Archive for the ‘2008/12 (December)’ Category

As The Year Wanes

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 31, 2008

No music today, but I thought I’d share – for the first time – one of my lyrics. When I was living in Missouri a while back, I realized that Christmas had all, or at least most of, the songs. So I wrote a lyric for a New Year’s song:

Twelve O’Clock High

Headlights on the avenue; footprints in the snow;
“Auld Lang Syne” is written on the wall.
Cards from distant strangers who were friends not long ago
Are standing on the bookcase in the hall.
The stereo plays Motown as our conversation wanes.
We calculate our losses and consolidate our gains.
The year is quickly passing on; not much of it remains,
And much of it we’d rather not recall.

Dancers in the living room are fragments of the past;
The twist is resurrected for the night.
Remember when they told us that our music wouldn’t last?
It’s sad to say, but maybe they were right.
We can’t be sure we’re living in the present when we dance.
We leave behind maturity and seek a second chance
At all the sophomore dreams we left behind without a glance.
The record ends, and dreams can’t stand the light.

So the old year departs by the window
As the new one comes in by the door.
We hide from our failures with wine and with masks.
We season our lives with endurable tasks,
And we can’t tell the truth so we hope no one asks
If we know what we’ve been living for,
And it’s twelve o’clock high once more.

Every year, the party seems to feel more like a wake,
With party streamers trying to conceal
Our weariness and wariness at what we couldn’t make;
We act like what we’ve made is how we feel.
But celebrating Janus means we have to look ahead;
We’d like to do the things undone and say the things unsaid,
To give our dreams some nourishment and put our fears to bed,
And leave the artificial for the real.

So the old year departs by the window
As the new one comes in by the door.
May directions in living come thankfully clear;
May all of us find we have nothing to fear.
May peace be upon us. May this be the year
That we know what we’ve been living for
When it’s twelve o’clock high once more.

Copyright 1991 Garth Street Songs
and 2008 Greg Erickson

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Delaney Bramlett: The Keystone

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 30, 2008

Picture a stone wall with an arch in it. The stones that make up wall are smaller – and less important – than those that are actually part of the arch; without the arch stones, the wall would not exist. And in the arch, there’s the stone at the top, the keystone, the piece that holds the arch together. Without the keystone, the other stones in the arch fall and the wall falls.

The man who was the keystone for a huge swath of American music in the 1960s and 1970s died over the weekend. Delaney Bramlett, 69, died Saturday (December 27) in Los Angeles following gall bladder surgery. His wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett, said he’d had “seven hard months” of ill health, according to Reuters.

Why do I call Delaney Bramlett the keystone for any portion of American music, much less a large one? Well, start with the fact that Bramlett, along with his then-wife, Bonnie, formed in the late 1960s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, an amalgamation of musicians that blended rock, soul, blues and gospel into a potent brew.

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide said of the group: “In its toughest, 1969 incarnation – an 11-piece revue – this was southern soul-rock of a scorching expertise. Honing her R&B chops as history’s only white Ikette, powerhouse vocalist Bonnie Bramlett and husband Delaney, an ace picker and country-tinged singer, had the talent and charisma to attract breath-taking sidemen: Leon Russell, Bobby Keys, Carl Radle, Rita Coolidge, Jim Keltner – and, at various times, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.”

(I’d add to that list Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon.)

The records that Delaney & Bonnie – with or without their Friends – released in the late 1960s and early 1970s are vibrant, joyous, sometimes raucous celebrations of the music that Delaney Bramlett grew up listening to in Mississippi. From Home (released on Stax, with Booker T and the MG’s numbered among the Friends) and Accept No Substitute in 1969 through 1972’s D&B Together Delaney and Bonnie’s albums were dependably good and generally well-respected, though the albums were never top sellers. (The duo had one album hit the charts: 1970’s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton, which went to No. 29.)

But it was beyond those records where Delaney Bramlett’s influence lies: It was he, according to the tales, who persuaded Eric Clapton that he could sing well enough to lead a group. Bramlett produced Clapton’s first, self-titled, solo album, released in 1970, with some of the Friends backing Clapton. I’ve read criticisms of the record that say that Clapton sometimes appears overwhelmed by the band. I don’t get that; I think that from the funk of the opening track, “Slunky,” to the extraordinary closer, “Let It Rain,” Eric Clapton is one of the great albums.

