Archive for the ‘2001’ Category

Odetta Holmes, 1930-2008

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 3, 2008

I saw Odetta in concert once, sometime around 1971. I vaguely knew her name, and I somehow knew that she’d played a role in the 1950s folk revival and the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So I talked Rick into going along with me, and we sat in pretty good seats in Stewart Hall Auditorium at St. Cloud State. And we listened as a dignified, almost severe, African American woman sang songs we’d mostly never heard before, accompanied only by her spare guitar playing. The music of Odetta, who died in New York City Tuesday at the age of seventy-seven, was nothing like the music we were accustomed to hearing. But we listened, pulled into the performance by the clarity of her voice, the messages of the songs and the warm humanity of her performance.

I can’t say that hearing her in concert made me run out and buy her records. But I stored her name away as one of the important artists I’d seen and heard, mentally filing Odetta in the folder filled with the names of artists I’d someday learn more about. To be honest, I’ve never done that. I’ve heard a few things, taken some CDs out of the library in the past ten years, but I’ve never dug too deeply into her catalog.

I was aware, nevertheless, that Odetta was one of the major folk artists of the 1950s and early 1960s, lending her voice and her stature to the struggles of those times. I was unsurprised to read this morning that she was one of the artists who performed during the March on Washington in August 1963. The New York Times reports: “Her song that day was ‘O Freedom,’ dating to slavery days: ‘O freedom, O freedom, O freedom over me, And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free.’”

There will no doubt be other blogs whose operators can write more knowingly than can I about Odetta, her music, and her influence on American music, culture and history, so I’ll defer to them and let Odetta’s music do the talking.

I’ve pulled together six of her recordings, two from the later portion of her classic folk period and four from recent years, when she was once again recording regularly. The credits at All-Music Guide for Blues Everywhere I Go list Dr. John and Seth Farber on piano, but on both tracks I’m offering here, it sounds like Dr. John. (Unfortunately, the AMG credits don’t identify who played guitar.) And sadly, I don’t have any credits for Looking For A Home, which was a tribute to the late folk-blues artists Leadbelly (but I’d swear I hear the good doctor on those tracks, too).

A Six-Pack of Odetta

“This Little Light Of Mine” from Odetta Sings Folk Songs, 1963

“Masters of War” from Odetta Sings Dylan, 1965

“W.P.A. Blues” from Blues Everywhere I Go, 1999

“Homeless Blues” from Blues Everywhere I Go, 1999

“Rock Island Line” from Looking For A Home, 2001

“Bourgeois Blues” from Looking For A Home, 2001

My Time In Middle-earth

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

RIP, Rick Wright & Norman Whitfield

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 18, 2008

Pillars continue to fall.

Monday saw the death from cancer of Rick Wright, keyboard player and one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. He crossed over at his home in England at the age of sixty-five.

Wright appeared on every Pink Floyd but one from 1967’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn onward. (The single exception was The Final Cut in 1983.) Along the way, he wrote some of the most cherished songs in the group’s long history, including two songs – “Us and Them” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” – for the group’s 1973 masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon.

Also leaving us this week was Norman Whitfield, soul and R&B songwriter and producer, most notably for Motown in the 1960s and 1970s. Whitfield, who was sixty-seven, died from complications of diabetes. He was one of the most prolific songwriters and producers in any genre; the list of recordings of songs he wrote – generally with Barrett Strong – stretches for thirty pages at All-Music Guide covering soul, R&B, funk and many other genres and subgenres of music.

While it’s always risky to distill such a broad-based career down to two or three songs, there were three records I thought of immediately when I heard the news: Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

Given the news of the two deaths, I went digging at YouTube, as I generally do on Thursdays, and found some interesting things.

Here’s Pink Floyd on its 1994 Pulse tour performing Wright’s “Us and Them,” with some good close-ups of Wright singing and playing keys.

From the same tour, here’s Wright’s “Great Gig in the Sky,” again with a few good looks at Wright.

