Archive for the ‘1960’ Category

Wandering Around

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 17, 2009

Wandering the upper levels of the cable offerings last evening, I happened upon a boxing match on one of the premium channels. I’ve never watched a lot of boxing, but when I come across it by accident, I sometimes watch for a few minutes. I did so last evening, and I got to thinking about a time when boxing was on network television on a regular basis.

The program I recall was The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, airing Friday evenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or so my memory told me. I didn’t really watch the show, but I sure remembered the theme song. Here’s a long instrumental version of the theme song that’s been used – for some reason – as a background for video of penguins. Here’s the theme – titled “Look Sharp – Be Sharp (Gillette March)” – as recorded in 1954 by the Boston Pops:

So, thinking about The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, I wandered over to Wikipedia, where I read that the show had run on Friday evenings into 1960 on NBC and had then moved to ABC. That made sense: I have vague memories of the show on NBC, but I also remember seeing prime-time boxing on KMSP, which was at the time ABC’s affiliate in the Twin Cities. (Watching shows on KMSP was sometimes an iffy proposition, as the station distinguished itself during the years of roof-top antennas by having the weakest signal of all four commercial stations in the Twin Cities.)

Wandering further into the topic, I checked the 1960-61 prime time TV schedule at Wikipedia and found no listing on ABC for The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Digging around a bit, I learned that ABC moved the show to Saturdays and renamed it Fight of the Week. Having resolved that, I spent some time looking at the prime time television schedules for 1959-60 and 1960-61.

And I found that fascinating, a real memory trip: National Velvet, The Red Skelton Show, Sugarfoot, Hong Kong, 77 Sunset Strip, Law of the Plainsman, Hawaiian Eye and on and on. I don’t recall watching them all, but I remember the titles. Of course, I did see some of those shows. One of my favorites was 77 Sunset Strip, a show about two detectives in Los Angeles that starred, among others, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who went on to star later in the 1960s and 1970s in The F.B.I., and Ed Byrnes, whose hair-combing character, Kookie, inspired the 1959 hit, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” which Byrnes recorded with Connie Stevens. The record went to No. 4. Here are Byrnes and Stevens during an appearance on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show from April 4, 1959 (not American Bandstand, as I originally guessed).

We’ve wandered a little afield here. I’m sure I didn’t see that particular performance, nor did I hear the record until many years later. My interest at the time was the drama – such as it was – on 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 into 1964. Here’s a version of the theme from the show (I think it’s the original, but I’m not at all certain):

“77 Sunset Strip” written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston [1958]

And then, here’s a selection from 1960, which is the year that The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports moved from NBC to ABC:

A Six-Pack from 1960
“New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1003 [Peak: No. 6]
“Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, Decca 31141 [Peak: No. 1 in 1961]
“Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino, Imperial 5675 [Peak: No. 6]
“Theme from ‘The Apartment’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 231 [Peak: No. 10]
“Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2071 [Peak: No. 1]
“Last Date” by Floyd Cramer, RCA 7775 [Peak: No. 2]

Bonus Track
“A Fool In Love” by Ike & Tina Turner, Sue 730 [No. 20]

Well, throw in some Everly Brothers, a Johnny Horton tune, a Frankie Avalon tune, some Dion & The Belmonts, then add Elvis, Percy Faith and Connie Francis, and you’d have a pretty good idea of how 1960 sounded.

When I pulled the first six tracks to share today, I didn’t realize that all of them were Top Ten records. That tells me that radio listening might not have been as bad in 1960 as I tend to think it was. (I certainly don’t remember what pop radio sounded like in 1960; I turned seven that year, and I don’t recall listening to much of anything at all. So anything I know about music in 1960 – except for piano exercises by John W. Schaum – comes from learning about it long after the fact.) On the other hand, the year also provided listeners with “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dining and “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne, all of which went to No. 1. So call it a mixed bag.

Revised slightly on archival posting.