It was basically that same cast of musicians – recruited at short notice by Leon Russell – that provided the band for Joe Cocker on the tour documented on Mad Dogs & Englishmen, one of the great live albums. Many of those same players – with a few other Brits added – provided the backing later in 1970 for George Harrison and his sprawling solo album, All Things Must Pass. And the core of that group – Radle, Whitlock and Gordon – then became the Dominos to Clapton’s Derek for the recording of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with Allman joining in.

The direct chain ends there. Bramlett released a series of solo albums in the 1970s and then again in the past eight years. From what I’ve read about the albums from the 1970s – I’ve heard only bits of them – there’s little to recommend them. But I’ve listened to two of the three recent albums, and they’re pretty good.

But for a listener – this listener – the chain of influences that Bramlett started with the Friends goes beyond the albums and musicians listed above. We all explore music in different ways. I wrote in one of the earlier posts on this blog about discovering in 1972 an anthology titled Clapton At His Best. The bulk of the two-record set was pulled from Eric Clapton and from Layla, and that music introduced me to the Friends of Delaney & Bonnie. From there, I connected the dots, finding Delaney & Bonnie, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album, the Allman Brothers Band, the studio geniuses at Muscle Shoals and more, moving on and on along a path of music that continues to this day to entertain, comfort, awe and inspire me. And at the beginning of that path – at the apex of the arch, to get back to the original metaphor – one finds Delaney Bramlett.

And in that conclusion lies one of the fascinating things I’ve learned about myself through writing for nearly two years about the role of music in my life. Had someone asked me in early 2007 to name the most influential pop/rock musicians in my life, I would have answered with utter assurance: the Beatles and Bob Dylan. After all, it was through the Beatles that I discovered rock and pop, and listening to Dylan and his use of language over the years has influenced my writing, both my prose and my lyrics.

But I have to make room on the mountaintop, I think, for Delaney Bramlett. The news of his death – I read it first at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – has touched me more deeply than I would have expected. It’s not entirely surprising when any of the men and women who made the music of my youth pass on. They are entering that age when tasks are finished and learning, for this time around, is accomplished. But losing Delaney Bramlett has affected me as much as did losing George Harrison in 2001. At first, that startled me.

Thinking about it overnight, I’ve come to realize that Delaney Bramlett – through his direct and indirect connections – led me during his life to as much good music as has anyone else. That’s a gift for which I’m very grateful.

A Six-Pack of Delaney Bramlett
“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney, 1970

“Sing My Way Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“You Got To Believe” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from the Vanishing Point soundtrack, 1971

“Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie from D&B Together, 1972

“Brown Paper Bag” by Delaney Bramlett from Sounds From Home, 2000

“Mighty, Mighty Mississippi” by Delaney Bramlett from A New Kind of Blues, 2007

The Wail Of The Who Mouse

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 29, 2008

As I sit in my study this morning, the wind is whipping around the northeast corner of the house, triggering a memory that’s not that old.

Before we moved last summer, we lived in an apartment on the southeast corner of the building. During the cold months, the northwest wind would come around the outside corner with a moaning sound, wailing into the night. One evening a few years ago, I made up a tall tale for the Texas Gal about a little mouse who sits on the roof on cold nights and calls out “Whoooo?” No one ever answers, I said, and he spends his winter nights calling out that one forlorn word.

Every couple has its tales, the small stories and inside jokes, the shared catch phrases and taglines, all of which are the common currency of any pairing. The Who Mouse and his plaint has become one of ours. On some chill mornings in other winters, the Texas Gal – who sleeps more lightly than I do – would tell me, “The Who Mouse was out last night.” She’d shake her head, shivering, and murmur, “I don’t like that sound.”

