Archive for the ‘1969’ Category

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

Saturday Single No. 136

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 13, 2009

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the record that is today’s Saturday Single.

I used to think I knew: I was certain that the first time I heard Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” was in 1970 while I was in one of the traps at the local gun club, the semi-buried shelters where I spent four days each summer for three years.

I know I heard “Are You Ready?” while toiling at the trap shoot that year. I brought my radio every day, just like most of the other fellows who worked as “setters,” sitting in the dirty trap pits and placing targets on the whirring machines so they could be thrown into the air and then blown apart by shotgun blasts. I have a clear memory of the Pacific Gas & Electric tune coming from the speakers during one of the slow times, after one group of shooters was done and before the shooters in the next group had taken their places.

That gave me time to close my eyes and listen to the up-tempo record, to hear the background singers and the trippy guitar solo. Looking back over the years, as I’ve thought about the song, I’ve been certain that the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” was in that little pit, enduring the dust and grime and isolation for the sake of fifteen dollars a day (which was pretty good cash for a sixteen-year-old kid in 1970).

But that’s probably not the case. As I dug into the record’s history this week, I noticed that “Are You Ready?” entered the Billboard Top 40 on June 13, 1970, thirty-nine years ago next week. A week earlier, thirty-nine years ago today, it sat at No. 43 in the Billboard Hot 100. As much as I was listening to Top 40 at the time, I most likely heard the PG&E record around the beginning of June as it approached the Top 40, certainly by the middle of June, when it was climbing to its peak at No. 14.

And the state trap shoot – the only event I ever worked out at the gun club – would have taken place no earlier than July. So I likely would have heard “Are You Ready?” on my radio at home or in the car before then, and I’m not sure why that particular hearing of that particular record sticks in my mind. I mean, it was a good radio record, but then, so were a lot of tunes at that time. Just to cherry-pick a few from the Top 40 of thirty-nine years ago today:

No. 5: “Love On A Two-Way Street” by the Moments
No. 7: “Make Me Smile” by Chicago
No. 12: “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
No. 18: “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
No. 20: “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations
No. 25: “Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade
No. 34: “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin

Some of the other records surrounding these are a little lame, in retrospect – the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Going, Billy?” limps considerably, as an example – but at the time, I found Top 40 radio speaking to me in every portion of my life. And one of my favorites at the time was, in fact, “Are You Ready?” So whatever the reason, something about that moment, that playing of the record, stuck in my mind.

So when I began collecting vinyl in the late 1980s, one of the songs I wanted to find was Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” But I couldn’t find the record as I remembered it. On the group’s album – also titled Are You Ready? – the track began with a long, slow and overly dramatic introduction: “There’s rumors of war . . . men dying and women crying . . .” Eventually, the track kicked into the up-tempo song I remembered, and that was fine. But it wasn’t what I remembered from the radio.

During the late 1980s and on into the 1990s, I looked on occasion for the original. I checked out stacks of 45s at used record shops, and I grabbed every anthology I found that listed “Are You Ready?” as one of its tracks. Same thing, every time: the long version with a running time of 5:49.

Now, it’s not like finding the original “Are You Ready?” was all-consuming. It was a search that popped up now and then, and the popups came less and less frequently as time went on. A couple of weeks ago, however, caithiseach and I were talking about long-sought records, and I mentioned “Are You Ready?” and its two versions. He said he thought he had the short version, the one that got radio play, on a 45. So he brought it over the other day, and – to the dismay of both of us – it turned out to be the long version.

Casting about to determine if the short version had ever been released commercially or if it had been distributed only to radio stations, we looked on Ebay. I’d looked there at other times, but one never knows. And there we found a listing for a white-label Columbia single of “Are You Ready?” with a running time of 2:40. The price wasn’t much – $5.99 plus shipping – but there are times when patience is in short supply.

“You know who might have that?” I asked caithiseach.

He nodded. “Yah Shure,” he said.

So we sent a note to our pal Yah Shure, explaining our quest of the moment. That evening, an mp3 rip of the short version of “Are You Ready?” arrived via email.

