Archive for the ‘1990’ Category

A Treasure Lost

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 22, 2010

I’m chiming in a little late on the chorus here, but this week, the music world lost a jewel.

Kate McGarrigle – singer, songwriter and one-half of the McGarrigle sisters – crossed over this week in Montreal, Canada. She was sixty-three and had “clear cell sarcoma, a form of cancer,” said the New York Times. (See the full story here.)

I learned about them in 1989, as I read the first edition I owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. The entry for the McGarrigles said simply:

“Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, They suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies could be dazzling.”

That was a little condescending, I thought, but it spurred me to keep an eye out for the McGarrigles’ work as I roamed the record stores. As I found and bought the occasional record and then CD over the years, I found myself appreciating more and more the quiet charm, consistent quality and occasional quirkiness of the sisters’ work.

More people know them, certainly, as writers of songs performed by other people. I would guess that the best-known song Kate McGarrigle wrote was “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino,” which Linda Ronstadt recorded for her 1981 album, Get Closer. (The title tune of Ronstadt’s 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, was written by Anna McGarrigle.)

One of the lessons that a writer can take from Kate McGarrigle’s work is that pretty much anything could be a topic for a song. Here, along with “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” are “I Eat Dinner,” a sad ode to the numbing sameness of life without romance, and “NaCl,” a sprightly science lesson.

“(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle [1975]

“I Eat Dinner” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Heartbeats Accelerating [1990]

“NaCl” by by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Pronto Monto [1978]

Defaulting To Random

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 16, 2009

Today’s post was going to be a look at December 1971. Not that I had any great tale to tell, but I’d recalled a brief anecdote onto which to hang a musical hat.

And the chart – from December 18, 1971 – looked good. I was particularly happy with the presence of “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics and “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations. I pulled the vinyl anthologies for both groups and got to work. Regrettably, both pieces of vinyl have skips. At least, I think so. I’m certain the Stylistics track does. Then there’s an odd rhythm at the beginning of the Temptations piece, and I think it’s a skip. I need to dig a little further.

But messing around with those two rips – the two tracks would have been great to share – has taxed my patience, and the brief tale I’m going to resurrect from the last month of 1971 will have to wait. I’m just going to cue up the third track I’d already selected from that week in December 1971 and go more or less random from there. By “more or less,” I mean that there’ll be nothing pre-1950, nothing post-1999, nothing I recall sharing recently, and nothing that might yet end up in the listing for my Ultimate Jukebox.

An update on that project, since it came up: It was relatively easy to find enough records to consider. It’s become quite difficult to pare them down to two hundred. The list right now numbers two hundred and thirty-five, and I hope to get down to two hundred within a week.

A Mostly Random Six-Pack
“So Many People” by Chase, Epic 10806 [1971]
“Maxwell Street Shuffle” by Barry Goldberg from Two Blues Jews [1969]
“Hobo Jungle” by The Band from Northern Lights/Southern Cross [1975]
“Sisters of Mercy” by Judy Collins from Wildflowers [1967]
“In The Light Of Day” by Steve Winwood from Refugees of the Heart [1990]
“Weather With You” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]

Listening to it today, I’m startled that “So Many People” was essentially unsuccessful. Chase’s “Get It On” went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, but “So Many People” peaked at No. 81 during the first week of 1972 and then took a week or so to tumble out of sight. And that’s too bad, because from here and now, it was a great horn-band single. But maybe the era of the horn band was ending. A note: I once was silly enough to write that Chase was a group without a guitar player because the review I was looking at mentioned everyone in the group but the lead guitarist. Of course, the group had a guitar player. On this track, it’s Angel South. Others here are Bill Chase, Ted Piercefield, Alan Ware and Jerry Van Blair on trumpets; Phil Porter on organ, Dennis Johnson on bass, Jay Burrid on drums and G.G. Shinn on vocals.

As All-Music Guide notes, Barry Goldberg “was a regular fixture in the white blues firmament of the mid-’60s that seemed to stretch from Chicago to New York.” His name popped up in album credits everywhere, as he played with Harvey Mandel, Mother Earth, the Electric Flag, Jimmy Witherspoon, B.J. Thomas, Maggie Bell, Stephen Stills, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and many more. Two Jews Blues was his own album, and it comes off pretty well, given that he got a lot of his friends to show up and help out. I’m not sure who does the guitar solo on “Maxwell Street Shuffle,” but the guitarists credited at AMG are Mandel, Bloomfield, Duane Allman and Eddie Hinton. (It’s not Allman, according to a Duane Allman discography that’s pretty reliable; the site says that Allman played on one track on the album, “Twice A Man.”)