Neither do I. The wail of the wind makes a chilly evening seem colder, and it heightens the desolation that northern winter nights bring with them. But cold and desolation are relative things. Every once in a while during the winter, I think about the people who settled this land a century and a half ago: How did they survive the brutal cold? I shudder at the thought of a winter with no heat except that from a fireplace, and realize once more how fortunate we are.

The new place has a garage on the northwest corner, and the Who Mouse isn’t noticeable on the main floor. But the Texas Gal says he visits the loft, where she does her quilting and other crafts. “I heard him this morning,” she told me a few moments ago. “He was out there.”

A Six-Pack of Who
“Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” by the Main Ingredient from Bitter Sweet, 1972

“Know Who You Are” by Supertramp from Famous Last Words, 1982

“Who’s Gonna Stop Me” by the Delilahs from Delilahs, 1994

“Who Can I Be Now” by David Bowie, unreleased from Young Americans sessions, ca. 1974

“Who’s Making Love” by Mongo Santamaria from Stone Soul, 1969

“Who Will Be The Fool Tonight” by the Larsen-Feiten Band, Warner Bros. 49282, 1980

A few notes:

The Main Ingredient’s Bitter Sweet album was the source for “Everybody Plays The Fool,” the great single that went to No. 3 in the autumn of 1972. The rest of the album, including “Who Can I Turn To,” is pretty good, if not quite as good as the hit. (The inverse was true two years later; Euphrates was a good album, much better to my ears than its hit, “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.”)

The Delilahs came out of Minnesota at about the same time as the Jayhawks did, offering a similar mix of rock, country and folk. The group was named the Best New Band at the 1994 Minnesota Music Awards and released Delilahs shortly after that. Two more albums followed in 1995, and the group evidently called it a day.

The David Bowie track was included in 1991 on a CD reissue of his Young Americans album and evidently came from the same sessions. I think it’s better than almost anything that was included on the album.

Mongo Santamaria was a Cuban percussionist and bandleader who covered pop, rock and soul songs on a series of fairly popular albums in the late 1960s and on into the 1970s. Those albums were fun, but his earlier, less pop-based, work is maybe a little more challenging but not quite as much fun.

The Larsen-Feiten Band – formed by session musicians Neil Larsen and Buzz Feiten – is a true one-hit wonder. “Who Will Be The Fool Tonight” went to No. 29 during the autumn of 1980 and was the group’s only chart entry. I don’t recall it from the time, but as it played out this morning, I heard echoes of Boz Scaggs’ late 1970s and early 1980s work. All-Music Guide has impressive lists of credits for both Larsen and Feiten as studio musicians. (Thanks to the Dude for this one.)

Saturday Single No. 106

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 27, 2008

The mailman dropped off a mystery a week ago today.

It was an envelope sent priority mail, and the return address was the Electric Fetus, a store that sells music, movies and loads of other goodies at its main store in Minneapolis as well as at branch locations in St. Cloud and in Duluth. I stop in the St. Cloud store frequently, but as I held the envelope, I couldn’t figure out what business the Electric Fetus would have with me.

I was even more baffled when I opened the envelope: Inside was a gift card worth a hundred dollars . . . and no indication who might have sent it to me. There were a couple editions of the store’s monthly newsletter, and I looked through them, looking for clues. Nothing.

The Texas Gal and I thought for a few moments, bringing up names of folks who might have sent me such a generous gift. We called a couple of them. No, they said. They weren’t responsible. The folks at the Minneapolis location of the store said they wished they could help, but they couldn’t. The second clerk I talked to there said the gift card might have been purchased in person, or it might have been bought online or even over the telephone. There was no way to know. So we’re still baffled.

And I keep waiting for a phone call or an email asking me if I received the gift. I hope that whoever sent the card gets in touch with me, because I wouldn’t want him or her (or them, I suppose) to think me ungrateful. I am very grateful, and I am very excited.

So along with wondering who might have been so generous, I’m heading out sometime today to the local Electric Fetus. I hope someone provides me with an answer. In the meantime, as long as we’re talking about mysteries, here’s The Band with Paul Butterfield with a scorching performance from 1976 of “Mystery Train,” today’s Saturday Single.

