Stay Ahead of the Wolf

by Driftwood Soldier

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All of my friends are falling like leaves off of branches I thought could sustain them ‘til I was stronger. I was misled by the stories I’d read about backs bearing burdens no branch ever bore. I have a back some have said was unbreakable, it’s just a back not yet broken down. All of my friends are like backroads that lead to dead ends, they’re no good if you’re headed to New York or Nashville. But I don’t mind being where nobody else is and I don’t mind taking the long way around. I am the long way around other people but I’m still some distance from being broke down. All of my friends are like carousel horses. They’re riding so high, but they always come down. Spinning in circles with bi-polar horses ts one way to keep your ambitions unwound. I am a merry-go-round in a long line of carnival rides not quite yet broken down. All of my friends use them big bathroom stalls with a hook on the back of the door for your coat. Soon as that door locks nobody can harm you, just that four foot by eight foot, by needle, by spoon. I am a big bathroom stall in a train station trying to protect you even broke down. I am a big bathroom stall in a train station trying to protect you, even when I’m broken down.
I knew a man who owed some money to a man who owed some money to a man, wasn’t no kind of person at all. Called himself Wells, last name Fargo. He had a place South of Key Largo, just a PO Box and an axe waiting to fall. You’ve gotta stay ahead of the wolf. St. Peter had a notion to go walking on the ocean, wasn’t no surprise he sank like a rock. So when all the sheep and all the people went running to the steeple they found the shepherd and he was preying on the flock. You’ve gotta stay ahead of the wolf. Well we all know you’re an artist, an authentic auteur, with your turntables, Medicaid and Bota Box of wine. But all your editors and your creditors are waiting in the wings to see what their little canary is gonna dig up in the mine. You’ve gotta stay ahead of the wolf. You wanna stay. You better run. You wanna stay. You better run. I don’t make the rules, try not to follow them. I don’t make no money, most of the time I don’t make no sense. But when the wolf in the east pasture and the wolf in the west pasture it won’t save you to sit up on your fence. You’ve gotta stay ahead of the wolf.
John Henry 03:48
John Henry was a little child of four sitting on his loving daddy’s knee. He picked up a hammer and he tossed it to the floor saying, “this here hammer should have set me free Lord, Lord but them businessmen gonna be the death of me.” “John” said the Captain, “you’re a wonder to behold, you’re fast and fit and stronger than a bull. I give you ten cents more, ‘cause you do the work of four. It’s boys like you that keep my pockets full Lord, Lord and my pockets are overflowing they’re so full.” “But John there’s a man with a steam drill in town and it doesn’t need to eat or drink or rest. Before they go and invest in it, the company wants me testing it by racing it against my very best Lord, Lord, John I do believe you are my very best.” “Well Captain,” said John, “I got a wife and a child and I surely can’t afford to be replaced. I ain’t flattered or amused at the way I’m being used, but I’ll lose my job if I don’t win this race Lord, Lord life is hard for a poor man of my race.” “So go get me my oak-handled twelve pound sledge and a shaker who knows how to sing. Go get my two quart canteen and your God-damned machine and I’ll show you how a desperate man swings Lord, Lord, this whole world’s gonna hear my cold steel ring.” There was fire on the mountain. There was thunder in the sky. The earth shook and a crowd began to form. The wind bent the trees, brought the people to their knees. There’s a man at the center of that storm Lord, Lord, there’s a man at the center of that storm. His canteen was empty. That oak handle’d split. His shaker was gasping for air. But when the smoke and dust all cleared, the crowd began to cheer. John Henry beat that steam drill and fair Lord, Lord John Henry beat that steam drill and fair. The Captain said, “I confess I’m impressed, but then I did say you was the best. It’s too bad these other drivers ain’t half as strong. None of them have got the skills to join my brand new crew of drills. They’re gonna have to pack their bags and move along Lord, Lord, it’ll just be John and them drills from now on.” Well his back was wide as a railroad track, each arm was like a cross cut tie. But his heart was a heart just like any man’s heart. You break a man’s heart and he dies Lord, Lord, you break any man’s heart and he dies. They buried John Henry not four feet from where he fell. They laid his hammer down at his side. “Wasn’t that steam drill killed my man, “ said his good woman Polly Ann. “It’s them greedy sons of bitches took my husband from my side. Their greed’s the only reason that he died.” I ain’t as strong as John Henry was and the truth is ain’t never gonna be. But long as they keep on building tracks on the backs of the poor black sons and daughters... Muddy Water’s said it, Huddie Ledbetter said it, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Mavis Staples said it, I sure won’t forget it. I sure won’t forget it. I’m gonna swing this hammer, gonna swing this little mando-hammer. I’m gonna swing this hammer, swing this mando-hammer, swing this hardwood, steel string, baby sledgehammer ‘til those people killed John Henry come for me Lord, Lord I said those people killed John Henry gonna have to come kill me, ‘til those people killed John Henry come for me.
Put Me Down 04:20
You found me living from a suitcase, boiling coffee on the stovetop in a pan. I was a little too good for the workplace. A little too quick with a bad plan. I’ve always been an easy mark for razor-tongued women with good tattoos. They pick me up after dark. They put me down whenever they choose. Put me down. The handle on that suitcase broke. I got myself a second pair of pants. You had script added to your left shoulder-piece that said, “Never leave anything to chance.” Everything I’ve ever left, I left for the chance of something new. I would have said the only way to hold me down was to run me through. Hold me down. And if I’d had friends back then it’s hard to say what they’d have said. Maybe whichever which way a river runs or bends it always lies back down in its river bed. And it don’t matter what his collar says, a dog’s gonna go back to the door where he’s been fed. And it’s the ones who say they love you most that throw you down in the earth after you’re dead. Throw you down. Beauty looks a lot like pain when it’s newborn. Anger looks a lot like shame when it’s been worn down to the nubs, down to the stubs, down to the get down, stay down, on your hands and knees rubbed raw by the twenty-five grit sandpaper jaws of a love you heard all about but never saw-blades can’t cut you if you both stand still. A shark that don’t move dies, but it don’t kill. I think it’s my turn to stay put and drown. I’d rather breathe saltwater than let you down. Let you down. You let me down.
