Photo by Tim Eagan
Photo by Tim Eagan

Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)
Writer: Van Morrison
Mark Bittner: vocal, acoustic guitar
Peter Lacques: harmonica
Bruce Kaphan: tambourine
Michael Stone: voice of the harmonica player
Adam Raskin: voice of the passerby

Mark Bittner & Crowd
Mark Bittner & Crowd

When I returned home from Europe, my intention was to hit the ground running—write songs, perform, and grow, grow, grow. Instead, I got caught in a bog for three years. I became too confused to know what I believed about anything and quit writing. So I made a study of other singers and songwriters. I quit being a gentle folk singer and started working toward a harder street style. When I turned 21, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, determined to make it. Taking a cue from Edith Piaf, I decided I would work my way up from the bottom (the street) to the top (night clubs, albums, theaters and…who knows?). To fulfill my plan I started singing on the street in Berkeley. My opening number was nearly always the energetic, up tempo Van Morrison song, “Jackie Wilson Said.” The song makes frequent appearances in my book. I always pushed the guitar and vocal as hard as I could, going high up in my range. You have to do that on the street to get the attention of passersby, but I was into singing like that anyway.

This was one song that couldn’t be dressed up in a lot of production, so all I added to my guitar and voice was a harmonica (referencing the horn section on the original recording), played by Peter Lacques, and tambourine, played by Bruce Kaphan. There was some production, though. Bruce and I and a couple of voice actors (Adam Raskin and Michael Stone) created a little street vignette in the studio. As a street singer, I had to deal with a constant stream of harmonica players who wanted to jam. Some were good, some could barely play at all. On the recording I have some interaction with the guy before we start. We created a street environment with added street noise, which Bruce did a great job on. There are some subtle things going on that are quite funny. The biggest difficulty in doing “Jackie Wilson Said” was recreating the hard-charging performance of my youth. I hadn’t done that in decades. I wasn’t going through the daily fever of striving to make it while singing on the street, and I’d lost a lot of my upper range. For months I worked on getting enough back that I could sing this song again. I think I succeeded.