Yah Shure wrote: “Oh yeah… ‘Are You Ready?’  That one ranked right up there with People’s ‘I Love You’ in terms of getting a much l-o-n-g-e-r 45 than what was played on the radio, with an equally s-l-o-w-w-w-w and seemingly endless intro to boot.”

He confirmed our suspicions that the DJ 45 was, in 1970, the only source of the radio edit. His copy, he said, came from “the long-out-of-print 1996 Dick Bartley Presents Collector’s Essentials: The ’70s CD on Varèse Sarabande.  This is the same CD that contained the single version of ‘One Fine Morning’ . . . It also included the DJ 45 edit of ‘Beach Baby’ by First Class, as well as the edited side of the short/long ‘Radar Love’ DJ 45.  Oh, and the 45 version of Potliquor’s ‘Cheer,’ too.  No wonder this CD now commands $30-plus on the used market.”

I may have to save my shekels and look for that CD eventually. For now, though, I’m thankful to Yah Shure for the mp3. And here’s how “Are You Ready?” sounded coming out of the radio speakers in 1970, today’s Saturday Single:

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Saturday Single No. 135

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 6, 2009

I’ve written here before about my ambivalence toward the Doors. There are times when I think the group might come close to meriting the hosannas that have been sent its way over the past forty years, and there are times when I revert to my long-term judgment that Jim Morrison and his pals made up the most over-rated band in the history of rock.

When I sit down to slice those contradictory views apart to see what I can find inside them, I find that it’s the Doors’ singles that I appreciate, for the most part. And it’s the group’s album work that I find wanting.

As to the singles, back in the summer of 1967, no one – not even a dedicated follower of trumpet music and soundtracks – could escape “Light My Fire.” And that trumpet and soundtrack lover didn’t necessarily want to. What he heard was a record with a great introduction and a generally interesting sound. (As an aside, it’s fascinating to realize that, until I began actively listening to Top 40 music in the fall of 1969, most of the records I recall hearing were summertime records like “Light My Fire.”)

What the rest of the nation heard was something more compelling: “Light My Fire” spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40 and three weeks at No. 1. Three more Doors’ singles came and went without my noticing during the school year of 1967-68; the next summer, during the first state trap shoot I worked, “Hello, I Love You” began to get airplay. I thought it was pretty good. And beyond a brief exposure to a couple tracks off of Morrison Hotel, those were the only bits of the Doors’ canon I knew until my freshman year of college started in the late summer of 1971. Then came the autumn of The Soft Parade.

During the summer, I attended an overnight orientation program aimed at helping new students find their ways around St. Cloud State’s campus. I didn’t need an orientation to learn the campus’ geography: Because my dad worked and taught there, I’d been wandering around the campus for most of my life. But I saw the overnight orientation as a way to meet friends, and in fact, I met the guys who would provide most of my social life for my freshman year. When school started, one of them – Dave – ended up paired with a roommate we’d not met, a guy named Mark.

I never did figure out which one of the two started it, but by the end of the first month of classes, the two guys were in the habit of dropping the Doors’ 1969 album, The Soft Parade, onto the turntable at least twice a day. As I – and other guys and a few gals – hung around a lot, the sounds of that album became a large part of the soundtrack of that first quarter of college. And I found a lot of it to be silly, especially the portion of “The Soft Parade” during which Jim Morrison declaims, “When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer . . . You CANNOT petition the Lord with prayer!” The song that follows is fine, but the introduction is ludicrous.

My initial reactions to “The Soft Parade” were confirmed over the years as I listened to the Doors’ other albums: As an album band, the Doors had been hugely overrated, most on the basis of Morrison’s lengthier pieces filled with mediocre poetry and over-wrought delivery. (I know there may be those out there who will want to shred me for that: Well, shred away. But it won’t change my mind or make Morrison’s long works any better.)

