From The Reading Table To Johnny Rivers

Originally posted August 27, 2007

My reading pile just gets larger and larger, as does my pile of things to listen to. We’ll talk about the listening pile another day.

Strewn across my worktable at home right now are five books: A thriller called A Necessary Evil; a combined biography of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis called Three Roads To The Alamo; a Richard Bachman book titled Blaze “discovered” recently by Stephen King; a Dean Koontz novel titled By The Light Of The Moon; and Faithful, a book about the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

I enjoy baseball history almost as much as I enjoy doing popular music history, and Faithful is the book I’m spending more time with right now. It’s a pretty good read, even though I know how it turns out: The Boston Red Sox win the World Series. And that makes the book’s existence remarkable. It was a team project from writers Stewart O’Nan (a novelist whose books I have not read, an omission I will correct soon) and Stephen King (most of whose stuff I have read many times more than once).

Their idea was to write day-by-day about the 2004 Boston Red Sox season, each of them keeping a record of their thoughts and reactions to the flow of the season. Those entries are in the book, as are occasional email exchanges between the two. Underlying the project, of course, was the sad and occasionally pathetic history of the Boston Red Sox, who had not won a World Series since 1918 but had lost four of them in the intervening years, all in seven games. Only two other teams in North American professional sports had endured longer stays in the wilderness: the Chicago White Sox, whose last title at the time of the 2004 season had been in 1917, and the Chicago Cubs, who last were Series champions in 1908. (The White Sox ended their long drought in 2005, the season following the one that O’Nan and King chronicled.)

The reader of Faithful needs, obviously, to be a baseball fan: There’s a lot of game dissection, lots of sports chat. But the reader need not be a Red Sox fan to understand the point of the book, which is that a true fan supports his team in all times, not just in the good times. In other words, a true fan remains, to use O’Nan and King’s title, faithful. As I said, one need not be a Red Sox fan to understand; I am a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and thus understand all one needs to know about enduring through fallow seasons and promises unmet.

The magic of Faithful, of course, is that O’Nan and King planned to collaborate on a book about the futility of yet another season supporting a good baseball team that once again fell short. Being Red Sox fans, they could envision nothing more, even as they hoped for a different and victorious ending. Their worst fears seemed about to come true in October when the hated New York Yankees took a three games to none lead in the second round of the playoffs.

I haven’t read that far into the book yet. I’m at mid-season, so I don’t yet know how the two writers greet the impending collapse of yet another season. Nor do I know how they react when – at the last possible moment – the Red Sox salvaged their season and went on to win eight straight games and their first World Series title in eighty-eight years.

There are sometimes rewards for being faithful.

Now, all that has nothing to do with the album I’m sharing today. I’m having such a good time reading Faithful that I wanted to write about it. And I guess that provides the most tenuous link possible: I enjoy listening to Johnny Rivers and want to share one of his albums.

The album is Slim Slo Slider, a 1970 release that continued Rivers’ string of solid albums that peaked with 1968’s Realization (which I consider one of the great forgotten albums of the rock era). Recording a mix of his own material and songs from some of the great writers and performers of the era, Rivers laid down an aural canvas of life in California – and to some degree in the entire U.S. – as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. From Changes in 1966 through Rewind (1967), Realization (1968) and Slim Slo Slider (1970) and culminating in 1971’s Home Grown, Rivers kept up an astounding level of quality, and each of those albums is worth seeking out. (He continued to record, of course, but his succeeding albums were not quite as powerful.)

(I don’t have Changes, but I’ve heard it once or twice and loved it. I found Rewind and Realization on a two-fer CD that is still available. Friends have given me rips of both Slim Slo Slider and Home Grown; they were available on a two-fer CD, but that now seems to have gone out of print.)

The highlights of Slim Slo Slider are Rivers’ takes on John Fogerty’s “Wrote A Song For Everyone,” Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia,” and Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic.” Morrison also was the source for the title track, which appears as a prologue and as the album’s closer.

As always, Rivers is backed by some of the best studio musicians of the time, including James Burton on guitar and dobro, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Jim Horn on saxophone and flute and Hal Blaine on drums.

Track list
Slim Slo Slider
Wrote A Song For Everyone
Muddy River
Rainy Night In Georgia
Brass Buttons
Glory Train
Jesus Is A Soul Man
Apple Tree
Into The Mystic
Resurrection
Enemies and Friends
Slim Slo Slider

Johnny Rivers – Slim Slo Slider [1970]

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