Archive for the ‘2008/09 (September)’ Category

Blues Times Two For Monday Morning

August 19, 2011

Originally posted September 29, 2008

This is one of those Mondays when I’m not going to write much, so I’m resurrecting a category used only once before, I believe: Blues Monday.

First, here’s a fiery performance of “They Call It Stormy Monday” by B.B. King and Albert Collins. The track comes from King’s 1993 CD, Blues Summit, which brought King together with luminaries like Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas and more.

Then comes “Monday Morning Blues” by folksinger Bill Morrissey from Songs of Mississippi John Hurt, Morrissey’s 1999 tribute to the long-dead Mississippi songster.

I’ll write tomorrow and offer a cover song that’s really not a cover, along with what – to me – is a fascinating original that’s not really an original.

B.B. King with Albert Collins – “They Call It Stormy Monday” [1993]

Bill Morrissey – “Monday Morning Blues” [1999]

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Saturday Single No. 92

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 27, 2008

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September.

No, I’m not channeling intimations of mortality this morning. But it is autumn, my favorite of seasons. I often wonder if there’s some sliver of my being that lingers from the long-ago days of my Swedish and German ancestors, some bit of soul memory that recalls the Septembers and Octobers of Northern Europe. For I connect with that distant past as the leaves turn their browns, golds and reds and then release themselves from their trees. It pleases me on some level to hear talk of first frost, and I note the passing of the equinox, when the nighttime begins to fill more of our hours than does the daylight, with the quiet satisfaction of a man who feels his best time is come again.

This is my season. Were I a vintner, my wines would be autumnal and bittersweet.

In all those things mentioned above – the chilling of the weather, the fading of the leaves, the fading of the light – there lies the metaphor of our of own chilling and fading. And simple time sometimes reminds us, too. My father had his first heart attack thirty-four years ago this week, just before he turned fifty-five, the age I attained earlier this month. I think about that as I look out my study window and watch the oaks trees surrendering their leaves, one by one, in the Saturday breeze.

My father survived that trial and lived through another twenty-eight autumns before leaving on a late springtime day in 2003. I don’t foresee an early exit for me, either, no matter the twinge of melancholy that autumn brings with its winds. Sinatra’s song, written by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill, as drear as it may sound, has a promise at the end.

Promises can be cruel things, and – knowing that – I once told my loved one that I could not promise forever. But, I said, I would promise tomorrow. Come tomorrow, I would promise another tomorrow. And then another and another, until all the tomorrows were done. That’s a promise I will keep.

Sinatra, as he closes his 1965 album, September of my years, sings:

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few.
September. November.
And these few precious days, I’ll spend with you.
These precious days I’ll spend with you.

So, for my Texas Gal, and for all those anywhere who hold to love while the leaves fall and the days dwindle, Frank Sinatra’s “September Song” is this week’s Saturday Single.

Frank Sinatra – “September Song” [1965]

 Edited slightly during archival posting August 15, 2011.

Called To Attention By Tom Jans

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 26, 2008

The work of the long-gone and frequently mourned singer/songwriter Tom Jans still has the power to pull people out of an mp3 coma and make them say, “What the heck was that?”

At least, that’s the case with me. Several times in the past few weeks, as the RealPlayer has settled on one of Jans’ songs, I’ve stopped whatever I was doing – reading, setting up my fantasy baseball team, talking to Oscar the cat or eating a sandwich – and looked to see what was playing. Once it was from 1974’s Tom Jans and once it was from Take Heart, the 1971 album he recorded with Mimi Fariña.

This week, it was the opening track to Jans’ 1975 album, The Eyes Of An Only Child, and once I realized who it was, I leaned back and listened:

Have you ever been lonely in the middle of the night,
Even though the one you love got her arms around you so tight,
And a far-off freight train makes a hollow sound,
And the mockingbird singing a sweet sad song as your feet hit the ground.

I gotta move, that’s all I know.
I gotta move, gotta hear the west wind blow.
I gotta move, but I’m running out of somewhere to go.
So I just move . . .

