Archive for the ‘1974’ 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)

‘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.)

A Mixed But Worthwhile Bag

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 1, 2009

I suppose the first time I became aware of Richie Havens was at St Cloud’s Paramount Theatre sometime in 1970. On what seems in memory a spring evening, my parents gave me permission to sit through Woodstock, the documentary film chronicling the vast music festival that had taken place the summer before in upstate New York.

(The parental permission was required, if I recall correctly, by the theater’s management, as the movie had several scenes showing naked hippies either at play or washing up in lakes and ponds. I’m not sure if my folks knew about those scenes. Being sixteen at the time, I of course didn’t mind glimpses of naked gals – hippies or not – but I honestly went to the film for the music.)

And Havens’ exhausting show-opener was stunning. I knew about most of the other musicians whose performances were shown in the film: Sly & The Family Stone; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Sha Na Na (does anybody else think it odd that in 1969, Sha Na Na was viewed on the same level as the other acts at Woodstock?); Arlo Guthrie; Santana; the Who; and more. But I’d been unaware of Richie Havens.

I came out of the theater that evening fascinated by a lot of the music I saw but most of all by Havens. (I find it fascinating that thirty-seven years later, I saw Havens perform live in the same theater where I’d heard his music for the first time.) I didn’t rush out and buy a lot of it, but I was a lot more aware of those performers when I heard them on the radio, and their names went on a long and informal list of artists whose music I wanted to explore when I had time and resources. It took a long time before I got around to some of them. And Richie Havens was one of those whose work waited a long time for me to find it.

It happened, finally, in the late 1990s, during the years when my record collection grew at an alarming rate. During one of my regular visits to Cheapo’s in late May of 1998, I came across Haven’s 1977 album, Mirage. Listening to it reminded me that I’d once planned – however vaguely – to explore Havens’ catalog. I went back the next day and got another Havens’ LP: 1987’s Simple Things. And as the year moved on, I kept looking for Haven’s stuff in the new arrivals bins and sorting through what was already there in the bin with his name on it. By then end of 1998, I had ten of his LPs, and I’d add four more in the years to come.

Among them was 1974’s Mixed Bag II, in title and style a sequel to his first release, 1967’s Mixed Bag. Even in a time when I was bringing home an average of one new LP a day, both of those stood out. I found Mixed Bag during the summer of 1998 and Mixed Bag II that December, and both of them stayed near the stereo for a month or two, as I played them frequently.

Mixed Bag is still in print on CD, so I will forego posting it, but I’ve had a request for a repost of Mixed Bag II. Here’s what I wrote about it a little more than a year and a half ago:

Highlights of the album are Havens’ take on “Ooh Child,” which had been a Top Ten hit for the Five Stairsteps in 1970; his somewhat meandering version of “Wandering Angus,” a poem by William Butler Yeats set to a folk melody; a sprightly version of McCartney’s “Band On The Run,” and the album’s moving finale, “The Indian Prayer,” written by Roland Vargas Mousaa and Tom Pacheco.

But the album’s center, literally and figuratively, is Haven’s performance of the Bob Dylan epic “Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands).” Reflecting perfectly the organic feel of the entire album, the track pulls the album together. It may be called a mixed bag, but it holds together pretty well. It’s the kind of album Richie Havens specializes in to this day: Mostly acoustic, melodic, thoughtful and warm.

Mixed Bag II by Richie Havens [1974]:

“Ooh Child”
“Headkeeper”
“Wandering Angus”
“Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands)”
“Someone Suite”
“Band On The Run”
“The Loner”
“The Makings Of You”
“The Indian Prayer”

Coming Attraction:
A member at a board I frequent asked if anyone had Kate Taylor’s Sister Kate album, which I posted here more than two years ago. When I replied, someone else noted that it would be nice to have her later, self-titled album. To my surprise, I found it in the stacks, and I’ll be ripping it to share sometime this week. At the same time, I’ll repost Sister Kate. (And if anyone has a line on Taylor’s third album recorded in 1979 at – I believe – Muscle Shoals, it would be appreciated.)

