Transcript 61: Indian Reservation

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.

Hi there, and welcome back to the next episode of How Good It Is, a weekly podcast that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and you can take that to the bank.
Hey, don’t forget to check out the website: How Good It Is Dot Com, where you can find some stuff that I found interesting, and some other stuff that doesn’t necessarily fit well into the podcast.
Also, go follow and “Like” the show’s Facebook page, which has some other stuff that keeps everyone busy. You can find it at Facebook dot com, slash, How Good It Is Pod.
Here’s a cool trivia question for ye:
Believe it or not, “Hungry Heart” was Bruce Springsteen’s first Top Ten single, peaking at Number Five on the Billboard Hot 100. But Springsteen didn’t write the song for himself. What band did he write “Hungry Heart” for? I’ll have the answer, as usual, at the end of the show.
“Indian Reservation,” which is subtitled in parentheses as “The Lament of the Cherokee Indian”, has two versions which hit the charts, and judging by the posts I see on the internets about it, each version has its own set of fans who swear that theirs is the better version. But did you know that both of them are covers?
The song was written by John D. Loudermilk. Loudermilk was a singer-songwriter who usually recorded as “Johnny Dee”. He’s the guy who wrote a few big hits, including “Ebony Eyes” for the Everly Brothers, “Tobacco Road” for the Nashville Teens, and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”, which was a hit for the Casinos and Eddy Arnold. But the song that put him on the map in the first place was “Sitting in the Balcony,” which was Eddie Cochran’s first big hit.
Now, where Loudermilk got the inspiration for “Indian Reservation” is still unclear, but there’s a story out there that’s worth repeating just because it’s so weird. Loudermilk was being interviewed by a Las Vegas radio station about the song’s origin and he made up a story on the spot. In this story, he was driving through a blizzard when his car was finally snowed in. A small band of Cherokee Indians, led by Chief Bloody Bear Tooth, led him to safety and as a means of thanking them, he wrote this song. Got all that? Now, forget it because it’s entirely a lie. But the problem is, the researchers at American Top 40 caught wind of that story and they called Loudermilk at an unfortunate time. Loudermilk changed the story again, saying that he’d been kidnapped by some Cherokees during a snowstorm, and he talked them out of killing him by promising to write a song about their plight. Well, the researchers bought the story and wrote it into a show script, and so Casey Kasem told THAT story on his show, and instead of a regional audience getting a nonsense tale, now had a national audience had an even more bizarre story. So there are still plenty of people who have heard the blizzard story, and accepted it as truth. And every once in awhile you’ll hear it again when that AT40 show is repeated on an oldies radio station or on SiriusXM. In fact, I heard it a few months ago on Sirius and thought I could make that the focus of the show, until I did some research and got the truth. Loudermilk also went on to tell the false story that he’d later been awarded something called the “first medal of the Cherokee Nation”, not because of the song, but because of his blood. He said that his great-great grandparents, Homer and Matilda Loudermilk, were listed on the Dawes Rolls. Not to get too deeply into the weeds here, but the Dawes Rolls was a document that the US government set up in 1893 that forced members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes to register, and thereby allow them to live on lands allotted to those tribes. I guess they did this because the Trail of Tears wasn’t painful enough, I don’t know. At any rate, the story is false and incidentally, because of the Dawes Rolls, the Cherokee lands aren’t known as “reservations”.
“Indian Reservation” was first recorded by a musician named Marvin Rainwater, who WAS part Cherokee. In fact, he’d wear Native American-themed outfits when he performed on stage. Rainwater released the song in 1959 under the title “The Pale-Faced Indian”, and while he did have a few hits in the 50s, including another Loudermilk tune, this was not one of them. In fact, it pretty much went down without creating any ripples.
So, let’s move forward into the 1960s, and a British band called The Sorrows.
