Track 28 Topsoil Blues

topsoil 2Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded June 10, July 5, and July 14, 2016. Mixed July 14, 2016.


 Genesis: I wrote the original lyrics on September 24, 2000. In my head I heard a traditional three-chords blues progression, so I phrased the lyrics that way. I let the lyrics sit for years, until singer-songwriter-friend Jan Hauenstein asked me in early 2009 for any song lyrics he could set to music. I sent a bunch of stuff for him to review. Jan liked “Topsoil Blues” and sent me a demo recording in February of that year. Jan’s music was wonderful but it had nothing to do with American blues. I hadn’t told him any of my thoughts on the song lyrics I had sent because I wanted a fresh take on them.

The problem was that the chord progression Jan employed did not resolve properly on the last line of each verse and chorus. The music remained suspended in mid-air. Something was missing. I realized I could solve the problem by adding two more lines at the end of each stanza. For example, the last line in the original first verse was “But it’s burned into my skin.” Adding two new lines and using Jan’s music from the third and fourth line of each verse worked. A similar tweak to the chorus did the trick as well. I also cleaned up a few lines.

Jan recorded a beautiful version for his next album and he posted the recording to the Folk Alley website. Over the years thousands of people have listened to his version. I have always wanted to record my own take but I didn’t want to mimic Jan. I finally came up with an arrangement I liked. I did shorten Jan’s musical interludes just a bit but otherwise the music is all Jan’s.

Although there is agricultural imagery in the song, the “topsoil” I refer to is metaphorical. Listeners can figure out for themselves what the song conveys to them. A very open-ended lyric to my ears.

Production: Electric Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Piano, Organ, and Drums.


Topsoil Blues

I’m beginning to question

Will my crops come in?

There isn’t any sight of rain

And my topsoil’s much too thin

I should leave this place

But it’s burned into my skin

The holy ghost of order

Is my next of kin


I’m starting to consider

All my options now

I try to stay on message

But I can’t speed this plow

No one wants to listen

They know anyhow

I swore that I’d be silent

But I can’t keep that vow


The time between Natchez

And the gulf coast sand.

Could fill up a dump truck

Or a one-night stand

I can see your lips are moving

But I don’t understand

You speak a long dead language

In this no-man’s land


I’m going to the pay phone

Try to make a line

I should get me a tattoo

Not the homemade kind

You can’t erase the past

Unless you hit rewind

So many broken borders

In this state of mind


I used to have nightmares

That would come and go

Now they’re circling over Texas

In a barnstorming show

It’s hard to read the wine list

When you’re eating crow

I’ll wash it down and wonder

What seeds I’ve left to sow


The time between Natchez

And the gulf coast sand.

Could fill up a dump truck

Or a one-night stand

I can see your lips are moving

But I don’t understand

You speak a long dead language

In this no-man’s land

Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved Fred Grittner & Jan Hauenstein


Track 28 Topsoil Blues

3 thoughts on “Track 28 Topsoil Blues

  1. Lovely, Fred. You know I have been hoping you´d record this one day, we have talked about it. Well worth the wait! Similar and yet you distinctly made it your very own. Sounds just great.
    For the record – the ‘suspended in mid-air’ was intentional. I relistened to my take and still think it fits the mood.
    But anyway, the changes make sense and your arrangement, playing and singing make me very happy. I thank you very much.


  2. Beautifully done. Fred. I started my morning listening to this new song and I love the melody. I then replayed it again and read the lyrics. It’ tells the story of loss, loniness and creams a very special mood. I’m adding it to my library.


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