Every Song Tells A Story: The Walking Man

The Story

I’m a big fan of the blues. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of blues it is. I just love the raw emotion and honesty mixed with mostly simple progressions. Most rock is derived somehow from the blues, when you look back and analyze things. It’s also as American as apple pie and all that jazz.

Odd as it sounds, this straight-up blues song is a story about a story. Well, it isn’t its own story with its own narrative, but I think you get the idea. If you read the lyrics, you’ll find it’s plain to see that this song is based on Stephen King’s opus, The Stand.

I moonlight with cover bands. There was a time when I was fronting one a few years ago. Usually when we warmed up or had time for a sound-check, I’d lead the guys into some sort of blues number. Sometimes it would be The Replacements’ “Hootenanny”. Other times it might just be some sort of blues in E since I’m a fan of the E-A-B progression. If we just broke out into slow E blues, I’d start to make up lyrics on the fly.

During this time, I was reading The Stand so the characters and plot were fresh in my mind. On more than one occasion, while we were playing some blues, I just started singing about The Walking Dude, the Trashcan Man and whatever else came to mind. I didn’t write any of it down right away but tried to repeat it each time we played.

Then one day as I was recording drum tracks for my original stuff, I decided to lay down two blues tracks knowing one of them would be this homage to The Stand. After that, I wrote down as much of the lyrics I could remember and polished up the rest.

If you’re a King fan you’ll know right away that the title of the song refers to Randall Flagg, the chief antagonist in the novel. He’s one of those villains you love to hate and shows up in many of King’s works. “I saw the Walking Man/Dude in the city of sin” refers to Flagg in Las Vegas, which is his de facto headquarters of sorts in the book. That verse is repeated at the end for emphasis and to create a “bookend” feeling, lyrically.

“Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?” is a song in the book by one of the principle characters, Larry Underwood. This poor guy was probably just about to make it as a musician when the crippling Super-Flu (nicknamed Captain Trips) hits and wipes out most of civilization. Since the song is mentioned in the book many times and since Larry is a musician, it stuck in my head. I felt I had to include it somehow.

The line about “your sister can” is a take on the traditional blues line where the jilted lover asks his girl for something (probably sex) and says that if she won’t, her sister will. It’s fairly common in blues songs. Initially, I wanted to include Larry’s name in the verse to enforce that the lyric was part of  his song. At first, the line read, “If you don’t, my man Larry can.” I realized that made no sense though. That would make Larry gay and while that’s not a bad thing in itself, it diverts from the novel where Larry is clearly not gay at all (that we know of). So I changed the line to refer to “your sister” instead. Larry’s name didn’t make the lyrics.

The Trashcan Man verse was made up on the fly and one of the verses I remembered fully. Trash is a crazy pyromaniac in the book. The bit about desire at the end is just vague enough to be cool. I’m not 100% sure what it refers to but it rhymes and can be interpreted a few ways.

I wanted to get Mother Abagail in there somewhere since she was also a musician. I love that visual of the old woman playing her spirituals on the front porch with a guitar. That image stayed with me, just like Larry’s song. Of course, the “Hand of God” is an important reference, especially at the end of the book. I liked the notion that she could foresee things.

The song is mainly in first person to give people the impression that the singer is just another character in the book, watching the events unfold. It’s a very long book but if you get the chance to read it, I highly recommend it. Just be patient with it, especially in the middle. I know a lot of people who say they just couldn’t get through it and I admit that the middle drags at times but almost everything that happens is essential and connected in some way. It’s a fascinating read with lots of characters and some great imagery. Without it, this song might just be about some guy bitching about his girlfriend.

So thanks, Steve. Please don’t sue me.

The Recording

I recorded the drums for this song first, and on the same day I recorded the drum track for another blues shuffle I wrote called “Did You Tell Your Man”. These types of songs are very easy to play for me, so while I don’t remember how many takes I did, I can assure you it was only one or two. I just sang along in my head to make sure I was in the right place. I played loudly or quietly where I felt certain parts were happening. It all fell into place and felt natural.

The bass is very direct and to the point. There isn’t a lot of walking or moving around. Looking back now, I think I should have played a bit more, but at the time I was trying to finish the basic tracks in one big session (for both blues songs) because I wanted a friend to come in and play lead guitar for me. I wanted the tracks to be ready.

The song is very stripped down and for rhythm guitar, I only played an acoustic. If you listen closely in the background, you’ll hear it drift in and out between the vocals.

The great lead guitar on the track is played by my old friend Tommy Hayes. We used to work together at a local music store when he was just a kid and I was in my early 20’s. He was always a big blues guy and after reconnecting, I heard some of his playing and thought he’d really be great. He agreed to come down and play on the two blues tracks for me.

All the electric guitars you hear on this track are by Tommy. He does some great lead work and I especially love the little fills that decorate the song here and there. There’s one I really love at around 2:45 (right after the first Trashcan line).

The vocals are pretty subdued at first but pick up a little before the solos for some emotional weight. “She’s a bad girl” was just ad libbed on the fly. The “Hand of God” stuff was intentionally big to lead into the more powerful guitar solo. The first guitar solo was on the mellow side but I asked Tommy to really kick it in for the second one. I kicked the vocals up a little at the end, also, just to have some fun and try to get a big ending out of the tune.

While it’s really just a plain, traditional blues romp, there’s something I like about the song. I don’t know if it’s just nostalgia or whatever, but it’s got something I like. I believe it’s the fact that it’s not over-produced. It’s very simple and has a live sound to it. It’s raw and honest, as the blues should be.

The Lyrics

I saw the Walking Man in the city of sin
I saw the Walking Dude in the city of sin
Looked in his eyes; what a mess I was in

Tell me baby, can you dig your man
Tell me baby, can you dig your man
Because if you don’t, I know your sister can
She’s a bad girl

The Trashcan Man likes to play with fire
The Trashcan Man likes to play with fire
Little did he know her name was desire

I dreamt about that woman strumming her guitar
I dreamt about that woman strumming her guitar
She said, “You better take care children. Here come the Hand of God.”

I saw the Walking Man in the city of sin
I saw the Walking Man in the city of sin
Looked in his eyes; Lord, what a mess I was in

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