“Like so many of my artist friends,” says guitarist and producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, “the event of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe left me literally stuck at home. All of the gigs I had, all of my friends’ gigs, all of the gigs for the bands I work with as a producer and all of the bands’ gigs that I like to go see have been wiped clean from our calendars.
“The pandemic has me home listening to good music,” he added.
Ambel contributes to NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series a fine, never-been-released rendition of “Diamond,” which was written by Peter Holsapple of The dB’s and recorded by The Golden Palominos in 1986. His bluesy shredding, recorded at his home in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, is a treat and a welcome relief from Anderson Cooper’s reports of the rising coronavirus death toll. Ambel hasn’t been to his studio — Cowboy Technical Services in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — since March 10, but has been very active creating and listening to music.
He sings in “Diamond”:
They say the diamond is the hardest surface known
But the man who said that must have lived alone
I’m only human, I can only stand so much.
A diamond says “I love you” in a very special way
Love deserves a diamond, but someone’s got to pay
I’m only human, I can only stand so much
The singer seems isolated (he has developed a hard surface, like a diamond) and overwhelmed (“I can only stand so much”). Though Ambel’s submission of the song was based on other factors, he admits that “the chorus is pretty universal for now, that’s for sure.
“I was looking at Facebook and my friend Chip Robinson posted a song that my other friend Peter Holsapple had written being performed by The Golden Palominos, sung by Syd Straw, called ‘Diamond.’ I always loved Peter’s song. Back around that Golden Palominos time I played quite a few duo gigs with Syd Straw and I had worked up a version of ‘Diamond’ in an open tuning so we could do it with just her lovely voice and my noisy guitar.”
He added: “So Chip posting the song during the pandemic had me reaching for the guitar to mess with it, thinking about the version I used to do with Syd. Just before the lockdown, Cowboy Technical had bought a couple nice acoustic guitars to leave at the studio in case somebody needed one. One of the two new Recording King guitars made it home with me so I could play with it a little and has ended up being quite the companion during our shut-in time. The Recording King 000 Torrefied is what I’m playing. Sometimes it’s really just about picking up the guitar.”
The lyrics may be relevant to current events, he says, but “sometimes a song is just a song and that’s the beauty. The beauty for me was that Chip posted it and it jogged my brain, thinking of all my musical friends, and it had me playing the song around the house for a week.”
Holsapple, who remembers trying to write the song as “some sort of off-kilter blues,” says he is “honored and flattered to have my song done by Eric. He’s been my friend for 40 years, and I’m a big fan of his playing and his singing. He was around for the early days of the song, before the Golden Palominos recorded it, so he has done it in the tempo/rhythm of the original. I hope your series listeners love it as much as I did!”
“Diamond” has been performed by several groups. The Golden Palominos version, featuring Straw’s vocals, is embedded below.
I asked Ambel how he is breaking social isolation and keeping music alive. “I’m locked out of my recording studio … by the state,” he said. “I’ve been home, but I have been pretty busy. Around the New Year, I tasked myself with upgrading our home recording setup and that has turned out to be pretty invaluable right now as I’m working on music with a variety of people, including making an album for June Star leader Andrew Grimm, doing some songwriting with Sarah Borges, playing guitar on tracks for Jimbo Mathus in addition to recording his song, ‘Rona Defender,’ here at home with my wife Mary Lee Kortes.
“All this work is being done remotely, but it keeps us all connected. I also have participated in one live streaming event so far for the folks at Americana Highways where I performed songs by some of the bands I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the years.”
A founding member of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and The Del-Lords, Ambel also has produced The Bottle Rockets, Freedy Johnston, Blue Mountain, Nils Lofgren, Spanking Charlene and the Emily Duff Band.
He toured and recorded for five years as a part of Steve Earle & the Dukes, and played and sang on Earle’s 2005 Grammy Award winning album, The Revolution Starts Now.
He co-owned the Lakeside Lounge with Jim Marshall in the East Village for 16 years and has owned Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig with Tim Hatfield for 20.
He has released five solo albums under his name. During the pandemic, in addition to doing work for clients from his home studio, he has been releasing songs at Bandcamp for his Shut In Singles series.
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
We encourage artists to email us submissions (newly recorded, if possible) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include links to sites such as Patreon and Venmo. Readers can also make suggestions via that email address.
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