"Thief"

© 1978 Lee Ruth

Composed 8/28/1978

MP3


Rocket Kirchner

Rocket Kirchner -
Vocal, Slide Guitar, Electric Guitar, & Boot Stomp
  MP3 Sample of Lee's Original

 


Song Lyrics:
Lee's Lyrics:

Thief you stole my toolbox from my truck
Thief you know it's going to change your luck
Thief you ain't been doing so good
Thief I trust you'll get what you should

You took my hammer
It was made for hitting nails on the head
If you don't swing it straight mister
You might hit your thumbnail instead

You took my crescent wrench
It had an awful lot of play
It's apt to slip and hit your knuckles
You might end up regretting the day

Thief you stole my toolbox from my truck
Thief you know it's going to change your luck
Thief is there something that you lack
Thief you could use a little slack

So you got a set of tools
To go with your empty cup
If your nut has got a screw loose
Perhaps you can tighten it up
But on the other hand
Maybe my tools will serve you well
Help keep your life in working order
Just goes to show you can never tell

Thief you stole my toolbox from my truck
Thief you know it's going to change your luck
Thief you got a hell of a lot of nerve.
Thief I trust you'll get what you deserve

Thief
You stole the toolbox from my truck
Thief
You know it's gonna change your luck
Thief
You ain't been doin' so good
Thief
I trust you'll get what you should
Thief

You took my hammer, it was made for hitting nails right on the head
(thief)
If you don't swing it straight, you might hit your thumbnail instead
(thief)
You took my Crescent wrench, it had an awful lot of play
(thief)
It's apt to slip and bust your knuckles, you may wind up regretting the day
Thief
You stole the toolbox from my truck
Thief
You know it's changin' your luck
Thief
If there is something you lack
Thief
You could use a little slack
Thief


So you got a set of tools to go with your empty cup
If you're a nut and have a screw loose perhaps you can tighten it up
And on the other hand maybe my tools will serve you well
Help keep your life in working order and go to show you never can tell
Thief
You stole the toolbox from my truck
Thief
You know it's done changed your luck
Thief
You seem to have your share of nerve
Thief
I trust you'll get what you deserve
Thief

Artist on the Song:
Lee on the Song:

The minute I heard about this Lee Ruth project, the first song that popped into my head was "Thief." Ironically, that was also the first song that popped into Steve Donofrio's head that I should do. I always liked the energy of the live cut on "Thief," but I always thought there was something lacking. That something was anger. Back in the late 80s, Lee recorded my song "Missouri" and really turned it into a folk song. Now I thought, "Aha! Now it's pay-back time!" Call it a friendly revenge if you like.

For some time I've been obsessed with the brilliant slide work of Chris Whitley in his use of angry ambient electric guitar feedback mixed with a foot stomp. So we miked my foot on plywood, I tuned my guitar to two tunings at the same time, and Bang! it came out in one take. Jerome Wheeler was in the studio at the time and joked, "You need to go to a Methadone clinic." Everybody that night got it while listening to the playback. The missing link had arrived and, boy, was it angry. Lee was shocked, and I said "Lee, I've been waiting years to pay you back for such a great job you did with my song `Missouri.' Are we even?" Lee said, "We're even."

It was late August 1978, time to be heading back to Missouri after my summer in Colorado. I said my goodbyes in Crested Butte and headed west over Kebler Pass, rather than east toward home, with one more gig to play--at the Mountain View Inn in Marble, Colorado, before I'm really homeward bound. Late Saturday night, the gig over, I'm loading up my gear and I discover that while I was playing someone had broken into my orange 1967 Dodge van and stolen my toolbox. Now, it wasn't a great set of tools, but it was enough good-enough stuff to enable me to make many minor repairs without having to take "Old Blue" to a real mechanic, which I usually couldn't afford to do. I was quite at a loss and quite upset, as I was about to embark on a twelve-hundred-mile trip across the mountains, the high desert, high plains, and dreaded Kansas in the late-summer's heat without so much as a screwdriver to fend off the inevitable breakdown of some automotive part or system. While riding in the back of someone's SUV on the way to the house where I was crashing for the night, the basic primal scream--"THIEF! You stole the toolbox from my truck. THIEF!"--rose up in my mind, and I knew it was a start on what could be a powerful song, different than any I had previously written. The next morning some kind folks in Marble gathered up a handful of spare tools for me, and I set off toward home. My friend Charles Slater, in Central City along my way home, came up with a few more tools and I made it safely back to Columbia with that song fragment tucked away in my brain for safekeeping.

