Archive for the ‘1988’ 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)

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Hoping To Hear One From The List

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 11, 2009

More than a year ago, on the Saturday when I would see Richie Havens in concert, I shared here a list started long ago of specific songs by specific performers that I hoped to see live. While it had never been written down until the day of that post, the list was something I’d started in the spring of 1972. My sister’s 1971 Christmas present to me had been two tickets to any concert I wanted to see in the Twin Cities. Eventually, I chose to go see Joe Cocker at the now-razed Metropolitan Sports Center. (He had two opening acts that evening: Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show and Bobby Whitlock.)

On our drive to the Cities, Rick and I talked, of course, of what we wanted to hear Cocker perform. My main selection was “Delta Lady.” I think he was hoping for “Bird On The Wire.” And we began to talk about what songs we’d like to hear by other performers, were we ever lucky enough to see them in concert. Since then, I’ve kept a list in my memory of such hopes.

As a caveat to the list, I wrote here in January of 2008:

“I should note that there are many other performers I’d like to see, many of them more current than those here on this list. Some that some immediately to mind are Joss Stone, Tift Merritt, Grace Potter & the Nocturals, David Gray, Colin Linden, Ollabelle and the Dixie Chicks. But I have no one song that immediately comes to mind for those acts.”

And then I shared, in no particular order, the song/performer pairings that have been on my list over the years. The notes in parentheses indicate the dates and places where in fact, I heard that entry.

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (October 4, 1973, Århus, Denmark)
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (July 1989, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney (September 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Layla” by Eric Clapton
“American Pie” by Don McLean (Early 1987, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“That’s The Way God Planned It” by Billy Preston (Spring 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Imagine” by John Lennnon (No longer possible)
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Angel of Harlem” by U2
“The Weight” by The Band (Summer 1994, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood
“Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith
“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Summer 1974, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker (April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota)
“She Was Waiting . . .” by Shawn Phillips (Early 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond (September 1971, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King (August 1995, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Follow” by Richie Havens

When I shared that list, I was hopeful that I’d be able to enter a date and place for Havens’ “Follow.” But faced with a vast catalog from more than forty years of recording, Havens bypassed “Follow” in the course of a remarkable concert. Was I disappointed? Only a small bit.

Come sometime this evening, I should be able to add a date and place after “Born To Run” in the list above: The Texas Gal and I have tickets to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tonight at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. We’re pretty high up – in the highest section of the arena, I think – but we’re on the side of the stage and in the front row of our section. We’ll be pretty much directly across the arena from where we sat when we saw Paul McCartney, and those were pretty good seats.

So here, in anticipation, is a selection of five covers of Springsteen songs and his own idiosyncratic alternate take on “Born To Run.”

A Six-Pack of Springsteen Covers (Almost)
“Atlantic City” by The Band from Jericho [1993]
“Because The Night” by the Patti Smith Group from Easter [1978]
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by the Hollies from Another Night [1975]
“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from This Time It’s For Real [1977]
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication [1981]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen (live) from Chimes of Freedom [1988]

On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

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.

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.)

‘Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears . . .’

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 12, 2009

I wrote the other day about scanning the daily obituaries and on occasion seeing a name that spurs a memory or a thought. It happened again over the weekend while I was browsing news online.

I read in a news account that William Zantzinger, who had died at the age of sixty-nine, was buried Friday, January 10, in Maryland. And as I read, I heard in my head Bob Dylan’s flat early-Sixties voice:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

That’s the opening verse of Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” released in 1964 on The Times They Are A-Changin’. The song tells the 1963 tale of what happened when Carroll, a fifty-one-year-old African-American barmaid, died of a stroke a few hours after Zantzinger, who was twenty-four and white, stuck Carroll with his cane when she displeased him during a charity ball at Baltimore’s Emerson Hotel.

The Los Angeles Times has a good account of the events of that evening, of the trial for manslaughter that followed, and of the rest of Zantzinger’s life. (While writing the song, Dylan dropped the “t” from Zantzinger’s name, possibly for legal reasons.)*

“Hattie Carroll” is not one of Dylan’s songs I know well. I knew it well enough to recognize Zantzinger’s name and recall most of the first verse, but it’s not one I’ve dug into very deeply, not the way I’ve examined songs of his that came along later. Add to that the fact that – to me – The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the Dylan album that is stuck most in the time it was released, and one finds a song that has remained if not anonymous, then at least a little bit hidden.

But “Hattie Carroll” is worth a listen, especially when one considers that there’s probably not a better example of pure folk music – as defined by one very formal standard – in Dylan’s oeuvre. At a time when thousands of pieces of up-to-date information are available to us with flicks of our wrists and clicks of our fingers, it’s worth pondering for a moment that, not all that long ago, as these things are measured, significant or just fascinating events once were defined and remembered in large part through song.