As for Whitfield, his writing and productions were his performances, so first, here’s the late Marvin Gaye singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” during a television performance that’s dated 1968.

Then, here’s a live performance by the Temptations – from Soul Train, I think – of the Whitfield and Strong’s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

And here’s the late Edwin Starr with a performance of Whitfield & Strong’s “War,” evidently from a New Year’s celebration – if I’m wrong, someone please say so – hosted by British musician Jools Holland, who hosts Later . . . With Jools Holland.

Finally, stop by Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas for a moving meditation on the passing of folks whose art matters to us.

Afternote
The Temptations’ performance on Soul Train took place in 1972. The Starr performance was in fact from a show hosted by Holland on December 31, 2001, and was titled Jools Holland’s 9th New Year’s Eve Hootenanny. Four of the five videos – all except the Pink Floyd performance of “The Great Gig In The Sky” – have been re-embedded during posting in the archive although I believe they are the same videos as were originally embedded in 2008. Note added August 15, 2011.

‘It’s Goin’ To Be Rainin’ Outdoors . . .’

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 8, 2008

Many people of my generation – maybe most – first heard of “Come On In My Kitchen” from the snippet of the song that leads into “49 Bye Byes,” the closing song on the 1969 debut album of Crosby, Stills & Nash. That snippet, sung by – I think – Crosby in an odd, strained voice, is a little bit haunting, and for a few years, I wondered why that little snippet was stuck there, not imagining that there was a whole song out there somewhere for me to hear.

At least not until I heard Delaney & Bonnie’s To Bonnie From Delaney a few years later; the album includes a brief rendition of “Come On In My Kitchen” as part of a three-song medley. (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” are the others.) As was the case in those days – before we knew what we now know – the song was credited to someone named Payne, as it was when Delaney & Bonnie recorded it for 1971’s Motel Shot.

I’m not sure who Payne is – someone out there in blogworld must know – but the song, of course, is one of the twenty-nine blues songs written by Robert Johnson during his brief life (1911-1938). During the blues revival of the 1960s and the blues-rock era that followed, most of the Robert Johnson songs performed by rock bands were credited to someone else, or to no one at all. When the Rolling Stones recorded “Love In Vain” for Let It Bleed, they credited the song to W. Payne; when they included it on the live Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!, the song was labeled “traditional.”

These days, when one sorts through the list of recordings of “Come On In My Kitchen” at All-Music Guide, nearly all of them give writing credit to Robert Johnson. (Oddly enough, some of those that don’t are on compilations of Johnson’s own performances, a few of which give writing credit for the song to Blind Willie Johnson.) Without digging into the conundrum too deeply, I imagine that the credit for returning “Come On In My Kitchen” and the rest of Johnson oeuvre to the long-dead bluesman’s fold should go to Columbia Records and its 1990 release, Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings.

Johnson’s own version of “Come On In My Kitchen” (along with an alternate that was unreleased until 1990) was recorded in a room at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel on November 23, 1936. That was one of three San Antonio sessions; the others were November 26 and 27. Johnson’s only other recording sessions took place in Dallas the following year, sessions on June 19 and 20, 1937, in the building at 512 Park Avenue.

The Park Avenue building is closed and awaiting its fate. I recently wrote about stopping there with the Texas Gal in December 2004. We stopped there again a little more than a year ago. During that 2007 trip, we also went to San Antonio, and our last bit of business during three days there was a stop at the Gunter Hotel, now the Sheraton-Gunter.

In the lobby, there’s a plaque detailing the historic significance of the recording sessions that took place at the Gunter. The plaque notes that musicians of all types recorded there, as recording companies frequently leased rooms to use as studios in cities far away from their offices, and it cites Johnson’s influences on blues and rock and notes his inclusion – as an influence – in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

There are also two framed displays in the Sheraton-Gunter Hotel lobby.

I went to the registration counter and spoke briefly with the young man on duty. No doubt others had asked the same question I did: Did the hotel know which room the American Record Company used as its studio during Thanksgiving Week, 1936?

