Paul Simon scored a worldwide hit with his 1986 album Graceland , winning the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1987. The title track from that album, and the song that Simon has called the best he’s ever written, also won Best Record of the Year in 1988. He did it by collaborating with musicians and songwriters from all over the place: African musicians like the Boyoyo Boys, Juluka and Ladysmith Black Mombazo, as well as the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos closer to home.
And while the music on the album is a mash-up of different styles (World-beat, Zydeco, rock, a cappella, etc.) the lyrics are generally Simon’s own- with one exception I uncovered recently. Here’s how Simon begins the title track, “Graceland:”
“The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar”
Great imagery, right? Now here is a passage describing a train ride through the Mississippi Delta from Eudora Welty’s 1946 novel Delta Wedding :
“The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragon fly. It seemed strummed, as though it were an instrument and something had touched it.”
Ms. Welty is not credited on the album, but we were able to dig up the intriguing jam-session photograph you see above. It’s interesting that she was not asked to add her own vocal skills to the final cut of the record.