Professor of ROck

you know every now and again in an
interview with an artist a story is told
to me that is so unique so poignant so
heartfelt that the story enhances the
song to an unparalleled level and it
seems to deepen with every listen after
that most people thought that this
massive hit coming up was an homage by
an artist poetic license on steroids but
we’re going to find out in this
exclusive interview
that every part of this song actually
happened a struggling singer-songwriter
was trying to find that one hit that
would get him his first Big Break
and he found it in one weekend
the story from a grammy-winning artist
who took the World by storm including a
version just recently that put it back
in the Limelight the interview’s coming
up next on professor of Rock
hey music junkies professor of rock
always here to celebrate the greatest
artists and the greatest songs of all
make sure to hit the Subscribe button
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rock era and look us up on patreon to be
a part of curating this golden age of
rock and roll I say it often on here the
term one-hand wonder is really complex
because it doesn’t capture a band or
their song or their career universally I
mean no one would ever call
Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zapp or Lou Reed
one hit wonders
or Bob Marley a no-hit Wonder
yeah that’s right Bob Marley never
charted a top 40 hit in the U.S I think
as a culture we’re fascinated when an
artist had that one big hit
to move the world because
we’re shocked that maybe they couldn’t
follow it up because it was such a great
song so that’s why we call them bottle
lightning on here
because it takes into account the song
and why it moved the world so in our
latest edition of bottle lightning we
break down one of the most beloved songs
of all time a song so compelling
it puts us in a trance whenever it comes
on at least it does for me it’s so
magical that most people thought that
the singer-songwriter behind it just
made it up
Mark Cohn was trying to find his
breakthrough head and he took a trip to
and what unfolded was almost like a
fairy tale of Epic Proportions it was a
Mark Cohn is one of those amazing
songwriters whose catalog is so great
we’re just left scratching our heads and
how his other songs weren’t massive on
the charts
um his entire debut album it’s perfect
it’s chock full of great songs from dig
down deep my personal favorite of his
it’s actually my wife and I saw him
dick True Companion one of the greatest
love songs of all time
I’m asking you to be my True Companion
and silver Thunderbird
how the three of these songs didn’t
swarm the charts it’s just it’s crazy to
the song that did go to number 13 in the
Hot 100 and was nominated for song of
the year in 1990 was Walking in Memphis
a song that is is beloved today as it
was when it was released it was covered
last year on Saturday Night Live by Pete
Davidson with a guest appearance by
Cohen himself as walking in Stanton as
an homage to the bagel joints at pizza
places in his native Borough while
sporting in I love Staten Island shirt
it took the song Back to the public here
and uh and gained a lot of plays from
there I’ve heard thousands of song
stories from artists since I started
doing this for me this is top five
it’s a story for the times we were in
net right now because it’ll just lift
your spirits it’s a kind of inspiring
story that proves that there are bigger
things at work here and that hope is
never lost
make sure to let us know of your
memories of this song and how this song
or other songs have changed your life
below let’s have a great discussion the
time I spent with Mark Cohn discussing
this classic composition and his other
it’s just incredibly enlightening and
I’m excited to share it with you here as
we go into this interview I do want to
thank our sponsor is Jenny eyewear do
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here’s Mark coming with the story of
walking to Memphis