As much as I love The Band, I’ve never quite figured out how I feel about the album Northern Lights/Southern Cross. Two of the songs on the album – “Acadian Driftwood” and “It Makes No Difference” – are among the group’s best and are so good that the rest of the album seems somehow wanting when taken as a unit. But when other tracks pop up individually – as “Hobo Jungle” did today – they seem better than I remember them being. Which might put The Band in a rare category as a group whose own lesser work still shines when placed next to the best work of a lot of other performers.

I wrote the other week about the albums my sister owned when she was in college, the albums she took with her when she left home. Judy Collins’ Wildflowers was one of them. Collins’ cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” is one of the most evocative tracks on the record; hearing it puts me back into late 1971, the period of time I was going to write about today. It’s evening, and I’m in the rec room in the basement, maybe playing tabletop hockey with Rick and Rob, maybe reading, maybe talking quietly with my first college girlfriend. Collins’ soprano and Cohen’s lyric – enigmatic as it may be – blended so well that “Sisters of Mercy” became one of the songs that made that rec room my refuge.

“In The Light Of Day” was the closing track to Steve Winwood’s Refugees of the Heart, an album that hasn’t been too well-respected over the years: AMG’s William Ruhlmann says, “The key to Steve Winwood’s solo career is inconsistency; Refugees of the Heart was a letdown. The distinction between a great Winwood album and one that’s only okay is dangerously small – it has more to do with performance than composition . . .” I admit to not being blown away when I got the album in 1990 and then again when I found the CD in a budget bin two years ago. But this morning “In The Light Of Day” – essentially a lengthy, grooved prayer – seemed pretty good. The saxophone solo is by Randall Bramblett.

“Weather With You” is one of my favorite Crowded House tunes, but then, CH was a group that rarely did anything I truly dislike. During their heyday – the late 1980s and early 1990s – I heard and read the term “Beatlesque” applied to the New Zealanders so often that it became a cliché instead of meaningful commentary. But “Weather With You” is bright, concise, melodic and infectious, and those are virtues no matter who you’re being compared to.

‘Looking For Mercy Street . . .’

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 1, 2009

There are, I am sure, numerous blank spots in my music collections: holes where one would otherwise expect to find LPs and CDs by major artists or of major styles and subcultures of music. One of those that I know about is Genesis. I have none of the British group’s work on LP or on CD. I do have the mp3 for one of the group’s albums, 1973’s Selling England By The Pound, but hearing it on occasion – and quite liking it – hasn’t spurred me to go out and get any of the group’s other twenty or so other albums.

I’m not at all sure why that hole exists. The group came along at a time – during the early 1970s – when I listened to a little bit of everything. Why none of its music made it to my shelves is a mystery. The two better-known members of the group who went on to solo careers are represented at least a little: I have – and like – Phil Collins’ Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going! And I have the LP of Peter Gabriel’s So, a 1986 album that I regard as one of the great albums of all time (in the top fifty, maybe?). In addition, I have digital files for So and for two of Gabriel’s earlier self-titled albums, the 1977 effort colloquially known as “Car” and the 1980 album frequently called “Melt.” Even so, there’s not a lot of music here by the two of them, but it’s enough to know that I like it and I really need to go get more.

The problem is, of course, that the same words – “I really need to go get more” – can be written about the work of almost any musical performer or group represented in my collection. My attention and my resources are limited. Post like this – in which I acknowledge gaps in my collection and in my knowledge – sometimes serve as the equivalent of Post-It Notes, little pastel flags telling me to find the single edit of the Moody Blues’ “Question” or to check the bitrate of the mp3s by Maria McKee or – as in this case – to find more music by one or more performers.

Those reminders get my attention, and when the resources are available, those tasks are done and gaps are filled. So in the near future, I expect I’ll dig a little deeper into Genesis, into the solo careers of Collins and Gabriel and wherever else those explorations lead me.

In the meantime, I listened once again the other day to So, losing myself in “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes,” “Don’t Give Up” (with the angelic presence of Kate Bush) and, especially, “Mercy Street.”

Of the Peter Gabriel songs I know – and the preceding paragraphs should make it very clear that there will be many I do not know – the one I find most compelling is “Mercy Street.” I’m not sure why, and I don’t intend to analyze that attraction today. I would have thought my favorite might be “Don’t Give Up,” but “Mercy Street” kept coming to mind yesterday.

(Part of the song’s attraction for me might be that “Mercy Street” is dedicated “for Anne Sexton.” Sexton, says Wikipedia, “was an influential American poet and writer known for her highly personal, confessional poetry.” Sexton, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 and who dealt frequently in her work with her long battle with depression, took her own life in 1974.)

