Archive for the ‘1974’ Category

‘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]

Here’s Some Heartsfield

March 21, 2012

Originally  posted March 18, 2009

I’ve posted a few things from the 1970s country-rock band Heartsfield, and the reaction was positive both times. Today, I’m offering the band’s second album, The Wonder of It All, a 1974 release. And I’ve added a new, better and complete copy of the group’s first, self-titled album from 1973.

Fans of early 1970s country rock should enjoy the albums. It’s been a mystery to me why Heartsfield didn’t become more well-known.

Heartsfield – The Wonder of It All (1974)

Tracks
The Wonder of It All
House of Living
Pass Me By
Shine On
Eight Hours Time
I’ve Just Fallen
Racin’ the Sun
Lafayette County
Shine On (single edit)

Heartsfield – Heartsfield (1973)

Tracks
I’m Coming Home
Hush-A-Bye
Gypsy Rider
Music Eyes
Understandin’ Woman
Just That Wind
The Only Time I’m Sober Is When You’re Gone
Save Her Life
The Wonder of It All

Note:
I wasn’t up to saying much when I posted earlier today, nor, obviously, was I up to posting correctly. I mixed things up a little on the original post. I’ve now revised the post, uploaded the correct album and added another. Sorry for the confusion.

One Of The Missing Is Found

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 17, 2009

Every once in a while, there’s a story in the newspaper that gives me the chills.

Today, it was about a deck of cards featuring the faces of the murdered and missing, a man who recognized one of those faces, and a girl from the St. Paul suburbs who went missing in 1982 at the age of twenty-three.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The deck of cards was an educational tool put together last autumn by Cold Case Unit of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), showing the faces of Minnesotans who were either murdered or went missing years ago. It’s a technique that Minnesota borrowed from the state of Florida, and it’s led to seventy tips coming into the state bureau’s offices.

One of those tips came from a man who grew up in the St. Paul suburbs. He thought that the face on one of the cards looked like that of a young woman who lived down the street and disappeared in 1982, when he was ten years old. The face the man saw on the card was actually a reconstruction of a face based on skeletal remains.

In 1989, according to reporter Bill McAuliffe of the Star Tribune staff, mushroom hunters came across a skeleton in a wooded highway median south of the city of Wabasha, Minnesota, more than seventy miles southeast of St. Paul. The remains could not be identified, but the coroner judged the unknown woman to be the victim of a murder. When the BCA put together its deck of cards, technology was used to create the reconstruction of the woman’s face that was put on the four of diamonds.

As he scanned the cards on the bureau’s website, the man who had been ten years old in 1982 thought that the reconstructed face looked like that of Deana Patnode, who’d gone missing then. He turned out to have been right: Genetic technology has helped verify that the body found south of Wabasha was Patnode’s. Now the BCA has a name to put on its murder victim. And Deana Patnode’s family knows at least a little more than it did and can lay Deana’s bones to rest.

Missing person cases have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why. The only connection I can think of is tenuous: When my Uncle Russ, my dad’s brother, did a family genealogy back in the 1960s, he found a fascinating tale. Sometime in the late 19th century, maybe in the 1880s, a girl in our family – about twelve or so, I think – was sent on an errand from the family farm into town. The only thing that family records reveal is that she never came back. That snippet of a tale has haunted me ever since, and – I now realize – was the seed kernel for a novel I’ve been working on sporadically for a few years.

It must be horrendously hard for the families of those who go missing. Comparatively, death is much kinder. Those who die leave a vacancy, yes, but those who go missing must leave a vacancy doubled by questions. I sometimes wander through the files at The Doe Network, an online center for missing and unidentified persons, shaking my head in woe and in amazement at the numbers of the missing and of those found dead who are unidentified. For every family that finally gets some answers, like the Patnodes, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, whose questions float forever.

(I’m sorry for this ending up as grim as it has, but I write what I think about. And I’m almost reluctant to append music to this, not wanting to seem frivolous. But sharing music is what I do. The lyric content of these don’t always match this topic, but the titles do.)