But the more I listened over the years, the more I liked the Doors as a singles band: “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Love Her Madly” and the long but effective “Riders On The Storm” were all good radio listening. And I found that I liked the album Morrison Hotel much better than anything else the group ever put out: Filled with concise songs, from “Roadhouse Blues,” the kick-ass opener, through the ethereal “Blue Sunday” and “Indian Summer” to the grunting and rocking closer, “Maggie McGill,” it was a very good – maybe even great – album.

For good or ill, though, when I hear the Doors mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is The Soft Parade and the sight of my pal Dave posing and lip-synching his way through “Wild Child” or “The Soft Parade.” It’s a tolerable memory, though, because there was one moment of redemption on the album that brought us all the urge to dance and lip-synch.

Thus, in one of those odd convergences of memory and merit, my favorite Doors song is “Touch Me,” which was liked enough elsewhere to rise as high as No. 3 on the Billboard chart. The writer and editor in me still cringes at the grammatical sin in the chorus, where Morrison sings, “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.” (It should be “for you and me.”) And though that still hurts my ears, “Touch Me” is nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

“Touch Me” by the Doors, Elektra 456646 [1969]
4.4 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

Afternote
When I posted the song this morning, I wasn’t certain that the album mix – which is what I had – was the same as the single mix. Well, it’s not. Yah Shure dropped me an mp3 of the single mix, along with a note:

“The 45 version of ‘Touch Me’ (Elektra 45646) has never been issued on either LP or CD.  It features a completely different mix than the Soft Parade LP version.  Here are the two most obvious distinctions between the 45 and LP mixes:
“1) There is very little bass in the single mix.
“2) At the very end of the song, the ‘stronger than dirt’ Ajax Laundry Detergent jingle is both played and sung on the LP mix.  On the 45, it is played, but not sung.”

Thanks, Yah Shure!

Here’s the single mix:

Thunderclap, Richie, Fenton & Boz

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 4, 2009

It’s Video Thursday!

The first thing I found in today’s wandering is a video put together with Thunderclap Newman, evidently in 1969, for the single edit of “Something In The Air.” It’s actually fairly witty and worth a look.

Here’s a clip I’d not seen before: Richie Havens performing “I Can’t Make It Any More” at the original Woodstock festival in 1969:

Here’s a clip from 1977 of Fenton Robinson performing his classic “Somebody Loan Me A Dime.” It cuts off in mid-song, but it’s still worth looking at for a glimpse of his guitar work.

Video deleted.

And here’s Boz Scaggs with a relatively recent performance of “Lido Shuffle.” Until a more precise date comes along, all I’m going to say is that it’s ca. 2005, at a guess.

What’s up for tomorrow? I’m not sure. Maybe a Grab Bag, or maybe another excursion into the Valley of the Unplayed. We’ll see what I feel like doing when I get there.

‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime . . .’

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 2, 2009

At this point – after digging for a few days – two of the few things I am sure of when I think about the original version of the blues tune “Somebody (Loan Me A Dime)” is that I don’t have it and don’t know how it sounds. (Almost five years later, neither of those two facts is true, as noted below.)

Like many of my generation, I first came across the tune through Boz Scaggs, who recorded a lengthy version of it for his self-titled debut album in 1969. One of the highlights of not just the album but of Scaggs’ long career, the twelve-and-a-half-minute track features some jaw-dropping extended solos from Duane Allman, backed by some of the best work ever done by the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the horns of Joe Arnold, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and James Mitchell.

As with many things in my musical life, I first heard Scaggs’ version of the tune during my stay in Denmark, and over the years, I heard the track again and again on my own stereo systems at home. But when I went to the record jackets – checking both the Duane Allman Anthology notes and then the Boz Scaggs jacket – all I could learn was that the tune was written by one Fenton Robinson. My interest during the 1970s in the song’s provenance was casual. Not recognizing Robinson’s name, I let the matter drop.

(At least by the time I looked, the name of the composer was correct. On early printings of Boz Scaggs, the song was credited to Scaggs himself. Whether that was Scaggs’ decision or the work of someone at Atlantic Records, I do not know. But by the time I bought my copy of the Allman anthology in late 1974, the song was credited to Robinson. A case could be made for Scaggs to take a half-credit along with Robinson, as Scaggs did modify the song’s structure: instead of the standard 4/4 rhythm, Scaggs started his version in a slow 6/8 time, shifting to 4/4 time about midway through and then closing the song with a manic section in 2/4 time. But no such split credit exists; the CD version of Boz Scaggs, first released in 1990, lists only Robinson as the composer.)