And with Gabriel’s version in my head yesterday, my RealPlayer came to rest randomly on a cover of the song from an Iain Matthews album that’s also a favorite of mine, 1990’s Pure and Crooked.

So I thought I’d see who else has covered the song. All-Music Guide lists ninety-one CDs that contain “Mercy Street,” with about thirty of those being various versions by Gabriel himself. Among those listed as having covered the song are Christy Baron, Black Uhuru, Al di Meola, Danni Carlos, Jane Duboc, Fenix, Valerie Graschaire, Herbie Hancock, Keith James, Lee Jeffriess, Leaving the Ozone, Kate McGarry, Ransom Notes, A Reminiscent Drive, Jenny Reynolds, Richard Shindell, Storyville, Sugar Plum Fairies, John Tesh and David Widelock.

Some of those names are familiar to me; most aren’t. But “Mercy Street” seems to be a song that can survive being pulled into numerous styles and interpretations. I may dig up some of these covers in the future.

For now, I have two cover versions to offer. The first is, of course, by Iain Matthews, the one-time member of Fairport Convention and the founder of the short-lived Matthews Southern Comfort. He’s issued more than twenty-five LPs and CDs since 1969, most of them well-received. Pure and Crooked contained more original material than covers, a rarity for Matthews, but to my ears, “Mercy Street” is the best thing on the CD.

The other cover of “Mercy Street” comes from Miriam, the first popular music release by South African-born Miriam Stockley, a classically trained vocalist who’s recorded primarily in that field. She was also a member of Praise, a contemporary Christian group that released one CD in 1992. Her 1999 album, notes All-Music Guide, had songs performed “in English, Zuli and a language she just made up.” That debut album, AMG notes, came off as a “fusion of classical, world, pop and new age elements.” I found Miriam by accident a year after its release, and Miriam Stockley’s name remains on my list of performers to explore further.

That said, here is the original version of “Mercy Street” and covers by Iain Matthews and Miriam Stockley.

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So [1986]

“Mercy Street” by Iain Matthews from Pure and Crooked [1990]

“Mercy Street” by Miriam Stockley from Miriam [1999]

Three Months Of Music!

May 18, 2022

Originally posted August 31, 2009

I added a bit of music to the player this weekend, pulling in some CD and vinyl rips of my own, adding some that were passed on to me by friends, and gathering a few from some blogs and boards. And when I was done tinkering with the tags and loaded the new tunes into the player, I saw that the music in the player now has a running time of 2,501 hours, twenty-four minutes and one second.

That means that if I started playing mp3s right now – at 6:58 a.m. Central Daylight Time on August 31, I wouldn’t have to repeat one until 11:22 a.m. Central Standard Time on December 13.

If I played them in order of running time, I’d start out with a question from the HAL 9000 computer in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?” And I’d finish my listening with a beginning-to-end playing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon from 1973.

If I were to play the mp3s in alphabetical order by title, I’d start out with several songs whose titles include quotation marks, with the first one being “?” from the self-titled 1968 album by the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. After about eleven minutes – and four more tracks whose titles are encased in quotation marks – I’d switch punctuation marks and hear “#1 With a Heartache” by Barbi Benton. Just more than a hundred and four days from now, I’d close my listening with “Zydeco Ya Ya” by the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo from its 1994 album Tools of the Trade.

And if I were to sort the files alphabetically by performer, my first tune would be “Frequent Flyer” by A Camp, a side project started in 1997 by the Cardigans’ Nina Persson and Atomic Swing’s Niclas Frisk and then completed and released in 2001 with additional work from Shudder to Think’s Nathan Larson and Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. My listening would end with “Legs,” the 1984 record from ZZ Top.

But all of those are too monumental to think about, so for this morning’s listening, I’m just going to let the RealPlayer choose six songs, mostly randomly, from the years 1950-1999 (with the caveat that if a song is a little too odd or something that’s been posted here recently, I’ll pass it by). Here goes:

A Random Six-Pack For Monday
“Touch and Gone” by Gary Wright, Warner Bros. 8494 [1978]
“Baby’s Not Home” by Mickey Newbury from I Came To Hear The Music [1974]
“You’re the Boss” by B.B. King and Ruth Brown from Blues Summit [1993]
“How Many More Years” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess 1479 [1951]
“Behind the Mask” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask [1990]
“R U 4 Real” by Dr. John from Desitively Bonnaroo [1974]

Gary Wright’s early 1978 single, “Touch and Gone,” was more up-tempo than the two 1976 singles that had both reached No. 2 in the U.S. – “Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive” – but it had the same sort of synthesizer fills and flourishes that had set those two singles apart from the rest of what we were hearing at the time. Maybe the synth fills were becoming old hat, or maybe listeners didn’t think they worked in an up-tempo setting. Maybe listeners were bored with the one-time member of Spooky Tooth. Or maybe it just wasn’t a very good single. (That last gets my vote.) Whatever the reason, “Touch and Gone” only found its way to No. 73.