A Six-Pack of Missing, Lost and Gone
“You’re Missing” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising [2002]
“The Lost Children” by Julie Felix from the Clotho’s Web sessions [1972]
“Lost” by the Church from Starfish [1988]
“Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” by the Walkabouts from Satisfied Mind [1993]
“When I’m Gone” by Jackie DeShannon, Atlantic session, Hollywood, January 15, 1973
“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash [1969]

Session data for Jackie DeShannon track added July 5, 2013.

Already On My Turntable

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 6, 2009

During my youth and early adulthood, it wasn’t often that I’d hear something playing on the radio and be able to say, “I have that record!”

Once I started listening to Top 40 radio in the late summer and early fall of 1969 – before that, I heard Top 40 all over the place but I never really listened – that happened occasionally. It was most frequent, of course, with the Beatles, especially once I made it my first mission in life to collect everything the Beatles had recorded for Capitol and Apple. I’d hear “Come Together” – or, as happened late one night when I woke up after leaving the radio on, the riff-glorious “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – and know, “That’s from Abbey Road. I have that!”

Beyond the Beatles, though, it wasn’t often that I’d hear a song on Top 40 radio that I had on record. If I did – and this held true for a lot of the Beatles’ catalog as well – it was generally records that the radio stations were playing as oldies. I was usually a few years behind in buying music. (I still am, and I know I’ll never catch up, given the musical riches that exist.)

And during my college years, especially after I came back from my year in Denmark, I didn’t listen to a lot of Top 40. At school, in the student union, we’d sometimes plug quarters into the jukebox and hear current singles, but that – and brief bits of driving – were my only exposure to current hits. At home, I listened to radio stations that played deeper tracks, either St. Cloud State’s KVSC or another St. Cloud station, long gone now, its call letters gone for years from my memory. And when I bought music, I was catching up on the catalogs of the Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, Joe Cocker and more, so when I listened to records at home, I’d never hear a song that was getting current radio play.

As time passed and radio stations changed or disappeared, I tuned my radio once more to more popular fare. But my buying habits remained fairly consistent. So I still rarely heard a song on the radio that I had on a record. That’s why I recall a morning in early March 1977 so very clearly. I was about to head to campus for the day (working on that minor in print journalism I mentioned in a recent post). I had the radio on, and as I headed to the desk to turn it off, there came, “Here come those tears again, just when I gettin’ over you . . .”

It was from The Pretender, the first Jackson Browne album I ever bought. And I stopped short, marveling – as I did every time I listened to the album – at how good the song was and marveling, too, at its being released as a single. I listened for a minute or two, then turned off the radio and headed downstairs, pleased with the knowledge that I could hear the song anytime I wanted to.

A Six-Pack of Tears
“Here Come Those Tears Again” by Jackson Brown, Asylum 45397 [1976]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Grover Washington, Jr., from All The King’s Horses [1972]
“96 Tears” by Big Maybelle Smith, Rojac 112 [1967]
“Drown In My Own Tears” by Richie Havens from Richie Havens’ Record [1968]
“River of Tears” by Eric Clapton from Pilgrim [1998]
“Trail of Tears” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers [1974]

“Here Comes Those Tears Again” was Jackson Browne’s second Top 40 single, following “Doctor My Eyes,” which went to No. 8 in 1972. “Tears” spent six weeks in the Top 40 starting in mid-February 1977 and peaked at No. 23. Browne had ten more Top 40 hits from then on, but I don’t know that any of them were better than “Here Come Those Tears Again.” Maybe “Running On Empty,” which came out about a year later. But “Tears,” which was pulled off the album The Pretender, is a great single, helped along by Bonnie Raitt’s work on background vocals and the sweet guitar solo by (surprisingly) John Hall of the band Orleans (who is now, maybe even more surprisingly, a U.S. Congressman from the state of New York).

