Photo by Tim Eagan
Photos 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

Its Inclusion

The first track, Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” was one of my main songs on the street. The recording contains two songs along with a bit of theater. “Jackie Wilson Said” is preceded by a fragment of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home,” which I thought appropriate for a project that deals with my period of homelessness. The conversation with the harmonica player illustrates a problem that street singers often have to deal with—passersby who want to jam. I was reluctant to allow it because I was hoarding my energy, trying to make a living, and they usually weren’t very good.

The Recording

While it pretends to take place on the street, the track was done entirely in the studio. I hadn’t played on the street in over 45 years, and could no longer pull off what I used to do. The one verse of “I Ain’t Got No Home” is the only example in the entire set of recordings that presents my style as a 21-year-old. I played guitar hard and sang hard, which resulted in a fair amount of sloppy playing and chronic hoarseness. To recreate my old style, Bruce recorded me from a distance in the studio on a handheld Roland R-07. “Jackie Wilson Said” was done on a high quality microphone, the guitar and voice recorded in separate takes. I asked Peter Lacques to reference, as much as practicality allowed, the horn lines on Van’s original recording. His lone harmonica does a great job at emulating an entire horn section. The street effects were added later. There are some subtle jokes in there.