He smiled and said the hotel registers for that year had been lost long ago. “It would be nice to know,” he said. “But we don’t.”

And then I asked a question that seemed to surprise him. Maybe it was the first time he’d heard it. I noted that in the Texas of 1936, it was unlikely that Robert Johnson would have been allowed to enter the hotel by its front door, due to the color of his skin. My informant nodded and said, “True enough.” And I asked him if he knew the location of the door through which Robert Johnson was allowed to enter the hotel.

He thought for a moment, then answered: “There’s a bar called McLeod’s,” he said. “Before remodeling, its front door was the back way into the hotel. That’s almost certainly the door that Robert Johnson would have used.”

As I headed back to the car, where the Texas Gal was waiting patiently, I went past the door to McLeod’s and stood once more where Robert Johnson had stood. Then I took some pictures and went on my way.

Here are three versions of “Come On In My Kitchen.” The first is by Robert Johnson and is the take that was issued on a 78 rpm record as Vocalion 3563, recorded November 23, 1936, in San Antonio.

The second is by Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, recorded at A&R Studios in New York for a live broadcast on WPLJ-FM on July 22, 1971. The Bramletts are accompanied by Duane Allman on slide guitar and Sam Clayton on congas. The performance was included on Duane Allman: An Anthology, Vol. II, released in 1974.

The third version is by Chris Thomas King with James Cotton on harp. It comes from the album Hellhound on my Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson, a 2001 release.

Robert Johnson – Come On In My Kitchen [1936]

Delaney & Bonnie – Come On In My Kitchen [1971]

Chris Thomas King & James Cotton – Come On In My Kitchen [2001]

‘In The Silence Of Your Deep . . .’

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 23, 2007

My blogging friend JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, left an interesting comment on yesterday’s post about Smith’s “Baby It’s You” and other music from 1969:

“‘Baby It’s You’ just flat rocks, as did much else in the fall of 1969,” he wrote, “although as I listen back to those songs (which I did not hear in context, but only after I got into music and radio myself in 1970 and in succeeding years), I also detect some darkness in them.”

And he provided a link to a post at his blog in which he explored that idea at length. I recall reading that post when he wrote it not quite a year ago. I agreed with it then and now.

“There was a gloom there, a deep forboding of anguish to come,” I told him in an email this morning. “I do recall a vague sense of uneasiness in the adult world and among my peers, as we began to wonder which of us would have to wade through rice paddies and run through the jungle on the other side of the world. And popular culture mirrored that vast unease, showing us, as it always does, how we felt about our world and ourselves. Topping the list of doom, in November of that year the Rolling Stones released the album Let It Bleed, which opens with ‘Gimme Shelter,’ a song that’s scarier than anything Blue Öyster Cult ever dreamed of.”

After all, I thought to myself as Yahoo! mail sent my message off, in the autumn of 1969, our nation was embedded in an undeclared war on the other side of the world, a war started through fraud and extended by the fallacy that we had to fight them there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here. And the administration fighting that war was heedless to the growing demands by the populace to end the fighting and, along the way, was trampling the rights of some and endangering the rights of all in its disregard of the U.S. Constitution.

“Darkness, darkness, be my pillow,” sang Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods. “Take my head and let me sleep in the coolness of your shadow, in the silence of your deep.”

The song was the opening track of Elephant Mountain, the Youngblood’s third album released in March of 1969. It’s a song that’s been covered by a few people over the years: Eric Burdon, the Cowboy Junkies, Golden Earring, Mott the Hoople, Phil Upchurch, Ann Wilson of Heart. Neo-folkie Richard Shindell did a nice version of it on his Reunion Hill album in 1997, and Richie Havens did the same on his Cuts to the Chase in 1994. But the best version I think I’ve heard is the one that Elliot Murphy and Iain Matthews released on their wonderful 2001 collaboration, La Terre Commune.

Elliot Murphy & Iain Matthews – “Darkness, Darkness” [2001]