Archive for the ‘2007/05 (May)’ Category

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 2

April 22, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2007

Every once in a while during the years this blog generally deals with – and I haven’t bothered to sit down and calculate how frequently this actually happened, so that generality will have to do – a song/record came along with an opening that was utterly electric.

I’m sure others had the experience, too: The first time you heard it, you stopped whatever it was you were doing and stared, thinking to yourself, “What in the world is that and how did they do that?” Then, if you’re like me, you went to the turntable and lifted the needle and started the song over again. Or, in at least one case long ago, I rewound the tape and started it again (the awkwardness of which taught me why tape was never going to replace vinyl; it was too painstaking to cue up one specific song). These days, of course, you don’t have to do anything but push the “back” button on the CD or mp3 player.

But no matter how you get back to them, there are songs that announce themselves with such force and vitality that they bring a moment of stunned silence and require a second playing immediately.

That experience came to mind this morning because of the presence on today’s Baker’s Dozen of “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” from Derek & the Dominos’ classic album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. The first time I heard the Eric Clapton-Bobby Whitlock tune was not, for good or ill, in its original context. I wrote in an earlier post about buying the 1972 compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, a compilation that led me to some of my favorite musicians. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” leads off the last side of that two-record set, and I recall jerking my head up as I heard the churning A-minor to G-major riff, followed by the surge of Whitlock’s organ and the wailing guitar lead.

That certainly wasn’t the first time a song announced itself with such power, but it’s a first listening I recall more clearly than most, and the song and the recording remain a favorite of mine to this day.

There is, of course, another song on Layla that announces itself with anthemic ferocity, but I don’t recall the first time I heard the album’s title song. Most likely it was soon after the album’s release in 1970, when “Layla,” the song, was released as a single but went nowhere. Certainly by the time the single was re-released two years later, it was a familiar piece of music, but familiarity didn’t – and still doesn’t – make the opening any less gripping.

A few others come to mind as well. Not all of them are on the same level as “Layla” or “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” but then, very few songs are. But some of the songs with, to me, memorable introductions are:

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the Bob Dylan tune that comes from his classic Blonde on Blonde album. For some reason, the European edition of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits included this wonderful cut (I never did bother to figure out what recording from the American edition was left off the European version), and when it rolled around on my tape player one evening in Denmark, I sat straight up at the harmonica announcing itself over a rolling accompaniment.

“Question” by the Moody Blues. I love the madly strummed guitars, punctuated as they are by the thrusts of mellotron (I assume) and horns.*

“She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” by Shawn Phillips. Unlike its title, this song – which opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution – proves that less is more. Phillips opens the song almost a capella, with only the distant rumble of (I think) tympani providing an accent. The sound of his voice is so distant as he begins to sing that the ear strains to hear and at the same time, the listener – this listener, anyway – marvels at his audacity in opening an album so quietly. (The song is, I imagine, colloquially known as “Woman.”)

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr has an opening figure that would sound like a fanfare – and almost a clichéd one at that – if it were performed by horns of any sort. On piano, it’s an effective and ear-catching entry to a nicely written and produced piece of popcraft (and it has one hell of a saxophone solo, too, performed by Bobby Keys, who at times seems to spell his last name “Keyes”).

I would guess that at least twenty songs by the Rolling Stones belong in this list. “Satisfaction” would likely be the earliest, although it’s never really grabbed me the way other songs listed here do. “Brown Sugar” starts with a bang, as does (appropriately) “Start Me Up.” For my nickel, though, the most gripping introduction to a Stones’ song comes from the chiming guitar that starts “Gimme Shelter.” Sly, spooky and from another world, the slowly layered introduction is perfect for a song about how the world has begun to fall apart around us and we’ve noticed it far too late.

Well, that’s five in addition to the two from Layla, and that’s likely enough for the day. I imagine that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of two or three others I should have listed instead. But that’s one of the joys of writing about music: Two lists on the same topic compiled at separate moments can be utterly different.

And I’d like to know, what are the intros that grab you? Leave a comment, if you would. And enjoy today’s Baker’s Dozen, our second exploration of the year 1970.

“Old Times, Good Times,” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Factory Band” by Ides of March from Vehicle

“Poor Boy” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later

“Feelin’ Alright” by Lulu from New Routes

“Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen

“You and Me” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Rick Nelson from Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour 1969)

“Sweet Peace Within” by Mylon Lefvre and Broken Heart from Mylon

“That’s A Touch I Like” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester

“Gypsy Queen, Part Two” by Gypsy from Gypsy

“Baby, Take Me In Your Arms” by Jefferson, Janus single 106

“Country Road” by Merry Clayton from Gimme Shelter

Some notes on some of the songs:

“Old Times Good Times” might have showed up on an earlier Baker’s Dozen, but it’s too good a song to click past. It’s from Stills’ first – and best – solo album, and Jimi Hendrix provided the guitar part.

According to All But Forgotten Oldies, Jefferson was the pseudonym for British-born pop star Geoff Turton. Prior to going solo, Turton had been the lead singer for the Rocking Berries, a 1960s British pop group. “Baby Take Me In Your Arms” reached No. 23 in the U.S.

Mylon Lefevre, whose “Sweet Peace Within” shows up here, began his musical career with his family’s Southern Gospel group at the age of 12. His work on Mylon with Broken Heart is among the best of his career although one can make an argument that 1973’s On The Road To Freedom – with British rocker Alvin Lee and a supporting cast of stellar sidemen – was better. Nevertheless, “Sweet Peace Within” is a very nice listen from a performer whose work seems to be forgotten these days.