The Sorrows first got together in 1963 in Coventry, Warwickshire, England, and their lead guitarist, who assembled the band, was named Pip Whitcher, because of course he was. The lead singer in the band was Don Fardon. This song, a cover of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, was their first single, which was recorded in their producer’s bathroom…
[Continue SMOKE, then I DON’T WANNA BE FREE]
…but it wasn’t very long before they moved away from that sound and into a more aggressive R&B sound, which was usually known as “Freakbeat”. This track, called “I Don’t Wanna Be Free”, is from their 1965 debut album, called Take a Heart…
…The Sorrows scored a few minor hits in the UK, but after a while Don Fardon and bass player Phil Packham left the group. The Sorrows continued on for several years with moderate success, especially on the European continent. Fardon, meanwhile, went on to a solo career and also did OK, but his first hit, in 1968, turned out to be his biggest:
Fardon’s version of “Indian Reservation” went to Number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, but it did even better in the UK and Australia, making it into the Top Five.
Fardon had a couple of other minor hits on both sides of the Atlantic, and in 2011 he and Phil Packham, the bass player who left when he did, got back together for live performances as The Sorrows, with a new lineup.
But certainly the most commercially successful version of the song is the 1971 release by Paul Revere and the Raiders, which went to the top of the charts for one week in July of that year, after getting stuck at Number Two behind Carole King’s double-A single “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move” for three weeks…
…incidentally, that’s not the Raiders’ usual lead singer Mark Lindsay. It was Lindsay’s idea to record the song, and he produced the record, but that’s guitarist Freddy Weller doing the vocals.
Structurally, the song is in a minor key, which gives it that melancholy feel, but the other thing that carries the overall feel is the beat, which is punctuated by the drums and the bass, and which is essentially in a double-time against the melody, so they’re always stressing against each other as they still manage to pull you along.
There are some subtle differences in the lyrics from version to version. For instance, Rainwater’s version does stuff in a different order, and it doesn’t have the “Cherokee People” chorus, but there is a “hiya hiya ho” chant instead, along with backup singers doing a slightly different chant. In addition, there’s a line about a papoose that’s missing from the other two. Fardon’s version has a line about a tipi that missing from the Raiders’ version. And this kind of makes sense, since Cherokees neither lived in tipis—they live in longhouses—nor do they use the word “papoose”, which comes from the Narragansett Tribe, but somehow got broadened into meaning any non-white baby and is considered offensive in that context.
And then from an instrumental standpoint, Rainwater’s version is acoustic, with strings and lots of backup singers. Fardon brings in a horn section and percussion, and the Raiders, of course, have that keyboard which really stands out, especially in the opening and closing of the song.
Speaking of which: does that coda sound familiar? People have suggested that it sounds a lot like the ending to Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” Listen to the Raiders’ ending to the song:
[CODA 1]
And now let’s listen to Janis Ian:
[CODA 2]
What do you think? Do they sound similar? I think they sound nearly identical, although they’re different in length. But is it plagiarism? Well…not really. In both cases, the organ was provided by Artie Butler. So it’s more like him recycling a bit that worked previously.
And now it’s time to answer this week’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you about the band for which Bruce Springsteen originally wrote the song “Hungry Heart”. Believe it or not, Ripley, The Boss wrote that tune for The Ramones, at the request of Joey Ramone. Fortunately for Bruce, his producer and manager Jon Landau talked him out of giving it to them and he recorded it himself instead. So far as I know, the Ramones never recorded a cover.
And, that’s it for this edition of How Good It Is.
Listen, I don’t ask for this often, but I’d absolutely appreciate it if you’d leave a review one whatever platform you use to listen to the show. It does have an effect on other peoples’ ability to find the show, and frankly it warms my heart to see what you folks have written.
If you want to get in touch with the show, you can email me at HowGoodPodcast@gmail.com,
Or you can follow the show on Twitter at How Good It Is Pod.
You can also visit, like and follow the show’s Facebook page, at facebook dot com, slash How Good It Is Pod.
Or, you can check out the show’s website, How Good It Is Dot Com, where you may find a few extra bits.
Next time we’re going to find out How Good It Is to learn some quick trivia bits about a bunch of your favorite Christmas songs.
Thanks, as usual, to Podcast Republic for listing How Good It Is as a featured show.
Thank you so much for listening, I will talk to you next time.