Archive for the ‘2008/01 (January)’ Category

The Byrds & ‘Mr. Spaceman’

June 11, 2011

Originally posted January 31, 2008

In October 1967, about the time that my pals and I were creating fake UFOs out of straws, plastic bags and candles and about six months before I got a quick glimpse of a real UFO, the Byrds visited the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. One of the two songs the group lip-synched for that performance was its own salute to UFOs and the creatures that fly them: “Mr. Spaceman.”

A Baker’s Dozen From 1966, Vol. 2

June 11, 2011

Originally posted January 30, 2008

Every once in a while, it seems, we go through a spasm of interest in UFOs in this country, and maybe throughout the world. I have a suspicion that with the wide reach of the Internet, those with an intense interest in UFOs gather together electronically – as do other groups of people with intense special interests – and so perhaps the general public no longer is as aware of those cyclical spasms of interest and/or activity. I know I don’t see or hear much about UFOs and their supposed occupants in the mainstream media but the few times I’ve dug into websites about the phenomenon, there are plenty of things reported as having happened, some of them quite recent.

I do think it’s cyclical, though. And I recall a local outburst of activity and/or interest in UFOs during the mid-Sixties. About sixty miles west of here is a little town called Long Prairie, a city of about 3,000 people. In 1965, something happened near there that made local radio news, and it might have been reported in the St. Cloud Daily Times although I don’t remember reading about it.

Here’s a summary from one of those UFO websites:

“From several ufological sources, more or less fragmentary, the case of Long Prairie, Minnesota, USA, on October 23, 1965, reportedly occurred as follow.

“The witness was James ‘Jerry’ F. Townsend, a 19 years old devout Christian and debutant radio host on KEYL of Long Prairie, and he was apparently a resident of that town.

“In that evening of October 23, 1965, he was driving in his model 1956 car, on Minnesota State Highway 27, from Little Falls to Long Prairie. He was 4 miles East of Long Prairie, going West, in the hilly landscape and had just looked at his watch and noted it was approximately 07:15 p.m.

“At that moment he arrived in a curve in the road, he said, when he saw an upright rocket-like object, silver colored, metallic looking, about 30 or 40 feet high and about 10 feet in diameter, blocking on the road, resting on the tips of three legs or fins.

“At that moment, his car engine stalled, the lights and radio went out, and he slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop at only 20 feet in front of the object.

“His first thought was then to knock the object over with the car so he could have some evidence, but the engine was stalled. He tried to make it start again, but the choke did not respond. So he got out of the car with the idea of trying to push the object over by hand.

“He walked just past the level of the hood of the car, but did not go further, stopped short, fascinated by a quite stunning sight: he saw three small ‘creatures’ emerge from behind the object and line up at the front.

“Those creatures were in the shape of beer cans. They measured 6 inches tall, were of dark or brownish color, and were ‘walking’ awkardly on two ‘legs’ or ‘fins’. Whenever they stopped, a third ‘leg’ came down from their back and provided stability. They looked like tin cans on tripods. They also had three arms, ‘matchstick like’.

“Townsend saw no eyes, but he stood there staring at them and was convinced that they were watching him too. He did not [want] to approach more, and gave up the idea of rocking the ship down as something quite risky. There was no sound, just dead silence, and it seemed like ages to him, although he later evaluated the duration as some 3 minutes.

“Eventually, the little creature [sic] went up into the bright, ‘colorless’ light glowing out of the bottom of the ‘rocket’, and possibly up into the craft. A few seconds later, there was a loud hum, and the craft took off, reached a height he cautiously estimated as 400 meters up, where the light on the bottom went out, while his car radio, headlights and engine started without him touching the starter.

“He checked the ground where the craft had been, found no trace, and, his hearts [sic] pounding and his legs ‘like rubber’, he drove fast to the Todd County Sherif’s [sic] office, where he reported the events.

“Townsend said the Sheriff checked the site and found no trace. However, some sort of trace was reported, maybe found at a later check in daylight. From ufology sources, it appeared that Sheriff Bain and police officer Lavern Lubitz found three parallel strips of an oil-like substance, about four inches apart and a yard long, on the surface of the road. Sheriff Bain told reporters later: ‘I don’t know what they were, but I’ve looked at a lot of roads and never saw anything like them before.’

“Ufologist Coral Lorenzen heard by phone that Townsend had a good reputation, was not a drinker, and that he had been visibly frightened when he reported his experience. Reportedly, teachers and friends of Townsend were interrogated, and said he has a reputation for honesty.”

That’s a longer quote than I had planned to use, but I find the report fascinating (although I have no idea what a “debutant radio host” is). Maybe I’m fascinated because I remember the ruckus the account created back in 1965. I don’t know how adults reacted to it, but opinion was mixed among the kids. Many of my contemporaries said flat out – without knowing much more than bare bones – that the fellow had to have been drunk and seeing things. Me? I wondered. Even at the age of twelve, I knew that there were lots of things we did not know. Aliens from another planet, another dimension? Maybe.

It was about that time – maybe a year later, but in autumn – that St. Cloud residents for a few nights in a row called the local police and reported odd lights in the sky, moving in clusters but in no specific pattern. This one did make the local paper. And a few days later, a local teen explained.

He’d taken drinking straws, he said, and constructed a framework – a rough wheel with spokes – the same diameter as a dry cleaner’s plastic bag. He’d put the framework into the opening of the bag and secured it, then secured candles onto the straws that served as spokes. He’d light the candles and hold the bag up so it would not burn, and eventually, the hot air from the candles would lift the bag off the ground and send it on its way through the evening sky.