Merry Clayton’s Gimme Shelter album is legendary, as is her scarifying background vocal on the Rolling Stones’ single of the same name. “Country Road,” written by James Taylor, is the album’s opening song and sets the stage for a spectacular solo debut.

*The mellontron/horns are only on the album version of “Question.” The single version, which I almost certainly heard first, has only strummed guitars and a bit of percussion leading to the vocal.  Note added April 22, 2011.

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A Baker’s Dozen For Memorial Day

April 22, 2011

Originally posted May 28, 2007

There’s not a lot to say today. I think these songs speak for themselves.

“Requiem for the Masses” by the Association, Warner Bros. single 7074, 1967

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs from Rehearsals For Retirement, 1969

“War” by Edwin Starr, Gordy single 7101, 1970

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” by Peter, Paul & Mary from Peter, Paul & Mary, 1962

“One Tin Soldier” by Coven, Warner Bros. single 7509, 1971

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie from It’s My Way!, 1964

“Masters of War” by Bob Dylan from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1962

“Give Peace A Chance” by John Lennon, Apple single 1809, 1970

“2+2=” by the Bob Seger System from Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, 1968

“Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag, 1967

“Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne, Invictus single 9092, 1971

“All The Young Women” by the Cuff Links from Tracy, 1970

“Bring ’Em Home” by Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, June 23, 2006

(I should note that times have changed enough since Freda Payne, Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Cuff Links recorded their songs that we now need to bring the girls home, and we need to grieve with all the young men who have lost loved ones.)

I Knew The Song And The Singer

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 27, 2007

It’s amazing, the things you find out there on the ’Net!

I was wandering around the blog Lost-In-Tyme, reading about a CD anthology called Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From The Canyon, a collection of mostly self-released recordings by women from the early 1970s. The folks at Chicago’s Numero Group label, which released the collection in March 2006, heard the influence of Joni Mitchell in those long-ago recordings and named the collection in tribute to Mitchell’s 1970 album, Ladies Of The Canyon.

It sounded like the kind of thing I’d like, so I read the review and looked at the track list. And I looked again.

There, listed as the first track, was “A Special Path” by Becky Severson. I knew the song. I knew the self-released album from which it came.

I knew the singer.

Becky Severson was in my graduating class at St. Cloud Technical High School in 1971. She and I had been the trumpet section in our orchestra when we were sophomores, sharing chuckles through the year. Sometime during that year, we were playing with words, and I’d switched the syllables in her names. She blushed, but she evidently liked her new moniker; she signed my yearbook that year as “Sexy Beaverson.” She wasn’t in orchestra after that year, but we were casual friends through high school, including our senior year, when she was Homecoming Queen.

A year after we graduated, I’d heard that she’d recorded an album. I called her and asked about buying one. Twenty minutes later, she brought my copy of A Special Path to my door. We chatted for a few minutes, talking about what the first year after high school had brought us. Then she got into her car and drove off down Kilian Boulevard. I played the record once and put it on the shelf.

I never saw Becky again. I made a couple of reunions, but I don’t think she was at either of them.

And here, thirty-five years after she recorded it, the title song to her album had been chosen for an anthology. I dug a little deeper on the ’Net.

According to a piece in the Chicago Tribune, the Numero Group found its niche in the music business by deciding to find “lost musical gems from around the country and give them a second chance via a smartly curated and beautifully packaged series of CDs.” Ladies From The Canyon was the label’s eighth such package, and thirteen of its fourteen songs, including Becky’s, were released on private press labels.

The Tribune piece talked about Becky and her song:

“‘Becky [Severson] was so surprised when we contacted her,’ Shipley says of the singer whose simply strummed, Joan Baez- inspired ‘A Special Path’ opens the ‘Ladies From the Canyon’ CD. ‘She didn’t think anyone ever cared. … I mean, we’re not anyone’s savior here, but it’s nice.’”

The story goes on to tell how the Numero Group found Becky. First, they noticed that her 1972 LP was recorded in St. Paul, which led them to check Seversons in Minnesota. Eventually, they narrowed the search to St. Cloud, and after calling twenty-four of the twenty-five Seversons in the phone book, the folks from Chicago found Becky’s dad, who told them Becky lived not far away. He also told them that he had boxes of her album in the attic.

They eventually found Becky, and after the CD was released, the Los Angeles Times evidently got hold of her. A piece from the Times – in a collection of news pieces gathered on the Numero Group’s website – notes:

“Becky Severson, a Minnesotan whose early-’70s selection ‘A Simple Path’ opens the set, expresses a sentiment common among her peers: ‘Singing brought me so much fulfillment. I could do that in public or in my little bedroom, and it would not have made much of a difference.’ Based on a passage in the book of Jeremiah, her song lasts scarcely a minute; her voice quivers over delicate finger picking as she tells of her youthful devotion to God. Severson married young, and says her faith has held fast: ‘I am committed to serving Christ for eternity because of his love he revealed to me when I was 16.’

“Asked if she was ever a flower child, Severson confesses to taking on the style of dress, but little else: ‘I didn’t fall into the “free love” mode, because I didn’t believe in passing out something that I valued dearly.’”

As I was digging online, I went to the stacks and pulled out A Special Path and put it on the turntable. It was as I remembered: The record was pleasant, clearly the work of a young singer-songwriter, with all fourteen tracks telling of Becky’s faith and the joy she’d found in that faith. She wrote seven of the songs on the album and co-wrote another. All but one of the other songs were written by friends of hers. One song, “Come To The Water,” was credited to the “Jesus People.” (One of those friends, I remembered as I glanced at the back of the jacket, was Wendy, the guitarist who’d been in my short-lived junior high band and of whom I wrote last week.)