Sunnyside 04:48
I was sitting on the barstool that fits me best dreaming of a place I’ve never been. Where the best of all intentions lounge around a poolside Tiki bar chatting with the wages of Sin. And the bartender, whose name I really should know, said to me, “Sam, today must be your lucky day, ‘cause that piece of work that just walked in would like to sponsor your next drink. and I’ll get it for you, but I got one thing to say.” “You can’t always walk on the sunny side of the street. Don’t you pick up every penny that you see. We’re all just animals, trying our damndest to survive. Just cause you ain’t paid yet, don’t make it free.” I said, “That’s nice, in a fortune cookie kind of way. I’ll have a splash of soda and a triple pour of gin.” He said, “Some people don’t know when to stop, but I see that you know right where to begin.” Now with my drink in hand I went to find my patroness. She was sitting in a booth all by herself. I said, “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this distinct pleasure but I’d like to drink this drink to your good health.” “I don’t always walk on the sunny side of the street. I don’t pick up every penny that I see. But I’m an animal, trying my damndest to survive, and I appreciate your generosity.” She said, “Appreciation’s fine if you’re in finance, but I had something more corporeal in mind, ‘cause they don’t make men like you on no factory line. You must have grown big as you are on a crawling melon vine. I’ve got a whole bottle of what you’re drinking, and it’s within easy reach of my bed. If I’ve learned one thing this whole time I’ve been living,” she lit half a cigarette and said, “You’ve got to always walk on the sunny side of the street. You’ve got to pick up every penny that you see. We’re all just animals, trying our damndest to survive. You’ve got to take every opportunity.” I said, “That metaphor’s getting downright ubiquitous... Anyhow I’m not categorically opposed to quick seduction, and you seem to have a hunger that could match my thirst, but even my little low standards of loving call for an introduction first. She had a leopard print top and a snake skin purse. She was pretty like a jackal, and she said her name just like a curse. When I woke up the next morning I wasn’t me anymore. The man I’ve always known just wasn’t there. She turned me inside out, and what I saw terrified me. She showed me a cabinet of dreams and it was bare. I went back to that spot every God-damn day. They gave me work just so I could pay my tab. And now I stand behind the bar watching all the happy people, like rats who think they own the lab. I try to warn them, at least the ones that tip me well, I tell them any minute she might reappear. I try to teach them what Delilah taught me so hard. Some few listen, none of them hear, when I say, “You can’t always walk on the sunny side of the street. Don’t you pick up every penny that you see. We’re all just animals, trying our damndest to survive. Just cause you sell yourself for nothing don’t make you free.”
Marietta 03:52
Wyoming is big as a mother’s embrace. I fell into her arms like an angel from grace. Like an angel asleep at the wheel of his Ford, pulled living from the wreckage by the mercy of the Lord. When I woke up they gave me my savior’s address. I stopped in to visit and to give her my best before catching a bus to some better luck town. She said “Won’t you come in, my man’s not around.” Thirty years old I’m still no good at folding. I call every hand with whatever I’m holding. She raised me her skirt and I bet all I could. There’s some days I wish that I had misunderstood. It’s most days I wish that I had misunderstood. That first week, it slipped on into three or four. I took what she offered and I never got more than a single small smile, her hand on my chest. Just the silence that is spoken by the damned and the blessed. All I know anyway’s what I’ve been told. What do I care if the glue doesn’t hold on that broken down wreck of a man that she keeps. In a bedroom where only her memories sleep. Well I don’t recollect why I left when I did. It was like being back in that slow motion skid. Marietta’s as fixed as a tongue in a groove. You could uproot a mountain and she’d still be unmoved. I wasn’t lying, when I told her I wasn’t trying to stay I just wanted to hold her. It’s not in my nature to get on my knees. I’m leaving Marietta, you can do as you please. Farewell Marietta, you’re gonna do as you please. Some stories out there don’t wanna be told. They slip through your fingers, when you try to hold them. Like a portrait erasing itself as it’s drawn, or like Marietta, here and then gone.
You paid sapphires to the swine with your chalices of wine and your niece who wears your dreams just like a crown. All that power has escaped you though you toiled all the day through for the promise of a hummer and a pound. I don’t know what to do for you. I could draw you a picture of the world, and it’s true I could have loved you, but your dreams are on fire and your prophet is a banker and a liar. If their money won’t fulfill you there are medicines that will do all the thinking for you so you can relax. The poison piss of easy living full of shit and unforgiving to the poor who rest your burdens on their backs.
If I had slept last night, I wouldn’t be so tired right now. If I wasn’t so sad, I wouldn’t be this blue. If you hadn’t left, I swear you’d be here right now. If you were here, I wouldn’t be missing you. If you were here, I wouldn’t be missing you. If you were here, I wouldn’t be blue. If there’s a heaven above, I wouldn’t be so scared all the time. If there’s a hell below, I’ll be headed there soon. If I could read music, I wouldn’t have to write my own songs. And if you were here, I’d be singing a different tune. If you were here, I’d be singing a different tune. If you were here, I’d be singing in tune. Now, if I got a job, I’d have probably have money and then all of the things that money can buy. But nothing would bring that sweet satisfaction that hasn’t been mine since you said goodbye. It hasn’t been mine since you said goodbye. That sweet satisfaction that money can’t buy. If I had wings, I’m sure I’d use them and I wouldn’t pay nothing on diesel or tolls. Just riding around on any wind that would move me, and I’d never grow weary, I’d never grow old. I’d never grow weary and I’d never grow old and I’d never pay none of them Delaware tolls. Now if I had luck, I’m sure I’d be luckier. And if I had company, I wouldn’t be so alone. And if it’s not obvious, it might be hard to see, but I wish you’d come home, I wish you’d come home. Honey come home, baby come home. If it’s not obvious, I wish you’d come home.
