Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods [Version (a)]:
Fourteen rivers, fourteen floods
Bend your body to the heavens above
Don't get drunk, don't get dry
Just bring your money next Saturday night
Fourteen miles on the Tanton trail
With a half-dead mule and nothing on my mind
All my life, I been talking fast
Taking all the things that I should've let pass
Throw my hat on a coffin nail
Put another brick in the fireplace
Well I don't know about you or me
But someone got loose back in the town
Once on one of his KCRW appearences, Beck performed an unreleased blues song we know as "Feel the Strain of Sorrow
" (and later as "Woe On Me"). The first line of that song is "a first line of "On the old forgotten crossways where the fourteen rivers did meet." Beck said that the song was part "of a series of songs about this character that lived a hundred years ago."
It only stand to reason then, that "Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods," one of the more pure blues songs Beck has ever written, was a part of this series as well.
Both songs certainly sound like they are tapping into something older, and envision an ancient blues landscape. I've tried to research into the "fourteen rivers, fourteen floods" idea, whether that showed up in older blues songs, but it appears to be original. Fourteen is surely quite a few rivers! It gives the myth a slightly fantastic feel.
(Also, I am unable to locate an actual "Tanton trail.")
Anyway, regardless, Beck's ramshackle guitar-playing is still some of the most effective he's ever put to tape. And the song itself is terrific: a little blues tale about disasters, escape, vagabond life.
Played live 19 times:
February 24, 2002August 17, 2002August 20, 2002April 24, 2003April 27, 2003April 28, 2003May 1, 2003July 26, 2013July 27, 2013July 28, 2013
...and 9 more
Earliest known live version: February 24, 2002
Latest known live version: January 7, 2017
The first live version of the song I am aware of didn't come until February 24 2002. It was a two-man arrangement, with Beck on acoustic guitar and Smokey on slide guitar. They've done a number of blues duets over the years. Pretty cool addition to the setlist!
This arrangement showed up a couple of times Beck & Smokey's two-man tour in August 2002, as well. Before one of them, on August 17, Beck said "I don't think I've ever played this live" even though he reportedly played it a week before. And how could he forget that February jam? I know too much, don't I? Anyway, it's pretty freaking cool to hear it live, it's an authentic slow blues stomp. Beck plays harmonica and does a bunch of blues "whoo!"s, and Smokey's always a great blues slide guitarist. Beck sings "dead-end" trail in the second verse, and the very last line is "somebody got 'fraid / they're never coming back."
On August 20 2002, Beck tossed a bit of "One Foot in the Grave
" on to the end of the song.
It made a few more appearances during Beck's solo Europe tour of 2003 also.
Then kind of incredibly, 10 years later, in 2013, not only did "Fourteen Rivers" make a return to setlists, but in many ways it was the showstopper highlight of the shows. No kidding!
The blues stomp duets of 2002-2003 were expanded into a full band acoustic blues take. It started out drumless, at some band shows they did without a drummer; but even when Joey was there, they did the song this way. He only added to the amazing performances. So authentic and brilliant and amazing how Beck can find such life in such an old song.
In between the 2013 shows, there were the noteworthy Station To Station versions of the song; which I won't lie, are up there in the greatest things I've ever heard Beck do. He took the acoustic blues stomp, added pounding drums, and even more amazingly, a gospel choir. The choir sang throughout his Station To Station sets, but it was on "Fourteen Rivers" that Beck let them loose. Beautiful.