"The Birthday Party"

© 1978 Lee Ruth

Composed 10/21/1978

MP3
RICK HOCKS ALL STARS
Rick Hocks - Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Kevin Hennessy - Bass Guitar
Jake Hanselman - Drums
Wes Claypool - Hammond Organ
  MP3 Sample of Lee's Original

 

Song Lyrics:
Lee's Lyrics:
It was two in the morning and somebody's birthday party we were pitching
When a bully with a shotgun appeared and burst into the kitchen
And the house was overflowing with policeman and women and loud voices
Telling us we had no choice but to get our asses down on the floor

Down on the floor!
I¹d like to know what for?
Down on the floor. . .
At the birthday party.

They had a paper that said they had a right to seize and search us
And Sunshine and Frenchie launched into complainin' and a cursin'
Cussed out all those cops for coming uninvited to the party
They put the cuffs on Sunshine but they didn't even try to muzzle Frenchie

Now he's as mad as can be!
Down on the floor!
A-ranting and a-raving!
At the birthday party.

Someone said "Hey, shutup Frenchie" but he's just saying what a lot of
folks are thinking
About some things that happen in a land where the ship of state is sinking
And the gun hand stood there stony-faced, guarding the refrigerator
What a bummer of a job I hope he finds it out sooner or later

Sooner later. . .before it's too late,
I hope he learns!
How to behave
At a birthday party.

Not much happened in the kitchen, one by one they checked us out and sent us
on our way,
More food for their computers, for their wallets, courts, and jails and a freer day. . .
And I heard Biker Chuck complaining from the backseat of a car he wasn't
driving
As I left that birthday party to the siren song of ambulance arriving

Ambulance arriving
Ambulance arriving
Ambulance arriving
At the birthday party.

It was two in the morning and somebody's birthday party we were pitchin'
When a bully with a shotgun appeared and burst into the kitchen
And the house was overflowing with police men and women and loud voices
Telling us we had no choice but to get our asses down on the floor

Down on the floor
I'd like to know what for
Down on the floor
At the birthday party

They had a paper that said they had a right to seize and search us
And Sunshine and Frenchy started in to fuss, complain and curse
Cuss out all those cops for coming uninvited to the party
They put the cuffs on Sunshine but they didn't even try to muzzle Frenchy
(couldn't do it)

And he's as mad as can be
Down on the floor
Ranting and a raving
At the birthday party

Someone said, "Hey, shut up, Frenchy!" but he's just sayin' what a lot of folks are thinkin'
About some things that happen in a land where the ship of state is sinkin'
And the gun-hand stood there, stony-faced, guardin' the refrigerator
What a bummer of a job, I hope he finds it out sooner or later

Sooner or later, before it's too late
I hope he learns
How to behave
At a birthday party

Not much happened in the kitchen, one by one they checked us out and sent us on our way
More food for their computers, for their wallets, courts, and jails, and for a freer day
And I heard Biker Chuck complaining from the backseat of a car he wasn't driving
(it was a police car)
As I left that birthday party to the siren song of ambulance arriving

Ambulance arriving
Ambulance arriving
Ambulance arriving
At the birthday party

Artist on the Song:
Lee on the Song:

As a longtime fan, I was interested in performing a song for Lee's tribute album, and Lee gave me a CD with seven songs. At first I was disappointed in that the "classic" Lee Ruth favorites were already taken. Nonetheless, there were some songs among the seven. I was particularly drawn to "Candy from Delaware"--but I felt that I wouldn't want to change the lovely way Lee played that song on the demo... and I knew I couldn't even begin to out-Lee Lee--I wouldn't even want to try! I was drawn to "The Birthday Party" largely because I recognized that I could change its style considerably, and I was immediately drawn to the topicality of the line "some things that happen in a land where the ship of state is sinking," as well as the literary allusion "the siren song of ambulance arriving." As I rapidly entered into recording a song I really didn't know, I sped it up and rocked it out to change it, and to help keep its time below 4 minutes. Interestingly, as I sang the song--even at this too-fast tempo--the poignancy of all the lyrics really began to sink deep. What a story, and how well conveyed! Lee's personal voice is so discernable throughout the lyrics, and yet simultaneously the song is so realistic. When the characters and actions in a song are totally plausible, and the songwriter's voice is still entirely authentic, we know we're in the presence of a master. Soon, I was glad I had this song. Though Lee says the song was written in 1977, its theme of police/state brutality couldn't be more timely, its final "ambulance" image more disquieting, its wry sense of humor more therapeutic.