A Richie Preview

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 29, 2009

I said I was going to post a Richie Havens album, and I will, but it won’t be today. So here’s a small preview of what I hope to share Monday:

“Headkeeper” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag II (1974)

I’ll be back tomorrow – I assume – with a Saturday Single.

Ten From The Seventies

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 27, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at some of the numbers surrounding the mp3 collection, so I thought I’d do that today. (Actually, I did a post of that sort in February, but it disappeared that day; those things do happen from time to time.)

As of this morning, the collection (I’d considered calling it a “library,” but that sounds a bit, well, pretentious) contains 37,849 mp3s. The earliest recorded is “Poor Mourner,” performed by the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet in Philadelphia on November 29, 1902. I have a number of things recorded (or at least released) this year, the most recent purchase being Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life, which I got early this month (and quite enjoy).

Most of the music comes from the 1960s and 1970s, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who stops by here. Here’s a breakdown by decade from the middle of the Twentieth Century onward:

1950s: 1,152
1960s: 8,820
1970s: 13,445
1980s: 3,327
1990s: 4,525
2000s: 5,319

As I expected – and said above – the 1960s and the 1970s dominate, because that’s where my musical heart and major interests lie. And I have demonstrably less interest in the 1980s than in the music that’s come along since, which is no surprise. Taking things a step further, I thought it might be instructive – or at least interesting – to pull the Seventies apart and see how each year is represented in the collection:

1970: 2,627
1971: 2,513
1972: 2,175
1973: 1,556
1974: 1,107
1975: 1,038
1976: 802
1977: 674
1978: 528
1979: 425

Well, that’s about how I thought it would curve. Maybe I’ll look at other decades in the future. But for now, here’s one recording from each year of the 1970s, selected more or less randomly.

Ten From The Seventies
1970: “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty
1971: “Finish Me Off” by the Soul Children from Best of Two Worlds
1972: “By Today” by Batdorf & Rodney from Batdorf & Rodney
1973: “Come Strollin’ Now” by Danny Kortchmar from Kootch
1974: “Ramona” by the Stampeders from New Day
1975: “Get Dancin’” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony from Disco Baby
1976: “I Got Mine” by Ry Cooder from Chicken Skin Music
1977: “People With Feeling” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love
1978: “Rover” by Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses
1979: “One Way Or Another” by Blondie, Chrysalis 2336

The best known of those, likely, are the two that bookend the group: the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and the Blondie single.

The Soul Children have popped up here from time to time. “Finish Me Off” is a great vocal workout by a group that I think was in the shadows as Memphis-based Stax began to fade in the early 1970s.

Batdorf & Rodney was a singer-songwriter duo that had a couple of good but not great albums during the years when there were similar duos on every record label and in every barroom. Batdorf & Rodney wasn’t among the best of them, but neither was the duo among the worst.

Danny Kortchmar was one of the more prolific session guitarists of the 1970s; his list of credits is impressive. For his 1973 solo album, he pulled together a number of the other top session musicians, including Craig Doerge on keyboards and horn player Jim Horn. (I think that’s Horn on the extended solo in “Come Strollin’ Now,” but it could be Doug Richardson.)

The Stampeders of “Ramona” are the same Stampeders who did “Sweet City Woman,” a No. 8 hit in 1971. The banjo is gone, and so is the quirky charm that it lent to the group’s sound. “Ramona” sounds like the work of any other mid-Seventies band. Oh, well.

Two of these are aimed at getting us out of our chairs and onto the dance floor. The Van McCoy track does a better job of that than does the track by the Three Degrees, maybe because McCoy has no other aim than to get us dancing. The Three Degrees, on the other hand, were trying to put across a serious message in the lyrics. By that era of the Seventies, though, it was pretty much about the boogie, not the words.

The Ry Cooder is your basic Ry Cooder track: rootsy and a little sardonic and fun. This one comes from one of his better – and most varied – albums. The Jethro Tull track comes from an album I tend to forget about when I consider the group. And every time I’m reminded of it, I remember that Heavy Horses has aged better, it seems, than most things in the Tull catalog, certainly better than Aqualung (which I love anyway).

