Lyrics: National Steel |
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National Steel

by Clive James and Pete Atkin

Shining in the window a guitar that wasn't wood
It was looking like a silver coin from when they still were good
The man who kept the music shop was pleased to let me play
Although the price was twenty times what I could ever pay

Pick it up and feel the weight and weigh the feel
That thing is an authentic National Steel

A lacy grille across the front and etchings on the back
But the welding sealed a box not even Bukka White could crack
I tuned it to an open chord, picked up the nickel slide
And bottlenecked a blues that sounded cold yet seemed to glide

The National Steel weaves a singing shroud
Just as sure as men in winter breathe a cloud

Scrapper Blackwell, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Blake
Son House or any name you care to take
And from many a sad railroad, mine or mill
Lonnie Johnson's bitter tears are in there still

Be certain, said the man, of who you are
There are dead men still alive in that guitar

Back there the next morning half demented by desire
For that storybook assemblage of heavy plate and wire
I sold half the things I valued but I'll never count the cost
While I can pick a note like broken bracken in the frost

And I hear those fabled names becoming real
Every time I feel the weight or weigh the feel
Of the vanished years inside my National Steel

Note (from Collected Poems)

Pete’s acquisition of an authentic National Steel guitar gave me the chance to write the lyric for a catalogue song, as it is called in the trade. In this case the catalogue was of the names of the blues singers who had played a National Steel. Lonnie Johnson was the one we both cared most about.