How cool was that! For the next two weeks or so, St. Cloud was home to many odd wandering lights every night as multitudes of kids went out and bought plastic straws and candles and cadged dry cleaner’s bags somewhere. Eventually, the fascination faded as the weather got cooler, and any wandering lights in the St. Cloud sky came from something other than juveniles and their evening science projects.

Not all that long after those events, most likely in the spring of 1968 (it could have been the previous autumn, but the trees were green and I seem to recall that they were budding), I got a ride to school from my mom one morning. As she turned off of what was then Tenth Street South (now University Drive) to head to South Junior High School, I saw something through the windshield as it passed over us and continued to go south, the direction we were heading. I saw it for maybe five seconds, and all I can say is I don’t know what it was. It was silver, and it had the classic saucer shape with a dome on it. In those brief seconds, it flashed toward the school and over it, low enough that the school building blocked it from my sight in, as I said, maybe five seconds.

Troubled, I got out of the car and headed into the school. One of my friends, Jerry, was at his locker, two down from mine. I opened my locker and put my books inside, then turned to Jerry. “Have you ever seen a UFO?” I asked him.

He turned to me, and the look on his face echoed how I felt. “Yeah,” he said. “About five minutes ago. It was over the Dairy Queen, heading this direction.”

There was never anything in the paper about it, and I still wonder what it was that Jerry and I saw.

And this all came to mind this morning when the first song of today’s Baker’s Dozen popped up.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1966
“Mr. Spaceman” by the Byrds, Columbia single 43766

“You Ain’t Tuff” by the Uniques, Paula single 2315

“Strange Young Girls” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Mamas & the Papas

“Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2278

“Big Mama’s Bumble Bee Blues” by Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, unreleased until 1986

“Run For Cover” by the Dells, Cadet single 5551

“Love Attack” by James Carr, Goldwax single 309

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)” by Bob Dylan from Blonde On Blonde

“Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5676

“.44 Blues” by the Rising Sons, unreleased until 1992

“Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise single 0470

“Along Comes Mary” by the Association, Valiant single 741

“Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond, Bang single 519

A few notes:

The Uniques were fronted by country star-to-be Joe Stampley, and, according to All-Music Guide, recorded some nice blue-eyed soul and Southern pop-rock, which makes “You Ain’t Tuff” – a garage-rocker – an anomaly in the group’s catalog. I found “You Ain’t Tuff” on one of the Nuggets compilations, where it fits quite nicely.

“Strange Young Girls” has intrigued me since I first heard it long ago. Among other things, it provides clear evidence that John Phillips and producer Lou Adler weren’t in the habit of working hard on the singles and giving less attention to the album tracks. It’s a beautiful yet haunting meditation on, as AMG says, “Sunset Strip street life, teenyboppers, and LSD.”

When you listen to “Shake Your Hips” – or any Slim Harpo record, for that matter – you hear one of the many influences that wound up making the Rolling Stones who they are. In this case, it’s more direct, as the Stones would up covering “Shake Your Hips” on 1972’s Exile on Main Street.

I mentioned the Bob Dylan recording, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” in my comments some time back on songs with indelible introductions. More than thirty years after first hearing the song – I came to it late, in 1973 – I still get a little bit of that charge every time I hear it start. The credits at AMG for the album, Blonde on Blonde, list several more people than do the minimal liner notes on the CD I have. Based on the AMG list of keyboard players, I’d guess that the organist is The Band’s Garth Hudson. The piano? I’d guess Richard Manuel, also from The Band, but that’s iffier. Neither one is mentioned in the sketchy notes that accompany the CD, and based on those notes, I’d say it’s Al Kooper on organ and Pig Robbins on piano. Does anyone know for sure?

I guess “Good Vibrations” is an accurate representation of the Beach Boys circa 1966. It’s a nice piece of studio craft, but for some reason, I’ve never liked it very much. I would much rather have seen “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” pop up as the Beach Boys’ entry on this list.

The Rising Sons was an example of a great group in the wrong place at the wrong time. Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, the group had a single released – it went nowhere – before breaking up in 1966. But the group did manage to record more than an album’s worth of material, twenty-two tracks that were finally released in 1992. It’s fun stuff and great music.

Graffiti supposedly seen in the London Underground:

“To do is to be” – Descartes

“To be is to do” – Voltaire

“Do be do be do” – Frank Sinatra

‘It’s My Birthday, Too . . .’

June 11, 2011

Originally posted January 29, 2008

Birthdays were a pretty big deal in our house when I was a kid. Oh, the gifts weren’t extravagant; we were pretty solidly in the middle class, and Mom and Dad were pretty crafty with a buck (skills learned during their Great Depression childhoods, I’m sure). We didn’t always get the best, the newest, the most gizmo-laden toys for our birthdays, but we got nice things, whether we got toys and games or practical items like clothes.

Parties? Well, we had smaller get-togethers early on. For me, that generally meant Rick and his sister Julie (Rob was a little older; my friendship with him began a few years later). For our eighth birthdays, my sister and I each had a larger party. When my turn came, I invited about seven other kids. We had hot dogs and ice cream and played games.

One thing that birthdays meant during the school year was treats. During the bulk of the school year at Lincoln Elementary (and I imagine at the other elementary schools in St. Cloud), the birthday boy or girl could bring treats. Generally the treats were homemade cookies or cake; sometimes kids brought store-bought ice cream cups. I don’t know if kids are allowed to bring in homemade treats these days. As it turned out, I never got the chance to bring anything; my birthday is in early September and thus sometimes fell before Labor Day and the start of school. Those years when it fell inside the school year, it seems that the treat-bringing hadn’t been organized for the school year yet.