Late fall or early winter rolled around, and one late night after my friends Don Cooper and John Dodge had finished playing a gig at the Gladstone, they discovered that someone had broken into their van and stolen some of their clothes and the money they'd taken in at the door that night. "It's time to finish that song," I told myself, and I went home and wrote the rest of it. By this time months had passed since the theft of my toolbox and I'd assembled another set of tools comparable to the stolen one, while my outrage and anger at the theft had settled into a more tempered and temperate response. So, in the writing of "Thief," I used my initial primal outrage as a starting point and, even while expressing my displeasure at the thievery, tried to temper it with a bit of humor and a measure of compassion toward the unknown thief whose situation, even with the stolen tools, might well have been worse than my own. Credit Rocket for taking the song back to its primal-scream genesis and building it into a cathartic tour-de-force on a level that I, on neither the best nor the worst music-playing day of my life, never could have achieved.

Artist on Lee Ruth:
Lee on the Artist:
I don't even remember when I first met Lee Ruth. It was sometime in the late 70s, most likely at the Chez Coffee House. Lee was a Folkie and I was a Blues player so we both enjoyed watching each other perform, doing a few numbers together, and also turning each other on to various obscure artists. I guess I really got to know him when I would spend all night up at KOPN sifting through old records when Lee was doing his 3 a.m. show. Every thing was color-coded and confusing to me, and Lee would help me find my areas of interest, which totally widened my scope of world music. These were nocturnal sonic expeditions jacked up on enough caffeine to get any trucker across at least three or four states straight. And of course there were the debates. I held John Fahey's playing above Leo Kottke's, a premise that Lee categorically rejected--claiming that Fahey was just copying Mississippi John Hurt. We have never resolved that one, just one of many. It's hard to debate an archivist. Lee is an archivist but I gigged all the time and he didn't. So did that give me more insight into these debates? Who knows and who cares? I'm just glad the man is still around and we have banded together to do his material and watch his beard grow.

Was it the end of the '70s or the beginning of the '80s when I first met Eric? (He had not yet, most appropriately I might add, renamed himself "Rocket.") Doesn't really matter--he was a red-hot guitar player on both acoustic and electric, a fine singer, and the most prolific song maker I'd met since Jerome Wheeler's decade-and-a-half-long song-writing frenzy beginning in the late '60s. More important, his songs were good--sometimes great. Though he continued to be based out of St. Louis for a number of years before he finally succumbed to the inevitable and moved here, he was frequently in Columbia and we became good friends, with a full measure of respect and appreciation for each other's talents. Despite what he says about it, I've never for a moment thought that my 1988 version of his song "Missouri" was better than his (perhaps a bit more folksy, but definitely less soulful). After hearing his wild and extravagant version, I've gone back to my 1979 recording of "Thief" on the "Bocomo Medicine Show" album and listened again to my way with the song. It still sounds good to my ears, so I'm standing pat with my original version (except for a line or two, which I revised shortly after recording it). So, Rocket, turnabout it is. But I'm putting you on notice that I've had my eye and ear on another song of yours for a long time, so one of these days I may be one up on you again.

Producer's Notes:
Recording Credits:
This is one song on the project that I would have assigned to a specifuc artist. Rocket needed no convincing--he was fueled and ready to launch into this song from the get go. When you are working with Rocket you only get one shot, all the anger Lee wrote into that song exploded in one take. An unnamed good set of ears who listened to the basic mix said, "I feel violated." I said to myself, that is it exactly, that is what a thief is all about!

Recorded at Pete Szkolka's Studio

Record Date: 2/12/03

Mixed: 10/28/03 and 10/29/03

Mixed by Pete Szkolka and Steve Donofrio

 

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