People, The Seekers, SCN & Chipmunks

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 7, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s what appears to be a video produced for the People single “I Love You” upon its release in 1968.

I mentioned the Seekers the other day. As I was digging around this morning, I found a clip of “I’ll Never Find Another You” as performed at the group’s July 7, 1968, farewell concert in London.

Here’s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performing “Ohio” sometime during the group’s 1974 tour. It’s pretty much as I remember it from the group’s stop at the St. Paul Civic Center that summer.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s Alvin & the Chipmunks singing “Bad Day,” accompanied by some stills from the 2007 movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a look at Jubilation, the third and final CD released in the 1990s by The Band.

Saturday Single No. 122

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 4, 2009

The world remains in soft focus today – Can you spell Vicodin? – so this likely won’t be very long. But as I was casting about for an idea this morning, I came across a 1974 song titled by a group named Isis that works at least a little bit for a post during the first week of April.

Isis was a nine-woman funk-rock band formed in New York. As All-Music Guide notes:

“All-female funk-rock outfit Isis reunited singer/guitarist Carol MacDonald and drummer Ginger Bianco, who previously collaborated in the ’60s girl group Goldie & the Gingerbreads. Inspired by the success of distaff hard rock combo Fanny, MacDonald and Bianco formed Isis in 1972, recruiting lead guitarist Susan Ghezzi, bassist Stella Bass, saxophonist Jeanie Fineberg, trumpeter Lauren Draper, trombonist Lilly Bienenfield, and percussionist Nydia Mata. After building a cult following on the strength of their regular appearances at the New York City club Trude Heller’s, Isis signed to the Buddah label to issue its self-titled 1974 debut. Complete with cover art featuring all eight members nude and covered in metallic chrome paint, the record was acclaimed in some quarters but dismissed as little more than a novelty in others.”

A novelty? Not really, as the women in Isis could play, and the group’s first album, a self-titled release from 1974, sounds pretty good. But then, I’ve always liked bands with horns, probably because I played a horn. To call the group a horn band, though, is a disservice, bringing in the idea of Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Isis is funkier than that, with a sound that reminds me more of Earth, Wind & Fire or maybe Tower of Power. It’s a difficult sound to categorize.

The AMG note above points out that some folks didn’t bother to ponder the music too deeply after seeing the first album’s cover. Posing in just the silver paint for the album cover probably didn’t enhance the group’s credibility. The question that hung in the air at the time, I think, would’ve been: Are they cover art or are they musicians? The possibility that the members of Isis could be both wasn’t one that a lot of folks took seriously at the time. (The valid questions that hang for me are: Had the group been all males, would the idea of the silver paint cover have come up? And if it somehow had, would the cover have damaged the group’s credibility? And I tend to think the answers would’ve been negative. )

I didn’t run into Isis’ work when it was new. I do wish I had. It would’ve been fun to confound my friends with something truly different. And Isis did have a different sound. I’m still absorbing Isis’ first album, and I’ll likely write more about the group another day.

For now – three days late, but there you go – here’s Isis’ “April Fool,” today’s Saturday Single.

“April Fool” by Isis from Isis [1974]

The Seeds Of A Brand Loyalty

March 25, 2012

Originally posted April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1974, thirty-five years ago today, I was playing hooky in a big way. In fact, I was starting my second week of hooky from St. Cloud State’s classes in Fredericia, Denmark. Spring quarter had started Monday, March 25. Sunrise that day had found me in a youth hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland, looking out of the window at the Matterhorn. I knew it was the first day of class, but I also knew I had yet to travel through Switzerland and Austria to Vienna and I had yet to see Munich in what was then West Germany.

It wasn’t a tough choice. So a week later, on April 1, I was in Munich, standing in a square to watch the town hall tower’s ancient glockenspiel chime the hour. As I stood and waited for the top of the hour – ten o’clock, I believe – I saw one of my fellow St. Cloud State students, DJ, whom I’d not seen for nearly four weeks, since a raucous few days in Paris. He grinned and we caught up with each other as we waited. At ten o’clock, the bells in the tower chimed, and colorful carved figures danced and jousted.