The country-folk waltz of Mickey Newbury’s “Baby’s Not Home” fits neatly into much of what Newbury did during his long career. (Newbury passed on in 2002.) It’s country, though not nearly so countrified as some of the more lush recordings Newbury released on I Came To Hear The Music as well as on other albums. It’s full of regret, an emotion that seems to run deeply through almost everything of Newbury’s I’ve ever heard. And it’s got a little bit of a surprise ending; Newbury may not have actually used a lot of surprise endings, but for some reason, his doing so here is entirely congruent with my sense of his music and might even been seen as emotionally manipulative. All that aside, “Baby’s Not Here” and the album it came from are good pieces of work. Nevertheless – like much that Newbury did during his life – they got very little notice.

“You’re the Boss,” the sassy duet by B.B. King and Ruth Brown (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and other 1950s R&B hits), is among the highlights of King’s 1993 CD. The song itself has an interesting lineage. It was written by the peerless team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and was first recorded – if I read my sources correctly – as a duet between Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret in 1963 for use in the 1964 film Viva Las Vegas. For whatever reason, the song wasn’t included in the movie and went unreleased for a few years.  The first sign at All-Music Guide of the recording showing up is on a 1971 Presley compilation titled Collector’s Gold, and from the snippet offered there, it sounds as if Elvis and Ann-Margret did a pretty sassy version of the song, too.

There’s nothing that’s gonna wake you up more on a Monday morning than a good tough blues from Howlin’ Wolf, and “How Many More Years” fills the bill.

I’ve dissed Behind the Mask here before, and it’s true that highlights were relatively few on the first album Fleetwood Mac put together after Lindsey Buckingham left the group (with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joining). But to me, Christine McVie’s title tune is one of those highlights, with its haunted sound built atop the always stellar foundation of John McVie’s bass and Mick Fleetwood’s drumming. The wordless male chorus at the end might be a bit too forward in the mix, though.

All-Music Guide doesn’t think much of Dr. John’s Desitively Bonnaroo: “When you latch onto a hit formula, don’t mess with it, and that is just what the doctor ordered with Desitively Bonnaroo. With installment number three of Dr. John’s funky New Orleans-styled rock & roll, trying to strike gold again proved elusive. There wasn’t the big hit single this time around to help boost sales, and the tunes were starting to sound a little too familiar. While not a carbon copy of his previous releases, Desitively Bonnaroo was a disappointment to his fans. Good as it was, it was the end of an era for Dr. John and his type of music.” Well, maybe so, but when the good doctor’s tunes pop up one at a time, as they do on random play, they’re still pretty funky and a whole lot of fun.

I Was Right . . . and I Was Wrong
I said Friday during my discussion of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time” that I knew from looking at a photo of the record label that the 45 ran less than three minutes, a statement I amended when Yah Shure said that the record ran 3:06. It turns out I was right and wrong at the same time. I sent Yah Shure a copy of the 45 label I’d looked at, and I got a note in reply on Saturday:

“The label on my stock copy of ‘Long Long Time’ looks like the scan you’d sent and also states 2:59, but the actual length is 3:06.  For disc jockey purposes, 2:59 would be about right.  Never trust the printed times on 45 labels, though.  Record companies routinely misstated the times in order to get records added to the playlists of those stations that refused to play anything over, say, three minutes.

“In radio, the problem with misstated label times came when it was time to cart the record up for airplay.  Since typical cart lengths for music purposes ran in half-minute increments (2:30, 3:00, 3:30, etc.) trying to fit what was actually a 3:05 45 labeled as “2:55” onto a three-minute cart often became an exercise in cursing out the record label in question, when the ruse wasn’t discovered until after three-plus minutes of production room time had already ticked off of the clock.  That meant having to re-erase the too-short cart, finding a suitable longer one, erasing it, re-cueing the record, and . . . take two.”

‘Work It Out”

September 25, 2019

The Texas Gal and I are now card-carrying senior citizens.

The other day, we joined the Whitney Senior Center about six blocks away from our place, got our cards and learned a bit about the center’s extensive programming. Some of it we’ve already begun using, some will wait until we figure out exactly what it is we want to do over there.

What drew us (besides the fact that we are, of course, on the far side of sixty)?

The exercise room, actually. For the past eight weeks or so, I’ve been heading to the medical building where our doctor has her practice, working with a couple of physical therapists to improve the functions of my back muscles, the ones disrupted in January by my spinal fusion. And as I’ve worked on that, my therapists have been adding to my routine various simple bits of a workout.