Well, the readers think. If his birthday is in September, why is he writing about birthdays now? Because I missed this blog’s birthday, that’s why. I wrote in December about the anniversary of having gotten my USB turntable, and a few people extended wishes. But the first post here took place on January 21, 2007, a little more than a week ago, and I missed the anniversary. Over at Groovy Fab, a board I frequent, I mentioned the blog for the first time on January 31. And I installed the counter here on February 1. Any of those three dates would work, and I’m not going to be picky.

So Happy Birthday, Echoes In The Wind!

And since it’s Tuesday, there’s really only one cover song to play, and it’s a One-Hit Wonder at that.

Not a lot of groups and musicians have covered “Birthday,” Lennon & McCartney’s little rocker from The Beatles. Joe Alaskey included it on Bugs and Friends Sing The Beatles, and David Belochio included it on two kid’s records. Who else? John Farnham and a group called Fish. Hair Rave-Up and Alex Harvey. The Inmates and Kevin Max. McCartney himself, on some live albums. Mirth, the Neighbor Kids and Phish. The Retros and Shark Frenzy. Bernie Steinberg and also the Texas Chainsaw Orchestra. (It all sounds like a great festival to me!)

And, of course, there was the Underground Sunshine, a quartet that came out of Montello, Wisconsin, in 1969, according to All-Music Guide, and released a cover of “Birthday” (Intrepid 75002) as its debut single. The record got to No. 26 during a five-week stay in the Top 40, and the group appeared on American Bandstand on August 2, 1969. Another single – penned by David Gates, soon to form Bread – missed the charts later that year, as did two more singles in 1970.

I’ve seen the group’s only LP, Let There Be Light, shared at various blogs over the last year or so, but from what I can tell, it’s never been reissued on CD, nor has “Birthday” shown up on a lot of compilations. So here it is:

Underground Sunshine – “Birthday” [1969]

Another Turn Through The Junkyard

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 28, 2008

Well, quite a busy weekend around here!

We saw Richie Havens in concert Friday evening, as I mentioned Saturday. Saturday evening, we went over to the St. Cloud State campus and its National Hockey Center, where we saw the SCS Huskies lose 5-3 to the Mavericks from Minnesota State University, Mankato. (That’s a university that used to be plain old Mankato State, but its leaders decided a while back that it would sound more important if it were called Minnesota State University, Mankato. I wonder if the TV show Coach had anything to do with that, considering that the popular show took place for most of its run at a fictional Minnesota State? In any case, the uniqueness of the name went away after the state university at Moorhead did the same, calling itself Minnesota State University, Moorhead.)

And Sunday? Well, I spent the bulk of my time yesterday installing my new external hard drive and then transferring over to it more than 20,000 mp3s. The drive is a My Book from Western Digital, which I selected after a general recommendation by my nephew, who works in IT for the Osseo school district in the Twin Cities. He told me that he didn’t have specific model recommendations, but he listed a few manufacturers that he said put out good products, and Western was one of them. So when we were out Saturday, we stopped by the local outlet of the big box electronics store and found a 500-gig drive on sale.

Having heard horror stories, I backed up those mp3s that would be the hardest to replace – about twenty gigs, or a quarter of the collection – and then installed the new drive and began to transfer the mp3s. It took about three hours for the eighty-five gigs of music to find its way to its new home. And then I wasted a few hours messing around with RealPlayer. Prompted by a popup from, I installed a new version. I didn’t like it, so I spent some time finding and reinstalling the old version (thank goodness for Old Version) and finally got settled.

Next comes the process of reloading all the obscure (and sometimes rather odd) albums that I’ve recorded to CDs and pulled from the player over the past couple of years. I’m not sure how many of those albums I’ll share as albums, but tracks from them should begin popping up in Baker’s Dozens fairly soon.

Given that I have tinkering to do with all those CDs – about seventeen of them, each packed with about 700 MB of music – I thought I’d forego ripping an album this morning and instead take a Monday morning walk through the Junkyard, 1950-1999. And as someone responded to Saturday’s post about the Richie Havens concert with a request, we’ll start with Havens’ 1967 recording of “Follow.”

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard

“Follow” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag, 1967

“Human Touch” by Bruce Springsteen from Human Touch, 1992

“Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 372, 1967

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan with the Grateful Dead from Dylan & The Dead, 1989

“Chain of Love” by Lesley Duncan from Sing Children Sing, 1971

“Carolina Moon” by Mr. Acker Bilk from Stranger On The Shore, 1961

“Sideshow” by Blue Magic, Atco single 6961, 1974

“Too Much To Lose” by Gordon Lightfoot, RCA Studios, Toronto, 1972

“Wax Minute” by Mike Nesmith from Tantamount to Treason, 1972

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“House That Jack Built” by Thelma Jones, Barry single 1023, 1968

“Smile A Little Smile For Me” by the Flying Machine, Congress single 6000, 1969

“Get Down Tonight” by KC & the Sunshine Band, T.K. single 1009, 1975

“Keep Love In Your Soul” by Gary Wright from Headin’ Home, 1979

“Fancy Dancer” by Bread from Guitar Man, 1972

A few notes:

I hesitated when the track from Dylan & the Dead came up, as the album is truly one of the worst entries in the catalogs of both Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. It sounded like a great idea, I guess, and from what I’ve read in various places, there are tapes of Dylan and the Dead performing marvelously. But it didn’t happen on the tour that this album came from.