My recording was made more effective, I hasten to add, by the patience and persistence of Adam Roehlke, who skillfully recorded this song as I was learning / re-creating it; by Kevin Hennessy and Jake Hanselman, who laid down awesome rhythm grooves while they were learning it with me; and by Steve Gardner, who finalized the mix with his usual master's touch.

Columbia, mid-October 1978, about bar-closing time (1:30 a.m.), I dropped in at a Libra birthday party that was being thrown for a number of people who had birthdays around this time of year, and which I had heard about through the grapevine. The party was already in full swing, lots of friends and acquaintances in attendance and more arriving. Shortly after 2:00 a.m. the dramatic series of events described in the song took place. It was probably a bit after 3:00 when the cops said I was free to go, and as I headed for my car parked down the street I saw and heard Chuck Sadell pounding at the backseat window of a police car, and as I drove away I heard the siren and saw an ambulance arrive on the scene. I went home and immediately wrote this song. Turns out that what this was all about was a search warrant for stolen property, which could have been better served by a daytime knock on the door when only the residents of the house were present than by an early-morning commando-style raid on a birthday party at which forty or so nonresidents of the house were present. As I remember it, the resulting legal charges culminated in somebody from the house copping a guilty plea to some token misdemeanor, plus another chapter in Biker Chuck's ongoing serial drama with local law enforcement.
Artist on Lee Ruth:
Lee on the Artist:
Lee Ruth was, I believe, the first person I ever saw perform live on a guitar. In my earliest years I was raised on classical and 50s jazz. As a little kid I soon learned to love the Beatles, the Stones, and the Dead and I'd certainly seen bands play guitars on television but I'd never seen a guitar played in person. When I was seven years old, my dad took me to downtown Columbia where I saw Lee play a show. Later I saw the Sound Farm, who introduced me to William Blake via a song version of "The Tyger." This experience had a lasting effect. It gave me a model of guitar-based music that didn't by necessity come from larger-than-life out-of-town stars. The image of Lee stuck with me, and during my teenage years I went to see him play a few shows. It wasn't until I finally started playing myself (at 18), however, that I truly began to appreciate Lee's strengths. He was a quieter player at this stage, and I really began to appreciate the lyric beauty in the way he coaxed that beat-up, blackened Martin guitar. A finger-picking
master! And his songwriting impressed me considerably. In the early 80s my first band, Reclues, had a practice studio across from the old Sky High Drive In, and after loud practices I would often wander over to Gladstones to catch Lee--very different music, yet quite kindred in spirit. Over the years I've seen Lee play dozens of times. I'd like to think that the early observation of him playing so beautifully was an important step that motivated me to want to do the same. I've always been drawn to songwriting, not merely wailing on the guitar, and again Lee provides terrific models of well-crafted songs. Though I¹ve never had any lessons, I've sure learned a lot just watching him. I have long maintained that Lee Ruth deserves a lifetime achievement award for sticking to his guns and making terrific music!
Though I didn't know it at the time, Rick was one of the little (and a few years later, not so little) kids that were occasionally to be seen on the fringes of the Columbia live music scene during the 60s and early 70s. I probably first met him when he hit college age, and I first knew him as the son of one of my favorite English professors from my own school days at the U. of Missouri, but it wasn't until he and John Schneller formed a band together sometime in the 80s that I actually got to know him. Since that time we've become friends and on a number of occasions have played parallel gigs at such events as the Lupus Chili Fest. Rick has managed to balance his career in academia (following somewhat in his father's footsteps) and his family life with an ongoing pursuit of musical adventure. Though I always played this song solo, I actually heard my guitar part as a potential rhythm guitar part for a rock band version of the song (which I knew I would never do), so the "swarm of angry bees" guitars that manifest in Rick's version, while it does a good job of suggesting the sense of physical danger I perceived from the swarming through the house of armed and potentially dangerous police, isn't as far away from my original concept as he may have thought.
Producer's Notes:
Recording Credits:
Rick came on to the project a bit late but made up for it by working on his own to record and produce "The Birthday Party." Longtime mutual friend Adam Roelke recorded the basic tracks, and Stephen Gardner did added recording and mixing of the tracks. This song mentions three downtown Columbia Missouri mid-80s counter-culture iconic figures. Two have passed on, and the third, well, "Sunshine," has not been seen in many a moon although I'm sure she is still spreading the light somewhere. Still, the subject of this birthday party gone bust is as true today as it was when it was written. Some things just never seem to change.

Recorded at Adam Roehlke Studio

Record Dates: July and August 2003

Mixed at The Music House Recording Studio by Stephen Gardner

Produced by Rick Hocks

 

 

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