Yielding to serendipity, I sorted the player for all of Jans’ work, then sorted that for The Eyes Of An Only Child and sat back to listen.

As I wrote in February a year ago:

“Jans was born in 1948 in Yakima, Wash., and raised on a farm outside San Jose, Calif. All-Music Guide says he learned to play piano and guitar and played in a rock band in high school, sometimes writing his own material. He earned a degree in English from the University of California in nearby Berkeley. In 1970, a gig in a San Francisco coffee shop led to his meeting Joan Baez and then her sister, Mimi Fariña, who had recorded with her husband, Richard, a series of folk albums in the 1960s. Mimi Fariña was looking to return to music, and she and Jans teamed up, performing in the Bay Area and at the Big Sur Folk Festival before touring and then recording Take Heart.

“The record didn’t fare well, and Jans and Fariña parted, with Jans heading to Nashville to push his songs. In 1973, Dobie Gray recorded ‘Loving Arms,’ and in 1974, Jans included it on his first solo album, Tom Jans, with Lonnie Mack playing guitar and Mentor Williams – Gray’s producer and the composer of the classic song ‘Drift Away’ – producing. The record didn’t sell well, despite critical acclaim.

“Jans returned to California, and in 1975, released The Eyes Of An Only Child, produced by Lowell George of Little Feat. That record, too, failed to generate mass interest, and the same thing happened to 1976’s Dark Blonde. Jans dropped from sight, AMG notes, until 1982, ‘when a new LP, Champion, appeared solely in a limited-edition release on the Japanese label Canyon International, its existence virtually unknown in the U.S.’

“That was Jans’ last recorded work. He was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in late 1983, and although he seemed to be recovering, he died, AMG says, of a suspected drug overdose March 25, 1984.”

As I listen to The Eyes Of An Only Child, I can’t help but wonder how music this good could have been ignored in 1975. Then I remind myself that I wasn’t listening to it then, either. There was so much stuff out, I guess. And, unhappily – from the perspective of thirty-some years – Tom Jans was hardly a household name when the record was on the racks.

A few other songs grabbed my ear as I listened this week. There’s the sorrow, resignation and hope of “Once Before I Die.” And then there’s “The Lonesome Way Back When,” with its clear-eyed assessment of sad and wild times gone by that are remembered nevertheless with affection, almost as if they happened to someone else.

The record is reminiscent in some places of Jackson Browne’s best work around the same time; I think of Late For The Sky and For Everyman. Like Browne’s work on those records, Jans’ songs on The Eyes Of An Only Child tells tales of mid-Seventies pilgrims trying to make sense of the external and internal landscapes that confronted and sometimes confounded them:

And there’s no comfort in your lover’s eye.
You’re making love to a perfect disguise.
You’re so far gone it should make you cry,
It should make you cry, then you’d realize
You’re just another lonely brother
Rolling to tomorrow.

And there’s a sly joke near the end of the record: As Jans’ “Directions and Connections” – the record’s next-to-last track – fades out, ushered off the stage by the slide guitar of Jerry McGee, some snippets of bar conversation move in. No matter what your age or where you’re from, if you’ve been in a bar – any bar where folks gather to assess each other – you’ve heard that conversation, so crucial when you’re in it, so vacuous when you hear it taken out of its environment. And as the song fades entirely, one can imagine Jans laughing darkly somewhere.

The album is available on vinyl at a number of on-line dealers; check GEMM. There is a CD issue out there, but it’s hard to find, at best. This rip is one I found at a forum I frequent (thanks, bearwil), and there are a few pops and snaps throughout, but it’s in pretty good shape.

I found a list of album credits and links to lyrics on a page at marcogiunco.com, a site that looks like it would be worth exploring. Musicians on the record are: Tom Jans on piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and vocals, Bill Payne on piano, Colin Cameron and Chuck Rainey on bass guitar, Lowell George and Jesse Ed Davis on acoustic guitar, Fred Tackett on acoustic and electric guitar, David Lindley on electric guitar, Jerry McGee on electric and slide guitar, Jeff Porcaro and Jim Keltner on drums, Mike Utley on organ and Valerie Carter, Lovely Hardy and Herb Pederseon on background vocals.