Lesley Duncan was one of the better session singers in the UK, or so I’ve read, and as a result, she had some estimable musicians – including Elton John – supporting her when she recorded Sing Children Sing. The album is a pleasant enough slice of early Seventies singer-songwriter, but it didn’t draw much attention in what was a crowded field. Duncan recorded four more albums through 1977, again without much success. I like her music, and “Chain of Love” is pretty representative. Sing Children Sing was released on CD on the Edsel label (!) in 2000, and copies now go for more than $80.

“Carolina Moon” is a track from the album released by England’s Mr. Acker Bilk after the idiosyncratic clarinetist had a No. 1 hit in 1962 with the lilting and lovely “Stranger on the Shore.” Bilk never had another Top 40 hit, but his musicianship has kept him quite popular among trad jazz fans in England, with his most recent album – among those listed with dates at All-Music Guide – being 2005’s The Acker Bilk/Danny Moss Quintet.

With its spoken carney-barker introduction, it could be easy to dismiss “Sideshow” as a novelty. But the record succeeds despite that corny intro and remains one of the prettiest of the singles that came out of the Philly Soul movement in the 1970s.

The Mike Nesmith track comes from one of the highly regarded series of country-rock records that the one-time Monkee released during the early 1970s. Any of them are worth checking out. (Those interested in eccentricity should also look into Nesmith’s 1968 oddity, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.)

Thelma Jones came out of the gospel music world and was the first to record “The House That Jack Built.” A little later in 1968, Aretha Franklin’s cover of the song would slice Jones’ version to shreds, but it’s always interesting to hear the original.

The Flying Machine was a British studio group, not to be confused with James Taylor’s similarly named group. The Brits did bubble-gummish work and the sold some records although “Smile A Little Smile For Me” was their only U.S. hit. Coming as it did from the year I truly began to listen to the Top 40 on the first radio I ever owned, it always brings a smile.

Saturday Singles Nos. 52 & 53

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 26, 2008

I’ve never been one to holler out song suggestions at a concert. When others do so, it annoys me and I assume it annoys the performer. And I don’t think it does any good, anyway.

The first time I saw Don McLean, in St. Cloud State’s Stewart Hall back in 1987, the show was no more than five songs old before some goof in the balcony called out, “American Pie!” McLean shook his head and said, “There’s always one,” earning a sympathetic chuckle from the audience. “American Pie” came later, about two-thirds of the way through the two-hour performance. (And I’ve always wondered, did Balcony Man really think he had to urge McLean to perform “American Pie”? If you’re gonna request something from the seats, why not make it something otherwise unlikely to be heard?)

In the case of Richie Havens’ performance last night at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre, the unlikely song I would have loved to hear – as I wrote yesterday – was “Follow,” the sweet anthem from Havens’ 1967 album, Mixed Bag. He didn’t perform it, and I didn’t holler for it. (Only one person called out from the audience, for “Just Like A Woman,” and Havens didn’t play it.)

But it didn’t matter, because last night’s performance was one of the more remarkable performances I’ve ever seen. For an hour and forty-five minutes, clad in his familiar long shirt, Havens ran through a forty-year catalog of music, his trademark open tuning and powerful strumming propelling himself and his audience into his music.

He opened the show with an anecdote from his mid-Sixties day in New York’s Greenwich Village, telling how he got the chords and lyrics to a song he admired from its creator and how, in the spirit of the Village, he similarly passed them on to a guitarist who’d asked for them. “And he went and recorded it!” Havens said of Jimi Hendrix just before launching into Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.”

Accompanying Havens throughout the show was Walter Parks, whose electric guitar lines danced under, over and around Havens’ vocals and his madly strummed acoustic guitar. Midway through the show, the two were joined by Stephanie Winter, whose cello provided a foundation of flowing melody or percussive chording. The sound of the three together was the sound of musicians in accord with themselves and with each other.

And they took a good tour through Havens’ catalog. One of the certainties of a Havens’ concert, no doubt, is his take on George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” which went to No. 16 in the spring of 1971. Other stops along the way came from more recent albums, with “Paradise” and “Handouts in the Rain” coming from 2002’s Wishing Well and several songs coming from an album that Winter said after the concert will be released this spring.

One of those songs from the new album is a fiery version of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” a song Havens recorded for Something Else Again in 1968. This version, however, has a sly bridge installed that pulls a verse and chorus from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Maybe the most remarkable thing about the concert was the energy Havens puts into his performance. His entire being is focused on the guitar and his music, and sometimes he seems oblivious to the fact that his audience is present as the music envelops him. “Don’t you wonder where he goes?” the Texas Gal murmured to me during one such stretch. I nodded, eyes on the stage. The physical effort is as great as Havens’ emotional commitment: He broke at least two guitar strings during the show and who knows how many guitar picks. “They don’t make them like they used to,” he said of the picks. “They used to last weeks, but now they’re good for two songs.”

About ninety minutes into the show, Haven’s moved into a slow, almost contemplative version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” weaving his way through the metaphors detailing the 1969 festival that he, of course, opened. As he finished amid applause, it seemed as if we in the audience held our collective breath. And we exhaled as the mad strumming began and Havens moved into “Freedom/Motherless Child,” the song he improvised near the end of his three-hour Woodstock performance. Havens’ beard is longer now, and gray, and many of those in the audience were graying as well. But the years fell away as Havens’ right hand propelled all of us back for at least a few moments.

Two encores followed: Gary Wright’s “My Love Is Alive” from Wishing Well and Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance” from 1994’s Cuts to the Chase. And he and his companions left amid cheers from the three hundred or so who were there.

