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*7.14-I WALK ON GUILDED SPLINTERS (Dr. John)

Dr. John

LISTEN

Some people think they jive me
But I know they must be crazy.
Don't see dey misfortune;
Guess they just too lazy.

J'suis le Grand Zombie:
My yellow belt of choison;
Ain't afraid of no tom cat;
Fill my brains with poison.

Walk through the fire
Fly thru the smoke
See my enemy
At the end of dey rope.

Walk on pins and needles
See what they can do.
Walk on gilded splinters
With King of the Zulu.

     Come get it, get it, come, come.
     Walk on guilded splinters.

          'Til I burn up (4x)

I roll out my coffin
Drink poison in my chalice.
Pride begins to fade
And y'all feel my malice.

Put gris-gris on your doorstep
Soon you'll be in the gutter.
Melt your heart like butter
A-a-and I can make you stutter.

     [Chorus]

          'Til I burn up (4x)

     [Chorus]

Coco Robichaux
Come on down to my soiree.
Bring your parain, your Marie, your Mamie, your Dondi, your cousin
And the whole family.
No fine de cose bonne?
La jovial la chandelle?
Se la fais la carabas?
Coco Robichaux
Coco Robichaux
Padre diablo?
Gran come the bride?

With your Coco Robichaux
With your Coco Robichaux

          'Til I burn up (8x)

     [Chorus (2x)]

Coco Robichaux
Dine at the soiree on the bayou....etc.


Until this point, psychedelic music had, for the most part, stayed away from the Blues in an effort to find nourishment outside of rock’s traditional roots. Yes, in the early days of psychedelia, Bob Dylan wrote psychedelic lyrics over the Blues. And some of Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience was heavily disguised Blues. Cream played outright Chicago blues, but their bread and butter was psychedelic music, which they kept separate. There was one awkward effort by the Rolling Stones to put psychedelic effects to the Blues in a song called Please Come Home, based on Bo Diddley’s Mona, and released in the U.S. on the album Flowers.

The first successful attempt at marrying the Blues with psychedelia, in a way that would prove inspirational to hit singles by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Canned Heat, was contained in the January 1968 release of the album Gris Gris, especially its closing cut, I Walk on Guilded Splinters (sic). Unfortunately, the album did not make the charts, but Guilded Splinters was picked up by other performers rather quickly, like Cher and Humble Pie, who popularized it. The cut stands out in its authenticity when compared to other psychedelic Delta Blues that would follow. Dr. John was steeped in the voodoo church traditions which form the basis of the recording.

I Walk on Guilded Splinters is part of a ritual, theatrical tradition in psychedelic music that had its beginning in the Doors’ The End and When the Music’s Over. It seems to me that a direct descendent of Guilded Splinters was the tremendously popular song Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (#1 UK August 1968; #2 U.S. October 1968). However, to my ears, Arthur Brown’s theater lacks the spiritual roots to make it convincing in the manner that the Doors' Jim Morrison and Dr. John were able to convey. The Rolling Stones picked up on the theatrical / ritual element in Sympathy for the Devil and Midnight Rambler, but by then, the psychedelic aspect had been shed. Within two or three years, the theatrical approach would be taken even further afield by such bands as Alice Cooper.

Richie Unterberger wrote (in liner notes that accompanied the 21st century release of the Gris Gris CD) that I Walk On Guilded Splinters “was "the album's most durable song, a creepy voodoo soup that both smoldered with ominous foreboding and simmered with temptations of sensual delights.” Tom Moon described the track, in the October 14, 1999 Rolling Stone issue, as "a masterpiece of vibe that has retained its aura even after being sampled and covered every which way. An ambling processional framed by a simple pentatonic guitar melody, it's everything you want in voodoo music: a feast of pummeling drums, swirling ethereal voices and the patient, mumbled incantations of Dr. John, all coalescing into the sound of a solemn, revelatory ritual." Thom Jurek, for Allmusic, described it as the album's masterpiece, stating: "Dr. John is brazen about the power of his spells in a slippery, evil-sounding boast. Congas, tom-toms, snaky guitar, and harmonica underscore his juju, while a backing chorus affirms his power like mambo priestesses in unison. A ghostly baritone saxophone wafts through the turnarounds. Droning blues, steamy funk, and loopy R&B are inseparably entwined in its groove."

A word about those “mambo priestesses” that Mr. Jurek mentions: The women singers of Guilded Splinters included Shirley Goodman of Let the Good Times Roll fame. This is the earliest psychedelic track I’m aware of to use gospel-inflected female choruses. By the end of 1968, Neil Young would be using female choruses on his eponymous psychedelic album, as would the Rolling Stones in Beggar’s Banquet.

Though a ground-breaking recording, I Walk on Guilded Splinters, suffered in popularity because it came from New Orleans Cajun culture, an unfamiliar place for most listeners at the time. Whereas in Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones had been playing at mysticism, Dr. John was taking his listeners to an eerie sonic space steeped in ritual and animal sounds to raise the hair on the back of your neck. (Psychedelic music had long enlisted animal sounds—most famously in the Beatles’ Good Morning Good Morning, and contemporaneously, in Blood Sweat & Tears’ House in the Country, but usually for comic effect.) There’s the problem of the Cajun French in the lyrics, the frequent shout out to his musician friend Coco Robicheaux, and the general lack of clarity in the choruses. I believe my lyrics to be the most adequate I could put together, though I must admit “’Til I burn up” sounds a lot like “Did I murder?” The gilded splinters are the hot coals that the listener is invited to walk upon, so the “burning up” in the chorus makes sense.

Dr. John would ease out of psychedelia, so that by 1970 he was playing mostly rollicking New Orleans-inflected music. In this, he is like his contemporary Randy Newman (also influenced heavily by New Orleans), whose first album shared a psychedelic aesthetic that was abandoned for the remainder of his long career.

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