I left a note at Lost-In-Tyme, telling Janisfarm, who’d contributed the piece on Ladies From The Canyon, about knowing Becky long ago and having her album. He wrote back, “The world is so [strange]!! Can you rip it and share with us?”

So here’s an album from a gal who used to sit next to me in orchestra.

Becky Severson – A Special Path [1972]

Track listing
A Special Path
God Gave Me A Light
I’ve Searched
House Song
Gospel Ship
Love Is A Wonderful Word
Come To The Water
Only Word
Jesus Song
Prayer Is The Key
Missing Out
Children’s Song
Now
Children Growing In God

Saturday Single No. 13

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 26, 2007

Record collectors talk a lot about the big score: walking into a heretofore unknown shop and walking out with a stack of long-sought 45s, or wandering into a regular stop just as that rare LP is placed in the sale bins. Every record collector I know has a story, and when the tales are told, the collector’s eyes light up just as they must have done at the moment the subject of the tale was spotted.

Sometimes, as it happens, the tale is not so happy: More than once, I’ve entered a record shop and seen another shopper carrying around a record I’ve long been looking for. There’s a temptation at those times to follow the other shopper around like a used car salesman, hoping vainly that he or she will decide otherwise and leave the record on a side shelf, like a grocery shopper leaving an orange next to the baked beans.

Of course, the truly big score in record collecting would be one of those fabled items that collectors hear about but never really see except in auctions or in someone else’s collection. One that comes to mind is Introducing The Beatles, an LP released on the Vee-Jay label in the U.S. because Capitol was uncertain the Beatles would be all that popular outside of Britain. Nearly every copy of that album that shows up these days – forty-three years later – is a fake.

One also hears tales of – and sees on auction sites, very occasionally – vintage 78s that command high prices. Without really digging into the topic, I would imagine that the most sought-after of those would be early blues sides, from the 1920s and 1930s. I know that 78s by Robert Johnson and Charley Patton – to name just two performers – command high prices on the rare times their records are available. It’s not likely there are many out there left to find, but that wasn’t always the case. Gayle Dean Wardlow was one of those who scoured the South during the Sixties, looking for old blues records. His book, Chasing That Devil Music, is a fascinating read and comes with a CD of the most notable of his finds.

I’ve never found anything monumental, but I’ve had some good days and built a pretty good collection of rock and pop rock LPs from, oh, 1960 to 1985. I’d picked up a few blues records along the way, but until December 1998, I really hadn’t dug too deeply into the blues. And then, on a Saturday morning, I got a call from the manager of a Salvation Army store that was about five blocks from where I lived in south Minneapolis.

“You asked me to call you if anyone ever dropped off a lot of records at one time,” she said. “Well, someone just brought in what looks like about twenty boxes. You might want to get over here.”

I poured my coffee in the sink, bundled up, got my bike from the basement storage unit and headed down Pleasant Avenue and over to Nicollet. There were in fact twenty boxes of records on the floor near the front of the store, and another gentleman was digging in them, grinning. I sat on the floor at the far end of the cluster of boxes from him and started digging, too.

My guess is that, frankly, someone had died, and in these days of the CD, his or her relatives had no idea what to do with the record collection. Whoever had owned these records was, I would guess, an audiophile who would buy a record, tape it and then put the record back in the jacket and leave it there. Every one of the inside sleeves was upright, not on its side to allow easy access to the record. And every one of those records had the sheen of newness, a look that’s hard to describe but easy to see.

I began to dig. Records from the 1950s and early 1960s by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. I found Lightnin’ Hopkins and Blind Willie Johnson. Albert King and Leadbelly. John Lee Hooker and Etta James. Anthology after anthology of Chicago blues, country blues, Delta blues. And the five double albums Columbia put out in the early 1970s: The complete recordings of Bessie Smith, in pristine condition.

In addition, there were – relatively – more current records: stuff by the Allman Brothers Band, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and more. I already had those records on the shelves at home, but I grabbed them anyway.

The other gentleman and I crossed paths midway through the cluster of boxes. We nodded, each of us looking as casually as we could at what the other was carrying. I saw a few things in his pile that it would have been nice to have gotten to first; I assume he saw the same in my pile.

By the time I made my way through the boxes, I had fifty albums. At fifty cents a piece, that was $25, and – times were a bit rough back then – that was about the limit of what I could spend that day. I double-bagged the records for their ride in my bike’s saddlebag baskets, thanked the manager profusely for calling me and headed home. There, I sorted through the records, setting aside those that were new to me and looking at the ones that duplicated albums already on my shelves. After lunch, I began comparing copies I already had with copies from that morning’s haul. After keeping the best copies for myself, I put the duplicates in bags and headed out to two of my favorite record stores.

I sold those twelve duplicate albums – including my previous copies of the Bessie Smith recordings – for about $50. So I ended up with thirty-eight new albums – the vast majority of them classic blues – and a profit of about $25.

Among the performers whose records I found that day were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, long-time folk blues artists I knew little about. I bought more of their stuff over the next few years, including the 1973 LP Sonny & Brownie, one of the last albums the two ever released before their partnership ended acrimoniously in 1975. (They performed and recorded together for several years despite not being on speaking terms.)

And it’s on that 1973 album that I found one of the funniest songs they ever recorded, with John Mayall adding his piano and sharing the vocals. Its title, if not the lyrics, kind of describes me that morning at the Salvation Army store. So here’s “White Boy Lost In The Blues,” today’s Saturday Single.

Yes To Jerry, No To The Trout

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 25, 2007

I’ve got a stack on LPs on my table, waiting for me to rip them to mp3s. There’s some pretty good stuff in there: the Sanford-Townsend Band, the Cate Brothers, Maria Muldaur, Indigo Girls, Don Nix and Jimmy Spheeris (both of whom I’ve posted stuff from earlier), Valerie Carter, another Cold Blood, Hurricane Smith and more.