A little later, as he autographed our ticket stubs, I told Havens I’d been tempted to call out for “Follow.” He nodded and smiled and said, “That would have been a good song to sing.” Still smiling, he added, “There are so many to choose from, you know. So many.”

So from among many, I’ve selected Richie Haven’s version of “Woodstock” from 2004’s Grace of the Sun and “Freedom,” recorded at Woodstock for today’s Saturday Singles.

Richie Havens – “Woodstock” [2004]

Richie Havens – “Freedom” [1969]

About Lists . . .

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 25, 2008

I got to thinking this morning about making lists. Not grocery or task lists, although I do plenty of those. (And I need them to keep on track, too; the Texas Gal and I went grocery shopping last evening, before dinner and without a list. We did some damage.) What I was thinking about was the fun kind of list, the type of list that’s proliferated madly since about 1975, when Irving Wallace and his co-authors published The Book of Lists. (That first volume had on its first page a very nice portrait of Franz Liszt.)

In the more than thirty years since then, one can find a book of lists covering pretty much any activity or idea possible, I would guess. Music is no exception. On my shelves I have The Book of Rock Lists, which came out about twenty years ago. A few sample lists: “The 20 Best Debut Albums.” “Performers Discovered by Sam Phillips.” “10 Reasons Punk Had To Happen.” “10 Great New Orleans Pianists.” (Just this quick glance into the book makes me realize I need to browse through it carefully; you most likely will see a list or two showing up here in the near future.)

Another book that comes to mind is a list in itself: 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die was released in 2005 and it’s a fascinating, if sometimes frustrating, volume. Its editor, Robert Dimery, and a large number of its contributors are from Great Britain or Australia, creating what seems to me as I wander through the volume a massive bias toward British acts. I mean, four albums by the Kinks and one from Otis Redding? Seven albums by David Bowie? In rough comparison, that makes him an artist equal to the Beatles and Bob Dylan (also seven each) and far more important and/or influential than Joni Mitchell, who has four albums listed.

It’s a fascinating book, and if one approaches it as a discussion-starter rather than as a final arbiter, it’s extremely useful.

And thinking about lists got me to pondering music lists I’ve made, generally of albums I wanted to buy, which in the early days of my listening was everything I could find by the Beatles, and if I found something else along the way, well, fine. That did change. Somewhere, I have a loose-leaf notebook with a wish list of LPs, put together in the mid- to late 1990s. I’m sure a similar list assembled today would be fairly different.

Maybe the most interesting list I assembled was one I put together during my years in Minot. The band director on the Minot State faculty hosted a show on the university’s public radio station called Castaway’s Choice. The premise was a familiar one. He asked his guests: If you were a castaway on an island, what ten pieces of recorded music would you want with you? I think it was a fairly new program, for I was the first guest whose list was not taken from the ranks of classical music. Dan, the host, looked at my list and at the ten LPs I’d brought with me, and I think he wondered what he had done. But by the end of the ninety minutes it took to tape the show, I think he’d enjoyed himself.

(I saw my copy of the show in my files recently. I should listen to it and share the list here. I know my list of ten tracks would be far different today than it was twenty years ago.)

One list I do keep is not written down – it’s a mental list of performers I’d very much like to see, a list started early in college, I would guess, and added to and edited pretty much continually since then.

A subset of that list is a list of specific songs I’d like to see performed by specific artists, one song per artist. I should note that there are many other performers I’d like to see, many of them more current than those here on this list. Some that some immediately to mind are Joss Stone, Tift Merritt, Grace Potter & the Nocturals, David Gray, Colin Linden, Ollabelle and the Dixie Chicks. But I have no one song that immediately comes to mind for those acts. In no particular order, here are some of the song/performer pairings that have been on my list over the years:

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (Oct. 4, 1973, Århus, Denmark)

“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (July 1989, St. Paul, Minnesota)

“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney (September 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota)

“Layla” by Eric Clapton

“American Pie” by Don McLean (Early 1987, St. Cloud, Minnesota)

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen

“That’s The Way God Planned It” by Billy Preston (Spring 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)

“Imagine” by John Lennnon (No longer possible)

“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison

“Angel of Harlem” by U2

“The Weight” by The Band (Summer 1994, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood

“Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith

“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Summer 1974, St. Paul, Minnesota)

“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker (April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota)

“She Was Waiting . . .” by Shawn Phillips (Early 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)

“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond (September 1971, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)

“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King (August 1995, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)

“Follow” by Richie Havens

(I’ve heard some of those twice: “Like A Rolling Stone,” “American Pie” and “The Weight.” I also heard Levon Helm and Rick Danko perform “The Weight” as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1989).

And later tonight, I may be able to make another check mark on the list. The Texas Gal and I have tickets to see Richie Havens this evening at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre. He’s an artist I’ve wanted to see for many years, and I’m certain it will be a remarkable performance no matter what. But should he happen to perform “Follow,” which comes from his 1967 album Mixed Bag, I will be ecstatic.

I’ve never shared Mixed Bag here as it’s still in print, but I thought I’d share its follow-up, Mixed Bag II, released in 1974. It’s not quite as good an album, but that’s understandable, as its predecessor has long been considered by many critics and listeners to be Havens’ best work.

