A Baker’s Dozen From 1971, Vol. 2

Originally posted August 15, 2007

In the later months of 1971, during my freshman year at St. Cloud State, I began spending a lot of my time hanging around the studios of KVSC, the campus radio station, then only about four years old. I did odd jobs at the station and put together a five-minute sportscast three or four days a week.

At the time, the station’s programming was still classical music for much of the day, with only the evenings given up to a very loose rock format. That changed sometime in the spring of 1972, when we staff members voted overwhelmingly to rock full-time. The only impact that had on me was that I no longer had to spend three hours a week thumbing through the classical records to find pieces of the right length to fit into an afternoon’s format. (The first format I put together was one that I built around Antonín Dvorák’s “New World” symphony, one of my favorite classical pieces. The program director said okay, but pointed out to me a schedule of symphonies set to be the centerpieces of each day’s afternoon programming. I think my insertion of Antonín’s work into the schedule bumped something by Mozart off the list, but I figured Wolfgang didn’t need the exposure anyway.)

So after the revolution – our vote to move to full-time rock saddened our faculty adviser, who then left that position – I spent less time down in the programming office and more time in the studios, cataloging new records and shelving stuff that came out of the studio after being played. I still did my sportscasts. As the academic year went on, I also did some late-night newscasts and some remote broadcasts, adding my analysis to play-by-play broadcasts of Huskies’ basketball and hockey games.

But as much as I learned about news and sports operation, I learned more about music. I spent most of my free time in the studio, even when I had no tasks there, sitting with other staffers on the tattered couches in the room that passed as our lounge, listening on the monitor to the magic happening in the control room. We spent hours dissecting and passing judgment on music new and old, drawing a somewhat flexible line between what was popular and what was serious rock. There were things, we decided with our accumulated wisdom, that could be both. And even before we went to rock fulltime, we listened to rock fulltime, playing it on the turntable in Studio B and ignoring the classical music we were putting on the air from Studio A.

One afternoon, probably sometime early in 1972, I was working on my sportscast for the five o’clock news program. As Long John Baldry’s voice came from the speaker in the lounge, telling us all not to lay no boogie-woogie on the king of rock and roll, the station manager came in, visibly anxious.

“Does anybody know anything about this concert tonight in the auditorium?” she asked.

I’d seen the posters. “I think it’s a group from South Africa that uses its music to protest the apartheid system in their home country,” I said. At the time, “apartheid” was not nearly as well known – as a word or a system – as it would become. Given that, the others in the station offices stared at me, as did the manager. She asked me, “Have you ever heard their music?”

I shook my head. No, I hadn’t.

She said, “Well, don’t worry about that. After you get done with your sports at 5:30, would you hang around and interview them on the air?”

Interview? Live? My stomach clenched. “I don’t know that much about them,” I said.

“You know more than the rest of us,” she replied.

So at 5:30, when I normally would have made my way out of Stewart Hall toward my ride home, I sat nervously at a table with four members of the African musical group (I have long since forgotten the group’s name) and talked with them about their music and its origins and what they hoped to accomplish with it through their performances. If I remember accurately, the fifteen minutes ended with a brief live performance of one of their songs.

Whoever had the next shift took over after that, and the musicians left, smiling, heading for their nearby dressing room. I sat in the chair and trembled for a few minutes. The station manager told me I’d done a good job and offered a few pointers for next time. The idea that there would be a next time was reassuring.

That evening, Rick and Rob came over to play some table-top hockey, and I had the radio tuned to KVSC, as I almost always did that winter. We were between games when the program director – manning the booth that evening – ended one long set of music and prepared to begin another.

“This next one,” he said, “is for one of our staffers who did a good job in a tight spot this afternoon.” He mentioned my name and then said, “Here’s Leon Russell from The Concert for Bangladesh, ’cause I know he digs it!”

Rick and Rob stared at me, and I grinned as Leon began to pound the piano.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 2

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” by Leon Russell from The Concert for Bangladesh

“Stealin’” by Taj Mahal from Happy Just To Be Like I Am

“Future Games” by Fleetwood Mac from Future Games

“Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones from Sticky Fingers

“Rock Me On The Water” by Johnny Rivers from Home Grown

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by Undisputed Truth, Gordy single 7108

“Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who, Decca single 32888

“Out In The Cold” by Carole King from the Tapestry sessions

“Love Has Fallen On Me” by Rotary Connection from Hey Love

“Ha Ha Ha” by Sisters Love, A&M single 1325

“Gone Dead Train” by Crazy Horse from Crazy Horse

“Sing Me A Song” by Rick Nelson from Rudy the Fifth

“Watching The River Flow” by Bob Dylan, Columbia single 45409

Some notes on a few of the songs:

Leon Russell not only starts this selection – which was random after the opening tune – but he ends it as well, as he produced, and played piano on, Bob Dylan’s single “Watching The River Flow.” At the time, Leon was about as big as one could get in rock, having pretty much run Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour the year before and than getting a star turn at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in August of 1971. One of the best moments for me of the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley is the wordless call and response duet Leon gets into with, I believe, Claudia Lennear (misspelled Linnear in the album notes).

“Wild Horses” might be the prettiest song the Rolling Stones ever recorded. Being the contrarians that they are, however, it’s also one of the saddest and most desolate songs they ever put on an album.

Speaking of pretty, sad and desolate, all three adjectives apply as well to the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” Was there something in the water in 1971? More likely, there was something in the air. (With apologies to Thunderclap Newman and its 1969 hit.)

Happy Just To Be Like I Am, the album from which Taj Mahal’s “Stealin’” comes from, was one of his better explorations in roots music, as it included some forays into Caribbean rhythms as well as some of Taj’s idiosyncratic takes on the blues.

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