Tracks:
Gotta Move
Once Before I Die
Where Did All My Good Friends Go?
Inside Of You
Struggle In Darkness
Out Of Hand
The Lonesome Way Back When
Lonely Brother
Directions and Connections
The Eyes Of An Only Child

Tom Jans – The Eyes Of An Only Child [1975]

Edited slightly during archival posting, August 15, 2011,

Blue Mink, Grand Funk & Bobby

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 25, 2008

Rambling around YouTube with yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen in mind, I was astounded to find a video of Blue Mink performing “Our World,” evidently from a 1970 television performance. I’m guessing it was one of those performance where the singing was done live to a recorded backing track. But it gives us a look at the group.

Then, here’s a clip of Grand Funk Railroad with a good performance of “Closer To Home” from the group’s 1971 concert at New York’s Shea Stadium:

And to close, here’s a live performance by Bobby Sherman – from about 1970, I would guess – of “Julie, Do Ya Love Me.”

Enjoy!

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.

‘The Conductor Sings His Song Again . . .’

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 23, 2008

A while back, I wrote about my love for trains and offered a Baker’s Dozen of Trains, thirteen songs with the word “train” in the title. One of the flaws of searching for songs by specific words is that good songs – about trains, in that case – may have titles that don’t show up in the search.

So it was with the song “City of New Orleans,” one of the best songs I can think of written about a train. If I were to select thirteen recordings about trains on their merits, a recording of “City of New Orleans” would be chief among them. But which recording? And there we find our dilemma.

The song was written by the late singer/songwriter Steve Goodman and released on his self-titled debut album in 1970. Most folks know the song from the version Arlo Guthie recorded for his Hobo’s Lullaby album in 1972, the version that went to No. 18 and gave Guthrie his only Top 40 hit. But according to All-Music Guide, there are currently 150 CDs out that contain versions of “City of New Orleans,” giving us lot of options.

Whoever sings it, it’s a great song, with a melody that sounds as old as railroading itself, as if it were shipped across America from the nineteenth century instead of coming from anyone’s pen and guitar. And the plain-spoken lyrics paint pictures:

All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee,
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin’ trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

And then the chorus, which was so evocative that it was high-jacked as the title for a television show, where its meaning has, I fear, long been lost:

Good morning, America! How are you?
Don’t you know me? I’m your native son.
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans.
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

As I said, a great song, perhaps the greatest American song about railroads. What others would be in the running? Well, “Mystery Train” for certain. Along with “The Midnight Special” and probably a few others. Nominations, anyone?

The above lyrics are from Guthrie’s version, which was changed slightly from Goodman’s original. Goodman’s musical approach was slightly different, too, with more steel guitar and a prominent harmonica. And it’s faster than Guthrie’s version, without the gently rolling feel that seems to mimic a train’s motion. Of the two, I prefer Guthrie’s, for the tempo and the gentle piano underneath the melody.

Beyond those two versions, as I said above, there are plenty of choices. Others listed at All-Music Guide as having recorded the song include Lynn Anderson, Chet Atkins, Back Porch Mary, Joe Brown, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, John Denver, David Hasselhoff, Mike McAdoo, C.W. McCall, the Mountain Folk Band, Holly Near, Jerry Reed, the River City Ramblers, Randy Scruggs, Pete Seeger, the Seldom Scene, Sammi Smith, Hank Snow, Sunnyland Slim and many more.

The version I enjoy most beyond Guthrie’s, though, was the title track of a 1984 album by Willie Nelson. Nelson’s version earned Goodman a posthumous Grammy award for Best Country Song. (Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, the year the album was released.)

Here are Goodman’s original and Nelson’s cover:

Steve Goodman – “City of New Orleans” [1970]

Willie Nelson – “City of New Orleans” [1984])

A personal note: This post is the 500th in this blog’s relatively brief history. I thought about writing about what it means to reach 500 posts. Then I decided it would be a brief post, as the only important thing it means is: I’m still having an immense amount of fun doing this, and it’s great to have a pretty sizable number of readers along for the ride.

