A Number and a Name Words and music by Tom Campbell and Steve Gillette
With some examples of alternate tunings, who used them, and why
This is a song that Tom and I wrote together early in our collaboration. The device that got us started on this song was again, the drop-D tuning on the guitar. This was the first alternate tuning I worked with, but then I went on to explore others. DADGAD is used a lot in accompanying fiddle tunes and Celtic songs and I used it for my song "The Erl King." We wrote a song about bells that used DADGAB because is sounded like the pealing of bells. There was a tuning that used a low C on the sixth string, but I found I needed to use a much heavier string to get that note to play in tune.
Drop D just means tuning the sixth string down one whole step from E to D. Double Drop D tunes both the sixth and first strings down from E to D Then tuning the second string down to A gives you DADGAD, a tuning often associated with Davey Graham and Martin Carthy. Carthy also used DADEAE and CGCDGA. I think the sixth string that Martin uses is a 72 gauge where the normal medium gauge bass E string is a 56.
Then there's DADF#AD often called Open D, and Open D minor, DADFAD. Neil Young uses this hybrid DADGBD, David Crosby often uses EBDGAD. Joni Mitchell has used some very exotic tunings; C#F#BEG#C#, BF#C#D#F#B are two examples, although with these two, you'll notice that placing the capo on the first or third fret takes away some of the mystery. Blues and slide players use open G, DGDGBD. Robert Johnson played in open G.
John Fahey played a lot in Open C, CGCGCE. Nick Drake used this tuning as well, and sometimes tuned the third string to F#. Nick Jones has used this G minor DGDGBbD and this C minor CGCGCEb among other innovative tunings. Peter Fripp has advocated a tuning which is closer to the logic of fifths like a cello or violin CGDAEG. Tunings can be very inspiring, but can be limiting. Some players talk about finding ways to expand their harmonic choices in a given tuning, but most agree that the standard EADGBE is the most versatile.
Our song is written in the key of D, but there is some sense that it resolves to A. That may be an indication of the use of the Mixolydian mode, but maybe that deserves an article of its own. Songs in the key of D can benefit from having that low D note in the bass, and it's a nice surprise when the song starts on the A chord, the dominant chord of the key of D, then moves through the A7 as the melody is building tension and then resolves to the D. Something satisfying in that.
In a 2014 article in The National Review of Neuroscience, Stefan Koelsch wrote about this kind of emotional effect on the brain. "Anticipatory processes can also be evoked by structural cues, for example by a dominant in a Bach chorale with a high probability of being followed by a tonic, or a dominant seventh chord which has a high probability for being followed by a tonic, thus evoking the anticipation of release." Of course we weren't aware of Koelsch's work; we were just noodling on the guitar, but 'great minds' as they say.
Most songwriters would agree that in beginning to work with a new song idea, they seek to find elements that will sustain a kind of creative moment and help to keep them in a state of concentration. We've heard that state described as being 'in the zone.' This musical device of building tension on the A and A7 chords and then resolving to the D chord, was enough to keep me in that zone as the song developed.
More would have to come, but I felt that I had the kernel, the 'hook' that would make the song work. The way the story unfolds in the song is crafted to build on that touchstone of resolution each time the cadence comes around. Tom had the idea for the story and together we developed the lines that would impart that sadness of looking over old letters to find clues to what we should have seen as love slipped away.
"Music is the shorthand of emotion" - Tolstoy
In 1969 Linda Ronstadt began work on her first solo album to be called Hand Sown ... Home Grown with Chip Douglas producing. Linda asked me to come into the studio to play guitar and to help her to record "A Number and a Name."
Chip Douglas was someone I knew slightly from the Modern Folk Quartet. I first saw them at one of the Monday night hoots at the Troubadour. He was later in a band with Gene Clark when Clark left the Byrds. He eventually became the bass player for the Turtles and went on to produce several hits for the Monkees.
Linda set the date for the session at United-Western recording studios just off Sunset Boulevard, right across from Hollywood High School. I knew the place, I had done some singing for demos there. According to the book Temples of Sound, "No other studio has won more technical excellence awards, and no studio has garnered as many Best Engineered Grammys."