Some time ago, I shared Roberta Flack’s 1973 version of “No Tears (In The End).” Since then, two other versions have come my way, each released in 1972. I’m not sure which of the two – by Grover Washington, Jr., and by the Friends of Distinction – came first, but they’re both nicely done. Of the two, I prefer Washington’s just a little, but that may come from my fondness for the sound of the saxophone (something I don’t think I’ve addressed specifically here, though it might have been implicit over these last two years). The album the track comes from, All The King’s Horses, does not seem to be available on CD, which is a shame.

Big Maybelle covers ? and the Mysterians? Yeah, blues belter Big Maybelle took on “96 Tears” and earned her final appearance on the R&B charts, though I’m not sure how high the record went.* It was pulled from the album Got a Brand New Bag, a record I would dearly love to hear some day, based on the track listing:

“96 Tears”
“Mellow Yellow”
“That’s Life”
“There Must Be A Word”
“Ellenor Rigby” (sic)
“Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing”
“I Can’t Control Myself”
“Cabaret”
“Black Is Black”
“Coming On Strong”
“The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”
“Turn The World Around The Other Way”

Contemplating Big Maybelle’s takes on some of those titles is like contemplating a – well, I can’t think right now of anything suitably bizarre. “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” undoubtedly the most odd track selection on an oddly programmed album, is a product of the mind of Norman Greenbaum (who reached No. 3 in 1970 with the great “Spirit In The Sky”).

I probably found the Richie Havens track on a blog somewhere; I don’t recall. It’s included on a compilation on the Rhino label called Resume: The Best of Richie Havens. If I’m correct in my conclusions about its origins, the track was originally recorded in 1965 or so and was placed in 1969 on an album called Richie Haven’s Record, which a producer created by adding electric instrumentation to some of Havens’ early acoustic demos without Havens’ input. That LP came out on the Douglas label, a division of Laurie Records. In his autobiography, Havens seems ambivalent about the Douglas album, but he has praise for the Rhino compilation. His performance of Ray Charles’ classic “Drown In My Own Tears” is a good one.

Reviews were decidedly mixed in 1998 when Eric Clapton released Pilgrim. “My Father’s Eyes,” though never officially released as a single, went to No. 16 as an album track. But I think a lot of critics and Clapton fans thought the album was a little lightweight. That was my reaction; there were lots of “nice” tracks on the record but nothing that had much substance. I still look askance at most of the CD, just more than ten years later. But I’ve come to like “River of Tears.”

The Talbot Brothers were the moving force behind the band Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country-rock band that released a clutch of albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The best of those, but not by much, was likely Wanted!) “Trail of Tears,” a beautiful track, comes from the brothers’ first album after the break-up of Mason Proffitt. That album was either called The Talbot Brothers or Reborn. I’ve seen pictures of record jackets with both titles. Either way, the musicianship is sparkling and the content reflects the brothers’ shift to overtly Christian themes. In the years ahead, the Talbots would be a prime force in what has come to be called Contemporary Christian Music.

*Big Maybelle’s cover of “96 Tears” went to No. 23 on the R&B Chart. Note added March 16, 2012.

Leo, The Muppets & Brownsville Station

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 19, 2009

It’s time for a trek through YouTube again.

Looking back to yesterday’s post of Leo Kottke’s Mudlark, I found a clip of Kottke performing a sweet version of “The Arms of Mary” on an episode of Austin City Limits. From what I’ve been able to track down, the show was taped in August 1992 for an airdate in 1993.

And here’s Kottke performing “Deep River Blues” for a taping of Sessions at West 54th in December 1997.

In Tuesday’s post, I mentioned the Muppets as one of the groups credited with covering Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” I found the clip, from an episode of The Muppet Show that was recorded between November 22 and 24, 1977. According to Muppet Wiki: “Two of the verses to ‘For What It’s Worth’ were rewritten in order to transform the popular anti-war song song into an anthem against hunting, but no one has ever been officially credited for these additional lyrics.” Muppet Wiki also notes that the audio of the sketch was included on a Muppets record released in 1978, but that on a 1994 release, the interruptions by the hunters were edited out.

And to close, here’s a clip from the January 29, 1974, episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert with Brownsville Station performing “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” and “Barefootin’.”