I’ve learned since that Robinson – who died in 1997 at the age of 62 – originally wrote and recorded the song for the Palos label in 1967. As is pretty standard with bluesmen, he re-recorded it several times after that, and those versions are the ones that are generally available these days. I haven’t dug too deeply in the past few weeks to see if I can find the version recorded for Palos; if I found it, I’d want to buy it, and the last thing I need to do right now is add another line to the want list.

(I have since found the Palos version, and here’s “Loan Me A Dime” as Robinson originally recorded it.)

The tune is indexed at All-Music Guide as both “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” and “Loan Me A Dime.” Scaggs’ name is among the most prominent of those who covered Robinson’s tune. Among the other names listed at All-Music Guide are Mike Bloomfield, Rick Derringer, J.B. Hutto, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson, Johnny Laws, Mighty Joe Young, Buster Benton, and the Disciples of Grace.

I have two recordings of the song by Robinson from the 1970s. The first is from a series of sessions Robinson did during the early Seventies for Sound Stage 7 Records in Nashville and Memphis (released on CD in 1993 as Mellow Fellow, Volume 41 of the Charly Blues Masterworks series). For some reason, according to AMG, the Sound Stage 7 producers took the guitar out of Robinson’s hands during the sessions in Nashville and let others play guitar. I don’t much care for the result, but I’ll post it anyway.

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson, Nashville [1970]

The second version by Robinson is the title track of a 1974 album on Alligator Records. On this one, Robinson plays guitar as well as sings, and the result, to my ears, is much better. (My thanks to The Roadhouse for this one.)

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson from Somebody Loan Me A Dime [1974]

And then, here’s Scaggs’ 1969 version from his self-titled debut album:

(Notes added May 25, 2014.)

Saturday Single No. 134

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 30, 2009

Driving along St. Cloud’s Lincoln Avenue yesterday afternoon, midway through a list of errands, I had the Sentra’s window open and the oldies station playing at a pretty good volume. It was a warm spring afternoon, and things were, if not perfect, then pretty darned good.

And then the song changed, and I heard “Bah, bah, bah, bah-bah-ber Ann.” I reached over and punched the radio button and changed channels. There are only a few records that spur me to change the station immediately when I’m in the car; the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” is one of them. I won’t say I hate or detest the record, not the way I do a few others (as regular readers know, Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun” is at the top of that fairly brief list), but I find “Barbara Ann” unpleasant, at the least.

As I drove, now listening to The Loon, St. Cloud’s classic rock station, I began to wonder how many records I have on that brief list. What are the other sounds that trigger my radio button? I came up with a few: The Knack’s “My Sharona.” Diana Ross’ “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and her duet with Lionel Richie, “Endless Love.” Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey.” (I have to acknowledge that I don’t recall hearing that on the radio for a long, long time.) The Dave Clark Five’s “Over and Over.” The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died.” Those are, I think, the worst offenders, but I’m sure there are more that could go on the list.

(As I was pondering my hot-button songs just now, I asked the Texas Gal what songs are on her list. Without hesitation, she mentioned Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” and Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You.”)

Continuing on my drive, I changed back to the oldies station after a couple of minutes, figuring the Beach Boys had run their course. They had, and my reward was the rumbling and fuzz-toned introduction to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” one of the great songs that’s on a different list, one that seemingly doesn’t matter any more.

It used to be that every once in a while – and I think this happened to all Top 40 lovers – you’d arrive at your destination just as a great record, one you hadn’t heard for a while, started on the radio. So you’d sit in your car in its parking space, doing nothing more than listening to that one great record. I guess that happens still, but for me, it’s not as frequent an occurrence as it was: I now have access at home to most of the music that would grab me like that, either as mp3s, on CD or on vinyl. Back in the days before my music collection grew to an almost preposterous size, and I didn’t have easy access to all of my old friends, there were records that would make me delay my errands long enough to listen all the way through.