The crowd thinned, and I turned to DJ. “So what are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“I’m heading to the Hofbräuhaus for lunch,” he said, “and then I’m heading back to Fredericia, but I’m going to visit a shoe factory along the way.”

A shoe factory?

He grinned and said he was heading for the world headquarters of adidas, the company whose shoes bore a distinctive three stripes.

I knew the shoes. I’d wanted a pair for years and, finally, for Christmas 1971, my folks gave me a pair: blue with the three stripes in white. I loved those shoes, and I wore them out. Then I bought another pair to bring with me to Denmark. I don’t think I was wearing them the day I ran into DJ, as I’d left Fredericia for spring break in early March, and it was still a bit chilly to wear the adidas shoes every day.

We went to the Hofbräuhaus, where we ate some baked liver loaf and each had a couple of beers. After we ate, we found an unattended door on the building’s lower level, and we each sneaked out with one of the Hofbräuhaus’ distinctive gray mugs, repeating an act of larceny committed by thousands of others over the years. From there, we went to the train station and headed to Nuremberg.

As we rode, DJ explained. The adidas company had its headquarters in a small town called Herzogenaurach. We’d have to take a train from Nuremberg to a city called Fürth, and there, we’d have to catch a train to a station called Erlangen-Bruck, near the smaller city of Erlangen. There, finally, we would catch a train that brought us to Herzogenaurach. Our goal, DJ said, was to get a tour of the factory and the company’s shoe museum.

As DJ had planned, our fourth train of the afternoon brought us into Herzogenaurach, but it was mid-afternoon by that time. “We might be too late,” he said, as we hurried down the street. I saw a sign in the street, like a traffic sign. One portion of the sign pointed to the right, and showed “adidas” and the familiar trefoil logo. The other portion pointed left, and read “PUMA” with the also familiar leaping cat. As we headed to the right, I asked DJ, “Puma and adidas?”

He nodded as we hurried, and between breaths, he told me that the companies had been started by feuding brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, in the years after World War II. Adolf had used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name to brand his shoes: adidas. Rudolf had chosen Puma as his brand name, and the headquarters for both brands were located in Herzogenaurach, a city that in 1974 had a population of around 15,000, maybe a little less.

We made our way through town to a group of buildings at the edge of town, with the most modern of them marked “adidas.” We went to that one, and at the door, DJ explained our mission. Eventually, the doorkeeper went away and brought back a man who was maybe in his forties, wearing a conservative coat and tie. He looked at the two of us, with our longish, untrimmed hair, and told us he was sorry, the factory was closed and it was too late to get a tour. He gave each of us his card and said that if we could come back early in the morning on a Thursday or a Friday . . .

Disappointed, DJ and I walked back into the center of the small town and went to the adidas factory outlet. He bought shoes and an athletic bag; I bought a t-shirt. And we headed back, via Erlangen-Bruck and Fürth, to Nuremberg, where we caught a train that would take us to Hamburg in northern West Germany. From there, it was only a few hours to Fredericia. We got home about mid-day on April 2, a week and a day late for class.

(We weren’t the only ones to be late for spring classes, nor were we the last ones back from spring break: Many of us had missed at least some class time that spring quarter, and a few others straggled in after DJ and I got back to Fredericia. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that our time in Denmark was St. Cloud State’s first attempt at a foreign study program, and although the administration had anticipated some absenteeism, our behavior at the beginning of the spring quarter was more widespread and blatant than expected. From then on, in all of St. Cloud State’s foreign study programs, an extended absence required a good reason. Those students without good reasons, I think, were sent back to the States. And I’m pretty sure that, “But I hadn’t been to Vienna yet!” wouldn’t have been a good enough reason.)

A couple of days later, I got a letter from a gal I’d met in Vienna who was studying in Poitiers, France, inviting me to visit for Easter, if my rail pass was still good. It was, and train schedules were good enough to allow me to get there, spend two days, and get back to Fredericia without missing any school.