The Band with Paul Butterfield – “Mystery Train” [from The Last Waltz, 1976]

I Know I Read It Somewhere

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 26, 2008

In October, when I wrote about Henry Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues” and the resurrection of the song’s opening riff in Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country,” I said:

“What’s fascinating is that, with a birth year of 1874, Thomas is evidently the earliest-born African-American whose music was ever recorded. And since he wrote and developed his music in the years before the blues developed fully – that happened, most think, around 1900, and Thomas’ music evidently was developed in the 1890s, though not recorded for another thirty years – Thomas’ music is an aural canvas of the music African-Americans were listening to one generation after emancipation.”

On Tuesday of this week, citing that paragraph about Thomas, reader Joseph Scott wrote:

Some of the people who have him beat:
Ella McMullen Lassiter c. 1839
George W. Johnson c. 1846
Billy McCrea 1850s
John Scruggs c. 1850s
John Wesley “West” Jenkins 1859
Mary C. Mann 1860
Bob Ledbetter 1861
Harriett McClintock c. 1862
‘Clear Rock’ Platt c. 1862
Seth Weeks c. 1865
Harry T. Burleigh 1866
Thaddeus Goodson c. 1867
Wilson Boling c. 1868
Will Marion Cook 1869
Daddy Stovepipe c. 1869
Albert Glenny 1870
Jim Booker c. 1870
Pete Hampton 1871
Isadore Barbarin 1872
Octave Gaspard 1872
Uncle George Jones 1872
John Work Jr. 1872
Andrew Baxter 1872 or 1873
W.C. Handy 1873
John Rosamond Johnson 1873
William Parquette 1873
Joseph Petit 1873

Daddy Stovepipe and Andrew Baxter were important country blues musicians.

Best wishes,
Joseph Scott

That’s a fascinating list, and I am grateful to Mr. Scott for leaving it. As to where I read the contention that Henry Thomas was evidently “the earliest-born African-American whose music was ever recorded” (and thus the conclusion of the significance of his recorded music), I’m not sure. I read a lot. I have a pretty good memory for the facts and suppositions I come across, but I don’t always credit my source or keep track of where I read stuff. In this case, it would have been useful if I’d had a source to cite. The CD I have of Thomas’ recordings is Texas Worried Blues, a 1989 issue on the Yazoo label. I took a quick look this morning at the CD’s rather dense notes – historically valuable but awkwardly written and filled from margin to margin with liberal doses of music theory – but I didn’t find the inaccurate statement that spurred Mr. Scott to leave his note here. It could be in any number of books I’ve read about early African American music over the past ten years.

What I’m saying is: I don’t know where I got the information about Thomas’ evident place in history. I probably should have couched my statement more carefully, perhaps even starting it by writing, “I’ve read somewhere, though I cannot remember where at the moment, that Henry Thomas was evidently . . .” But I do know that I read that statement about Thomas and his place in line somewhere. And I guess I just feel a need to reassure my readers that with the exception of my occasional flights of whimsy – and I think those are easily identified – I don’t make stuff up.

I’ve made errors before and have had readers correct them, and I’m as grateful for those corrections as I am unhappy about the errors. But this seems to have been a doozy of an error, based on the length of the list that Mr. Scott provided. All I can say is “Sorry!”

Here are a few songs whose titles, if not their lyrics, might be loosely appropriate this morning:

A Six-Pack of Error
“Am I Wrong” by Keb’ Mo’ from Keb’ Mo’ [1994]
“Everybody’s Wrong” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily Whenever I May Find Her [1967]
“Errors of My Way” by Wishbone Ash from Wishbone Ash [1970]
“The 1st Mistake I Made” by the Bee Gees from 2 Years On [1971]
“My Mistakes of Yesterday” by Clydie King, Minit 32025 [1967]
“My Big Mistake” by Big Maybelle, Okeh 7042 [1954]

Recalling A Drive Home

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2008

I was living in Columbia, Missouri, in late December 1990, teaching at a women’s college. Finals were over, I’d turned in the grades for my three courses, and I was preparing a drive the next day back to Minnesota, to spend the holidays with my family.

