Archive for the ‘2009/04 (April)’ Category

Jeff, EW&F, Boz, Bubble Puppy & The Doors

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 30, 2009

One of the things that made Jeff Healey such a powerful guitar player was his lap-style playing, which – if not unique – was at least a rare technique. Here’s a clip of Healey and his band performing Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” during a March 26, 1995, performance at the Sudbahnhof in Frankfurt, Germany.

Video deleted.

There are few things that go together better than funky music and excessive 1980’s style costumes. Here’s the video – the height of style and technique then and wonderfully cheesy today – that was released in 1981 for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”

I can’t post it here, but here’s a link to a very nice performance by Boz Scaggs of “We’re All Alone.” It’s from 2004 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francsicso. (The recording cuts off too soon, but it’s still a great performance.) (Video deleted as of June 20, 2012.)

Here’s a video posted to the Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass.” There’s nothing new there musically, but you can see some record covers, posters and photos of the band.

Then, here’s a live soundstage performance by the Doors of “Wishful Sinful.” Based on the Doors’ appearances, this dates from sometime in 1970, probably around the time the band was working on L.A. Woman.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably do something to mark May Day again. Exactly what that’s going to be I don’t know right now, but this time, it will at least be on the right day.

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On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

‘Outside, The Rain Begins . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 28, 2009

Well, I just spent an hour combing through ten different versions of Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone,” the gorgeous song that’s the closer to Scaggs’ 1976 album Silk Degrees.

Feeling a bit like Andy Rooney this morning, I’ll just note that Silk Degrees – though I’ve certainly become accustomed to it – is an odd name for an album. What does it mean? How many degrees are there in silk? I wonder if sometime, somewhere, Boz Scaggs told the story.

Anyway, looking for a cover version to share, I just listened to the original version of “We’re All Alone” and nine covers. And none of them really blew me away. One of the things that I did find interesting when I began to look for covers through All-Music Guide was the evident popularity of the song in the Pacific Rim. I found versions by Japanese singers, by singers from the Philippines and by a Hawaii-based duo named Cecilio & Kapono, and I saw listings at AMG for more versions of the tune from that area of the world.

Unhappily, none of those versions seemed to add anything to the song, and that’s too bad. The song is one of those that can get inside my head and whirl around for an hour or so, one of the most tolerable of earworms. I almost certainly heard the song for the first time not long after Silk Degrees was released in 1976, when I was living in the cold house on the North Side of St. Cloud, about two blocks from both the rail yards and a neighborhood beer joint called the Black Door Club.

(The owner of the bar said the name didn’t signify anything: “When I bought the place,” he told a few of us over a pitcher of Grain Belt one Saturday afternoon, “the door was painted black. I thought that was strange, but I wasn’t gonna repaint it. And then I was tryin’ to come up with a name for the place, and the best I could do was the Black Door Club.”)

Anyway, one of my three roommates in the autumn of 1976 brought home Silk Degrees and began playing it – a lot. At least daily for three weeks, he dropped it on the stereo in the living room or the stereo in his room. It didn’t take long before I knew the record very, very well. Kevin moved out at the end of fall quarter and headed off into adult life, taking the record with him. At that time, I didn’t have a list of music I wanted to collect. When I felt like getting something new, I headed to Musicland or Shopko and rifled through the bins, or else I headed to Axis downtown and looked through the used records, and I bought whatever I found. I imagine if I’d run across a copy of Silk Degrees, I would have bought it.

But my album log says that I didn’t bring Silk Degrees home until December 1, 1977. I remember buying the record as a celebration. That day had seen the publication of the first edition of the Monticello Times with my byline in it. And when I played the record in my small apartment that evening, I realized how much I had missed hearing it. Oh, I’d heard the singles, of course: “Lowdown” had spent fifteen weeks in the Top 40 in the late summer and fall of 1976, reaching No. 3, and “Lido Shuffle” had peaked at No. 11 during a nine-week stay in the Top 40 during the spring of 1977, and both continued to get some airplay. (The first chart single from the album, “It’s Over,” had gone to No. 38 in the spring before I moved to the north side; a fourth single, “What Can I Say,” failed to reach the Top 40.)

It was sweet that evening to hear my own copy of the album. And over the years, it’s an album I go back to time and again. In fact, in a post here in June 2007, I put Silk Degrees on a list of my thirteen favorite albums. Lists like that are often fluid, and if I did a similar list now without referring to the earlier list, there would likely be some changes. But Silk Degrees would stay there, I’m sure.