In fact, I thought, as I looked at maps and train schedules, I could leave Wednesday afternoon and head south to Munich – where there was a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that I’d not seen while I was there – and then take a Thursday night train to Paris. I could still get into Poitiers on Friday, which is what my lady friend had suggested. I looked at my adidas shirt drying on the radiator and thought a little more.

And at 7:30 in the morning on April 11, a Thursday, I presented myself at the main building of the adidas shoe company. I gave the doorman the business card I’d gotten during my previous visit, and waited. The conservatively dressed fellow came to the door and did a double-take when he saw me. I reminded him that he’d essentially promised a tour if we came back early on a Thursday or a Friday. He nodded, smiling tightly, and escorted me into the building. He handed me off to a junior somebody, who took me around the factory and then through a small museum, where I saw – among other things – adidas shoes that had been used by Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali. I left the factory after about an hour, impressed with what I’d seen and carrying a bag of key chains and other trinkets, all marked “adidas.”

And this may be silly, but since that day, I’ve never worn a shirt or jacket or anything that displays the brand name of another shoe company. No Nike shirts or caps, no Puma, no New Balance, no Air Jordan. I’ve not always had sports shoes, but when I have, they’ve been adidas. I have several shirts with the adidas logo and none displaying any other shoe brand’s logo. I have a small collection of baseball caps, most of them displaying the logos of various athletic teams . . . and three with the adidas logo.

As I said, that brand loyalty might be kind of silly. I’m not an athlete, never really have been. But that loyalty satisfies something in me, and that’s all that matters.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 30, 1974)
“Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Motown 1286 (No. 40)
“On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, Asylum 11033 (No. 51)
“Star Baby” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0217 (No. 54)
“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 46007 (No. 64)
“Watching The River Run” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 46010 (No. 73)
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 (No. 97)

I don’t recall hearing any of these at the time. Readers might recall my mentioning the tape machine in the lounge of the youth hostel where I was living during the early months of 1974: We listened mostly to the Allman Brothers, the first Duane Allman anthology and Pink Floyd, with Graham Nash, the occasional slice of Bread and a few others being dropped in for variety. Radios were scarce at the hostel, and Top 40 was hard to come by.

Though I’m sure I’ve heard “Dancing Machine” before I ripped it from one of the Texas Gal’s CDs this week, I couldn’t tell you when. My tolerance for the Jackson 5 has been limited for years to “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” I don’t think “Dancing Machine” is quite up to the level of those, but it’s a pretty good, propulsive track, better than I thought it would be when I first chose it for this selection. The record went to No. 2 on the pop chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the last Jackson 5 record to climb so high on either chart.

When listeners dropped “On A Night Like This” on the turntable, they were hearing something that hadn’t been available on record before except on bootlegs: Bob Dylan in the recording studio with The Band. The single was the first track from Planet Waves, which surprisingly – given their long association – was the first album that found all five members of The Band in the studio with Dylan. (The facsinating Basement Tapes, showing what Dylan and the five members of The Band had been up to during Dylan’s recovery from a motorcycle accident, would come out in 1975.) A rollicking and grinning piece of Americana (long before, as I said the other day, that term was applied to popular music), the single nevertheless failed to reach the Top 40; by the end of March, it had been in the Hot 100 for six weeks and had peaked at No. 44. By April 6, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100.

For about two-and-a-half years, between early 1969 and the late summer of 1971, the Guess Who – a group out of Manitoba, Canada – had been a reliable hit-making machine, putting eleven singles into the Top 40, with five of them reaching the Top Ten. (The most successful of them, “American Woman,” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the spring of 1970.) In the spring of 1974, the Guess Who broke a three-year absence in the Top 40, as “Star Baby” – a catchy piece of radio pop – slid into the pop chart. As March ended, the record was on its way up, moving to No. 54 from No. 63. Three weeks later, “Star Baby” poked its head into the Top 40, sitting at No. 39 for two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. The Guess Who had two more hits in 1974 – “Clap For The Wolfman” went to No. 6 and “Dancin’ Fool” went to No. 28 – and then disappeared from the Top 40 for good.