And that’s what Dylan did when he wrote “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Acting as reporter and commentator, Dylan uses his song to tell us the news. One doesn’t have to work too hard to imagine how William Zantzinger felt about being immortalized in song; the Los Angeles Times piece I linked to earlier touches lightly on that. But I do wonder how Hattie Carroll would have felt about it.

I have three recordings of the song in my library: The original recording by Dylan from 1964; the version he performed during the tour of the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975, and a version released by Steve Howe, who is most likely best known for his work as a member of Yes and Asia. The track comes from Portraits of Bob Dylan, a 1999 collection of twelve Dylan tunes performed by Howe with a few other folks.

Howe’s version of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” – the place where we’ll start today’s otherwise random ten songs – has Howe on Spanish, electrical and steel guitars as well as on mandolin and keyboards. Geoff Downes is on keyboards as well, with Anna Palm on violin, Nathalie Manser on cello and Dean Dyson handling the vocal.

Ten (Almost) At Random, 1950-1999
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” by Steve Howe et al. from Portraits of Bob Dylan, 1999

“Big River” by Delbert McClinton from Second Wind, 1978

“How Can You Keep Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)” by Ry Cooder from Into the Purple Valley, 1971

“Shot of Rhythm & Blues” by Arthur Alexander, Dot 16309, 1962

“I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” by the Groop from The Groop, 1969

“If You’ve Got A Daughter” by Sailcat from Motorcycle Mama, 1972

“Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2781, 1971

“Anything” by the Vejetables, Autumn 15, 1965

“Glad I Knew You Well” by Livingston Taylor from Life Is Good, 1988

“I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” by the Glass Bottle, Avco Embassy 4575, 1971

A few notes:

Into the Purple Valley was Ry Cooder’s second solo album, and it settles neatly into a tour of the music of the Dust Bowl era, with Cooder showing his well documented artistry on almost any stringed instrument. In addition, he finds the centers of songs that were more than thirty years old at the time of recording, songs of dislocation, struggle and fear that might not seem so out of place in these disquieting times of our own.

Arthur Alexander was a country-soul artist from Alabama who left behind a fairly substantial collection of singles and LPs recorded between 1960 and his death in 1993. The most frequent mention of his name these days, though, is likely for his recording the original version of “Anna,” which the Beatles covered in their early years. (The Beatles’ cover version was released on an 1964 EP in Britain; in the U.S., it was originally released on Vee Jay’s Introducing the Beatles in 1963 and later on the 1965 Capitol LP release, The Early Beatles.)

There are evidently two groups that were called The Groop in the 1960s. This one is the Los Angeles-based group, not the earlier assembly from Australia that went to England. The L.A.-based Groop is credited with recording two songs that were included in the soundtrack to the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy as well as recording one album. “I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” comes from that 1969 self-titled effort. I looked for Curt Boettcher’s name on the credits; it’s not there, but whoever produced the record listened to a lot of Boettcher’s work, I think. The track offered here sounds a lot like the Association.

The Wilson Pickett recording is one of those that I got in the Philadelphia box set I mentioned the other day. Pulled from the LP Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia, the single went to No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 17 on the pop chart.

The Vejetables’ single comes from the other box set I mentioned the other day, the one that focuses on the music of the San Francisco area from 1965 to 1970. It’s relatively trippy folk rock.

The Glass Bottle’s single is a one-hit wonder by a group from New Jersey, and a wondrous one at that. A sweet artifact from my first autumn in college, the song – produced, oddly enough, by novelty artist Dickie Goodman – went to No. 36 during a three-week stay in the Top 40. I have a sense that the record – as familiar as it is to me – did better than that in Minnesota.

*The Los Angeles Times piece about Zantzinger has since been deleted. Note added November 16, 2011.

Some Voices Suggested By Readers

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 20, 2008

I thought that this morning, I’d head to YouTube and find some clips from a few of the many names readers suggested yesterday that might belong in the top ten list of the best singers of the rock era.

The first one I came across was one of my favorites, Maria McKee, in a 1990 live performance of “Show Me Heaven” – from the film Days of Thunder – on Top of the Pops. (The ending is a little truncated.)

Video deleted.

Then, here’s a powerful live performance of “Why” by Annie Lennox during the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of Arista Records. The celebration took place April 10, 2000, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California.

Here’s an intriguing clip: Elvis Costello, accompanying himself on a ukulele, performing “The Scarlet Tide,” which he and T-Bone Burnett wrote for the soundtrack of Cold Mountain. The performance took place on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson but I’m not sure of the date. Maybe 2003?

