David Kimberling
David Kimberling

Poppa John

Writer: Mark Bittner
Mark Bittner: vocal, acoustic rhythm guitar, keyboard
David Kimberling: trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone horn
Peter Lacques: harmonica
Joe Kyle Jr: bass
Bruce Kaphan: percussion

Its Inclusion

I wrote “Poppa John” when I was 17 on the island of Hydra in Greece. I describe the creation of the song in a section of my book that deals with the beginning of my journey out into the world in pursuit of my dream of becoming a singer-songwriter. An allegory about how people who try to do good are targeted by people in power, it was based on a real situation that I knew.

The Recording

I wrote Poppa John as a quiet, finger-picked folk blues. I quit finger picking soon after, moving toward a harder, flat-pick style. Out of practice as a finger picker, and never having developed a voice for quiet songs, I adapted the guitar part—played it with a flat pick, added a couple of passing chords, and changed it to a higher key. Poppa John was one of the first songs we recorded, when the idea was still to use just voice and guitar. It was with this song that the concept for the album began to change. I wanted “Poppa John” to have a chunkier bottom, and had an idea for an electric piano part, which Bruce allowed me to add. David Kimberling is a friend who plays horn in some street bands. Still operating under the notion of keeping the music “street,” I thought it appropriate to have him play on “Poppa John.” He recorded three parts—trumpet, flugelhorn, and baritone—without referencing what he’d improvised on any previous take. He listened only to my voice, guitar, and piano, creating a wonderful, New Orleans-type crisscrossing of lines. Later, we added tambourine, harmonica, and upright bass.

Click here to see Judy Irving’s music video of the song.