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Friday, July 3, 2015

Musician, SL poets struck by inspiration: Katrina Song

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What do an author, a standup bass musician and a pack of poetry lovers have in common?

Not much, until now.

With an unexpected tropical storm of inspiration that swept a dignified poetry club gathering into a studio of sound and passion last September, this unusual collaboration has waded into "Hell or High Water," an unusual song aimed at easing the pain of the victims of this season's hurricane strikes in the Gulf Coast region.

It all started normally enough. The local "Poet's Corner" group was having a September gathering in Storm Lake, and asked Annie O'Dell, a multi-talented Early-based woman, to give a recital from a book she had recently written.

O'Dell, with a bit of a self-admitted hippy history that has taken her from an early career in music to more recent fame as a psychic "intuitist," seldom takes a conventional approach.

She broke up the reading by pulling out a banjo - one of five instruments she plays - and starting to strum a bluegrass melody. She challenged the members of the poetry group to prove their mettle by creating lyrics to her song. The recent hurricane tragedy was a fresh wound in everyone's heart.

"An 85-year-old woman stood up and screamed, 'We'll call it Hell or High Water,'" O'Dell grinned. "A man who I believe is a former logger offered a couple of lines, and we were off. It was a total act of improvisation."

Danuta Hutchins, one of the faithful members of the Poet's Corner and an author in her own right, said the experience that day was like nothing she had ever seen - or heard. "She overwhelmed us with her creative juices," she said of O'Dell.

What emerged is a song that is now the creative property of the Poetry Club, which they think has hit potential - as well as the potential to ease a bit of the pain for the hurricane victims.

The public will get a first chance to hear the song Hell or High Water during the "Songs of Hope" variety show at Buena Vista University's Schaller Chapel Sunday at 6:30 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for the efforts of students who will go to the flood zone during January Interim to work to clear ruined neighborhoods.

Performing will be O'Dell, joined on stand-up bass and backup vocals by Don Demers of rural Storm Lake, a musician who has some Nashville studio work within his resume. The two recently traveled to Sioux City to record the song on CD, a process that required five hours of studio mixing.

O'Dell said the result shows a blend of opinions from the various Poetry Corner members who contributed verses, including Hutchins, Norm Newbury of Alta, Frances Bean of Storm Lake and others. Some lines are caustic, some hopeful, all wrapped in a high-spirited "craggly" sort of bluegrass sound reminiscent of the hit movie soundtrack, "Oh Brother Where Art Thou," and aggressive vocals that harken back to O'Dell's days as a traveling musician of classical, folk and rock music.

Deep in the song come suddenly the classic lines of a negro spiritual, "We shall overcome... we shall overcome... someday."

O'Dell notes that the banjo was originally an African instrument, and feels that its use is fitting, with the heavy damage endured by areas of the Gulf Coast that were heavily occupied by black Americans. For good measure, the contributors sought to bring a taste of Cajun influence to their wording.

"I've got good feelings about it. I think people will get something out of this song even if they don't like bluegrass," O'Dell said.

Hutchins hopes to see the song get widespread play. "It is something personal coming out of Buena Vista County, Iowa, for people who are in need. There is so much need and trouble in our world today to be addressed."

BVU Chaplain Ken Meissner, after hearing the song, was quick to add the performance to the Songs of Hope concert. A television reporter has also expressed an interest in getting it on the air regionally, and O'Dell plans to send it to talk show mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Hutchins said the group does not plan to make any money on the effort, but she will dub copies of the original CD for up to the first 100 people who donate $5 or more to the BV students' relief effort and would like a copy. "Who knows what could happen to it from there," she shrugs.

Even if the song had never been heard outside the gallery where it was born, it would have been a worthwhile melding of music and poetry, its creators agree. "The many creative people here need to come together. They can't let the arts be defined or controlled by politics," O'Dell said, lugging the heavy boom box that spills Hell or High Water at any opportunity. "It's time to stand up for the arts here in Buena Vista County."

They told us to go, but daddy said "stay";

it was too late to leave by the break of day.

Some walked on foot, some floated on logs;

bodies in the water, screams in the fog.

CHORUS:

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

We're crying', crying', crying';

Waters risn', risin', risin'!

There's neither diapers, nor milk for baby boy Craig,

no oxygen tank for grandma to drag.

We have no clean water, no dry shoes;

we wander in a daze, with nothin' left to lose, cept:

CHORUS:

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

We're crying', crying', crying';

Waters risn', risin', risin'!

The winds blow in circles, gators climbin' trees;

gov't watchin' water climbin' to God's knees.

Shall we send'em busses? Send'em boats?

Wait'an watch the water, then put it to a vote! Oh!

CHORUS:

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

We're crying', crying', crying';

Waters risn', risin', risin'!

We overcome the terror, overcome the floods;

fires and disaster, violence and blood.

By God we will prevail, -seek His Grace somehow,

and pray He sees and cares - beyond the "here and now".

(Vocal bridge: Old Folk Song melody - harmonize with the entire choir)

We shall over come....

We shall over come....

We shall over come....

Somehow, some how....This:

CHORUS:

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

Hell and High Water!

We're crying', crying', crying';

Waters risn', risin', risin'!



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