Tomorrow, I think we’re going to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the middle of February 1977. As I write this, I’m not at all sure what we’ll find, so it could be an adventure.

Savoring The Sunlight

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 16, 2009

As the sunlight came in the living room windows yesterday morning, I glanced at the date on the Minneapolis newspaper: February 15. And I thought of another February 15, thirty-five years distant now, when sunlight seemed like salvation.

I doubt that I’ve ever lived through a more dreary winter than the one I went through in Fredericia, Denmark in 1973-74. Living there was, of course, a joy and an adventure, but the winter was hard. It’s not that it was cold: The temperatures were generally around freezing, 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), which for someone from Minnesota wasn’t chilly at all. There were a few days when the temperature dipped to -10 or so Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius), levels that our Danish friends said they’d not seen since World War II, but those stretches didn’t last long and weren’t all that cold by the standards of the Minnesota winters to which we were accustomed.

The difficult part was the lack of sunlight. From the middle of November on, for the next three months, it was cloudy and dreary. The sun showed its face from time to time, but only as a brief respite – an hour or two – before the clouds dimmed the light once more. And Denmark is far enough north that the winter sun rises much later and sets much earlier than in Minnesota: In the depth of December, daylight began about nine o’clock in the morning and ended around three o’clock in the afternoon, which – combined with the near constant cloud cover – left us in what seemed like permanent gloom.

And then came February 15. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon, and the air was brisk but not cold. We had no classes that day, and those of us living at the youth hostel headed out into the sunlight, many of us with cameras. I can’t speak for all, but the bunch of kids I wandered around with had no plans, no real destination. We were just wandering in the sunshine, liberated at least for a day.

The stripe of sunlight across our carpet and the date on the newspaper yesterday morning reminded me of that sunny walk through Fredericia, and as I recalled the sunshine, I wondered what our friends at home might have heard on the radio that day.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 16, 1974)

“Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station, Big Tree 16011 (No. 22)

“Me and Baby Brother” by War, United Artists 350 (No. 53)

“Lookin’ For A Love” by Bobby Womack, United Artists 375 (No. 70)

“Stop To Start” by Blue Magic, Atco 6949 (No. 81)

“Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” by New York City, Chelsea 0150 (No. 88)

“I’ll Be The Other Woman” by the Soul Children, Stax 0182 (No. 94)

Brownsville Station was one of the numerous blues-based boogie bands that arose in the early 1970s, coming out of Detroit to record a clutch of albums between 1970 and 1980 and then fading into obscurity. “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” was the group’s glorious moment, if that’s not too glowing a term for it. The high school references sparked memories for those already older than that and likely rang true for those still playing high school Parcheesi. The record peaked at No. 3. I was surprised to learn this morning that Brownsville Station had more than one hit: “Kings Of The Party” went to No. 31 in the fall of 1974. (The umlaut-obsessed Mötley Crüe covered “Smokin’” in 1985; that version went to No. 16.)

War’s funky and cool “Me and Baby Brother” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 15. I tend to think that War is under-rated and often ignored when talk turns to great bands of the 1970s. In terms of popularity, the group had twelve Top 40 hits, and most of them were pretty good (“Why Can’t We Be Friends” is the exception), and that’s a better record than achieved by a lot of bands that are remembered more frequently. And the group’s albums were good, too, especially Deliver the Word (which was the source for “Me and Baby Brother”) and The World Is A Ghetto.

In two years, I’d not posted a single song by Bobby Womack, and now, in ten days, he’s come up twice. I’m not sure why that is. But “Lookin’ For A Love” is well worth a listen or even three. It was the third and last Top 40 hit for Womack, peaking at No. 10 at the end of April. (The record topped the R&B chart for three weeks.)

