanied by a guitarist (Ron Palmer), a cellist (Tim Scott), and a bass player who did the part in the middle that I thought had been done by a woman (“Big” John Wallace). And the four of them played the song almost exactly the same way as I had heard it a thousand times before. NO ONE in the 1970’s played the same song the same way twice, and it NEVER sounded the same as on the record. I got his first album, Heads and Tales, for Christmas, and played it constantly.

About ten years later, (July 16, 1981) I was at work after lunch. My manager sat near me, so naturally I could hear everything he said in his cube. His phone rang, and I could hear him desperately trying to calm his wife down. Naturally, I was curious, but sat and waited. A few minutes later, he came in to my cube. “Harry Chapin died,” was all he could say.

Harry had been driving on the Long Island Expressway when the emergency flashers of his car went on. Could have been car trouble, could have been a heart attack, but he veered into the center lane and slowed down, almost hitting another car, then veered the other way into the path of a tractor-trailer. The driver of the car and the truck managed to get him out of his car before it caught fire, but by then it was too late. Not long after his death, his widow said that Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, ‘Money is for people,’ so he gave it away.”

Fortunately, we still have his music. Here are a couple of examples…

Our first song is the aforementioned “Taxi,” from his 1972 album Heads and Tales. It spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #24.

Our second song is “WOL*D,” from the 1973 album Short Stories. It peaked at #36 on the Hot 100 and at #34 in the UK, the only song to have charted there.

Harry’s official website, run by his family, is here. The website for the Harry Chapin Foundation is here.

Harry Chapin, your Two for Tuesday, July 23, 2014.

8 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Harry Chapin (#blogboost)

  1. interesting to note that later on (every time I saw him LIVE) in concert the part you refer to as ‘bass’ was played on cello by a very pretty woman. Harry was all exuberance and life, and his concerts were an event. I miss him.

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    1. After a few years, I think the musicians he started with (the guys in the video) left. John Wallace (the bass player and the one singing the “woman’s” part) had a five-octave range. On one of their Tonight Show appearances, Harry had him demonstrate it. Just amazing.

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    1. He made an appearance on “Soundstage” and I remember him saying that he became a musician because he wanted to do something he could be bad at for awhile. Hard to imagine someone wanting to do that, but what an attitude. A lesson for us all.

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  2. Harry helped save our Landmark Theatre.

    In the mid-1970s, Chapin focused on social activism, including raising money to combat hunger in the United States. His daughter Jen said: “He saw hunger and poverty as an insult to America.”[6] He co-founded the organization World Hunger Year with radio personality Bill Ayres, before returning to music with On the Road to Kingdom Come. He also released a book of poetry, Looking…Seeing, in 1977. Many of Chapin’s concerts were benefit performances (for example, a concert[7] to help save the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York), and sales of his concert merchandise were used to support World Hunger Year.

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