I was slowly pulling things together for that Wednesday drive: a box of gifts, a suitcase or two, a box of supplies for the trip. At noon on that Tuesday, I turned the radio on at lunchtime. As I ate a sandwich, I heard a report from Kansas City – one hundred and twenty miles west of Columbia – that the temperature had fallen into the mid-twenties and a freezing rain was coating the streets and highways. The system, said the weatherman, was moving east at a good clip.

I glanced outside: sunshine and an unseasonably warm temperature in the mid-sixties.

A little concerned, I pulled out the phone book and looked up the number for the Missouri State Patrol’s travel information line.

“Hi,” I said to the man who answered. “I’m leaving Columbia for Minnesota tomorrow morning –”

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“What?”

“You won’t be leaving Columbia for anywhere tomorrow morning,” he said. “There’s a nasty patch of freezing rain coming through in about three to four hours. You can leave this afternoon, or you can maybe get out of town Thursday, but I can guarantee you that if you don’t leave Columbia very soon today, you’re not going anywhere tomorrow.”

Startled, I asked what he recommended.

“If you can, leave town in the next couple of hours, and – lemme look at the map – yeah, drive north of Des Moines, Iowa. North of there, the precipitation should be snow, and you can drive in it. South of there, it’s freezing rain, and you don’t wanna be on the road in that.”

I thanked him and hung up. And I accelerated my rate of preparations. Luckily, I’d made lists of what I needed to take (an act of organization quite out of character for me). I pulled those things together, called the fellow who lived in an upstairs apartment to tell him he’d need to begin caring for my cats a day earlier than planned, and I loaded the car. I headed north out of Columbia about an hour after my conversation with the state patrol.

The rain coming in from the west met me about three hours later, while I was still a ways south of Des Moines. I carefully drove on for another two hours, until I was well north of the snow line, then stopped for the night at a small-town motel. In the morning, I cleared five or so inches of snow from the car and headed on, making my way further north. Between the falling snow, the snow already packed down on the freeway and the clog of Twin Cities traffic, it was a long and tense day of driving until I got into St. Cloud late that afternoon. But I was home.

Now, eighteen years since I headed out of town early, the Texas Gal and I are home, too, where we belong, and we’ll share a quiet evening tonight and a happy day together tomorrow. I hope that – wherever it might be – that’s where you all are this Christmas Eve: Home.

An original and a cover version
I wrote earlier in the week that there are only two holiday songs I continue to enjoy. I posted “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” last Saturday. Today, I’ll post two versions of the other holiday song I still enjoy: a 2006 cover by Sarah McLachlan of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and the original version from 1970, credited to John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.

Sarah McLachlan – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [2006, from Wintersong]

John & Yoko et. al – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [Apple 1842, 1971]

Peace, In All Its Forms

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 23, 2008

Peace, In All Its Forms
“We Got to Have Peace” by Curtis Mayfield from Roots, 1971

“Peaceful in My Soul” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie, 1972

“Give Peace A Chance” by Joe Cocker (Leon Russell on piano) from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970

“Peace of Mind” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

“Peace Begins Within” by Mylon Lefevre from Mylon, 1970

“I Wish You Peace” by the Eagles from One Of These Nights, 1975

Turning The Corner

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 22, 2008

We’ve turned the corner.

Sometime yesterday morning, the sun went as far south in the sky as it goes, and it began to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good new for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I must have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I have think I’ve mentioned here before – likely is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. Given what we know now of our physical earth, we know that the days of longer light will return come springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen, at least not this year. Today will bring slightly more daylight than did yesterday, and the day after that will bring more than will today. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’ve turned the corner toward the light.

A Six-Pack of Light
“As You Lean Into The Light” by Paul Weller from Heavy Soul, 1997

“Light A Light” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Long As I Can See the Light” by Joe Cocker from Hymn For My Soul, 2007

“Look for the Light” by B. W. Stevenson from Calabasas, 1974

“Real Light” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Carnival of Light” by Dead Can Dance from Dead Can Dance, 1984

A few notes:

I don’t know a lot about Paul Weller, which is a rather large gap in my database, considering that – as All-Music Guide says – there was a time in Britain when Weller was “worshipped as a demigod.” That’s figurative, of course, or maybe not. There might have been altars dedicated to Weller in a bleak corner in Leeds or somewhere else. But his solo work – which followed his days with the Jam and with Style Council – intrigues me. I’m digging deeper these days. And I do love “As You Lean Into The Light.”