There’s a mile full of mud where the river slows down. Get you a bottle of brackish water and seven shots of Crown. Open up that river mouth and pour it all down. Wake up silty and guilty on the other side of town. There’s a mile full of mud where she runs wide and slow, and a hole where old man Catfish has been known to go when it’s raining or shining, when he’s joyful or grieving. He grown big as a bus on a fat world’s leavings. Blowing smoky bubbles from a life full of trouble. He done shook down his own mountain and crawled out of the rubble Well they call my old man The Catfish. He got whiskers long as a cottonmouth tail. Skin as smooth as a grifter and a stomach full of sorrow, break a highway scale. Mama, scare your children with The Catfish. Use his blues to put that fear in little Jack. Think you know all about The Catfish? Got you looking down your nose thinking Jesus got your back. Well, enjoy your wings while that river runs slow. Polish your precious possessions and your purchased halo, ‘cause they gonna drag you under when that bank starts to flood. Down to the cold, cold bottom and that three feet of mud. And the last thing you’ll see as your soul sinks in is that old whiskery smile, that old catfish grin.
When It Ends 05:09
So you left me at the table long after all your friends had gone. Told me not to leave ‘til I was able to distinguish right from wrong. I know I know those definitions. They’re resting at my fingertips. They make you shudder and your breath escapes out of your barely parted lips. When it ends, let it end without me noticing. Let me come back in the room expecting one more dance. Only to find myself alone and in bad company, waltzing to the strains of a strained romance. I won’t be sober, but I’ll sure be coming down fast. I’ve never been so high, you couldn’t lay me low. And if the best of me gets bent in that plummeting descent it won’t be me who lets you know. I don’t suppose I’ll be beatified. It’s safe to say the sainthood’s out of reach. How can practice make you perfect if perfection’s what you preach? That double standard never bothered me until you grabbed me by the throat and made me swallow all the platitudes I’d added to the histories our younger bodies wrote. When it’s over, promise me you’ll overcome all my objections. You do that more easily than anyone I know. Like the time I told you, “Honey, I’ve forgotten how to love you,” when the house lights had come up at the midnight show and you told me it was only intermission. The second act would amaze me, we should stick around. So I sat there through the cheering and the bowing and the leaving, but the lights never came back down. Now every time I tell a story it’s like another pane of glass slips on down between tomorrow and my half remembered past. And every time that story widens another lover’s shining eyes, I watch the actor who has played me so many times before slip deeper into his disguise. When it’s done, please let me be done with all my dissembling. Give me back my motivation and my unaffected smile. On the oh-so pleasant path down to perdition we gathered together two-by-two but left in single file. (File) me under whatever classification lets you rest easy. I’ll answer to whatever names you call. Liar, confessor, believer, transgressor, oh, mi amor. I’ve answered to them all The year’s over in December, but it never seems to stop. The sky’s a final curtain that never seems to drop. Our kitchen clock is just a circle, which makes it easy to pretend that they day on which we first fell in love has yet to end.
Topeka 02:56
In the alley behind my house lives a three legged dog named Topeka. He found me doing damage to a half a pint of rum from Costa Rica. He said, “I hate to interrupt a man so evidently enjoying his libation, but I come to bring you news of an impending violent confrontation. You see there’s a man with a grudge and a badge and a gun. And a witness who will say you shot some mother’s favorite son. Now a man ain’t a dog and a jail ain’t a pound but a cage is a cage is a cage when it goes down.” I said, “Topeka, what you say is unexpected, and might I add, somewhat alarming. Every indication’s been that law enforcement’s always found me charming. I demand to know the source of these slanderous fabrications regarding my relations with practitioners of the piggly-wiggley vocation. To put it bluntly though I’m drinking I think you’re the one who’s drunk. You’ve confused this righteous individual with some young strung-out punk. I don’t want to hear from other sources you’ve been spreading this around. It don’t take two kicks to knock a three-legged dog down.” He said, “Charm’s a dangerous weapon in the hands of politicians, priests, and lechers. This time you may have charmed yourself a ticket to a paramedic’s stretcher. You see that woman you seduced and then abandoned with habitual unkindness was bound in holy matrimony to a member of our city’s finest. Now you might have been a martyr if your manner had been meek but you kowtowed to tyrants and bullied the weak. I don’t give a damn if you swim or you drown just as long as they say you was warned when it went down.” I said, “Topeka hear me out now I was hasty with my threats. Topeka listen to me, please, you know I always pay my debts. I need a favor from that friend of yours, and I need it in a hurry. That man’ll shoot me where I stand, you know I’ll never see a jury. Never ever have a chance to plead my case before my peers, there’s no justice in this world, only misery and tears.” He didn’t have to lift a leg to drench my shoes. He said, “I miss my fourth foot, but I won’t miss you. If you don’t stand for nothin’, sit your ass on the ground, but don’t you come crawling to me when it goes down.”
Blue Way 02:38
If I was a sailor I would sail right past you. All the chords aboard my ship tying me to the mast, you couldn’t tear me away. Eyes fixed forward blindly, still I glance behind me in a blue way. If I was a jailor, I would hesitate to keep you. I’d leave your cell door open, afraid that in your sleep you would dream me away. Leave me chasing traces of once-welcome embraces in a blue way. If I was a tailor, I would sew myself a future. Free from all your tangles, I’d tear out all the sutures that made my edges fray. Dress myself in hues to match my fading bruises in a blue way. If I was a soldier, I’d soldier on without you. If I was a poet, I’d never rhyme about you. Never write you, never read you, I said honey I don’t need you, it’s all over and I’m OK. Better weather’s here, the sky is clear, in a blue way.