From The Kiddie Corner Kid

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 6, 2009

It’s a compound word and can be either an adjective or an adverb. But the actual set of words itself comes in several variations: A quick search this morning at Dictionary.com brought me a number of those variations:

Kitty-corner.
Cater-cornered.
Catty-cornered.
Kitty-cornered.

I suppose there are some variations I’ve missed, but they all mean the same, referring to two things placed diagonally. In our neighborhood on Kilian Boulevard thirty-five or more years ago, it was Rick and I who lived kitty-corner to each other. I’ve written frequently of our escapades and our explorations of music, and he’s stopped by on occasion to comment. When he does so, he calls himself the “kiddie corner kid.”

He stopped by and left a note on my New Year’s Eve post, which included my New Year’s Eve lyric, “Twelve O’Clock High.”

The kiddie corner kid wrote:

“I always thought 12 o’clock high was a Gregory Peck WWII airforce movie. Or was it Gregory Peck in that western where the train comes in at 12 o’clock high? I can’t remember, BUT Gregory seems to be intertwined in all.

“Also I have a friend that could put your words to music, he uses this old pump organ in his basement and has a great way with putting musical notes with musical words. (I just can’t make up my mind.)”

I laughed until my eyes watered, but I imagine others read the note and went “Wha?” So a brief explanation might be in order, even though explanations can water down punch lines.

As to the first paragraph, although I’ve used it sparingly in the blog – maybe twice in two years – my first name is in fact Gregory. And yeah, Twelve O’Clock High was a 1949 Air Force film starring Gregory Peck. It also was a television series that ran for three seasons on the American network ABC in the 1960s. And the western Rick referred to was in fact High Noon, but that starred Gary Cooper, not Gregory Peck. I think Rick knew that.

The first paragraph made me smile. The second dissolved me in laughter. The basement in question was at my house, and there was an old pump organ – one my father had bought from his sister – in the corner. The pedals were a little stiff and the bellows a bit wheezy, but they worked. The labels on the stop knobs were printed in a confusing font that I’d call Olde English if the words had been English. The words were Swedish, I think, although they could have been Latin. Either way, they were unintelligible for kids of fifteen. But it didn’t matter; we’d pull out a few of the stops and noodle around on the organ. And one day, we wrote a song: “Can’t Make Up My Mind.”

The music is a pretty standard three-chord romp with a few dips and stops. The lyric, well, we were fifteen, maybe sixteen. “Can’t Make Up My Mind” is the first lyric I’d ever committed to paper. It’s pretty bad.

“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Rick told me last night. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful.”

Well, we can disagree on that. I told him we did better on our next effort, a little Lightfootesque ditty called “Sunday Afternoon.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was all right.”

But with either of those songs – and the few other bits and pieces of songs we put together in those years – the product matters little. It was the process, the time spent together in common effort, that was the seed of the memories that we both cherish. “It’s funny,” he said, “the things that stick with you. I must have gone upstairs at your place for something, because I remember being on the landing, coming down the basement stairs, and hearing you in the basement, working on the song on that old organ.”

It was a good time, even if it wasn’t good music . . . yet.

A Six-Pack of Good Times
“Let The Good Times Roll” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 2047, 1960

“Old Times, Good Times” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills, 1970

“Good Times” by Shelagh McDonald from Stargazer, 1971

“For The Good Times” by Al Green from I’m Still In Love With You, 1972

“A Good Time Man Like Me Ain’t Got No Business (Singin’ The Blues)” by Jim Croce from Life & Times, 1973

“Good Times” by Chic from Risqué, 1979

A few notes:

Based solely on the catalog, “Let The Good Times Roll” was one of Ray Charles’ last singles for Atlantic before he moved to ABC-Paramount. The record didn’t make the Top 40, and it might not be in the top ten percent of Charles’ records, but a performance from Charles that’s less than stellar is, of course, better than a hell of a lot of music.

