Paul Simon’s South African Penny Whistler
Written by admin on August 2, 2018
Morris Goldberg just finished a match of tennis when he found an urgent message on his answering machine: “Paul Simon is trying to get in touch with you!” Minutes later, he heard Simon’s voice on the other end of the receiver. He needed to get to the studio immediately.
“I still had my tennis shorts on!” 81-year-old Goldberg says laughing. “I ran home, got on the subway in Queens and went straight to The Hit Factory.”
In his quest to find the proper musician, Paul Simon first contacted Robert Palmer, then chief popular music critic at The New York Times, to hunt down a penny whistler from South Africa for a track on his new album. Palmer directed Simon to Malawi folk singer-songwriter Tony Bird, who immediately referred him to Morris Goldberg. He was the perfect guy for job.
The result of the session that followed was “You Can Call Me Al,” the lead single off Simon’s critically acclaimed 1986 album, Graceland. In 1987, the album took home Album of the Year at the Grammys. In 1988, its title-track “Graceland” would win Record of the Year. Upon its release, Rolling Stone gave Graceland five stars, citing it as a triumphant foray out of pop music into the diverse musicianship of South Africa while also addressing the political implications — violating the United Nation’s cultural boycott of the country during Apartheid — of traveling and recording there.
In 2012, Rolling Stone gave Graceland position #71 on their “500 Greatest Albums of All-Time” list. But when Morris Goldberg stepped into the studio for a little bit of penny whistlin’, he had no idea what would come of the track.