When I first heard the ethereally smooth, wistfully dreamy, like-it’s-hovering-off-the-ground, “Green Rocky Road” by Creation with Felix Pappalardi, I had no idea the rabbit holes (plural) I’d soon be descending.
But before getting to all that, sit back, watch the sunlight glitter through the trees, and drink in “Green Rocky Road.”
Okay, so where to start? Maybe with who the heck Felix Pappalardi is. Pappalardi was a fixture of the early classic rock scene, albeit one who may have flown somewhat under the radar. Perhaps best known for producing Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Pappalardi was also the co-lead singer and bassist of Mountain and received a songwriting credit for that band’s classic “Mississippi Queen.” Less impressive was his tabloid demise during a 1983 drug-infused altercation in his Upper East Side apartment with his wife, Gail Collins, who shot him dead after Pappalardi came clean about his latest extra-marital affair. To add insult to mortal injury, Collins did the deed with a pistol Pappalardi had given her as a gift. Which serves as a good reminder to all the couples out there: when making gift decisions for your partner, best to stay away from firearms.
Interestingly, Collins was acquitted of second-degree murder and convicted only of manslaughter after testifying that the killing was an accident—that Pappalardi had been giving her a shooting lesson (in their apartment) and that their cat, in an ill-timed leap, jumped on her as she was taking aim at the wall, causing her to accidentally shoot him in the neck. I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusion as to the credibility of that account, but I will say it does prove yet again why dogs are better than cats.
Now that we have that sorted, who—or what—is Creation? Creation is a Japanese rock band formed in 1969 by Kazuo Takeda. Creation was originally called Blues Creation, but shortened its name to Creation in 1975, issuing a self-titled album that year, the cover of which for some reason featured a dozen nude boys, full-frontal, urinating on the floor of a room. The nude boys thing appears to have sparked a well of creativity for Creation—the cover of its 1977 release, Pure Electric Soul, showcased another group of nude boys, again full-frontal, but this time standing in the window of a bus. Mercifully, the album cover of 1976’s Creation with Felix Pappalardi, on which “Green Rocky Road” appears, features a kaleidoscope-like portrait of the band, fully clothed.
How did Pappalardi and Takeda cross paths? No homicidal intrigue or child pornography involved here. Creation opened for Mountain during Mountain’s 1973 tour of Japan. Apparently, there was chemistry and Pappalardi invited Takeda and Creation to the States to record a bunch of songs written by Pappalardi, Takeda, and Collins, who before being Pappalardi’s killer, was his longtime songwriting collaborator. Ironically, the couple co-wrote “Strange Brew” with Eric Clapton. Strange brew, indeed. Perhaps Pappalardi should have heeded the song’s warning:
She’s some kind of demon messin’ in the glue
If you don't watch out, it’ll stick to you
To you, what kind of fool are you?
Strange brew, killin’ what's inside of you
Don’t you hate it when a good metaphor is ruined by actually describing a literal truth?
Finally, and most importantly, what is this song, “Green Rocky Road”? As some may know, it’s not a Pappalardi or Creation creation, but a cover of a song that’s been around since the early ‘60s, first popularized by one of Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village mentors, Dave Van Ronk. It appeared on the 1963 release In the Tradition by Dave Van Ronk and The Red Onion Jazz Band. Here’s a 2001 clip of Van Ronk explaining the song’s mysterious and somewhat tangled origins followed by a live performance of the tune in 1980.
So that’s where the song begins. But definitely not where it ends. I was stunned to learn how many times “Green Rocky Road” has been covered over the years—and with timeless and poignant lyrics like “Hooka-dooka soda cracker/Does your mama chew tobacco?” one can understand why. The tune’s most recent iteration came just this year, landing on Van Morrison’s latest record, Moving On Skiffle. At over nine minutes and scaffolded by haunting violin, this version comes closest to matching the other-worldly feel of the Pappalardi/Creation arrangement.
There are so many great versions of the song. There’s Bria Salmena’s 2021 slow-burning, twangy, sultry version.
There’s Bonnie Light Horseman’s down home version from 2020.
Also of note is Oscar Isaac’s 2014 version from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack, which hews most closely to Van Ronk’s version. Not surprising since the film was loosely based on Van Ronk's life.
Emmylou Harris recorded a beautiful version in 1998 with Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
I could continue, but I think you get the point (and I need to break away to watch my fantasy football team implode in the playoffs). Thanks for descending down the rabbit holes with me. I hope one of these versions of “Green Rocky Road” takes you to a happy place.