I’ve posted the Stephen Stills track at least once before, but it’s so good and happens to fit so well into today’s theme. The hit from Stephen Stills was, of course, “Love The One You’re With,” which went to No. 14 as 1970 slid into 1971. I’ve long thought that Stills should have released “Old Times Good Times,” which has Jimi Hendrix playing lead guitar, as a single. Hendrix had died only months before the album and its first single were released, and the single would have been a fitting memorial. But maybe it was too soon.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never before posted anything from Shelagh McDonald, whose story is one of the most fascinating in rock history. The owner of an achingly lovely voice, McDonald, a Scottish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, had released two albums and was on the edge of stardom in Britain when she simply disappeared in 1971. When her music was released on CD in 2005, piquing interest in her tale, she showed up one day in the offices of the Scottish Daily Mail and told her story. That story and her music – collected on Sanctuary Music’s 2005 complilation, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – are both well worth checking out.*

Al Green and Willie Mitchell in the 1970s: One sound, millions of hearts moved.

Chic’s “Good Times” was one of two things: It could have been a call to party now and forever because the world is going to hell and we’re all gonna die. Or it might have been irony, because the times – when it came out – were lots less than good. I don’t know. I likely could dig through some research and make a judgment, but that would be work. So what the hell, let’s dance as the lights fade!

*As it turns out, I had previously posted a track from Shelagh McDonald, but no more than that. I had not previously written about her fascinating story. Note added November 9, 2011.

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.

Muddy Waters At Newport, 1960

May 4, 2011

Originally posted August 9, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, a Baker’s Dozen from 1960 included the reprise of “I Got My Mojo Workin’” as performed by Muddy Waters and his band at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival.

A little bit of digging on YouTube provided the entire performance although the beginning of the reprise seems to have been edited out and an announcer talks over it, too.

Still, it’s a good clip and it gives a chance to see one of the giants of blues – indeed of American music – at his peak. Enjoy it!

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2007

Not long after I rose this morning, at about seven o’clock, someone in Clichy, France, a city of about 60,000 on the northwest edge of Paris, clicked on this blog. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon in Clichy, so it might have been someone just finishing lunch. I’ll never know.

But when that unknown resident of France clicked on the blog, it turned the counter here to 50,000. And I’d like to thank him or her as well as all of you who stop by here. I started the blog on a whim, creating a place to share music I love, and I am gratified that so many people out there – from Clichy, France, and Klagenfurt, Austria, to Yamagata, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan, and on to Warwick, Rhode Island. and Madison, Wisconsin – seem to enjoy the same music I do and seem to enjoy reading my tales.

I’d like to thank all of you who stop by. Obviously, I know who only a very few of you are, but that’s fine. It really is enough to know that the music I love and the tales I tell are circling the world.

But I thought something a little more might be in order for that unknown resident of France. No, I’m not going to lapse into French here. (Years ago, my high school French served me fairly well during five days in Paris. Well, it did except for the time in a restaurant when the waiter asked if we wanted dessert and I told him we were going to die. Nous sommes fini, I told him, saying, “We are finished,” instead of the appropriate “We have finished.” His eyes got quite wide for a moment.) Rather, I thought I would find my favorite song in French – of the maybe fifty I have – as a start to a Baker’s Dozen. I hope my unknown visitor from Clichy likes the song as much as I do.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

“Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf, recorded in Paris November 10.

“Bye Bye Johnny” by Chuck Berry, Chess single 1754

“Late Last Night” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2171

“Ruby Baby” by Ronnie Hawkins, Roulette single 4249

“Sleepless Nights” by the Everly Brothers from It’s Everly Time

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport

“Lonesome Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker single 956

“The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein from The Magnificent Seven soundtrack

“Close To You” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke single 322

“Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1003

“Greenfields” by the Brothers Four, Columbia single 41571

“Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1762

“North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41782

With a very few exceptions, I tend to dislike most of the music that ruled the Top 40 charts during the early 1960s, and the list here reflects that. Of the thirteen acts in the above list, only two – as far as I can tell; I may have missed something — reached the Top 40 during 1960: The Brothers Four’s version of “Greenfields” was No. 2 for four weeks in the spring, and Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4 in the autumn.