“Spirit in the Sky” was probably on the top of my list. Others on that list – and this is by no means comprehensive – were “No Time” by the Guess Who, “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, “Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian, and “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees. The Texas Gal said her list of those records starts with “One” by Three Dog Night and includes “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays and King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight.”

She and I will, on occasion, interrupt our errands long enough to stay in the car and listen to the end of a song, but when I’m out on my own, that rarely happens. I don’t need to sit in the car if I want to hear Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” all the way through. I can go home, sit at the computer and click the mouse a couple of times, and there’s Lou.

It’s amazing and it’s wonderful to have such easy access to the music that I love, but it almost seems too easy sometimes. And I wondered yesterday as I drove home if, as I’ve gained ease and convenience, I haven’t discarded a little bit of the mystery of chance.

Here’s one of the songs that used to make me stay in the car until it ended. It’s “Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman from the 1969 album Hollywood Dream, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

Memorial Day, 2009

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 25, 2009

It’s another Memorial Day, another day to reflect. We’ve been told that some of our soldiers will this year begin to come home. Let’s hope that’s true. We’ve also been told that more of our soldiers are required to fight elsewhere. Let’s hope that’s for a brief time. These are the same songs as last year and the year before; if that’s a disappointment, I’m sorry. These are the songs that remind me of those whom we are supposed to remember today.

“Requiem for the Masses” by the Association, Warner Bros. single 7074 [1967]

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs from Rehearsals For Retirement [1969]

“War” by Edwin Starr, Gordy single 7101 [1970]

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Peter, Paul & Mary from Peter, Paul & Mary [1962]

“One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)” by Coven, Warner Bros. single 7509 [1971]

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie from It’s My Way! [1964]

“Masters of War” by Bob Dylan from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan [1962]

“Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Apple single 1809 [1969]

“2+2=?” by the Bob Seger System from Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man [1968]

“Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag [1967]

“Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne, Invictus single 909 [1971]

“All The Young Women” by the Cuff Links from Tracy [1970]

“Bring ’Em Home” by Bruce Springsteen from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) [live, most likely in Detroit, 2006]

As I’ve noted the past two years, times have changed enough since Freda Payne, the Cuff Links and Peter, Paul & Mary recorded their songs that we now need to also bring the girls home, and we need to grieve as well with all the young men who have lost loved ones.

A Summertime Plot

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 20, 2009

Well, we’re armed and ready to garden.

The Texas Gal stopped by at the end of her lunch break the other day to drop off the results of her trip to the garden store: chicken wire, wooden stakes, a hoe, a metal rake, some pruning shears and a hose. Add that to a few garden tools we bought about a week earlier, and we should be set for implements.

So we spent an hour that evening attaching chicken wire to the stakes and marking off a roughly twelve-foot square in the garden plot in the side yard (available for use, as well, to the folks in the adjacent apartments, where we used to live). The fence is less than artistic, but it marks our plot adequately, and it should keep all but the most persistent rabbits away from our vegetables this summer.

So what are we going to grow? That’s been partly determined by the packets of seeds the Texas Gal got free at her workplace. Her goal for the coming weekend is to get seeds planted for several varieties of vegetables: We’ll certainly plant yellow squash and zucchini, some cucumbers, some beets, maybe some cabbage and likely some tomatoes. We’ll probably get a couple of pots to grow some parsley and some catnip, and there is a small strip of garden between the house and the sidewalk where we’ll plant – more as ornaments than as consumables – green kale and red lettuce.

In addition, we’re planning to head out to one of the garden tents at either the grocery store or the discount store down the street and get some plants to set in: more tomatoes (in case the seeds don’t go well) and some peppers – green and chocolate for sure, maybe yellow and possibly some jalapeño. And I’m thinking about growing some eggplant, although the Texas Gal is skeptical, having never eaten it before.

