Jeremy Spencer: ‘Bleeding Heart’ 1968 and 1998
Jeremy Spencer has always acknowledged his admiration for slide master Elmore James; there are twenty-two recordings, studio sessions and live performances, of Spencer covering songs that had been done by James during his time with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
Spencer performed numbers such as ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’ and ‘I Can’t Hold Out’ (‘Talk to Me Baby’) from the band’s earliest shows till their last with Green. Others were played at almost all the shows recorded on a given tour, ‘Madison Blues’, ‘Stranger Blues’ and then were dropped from the sets.
And then there are a those few for which we have only one recording: ‘The Sky Is Crying’, Make a Little Love’ and ‘Bleeding Heart’.
The first two are actually from the same show, recorded in Denmark on May 07, 1968. ‘Bleeding Heart’ was recorded in London ten days earlier. To the best of our knowledge, none of these songs were ever performed in a studio setting.
Jeremy Spencer: vocal & guitar /
Peter Green: guitar /
John McVie: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded April 27, 1968 at the Regent Street Polytechnic
Released as London Live ’68 (Thunderbolt LP 1986)
Intro (0:10) / Bleeding Heart (Elmore James) (4:26)
On the LP, this is the final number, coming after a five-song set by Green (the show began with four songs by Spencer). Spencer can barely be understood as he introduces the song, and then his slide rings out, the first drops of rain, intermittent but heavy, signaling the coming deluge.
Despite the distortion on the vocal, the power of Spencer’s vocal is undiminished. Where the opening verse on James’ recording was a declarative statement, Spencer seems to asking a question: does anyone know what it means to be all alone? The answer, in his mind, is “no”. No one has ever suffered as he has.
Green’s guitar cannot be heard after the opening, but McVie’s bass tolls mercilessly, counting down the minutes and the hours and the days since his baby has gone and Fleetwood’s drum beats snap like a whip, forcing Spencer through verse after verse, the cries of his slide intensifying his racked vocal.
After four grueling verses, he stops singing, and lets his guitar take over, with Fleetwood smashing at his cymbals illustrating the power of Spencer’s sound, like the burst of spray as a wave hits rock.
Unfortunately, the song is almost over at this point and the number is faded to silence before Spencer can bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
Thankfully, what has come before is powerful enough to carry the song and listener over the finish line (although one cannot help but wish that they had attempted this during the sessions at Chess Studios nine months later)
‘Bleeding Heart’ is one of James’ later originals, done for producer Bobby Robinson. From late 1960 through early 1963 James cut over thirty titles for Robinson during sessions in New York City and New Orleans.
Elmore James: guitar & vocal /
Nehemiah “Riff” Ruffin: guitar / Unknown: bass /
Johnny Williams: drums / Johnny Acey: piano /
Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams: baritone saxophone / (probably) George Coleman: tenor saxophone
Danny Moore: trumpet / (probably) Dickie Harris: trombone
Recorded in New York City, 1961
1st Released on “The Sky Is Crying” (Sphere Sound 1965 U.S.) – credited to Elmo James
Shortened version (faded out at 2:37) released as B-side to Enjoy single ‘It Hurts Me Too’ (1965)
“Elmore James Memorial Album” (Sue 1965 U.K.)
My Bleeding Heart* (Elmore James) (3:05)
Spencer duplicated the introduction, but he didn’t have the swirling horns to add the almost surreal undertow. James sounds like a man almost literally drowning in sorrow, shouting to get the attention of someone standing on shore.
James’ voice also is front and center in the mix (I have to believe that had he been recorded by a single mike in a noisy club as Spencer was, his voice still would have cut through the noise to imprint itself clearly on the reel to reel) capturing his mournful rasp in all its harrowing glory.
Ironically, the James original also fades out too quickly, though again, he has the advantage of the studio recording providing a ringing clarity to his playing on the outro, swelling the sound. But the truncated outro denies the listener the necessary opportunity to unclench and decompress after hearing this sad, sad tale.
Thirty years after Spencer’s first recording of the song, he recorded it again in a radically reworked arrangement. The recordings were made during charity shows undertaken in India. There is little information available about the show (Spencer’s official website and Facebook page make no mention of it) and it seems to only be available via download sites.
Jeremy Spencer: vocal & slide guitar /
Rupert Fernandes: lead guitar / Mike Creswell: keyboards /
Jono D’Sousa: keyboards & synthesizer / Adrian Fernandes: drums /
Tim Forsberg: percussion
Released on “In Concert – India ‘98”
Bleeding Heart (Elmore James) (5:35)
Slowing the tempo, Spencer’s slide comes close to recreating the undertow conjured by the horns on James’ recording. Spencer’s vocal, is far more understated also, and in my opinion much more effective. The piano offers beautiful support and counterpoint.
Among the changes that Spencer brings to bear are a minor change to the lyrics to soften their harshness and a break in the middle of the song, before the final verse. The most welcome change is that after almost forty years from the original recording, we finally get a proper ending.
This is truly fine ensemble playing and I would love to hear more from this line-up. Hopefully this will see a proper release one day.
*as it was listed on the LP
- 'Bleeding Heart' 'My Bleeding Heart'
- 'I Can't Hold Out'
- 'Madison Blues'
- 'Make A Little Love'
- 'Shake Your Moneymaker'
- 'Talk to Me Baby'
- 'The Sky Is Crying'
- "Elmore James Memorial Album"
- "In Concert - India '98"
- "London Live '68" (Thunderbolt)
- Bobby Robinson
- Elmore James
- Jeremy Spencer
- Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac
- Regent Street Polytechnic