Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy / Johnnie Frierson - Miracles
We celebrate the joyful coming together of talents that Bill Callahan and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy have been partying with online in recent months — and today, we commemorate the digital truth of this happening with a physical alternate reality of the digital truth, in the inevitable form of a 7" single. The A-side contains the new Bill and Bonny online release, a cover of Memphis soul songwriter Johnnie Frierson’s “Miracles,” featuring Ty Segall. The flipside has Frierson’s original version which is taken from the comp Have You Been Good To Yourself. For this release, Drag City joins hands with our esteemed counterparts at Light in the Attic, without whose reissue of Johnnie Frierson’s obscure late sides this incredible collaboration would never have happened.
Johnnie Frierson was a soul-singer/songwriter on the Memphis scene of the 1960s, perhaps best known for his role in The Drapels, though he played parts behind the scenes in soul, funk and gospel productions for Stax and Hi Records. His career was interrupted in 1968 by the U.S. Army. Following a stint in Vietnam, he returned to Memphis, making music only intermittently (making a single in 1975 with the gospel group The Whole Truth), while working a variety of different jobs and raising a family. In the early 90s, he got involved with music again, hosting a gospel radio show and selling cassettes of his new home-recorded songs in different places around town. According to his daughter, this was a hard time in Johnnie’s life, during which he was no doubt processing the painful experiences he’d had in Vietnam and afterwards. The songs show remarkable optimism in the face of this information — perhaps none more so than “Miracles,” with its warm and emphatic refrain:
You can do ‘em
you are human
and human beings, they do miracles
Johnnie’s version, a guitar and vocals performance, thrills with its uncoated R’n’B and gospel inspirations. For Ty’s take on the song, the ever-darkening realities of the present-day require a different sonic platform — and so, via the riffs of the original, he takes the song to a darker area of the blues, which, driven by the funky soundings of the Rhythm King drum machine and scudded with filth-toned guitars, synths and saxes (sketchily blown by Bitchin Bajas’ Rob Frye), evokes the raw beats of Sly, the exotic tinge of Stevie and the sanctified elevation of Al Green. This clearly delights Bill and Bonny, who deliver from deep down, with Bonny supplying all the voices in the backing choir with true fervor and Bill hitting a couple of notes that make our hair stand straight up every time. A low-down, slinking celebration of our bottomless grace. You’re guaranteed to say Yeah!