The better-known track from Janis Ian’s Between the Lines is “At Seventeen,” which went to No. 3 in Setpember of 1975. “Light A Light” has the some of the same qualities as the hit: a yearning yet seemingly stoic vocal, lyrics that are literate without being over-bearing, and a seemingly effortless melody. On the other hand, I’ve been a fool for Janis Ian ever since 1967 and “Society’s Child,” so take that into account.

The long tale of Joe Cocker is well known: Brilliance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, comebacks here and there, the occasional indifference of the listening public, the also occasional bouts of excess of one kind or another. But forty years down the pike, one thing remains: The man is one of the greatest interpreters of song to ever face a microphone, and here, he does wondrous things to John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.”

On the flipside of the longevity stakes was B.W. Stevenson. He had a No. 9 hit in 1973 with “My Maria,” a song that never reached the country charts for which RCA had intended it. The album it came from, also titled My Maria, sparkled, as did the follow-up, Calabasas. Neither of them sold well, joining two previous albums in the cutout bins. He moved from label to label, issuing three more albums that no one bought, and he died in 1988 shortly after heart surgery, at the age of 38. I don’t know about the other albums, but My Maria and Calabasas are well worth listening to. I found them on a one-CD package not long ago.

I’ll let the Jayhawks’ country-rooted pop-rock and Dead Can Dance’s world-new age trance stand on their own, except to say that I like both and both are well worth checking out.

Saturday Single No. 105

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 20, 2008

I believe I mentioned last year about this time that I don’t do a lot of Christmas music. I used to, and I’ve still got a fair number of Christmas LPs. Some I bought myself over the years, generally at garage sales. And some I got from my dad. When I was a kid, Dad would head out every December and get the annual holiday LPs that Goodyear and Firestone issued. When Dad’s records came to me, I got those, too.

But I don’t play them. I really can’t say why. I just don’t.

Maybe I’ve been over-holidayed over the years. The local oldies station, for several years now, has played Christmas music twenty-fours a day from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. That, I’ve long thought, is a bit much. And this autumn, I heard a Christmas carol – I’ve forgotten which one – used as background for a television commercial on November 1. Way, way too early.

It’s not like the Texas Gal and I are Scrooge and Scroogette. Over the years, we’ve shared celebrations with our families both in Minnesota and in Texas. We gather with friends during the busy time of December, trying in our small ways to create the spirit of peace called for by the season. We share gifts – both spiritual and tangible – with each other and our families. But sometimes it seems that the sheer mass of holiday busyness outside our doors overwhelms us, and we retreat from the madness when we are home.

So we don’t play a lot of holiday music at home, and I don’t post a lot of it here.

With that said, there are two Christmas records I still do love enough to post here, one today and the other next Thursday. I have no doubt that other blogs will also post them this season, but that’s okay. The more often these two songs are heard, the better.

The first is a single pulled from the 1963 album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. Here’s the Wall of Sound behind Darlene Love on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” today’s Saturday Single.

Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” [Philles 4005, 1963]

Grab Bag No. 2

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 19, 2008

One of the things I noticed yesterday while watching the performance by Country Joe and the Fish at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was how normal the audience looked.

After all, 1967 was the year of the hippie. Supposedly, all the boy in the U.S. were growing their hair long and sporting beards, and all the girls were wandering around without wearing foundational garments, and both genders were smoking pot and dropping acid, and everybody was having sex with everybody else every night.

But the crowd at the festival – at least those young folks on camera – looked normal, like cheerleaders and math majors who just wanted to hear the music. And this was during June 1967, the so-called “Summer of Love,” supposedly the height of hippie civilization just up the coast in San Francisco.

