New Album Pays Tribute To Shel Silverstein, The Songwriter The author-illustrator is most famous for books such as Where The Sidewalk Ends, but he also had a gift for songwriting. Silverstein penned songs for artists including Dr. Hook and Marianne Faithful, and perhaps most famously, was responsible for Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue." Now, musicians Bobby Bare, Sr. and Bobby Bare, Jr. have curated a tribute album, in memory of their friend, entitled Twistable, Turnable Man.
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New Album Pays Tribute To Shel Silverstein, The Songwriter

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New Album Pays Tribute To Shel Silverstein, The Songwriter

New Album Pays Tribute To Shel Silverstein, The Songwriter

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Unidentified Man: Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae, who ate a monstrous whale? She thought she could, she said she would, so she started in right at the tail.

GUY RAZ, host:

Most people know the late Shel Silverstein for his children's poetry, but maybe you're not as familiar with his music.

(Soundbite of song, "The Cover of Rolling Stone")

Dr. HOOK (Singer): (Singing) Rolling Stone, want to see my picture on the cover.

(Soundbite of song, "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan")

Ms. MARIANNE FAITHFULL (Singer): (Singing) The eyes of Lucy Jordan.

(Soundbite of song, "A Boy Named Sue")

Mr. JOHNNY CASH (Singer): (Singing) But the meanest thing that he ever did was before he left, he went and named me Sue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That, of course, is Johnny Cash, and earlier, Marianne Faithfull and Dr. Hook, all performing songs written by Shel Silverstein. And now, you can add to that list of artists; 14 performers have contributed to a new album that pays tribute to the music of Shel Silverstein. It's called "Twistable, Turnable Man," with tracks from artists like My Morning Jacket, Lucinda Williams, The Pixies, and this one by singer Todd Snider.

(Soundbite of song, "A Boy Named Sue")

Mr. TODD SNIDER (Singer): (Singing) Some gal would giggle and I'd get red. And some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head. I tell ya, life ain't easy for a boy named Sue.

RAZ: The curators of this new Shel Silverstein tribute album join me from WPLN in Nashville, country singer Bobby Bare Sr. and his son Bobby Jr., also a musician.


Mr. BOBBY BARE JR. (Musician): Hey. Thank you very much.

RAZ: Now, hearing someone else beside Johnny Cash sing "A Boy Named Sue" is weird enough, but even weirder and forgive me, gentlemen, for not knowing this, is that Shel Silverstein, the same guy who wrote "Where The Sidewalk Ends," wrote "A Boy Named Sue." I didn't know that.

Mr. BOBBY BARE SR. (Country Singer): There was at least three sides to Shel, and one of them, of course, a lot of people didn't know, was writing songs.

Mr. BARE JR.: A lot of musicians know that Shel wrote songs but not a lot of the regular people out there. So...

RAZ: And I guess we should put this into context because back in 1973, Bobby Sr., you recorded a song on one of your albums with your son, Bobby Jr., who was 5 years old at the time. The song is called "Daddy What If," and I just want to hear some of that for a moment.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of song, "Daddy What If")

Mr. BARE JR.: (Singing) Daddy, what if the sun stops shining? What would happen then?

Mr. BARE SR.: (Singing) If the sun stopped shining, you'd be so surprised. You'd stare at the heavens with wide open eyes.

RAZ: I just want to hug you, Bobby Jr. I don't know if (unintelligible).

Mr. BARE JR.: Oh, I'm not that cute anymore. But I'll still hug you.

Mr. BARE SR.: You were then, son. You were then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: But what's amazing is that on this new tribute album, Bobby Bare Jr., you have actually done a similar thing. You are a father now.

Mr. BARE JR.: Yes.

RAZ: You brought in your daughter, Isabella, to sing your old part, and let's hear some of that.

(Soundbite of song, "Daddy What If")

Ms. ISABELLA BARE: (Singing) Daddy, what if the wind stops blowing? What will happen then?

Mr. BARE JR.: (Singing) If the wind stops blowing, then the land would be dry...

RAZ: This is so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: It's great.

Mr. BARE JR.: It's cheating is what it is.

Mr. BARE SR.: Oh, that brings tears to my eyes right now.

RAZ: Yeah, me, too. Did you play her the version that you did with your dad in 1973?

Mr. BARE JR.: Oh, yeah.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. BARE JR: And you said: That's daddy playing with grandpa.

Mr. BARE JR.: That's dad with papa. We showed her the YouTube of it, and she just loved it.

RAZ: Do you Bobby Bare Jr., do you read Shel Silverstein's poetry to your daughter, Isabella?

Mr. BARE JR.: Oh, yeah. We have all the books, and they're all autographed by Shel from when we had them growing up. And yeah, kids love that stuff.