Some of those albums are still in print on CD, which is  stuff I’ll tend not to post. (I don’t worry about the individual cuts that I  post for my Baker’s Dozens, but I try not to post entire albums that are still  in print. Inconsistent? Maybe. But it’s the line I’ve drawn, and I’ll try to  stick to it.) The others, the things that aren’t in print or were never  released on CD, seem to be good albums. But every once in a while, I look at  the stack of waiting LPs and sigh. Some days, nothing in that pile seems to  grab my imagination.

And I go wandering off to the stacks, pulling records down  here and there, looking for something to intrigue me. I stopped by the T’s this  morning and pulled down an album called The Trout by a group called The  Trout. I remember picking it up at Cheapo’s sometime in the late 1990s, almost  entirely because of the cover: Two grim-faced men – one in a serape, the other  in a fleece-collared jacket and a straw cowboy hat, sit in chairs in what  appears to be an attic. At the far right, almost in front of a window, stands a  young woman in a nearly translucent granny dress, her right foot propped up on a rocking horse.

Wow! I thought. Get back to the land! Hoe that corn and pass  around the pipe! Set our souls free with hippie music!

So I bought it and took it home. Well, it’s not quite hippie  music. It’s more like very odd sunshine pop. And I dropped it on the USB  turntable this morning. I was dubious as the album recorded, and when I set  about splitting the songs, I sighed. There were just too many pops for my  taste. I mean, some are to be expected – it’s a nearly forty-year-old LP. But  I’m picky. So I threw The Trout back into the water and went looking for  something else.

Over in the R section, I pulled out Jerry Riopelle and his Take  A Chance album, an ABC release from 1975. The front shows a reproduction of  a painting called “Hollywood Indian On a Horse,” and the back cover shows Jerry  and his bandmates – none of whose names I recognized – in various rugged poses:  There’s some shoulder-length hair, some round wire-rimmed glasses, beards and  mustaches and some cowboy hats. I know I played the record at least once – I  play every LP I buy before I stick it on the shelf – but I couldn’t recall this  one.

So I threw it on the USB turntable and let it rip. It’s not  bad, a country-rockish piece of work that kind of sums up the Seventies: Long  hair was for hippies, but now we’re gonna be country boys. It was Riopelle’s  third album, or so says All-Music Guide, and someone at ABC still thought Jerry  and his pals would make them some money. Riopelle, who came out of Detroit, got  to produce the album himself, with co-producer credits to David Plenn, his  guitar player, and to Keith Olsen, likely someone from ABC. The side musicians  include a few luminaries: Jim Horn plays saxophone, Byron Berline adds fiddle  and slide guitar is credited to “Watty” Wachtel. Has to be Waddy, doncha think?

AMG’s take on the record was brief: “Several good tracks like ‘Steppin’ Out’ and ‘Red Ball Texas Flyer’ are  included, but over-production stifles the artist.” A reasonable verdict. I did  like both of those songs, as well as “Baby Rose” and “Walkin’ On  Water.”

Overall, though, I  thought the whole record lacked something. There was none of the vitality, the  sense of purpose, that one expects in good country-rock, even in slow and less  happy numbers. Riopelle’s first release, though, might be intriguing. Here’s  what AMG says about 1971’s Jerry Riopelle: “A gem of an album from this  unknown singer, it is direct, honest, and bluesy rock & roll. Both happy  and brutally sad music.” I may have to start digging for that one. Reading  between the lines, it seems as if Riopelle shifted gears somewhere between his  debut and the 1975 record I share here, from the “bluesy rock & roll” of  his debut to the somewhat bland country rock of Take A Chance.

AMG says that  Riopelle released two albums in the 1990s, the second of which – 1999’s Tongue  ’N’ Groove – got a glowing review. And the performer has a fairly extensive  website, which notes the existence of several albums – from the Seventies and  from more recent times – that AMG did not list. The more I looked,  the more intrigued I became. Even though Take A Chance was a little bit  disappointing, I thought I’d still post it here. If there’s one thing I’ve  learned in the four months I’ve been sharing things here, it’s that almost any  piece of music has someone out there in the world who wants to hear it.

(As I was finishing  this, I thought I’d check for Riopelle at my regular online marketplaces:  Nothing seems to be in print, as far as Amazon is concerned, but copies of Tongue  ’N’ Groove and 1994’s Hush Money are available used and evidently as  cut-outs. At GEMM, it looks like most everything in his catalogue is available;  prices range from $10 to $20 for most titles, with an LP called Juicy Talk  going for about $39 and a UK single of “Walkin’ On Water” priced at more than  $40.)

I guess I’m going to  have to put Jerry Riopelle on that long list I keep of artists I need to take a  closer look at. But I don’t think The Trout is going to make the list.

Jerry Riopelle – Take  A Chance [1975]

Track listing
River On The Run
Hey Old Friend
Take A Chance
Me And The Fox
Baby Rose
Valentine
Cryin’ Out Loud
Talk To Me
Walkin’ On Water
Red Ball Texas Flyer
Steppin’ Out

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2007

Well, with today’s Baker’s Dozen, we plug a hole in the trail of years that’s been sitting there for a while. We’ve been back as far as 1967 and forward as far as 1979. (We’ll head further yet in either direction, and I imagine we’ll also begin repeating some years; there are plenty of tunes yet to hear.) The entire time, however, I was aware that I hadn’t touched on one of my favorite years: 1973.