It’s been good for me, I can tell. Not only is my back feeling better, but I’ve found that I enjoy the activity (and that coming from someone who has rarely sought physical activity), and I feel better. So the Texas Gal and I began to wonder how to continue the workouts at what we hoped would be a lower cost. We knew the Whitney Recreation Center adjacent to the senior center had a workout room as well as a walking track (which intrigued the Texas Gal), so we checked that out and pondered its cost, which was something like $150 yearly for me to access the workout room and for her to access the track.

And then, as we signed up to join the senior center, the volunteer at the counter noted that the senior center had its own exercise room and that some Medicare supplementals would cover the entire cost. And it turns out that my supplemental is one of those. So we filled out applications, paid the Texas Gal’s fee, and yesterday, one of my physical therapists met me there to check out the senior center’s exercise room and put me through a workout.

(The Texas Gal walked on a treadmill and kept an eye on what I was doing, hoping to use some of my routines in her own workouts.)

This isn’t our first attempt as getting in better shape. Some years ago, we tried to become more active, joining in turn two commercial gyms. The first had limited facilities for changing clothes, and the second, well, I just never felt comfortable there, being a portly older man among younger and sleeker folks. Neither of those should be a problem now.

Here’s an aptly titled tune from sax player Jim Horn. “Work It Out” is the title track to an album he released in 1990.

‘Eddie J No More’

July 20, 2017

Here’s another piece of fiction from the folder in the file cabinet. This one was written in November 1990 in Columbia, Missouri, so as you read it, put yourself in the early 1990s. I likely got some things wrong about the music business, but so it goes when you’re writing to please yourself. Anyway, I hope you like “Eddie J No More.”

My guitar needs a new E string. I found that out last night. When the urge to play a few tunes hit me and I opened the case, I saw that the string – the high one – was loose and curled up like a nylon snake, right at the top of the neck. In my mind, I could hear the sound it made when it broke, kind of an idiot “ping” followed by the whispery sound of the long portion of the string curling up toward the neck, seeking its old circular shape just like water seeks lower ground.

I never heard it when it happened. No reason I should have. I keep the guitar case in a spare room between the box filled with my old music notebooks and the box that holds my old records. I suppose I hadn’t touched the guitar for, oh, three months. Maybe not that long, but it’s been a while since I had the urge to play.

But I wanted to last night. And when I saw the broken string, all I could do was look across the spare room to where my old Stratocaster sits. All its strings were intact, and all I needed to do was plug that baby into the amplifier of the sound system in the living room. A little bit of tuning and one quick flick across the strings for orientation, and I’d jump back on the rails and make that fucker howl!

But no. I haven’t played the Stratocaster for a long, long while. I haven’t wanted to howl since, well, since maybe ’85 or ’86. All I wanted last night . . . well, it’s kind of like something I saw Bruce Springsteen do in a solo acoustic show a few years ago.

When Bruce is out with the E Street Band and they get to “Born To Run,” it’s all guitars and drums roaring and the saxophone wailing as the road goes by and the lonely rider and Wendy aim their motorcycle toward whatever tomorrow will bring them because they know it has to be better or at least no worse than what they have right now and the roar of the imagined cycle gets mixed in with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounds and thunders with a noisy momentum that carries the E Street Band and its Boss and the crowd toward some wonderful place, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when Bruce did some solo gigs a few years ago, toward the end of the night, he’d play it slow, just him and an acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and almost sad, and the crowd was quiet and just about ready to go home. And it was right to do it like that: We have what we have, even if it isn’t everything we dreamed of finding out there. And none of us were running anymore.

And that’s what I wanted to do last night, play the music that comes after the running is over, the quiet stuff that can fill the air when you are where you are and you’re not looking for the next turn. I just wanted to strum my acoustic and maybe hum along a little, then maybe sing out and let my voice carry the weight of the song. I haven’t wanted to make the fuckers howl for years. I don’t think I could anymore. And I don’t think I want to, even if I could.

But my E string was broken and curled up, so I closed the guitar case and found something else to do last night. I read a book. And the Stratocaster stayed in the spare room.

You know, it’s funny that I think of Bruce and the way he changed “Born To Run” on that tour when I think about last night. From what my manager always told me, I was supposed to be where Bruce is, be what Bruce is.

I should introduce myself, I suppose. My name is Eddie Jopp. Never heard of me, right? Or if you did, you’ve pretty much forgotten me. Fair enough. I never really believed you’d remember. Maybe if I had, maybe if I’d believed, then I’d be more than a faint whisper in your memory. My manager believed, or at least that what he said. What he really believed, I think, was that anything or anyone can be packaged and sold, and I know he believed in ten percent. Anyway, I’m Eddie Jopp, also known as Eddie J for a while. No period after the “J,” please. Eddie J was the name.

