"Jacob's Ladder" is the first song from the Seeger Sessions I'm picking up for this blog. Because of the folk nature of those songs, it allows me quite a bit of liberty as to which version to review. Most songs of the Seeger Sessions have been performed and recorded by multiple artists, not even considering the number of schools and churches they have been sung at. "Jacob's Ladder" is as good as any song to start. Aside from a song Jacob's Ladder is many things. Inspired by the original Bible tale from Genesis in which Jacob had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven, the Jacob's ladder became one of the oldest toys found in King Tut's tomb, possibly dating back as far as 1352 BC. It also is probably one of the coolest electric science projects you can build at home. For travelers in the USA, the Jacob's Ladder is amongst the countries most beautiful trails located in Massachusetts. But above all Jacob's Ladder is a song.
As a Gospel Jacob's Ladder originated somewhere in the mid 19th century. Though the song was not exclusive to the Black Baptists churches, it did speak to the imagination of the African-Americans most. The song was song regularly on civil rights rallies, communicating to both the protesters and America that the Black segment of America would achieve its goal of equality, step by step, rung by rung. As such, the song's most famous interpretation is possibly by the Black tenor Paul Robeson. As a public figure Robeson was highly controversial in his alleged support of the communist party at the height of the McCarthy era, something he never denied nor affirmed, but also one of the first big African-American performers who put his career on the line in support of the civil rights movement. At the time Robeson chose to do so, speaking out could still cause an artist his or her career. So it is probably not without significance that Robeson became the first Black entertainer to play Shakespeare's Othello in the UK, while no American theater company would hirer Robeson for the job.
The version I picked up however may be closer to Springsteen's roots than Robeson's version. Though I'm not sure if the Boss is familiar with it. Doris Troy's version comes from her forgotten self titled album on the Apple label. Doris is still best known for her sole hit "Just One Look" from 1963. Though Doris Troy was an extremely talented singer, she never significantly broke the charts afterwards. Troy did however gain somewhat of a cult popularity in Brittain's Northern Soul scene, so she decided to move there in 1969. Her live shows back then featured one Reginald Dwight on piano. Who in turn would reach world fame once he adopted both funky glasses, outfits and the name Elton John. In London Troy also struck up an acquaintance with George Harrison when she was invited to sit in on a Billy Preston session George was producing. Harrison wanted to know if Doris was free to record and as it turned out, she wasn't tied to a record contract at the time. With the Beatles on the verge of splitting up Harrison was branching out, producing for himself and other artists. The sessions for the Doris Troy album became are star studded affair. Ringo Starr, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills and Leon Russell all contributed to the record on which Doris takes a fair share of the song writing credits. Unfortunately though the record, released in 1970, got lost in the shuffle somehow. Though the results are fine indeed, it didn't quite fit between the fiercer, more funkier Soul sounds that were becoming in vogue in the States, nor did it appeal to the well defined tastes of the British Northern Soul scene. In the end all the album did was cement Doris' reputation of overqualified one hit wonder.
Jacob's Ladder - Doris Troy
Available on Doris Troy