The singles by Blue Magic and New York City were nice bits of Philadelphia soul (despite the latter group’s name). “Stop To Start,” from Blue Magic’s first, self-titled album, sounds like something that came from Thom Bell, but it was produced by Steve Bernstein, Norman Harris and Alan Rubens, who – along with the group members – tapped the Philly sound perfectly. “Stop To Start” peaked at No. 74 during a six-week run in the Hot 100, but that summer, Blue Magic’s “Sideshow” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart). New York City had reached No. 17 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” – a Thom Bell production – in the spring of 1973, but the Bell-produced “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” got no further up the chart than No. 79.

The Soul Children, a two-man, two-woman vocal group, recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had one blindingly good single, “Hearsay,” which went to No. 44 in May of 1972. “I’ll Be The Other Woman,” a slower and more reflective but still good piece of work, went to No. 36, the only Top 40 hit for the group.

Note:
I’m on Facebook! You can find my profile here.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

On A Plane From Clear Lake . . .

December 16, 2011

Originally posted February 3, 2009

I’ve wondered for months what to put in this space today. The following essay is taken from The Heart of Rock & Soul, the marvelous 1989 book by Dave Marsh. It accompanies Marsh’s assessment of Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go,” which Marsh ranked as No. 757 in his listing of the 1,001 greatest singles. But Marsh’s piece, as so often happens, is about much more than one song:

The plane stayed in the air . . .

The Big Bopper laughed it off. Scored another hit or two, then changed his name back to J. P. Richardson and became a TV game show host, halfway between Wink Martindale and Monty Hall, with an extensive collection of hairpieces, the most famous weight control problem in the United States, and two weeks a year live in Vegas, doing stand-up and a little old-time rock and roll schtick.

There, he’d occasionally run into Buddy, who quit the tour after the close call in Clear Lake, just refused to get back on the tour bus and waited out the storm in a motel room, got a ride back home and told promoter Irving Felt to stuff it. When the lawsuits were over, he and Maria Elena tried moving back to Lubbock, but it was impossible for a white man and a Puerto Rican woman to be comfortably married in west Texas. They came back to New York and in 1965, split up. Maria Elena kept their three children, and half of Buddy’s increasingly lucrative catalog of copyrights.

Buddy toured with the Beatles, who spoke of him worshipfully, but after his 1964 album produced by Phil Spector, had no more hits as a performer. As a writer, he remained in demand and in 1972, wrote a show based on the old days on the rock and roll circuit, bringing a lot of his old friends – Guitar Baker, King Curtis, the Crickets, Darlene Love – back to the limelight for the first time in a few years. But Buddy wasn’t in the show; he said he’d lost the desire. John Lennon said it was the best thing he’d seen since the Jerry Lee Lewis tour of Britain in the fifties. Bob Dylan said nothing, but he went three nights running. When it closed on Broadway, the show went on the road and then set up in Vegas, where it ran on the Strip as a revue for fifteen years.

Neither Buddy nor the Bopper ever saw much of Ritchie, though of course he was offered a part in Buddy’s revival show. He was now a 300-pound session guitarist and mostly invisible to the rock and roll world, working jingle dates and living in East L.A., where he was a legend to the few who knew the full story and respected as the best guitar teacher in the community. Offers to make records he greeted with a shrug, though he made one nice duet LP with Carlos Santana.

The couple times Ritchie did albums under his own name, though, the results were half-hearted. He told his daughter that success was one thing, but that record labels messed with your music too much. The only one of his hits that he’d agree to play at all was “C’mon Let’s Go,” because it was just a guitar tune. He refused to even consider playing “La Babma,” which he regarded as a travesty of Mexican folk-culture, or “Donna,” because he hated his own confessions of puppy love weakness. And he never wanted anything to do with touring again.

A Six-Pack for February 3
“The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again [1977]

“Rock N Roll Gypsies” by Jesse Ed Davis from Jesse Davis [1971]

“Only You and Rock and Roll” by Redbone from Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes [1974]

“I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” by the Moody Blues from Seventh Sojourn [1972]

“They Call It Rock & Roll Music” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney [1970]

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit 632 [1961]

Two Years Of Echoes

December 16, 2011

Originally posted February 2, 2009

I’ve been wondering for some time how to mark the second anniversary of this humble blog. While I’d shared a few albums and singles beforehand, it was on February 1, 2007, that I invested a small bit of cash and installed a counter. With that done, I began to actively encourage folks to stop by here.