Ry Cooder’s Score For ‘Crossroads’

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 22, 2008

I’m not exactly sure when I saw the movie Crossroads, the one that stars Ralph Macchio as a young guitarist torn between classical music and the blues. I imagine I saw it on home video sometime during my years in Minot in the later 1980s.

I do know I bought the soundtrack during those days; the date on the back of the record jacket is March 11, 1989, and the titles of the other records I got that date – according to the LP log – tell me that I was at the flea market at the North Dakota state fair grounds.

It’s a good record, far better than the movie for which it was created. The movie’s story, as near as I can remember it, has Macchio studying classical guitar in New York while also learning the blues. Working in Harlem at a home for senior citizens, he meets an old man who claims to be Willie Brown, legendary bluesman (Brown’s name was cribbed, of course, from that of the real-life “friendboy” of Robert Johnson), and the two of them take off for Mississippi to find a long-lost blues song.

The crossroads of the title is, inevitably, the place where Brown once sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play the blues. And the climax of the movie is a guitar duel between Macchio’s character and the devil for Willie Brown’s soul, with Macchio’s character winning the duel by throwing off classical arpeggios blues-style. I never could buy Macchio (The Karate Kid) as tough enough for the blues, so to me, the movie was a scrambled mess. But I watched the whole thing.

What did keep me interested was the music. Whoever made the decisions – Mark Carliner produced the movie and Walter Hill directed it – chose wisely when they selected Ry Cooder to oversee the soundtrack. A genius when it comes to stringed instruments and folk/blues traditions, Cooder put together a soundtrack that for the most part stands on its own, drawing some tunes from the deep catalog of Mississippi blues; he adds four new compositions, two written on his own and two co-written songs, one written with Joe Seneca, the actor who played Willie Brown (who also sings the tune) and an instrumental written with legendary blues harpist Sonny Terry.

The soundtrack bounces around a bit stylistically. The opener, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” slides singers Bobby King, Terry Evans and Willie Green, Jr., in with a gospel-ish chorus amid Cooder’s vocals and guitar and Terry’s harp. Another track, Noah Lewis’ “Viola Lee Blues” – with its baritone horn platform – owes more to New Orleans than to the Delta. But it’s good listening nevertheless.

There are only two missteps on the soundtrack: Cooder’s compositon, “See You In Hell, Blind Boy,” performed by Van Dyke Parks on piano and Alan Pasqua on synthesizer, bogs down. And Amy Madigan’s vocal turn on “He Made A Woman Out Of Me” just doesn’t work. (Madigan’s not listed in the cast – Macchio’s love interest is played by Jami Gertz – so I’m not at all sure why Cooder used Madigan instead of any number of other women; Maria Muldaur comes to mind immediately. Anyone out there know anything?)

There is one fascinating name in the credits: Jim Dickinson has a large presence, one I noticed when I got the record, but it wasn’t until some years later that I connected Jim Dickinson, the long-time Memphis producer and session player, with James Luther Dickinson, the musician behind the quirky 1972 album Dixie Fried (as well as the father of Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars).

Musicians on the record are: Jim Keltner and John Price on drums, Miguel Cruz on percussion, Dickinson on piano, guitar, organ and dolceola, Nathan East, Richard “Stubby” Holmes and Jorge Calderon on bass, Van Dyke Parks on piano, Alan Pasqua on synthesizer, Otis Taylor on guitar, George Bohannon on baritone horn, Walter Sereth on soprano saxophone, Sonny Terry on harmonica, William “Smitty” Smith on organ, Ry Cooder on guitar, mandolin and vocals, Frank Frost on vocals and harmonica, and Joe Seneca, Amy Madigan, Bobby King, Terry Evans, Willie Green, Jr., Sam King and Arnold McCuller on vocals.