Looking back, some years just stand out, poking their heads high above the others in the field of memory. For me, one of the tallest years in that field is 1973. It started during my second year of college, an academic year in which I began to find myself academically, to understand how to study and how to learn in college, skills that, quite honestly, I’d not needed to be able to succeed in high school. Along about the same time, I began to find friends, kindred spirits gathered around a long table at the student union. And I began to prepare myself for an academic year overseas, my junior year in Fredericia, Denmark, beginning that autumn.

My going to Denmark was almost an accident. A friend had seen an announcement in the college newspaper about an informational meeting concerning the planned year in Denmark. She had a commitment that evening and asked me to go and take notes. I went to the meeting and went to Denmark; she didn’t. I say “almost an accident” because there really are no accidents in our lives. We end up where we are supposed to end up, no matter how crooked the path may have been.

I’d never been away from home before, and I spent many nighttime hours that spring and summer sitting at the window of my room, looking out at the empty intersection below, wondering what I would find. And I was still wondering on the eve of my twentieth birthday as I walked away from Rick and my family and boarded a Finnair jet for Copenhagen with more than a hundred others from St. Cloud State.

So what did I find? Well, that’s a book in itself. In fact, one of the projects that captivates me these days is based on my journal of that academic year. I’m transcribing the daily entries and then writing anything else I recall about the day, and much more happened than I wrote down, both small events and large. (I have many of the letters that I wrote home to my family, and those, too, will become part of the project.) As clichéd as it sounds, I began to find myself, began to figure out how I fit into my skin and how I fit into the universe. And as I learned those things, I changed.

We’re all in the process of changing, in tiny increments from day to day. It’s not often any of us get a chance to assess in one moment the change that has accumulated over a longer period of time. So it turned out that one of the most fascinating moments of the entire eight-and-a-half months I was gone took place at the very end, in May 1974, the day I came home. Back in St. Cloud, looking forward to a home-cooked steak dinner (I don’t believe I’d had a beef steak during the entire time I was gone; horse, yes, I think, but no beef), I lugged my two suitcases upstairs, heading to my room.

I stopped in the doorway. There, on the door and the closet door, were my NFL pennants. The walls were decorated with Sports Illustrated covers featuring the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota North Stars and with sports logos of my own design, for teams that existed only in my imagination. And above the bulletin board, in a place of honor, was a large picture of Secretariat blowing the field away in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

I stared at the room, mine for seventeen years. And the thought that came to mind as I set the suitcases down in the doorway, looking at the things that had been so dear to me less than a year earlier, was “That kid didn’t come home.”

And here are some songs from the year that kid left:

“Prairie Lullaby” by Michael Nesmith from Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

“All The Way From Memphis” by Mott the Hoople from Mott

“Your Turn To Cry” by Bettye LaVette from Child of the Seventies

“Six O’Clock” by Ringo Starr from Ringo

“Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band on the Run

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions

“California On My Mind” by Tony Joe White from Home Made Ice Cream

“We Are People” by Oasis from Oasis

“The Wall Song” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“Better Find Jesus” by Mason Proffit from Rockfish Crossing

“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road, Kama Sutra single 569

“Junkman” by Danny O’Keefe from Breezy Stories

“The Hard Way Every Time” by Jim Croce from I Got A Name

Some notes about some of the songs:

“Prairie Lullaby” was the closer to Mike Nesmith’s Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, a stellar country-rock album that’s largely forgotten these days. Nesmith, of course, was one of the Monkees, no doubt the most talented of the four, and the country-rock tone of this 1973 record fits in nicely with most of the work he did after leaving the TV-inspired group.

“All The Way From Memphis” was the crunchy and soaring opener to Mott, Mott the Hoople’s follow-up to All The Young Dudes the year before. As All-Music Guide notes, glam never sounded as much like rock as it did on Mott.

The juxtaposition of two songs by ex-Beatles amused me. The albums they came from, arguably two of the three or four best post-breakup albums by any of the Beatles, were released in December. “Six O’Clock,” from Ringo’s best solo album, was written by McCartney, who plays piano and synthesizer on the song – and adds backing vocals with his wife, Linda – while long-time Beatle pal Klaus Voorman plays bass.

The Oasis of “We Are People” is a one-shot project by Detroit-area musicians Joel Siegel and Sherry Fox, who – along with Richard Hovey – went to San Francisco and managed to talk their ways into the studio where David Crosby was recording his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Stunned and intrigued by the trio’s music, the amused Crosby helped the trio land a contract with Atlantic, but the resulting album never got released. Siegel and Fox recorded Oasis in 1973, but that went nowhere, if it even was released. I’m not certain, as one has to read between the lines in the various accounts of the trio’s experiences. (The trio’s entire output – the Atlantic album, Oasis and various other projects, were finally released in 1993 on Retrospective Dreams, a two-CD set that was, for some reason, limited to only a thousand copies.)

Danny O’Keefe is better known for his 1972 hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” but his Breezy Stories album benefited from assistance from such luminaries as Dr. John, Donny Hathaway, David Bromberg and Cissy Houston, to name the best-known. It was a pretty good piece of pop rock/singer-songwriter work, pretty representative of its time.

A Bunch Of Guys Having Fun

April 21, 2011

Origially posted May 22, 2007

I mentioned in Saturday’s post the fact that I’ve played keyboards for years and the band I played in for seven years (not six, as I inaccurately recalled at the time), and walknthabass asked in the comments if I had any of my musical performances available.

Well, not directly. I don’t have anything of my own stuff available. I did dig through the CD rack and find a CD – Jake’s – Take It Or Leave It – of performances by that band in the suburbs. It’s a soundboard recording from one of our house parties – with all the crowd noise that implies – in 1997 or 1998, and it gives a pretty good idea of the kind of stuff we were doing.