So I’ve designated February 1, which was yesterday, as this blog’s birthday, and – as I said – I’ve been wondering what to do to mark it. The first thing to do, I thought, is a historical inventory, seeing from what decades my mp3 collection comes. This is what I found.

1800s: 27
1900s: 9
1910s: 10
1920s: 381
1930s: 412
1940s: 316
1950s: 1,054
1960s: 7,842
1970s: 12,353
1980s: 2,983
1990s: 4,032
2000s: 4,293

The stuff from pre-1920 isn’t as impressive as it might look. Almost all of those mp3s are classical pieces and college fight songs tagged by their dates of composition, not by recording dates. The oldest recording that I have – at least the oldest to which I can append a date that I believe is accurate – is a performance of “Poor Mourner” recorded by the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet in Philadelphia on November 29, 1902.

The focus on the 1960s and 1970s doesn’t surprise me, nor should it startle anyone who comes by here regularly. I am a little surprised that I have that much music from 2000 and after.

So what should I post today?

What I’ve decided to do is to first ignore the music from pre-1950. I find some of it interesting, but I think it’s less so to the folks who stop by here. After that, I’ll sort through the files by decade and then by running time, and at that point find a single track of roughly average length from each decade from 1950 on. I’ll select the singles based on rarity and on my perceptions of their appeal and aesthetic value.

And since you all by now know that my aesthetic structure has a few slightly warped walls, this might be fun! So here’s what we’ll listen to today:

A Six-Pack Through The Decades
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by the Platters, Mercury 71383 [1958]

“Girl From The East” by the Leaves, Mira 222 [1966]

“Come Back into My Life Again” by Cold Blood from Lydia [1974]

“Don’t Walk Away” by Toni Childs from Union [1988]

“Ghost Train” by Counting Crows from August And Everything After [1993]

“Mastermind” by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals from This Is Somewhere [2007]

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” spent three weeks at the top of the pop chart in early 1959, giving the Platters their fourth No.1 hit. Over all, the Los Angeles group had twenty-three records reach the Top 40 between 1955 and 1967.

“Girl From The East” was the B-Side to the Leaves’ “Hey Joe,” which reached No. 31 in the summer of 1966. More interesting in these precincts is the fact that “Girl From The East” was written by my pal Bobby Jameson for the 1965 album, Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest that Bobby recorded under the name of Chris Lucey.

By 1974, Cold Blood was trying to capitalize on its lead singer, Lydia Pense, using her name as the title of one album and then, in 1976, titling its next album Lydia Pense & Cold Blood. The strategy didn’t get the group that many more listeners, but the music was still good, as “Come Back into My Life Again” makes clear.

Toni Childs’ Union was one of my favorite albums of the late 1980s, an idiosyncratic piece of work that I found fascinating. “Don’t Walk Away,” a funky, powerful track, is the album’s opener and was released as a single. Even more than twenty years later, the album has a grip on me.

Adam Duritz’ distinctive voice was by any measurement one of the iconic sounds of the Nineties. I haven’t always liked Counting Crows’ work, but it’s almost always been interesting.

On the other hand, through three CDs, I absolutely love everything that Grace Potter and her band, the Nocturnals, have recorded. The band – with Potter on keyboards – is tight, and Potter sings like. . . well, I don’t have a superlative strong enough at hand right now. Get the CDs and listen.

A Brief Note
I just wanted to say that I’ve had more fun keeping this blog going for these past two years than I could ever have anticipated. I’ve had a chance to share music I love, and – much more importantly – I’ve had a chance to find similarly inclined friends from around the world. Thanks to all of you for reading and for your comments as well as the occasional correction or clarification. I hope you all come along as we head into Year No. Three.

A Six-Pack Of North

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 14, 2009

Readers from other areas than the United States’ Upper Midwest must sometimes wonder if my clear obsession with weather – especially cold weather and its travails – is mine alone or if I share it with others.

