Feeling the music on a Friday!

Background and writing

“Witchy Woman” was started by guitarist Bernie Leadon who wrote it while he was a member of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Upon joining the Eagles, Bernie and Don Henley completed writing the song in the signature Eagles style and it was one of Henley’s first songs he wrote for the Eagles. While the inspiration for the title and lyrics was based on various women they had met and remembered as seductive enchantresses, Henley had Zelda Fitzgerald particularly in mind after reading her biography. The muse and sometimes genius behind her well-published author husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda was known as wild, bewitching and mesmerizing and was the quintessential “Flapper“, as her husband dubbed her, of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. In his novel, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald embodies Zelda’s uninhibited and reckless personality in the character of Daisy Buchanan. Theories and speculation on Zelda’s behavior were widespread, with lyrics in “Witchy Woman” referring to Zelda’s partying excesses being detrimental to her psyche: “She drove herself to madness with the silver spoon”, is a reference to Zelda’s time in a mental institution and the special slotted silver spoon used to dissolve sugar cubes with Absinthe, the popular 1920s alcoholic beverage distilled from the wormwood tree and called “the green fairy” for sometimes inducing hallucinations. The song was conceived while Don Henley was living in an old house near the Hollywood Bowl, with his flat mate, Henry Vine (aka ‘Blitz’).

Popular Culture

The song was both used and referred to in an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. In an episode of Dharma and Greg from the first season, Abbey, Dharma’s mother, mentions that she dated Henley and is almost certain she is Witchy Woman. The song was used in a 2005 episode of the series Cold Case titled “In the Woods” (the episode was set during 1972, the year of the song’s original release).

Money (That’s What I Want)

Barrett Strong remembers where he saw the Primes — who would eventually grow into the Temptations — at a club called the Phelps Lounge on Oakland Avenue.

But who were those two white kids?

In 1959, Strong recorded a song called “Money (That’s What I Want)” that became the first hit for Motown Records. Now he’s 71 and he’s had a … well, he won’t call it a stroke the way his friends do, but the left side of his body just won’t obey orders.

Even so, his memory keeps the beat. That place on Second Avenue where he used to do a Ray Charles act with a little band was the Dairy Workers Hall, and when the friends are trying to remember who sang “Cry Baby” back in 1963, he’s the one who comes up with Garnet Mimms.

Those white kids, though, are a vexation. He remembers the recording session, and half a century later, we all know what came out of it:

The best things in life are free

But you can give them to the birds and bees

I need money (That’s what I want)

But he never knew the white boys’ names, and he can’t picture their faces. All he knows is that two kids from Cass Tech stepped off a bus, tapped on the door of what became Hitsville U.S.A., and asked if they could sit in.

Backbone of a dynasty

One carried a guitar, the other an electric bass. They plugged in, and they played. They helped make history, and then they made tracks.

Who were they? Where are they? Have they spent five decades telling disbelieving friends that they’re the backbone of a song that’s the backbone of a dynasty?

Maybe it’s only curiosity, or maybe it comes with age and the sound of too many contemporaries’ final notes. But Strong has been wondering.

He was only 18 himself when he recorded “Money,” which made it to No. 23 on the pop chart and No. 2 in R&B.

Really, his greatest impact came as a songwriter. Along with the legendary Motown producer Norman Whitfield, he co-wrote “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” for Marvin Gaye, “War” for Edwin Starr, and a stack of classics for the Temps that included “Psychedelic Shack,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and his favorite, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).”

Whitfield died four years ago, at 68. “His last words to me,” Strong says, “were ‘keep the legacy alive.'”

‘Just like ghosts’

Strong is in the lobby of the Westin Hotel in Southfield in a comfortable chair he’ll need help getting out of.

Thelma Stubbs-Mitchell, younger sister of the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs and part of the Stubbs Girls quintet, has picked him up at the high-rise senior center where he lives in a manner not befitting the man who wrote the words to “Cloud Nine.”

That’s an even older story than “Money.” Some get rich, some get transportation and love from a team of devoted friends.

“Back in the day, I had a big ‘fro,” he’s saying, and then he laughs as he lifts his black-and-plaid Tigers cap to display a shaven scalp.

“Long gone now.”

He’s still doing some producing, working mostly with bluesy rocker Eliza Neals. No sense retiring when the ideas and the melodies keep coming, the way they did in that early session in Studio A.

Strong played a Wurlitzer electric piano. There wasn’t any money for a drummer, so songwriter Brian Holland thumped the skin of a tambourine. The Cass Tech kids did the rest, through dozens of takes in the era before dubbing.

“I knew the groove was there,” he says, and his right foot starts to tap. The Beatles felt it; they covered the song in 1963. The Doors, Cheap Trick, Pearl Jam and dozens of others came later — and the white kids never came back.

“Just like ghosts,” Strong says. Friendly ones, though, the kind he’d like to see again while the beat is still strong.

nrubin@detnews.com

(313) 222-1874

Here are some other songs that Barrett Strong co-wrote…

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