A few comments about some of the songs:

The Edith Piaf performance was evidently released several times not long after it was recorded, and my uncertain reading of Ebay’s French site indicates that the EP releases came about in 1961. But the notes for Éternelle, the Piaf compilation I have, say the song was recorded in 1960, so we’ll call it a 1960 song.

Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Ruby Baby” may be backed by at least some of the Hawks who went on to become The Band. The time is right, generally, and I swear I hear Richard Manuel’s voice among the background singers.

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” comes from the July 1960 appearance by Muddy Waters and his band at the Newport Jazz Festival. A four-minute performance of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” was so well received that after the song ended, Muddy and the band went back into it, creating the version heard here. Most blues fans think that Waters’ performance at Newport – available on a remastered CD – was among the finest of his long career.

For those of my vintage, who recall when there were commercials for cigarettes on television, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for The Magnificent Seven conjures visions of rugged cowboys herding cattle through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The song was for much of the 1960s used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes, and its genesis as the stirring theme of an iconic western movie was, alas, lost. From what I can tell, the theme wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. although there was a single released in the United Kingdom.

“North to Alaska” was one of the historical songs that Johnny Horton seemed to specialize in. He’d reached No. 1 for six weeks a year earlier with “The Battle of New Orleans.” (“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”) And in the spring of 1960, his song “Sink the Bismarck,” inspired by – but not formally connected with – the identically titled film, went to No. 3.

Every Sunday Evening: ‘Bonanza’

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 12, 2007

I didn’t watch a lot of television when I was a kid. I was – once I got to the age of six – more interested in reading or in creating my own adventures, quite often with Rick, in the playhouse of my imagination.

I did watch some, though. I do recall watching Ruff & Reddy, the first animated series developed by the team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the creators later on of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and countless other cartoon characters. I also recall watching Huckleberry Hound from the time of his first episode in 1958. The show aired weekly at 6:30 p.m. on, I think, KMSP, which would have been the ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities at the time.

Early Saturday morning was television time, too, with much of the fare being classic Warner Bros. cartoons that had originally been shown in movie theaters. Other shows I recall were Annie Oakley, a western; Sky King, a series about a rancher with his own plane, Songbird, and his perky niece, Penny; The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, another western; and a show with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing songs and riding down bad guys on their horses Trigger and Buttermilk.

Then there was Andy’s Gang, a kids’ show featuring Andy Devine, a large man with a raspy voice who’d played Jingles, the sidekick on the Wild Bill Hickok show. Andy introduced cartoons for kids, and between cartoons, dealt with interruptions from a cast that included Midnight the Cat and Tige the Dog. The most frequent interruptions, though, came from Froggy the Gremlin, a rubber character with a foghorn voice who was always up to mischief. When Andy got flustered enough with Froggy, he’d send him away in a cloud of smoke by saying, “Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy!”

One of the toys my sister and I discovered a few years ago when we helped Mom clean out the house where we grew up was a rubber Froggy the Gremlin, battered but still mostly whole. I remember playing with it, but it must have been my sister’s originally, from the time when Ed McConnell hosted the show featuring Froggy. Devine became the host in 1955 after McConnell’s death.

But for most of my childhood, the one time all four of us watched television together was Sunday evening, often with a large bowl of popcorn (actually popped in a frying pan as microwaves were only a dream and Jiffy Pop, per serving, was more expensive than buying a bag of popcorn and a bottle of oil). We’d gather in the living room at 6 on Sundays for the Walt Disney show, which went through numerous name changes over the years. The content was the same, though: nature documentaries, animated features, programming about Disneyland – the site of today’s Disney complex in Florida was still empty acreage at the time – and serialized movies.

(In 1961, which was about the time our Sunday family viewing nights started, Disney moved his show to NBC because of that network’s ability to broadcast in color. That made no difference to us. We watched on the mid-1950s Zenith until 1968, when one of my dad’s friends got a color television and gave us his old black and white set, which was still newer than our Zenith was. I’m not sure when the folks got a color television, but I know it was after I moved out in 1976.)