Let me be clear: Nearly all of us here in this northern tier of the U.S. are obsessed with our winter weather. We shudder at the thought of it every autumn, celebrate its leaving in the spring and remember it fondly during the warmest part of summer. And during the actual season of winter, we shiver, we kick clusters of accumulated dirt and ice from the wheel wells of our vehicles, and we cock our ears for the latest wisdom from our local television forecasters: “It’ll be brutally cold tonight here in the metro area, colder still in the outlying areas. Bundle up, and make sure you have your emergency kit in your car if you need to drive. If you don’t need to go, stay home.”

We talk wintertime survival with the folks next to us in line at the hardware store: “A fella could do a lot worse than to have a couple sets of jumper cables in the car, you know,” said one of the parka-wearing customers the other week when I was waiting to pay for my new show shovels. Three similarly clad customers – chilled cheeks and noses glowing red in the store’s fluorescent lights – nodded. Most of us, I think, settle for one set of jumper cables in our vehicles, but the man who advised us was correct: There are worse things that having two sets. You could have none and be stuck in the shopping mall parking lot with a dead battery as the day’s light fades.

Even the national news folks noticed our current cold snap. Our weather was the lead item yesterday on the CBS Evening News. The piece showed pretty accurately the perverse pride we take in surviving and maybe even thriving in brutally cold conditions. Later last evening, during one of those little chat moments that happen during local newscasts, the anchorwoman on another Twin Cities television station told her colleagues that friends of hers had moved to Minnesota from Florida in the past year. She said she’d had a difficult time getting those friends to understand what they’d be facing come this cold season. I got the sense that the truth had startled the newcomers and that the newswoman was taking at least a little satisfaction from her friends’ chilly bewilderment.

From what the weather mavens tell us, tonight and tomorrow will be the coldest in this particular siege. Here in St. Cloud, the temperature will drop to -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius), and with winds coming from the north, the wind chill will range from -36 to -46 Fahrenheit (-37 to -43 Celsius). It doesn’t look as though we’ll be setting any records, though. On February 2, 1996, folks in the little northern town of Tower, Minnesota, kept heading outside every few minutes to check the outdoor temperature, hoping to establish a new state record. They succeeded: The thermometer reading dropped at one point to -60 Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius).

This cold snap won’t bring with it any such extreme, from what I understand. And that’s fine, except for those folks in Embarrass, Minnesota, who would like their record back. As for me, sometime this afternoon, I will head out into the chill wind to run a few errands. I won’t be out long, and I’m not going far. But as I walk from the car to the stores, I’ll hunch my shoulders against the wind and – metaphorically if not literally – look back over my shoulder to see what’s coming at me from the north.

A Six Pack of North
“Girl From The North Country” by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]

“North Star” by Jesse Winchester from Third Down, 110 To Go [1972]

“Northern Sky” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later [1970]

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah [1974]

“North, South, East And West” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

“Theme from Northern Exposure by David Schwartz [1990]

A few notes:

The Cocker/Russell duet, though it gets a little ragged at the end, is one of my favorite highlights from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. I sometimes wonder if Cocker and/or Russell thought for a split-second: “Oh, my god, Bob Dylan’s come to listen to us!”

The Jesse Winchester track comes from the second album Winchester recorded in Canada while he was exiled from the United States for evading the Vietnam-era draft. It’s a pretty good album, if a little bit inferior to his self-titled debut.

Nick Drake wasn’t utterly unknown during his lifetime, but he was a pretty obscure singer/songwriter. Now, in the age of CD re-release, he’s better known than even he might have though possible before his death in 1974. Bryter Later was the second of the three albums he released during his lifetime and is not quite a bleak as the other two records.

Quah was the first solo album by Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane. Since 1974, Kaukonen has released a string of good albums in a style that leans more and more toward Americana, with 2007’s Stars in My Crown being the most recent. (A new album, River of Time, is set for a February 10 release, according to All-Music Guide.)