I’ve thought the same thing whenever I’ve watched Woodstock, the filmed account of the famed 1969 festival in upstate New York: Sure, there are some counter-culture characters, most notably the folks from the famous Hog Farm, who helped keep festival-goers fed during that weekend. There were some hippie campers, and the moviemakers kept an eye on them. And yes, there were kids casting off clothes and inhibitions to skinny-dip in the pond (but they may have been in good part driven by necessity, given the vast numbers of people who showed up and the relative paucity of showers available). Mostly, though, the kids at the festival were normal kids who wanted to hear the tunes.

Comparing the crowd scenes in Woodstock to those from the Monterey festival, one can see that boys’ hair is generally longer and the wardrobes are, at times, a little more flamboyant. But generally, even at Woodstock, the crowd looks pretty normal. And when I ponder all of that, I come to the conclusion – not an original one, I am certain – that the hippie was, in very many ways, a creation of the mainstream media.

Oh, I have no doubt that there were folks in San Francisco – where the idea was born – who called themselves “hippies” in place of a label selected for them by others. And others who were truly counter-cultural across the U.S. and elsewhere gladly took up the tag. But once that little bit of counter-cultural toothpaste was out of the tube, the media took the label and sprinted through the crowded youth of 1967, slapping the hippie label on anyone who was older than, oh, fifteen and younger than thirty and who looked, dressed or thought a little bit differently than their peers.

That meant, I think – and this is all off the top of my head from memory and from the sense I’ve gotten from histories and commentaries over the years; no huge amount of research has gone into this today – that there were a lot fewer real hippies than there were adults complaining and worrying about the damage the hippies were going to do to the world. Parents, I think, saw their previously sweet and unaffected children beginning to wear leather vests and tie-dye shirts, granny glasses and granny dresses, and those parents stayed awake into the night worrying “Is my child a hippie?” in much the same way parents in later years would worry “Is my child a Moonie?”

So I don’t believe there were all that many hippies, though there were a lot of wannabes. (And the real hippies and even the wannabes soon rejected the label once it had been taken over and exploited by the media, in favor of the word “freak.” Remember Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock: “Wow! Lotta freaks!”) But the omni-presence of hippies in the news media created opportunities for some folks to make money in that most American of ways: capitalizing on a trend. And lots of businesses did just that.

When I dipped my hand into the box of unplayed 45s this week, selecting three records for this Grab Bag, I came up with one of the artifacts of that time, a perfect – to me – example of capitalizing on that trend to the point of silliness.

Linda Cassady – “Is Santa Claus A Hippy”
Linda Cassady – “What Do You Do”
(Metro Country 2010, prob. 1967 or 1968)

What do I know about Linda Cassady? Not much, but we start with the fact that she recorded at least one single for the Metro Country label, which was based in Nashville. (The label’s records were distributed by Starday-King Records, also in Nashville.) She wrote at least a little bit, as the record’s B-Side – not all that good or remarkable – is credited to her. And someone named Jack Cassady – presumably Linda’s husband, though I do not know for sure – wrote the A-Side, which may be a minor classic in the “Let’s make a quick buck on a cultural phenomenon” derby:

Here’s the first thing that comes to mind: Even though the Cassadys and the others who helped put out this record were capitalizing on a cultural trend, they were nevertheless culturally tone-deaf. None of the folks involved with this record – not the Cassadys, not producer Jim Hurley, no one at Cinnamon Music, which published the song or anyone else – knew how to spell “hippie”!

Beyond that and what I can glean from the label, I know nothing about this record or the Cassadys. There was no information at All-Music Guide. When I first Googled the record’s title, I saw that WFMU’s Beware of the Blog had posted the record on Wednesday of this week – with two other records of similar nature – and I saw that the version there was released on a label called Nashville Country. I don’t know which was the original.

The Google search also turned up a fair number of other singles by Linda Cassady offered for sale around the ’Net. (She recorded for Cin-Kay and Soundwaves, to name two of the label names that popped up frequently.) Both the Google search and a Google blog search turned up links to pages about other women with the same name. But hard information was elusive. I’m not even sure what year this came out. And that’s okay. We at least know that Santa Claus is not a hippy.