Tracks (lead vocals):
Crossroads (Ry Cooder)
Down In Mississippi (Terry Evans, Bobby King, Willie Green, Jr.)
Cotton Needs Pickin’ (Frank Frost)
Viola Lee Blues (Ry Cooder)
See You In Hell, Blind Boy (instrumental)
Nitty Gritty Mississippi (Jim Dickinson)
He Made A Woman Out Of Me (Amy Madigan)
Feelin’ Bad Blues (instrumental)
Somebody’s Callin’ My Name (Bobby King, Sam King, Arnold McCuller, Willie Green, Jr.)
Willie Brown Blues (Joe Seneca)
Walkin’ Away Blues (instrumental)

Ry Cooder – Crossroads soundtrack [1986]

Saturday Single No. 91

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 20, 2008

It’s quiet here this morning. The Texas Gal is sleeping in – a just reward for about nine weeks of long Saturdays of effort – and two of the catboys are evidently keeping her company. (The third, young Henri, is at the vet’s for routine kitten surgery and will come home this afternoon.) The sun is beginning to peek through gaps in the canopy of oak leaves and evergreen branches that shelter the house.

Only the rumble of a passing train intrudes, but not all that much. The clatter of the wheels and cars is not too noisy, and the only other thing I notice is that the coffee in the mug on my desk trembles a little as the train rumbles along the tracks on the other side of Lincoln Avenue. That’s all.

It puts me in mind of another cup of coffee, another table, another city:

In September 1990, I was in my first month teaching journalism and writing at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, midway between Kansas City and St. Louis. And that autumn, earthquakes were on everyone’s mind. Beneath the soil where the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky come together runs the New Madrid fault, named for a small Missouri town that lies atop it. The fault has a place in American history. In 1811 and 1812, when the area was sparsely populated, a series of earthquakes took place along the fault. Wikipedia says:

“The 1811 or 1812 New Madrid Earthquake . . . is one of the largest succession[s] of earthquakes, including the most intensive ever indirectly inferred (not recorded) in the contiguous United States, beginning with an initial pair of very large earthquakes on December 16th, 1811[,] plus aftershocks and other large related quakes separated by a succession of smaller aftershock quakes[,] with the largest event classified as a Mega-quake of greater than 8.0 on the Richter scale occurring on February 7, 1812.”

There are any number of fascinating books about the 1811-12 New Madrid quakes. I’ve read a few, including some with analyses that place the major quake a little lower on the Richter scale, but whatever its magnitude, the quake was huge. And the scary thing is that the fault has not triggered a major quake since then; basically, say scientists, a major quake is certain though no one, of course, knows when.

In the September 11, 2005, edition of the Commercial Appeal, a newspaper published in Memphis, Tennessee, Oliver Staley writes: “Experts predict there’s about a 10 percent chance of a massive earthquake in the next 50 years and a much greater chance of a smaller, yet still quite serious quake much sooner.”

I found that quotation at a fascinating website about the New Madrid fault. I also found there a reference to the event I recalled this morning. During that autumn of 1990, when I was living in Columbia, a climatologist by the name of Iben Browning, based in New Mexico, announced that there was a fifty percent chance of an earthquake along the New Madrid fault that December. His prediction was based on the theory of high tidal forces causing increased pressure on the fault. Needless to say, there was no major quake that December, and the many news folks who descended on New Madrid early that month went away quakeless but alive.

Earlier that autumn (and I do not recall if this was before or after Browning made his prediction), I was eating lunch at my dining room table in Columbia. My feet suddenly felt odd, as if they were vibrating, and I happened to glance at my coffee cup: the liquid was moving inside the cup. So I looked at the clock and noted the time, and that evening, the newscaster on one of the local stations reported that there’d been a minor tremor on the New Madrid fault that afternoon.

It had happened right at the moment my feet felt funny and my coffee was rippling. I was reminded of that this morning, and – as is my wont – went looking for a song with at least some connection. And that’s why – with no intention of making light of a situation that will someday almost certainly be disastrous – “Shake For Me” by John Hammond with Duane Allman on slide guitar, is this week’s Saturday Single.

John Hammond – “Shake For Me” [1970]

Found By Accident: ‘From Good Homes’

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 19, 2008

From Good Homes is one of those bands whose acquaintance I made by accident, which is often the best way to find new music.