As I listened to it, I realized that we were all over the musical map, as a group, which I think is a good thing. On the nine cuts on the CD, we were performing music originally performed by: Jonny Lang, the Temptations, Tower of Power, Muddy Waters, James Taylor, Stephen Stills, Marshall Tucker Band, Van Morrison and Santana. That’s an interesting mix. And looking back, and keeping in mind that we were a bunch of guys with day jobs who got together for about three hours a week, we didn’t do too badly.

Our personnel at the time the CD was recorded was: David as our lead singer, Doc and Chazz on drums, Jacques – the owner of the house where we played – on bass, Larry and Josh on guitar, Boyd and me on keyboards, and Jim (you can hear David call him “Horn Man” at least once) on saxophone. (Boyd sang lead on “Steamroller Blues.” Unhappily, none of the two or three songs on which I sang lead were included on the CD.)

Most of the piano sound on the CD is from me. I provided the trumpet sound – via keys – on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and used a kind of synth-horn sound – not the trumpet sound; that was Boyd – on “Get Yo’ Feet Back On The Ground.” I did okay, I guess, but I was never going to put anyone out of work.

Anyway, here, for a Tuesday special, is a bunch of guys from the Twin Cities having fun, ca. 1997.

Jake’s – Take It Or Leave It [ca. 1997]

Track list
Rack ’Em Up
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Get Yo’ Feet Back On The Ground
Hoochie-Coochie Man
Steamroller Blues
Love The One You’re With
Can’t You See
Tupelo Honey
Ain’t Got Nobody
Jingo

Bridging The Gap Between Tribes

April 20, 2011

Originally posted May 21, 2007

The suburban house band I wrote about Saturday wasn’t the first band I was involved with over the years, but my involvement there was the longest and most serious.

In junior high school, my friend John and I sat next to each other in band, in the trumpet section. (I actually played a cornet, a horn designed just a little bit differently, but the fingering was the same and the sound was essentially the same, so I generally say I played trumpet unless I’m trying to confuse someone.) He was first chair and I was second; I think our talent level was about the same, but he worked harder at it and deserved first chair.

We’d been friends for a long time through church, but junior high was the first time we’d gone to school together, and we had fun. We put together a silly James Bond sketch for our seventh grade talent show that gave both of us a chance to play a piece of Bond music on the piano; he played Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” and I played John Barry’s “Goldfinger.” Jerry, the third member of the cast, played a dead body, but was ill on performance day. His replacement, Tom, was a good understudy. A year or so after that, I think it was, John and I thought about putting some kind of musical group together.

Given that we both played horn (as well as piano), we decided on something like the Tijuana Brass. Our band director had a set of music performed by the TJB arranged for small groups, and he loaned the books to us. We recruited a trombone, a couple of woodwinds (if I recall correctly), a gal who played guitar, and Tom, the erstwhile dead body, played drums. And we got together for two practices. The first was at John’s house, the second at mine.  Both moms excelled in the area of snack production, and I would guess that the ration of snack time to practice time was somewhere around two to one.

But that was okay. We did play a little bit of music. But what was more important, as I look back, was that the group of the six or so of us was equally mixed between boys and girls. Not that we paired up or anything. That would have been way too scary – this was, after all, 1966 or 1967. But it was a chance to spend time with members of that mysterious other tribe – girls! – in activities that we all enjoyed: playing music and snacking. It was, to put a high-concept meaning to it, a good step in our social development. It was also an easier way to begin to get to know members of that other tribe than were the occasional dances at school.

During those dances, the boys stood along one wall of the gym of the cleared-out lunchroom and the girls stood along the other as someone spun 45s. Fast records were okay; everyone met more or less in the middle of the open space and acted like the dancers on Shindig! or Hullabaloo. If we hadn’t watched either of those shows, we watched the kids who had, and if you weren’t really dancing with anyone, well, no one could really tell.

The slow numbers were tougher, scary and wonderful. We guys would hold our partners by their waists oh so tentatively and nearly at arms’ length, swaying slowly as something like “Cherish” or “Walk Away Renee” played through its seemingly interminable three minutes. If there was eye contact, well, it was likely an accident. And when the song was over, we boys grinned goofily and our partners blushed, and we retreated to our safe havens on the separate sides of the gym or lunchroom, shaken and sweaty and wishing we could do it again.

One of the girls I wanted to have one of those scary/wonderful moments with was, well, let’s call her just W, the girl John and I recruited to play guitar in our short-lived band. I never danced with her. But as I said, the second – and final – practice our band had was at my house, and for one late spring Saturday afternoon, W was at my house, playing her guitar, laughing, sitting in my back yard. I imagine she knew how I felt about her – I’ve never been a very good poker player – and I also imagine she didn’t know how to react. That was one of the first times I wanted to really bridge the gap between the tribes, and as I would guess most of my readers know from experience, it takes a long time – on both sides – to learn how to do that.

All of that has very little to do with today’s album, the self-titled debut release of the Bay Area group Cold Blood. Well, except that, like thousands of other songs in the world, a good portion of the songs performed here by lead singer Lydia Pense and her boys are about successes and failures in bridging that gap between the tribes.

Some notes on the album:

Six of the seven cuts in this share are from the CD The Best of Cold Blood, which I found some time ago on another blog. The seventh cut – the final song on the album – I ripped this morning from vinyl.

Cold Blood’s first two albums – the self-titled debut and Sisyphus – were released on Bill Graham’s San Francisco* label after the group performed at his Fillmore West. The group’s sound – blues-rock and some funkiness with horns – brought comparisons to Chicago and to its fellow Bay Area group Tower of Power. And Lydia Pense’s vocals brought comparisons to that other blues belter, Janis Joplin.