When I say I keep my old records in a box in the spare room, I’m not talking about my high school copy of Saturday Night Fever or my copy of The Wall. I’ve got those – and Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Supertramp and all the others – in the living room. No, the records in the spare room are my records: A Free Man In Greenland, Take The Wheel, my favorite Let The Spring . . . and a few others. Those are my records, the ones that Mick Pelzer produced in Kansas City at the start and then in L.A., the ones that were supposed to be on the list of everyone’s essential sounds of the ’80s. Eddie J on guitar, Eddie J on keyboard, Eddie J on vocals, and then it was Eddie J on the remainder racks and eventually Eddie J on the all-time favorite show, “Whatever the fuck happened to . . . ?”

It’s a good question, really. “Whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J?” I’m not sure I know, and I lived it. Oh, I haven’t forgotten it or lost it in some chemically induced paranoid haze. No, I stayed straight, most of the time anyway, but you can figure out how it is when you’re on tour and you’re only twenty-four. And I never got rid of the people who were there at the start only to find out I needed them later. No, the guys who started with me were there when it ended: Parker Stram on drums, Bobby Lippner on bass, Stu Kelsey on rhythm guitar, Jana Hall and Linda Camino on back-up vocals. They were on the first track we laid down in K.C. (“The Baker’s Dozen,” I think), and the last one in L.A. (“Inside Slide”). That’s when it ended, even though we didn’t know that for a while. But they were there.

So whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J? Life, I guess. The way it’s supposed to. Just because I’m not what I was expected to be doesn’t mean I’m not what I’m supposed to be.

It’s funny. I remember, back in the summer of ’81 when it looked like everything in front of us was gold or platinum, we were all sitting in a huge suite in downtown Milwaukee. We’d played a show at the arena there the night before, and we had two days before we had to be in St. Paul, so we were taking a day off. A show must have been canceled somewhere, I guess, but I don’t remember.

Anyway, Cal Mellon, my manager – our manager, really, because Parker, Bobby, Stu, Jana and Linda were just as much a part of Eddie J as I was; I just gave it my name – Cal was talking about what he saw. He was waving a bottle of Heineken in the air, proclaiming that he saw Eddie J as the latest in the line of what he called “authentic American voices.” He had Elvis, and Buddy, and Bob, and then Bruce, of course. And at the end of the line (for the moment, anyway, because someone always tacks another car onto the Mystery Train, right?) came me. Or us. Eddie J, anyway.

Like I said, it’s funny. It’s the modern nobility, kind of the twentieth century version of white rock ’n’ roll knights: Here’s Elvis of Tupelo with “Love Me Tender,” ‘Jailhouse Rock” and so many more. Here’s Buddy of Lubbock with “Rave On” and “Peggy Sue” and the dreams of would’ve been. Here’s Bob of Hibbing with – oh, shit, which ones? The first time I saw him was in Wichita, and he sang for ninety minutes, and an hour’s worth of stuff he didn’t sing would have made the fucking best greatest hits package anyone would want to hear. But just to keep the monologue moving, let’s say “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young.” And here’s Bruce of Asbury Park with (same problem here, but what the fuck) “Born To Run” and “The River.”

And then, says Cal, comes Eddie of Olathe with . . . with what? Oh, maybe “Sailor Serenade” and “Let The Real Game Roll.” Never heard of them? Fair enough. Not a lot of people did. Well, more than I figured would on those days back in high school when I started writing songs, but not nearly as many as Cal – and the rest of us, too – had plans for. Never heard of Olathe, either? That’s cool, too. It’s in Kansas, for those who don’t recognize it. But I imagine there are lots of folks who wouldn’t know much about Tupelo or Lubbock or Hibbing or Asbury Park without those other guys being able to connect to some kind of magic that Eddie J never found.

And that’s okay. Even as Cal was waving his beer bottle in the air and declaiming his vision, I didn’t buy it. It was kind of like one of those old intelligence tests. You know, the ones that ask “Which one is different?” Well, when it’s Elvis and Buddy and Bob and Bruce and Eddie, I didn’t have too much trouble figuring it out. Neither, as it turned out, did the people who buy the tunes. And after they figured it out, the folks at Kappa Delta records got the word pretty fast. And by 1985, Eddie J was gone.

Oh, I’m still around, and I’m doing okay. And most of the rest of the gang is okay, too. Bobby’s gone. He had a heart attack on the tennis court a few years ago. But Parker and Stu are still in L.A. doing session work. Jana married a guy who worked at the studio in K.C. where we first recorded, and I hear she’s got a kid now and sings jingles in the studio. Linda went back east and got a job as a deejay, and she’s part of the top morning team in Annapolis, I think.