I wonder if we’re not being a little too ambitious, given that this is our first time around the vegetable patch. We’ll likely find out as mid-summer approaches, when watering and weeding may be the last things we want to do on a hot evening or humid Saturday. If all goes well, though, we’ll have the pleasure and satisfaction of home-grown salads and stir-fry and more.

I might – and I emphasize “might” – even eat some beets.

A Six-Pack of Gardens

“Here In The Garden, Parts 1 & 2” by Gypsy from In The Garden [1971]
“Johnny’s Garden” by Manassas from Manassas [1972]
“Safe In My Garden” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Papas And The Mamas [1968]
“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul [1969]
“Come Into The Garden” by Chimera from Chimera [1969]
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen from Greatest Hits [1995]

Probably the least-known of these groups is Chimera, whose self-titled album was recorded in 1969. The record, featuring two female vocalists and a few British folk and rock notables, went unreleased for many years. You’ll find a slight history of Chimera and an affectionate assessment of its only album at Time Has Told Me, one of the great blogs for out-of-print rarities, many of them in the line of British psych-folk, as is Chimera’s work.

The tale of Gypsy, a Minnesota band that began as the Underbeats, showed up here in the early days. In The Garden was the group’s second album. (I noticed this morning, as I was going through earlier writings and my files, that I keep changing the year In The Garden was released, citing either 1971 or 1972. While the LP and its jacket seem not to have a date anywhere, All-Music Guide says the record came out in 1971. So I’ll go with that.)

I’m never sure, as long as we’re talking about indecision, whether to classify Manassas as a Stephen Stills album or as an album by the group Manassas. My sense of the album is that it was a Stills solo project that shifted in the process to a full band identity, but I’m not sure. I’ve tagged it as a Stephen Stills album because that’s what the record jacket and the CD cover say. I could easily go the other way, as AMG does, saying “Formed in 1971 from the sessions for what was going to be Stills’ third solo album, the chemistry of the musicians he gathered was so intense that before long they were a full-fledged band.” Either way, it’s still good tunes.

The tracks by the Mamas and the Papas and by the Guess Who are album tracks whose sounds fit into the groups’ canons without many surprises. Listening this morning, I realized once again how main Papa John Phillips and producer Lou Adler worked painstakingly on every detail, even on album tracks, creating a lush pop-folk sound that still sounds effortless today. The Guess Who track sounds like no other band, as well, but I’m not sure that “effortless” is the word I’d use for “A Wednesday In Your Garden” or in fact for many of the Guess Who’s recordings. Thinking about it, I always got the sense that Burton Cummings was working too hard at being a rock star. I may be forgetting one or three, but the only Guess Who record I can think of at the moment that sounded light and effortless at any point was “Undun.”

“Secret Garden” was one of three new tracks Bruce Springsteen recorded with the E Street Band for release on his greatest hits album in 1995. The other new recordings were “Blood Brothers” and “This Hard Land.” Also on the album was “Murder Incorporated,” a 1982 recording with the band that had never been released. Of the four, “Secret Garden” is my favorite.

Note: While I still love “Secret Garden,” I have to admit that in the past four years I’ve come to admire and enjoy “This Hard Land” more. While the former is a beautiful love song that could only have come from Springsteen’s pen, “This Hard Land” is a heartland plaint that clearly shows the connection between Springsteen and the music of Woody Guthrie, the fiction of John Steinbeck and the photography of Walker Evans. It might be worth noting that “This Hard Land” was recorded in January 1995, just a few months before Springsteen began recording The Ghost of Tom Joad, his minimalist album that focused on similar themes as “This Hard Land.” Note added June 28, 2013.

Saturday Singles Nos. 130 & 131

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 9, 2009

Today is one of the most-observed unofficial holidays of the year here in Minnesota: It’s the fishing opener!

Earlier this morning, as Friday changed into Saturday, the season opened across Minnesota’s 13,000 or so lakes. (Our license plates say “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but I don’t know if that’s Nordic modesty or if somebody miscounted the first time and the folks who came along after the second, more accurate count, said, “Close enough.”) That meant that Thursday and Friday, the highways leading from the Twin Cities to the northern part of the state showed a constant stream of traffic.