Here’s Christina Aguilera covering Etta James’ “At Last” live in London in November 2003:

And we’ll close with Mavis Staples – with Dr. John on the piano – performing “I’ll Take You There” as the closer on a 1988 episode of Sunday Night.

An interesting mix, I think. Enjoy!

Who Might Rank Among Them?

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2008

I got my new copy of Rolling Stone yesterday, the one that trumpets on its cover the listing inside of the one hundred greatest singers of all time. The cover also bears a picture of Aretha Franklin, who took the top spot on that list of singers.

Now, I love lists of stuff, especially lists relating to music. And Rolling Stone does a lot of them. I could walk across the study and pull from the bookshelf about fifteen editions of the magazine from the last twenty or so years that have a list ranking something in rock ’n’ roll history, whether it’s albums or songs or singles or guitarists or what-have-you. And this list – greatest singers – seems to be a suitable topic.

I haven’t waded my way through the entire one hundred names yet; I’ve read the foreword of the section, looked at the list of the folks who voted and read the entries on the first five singers: Aretha, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. That’s a pretty impressive top five. Maybe not quite as powerful but still impressive were the names of the folks who wrote the short essays about that top five: Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and Jackson Browne. I am looking forward, sometime later today, to sitting down with the magazine and digging into the remaining ninety-five singers on the list.

I suppose I should look ahead and note here which singers rounded out the Top Ten: Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. I could make a number of observations, but I’ll keep still on most of them until I’ve absorbed the entire list. I will make one comment.

The list of voters – made up of musicians, journalists and critics – seems to have been pretty well spread among the generations and sub-genres of rock music. In other words, there was no overloading on any one era or style. And those various voters decided that the ten greatest singers in rock history are seven dead guys and two men and one woman whose greatest work was turned was turned out between thirty and forty years ago. (Some might argue that Dylan’s recent work is among his best; it might be, but still, that hardly dents the point I’m about to make.)

What the Rolling Stone voters are telling us is that not one of the ten greatest singers in rock ’n’ roll history has started his or her career in the years since, oh, 1964 (the year that Redding released his debut album). That’s a remarkable statement, and it’s one for which I don’t seem to have a response. (I’ve been staring at the screen and keyboard for about five minutes trying to find words; they’re not there.)

Now, I love the music of the Sixties and the Seventies. Anyone who stops by here knows that, and it’s an understandable passion: That music is the music of my childhood, youth and young adulthood. But those decades are not the sole source of good music by talented artists. And I think the best thing about lists like the one in the current Rolling Stone is that they start discussions. So I’m going to throw out a question and (with luck and some effort from my readers) we’ll start a discussion here. That question:

Who is the best rock (in all its forms) singer to start his or her career, oh, let’s say, after 1970, and where would that person fall among the top ten anointed by Rolling Stone?

Just so you don’t have go back and pick them out, here are the names of those ten singers again:

Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
Elvis Presley
Sam Cooke
John Lennon
Marvin Gaye
Bob Dylan
Otis Redding
Stevie Wonder
James Brown

And to accompany that, we’ll do a random six-pack of tunes from artists who came along after 1970:

“Rain” by Terence Trent D’Arby from Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, 1987. (Debut album)

“Late In My Bed” by Elizabeth Barraclough from Elizabeth Barraclough, 1978. (Debut album)

“That’s What They Say” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988. (Debut album)

“All I Want Is You” by Roxy Music from Country Life, 1974. (Debut album in 1972)

“Fadeaway” by the BoDeans from Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, 1986. (Debut album)

“Roman” by the Church from Heyday, 1986. (Debut album in 1981)

I don’t think that any of the lead singers there will challenge for that Top Ten list, but Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music might belong in the Top Fifty or so. That’s beside the point, though. This was a random selection of songs.

Again, what I do want to know from readers is: Who, from the artists who came along post-1970, could reasonably be considered for that top ten? Lemme know!

The Drifters, Roy, Nat & PP&M

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 16, 2008

Doing my customary Thursday wander at YouTube, I found what appears to be an early video with the Drifters lip-synching “Up On The Roof,” with a few pigeons co-starring:

Then I found a clip from the Black & White Night concert of Roy Orbison doing “Leah” with the help of some famous friends. Supporting Orbison during the television special – originally broadcast on January 3, 1988, on HBO – were Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d.Lang, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Jennifer Warnes:

Then, here’s Nat King Cole in what appears to be a small club – a television studio, maybe? – leading his audience in a singalong on parts of “Ramblin’ Rose.” I’d guess it’s from about the time the song came out in 1962.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s a 1963 performance – most likely on television – by Peter, Paul & Mary, performing “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” *

*The Peter, Paul & Mary video originally included in this post had been deleted, but I found a similar video, likely from the same time period. Note added August 24, 20011.