Me? Oh, I’m going to school here in Wichita. I’ve got a teaching degree in mind. Yeah, I’m lots older than most of the others in my classes, and nobody recognizes me. At least if they do, they’ve never said anything. That’s not surprising – they all listen to CDs and none of my stuff ever got there. They don’t even look in the remaindered record racks, which is the only place you’re going to find Eddie J these days.

And Cal? Well, there’s always someone new to promote, someone else to put into that line of voices. He’s got a kid on the road now, a guy named Custer Barnes. The kid’s good – I’ve heard a few of his tracks – and maybe he’ll make Cal’s dreams come real. I couldn’t do it for Cal, but my dreams became real.

Hey, they really did. All I wanted was a chance to play, to get my stuff down on tape and onto vinyl. Now, I suppose that sounds like the kind of noble bullshit that you hear all the faded stars spout, those that survive, anyway. But it’s not. I got what I wanted. I played my music, and for a while, a lot of people listened. My dreams weren’t Cal’s though. He wants more than that, And like I said, he believes in ten percent. But he’s an okay guy anyway.

He called the other day. Wanted to know if I would come out to L.A. and put some stuff on tape with Parker and Stu, see what came out of the headphones. Well, I’ve got some new things – I may not play a lot, but I’ve never really stopped writing – but it’s my stuff, and I’m not sure anyone would want to listen to it. I said so. He said he was sure it would go, and that he’d already booked the studio time. Had he called Parker and Stu? Not yet, he said.

Something wrong with Custer Barnes? “No,” he said, “I just want to get your stuff out where it belongs, with the listeners.” I thought for a minute. Shit, maybe he was right. Maybe it’s worth another shot. But then I figured that if the listeners really wanted to hear me, I wouldn’t need my old agent to tell me so.

I asked him what date he had the studio time reserved. He told me, and I said, “Sorry, I’ve got a mid-term that day.”

Aced the fucker, too. And tomorrow after class, I’m going to get a new E string. Hell, maybe I’ll get a whole new set of strings. Or I could sell the Strat and get a new electric . . . No, a new set of strings for the acoustic will do just fine. Let the words carry the weight as far as I want it to go.

GPE
November 15, 1990
Columbia, Missouri

‘Our Love’s Got No Reason . . .’

October 22, 2014

When I started digging into the song “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” I figured I’d find more versions out in the world than I did. It’s a great song, I thought, with a catchy hook musically and lyrically. (In a post last week, I featured the 1974 original by Gayle McCormick and the 1982 cover by Levon Helm that brought the song to my attention.)

But it’s a song that’s never gotten much attention – I’ve found eight more covers so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the well is dry after those eight – nor has it had any presence that I could find on the major Billboard charts.

Nor, among the few covers I’ve found, have I found anything that grabs me very hard. Three years after McCormick first recorded the song, Kerry Chater – one of the song’s co-writers – released his version on Part Time Love, but the album got little attention. (A single release of the title track got to No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

Sporadic covers showed up for a little more than a decade. Among those I’ve listened to without much interest are versions by Kenny Rogers (1978), Dionne Warwick (1981) the Marshall Tucker Band (1982), Gloria Gaynor (1982) and Joe Cocker (1984). The worst of that bunch is the lifeless take on the tune by the Marshall Tucker Band, although Rogers’ cover was dull, as well.

Was there anything good? Well, I found a few covers that piqued my interest. Dolly Parton did a nice take on the tune on her Dolly, Dolly, Dolly album in 1980, and I find myself intrigued by the version country singer John Anderson offered on his 1985 album Tokyo, Oklahoma.

Finally, I took a listen – not for the first time – to the cover of the song offered in 1990 by the British folk-rock duo Clive Gregson and Christine Collister on their album Love Is A Strange Hotel. It doesn’t blow me away, but the duo’s very spare approach offers another way into the song than I’d heard elsewhere.

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]

Saturday Single No. 390

April 26, 2014

This is a season of busy Saturdays. There are normal errands to run, and yard chores call. Now that the snow has melted once more – for the final time this spring, one hopes – we can attend to the thick layer of last autumn’s leaves covering most of the lawn.

If it were up to me, I’d call our landlord and mention that we need the leaves removed, and without complaint, he’d have Steve the Yard Man come by and clear the lawn. But last weekend, the Texas Gal raked a good portion of the upper part of the lawn, the areas where we sit in the evenings, where the bird feeder is and where our guests join us during our annual August picnic (an event we regretfully canceled last summer but hope to revive this year). Her effort left piles of leaves around the lawn, piles that need to be cleared so as not to kill the awakening grass beneath them. (We let such a pile go too long last spring, and the resulting bare spot was a reminder all summer long that grass waits for no one.)