record coming out in 91 of course we got
to jump into Walking in Memphis it’s
such a game changer song it’s one of
those songs like I said when I heard it
on the top 40 countdown because I like
all kinds of music my dad was an old 60s
guy he brought me up on the Four Tops
and and the Beatles and Crosby Stills
and Nash but we listen to that together
and there’d be songs coming there take I
could I could leave this song but he
said this is a great song I started to
listen to it you kind of took James
Taylor saying that sometimes when you
have writer’s block you just gotta go
somewhere what she did for his last
album you went away for like eight weeks
away from his family like Cape Cod or
something exactly right I mean he could
be inspired he’s still doing it exactly
but tell me about that 85 trip of taking
that destination because it was kind of
Desperate Times yeah I was you know
I had wanted at that point but by 85 how
old was I 25 maybe 24 I remember and I
was uh
deeply aware that a lot of my heroes had
already written their masterpieces by
the time they were 19. yeah Brian Wilson
wrote Pet Sounds at 23. I mean it’s it’s
astonishing I know I mean Jackson Brown
wrote these days when he was like six
times I know it’s like that it’s almost
like really are you sure I mean it’s
such a world weary gorgeous right
poignant song you were 16 I could play
some of my songs when I was 16. but I
and I had willed myself to be as
songwriter I loved it so I loved those
early records by James and Joni and
Jackson and the band and Van Morrison
and Cat Stevens I mean Crosby Stills and
Nash the list is pretty long and they
were all records that I originally heard
probably on Sunday morning radio in
Cleveland right and I was constantly as
a little kid talking to the DJ asking
him what’s that what’s that and then I’d
go buy it right but I wanted to be a
songwriter too and by the time I was 24
or 25 I had
some good songs but not really not good
enough and I wasn’t signed yet so I knew
if I was going to be honest with myself
uh I hadn’t arrived I hadn’t found my
songwriting voice and I went to Memphis
specifically to try to find it and
that’s the oddest part of the story to
me because my experience ever since then
is whenever I go consciously looking for
inspiration I never find it all right
but this time is different I I thought
maybe you know at least I’ll
I’ll hear something that’ll open up my
sensibilities or I’ll meet someone or
I’ll see something and I just never stop
from the minute I walked off the plane
till I went home
together and you knew yeah yeah that
would resonate
two in particular that resonated for me
that for me are the are the centerpiece
of the song one was going to hear Al
Green preach the gospel right I know
he will fix it
you go there on a Sunday morning I think
he’s still there occasionally at his
church called the Full Gospel Tabernacle
um one of my favorite soul singers of
all time but there he was preaching the
gospel and like you said at the
beginning you know I’m a Jewish kid from
um but you I wasn’t quite sure in those
moments if if my people had it right

I had Goose flesh for four hours while
this was happening and tears were
running down oh yeah my eyes and you
know I never used to cry in Temple uh
only because I wanted to get the hell
out right uh not because I was so moved
but that’s what happened at Al Green’s
church and uh there’s no articulating
for you that was like I’m sure you’ve
been there if you haven’t you got it
well because you talked about three
hours I mean this I mean of course Al
Green the way he sings just it’s amazing
and the amazing thing as a singer for me
was three hours of really like singing
intense intense his voice got stronger
and stronger which is also the opposite
of what usually happens you know after
three hours of really hitting it you
start getting tired you boys can’t take
it not his oh yeah um so he has the
spirit system of fire absolutely so I
did that River and green be glad to see

you which was Way Beyond what I ever
could have thought it would be and I
just tried to soak it all in when you
haven’t got to pray
then I met Muriel who’s real was a real
she passed away maybe six months before
walking to Memphis hit the radio gosh
um so I guess that wasn’t meant to be
but uh we we immediately hit it off she
was playing in this little place called
The Hollywood
every Friday at the Hollywood fried
pickles and catfish everywhere nobody
really listening to Muriel except me and
maybe 20 other people
and uh she was up there Singing Glory of
Love And His Eye Is on the Sparrow and
touched the Hem of His Garment and
um I fell in love with this woman 65
year old school teacher from Helena
Arkansas right this was her way of
making a little extra money on the
weekends and uh blowing me away and I
would I went up to her during her breaks
and I told her a little bit about my
story that I was looking for inspiration
and she told me about her story
and I guess by the end of the night 11
o’clock 11 30 she she invited me up to
and she started singing all these gospel
songs as if I would know them I know but
I couldn’t find a song you kind of both
knew exactly
but she kind of whispered the lyrics in
my ear of these old gospel songs and I
would try to catch up and catch on to
the melody they were kind of I could I
could get the gist of it right and then
we did Amazing Grace and I she didn’t
need to whisper in my ear lyrics to that
one I knew that one
and man that was just like another
moment like meeting merrily Rush there
was something about it where when the
song was done I felt I had been
transported and then she whispered in my
ear again and said child I think you can
go and write those songs now