Anyway, we’d watch the Disney show together, and then there was an hour that NBC filled with various situation comedies, none of which ever seemed to last very long. I recall Hazel, starring the great actress Shirley Booth in what had to be one of the low points of her career. There was Car 54, Where Are You? about two bumbling New York City cops played by Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne, the latter of whom would go on to play Herman Munster in The Munsters. There was also Grindl, a comedy that starred 1950s television genius Imogene Coca. But the comedies between 7 and 8 were for the most part something to get through.

That’s because 8 o’clock meant Bonanza, starting with the map of the Ponderosa bursting into flame and burning away to reveal the four Cartwrights riding their horses into the opening credits. Bonanza was our favorite show, as was the case for many American families in those years. How many? Well, the show was the top-ranked show in television from 1964 through 1967 and was in the Top Ten for many more years during its run from 1959 into 1973.

These days, watching Bonanza on TV Land or other cable channels, the stories are hokey, the scripts stilted and the production values are primitive. But forty years ago, it was good television. And the guitar twang that marked the beginning of the show’s theme song was the signal that heralded another hour of adventure for the Cartwrights and, vicariously, for us.

That’s why I’m starting today’s Baker’s Dozen of random television themes with the theme from Bonanza.

“Bonanza” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, 1959

“Perry Mason” by Fred Steiner, 1957

“Branded” by Dominic Frontiere, 1965

“Winds of War” by Robert Cobert, 1983

“Ancient Voices” (Survivor) by Russ Landau, 2000

“Mission Impossible” by Lalo Schifrin, 1966

“The Contender” by Hans Zimmer, 2005

“Dallas” by Jerrold Immel, 1978

“Mannix” by Lalo Schifrin, 1967

“Streets of San Francisco” by Patrick Williams, 1972

“The Flintstones” by Hoyt Curtin, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera, 1960

“Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, 1981

“The West Wing” by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden, 2000

I think these are all original themes with the exception of “The Winds Of War,” which is a recording by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. I’ve never seen the score to The Winds Of War on LP or CD, and it’s too lovely a piece of music to pass up.

At The Ends Of The Mississippi

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 16, 2007

In the midst of a pine forest in northern Minnesota, a trickle of water flows out of a lake and heads northeast. Most days in the summertime, folks cluster around the stream, which is less than a yard wide as it leaves the lake. Kids and some adults ford the small stream on a trail of rocks that looks too neatly spaced to be natural, the kids usually stepping gracefully from rock to rock while the adults generally look a little more awkward.

Carved into a signpost nearby is the legend: “Here, 1475 feet above the ocean, the Mississippi River begins to flow on its winding way 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.”

I would guess I was seven or so when I first saw that trickle of water heading out of Lake Itasca. I don’t recall if I tried to ford the river on the rocks. I just recall that we went to Itasca State Park as part of a summer vacation, seeing there not only the headwaters, but the small herd of bison the park kept and some artifacts from the times when the only visitors to the park’s forests and lakes were the Ojibwe. After a few days of touring in the area, we headed back to St. Cloud, where we lived no more than three blocks from the Mississippi River, and I headed to second grade at Lincoln School.

If I’m correct, and it was the summer of 1960, then that was forty-seven years ago, which sounds pretty distant as it is. But it was also long ago enough to be on the other side of a massive cultural divide, that clashing era we call the Sixties. I’ve long thought that the Sixties, as we think of them today, began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ended with the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam in 1975. Thus, even though the calendar said 1960 during that year I turned seven, I think we were still, culturally, in the Fifties.

Let’s look at the pop culture of the time, of those months that made up second grade for me:

Television shows that premiered in 1960 (likely in the fall, as almost all shows did then) were: Route 66, Sing Along With Mitch, My Three Sons, The Flintstones, The Andy Griffith Show and the first Bob Newhart Show. (I have no idea what the premise of this Newhart show was, but this was neither the psychiatrist show nor the innkeeper show; those came later.)