According to All-Music Guide, Cold Blood was hampered more by Bill Graham’s business practices than by listeners’ comparisons to other groups. After two albums on Graham’s label, the group moved to Reprise for two more, and then did single albums on Warner Bros. and ABC. A live performance from 1973 was released on Dig Records in 2001, and the re-formed group released Transfusion in 2005, also on Dig.

Highlights of the debut remain “I’m A Good Woman,” which on the album is edited so tightly to “Let Me Down Easy” that the two could have been presented as one cut, and “You Got Me Hummin,” a single edit of which reached No. 52 back in 1969.

All of Cold Blood’s work is worth seeking out. Cold Blood and Sisyphus are available online as a combined release. The rest of the group’s albums are available, some new and most used or as cutouts. Check your favorite online marketplace.

Cold Blood – Cold Blood [1969]

*Not the San Francisco Sound label, as I originally wrote. [Note added April 21, 2011.]

Saturday Single No. 12

April 20, 2011

Originally posted May 19, 2007

I’ve played keyboards since I was about seven years old. I took piano lessons for about five years, then let it go until I got interested in pop and rock music when I was sixteen. I gave myself a refresher course in my last two years of high school, played for fun and took five quarters of music theory in college to help with my songwriting (which it did). I’ve played (and written) on and off over the years since.

In the autumn of 1994, I was waiting for the start of a meeting of a men’s group. There was a piano in the room, and I sat on the bench and began to noodle a little. One of my fellow members – call him J – came up to me and asked if I’d ever wanted to play in a blues and R&B group. “Only all my life,” I said. And once a week for the next six years, I went out to J’s house in the southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis and played music. It was a changing cast – we went through three or four guitarists as people moved or their priorities changed, and we went through a couple of lead singers. But we had a lot of fun, and twice a year, we hosted parties at J’s house and were, literally, the house band.

In the autumn of 1999, my health took a turn for the worse, and making it to every practice became difficult. By January 2001, my health hadn’t improved, and my time with the band was over. But it was a great six years.

As an aside, my blogging name is a nickname that arose from my time with the band. During a break at one of our semi-annual parties, an audience member came up to me and said, “Man, when you’re playing piano, you move like a white Ray Charles!” Note that he did not say I played like Brother Ray, just that I moved like him. But from then on, I was Whiteray.

A further aside: One of our drummers – call him C – was related to Prince and had played with him early on. One day as I was walking in Uptown Minneapolis, C poked his head out of a limousine and hollered, “Yo, Whiteray!”

I turned and saw his grin as the long limo drove past, waved and hollered “Yo!”

Later, C told me that he had been heading somewhere with his cousin, and after they passed me, Prince asked who Whiteray was. C said he explained who I was and how I got the name, and he said that Prince nodded and said, “Cool name.”

During those six years with the band, I – like other members – brought in numerous songs for the band to try out. Of those that we worked into our repertoire, our lead singer sang most. But there were three over the years that I sang lead on: “First Chill Of Winter,” a little-known gem by the duo of Darden Smith and Boo Hewerdine; “I Shall Be Released,” the Bob Dylan tune; and “The Weight,” the Robbie Robertson song that The Band recorded on its first album, Music From Big Pink.

“The Weight” has long been one of my favorite pieces of music, to sing and play, and to listen to. Over the years, I’ve collected nineteen different mp3 versions of it, by performers as diverse as The Band, Joe Cocker, King Curtis, Cassandra Wilson, the Staple Singers, Lee Ann Womack, and Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. But somewhere out there on the Net, I found a version that I cannot identify. From the arrangement and sound, it’s a late 1960s or early 1970s recording, and I like it a lot. I’ve tried to match the running time with a list of the various recordings of the song at All-Music Guide with no success. I’ve pored over discographies and histories. I’ve done just about everything I can think of to find out who recorded it.

Since I’ve had no success, I thought I’d ask the question of the world at large: Does anyone out there know who recorded this version of “The Weight,” today’s Saturday Single?*

Unknown performer – “The Weight” [ca. 1970?]

*The answer came quickly. Almost as soon as I published this post, a reader – his name unhappily escapes me – left a note telling me that the version of “The Weight” in question had been recorded by Spooky Tooth. It was released in 1971 on the band’s Tobacco Road album. [Note added April 20, 2011.]

Finishing Off the Whitlock Oeuvre

April 20, 2011

Orignally posted May 18, 2007

I got ambitious last night and recorded the last of my four Bobby Whitlock albums and then did all the little bits of work for that album and another Whitlock to turn them into mp3s. So with today’s post, I’ve put out there for the world – or at least that portion of it that stops by here – all four of the Memphis-bred musician’s 1970s solo work.

(The first two were posted here and here in January and March*, respectively.)

And because Bobby Whitlock was part of the first concert I’d seen on a trip on my own to the Twin Cities – about seventy miles from St. Cloud – I got to thinking about concerts I’d seen over the years. Some of them – many of them, as I think about it – were available because of the presence of the college (later re-christened a university) in the city and the presence of my dad on the faculty of that college/university.

I guess the first musical notable I saw at the college was Doc Severinsen. This was in 1965, possibly before he was playing in the Tonight Show band, but certainly before he took over leadership of the band from Milton DeLugg (a seemingly square individual who oddly enough, according to Wikipedia, produced the record “Rave On” for Buddy Holly). Severinsen’s program, performed with the university’s orchestra in a standard concert hall, was traditional classical material. I have the program – autographed – somewhere in the boxes of stuff I’ve lugged around for years; I do recall that one of the selections that evening was a piece written around the folk tune, “The Carnival of Venice,” known to many for its lyrics:

“My hat, it has three corners.
“Three corners has my hat.
“And had it not three corners,
“It would not be my hat.”