As was the case with a few other bands and performers, I met From Good Homes in the cheap seats, on the budget shelves at a Twin Cities outpost of Half Price Books. This HPB was in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, and the CD From Good Homes was tucked into the lower level of a set of shelves, hard to see, hard to read and hard to reach.

I’ve always been glad for two things: One, that I took the time to lie nearly prone on the floor to grab hold of the CD with the tawny colored spine, and two, that no one came down the narrow aisle and stepped on my own spine while I was on my stomach.

The front cover had a simple drawing, a cartoon interpretation of woods and a meadow with a river, and the legend, “from good homes.” The back listed the titles of the tracks – in white on tan, a design flaw if ever there was one – and had another drawing in the same style, this one of a man in archaic dress playing a clarinet/wood flute by the shores of a body of water.

It was just odd enough to intrigue me, and if I recall correctly, the CD was priced at no more than two bucks.

I took it home to the nearby suburb of Plymouth and dropped it in the player. And I loved it. The music was rootsy and energetic, sometimes decorated with saxophone, sometimes with violin and mandolin. The vocals were strong, and the songs were well thought-out, with interesting lyrics. I ripped the CD to mp3s right away and listened to it frequently.

Intrigued, I dug into the same discount shelves on my next visit to the bookstore and found an earlier CD by the group, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya! This one was just as good, and I made a mental note to find the other two CDs the group had recorded. (I haven’t done so yet – other things get in the way – but more From Good Homes is still on my list.)

Here’s what All-Music Guide has to say about the group:

“From Good Homes [is] an eclectic, seasoned bunch of roots-rock musicians from New Jersey who have found success in the record business on their own terms. The group consists of Todd Sheaffer (vocals and acoustic guitar), Brady Rymer (bass and vocals), Jamie Coan (acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle and vocals), Dan Myers (saxophones, percussion, melodica and vocals), and Patrick Fitzsimmons (drums and vocals). Their generally positive, upbeat folk-rock and blues-rock sound and lyrics are a reaction to the mostly hardcore punk scene they came out of in the late 1980s. What makes the group distinctive are their choice of instruments and their melody-driven arrangements.”

Favorites? I like “Decision Song” with it haunting saxophone and its chorus, “It’s time for moving on.” I also like the metaphor of “The Butterfly and the Tree,” with its violin passages and its lilting and yearning chorus. And “Ride All Night” and “Broken Road” sometimes make me hit the replay button.

But the lyric that gets to me every time is in “House On A Hill”

This house on a hill sits perfectly still.
With treasures the rooms have been filled.
Closets inside hide boxes inside
with boxes inside of them still.

But oh, there’s something I still gotta know:
Won’t you follow me down to the road?

This house on a hill sits perfectly still.
With treasures our lives have been filled.
Memories inside hide memories inside
with memories inside of them still.

But, oh, there’s something I still gotta know:
Won’t you follow me down to the road?”

This house on a hill can sit perfectly still.
We can play permanent host
to all we have seen, all we have been,
to the ghost of a ghost of a ghost.
I can be king, you will be queen.
Together, we’ll dance ballroom
while nothing inside of nothing inside
of nothing inside of us blooms.

But, oh, there’s something I still gottta know:
Won’t you follow me down to the road?

From Good Homes maintains a current website, The Fruitful Acre, with a link to an archival site.* From Good Homes and Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya! seem to be out of print, as are Open Up The Sky from 1995 and Take Enough Home from 2002, but the latter two albums are available as downloads through iTunes. (Take Enough Home is a live recording of the group’s last performance in August 1999.) **

Tracks:
Kick It On
Wake
Bang That Drum
The Day Is Alive
Ride All Night
Goin’ Out
Decision Song
The Giving Tree
The Butterfly and The Tree
House On A Hill
Broken Road
Cold Mountain

From Good Homes – From Good Homes [1998]

*The archival site is no longer active. Note added August 15, 2011.

**Newly available at iTunes and at Amazon is a downloadable collection titled Grrrrrrrr, which was released in February 2011. Note added August 15, 2011.

RIP, Rick Wright & Norman Whitfield

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 18, 2008

Pillars continue to fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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