Highlights of the album are Havens’ take on “Ooh Child,” which had been a Top Ten hit for the Five Stairsteps in 1970; his somewhat meandering version of “Wandering Angus,” a poem by William Butler Yeats set to a folk melody; a sprightly version of McCartney’s “Band On The Run,” and the album’s moving finale, “The Indian Prayer,” written by Roland Vargas Mousaa and Tom Pacheco.*

But the album’s center, literally and figuratively, is Haven’s performance of the Bob Dylan epic “Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands).” Reflecting perfectly the organic feel of the entire album, the track pulls the album together. It may be called a mixed bag, but it holds together pretty well. It’s the kind of album Richie Havens specializes in to this day: Mostly acoustic, melodic, thoughtful and warm.

Track listing:
Ooh Child
Wandering Angus
Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands)
Someone Suite
Band On The Run
The Loner
The Makings Of You
The Indian Prayer

Richie Havens – Mixed Bag II [1974]

Note: As it turned out, Havens did not perform “Follow” that evening at the Paramount, but the concert, as I reported, was one of the best I’ve ever seen. But since I assembled that list of songs, I have been able to put one more check mark on it: The Texas Gal and I saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band when they came through St. Paul in May 2009, and – unsurprisingly – “Born to Run” was on the set list. Additionally, in 2010, I became peripherally involved in the efforts to release Mixed Bag II on CD and was granted a mention in the liner notes. I wrote about it, of course, at Echoes In The Wind.

San Francisco Bay Blues Times Two

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 24, 2008

I mentioned in yesterday’s post Jesse Fuller’s authorship of “San Francisco Bay Blues” and his tendency to perform the song up-tempo, which became a tradition for those who performed it later. Here’s a clip from YouTube, showing Fuller performing the song in 1963.

First of all, you’ll notice that along with a harmonica on the neck rack, Fuller has a kazoo, which he uses to accompany one of the choruses. Then there’s that thing on the floor that he operates with his feet. It’s Fuller’s own invention, called a Foldella. A note at YouTube says, “It’s something like a five string upright bass viol, with five foot-operated piano keys.”

Video deleted.

And I thought, as long as I was wandering through videos of “San Francisco Bay Blues,” I’d offer one more, this one a 1965 televised concert performance by the pop folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary. Note the kazoo chorus, which became for many a traditional part of any performance of the song.

Note: The video here was newly embedded during archiving. It may be the same performance, but I am not certain of that. Note added June 6, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967, Vol. 2

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 23, 2008

Some quotations from 1967:

“There [in Haight-Ashbury], in a daily street-fair atmosphere, upwards of 15,000 unbonded girls and boys interact in a tribal love-seeking, free-winging, acid-based society, where if you are a hippie and you have a dime, you can put it in a parking meter and lie down in the street for an hour’s sunshine.” – Warren Hinckle, Social History of the Hippies

“‘An investigation into Sex’ is now offered at Dartmouth. ‘Analogues to the LSD Experience’ can now be studied at Penn. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ is being examined by DePauw students. Stanford undergraduates are studying ‘American Youth in Revolt,’ and ‘The Origins and Meaning of Black Power’ is a course at Brooklyn College. Has higher education finally caught up with the times?” – Ralph Keyes, “The Free Universities”

“Victory is just around the corner [in Vietnam].” – National Security Adviser Walt Rostow

“I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” – Muhammad Ali

“I have tried to show that contemporary society is a repressive society in all its aspects, that even the comfort and the prosperity, the alleged political and moral freedom, are utilized for repressive ends.” – Herbert Marcuse

I turned fourteen that year. I wasn’t reading Marcuse nor was I worrying one way or another about the current courses in college catalogs. I was aware of the war in Vietnam, but only as something far away that was on the news more nights than not and in the papers almost every day. I knew that the war was out there, like thunder beyond the horizon, and I thought that maybe it was wrong, but it hadn’t touched me yet.

I did think about the hippies, having seen some coverage on the television news and having read about them in the daily papers and in Time magazine. It looked like they were having fun, I thought. I would not have minded running through the grass with some sweet flower child. Small chance of that, though: I was horribly awkward in my dealings with that strange tribe called girls.

Let’s see . . . I went to band camp that summer at Bemidji State College, in the northern part of the state. My dad let my hair grow out a little, and I grew a few inches and slimmed down some, changing enough that at least a couple people didn’t recognize me when ninth grade started in the fall. The most painful episode of the year was having my tonsils out after a long series of sore throats, the last of which came in late January.

When I stayed home ill, I would take the brown radio from the kitchen and put it on my bedside table. I’d listen to news and such on WCCO and occasionally tune the radio to KDWB and listen to that for a while, even though Top 40 radio was not yet the place where my soul lived. So what did I hear that January during that final bout of tonsilitis?

Here are a few listings pulled from the KDWB “Big 6 Plus 30” for the week of January 21, 1967. The top five was:

“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Words of Love” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Coming Home Soldier” by Bobby Vinton
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville

A few other stops along the way were:

No. 10: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by the Blues Magoos
No. 15: “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
No. 20: “Tell It To The Rain” by the Four Seasons
No. 25: “Whispers” by Jackie Wilson
No. 30: “Standing in the Shadows of Love” by the Four Tops
No. 36: “Ballad of Water Wart” by Thorndike Pickledish Choir

I’d never seen this list before, and my jaw remains agape as I write this, looking at that No. 36 song. I’d never heard of it before. Whatever it is, it was in its fifth week on the KDWB survey, having gone as high as No. 21. It might have been a regional hit, as it’s not listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.