That wasn’t the last time I saw – or met – Severinsen. In early 1972, while I was a student at St. Cloud State, Severinsen was scheduled to perform at the college, and my music theory professor asked for volunteers to go to the airport in the Twin Cities and drive him to St. Cloud (while his band followed behind on a bus). Severinsen came down the walkway from the jet, dressed in the flashiest clothes 1972 could offer, carrying a small leather bag that held his trumpet. Dr. Barrett introduced me and the other three students, and I told Severinsen that we’d met before, when he had performed in St. Cloud in 1965, seven years earlier.

“I was in sixth grade at the time,” I said.

He looked slyly at me and said, “Well, you must be in at least seventh grade by now.” He grinned and laughed like we’d all seen on TV hundreds of times, and we walked up the concourse and left the airport.

The college actually did a pretty good job in setting up concerts for students, faculty and the community. While I was a student there, I recall concerts by Shawn Phillips (who played St. Cloud State at least once a year, it seems), It’s A Beautiful Day, Leon Russell, John Denver, a double bill of George Carlin and Leo Kottke, and –during the sixth year of my six-year plan – Cheap Trick.

I saw concerts at the college before I was a student there, of course. All it took was a polite mention to my dad, and he called whomever he needed to call to secure me tickets. During my senior year of high school, I saw the Young Rascals and got tickets to see the Upper Midwest band Crow (although I had to skip the concert and sell my tickets for a reason I do not recall.)

But the best year for concerts had to be my junior year of high school. In the fall, just as the single “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” was peaking, the Fifth Dimension put on a good show in the 8,000-seat gym. During winter quarter, the Association came to town.

And in the spring of 1970, just as their second album was rising in the charts, Chicago took the stage in Halenbeck Hall. I had an orchestra concert that evening – I played cornet – and missed the opening act, Illinois Speed Press. I got to Halenbeck and found the seat Rick had managed to save for me during Chicago’s second number, about 9:30. The group played the highlights from both Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II and then started an encore about 11 o’clock. That encore was still going on at 11:45 when Rick and I had to leave to catch our ride home. I haven’t been to an extraordinary number of concerts over the years, but I’ve seen a few. And I’d have to put Chicago’s 1970 performance in the top five.

Anyway, here are two albums by Bobby Whitlock. There are a few more crackles in One Of A Kind than I’d like, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I thought Raw Velvet was pretty clean.

Bobby Whitlock – Raw Velvet (1972)

Track listing
Tell The Truth
Bustin’ My Ass
Write You A Letter
Ease Your Pain
If You Ever
You Came Along
Think About It
Satisfied
Dearest I Wonder
Start All Over

Bobby Whitlock – One Of A Kind (1975)

Track listing
Movin’ On
You Still On My Mind
Rocky Mountain Blues
Be Honest With Yourself
Goin’ To California
Free and Easy Way (Of Lovin’ You)
The Right Road Back Home
You Don’t Have To Be Alone
Have You Ever Felt Like Leavin’
We Made It To The Moon

A few notes on the records:

Raw Velvet – which has the most gawdawful cover (check it out at Wikipedia) – is a not bad album of southern rock and R&B that has a couple of standout tracks. “Tell The Truth” is Whitlock’s solo version of the song he co-wrote with Eric Clapton for Derek & the Dominos’ Layla. The gospelly “Ease Your Pain,” written by eccentric genius Hoyt Axton, was released as a single in the spring of 1972 but failed to reach the Top 40.

Jimmy Miller and Joe Zagarino produced the album, released on ABC-Dunhill, with one cut (“Hello L.A., Goodbye Birmingham”) produced by Whitlock and Andy Johns. Musicians are Rick Vito – who showed up in the 1987-1991 version of Fleetwood Mac – on guitar, Keith Ellis on bass and Don Poncher on drums. Whitlock plays rhythm guitar and keyboards. A few other musicians evidently played on “Hello L.A., Goodbye Birmingham,” but the notes crediting the guitar and drum players are just sketches of little dominos and the bass player is listed only as “@ friend.” Dominos, eh? Evidently Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon lent a hand on that cut, but the bass player was not Carl Radle. Who, then? I dunno. Those are the only performance credits on the record, which means the excellent back-up singers remain nameless. Whitlock’s tailor, on the other hand is listed; he was John Morgan.

One Of A Kind is a better piece of work with a better groove. Released on Capricorn, it features performances by several members of the Allman Brothers Band, most notably Dickey Betts, whose slide guitar makes “You Don’t Have To Be Alone” into a near-classic cut, and Chuck Leavell, who plays piano on “We Made It To The Moon,” Rocky Mountain Blues,” and “The Right Road Back Home.” Jaimoe plays congas on “Movin’ On” and “Free and Easy Way (Of Lovin’ You),” which All-Music Guide calls “a light an airy masterpiece.” Capricorn stalwart Johnny Sandlin adds tambourine to “Goin’ To California” and “Have You Ever Felt Like Leavin’.”

Produced by Whitlock and Bill Halverson, the record has T.J. Tindall on electric guitar and banjo, Kenny Tibbets on bass and Rick Eckstein on drums. Whitlock plays piano, organ, acoustic guitar, Leslie guitar, chimes and percussion.

*You’ll find the March post about Whitlock here. I didn’t include the January post about his first solo album because the post was essentially a review quoted from All-Music Guide; I had little of my own to say about the album. [Note added April 20, 2011]