Camptown Singers – “Toni”
Camptown Singers – “Trouble With A Woman”
(Sue 785, 1963)

I had a little bit better luck finding information about the second record I pulled from the box for today, although my digging started poorly. At Soulful Kinda Music – a generally good place to start – the record is listed in the Sue discography, but it’s the only record in that discography by the Camptown Singers. And there’s no individual discography for the Camptown Singers.

Nor are there listings offering for sale any other records by the Camptown Singers. Unless I missed something, a Google search turns up a few more copies of Sue 785 but nothing else, except for listings of singers in Camptown, Pennsylvania, and a reference to a group called the Camptown Singers from the early 20th century. A Google blog search is even less rewarding: There’s no mention at all of the Camptown Singers in any of the blogs indexed. (I’d never seen a shutout before.)

So we turn to the label for whatever we can glean. Both sides of the record give a writer’s credit to Joseph Van Winkle, who is also listed on the record label as A&R (Artists & Repertoire) man for Sue Records, or at least for the Camptown Singers. I thought for a moment that he might have some kind of connection with Van Winkle of Teegarden & Van Winkle (“God, Love and Rock & Roll,” No. 22 in 1970), but the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits tells me that Van Winkle was actually named Skip Knape.

Joseph Van Winkle, however, did show up in a Google search. It turns out that Mr. Van Winkle helped co-write a No. 1 song. It might be one of the worst songs and records ever to get to No. 1, but there it was. Van Winkle, along with Fred Darian and Al de Lory, wrote (and the three likely arranged and produced) Larry Verne’s “Mr. Custer,” an Era Records release that spent one week on top of the chart in October of 1960. (All-Music Guide lists a few other songs credited to Van Winkle’s pen as well.)

Why do I say that trio “likely arranged and produced” “Mr. Custer”? Because the label on the Camptown Singers single also listed all three names. Van Winkle, as I noted earlier, was listed as a writer on both sides. Darian produced both sides. And de Lory was credited with the arrangement for “Trouble With A Woman.”

There’s one other nifty bit of information on the label. Van Winkle’s co-writer on “Trouble With A Woman” (which I think is the better of the two sides, although both are pretty decent early Sixties R&B) was a fellow named Dobie Gray, who later had four hits of his own, including the sublime “Drift Away,” which went to No. 5 in 1973. (A remake of the same song by Uncle Kracker “featuring Dobie Gray” went to No. 9 in thirty years later.)

The Innocence – “There’s Got To Be A Word!”
The Innocence – “I Don’t Wanna Be Around You”
(Kama Sutra 214, 1966)

This one turned out to be easy!

There’s nothing all that remarkable about the record. It’s your basic sunshine pop, and the A-Side went to No. 34 in early 1967. But it was fairly easy to figure out who the Innocence was: Pete Anders and Vinnie Poncia, a performing, writing and production team that had been together for a few years – working for, among others, Phil Spector – before becoming the Innocence. In 1965, as the Trade Winds, they’d recorded and released “New York’s A Lonely Town,” a single on the famed Red Bird label that went to No. 32. (In 1989, writer Dave Marsh ranked “New York’s A Lonely Town” at No. 349 among the 1001 best singles in his book, The Heart of Rock & Soul.)

As the Innocence, the duo of Anders and Poncia also released a self-titled album on the Kama Sutra label, but the album didn’t sell well. Another single, “Mairzy Doats,” went to only No. 75, and that was (sorry about this!) the end of the Innocence. In 1969, the duo released The Anders & Poncia Album on Warner Brothers, but that went nowhere as well. AMG says that the duo teamed up once more in the 1970s but says nothing about what might have resulted from the reunion.

What we do know is that Poncia stayed in music in roles other than lead performer. He was actively involved in Ringo Starr’s career in the early 1970s, playing some instruments, earning some song-writing credits and even being listed as co-producer of Goodnight Vienna in 1974. From then on, Poncia worked with Peter Criss of Kiss and then with Kiss itself, producing a sequence of albums evidently considered travesties by most Kiss fans. During the Eighties, Poncia continued to produce, but AMG says that after co-writing some songs for Hot in the Shade, a 1989 released by Kiss, “it appears as though Poncia has retired from music altogether.”