A quick Googling finds that KDWB’s list has the title misspelled; it should be “The Ballad of Walter Wart,” although a 2006 posting on the website of WFMU, the free-form station in New Jersey, notes that the label on its copy of the 45 is misspelled, too. From what I can tell it was a novelty record that didn’t quite make the Top 100 nationally. I wonder why it did so well on KDWB? It never showed up on the weekly surveys at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Well, let’s Google on: It turns out that the creator of the record, whose real name is Robert O. Smith, has a blog of his own: All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! There’s an mp3 of the two sides of the single there. Odd, indeed.*

Anyway, that’s what radio sounded like, for the most part, as I sat in bed with a sore throat forty-one years ago. And here’s what 1967 sounds like when I start the RealPlayer these days:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1967, Vol. 2
“Eight Men, Four Women” by O. V. Wright, Backbeat single 580

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles from Magical Mystery Tour

“Ups & Downs” by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Columbia single 44018

“Landslide” by Tony Clark, Chess single 1979

“Everybody’s Wrong” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Ye Old Toffee Shop” by the Hollies from Evolution

“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Tamla single 54159

“Bessie Smith” by The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Blue Condition” by Cream from Disraeli Gears

“Hip Hug-Her” by Booker T & the MG’s, Stax single 211

“Twentieth Century Fox” by the Doors from The Doors

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag

“Break It Up” by Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger from Open

A few notes:

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s probably where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat – “Eight Men, Four Women” is the most atmospheric – are worth seeking out.

I’ve seen numerous comments from historians and critics and others of similar background who state that the Beatles’ single “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” is the best double-sided single in the history of rock. It’s a good one, no doubt, but the best? The record was a harbinger of what was to come that summer when Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and it sounded unlike anything we’d ever heard before. With the passage of time, however, the two singles suffer at least a little from the “throw in everything including the kitchen sink” production style that seemed so novel and revolutionary in 1967. And I can think of four other double-sided singles the Beatles themselves released that have more staying power than “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane.” Those would be “Come Together”/“Something,” “Hey Jude”/“Revolution,” “Paperback Writer”/“Rain” and – way back near the start – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”/“I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Hollies track is the most frothy and least consequential song from the Evolution album, which I think was the Hollies’ attempt to make something significant out of their version of psychedelic folk-pop. It’s not an awful album, and it has one good single (“Carrie-Anne”), but it’s not nearly as important as it is odd. The Hollies, in one critical way, remind me of the Grass Roots and Neil Diamond, among many others, in that they recorded good singles – sometimes even verging on great – but got lost when they tried to be significant. The middle section of “Ye Old Toffee Shop” reminds me of the single from the year before: “Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters.

On the other hand, great singles were Smokey Robinson’s business, and he knew it and stayed with it. “I Second That Emotion” might be his masterpiece – “Maybe you wanna give me kisses sweet, but only for one night with no repeat,” indeed! – but even if it’s not (I do lean toward “Tears of a Clown”), it’s a great single from the writing all the way through the production and the performance.

Most performers, when taking on Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” keep it up-tempo, an approach that likely started with Fuller himself (based on a listen to his performance of the song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964). But Havens – as he often does – goes against type here, making the song more contemplative and measured, allowing the listener to take in the tale.

*Sadly, a check on the first page of All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! reveals that Robert O. Smith, creator of Walter Wart, crossed over in 2010. The blog is still there, but the link to the Walter Wart mp3s no longer works. Note added June 6, 2011.

Havens & Clapton On The Reading Table

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 22, 2008

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with two autobiographies: Richie Havens’ They Can’t Hide Us Anymore (1999, written with Steve Dawidowitz) and Eric Clapton’s Clapton: The Autobiography (2007). One is pretty good and one is fascinating.

Of the two, I’ve been working on the Havens book a little longer, and it seems to be taking me a little more effort to get into it. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m not as familiar with the outlines of Havens’ story as I am with Clapton’s. Or maybe it’s because Havens seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on the years in the early 1960s when he was scuffling around New York City’s Greenwich Village. At times, I find that fascinating and find the book hard to put down; other times, the tales seem to drag on, and I find it hard to turn the page. It could be that the book is too much a listing of people met and events lived through and not enough an assessment of how those things affected the person in the middle. I don’t get a sense of how Richie Havens felt about the things he recalls.

That’s not the case with the Clapton: I find the pages flipping by at an amazing rate, and the overwhelming sense I get is one of melancholy. Clapton, looking back at his life, is brutally honest, and he’s careful to take responsibility for the turnings in his life, many of which were accompanied by vast quantities of drugs and alcohol. Writing from the hard-won perspective of recovery, the famed guitarist is nothing so much as saddened by the way he treated the people around him, the way he approached his music and the way he lived his life for so many years.

I’ve read about half the book so far, and one of the passages I find most affecting was when he recalled the circumstances of his participation in the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, organized by his good friend, George Harrison. Clapton – deeply addicted to heroin at the time – agreed to come to New York to practice and play as long as a consistent supply of the drug could be secured for him.

When he arrived in New York, the drugs were waiting for him in his room. “I tried some, but nothing happened,” he writes. “It turned out that what they had scored for me was street-cut, with a very low amount of actual heroin in it and cut with something nasty, like strychnine, so that it was about a tenth as strong as what I was used to.”

The result was Clapton’s going through withdrawal and missing the rehearsals for the epic concert. Some medication at the last moment, Clapton says, allowed him to feel well enough to make the sound check. “[A]lthough I have a vague memory of this and then of playing the show, the truth is I wasn’t really there, and I feel ashamed. No matter how I’ve tried to rationalize it to myself over the years, I let a lot of people down that night, most of all myself. I’ve seen the concert only once on film, but if I ever want a reminder of what I might be missing from the ‘good old days,’ this would be the film to watch.”

There is, reading the Clapton memoir, the sense of a train wreck waiting to happen, most likely because so much of his story is so well known: The virtuosity, the addictions, the romances, the tragedies. But it’s well written, and there’s a very distinct voice telling the story. One of the things that amuses me is Clapton’s occasional use of British slang without any attempt to explain it. Maybe such explanations aren’t needed; maybe there’s no mystery in those usages that catch my eye. But I chuckle when I see them, as when Clapton wrote without explanation about the workman whose culinary preference was “bangers and mash” (that’s sausages and mashed potatoes to we non-Brits).

Reading Clapton this morning got me to wondering about what cover versions of songs he might have released. There is, of course, the entire catalog of traditional blues written by others long gone, especially Robert Johnson. That’s not quite what I have in mind for cover versions, though, so I dug a little deeper into Clapton’s catalog. And in 1989, he released one of the niftier – and shorter – performances of his career on Journeyman, a brief exploration of the song “Hound Dog.” Clapton’s performance of the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller composition owes very little to Elvis Presley and at least a little bit (in terms of pace, not intensity) to Big Mama Thornton, whose recording (Peacock 1612) held the top spot on the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks in 1953.

As I don’t think I’ve ever shared Big Mama’s version, here it is along with Clapton’s cover.

Big Mama Thornton – “Hound Dog” [1953]

Eric Clapton – “Hound Dog” [1989]

When The Radio Station Cleaned House

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 21, 2008

One Monday in the spring of 1991, I came out of a colleague’s office and headed toward the stairs, going back to my own office at Stephens College, a women’s college in Columbia, Missouri, where I was teaching journalism. Along the way, I passed the studios of KWWC-FM, the student-run radio station.

In the hallway in front of the studios was a table with a box on it. The box was full of LPs, and a sign on the front of the box said “Free.” I took a quick look, found what looked like an interesting album by Doug Sahm – Border Wave, credited to the Sir Douglas Quintet – and left the rest of the records for the students. Scanning the jacket, I went up the stairs and back to my office, where I prepared for my next class.

After lunch, I wandered downstairs again, partly to chat with my colleague but also partly to see how many of the LPs remained in the box. I wondered how many of the students who went past the box during the day would be interested in the LPs. Most of the women who attended Stephens, I surmised, had CD players. There might not be a great demand for records. As much as I would like people to appreciate vinyl, I realized that the students’ disinterest could be a good thing for me.

And the box did not seem to have been disturbed since that morning. I sifted through it, grabbed a few more records, including three Johnny Rivers albums and stuff by Keith Carradine, Felix Cavaliere, Kate Taylor and Jackie DeShannon. I also grabbed several albums of what looked like instrumental jazz. Still, I left quite a few things in the box.

A few days passed. I must have gone shopping at one of the few stores in Columbia that still carried new vinyl, for among the items listed on the log for those days are Sinead O’Connor’s I Do No Want What I Haven’t Got and the Traveling Wilburys’ second album.

On Friday, my colleague popped his head into my office on the main floor. “That box of records?” he said. I nodded. “No one else is interested, and I saw you looking. If you want, you may as well grab the whole thing.”

Well. No one ever goes ignored offering me a box of records. I took the box home that evening – I was renting a house from the college no more than a block from my office – and began sorting through it. Gary U.S. Bonds’ On The Line was in there. A live album by King Curtis. Some Laura Nyro and Rick Nelson and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Some people I didn’t know, and a lot more instrumental jazz. I spent a pleasant weekend listening and cataloging records.

About a month later, my colleague stopped in my office again, a box of records in his hands. “We’ve just about finished pulling old stuff from the shelves,” he said, “and you can have these, too.”

I thanked him and, when he had left, sifted through the box. Most of it was more jazz, but there were a couple of records by the Sutherland Brothers, an Ides of March and a Jake Holmes. There was also a record called The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around by the Balkan Rhythm Band. All together, I estimate that I got about sixty to seventy records from the campus radio station that spring

By the time I moved back to Minnesota that summer, I still I had not finished listening to them all. Eventually, I got through them, keeping about half of them. I gave a number of the jazz albums – lots of fusion, which has never grabbed me – to my friend Rob, and I sold a few of those and a few other things at Cheapo’s when I moved to south Minneapolis in early 1992.

I did keep the Balkan Rhythm Band’s record, and maybe someday, just for hoots, I’ll share it here. But today, I’m sharing perhaps the best record I got during that springtime haul: Road by Johnny Rivers. Recorded mostly in Nashville in 1974 – “Sitting in Limbo” and “Breath” were recorded in Muscle Shoals with the help of its famed rhythm section – the album is a sweet slice of music, very much a product of its time.

I would be wrong, I guess, if I classified Road or any of Rivers’ work in the singer-songwriter genre, though that’s the vibe that comes through. Rivers rarely wrote; only one of the songs on Road comes from his pen: “Artists and Poets,” which he co-wrote with Michael Georgiades.

But Rivers’ greatest gift, it seems, was that during those years from, say, 1966 through 1974, he was able to find and record songs that so well fit his persona and his worldview that he made them his own. However you want to catalog it, its fine stuff. (And yes, that’s Linda Ronstadt providing backing vocals on several tracks along the way.)

Track listing:
Lights On The Highway
Wait a Minute
Geronimo’s Cadillac
I Like Your Music
Sitting In Limbo
Six Days On The Road
See You Then
A Good Love Is Like A Good Song
Artists and Poets

Johnny Rivers – Road [1974]

Note: I’m sharing a vinyl rip I found online instead of my own rip, as it has fewer flaws. My thanks to the original uploader, The World Is Only One.