Linda asked me to play my guitar part pretty much the way I always did on the song, and fortunately she was singing it in the same key. We set up in one corner of Studio 3, the famous room where Elvis, the Beach Boys, Ray Charles and even Frank Sinatra had recorded. The fabled Wrecking Crew had made many hit records there and would again.
Linda brought the lights down to enhance the mood. Chip kept time on a cardboard box with brushes and the three of us created the basic track. A bass, an organ, a dobro part and strings were added later. The song was eventually remastered and released again as part of a compilation of Linda's recordings called The Best Of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years.
Songs have a life of their own, and as years go by they can come back into our lives in funny ways. Like bumping into an old friend, you just hope you'll recognize them. Here's a case of that kind of encounter.
Our friend Ed Ellis is in the railroad business. He managed the operations of the Rio Grande Historic Railroad based in Alamosa, Colorado, and created a concert series on a stage he'd built on a high mountain pass at 9300 feet. Ed had reassembled many of the cars from the original City of New Orleans, a train he had ridden as a child, and made famous by Steve Goodman's song of the same name.
As we played music in the original Calumet club car, an historic steam engine pulled us up the winding track to a siding at the top of the pass. There, a few buildings and the small stage created a wind and solar-powered venue with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristo range and Blanca Peak. Over several years we got to perform with many of our heroes. Suzy Boggus was one of those with whom we shared the bill.
She surprised me by asking if she and I might sing "A Number and a Name" as a duet. She said she had it on an old cassette and had always liked the song. Of course, I was thrilled by the request, but at the same time, I couldn't think of anything but the disaster which might be the result of trying to remember a song I hadn't sung in years.
Getting the accompaniment right seemed doubtful, even if the key was compatible, and honestly, I couldn't remember what key that was. It was partly because I was star-struck, but I was really not prepared to step out onto a concert stage in a circumstance like that, which would otherwise be the stuff of dreams. Suzy was very kind about my trepidation although she did seem puzzled.
Recently, I came across a Facebook post which linked to Michael Johnson singing the song. He never released it on a record as far as I know; this was a live performance. We've shared the bill with Michael, and he was a friend.
He had many successful recordings and was a true professional with wonderful guitar chops. I first met him when he was a member of the trio, Denver, Boyce and Johnson, which was John Denver's group after he left the Chad Mitchell Trio in the early seventies. Michael was always a gracious person, and we miss him.
Here's Linda Ronstadt's recording of our song:
Linda Ronstadt's recording of "A Number and a Name"
And here's Michael Johnson in a live performance of the song:
Michael Johnson in a live version of "A Number and a Name"
Here are the lyrics:
How many times have I read farewell lines In the things that you never seemed to say How many times have I read those last lines And wondered why it ended this way. Words of goodbye in all your loving lies I must have been blind. It seems to me a shame that the number and the name Both have changed with the passing of time. How you would write about the bright lights And your words always clouded up my eyes. How you would write about the bright lights It's a wonder that I never realized Our race was run and another's just begun I must have been blind It seems to me a shame that the number and the name Both have changed with the passing of time. When your letters stopped, the tears that I fought How they came in a flood of memories When your letters stopped the tears that I fought How they ran like the rivers to the sea Each sunny day you slipped further away I must have been blind.
© 1965, Cherry Lane Music, ASCAP
The first lyres in Ancient Greece were made of tortoise shells. They had two fixed upright arms and a cross bar. There were tuning pegs often made of bone, ivory, wood or even bronze. Strings were usually made of sheep gut.
They were played at most important events in Greece and were depicted in much of the early art dating back as far as 2000 BC to the Middle Bronze Age, but the lyre existed for at least 1000 years prior to this.
This a photo of the Mycenaean sarcophagus of Hagia Triada, 14th century BC, depicting the earliest lyre with seven strings, held by the man with a long robe, third from the left. Perhaps this was the original Wrecking Crew.