Like so many of his songs, Charles wrote “Cranes of Potter” loosely based on his own experience, and a story he learned while driving through Potter Township, Pennsylvania.
According to Charles:
“A couple years back I was headed up to the studio.
I’m almost to New Brighton, Pennsylvania where the studio is and off to my left I see a skyline of cranes down by the Ohio River. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I’ve been all around the world…
There must have been 100 cranes. I get to the studio and I talk to the guys and I’m like ‘Hey guys, what’s going on down there by the river? I’ve never seen anything like it?’ It was profound. I couldn’t help but just look as far as I could until I was out of sight from it.
They said ‘Yeah, they’re building this new big cracker plant down there. They have the second biggest crane in the world there putting together all the other cranes.’
I said, ‘Well that explains it.'”
But it’s what the construction workers found during the construction that really inspired Charles to write the song:
“They said ‘Yeah, there’s this story in the paper where when they were breaking ground for it they actually found a body.’
I think everybody probably had a feeling that maybe they’d found a cold case body or something like that.
The police process it, send it back to CSI or whatever, and they get the date on the bones back and they’re like ‘This is 150 years old. We got no idea who this could be.’
And I think they could tell it was a woman. And that’s all they really knew.
The guys told me that and I thought ‘Well that’s a hell of a story there. If you find out anything else don’t tell me. I’ve got it from here.’
So I decided to call that girl Claire.”
Charles filled in the gaps and wrote a story based on that Civil War-era woman. And the result was “Cranes of Potter,” a haunting murder ballad about an unfaithful woman named Claire who’s having an affair with a Civil War soldier named Clyde, until she meets her demise at the gun of a jealous logger named Jeremiah. And Claire’s body is never found until 150 years later – beneath the cranes of Potter.
If you’re familiar with Charles’ music (and let’s be honest, you should be by now) you’re not surprised at the brilliant songwriting and storytelling in “Cranes of Potter.”
Throughout his first album, Seneca, and now his newest album, Charles has a way of putting simple moments and stories into poetry and turning that poetry into a song.
And nowhere has he done that better than on this hauntingly beautiful murder ballad.