From 1974 into the early 1980s, Chicago-based Earth, Wind & Fire released a series of catchy singles that laced R&B with funk and the occasional tender ballad. That brought the group – formed and led by drummer Maurice White – sixteen Top 40 hits, seven of which reached the Top Ten. One of those, “Shining Star” spent a week at No. 1 on the pop charts; seven of the group’s hits were No. 1 on the R&B chart. That string began with “Mighty Mighty” in 1974. During the week in question, “Mighty Mighty” was at No. 64 and was heading up the chart towards its peak of No. 29. All together, the song – a potent slice of radio R&B – spent fifteen weeks in the Hot 100.

It’s interesting that Loggins & Messina included “Watching The River Run” on their 1976 anthology, The Best of Friends, as the song got no further up the Hot 100 than No. 71 in a six-week run. But then, Loggins & Messina only had three Top 40 hits, which would make for a pretty skimpy anthology. And “Watching The River Run” is a good choice, maybe the quintessential Loggins & Messina track: melodic and mellow with a lyric that tells us that we’re all part of something sweet and good, something that will go one when we no longer do.

The growling, nearly incomprehensible lyrics of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” combined with the record’s Texas-style boogie, nearly got ZZ Top into the Top 40. “La Grange” crawled slowly up the chart after its March 30 debut, eventually reaching No. 41 in the last week of June 1974 and the falling out of the Hot 100 a month later after a nineteen-week run. Starting with “Tush” in the summer of 1975, ZZ Top would eventually have eight Top 40 hits, with two of them – “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” – reaching the Top Ten in the mid-1980s. But as good as any of those were, I don’t think they match “La Grange.’ A-how-how-how-how!

Note: For those interested in the history of adidas and Puma shoes and the feud between the Dassler brothers that led to the forming of two competing companies in one small German town, look into Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit. Even if you don’t wear sports apparel of any kind, it’s a fascinating look at influence the two companies had in starting the amazingly huge business of marketing sports gear and apparel.

‘All I’ve Got Is A Photograph . . .’

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 31, 2009

Every once in a while, I find a cover version of a favorite song that absolutely demands attention. This week, the song is “Photograph,” the Ringo Starr tune I posted here last week. Ever since I first heard Ringo’s original version in 1973, it’s been on a long list of favorites; it’s not in my Top Ten or maybe even Top 50, but if I were to, say, program a juke box with a hundred records, I think it would show up.

But that’s the original recording, the one I posted last week. I heard “Photograph” in concert once, on the first All-Starr Band tour in 1989. As the band played the tune, and later, when I heard the version on the live album recorded at a different venue, I thought the performance was a bit lumbering and a bit drum-heavy. But should I have expected anything different? There were three drummers during that performance: Ringo, Jim Keltner and Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey. I did like Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo, though.

There aren’t a lot of covers of the song, which was a George Harrison/Ringo Starr composition. All-Music Guide lists more than five hundred CDs with a song titled “Photograph,” but lots of those are different songs. Among the artists or groups that AMG lists as recording the Harrison/Starr song are: The BB Band, Camper Van Beethoven, David Hentschel, Engelbert Humperdinck (his name seems to show up on a lot of these lists of cover versions) and Ray Conniff.

Conniff, who died at the age of 85 in 2002, was a long-time veteran of the easy listening wars. In the 1960s, his role, and the role of his Ray Conniff Singers, was to take pop hits and rearrange them so the songs would be acceptable to the moms and dads and aunts and uncles who didn’t understand the newfangled music. Conniff’s music was pleasant, safe and often saccharine. He had one Top 40 hit: “Somewhere, My Love,” also known as “Lara’s Theme” from the film Dr. Zhivago, went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1966. (It was No. 1 for four weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.)

Our late-1960s record collection in the basement rec room had one Ray Conniff album: Invisible Tears, on which Ray and his singers take on the title tune, which was a country hit for Connie Smith, and eleven other songs of love. That album provided me with my first exposure to songs like “Singin’ the Blues” (Guy Mitchell’s No. 1 hit from 1956), “Oh Lonesome Me” (No. 1 on the country charts for Don Gibson in 1957 and as high as No. 7 on the split pop charts of the time) and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” (No. 1 on the country charts in 1956 and as high as No. 17 on the various pop charts). And I find that the sounds of that album today still bring pleasant memories and a sense of a time – as clichéd as this has to sound – when life was much less complicated.