As she raked last weekend, I wandered down with a glass of juice. She drank it thirstily, and I asked, “Why not just call the landlord and tell him we need the leaves cleared.”

“We could,” she said, “but I like raking.”

We’ve had the conversation before, likely every spring we’ve lived here under the oaks. I guess I start the conversation each spring because I think she might have come to her senses. Of all the chores I did while growing up over on Kilian Boulevard, the one I likely detested the most was raking and bagging leaves in the spring. Those spring Saturdays when the four of us Ericksons raked and bagged were among the least pleasant Saturdays I can remember, and that’s coming from a man who tries, and generally succeeds, at finding the good parts in most things.

The Texas Gal knows I hate raking. She doesn’t ask me to do it. But she does ask me to help her bag the leaves. And I do. And I will do so this afternoon, when both of us return from errands. She’s already left on hers, which include a couple of hours clearing the community gardens at church. I need to leave on mine soon. And that means finding some music.

I was going to wander randomly through six tracks and choose one for this morning, but the first track up made me change my mind. It comes from Darden Smith’s 1990 album Trouble No More. Having listened closely to Smith’s work from the late 1990s on (and having backtracked to the beginning of his career in the mid-1980s), I think I can safely say that it was with Trouble No More that Smith left straight country music and moved down the musical road to that intersection of country, folk and pop I mention frequently.

Because it’s never really been featured here – it was part of a download six years ago – and because it speaks to me, “Listen To My Own Voice” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 377

February 1, 2014

Back in 2007, I spent the month of January ripping lots of vinyl to mp3s with my new turntable, a Christmas present from the Texas Gal. At her suggestion, I opened a Blogger account and started sharing the resulting album rips at a blog I called Echoes In The Wind.

It wasn’t much of a blog. Oh, the music was fine: In the first few weeks I shared four albums by Bobby Whitlock and four by Levon Helm, none of them in print at the time, and I got around that month to work by Don Nix, Eric Andersen and a few others.

But I wasn’t saying anything beyond a few general comments. I began to pull reviews of the albums, when they were available, from All Music Guide (always being careful to credit the source). As the end of January came in sight, I wrote a little bit more than that about a couple of Ronnie Hawkins albums, and then, on the first Saturday of February 2007, I wrote a bit about what the Danish single “Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne meant to me.

At about the same time, I chanced upon a blog whose writer talked about music and memory and how the two were for him forever entwined. And as I dug into the blog archives at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I thought, “I can do this. Maybe not as well, but I can do this.” (Not long after that, I left a note at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, inviting the blog’s author, jb, to stop by my place. He did, and in the intervening years he and I and our wives have become good friends.)

So I began to write about my life and music and memory during that first week of February 2007. I’ve told how music has pervaded my life, whether that music be the horn work of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, the soundtracks of John Barry, the still-cherished sounds of the Beatles and Bob Dylan; the later-discovered artistry of Duane Allman, Richie Havens and Bruce Springsteen; or the earthiness and odd dissonance of Bulgarian folk music; and so much more in between and around those sounds.

I’ve told the tales of my life, sharing in memory and in the present the joyful moments, the grief-laden moments and the ordinary moments, writing – as my friend Rob once agreed – my autobiography, one post at a time.

And along the way, I’ve found friends. Many of them remain known only through their comments here and their profile pictures at Facebook. But some – most notably jb and his Mrs.; Jeff of AM, Then FM; and frequent commenter Yah Shure – have become friends in that scary place beyond blogging called the real world.

All of that will continue. I think I have tales yet to tell, and I know there is still music both familiar and new to write about. But today, which is more or less the seventh anniversary of the true beginning of this blog, is a day to look back and think, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

And this morning I read the words to “Seven Turns,” the title track to a 1990 album by the Allman Brothers Band, and thought again, “Not bad at all.”

Seven turns on the highway,
Seven rivers to cross.
Sometimes you feel like you could fly away,
Sometimes you get lost.

And sometimes, in the darkened night,
You see the crossroad sign.
One way is the mornin’ light,
You got to make up your mind.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waiting for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

Runnin’ wild out on the road,
Just like a leaf on the wind.
How in the world could you ever know,
We’d ever meet again?

Seven turns on the highway,
Seven rivers to cross.
Sometimes, you feel like you could fly away,
Sometimes, you get lost.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waitin’ for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waitin’ for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

So here is “Seven Turns” by the Allman Brothers Band, and it’s your seventh-anniversary Saturday Single: