Archive for the ‘2008/04 (April)’ Category

Lou Ann Barton Turns It Around

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 18, 2008

The last time we saw Lou Ann Barton, it was for a listen to Forbidden Tones, her 1986 album that placed her gem of a bluesy Texas voice in a new wave setting. The result was pretty bad. How bad?

Well, I’m a pretty tolerant guy. I have a lot of music in the RealPlayer that I’m not wild about but that I don’t mind hearing occasionally because it brings with it a sense of its time, and it’s fun in small doses. With more than 26,000 mp3s in the player, the songs that I don’t particularly care for pop up only rarely. There is, however, stuff I’ve ripped but really have no interest in hearing at all, and that goes into a separate folder that never gets pulled into the RealPlayer. That’s where I put Forbidden Tones. (What else is in there? Well, there’s some of the early work of Duane and Gregg Allman with the Hourglass and the 31st of February, stuff that’s interesting historically but not a lot of fun; there’s some Jerry Riopelle, some Valerie Carter, some Lulu and what appears to be the complete works of Claudine Longet [the Texas Gal is a fan].)

Luckily for Lou Ann Barton fans, three years after trying to sound like “Elvis Costello & the Attractions fronted by a roadhouse belter,” as one admiring reviewer wrote, she went back to Texas blues and R&B for her third album, Read My Lips. Released on the Antone’s label out of San Antonio, the album is a fifteen-song return to form. (The LP release had twelve tracks; the CD release, which I’m sharing, has three extra tracks.)

The rhythm section had Jon Blondell on bass and George Rains on drums, and Barton and co-producer Paul Ray brought in a wealth of talent to add to that solid base. Guitarists on the LP (I don’t have the credits for the three extra tracks) were Jimmie Vaughan, Derek O’Brien, Denny Freeman and David Grissom; David “Fathead” Newman and Joe Sublett and Mark Kazanoff played sax; Mel Brown, Reese Wynans and Mike Kindred played various keyboards; Kim Wilson played harmonica, and Wilson, Fran Christina, Diana Ray and Paul Ray provided background vocals.

Highlights? I like the torchy “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” and the remake of Faye Adams’ 1953 hit, “Shake A Hand” as well as Barton’s take on Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” and her saucy version of “You Can Have My Husband.” And she remakes “It’s Raining,” which she recorded for her first album, Old Enough, doing a better job this time around. Those are the best tracks, but it’s not like the other tracks aren’t good – it’s a consistently fine album.

Sugar Coated Love
You’ll Lose A Good Thing
Sexy Ways
Shake A Hand
Good Lover
Mean Mean Man
Shake Your Hips
Te Ni Nee Ni Nu
Can’t Believe You Want To Leave
You Can Have My Husband
It’s Raining
Rocket In My Pocket
I Wonder Why
Let’s Have A Party
High Time We Went

Lou Ann Barton – Read My Lips [1989]

I thought as long as I was sharing Read My Lips, I’d go ahead and re-up Old Enough, Barton’s 1982 debut album, which a few people have requested. The track listing for Old Enough is:

I’m Old Enough
Brand New Lover
It’s Raining
It Ain’t Right
Finger-Poppin’ Time
Stop These Teardrops
The Sudden Stop
The Doodle Song
Every Night Of The Week

Lou Ann Barton – Old Enough [1982]

The Three Degrees: ‘When Will I See You . . .’

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 17, 2008

While wandering around YouTube this morning, I came across a video of the Three Degrees performing “TSOP,” a song they were involved with in two different ways. First, the Three Degrees – if I have this correctly – recorded the version of the song that was actually used as the theme to the television show Soul Train with the ladies singing “Soul Train!” in the opening portion before going on to the stirring chant, “People All Over the World!” Then, the Three Degrees provided the vocal background – much less interesting – on the version of “TSOP” that was released by MFSB. The video, however, is backed by neither of those versions but by what seems to be an edit of the MFSB version.

Not satisfied with that, I clicked a few links and found a video of the Three Degrees performing – not lip-synching – their world-wide hit, “When Will I See You Again” (it reached No. 2 in the U.S.) for the Christmas 1974 episode of the British show, Top of the Pops. It’s a very nicely done performance.

King Curtis Finds His Instant Groove

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 16, 2008

I recall Rick and I passing some idle time one afternoon or evening in early 1972, pondering music, as we were wont to do. Our topic that day was trying to guess who would be the next entrants into Playboy magazine’s music hall of fame.

When I’d turned eighteen the fall before, my parents had reluctantly agreed that I was old enough to purchase and read the magazine. A family friend about that time had offered to loan me his collection of the magazines, which dated back to the mid-1960s. Being eighteen, I found diversion in every edition of the magazine (it’s useful to keep in mind that those diversions were much more sedate than many things one can encounter on the ’Net these days by simple accident), but I soon learned that two of the magazine’s monthly editions were especially intriguing: August for its pro football preview, an intelligent and comprehensive piece generally written by Anson Mount; and February, for its extensive look at pop, rock and jazz. Among the highlights of the February edition was the revelation of the new entrants into the magazine’s music hall of fame.

Just as I had recently discovered that the articles in Playboy served a purpose beyond filling the space between pictures, so had the editors of the magazine recently discovered that rock music was worthy of their attentions. When one looked at the list of those inducted into the magazine’s music hall of fame, one found the early members to be folks like Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats. It was about 1969 or 1970 when the focus shifted, and those being honored were rock icons, with the first rock members of the hall being – if my memory serves me – Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

(Two asides here: First, I have been unable so far to find online a list of the members of the magazine’s hall of fame. I imagine I could find one if I subscribed to the magazine’s website, but I’ll save my shekels. Second, I believe my memory of Dylan, McCartney and Lennon as the first rock honorees is correct. If so, the magazine did a dis-service to those giants who ushered rock through the Fifties: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, maybe Jerry Lee Lewis and a few others.)

Anyway, on that quiet evening or afternoon, as some kind of music played from a stereo, Rick turned to me and asked me, “Who do you think will go into the Playboy hall of fame?’

I thought for a moment and remembered headlines from the summer before, news accounts of a murder on the streets of New York. “Maybe King Curtis,” I said, thinking that he was famous enough, he was good enough and he died tragically. Even at eighteen, I knew that a tragic death (and an early one: Curtis Ousley was only thirty-seven) enhanced a person’s image, whether that image was good or ill.

Rick nodded. “That’d be okay,” he said, and the conversation wandered to other topics.

As it turned out, the editors of Playboy ignored King Curtis in 1972. I’d wager – based on my memory of the distinctively sculptured clay busts used to illustrate the piece about the honorees – that the recently deceased Jim Morrison was inducted. My memory tells me as well that in 1971, two of the three honorees had been Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, both of whom died in 1970. So the death card worked for those three but not for King Curtis.

I have no idea if the magazine ever honored King Curtis, but it should have. Curtis probably had as much to do with the sound of early rock and roll as any of those early pioneers I mentioned above. In the Fifties, saxophone was one of the key instruments in rock and roll – the guitar was prominent but not yet primary, sharing shelf space with sax and piano – and when you talk about Fifties rock and roll saxophone, you’re talking a lot of the time about King Curtis. In The Heart of Rock and Soul, writer Dave Marsh notes, “Though his own heart may well have belonged to jazz, Curtis played his lungs and heart out on records by everybody from the Coasters to Aretha Franklin. From the first New York Coasters session in about 1956 until his murder in a 1971 street fight, King Curtis backed just about every significant horn session in New York.”

Add to that his significant career as a lead performer, and King Curtis quite likely sits on top, or at least very near the top, of the list of rock/R&B/soul saxophonists.

Another way of assessing Curtis’ value is to look at the oft-maligned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (I do my share of maligning; I mean, the Dave Clark Five?) Sometimes the Hall of Fame gets it right: When the Hall created the new category of sidemen in 2000, the first five inducted were drummers Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, bassist James Jamerson, guitarist Scotty Moore and King Curtis. That’s a stellar first five, and if I had to rank them, I’d put Curtis second on the list behind Hal Blaine.

When I brought up his name in that conversation in 1972, I was only aware intellectually of Curtis’ musical talents. It was a little more than a year later that I began to truly appreciate him. As I’ve mentioned before, during my time in Denmark, one of the tapes that played constantly in the hostel’s lounge was the first Duane Allman anthology, which included King Curtis’ version of Joe South’s “Games People Play,” taken from Curtis’ 1969 album, Instant Groove.

In the next few years, I heard more King Curtis but never looked for the album, though I would likely have bought it had I come across it through serendipity. In the late 1980s and early 1990s when I became a collector, I began to look for specific albums, and King Curtis’ Instant Groove was one of them. As I dug through crates at record stores and record fairs, I kept my eyes open, but it never showed up. I found other Curtis albums, but not that one.

It’s never been released on CD, as far as I can tell. It’s not even listed in Curtis’ discography at All-Music Guide. (There is an album listed with that title, but it’s dated 1958 and has an entirely different track list. I suspect an error.) And beyond some occasional cyber-digging in the years since I came online, I’ve never looked very hard for the album. But for some reason, while I was looking last month for the Patti Dahlstrom albums and the Blue Rose album, I thought of Instant Groove. And now it’s in my stacks.

As I expected, it’s a very good album. There are no overall credits, just a note that says that Duane Allman provides guitar solos on four tracks: “Hey Jude,” “Foot Pattin’,” “Games People Play” and “The Weight.” The notes on the Duane Allman anthologies list the Muscle Shoals rhythm section as playing on the latter two tracks. Beyond that, it’s guesswork. Chips Moman, who generally worked in Memphis, is credited with production on six of the record’s twelve tracks. Others listed as producers were Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd of Atlantic, Curtis himself, and Curtis with Mardin on two tracks and with Jerry Greenberg on one track.

Highlights? “The Weight” always falls into that category for me, and the version here is pretty good. I also like Curtis’ take on “Hey Joe” and the sweet versions of “Wichita Lineman” and the rather obscure song, “La Jeanne.” There are a few too many strings on “Hey Jude” for my taste, and two tracks – Sly Stewart’s “Sing A Simple Song” and “Hold Me Tight” from the pen of Johnny Nash – don’t work quite as well as the rest of the record.

There are a few clicks and a few whispers of noise; the most notable whispers come at the start of “The Weight,” which leads off the second side of the record. I don’t think they’re bad enough to interfere. If they are, one can always substitute from the first Duane Allman anthology, which is easy to find.

Instant Groove
Hey Joe
Foot Pattin’
Wichita Lineman
Games People Play
Sing A Simple Song
The Weight
La Jeanne
Little Green Apples
Hold Me Tight
Hey Jude

King Curtis – Instant Groove [1969]

Dilemma: Compilations Or Original Albums?

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 15, 2008

I’m of two minds when it comes to greatest hits compilations. For groups and artists who were mostly concerned with singles – the band that comes to mind first for some reason is the Grass Roots – compilations of hits are fine. I’ve listened enough to the Grass Roots to know that all I really want to hear are the hits; the non-hit material on the band’s albums is, to my ears, not very good. (Their singles – fourteen of which hit the Top 40 – were, on the other hand, great radio fare and are fun to listen to yet today.)

There are many bands and artists, however, whose hit work is better listened to in the context of the original album. The concept of a rock/pop album as a group of songs that have some relation to each other – rather than just singles separated by filler – can, I think, be dated to 1965 and the issuance that year of Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. (Albums tying together concepts or themes had been produced for some time before that, certainly, but those were albums aimed at adults and contained nothing so frivolous as rock ’n’ roll. Without digging too deeply into the non-rock music of the 1950s, it seems likely to me that the first real concept album on LP came in 1954 with Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours, which is still a powerful set of songs. Anyone else have a contender?)

So for music recorded from 1965 on, I often prefer to buy entire albums rather than compilations. A case in point – one of many I could cite – is Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Greatest Hits, released in 1972. It combines tracks from the group’s first three albums, hits and album tracks alike. But the group changed personnel and approaches almost entirely between the recording of its first album, Child Is Father To The Man, and its second, self-titled, album. Add that the group’s third album was decidedly mediocre, and the greatest hits album becomes unnecessary; even the hits from the self-titled 1969 release sound better when heard in their original setting.

One can’t buy everything, of course, and my collections – both vinyl and CD – have many greatest hits albums that I considered a starting place for a particular artist or band. My Dylan collection on vinyl, for example, began with his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, which – with its album tracks, one non-album single and unreleased tracks – is actually more of an anthology than a hits package. That purchase, back in 1972, led to what I believe is a complete collection of every official Dylan release, much of it on vinyl and much of that vinyl duplicated on CD. I can’t do that for all artists, of course; resources and space are limited. As a result, many artists for whom I have full – or at least extensive – collections on vinyl will be represented on CD by compilations.

One of those is Jimi Hendrix, I think. I’ve got all the LPs released during his lifetime, as well as a few posthumous releases on vinyl. And I have some mp3s ripped from CDs I checked out of the local library. But until Saturday, I had no Hendrix CDs. I picked up the experience hendrix CD, a 1997 release, because it was on sale and also because some years ago, I’d found it on vinyl and knew it to be worthwhile. It’s got the hit singles, a good selection of albums tracks, an unreleased track or two, and a few things that were completed posthumously, after – I believe – Hendrix’ family regained control of his extensive archives. It’s a good compilation.

I won’t argue with anyone who says that, given Hendrix’ remarkable evolution during his brief career, it’s better to listen to the albums. It likely is. But, as I said, one can’t buy everything.

One of the selections on experience hendrix is Hendrix’ take on one of the more covered songs of the 1960s. Written by Billy Roberts, “Hey Joe” was recorded by artists as diverse as George Baker, Black Uhuru, Roy Buchanan, Buckwheat Zydeco and Cher, and that just gets us into the Cs in the alphabetical list; there are many more folks who covered the song. (Johnny Rivers’ 1968 version is likely my favorite.) The Leaves had a minor hit with it – No. 31 – in 1966, and that fall, Hendrix recorded it in England, where it was released as a single and went to No. 6 in February 1967. In the U.S., it was released on Reprise 0572 in May 1967 but failed to make the Top 40.

Jimi Hendrix – “Hey Joe” [1966]

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.

Saturday Single No. 66

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 12, 2008

We ended up with between eight and ten inches of snow from the Thursday/Friday storm, enough to snarl traffic Friday morning when the thick, wet flakes were still coming down. The Texas Gal headed to work in the worst of it – as I wrote yesterday – and she emailed me after she got to her office: “Don’t even try to get out today. It’s pure madness from all directions and getting worse.”

By the end of the day, however, the snow had stopped, the city had plowed the streets, and the temperature had risen enough that the sidewalks and parking lots were clearing. Whatever inconvenience there might have been was over. For a few moments, however, the mini-blizzard of 2008 put me in mind of another Friday when snow fell, a January Friday in 1975. But then, the snow kept up until Sunday.

Wikipedia calls it the Great Storm of 1975. Here in Minnesota we call it the Super Bowl Blizzard, as the Sunday when the storm faded was the same day the Minnesota Vikings lost a Super Bowl for the third time, falling 16-6 to Pittsburgh. Mournful cries and angry curses echoed off tall snowdrifts throughout the Upper Midwest.

The snow began to fall Friday morning. By that afternoon, it was apparent that – as we’d been warned all week – the storm was going to be a big one, and classes were canceled at St. Cloud State. Those few of us at The Table who’d hung around for the afternoon headed home. About twenty minutes after I got home, there was a knock on our door. My friend Larry, who lived in Elk River, a city about thirty-five miles away, stood on the step. He’d gotten about five miles out of town before deciding there was no way he could get home. So he retreated and came to our house. This was Friday. He didn’t get home until Tuesday.

All Friday night, most of Saturday and into Sunday morning, the snow fell and the wind blew. We got, if I recall correctly, about two feet of snow, and the wind blew it into oddly shaped drifts all over, leaving some parts of the streets with a scant few inches of snow and other sections nearby buried under four to five feet. There were times, of course, when the snow let up for a while. During one of those on Saturday, Larry and I walked across the intersection to Rick’s, where we joined him and a few friends who’d also taken advantage of the literal lull in the storm in a ferocious game of Pit, the commodity-trading card game.

When we left Rick’s a few hours later, we walked another two blocks and went across the railroad tracks to the Dew Drop Inn, a neighborhood beer joint. We were the only customers there, but we knew the place would be open; the proprietor lived in an apartment in the back of the building. We sat at the bar, splitting a pitcher of beer and munching on pickled turkey gizzards as the wind picked up outside and the snow began to fall again.

We grumbled as the Steelers dominated the Vikings on Sunday. On Monday, when the snow had finally ended, I walked a mile to the library at St. Cloud State and manned the periodicals desk all day while Larry and Dad shoveled snow; I got the better end of that deal. By the time Tuesday dawned and the roads had been cleared, Larry was more than ready to get home to Elk River.

We’ve lost touch with each other over the years, but for a while Larry and I were pretty good friends, and from time to time, we’d laugh about the weekend of the Super Bowl Blizzard, about the game of Pit and the beer at the Dew Drop Inn, about listening to records in the rec room while playing board games. One of the records he always said he remembered was my latest acquisition, Songs for Beginners by Graham Nash.

And that’s why “Be Yourself” from Songs for Beginners is today’s Saturday Single.

Graham Nash – “Be Yourself” [1971]

Snow Days? The Radio Guys Told Us

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 11, 2008

For just an instant, it felt like 1970 again.

It’s been snowing pretty steadily for about fifteen hours now. The Texas Gal and I left the health club last evening after our first visit there – and I may write about that someday soon – and walked across the parking lot buffeted by a north wind carrying the wettest snow we’ve seen around here for some time. After a stop at one of the major discount stores to buy training shoes and a gym bag for me – both by adidas, the only athletic brand whose name I will wear on a shirt or cap (and that loyalty lies at the end of a long tale, which I also may share here someday) – we headed home amid the muck and settled in.

This morning, as I packed her lunch, the Texas Gal wondered if her company would be closed for the day. She was fairly certain that several of her co-workers would be working from their homes, and she wondered if the company might close its offices, given that the weather system that’s already dumped eight or so inches on St. Cloud is going to be staying here for most of the day. She turned on the television, but that gained nothing, as there’s really no local news on TV; our local stations are all based in the Twin Cities and don’t cover St. Cloud as such.

I went to the kitchen table and turned on the little clock radio, tuning it to WJON, the AM station whose studios are not much more than a block away. After the national and world news ended, the local guy started reading long lists of closings. And for an instant, it felt like 1970, when on snowy days when we would listen to Minneapolis’ WCCO on the old brown radio in the kitchen and I would hope as I ate my breakfast that the St. Cloud schools would be closed.

The names of those long-ago radio guys come back: Howard Viken, Charlie Boone, Roger Erickson, Chuck Lilligren. On snowy days, one of them was at the microphone in downtown Minneapolis, reading those long lists: “Ada public schools closed, Benson public schools closed, Chokio-Alberta public schools closed, Dassel-Cokato public schools closed,” and on down the alphabet to the S’s. “St. Charles public schools closed, St. Clair public schools closed.” And then, maybe, “St. Cloud public schools closed, St. Francis public schools closed . . .”

When I was in elementary school, snow days were a holiday, a time to sit in a cozy corner and read, maybe spending a part of the day bundled up and plunging through snowdrifts outside, perhaps joining Rick and Rob and the other neighborhood kids in a pretend universe of one sort or another, a universe that – if the snow were wet enough to stick – inevitably included a snowball fight.

By the time I was in high school, however, snow days were a mixed blessing. There would be time to read, to listen to music, to wander across the intersection and see what Rick and Rob were doing, but there would also be times when I’d have a shovel in my hands and tackle the job of clearing the sidewalks, the driveway and the paths across the back yard from the house to the garage. It wasn’t awful work, but it was drudgery compared to listening to my most recent record in the basement rec room.

All that flashed through my mind as the Texas Gal and I stood in the kitchen, listening to the announcer at WJON this morning. Some workplaces were included in the lists he read, but not the Texas Gal’s. So she bundled up and went out into the falling snow. And I turned to the laundry and then to this blog. As we live in an apartment, at least I won’t have to shovel much snow, probably just a little around our second car, the one that’s in the parking lot.

But I won’t get into any snowball fights, either.

Bobby Whitlock – It’s About Time (1999)
As long as I was feeling like 1970 for a moment, I thought I’d share an album that makes me feel like 1970, too. It’s Bobby Whitlock’s It’s About Time from 1999.

The title is apt, as it was Whitlock’s first recording since 1976 and Rock Your Sox Off. But if time has left a lot of things behind, it hasn’t left Whitlock’s voice there. On the CD’s twelve tracks, the Memphis-born musician is in great voice, sounding about as good as he did – maybe a little raspier at times – when he was playing keyboards and singing with Eric Clapton as a member of Derek & the Dominos and when he was releasing four solo albums in the early to mid-1970s.

One could quibble, I suppose, and say that Whitlock is stuck in time and has ignored everything that’s gone on in pop and rock since those days. But I listen to Whitlock’s newer work – the sweet ballad “There She Goes,” the fresh yet familiar versions of the old songs “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” and “Bell Bottom Blues,” the gospel-informed “A Wing & A Prayer” and the others – and I come back to the realization that good music is good music, whether it’s based in the conventions of 1950, 1976, 1999, or 2008.

And It’s About Time is filled with good music. (As is Whitlock’s more recent CD, last year’s Lovers, recorded with his wife, Coco Carmel.) To make the album, Whitlock surrounded himself with good talent, some with very familiar names. The credits list Brady Blade on drums; Daryll Johnson on bass; Whitlock on piano, organs and guitar; Steve Cropper, Barry Swain and Buddy Miller on guitar; Miller on electric mandolin; Jim Horn on saxophone and other horns; and Beau Whitlock, Ashley Whitlock, Bobby Whitlock and Johnson on background vocals.

Quite simply, if you liked Whitlock’s contributions to Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and to Derek & the Dominos, or if you liked his solo albums from the 1970s, you’ll like It’s About Time. It’s not easy to find; I saw one copy listed online this morning for about $80. I got mine the other week for about $40, the most I think I’ve ever paid for a CD or a record. (The Texas Gal once spent $50, I think, to get me a two-LP bootleg of The Band at the Hollywood Bowl.) My thanks go to my friend Mitch in Alabama for giving me a taste of It’s About Time before I bought it.

Here’s the track list:
There She Goes
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
It’s About Time
Wing & A Prayer
Sold Me Down The River
It’s Only Midnite
Standing In The Rain
Born To Sing The Blues
High On You
Bell Bottom Blues
Ghost Driver
I Love You

Bobby Whitlock – It’s About Time [1999]

Two Downtown Trains: Rod Stewart & Tom Waits

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 10, 2008

Not a lot from Monday’s Baker’s Dozen was available at YouTube this morning. I passed on a portion of The Band’s performance of “Mystery Train” from the farewell film, The Last Waltz. (If I could have found the full performance, featuring Paul Butterfield on harp, I likely would have settled for that.)

A little further down Monday’s list came Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train.” I found the 1989 video for it, which I’m not sure I’d ever seen. It’s actually very good, as videos go.

A little farther down the page at YouTube, I found a “Downtown Train” video from 1985 by Tom Waits, who wrote the song. Waits is one of rock’s true idiosyncratics, and the video does not disappoint.

Patti Dahlstrom Takes Her Second Shot

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 9, 2008

I’ve been stumbling around for about an hour, trying to figure out what to say about Patti Dahlstrom’s second album, The Way I Am.

The record came out in 1973, and from the distance of thirty-five years, I see Patti as being in the middle of three categories of musicians, spread across a continuum. First, on one end, are the folks who struggled and worked and sent out demos and – in today’s parlance – networked their tails off and never got a chance, never got the right folks to listen, never got into the studio on anything other than their own dimes.

On the far end are those who made it, some for a short time and some permanently. These are the folks who had one or two or many hits, sold singles and albums and, at the very least, pop up regularly on oldies radio and spark a smile for the recollections of a summertime moment long ago.

In the middle are those who got their chances. They got into the studios, made one or two or four records and had some singles released. But through mismanagement, through misfortune, through missed opportunities, through simple mischance, they had no hits, they had no best-sellers and soon they were out of chances. They stayed in L.A., they went back home, they went someplace new; they gave up, they kept their music for themselves, or they moved on.

I see Patti Dahlstrom in that middle group. (And I have no idea which group is larger, the ones who never get a chance or the ones who do and then move on. I’m reasonably certain that the third group – those who make it in even the most minimal sense – is much, much smaller than the other two.) Patti came to L.A. from Houston, recorded four albums between 1972 and 1976 and then left the scene.

That was, of course, more than thirty years ago. As I mentioned when I posted her first album here last month, I’ve seen reports that have her teaching in her home town of Houston and that have her living in London. It’s unimportant – though it would be interesting – to know where she’s at now. But it’s interesting to consider where she might have been.

Artie Wayne, a long-time performer and producer, interviewed Russ Regan, a man of similar background, in 2006 for the website Spectropop (which bills itself as “The website about Phil Spector, Wall of Sound, Brill Building, Girl Groups, West Coast . . .” something or other). During that interview, Regan says:

“Wow! Patti Dahlstrom, who I love, had her first album with me at Uni and she did three more albums when I went over to 20th Century Fox. You know, in my career there are two female singer/songwriters who I signed, that should’ve been stars, Patti Dahlstrom and Harriet Shock.”

I’ve never heard of Harriet Shock, but then, until about two months ago, I’d never heard of Patti Dahlstrom, either.

Regan’s comment came in response to a statement about Patti from Wayne, asking Regan, “Did you know that I got her to write the English lyric to a French song by Veronique Sanson that eventually became her first 20th Century Fox release?”

That song was “Emotion,” and it was released as a single from Patti’s second album, The Way I Am, which came out in 1973. I’ve found no indication that the single made a dent in any chart at the time. (I wonder what the ratio of singles released to singles that make the Top 100 was in 1973; it must have been very high.)

As on the earlier album, Patti got writing credit for all ten songs on The Way I Am, sharing that credit with Severin Browne on six of them. On her first album, Patti Dahlstrom, Browne was credited specifically with writing the music for those songs on which he received credit. I think one can assume the same here, which means the lyrics are all Patti’s, including the English translation for “Emotion.”

The three songs that are credited as solely Patti’s compositions are: “I Promised,” “Give Him Time” and “For Everybody’s Sake.”

It’s not a bad album, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as her first one. It seems more based in mid-range tempos than was Patti Dahlstrom, with only “High Noon Alibis” breaking loose at all, although if Browne wrote the music for six of the second album’s ten tracks, that might fall at his feet. There is still the echo of Carole King about the album, which is not a bad echo to have. Sadly, the jacket contains no credits save listing Michael J. Jackson and Michael Omartian as producers. Given that, one can reasonably assume that Omartian plays piano and other keyboards, and it’s the piano that, to me, lends a lot of that Carole King-ian flavor.

Highlights? I like “I Promised” a lot, especially lyrically. “High Noon Alibis” moves along nicely with what sounds like a Dobro or steel guitar providing some accents. “Cleveland Snow” has some nice wordplay. “Emotion” is a sweeping song and a good choice for the single, no matter how it fared in the marketplace. “Then I Lose You” starts with an odd, angular guitar figure – one that repeats on occasion – that sounds like something from Steely Dan and morphs into melancholy with a sweet organ wash in the background. There is a flute solo on “The Way I Am,” and a stunning saxophone solo on “Innate” that make me think that – as he did on Patti Dahlstrom – Jim Horn stopped by.

Throughout the album, Patti’s distinctive, smoky voice and occasionally odd diction add unique elements that help the record hold one’s interest. As I said, it’s not quite as good as her first record, but The Way I Am is still pretty good.

(There’s more surface sound and little pops on this one than there were in the rip of Patti’s first album. Hard to avoid, I guess, when dealing with vinyl that’s thirty-five years old.)

Track listing:
I’ll Come Home
I Promised
The Way I Am
High Noon Alibis
Cleveland Snow
Give Him Time
Then I Lose You
For Everybody’s Sake

Patti Dahlstrom – The Way I Am [1973]

While crawling around on the Net after posting the album, I found a credit list for The Way I Am at a site – based in Italy – called West Coast Music. The album had Jim Gordon and Gary Mallaber on drums; Jack Conrad, Leland Sklar and Bryan Garfalo on bass; Dean Parks, Larry Carlton, David Spinozza, David Lindley and Ned Doheny on guitar; Craig Doerge and Michael Omartian on  piano; Michael Utley on organ; Tom Scott and Clarence McDonald on horns; and Don Dunn on background vocals.

That’s quite a list of talent there. Among the interesting things is the presence of Don Dunn, evidently the same Don Dunn who was a co-writer of “Hitchcock Railway,” which I featured the other day. As I’ve said before, small circles indeed.

Wizards From Kansas, Indeed!

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 8, 2008

I can’t resist a little bragging this morning: A little more than three weeks ago, I dove into the Yahoo! fantasy sports contest for predicting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. I’d not followed college basketball’s regular season very much; in the past I’ve watched the University of Minnesota Gophers at times, but this season, the Big Ten conference set up its own cable network, and it wasn’t carried by our cable provider.

So when I looked at the sixty-four teams in the bracket, I had nothing more to go on than the seeding of the teams and their reputations and past performances.

I worked through all of the sixty-three games, and I wound up choosing Kansas to win it all. And the Jayhawks did just that! Oh, there were some anxious moments during last evening’s championship game. In fact, with Memphis leading by nine points with just more than two minutes remaining, I thought the game was decided. From there, the comeback was remarkable, and the Jayhawks eventually won in overtime.

At Yahoo!, I looked at the impact my correct prediction had on my rankings. The competition is based on a point system, with correct predictions in later rounds of the tournament earning more points than do those in earlier rounds, and a correct choice in the title game earning, as would be expected, the most points. Going into the championship game, my performance to that time had me ranked in the eighty-ninth percentile; in other words, I was doing better than eighty-nine percent of the people who’d entered the contest.

Only fourteen percent or so of the entrants in the contest had picked Kansas to win the tournament, and getting the outcome of the title game correct moved me up to the ninety-sixth percentile. I’m pretty surprised at my success. But the truly mind-boggling thing is the number of entrants: By choosing the final game correctly, I moved up 152,422 places for a final ranking of 86,389th in the contest. And I did better than ninety-six percent of the people in the contest. From there, some simple math tells me that there were about 2.16 million people entered in the Yahoo! contest.

Having done that, and knowing I would brag just a little bit here today, I began to wonder how in the world I was going to tie that stuff into music, especially into a cover song, as it is Tuesday. A search for the word “victory” among the mp3s brought up one of the versions of the Soviet National Anthem, an album by the late 1960s/early 1970s group People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus, a song by the Byrds, “Paths of Victory,” and a track from Hamilton Camp’s 1964 album, also entitled Paths of Victory.

So I searched, without much hope, for “Kansas.” The search returned a lot of versions of the song “Kansas City,” some 1930s work by Kansas Joe McCoy, fight songs for the universities of Kansas, Kansas State and Arkansas, and a 1968 (I think) single by the International Kansas City Playboys.

It also brought up the self-titled 1970 album by the group the Wizards From Kansas, which developed in the late 1960s in the areas of Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas and its Jayhawks. According to All-Music Guide, the group was first called Pig Newton, and then Pig Newton and the Wizards From Kansas. Toward the end of 1969, the band signed with Mercury Records and the label asked the group to drop the Pig Newton portion of the name.

So in the summer of 1970, AMG says, the Wizards From Kansas recorded their only album in San Francisco. The band broke up soon after that, however, leaving Mercury with an album but no band. Understandably, the label did little in the way of promotion, and the record went nowhere. In 1993, the Afterglow label released the album on CD.

I looked at the track list for that one album by the Wizards From Kansas. And the opening song was a cover of the 1960s folk song “High Flying Bird” (sometimes listed as “High Flyin’ Bird”). Written by Billy Edd Wheeler, the song was first recorded – I think – in 1964, by singer Judy Henske for her album of the same name and by a group called the Au Go-Go Singers for their only album, They Call Us Au Go-Go Singers. (The Au Go-Go Singers would hardly merit a footnote, I’d guess, were it not for the fact that two of its members were Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, soon to be members of the Buffalo Springfield and go on from there.)

(If I am incorrect in thinking that those versions were the first recorded of “High Flying Bird,” please let me know.)

Others who’ve recorded Wheeler’s song over the years include Richie Havens, 1960s folk singer Carolyn Hester, the Jefferson Airplane in its pre-Grace Slick days, the psychedelic groups H.P. Lovecraft and the Ill Wind, the New Christy Minstrels, Gram Parsons, the We Five, a 1970s group called the Villagers, and, on its third album, a group called Zephyr, remembered chiefly because guitarist Tommy Bolin was a member for the group’s first two albums.

I’ve heard about half of those. Havens, as always, does a fine job, as does Henske (though a lot of folks like Henske’s work far more than I do; I find her melodramatic at times). The Jefferson Airplane version is all right, and the Lovecraft is suitably acid-washed. The best of the bunch might be the 1972 version by Zephyr, with a great jazzy vocal by Candy Givens.

But, in honor of the Kansas Jayhawks, here’s the version by the Wizards From Kansas, the opening track to the group’s only album.

Wizards From Kansas – “High Flying Bird” [1970]