I’ve never done a fishing opener. Fishing has never been a pastime that’s attracted me much. But for about four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I went fishing once a year with my pal Larry. He and I met in late 1978 at a gathering of journalists; he was the editor of a weekly newspaper published in Isle, Minnesota, on the southeast corner of Mille Lacs Lake, one of Minnesota’s larger lakes and one of its most prime fishing spots. We saw each other regularly at our monthly meetings in St. Cloud, and after one of them, he invited me up for a day of fishing. So, one summer Saturday in ’79, I packed my rudimentary fishing gear – one rod and reel and a woefully stocked tackle box – into the car and headed north to Wahkon, the small town just outside of Isle, where Larry lived with his wife and young daughters.

He and I spent the day in his boat on Mille Lacs, trying to catch either walleye or northern. We got some sunfish and crappies, two smaller fish that are good eating (but tedious because of all the small bones). Sometime late in the afternoon, I lost a lure when it got caught on something underwater and my line broke. Larry offered to let me use one of the many he had in his deluxe tackle box. I declined, and spent the little that remained of the afternoon sipping beer, smoking cigarettes and talking with Larry about life and lures.

That afternoon started a tradition: Once a summer for the next four years, I’d head north. In the next year, Larry got a job editing a newspaper in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, another hundred miles further north, and the day trips became a weekend trip to visit Larry and Joyce and the girls. We’d spend Friday evening playing board games or just catching up with each other, and Saturday found Larry and me out on a couple of different lakes, usually Lake Pokegema south of Grand Rapids in the morning and then, in the afternoon, Trout Lake, just south of the nearby small town of Coleraine. I’d fish until I lost a lure, which was my signal to sit back, pop a beer and enjoy the day out on the boat.

Larry was a far more committed angler than I was. During those years in Isle and Grand Rapids, he’d slip away from the office whenever he could find time, taking his boat out on Mille Lacs in the first years I knew him and then out on Pokegama or one of the many other lakes in the Grand Rapids area in those later years. An editor in both cities, he christened his fishing boat Assignment so that if someone called for him at his office, his secretary could honestly say, “I’m sorry, but Larry’s out on Assignment.”

During one of my visits, probably in 1982, I even caught a small northern. Somewhere in my boxes is a picture of me holding my catch. (I think it’s 1982 because I got the Yellowstone baseball cap I’m wearing in the picture during a trip west in 1981.) Larry did much better than I at fishing: pretty much every year, we headed back to his house with a good catch of walleyes, northern and smaller fish. I usually had a package of frozen fish to take home with me the next morning.

I last saw Larry in early 1987, when I took a couple days off from St. Cloud State and spent a long weekend in Grand Rapids. We didn’t go ice fishing. Instead, we went to a couple of hockey games and just sat around the house and caught up on things. That summer, I moved to Minot, and sometime that autumn, Larry left newspapering and moved west to Washington. Letters went back and forth for a few months, and then a letter sat unanswered on someone’s desk (probably mine) for too long, and we lost touch with each other. I heard, but I’ve never confirmed, that sometime in the 1990s, Larry had a heart attack and crossed over.

But wherever he is, I’d like to think that today, the fishing opener, he’s got a line in the water and a beer in one hand, out on Assignment.

Here are two versions of a perfectly appropriate song for Larry, today’s Saturday Singles.

“Fishing Blues” by Henry Thomas, Vocalion 1249 (Chicago, June 13, 1928)

“Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal, from De Ole Folks At Home (Los Angeles, June 27, 1969)

‘Dance Into May!’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 1, 2009

It’s May Day again (and this year, I got the day right, at least.)

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here. I recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times.  How lively is the international labor movement these days, especially taking into account the sad state of the international economy? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered. As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that “[t]he earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 [1969]
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her [1967]
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card [1980]
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings [1970]
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web [1972]
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia [1998]

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

As to the songs themselves, how could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

“May Be A Price To Pay” is the opening track to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project Alan Parsons released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the group’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to All-Music Guide, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hill of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.