the part that you tell about how you had
told her about your mother yeah dying
when you were two right and that you
were having a hard time letting that go
she said you can let it go now you can
let it go now that’s amazing it is
amazing to Spiritual Awakening as you
said right are you a Christian Child and
I said ma’am I am tonight but what I
love about it because so many people
misunderstand the song in some ways
where oh yeah the Elvis song it’s not
Elvis is one little part of it talking
about The Jungle Room and talking about
Graceland and and the security part I
always thought that maybe that was a
little tip of the hat to the Springsteen
when he was trying to climb the wall did
you ever hear about that I did hear that
story maybe that was subconsciously yeah
it’s just an accident but you remember
we tried to climb the wall I love the
Springsteen right exactly
I remember hearing John Lennon say he
didn’t really want to talk too much
about what his songs right because it
didn’t matter what they meant to him
because it meant something different
right how does it resonate for you right
down in a jungle room when I was walking
in Memphis but also WC handy the father
of the Blues it’s like you took pieces
of of American music not just rock and
roll but just all of that right put it
together well man I I like I said when I
left there I knew I had a song and when
I finally wrote it uh I knew I had a
good song Oh yeah and I hadn’t written
one of those maybe ever up to that point
I’d written a few songs that I liked but
I knew that that was the beginning of me
really finding my songwriting voice and
I was still four or five years away from
being signed to Atlantic so people asked
me did you know it was a hit it was like
I wasn’t even thinking about a hit so
yeah just trying to write my best songs
and that was a turning point for sure
your demos that are on your newest album
route that give us a different
feel and take of how where that was
going I always read that you started
trying to play it on guitar and Memphis
yeah right right and then you started to
move to the piano and you kind of have
that first line and there was five
different versions right oh there’s more
than that there’s five on the on the
record but yeah yeah I did it dozens of
times I mean I drove every drummer and
bass player in New York City out of
their freaking minds and the Bluetooth I
choose too what I love about that is
that was a little tip of the hat to Carl
Perkins absolutely yes big tip of the
Hat yeah
there’s been so many coverage share of
course took it to the UK charts
Paul Anka I really dig his version I bet
you that you got a kick out of that I
got a big kick out of that version it’s
as a boy can be and Tony Hadley espanol
ballet also don’t know that one you’ll
have to listen to that one and of course
Shut Up and Dance have a big hit
borrowing from that
I want to ask you though do you remember
the first time that you heard it on the
radio absolutely tell me about that you
know I do
um as an artist yeah yeah man I mean I
don’t I can’t imagine there must not be
an artist alive who doesn’t remember the
first time they heard themselves on the
radio I was driving
uh in Connecticut uh to a house that I
had bought specifically to try to write
in and um because I was living in New
York but I was I think I was driving to
that house what I remember very vividly
is the DJ saying this next song really
it really reminds me of this song from a
long time ago by a guy that nobody
remembers but that I still love named
Andy Pratt
do you remember that name yeah you do
yeah had a song called avenging Annie or
Andy Andy writes web but it was a piano
he was a piano based songwriter and then
he also said It reminds me a little of
Lee Michaels too right do you know what
I mean
my best friend do you know what I mean
and I immediately went
I think they’re gonna play me
because those are weird references I
mean like Whitney Houston is not coming
on now
um and it was it was then he then the
big that piano figure started and I had
to pull over I pulled over to the side
of the road and I just sat there and I
smiled from ear to ear and I I cried a
little bit and I thought about my mother
and my father and my
life having come to some remarkable
Crossroads wow that was huge for me
something about hearing yourself even to
this day I I mean if I hear myself on
the radio it really moves me because I
know I’m not the only one listening
that’s hearing that yeah I’m sharing
that with people I don’t know but that
first time was unbelievable

hey thanks so much for watching leave us
a comment about this bottle lightning
classic what do you remember about this
song first time you heard it
uh the lyrics what they mean to you the
situations what are some other bottle
lightning songs you think that we should
cover on this show let us know in the
comments uh make sure if you like our
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it’s all about keeping the music alive
guys it really is
um thank you so much
till next time three quarts


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