RAZ: Bobby Sr., you mentioned that there are all these different sides to Shel Silverstein. What was he like?

Mr. BARE SR.: Shel was the most brilliant creative person I've ever met. In all my years, I'm 75 years old; I have met just about all of them. And we had so much fun. I've done at least 20 projects with Shel, and it was just so much fun because he's so creative.

He's writing on his hand, he'll write on his clothes, and his writing - and what he writes was so descriptive, so visual that you couldn't help but respond to it. It's like watching a great, great movie.

(Soundbite of song, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone")

Mr. BLACK FRANCIS and Mr. JOEY SANTIAGO (Musicians): (Singing) Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone...

RAZ: You've got a version of "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" on this album. The original was a top 10 hit for Dr. Hook in 1972. This version is recorded by two members of the legendary alternative band The Pixies and more, I guess, Bobby Jr.'s generation, Black Francis, Joey Santiago. And let's hear some of that for a second.

(Soundbite of song, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone")

Mr. FRANCIS and Mr. SANTIAGO: Well, we are big rock singers, we've got golden fingers, and we're loved everywhere we go. We sing about beauty and we sing about truth, $10 million a show. We take all kind of pills to give us all kind of thrills, but the thrill that we never known is the thrill that'll get you when you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone...

RAZ: I love hearing Frank Black, or Black Francis, as he's described on this record, singing Shel Silverstein's music. Bobby Jr., knowing his music, I guess I wouldn't normally associate Frank Black with Shel Silverstein, but it -somehow, it works perfectly. How did you approach him?

Mr. BARE JR.: I opened up a show for him, and just before he went on, we were talking. I said: Have you ever been on the cover of the Rolling Stone because if somebody's going to do that song, they can't have - had been on the cover of the Rolling Stone or it means nothing.

So he says, no, I've never been on the cover of the Rolling Stone. I said, I'm doing a Shel Silverstein tribute record, and would you like to do this song? And he said I'd be honored. And it blew my mind...

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. BARE JR.: ...because I'm a huge fan.

But also, I knew he was around my age so he was aware of the original. And he has kids. I think he has five kids. The first thing he said, my kids will just be thrilled about this.

(Soundbite of song, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone")

Mr. FRANCIS and Mr. SANTIAGO: (Singing) Rolling Stone, I wanna buy five copies for my mother, Rolling Stone. Wanna see my smiling face on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

RAZ: Bobby Bare Sr., why didn't Shel Silverstein record his own music?

Mr. BARE SR.: The reason Shel didn't record his own music because he couldn't sing.

Mr. BARE JR.: Have you heard his singing?

Mr. BARE SR.: He screeches.

Mr. BARE JR.: He did record his own music. Oh, he put out a couple of albums on Columbia.

Mr. BARE SR.: That's true. And he...

Mr. BARE JR.: It's very painful.

Mr. BARE SR.: But you know...

Mr. BARE JR.: He screeched.

Mr. BARE SR.: Yeah. And in all fairness, he shouldn't be a recording artist. I had a number one record on a song he wrote called "Marie Laveau," and there's a witch screaming in there.

(Soundbite of song, "Marie Laveau")

Mr. BARE SR.: (Singing) She'd go

(Soundbite of scream)

Mr. BARE SR.: And that witch scream was Shel.

Mr. BARE JR.: That was his vocal contribution to that record.

Mr. BARE SR.: That was his best shot.

Mr. BARE JR.: (Unintelligible) masterpiece.

Mr. BARE SR.: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Bobby Sr., you have a track on this record called "The Living Legend."

(Soundbite of song, "Living Legend")

Mr. BARE SR.: (Singing) So now I sing my songs for them that's still remembered, get my love from them that can't give.

RAZ: Bobby Bare Sr., you've called this your final Shel project. Shel Silverstein, of course, died too early, in 1999. I know that his music has been a part of your life for so long. Is this sort of your way of saying goodbye to him?

Mr. BARE SR.: You know, I think you may be right because, well, he went so sudden. We wasn't expecting it. I mean, he just got out of bed one night and fell over. And it was a great way to go if you've got to go, but it was so sudden, we didn't have time to prepare for it. And this is probably my way of really saying goodbye to my old friend Shel.

(Soundbite of song, "This Guitar is for Sale")

RAZ: That's Bobby Bare Sr. and Bobby Bare Jr. They're the producers behind the new album, "Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein." We've got a few tracks at our website,

Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Mr. BARE JR.: Sure.

Mr. BARE SR.: Thank you.

Mr. BARE JR.: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "This Guitar is for Sale")

Mr. BARE SR.: (Singing) This guitar is for sale. I'll let her go cheap. She's pretty to look at, but she don't earn her keep.

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening. Happy Fourth and have a great week.

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