Stay Ahead of the Wolf is the second full-length album from West Philly mandolin-bass gutterfolk duo Driftwood Soldier.


released October 18, 2019

Driftwood Soldier is:
Owen Lyman-Schmidt: Vocals, Mandolin, Suitcase, License Plate
Bobby Szafranski: Bass Guitar, Bottle Caps

All songs written by Owen Lyman-Schmidt, except 'Banker and a Liar' written by Greg Cartwright.
All songs arranged and performed by Driftwood Soldier.

Additional Instrumentation:
Katy Otto: Drums on 'Put Me Down,' 'Marietta,' 'Old Man Catfish,' and 'When It Ends'
Eric Sherman: Trumpet on 'You Gotta Stay' and 'Sunnyside'
Matt Heckler: Fiddle on 'All My Friends' and 'Banker and a Liar,' Banjo on 'All My Friends'
Caitlin Quigley: Backing vocals on 'Put Me Down,' 'Marietta,' and 'Banker and a Liar'
Jacob Brunner: Piano on 'Blue Way'

Produced by Driftwood Soldier with Erin McKeown
Recorded by Alex Santilli and Eric Bogacz at Spice House Sound in Philadelphia, PA
Mixed by Ted Hutt and Ryan Mall at Kingsize Soundlabs in Eagle Rock, CA
Mastered by Ryan Schwabe


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Driftwood Soldier Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Driftwood Soldier is no average mandolin-bass foot-stomping gutter-folk duo.

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