Also in television that year, Howdy Doody ended its thirteen-year run, and Clarabell the silent clown finally spoke, saying “Goodbye, kids!”

Popular films in 1960 included The Apartment, The Alamo, Spartacus, Exodus, The Magnificent Seven, Elmer Gantry and Where The Boys Are.

As for music, well, here’s a list of the songs that reached No. 1 during the months when I would have been occupied by the rigors of second grade:

“It’s Now Or Never” by Elvis Presley
“The Twist” by Chubby Checker
“My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own” by Connie Francis
“Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne
“Save The Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters
“I Want To Be Wanted” by Brenda Lee
“Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
“Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” by Elvis Presley
“Wonderland By Night” by Bert Kaempfert
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk
“Pony Time” by Chubby Checker
“Surrender” by Elvis Presley
“Blue Moon” by the Marcels
“Runaway” by Del Shannon
“Mother-in-Law” by Ernie K-Doe
“Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson

It’s not as grim a list as it easily could have been for the early 1960s. No Fabian, no Bobby Vinton, no Annette. And songs by Roy Orbison, the Ventures, Sam Cooke and the Miracles bubbled near the top of the Top Ten list through that winter. But so, on the other hand, did records by Floyd Cramer, Ferrante & Teicher and Kathy Young & the Innocents!

I was pretty much unaware of all of it, though “The Twist” was unavoidable. I suppose I might have heard the Bert Kaempfert single on KFAM, the more conservative of St. Cloud’s two radio stations at the time; my dad had a transistor radio at his bedside, and he turned it on for about twenty minutes each evening before retiring. And I probably heard some of the other tunes around the neighborhood as older kids listened to their radios.

One of the sounds I know I did not hear was that of Huey Smith and the Clowns, who were recording during those years of 1960 and 1961 for New Orleans’ Imperial Records, down at the other end of the river that I might have walked across and that flowed not that far from our house. Smith was only a couple of years removed from his only Top 40 hit – 1958’s “Don’t You Just Know It,” which hit No. 9 – but the four singles released during his work at Imperial didn’t touch the charts. As John Broven observes in the liner notes to The Imperial Sides, 1960-61, at the time Smith moved from his earlier label, Ace, to Imperial, “the New Orleans rhythms were changing to a funkier soul sound; somehow Huey and his group needed a rocking backbeat and a fat horn sound to bring out their very best. With Huey caught in a musical no-man’s land and with promotion lacking, the Imperial singles were commercial failures.”

Commercial failures, perhaps. Artistic failures? Not a chance.

Even as times and styles changed and Smith held to his old forms, he and the Clowns – aided by production from New Orleans’ own genius, Dave Bartholomew – recorded some nicely done bits of R&B during their Imperial sessions. The sound is very clearly that of 1950s New Orleans – not all that far from the work Bartholomew did with Fats Domino and others – and as such, the songs are echoes of a time that was passing even as they were recorded. But they still provide a mighty nice listen, because there were very few that did New Orleans R&B better.

The recordings as I present them here were released under the Imperial label on an LP pressed by Pathé Marconi in France in 1983. “Snag A Tooth Jeanie,” the two parts of “Behind The Wheel” “More Girls,” “Sassy Sara” and the incredibly titled “The Little Moron” were released on Imperial singles. The remaining cuts were recorded during the same period of 1960-61 at Cosimo’s Studio in New Orleans.
 

Track listing:
Sassy Sara
Why Did I Do (Wa-Do-Do)
Somebody Told It
More Girls
Psycho
The Little Moron
I Didn’t Do It
Behind The Wheel (Part 1)
Behind The Wheel (Part 2)
Heart Trouble (Part 1)
Snag A Tooth Jeanie
The Hill Ain’t Far
Able Mabel
I Don’t Play Like That

Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – The Imperial Sides, 1960-61 [1983]