That’s what I get when I listen to music by Ray Conniff that I’ve known for forty years. What happens when it’s new to me? Well, somewhere in blogworld the other day, I came across a rip of a 1974 album, The Way We Were, credited to Ray Conniff alone – no singers. Included were, along with the title tune, songs like “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” “Top of the World,” “Loves Me Like A Rock” and, by golly, “Photograph.” Intrigued, I downloaded the album, and, to start, I clicked on “Photograph.”

I got no further, and I have no more to say.

“Photograph” by Ray Conniff from The Way We Were [1974]

‘O-o-h Child’ With Green Peppers

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 24, 2009

It was 1986, and the Five Stairsteps almost cost me some major auto repairs.

Well, that’s not true. It was my desire for a free pizza that almost cost me a huge auto repair bill. But the Five Stairsteps were involved.

It was a spring morning and I was driving through south St. Cloud, heading to my public relations job at St. Cloud State University. As I drove, I listened to one of the St. Cloud radio stations, and as I got near the campus, the station conducted its morning “Name That Oldie’ contest. The first caller to name correctly the song and performer won a free pizza from one of St. Cloud’s many pizza places.

As I drove, I scanned the nearby territory for a phone booth, just in case. I saw one in a service station parking lot just before the next intersection, and the traffic slowed, leaving me at the driveway to the lot just as the music started. I needed no more than the short drum riff and two notes to recognize the record as “O-o-h Child,” the 1970 hit by the Five Stairsteps. (It went to No. 8.) I pulled into the parking lot, got out of my beat-up 1979 Chevette with my quarters in my hand, and called the radio station.

I was right, of course, and qualified for a free pizza. I provided my mailing particulars, and as the deejay and I completed our business, I glanced at my car. It was beginning to roll backwards, toward the driveway and the morning traffic.

I dropped the phone and raced around the front of the car. I managed to catch up with it, and I reached in and yanked on the parking brake. By that time, the rear bumper was no more than two feet from the street. As I acknowledge, the fault was mine, not that of the Five Stairsteps. Nevertheless, when I hear the song these days, the first thing that flashes through my mind is my frantic race to save my Chevette.

That was true last weekend, when the song popped up on the RealPlayer. But as well as thinking about potential automotive disaster, I also wondered – as I generally do these days – about cover versions. Who else has recorded “O-o-h Child”?

I have three versions beyond the original by the Five Stairsteps: Richie Havens included it in 1974 on his Mixed Bag II album; Valerie Carter recorded it for her 1977 album Just A Stone’s Throw Away; and the Edwin Hawkins Singers included the song on I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, released in 1972. (I’m searching for a better vinyl copy of that last album.)

All-Music Guide lists 200 CDs that include a recording of “O-o-h Child” (often spelled simply “Ooh Child”), but almost half of those listings are of the Five Stairsteps’ original version. Beyond the ’Steps and the three artists listed above, though, we find some interesting names:

Brand Nubian, Destiny’s Child, Hall & Oates, Ramsey Lewis, Keith Marks, Donnie McClurkin, Milton Nascimento, Laura Nyro, the 103rd Street Gospel Choir, Beth Orton, the Posies, Dee Dee Sharp, Nina Simone, the Spinners, Dusty Springfield and Lenny Williams. Lots of those sound interesting, and I think I’ll have a few more CD titles to put on my wish list. Especially interesting is the prospect of the Laura Nyro version, which is a bonus track laid onto an expanded CD version of her Gonna Take A Miracle album.

Of the three cover versions I have, I’ve already posted the Havens and Carter versions, but it’s been a while, so I’ll post those again. And as long as we’re talking about cover versions, I have at times seen the Five Stairsteps’ single listed with its B-Side, which must have gotten some airplay. So I’ll post the Five Stairsteps’ version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” as well.

“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]

“Ooh Child” by Valerie Carter from Just A Stone’s Throw Away [1977]

“Ooh Child” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag II [1974]

“Dear Prudence” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]