Is “We’re All Alone” the best track on the record? Maybe. Beyond the singles, which are almost too familiar to assess, I like “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?” and “Harbor Lights.” But I keep coming back to “We’re All Alone” as my favorite on the record.

Scaggs’ version of “We’re All Alone,”, even though it’s the original, likely isn’t the best known: Rita Coolidge’s cover of the song went to No. 7 in the latter months of 1977, but I’ve never cared much for Coolidge’s version. Others who have covered the song – according to All-Music Guide – include Joe Augustine, Acker Bilk, the Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawaii, Linda Eder, Lesley Gore, Engelbert Humperdinck, Bob James, Steve Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Reba McIntire, Natalia, Newton, the Romantic Strings, Lars Roos, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Frankie Valli, the Ventures, the Walker Brothers and the West Coast All-Stars.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard eight covers of the song, and none of them blew me away. But two of them, I thought, were pretty good. The Three Degrees, the Philadelphia R&B trio that showed up on MFSB’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia” (No. 1 in 1974) and had a good career on its own (“When Will I See You Again” went to No. 2 in 1974), covered the song for its 1977 album Standing Up For Love. And Pieces Of A Dream, a long-lived Philadelphia jazz/R&B group, covered “We’re All Alone” on its 1994 album Goodbye Manhattan.

“We’re All Alone” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees [1976]

“We’re All Alone” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love [1977]

“We’re All Alone” by Pieces Of A Dream from Goodbye Manhattan [1994]

Waiting In The Training Room

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 27, 2009

Come the spring of 1969, I was in demand as an athletic manager at St. Cloud Tech. The baseball coach asked if I was interested in helping out his team, and the track manager wondered if I wanted to work with his distance runners.

I was years away from becoming truly interested in baseball, and my sister’s high school boyfriend had run track. I’d enjoyed watching the meets, so I went with track as a manager for the distance runners.

It was a choice I regretted almost immediately. The coaches decided my role as manager that spring was to wait in the training room – tucked to the side of the varsity locker room – and maintain the primitive whirlpool tub for those runners who thought they needed it after finishing their distance runs. Every afternoon during what I remember as a beautiful spring, I sat in the training room and – most of the time – waited.

As the runners came back in, some would settle themselves in the whirlpool tub and others would gather in the training room, and they’d share jest and japes and ribald jokes. Sometimes they included me; sometimes not. I was, after all, only a sophomore.

I didn’t even get to go the meets, as there were always distance runners who were not varsity-level, and they did their practice runs around town as the meets went on. And I was required to have the whirlpool available for them when they finished their practice runs.

As I waited, I read. But sometimes, I’d tire of even that, and I’d sit there in the otherwise empty locker room and training room, wishing I were sitting in a dugout on a ball field somewhere. And I didn’t even have a radio.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 26, 1969)
“Do Your Thing” by the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Warner Bros. 7250 (No. 11)
“Hot Smoke and Sassafras” by the Bubble Puppy, Int’l. Artists 128 (No. 28)
“Grazing in the Grass” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA Victor 0107 (No. 36)
“Wishful, Sinful” by the Doors, Elektra 45656 (No. 44)
“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill/ABC 4187 (No. 66)
“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” by the Ronettes, A&M 1040 (No. 108)

The only one of these I recall hearing at the time is the Friends of Distinction record. Having posted Hugh Masekela’s instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass” a little more than a week ago, I couldn’t pass up the chance to offer the Friends’ vocal cover of the tune, which flies off into a much more rapid tempo. I still love the “I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it” bridge. I wonder how many takes it took to nail that? The record was on its way up the chart on April 26, having jumped to No. 36 from No. 65 the week before. It would peak at No. 3.

“Do Your Thing,” which hit its peak in the April 26 chart, is about as funky as Top 40 ever got, I think. Well, maybe Parliament/Funkadelic and James Brown, but “Do Your Thing” is certainly in the conversation. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was an eight-man group from the Watts section of Los Angeles brought together by Charles Wright, who hailed from Clarksdale, Mississippi. This was the first of three Top 40 singles for the group; the others – “Love Land” and “Express Yourself,” which went to No. 16 and No. 12, respectively, in 1970 – were credited to Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.

Bubble Puppy was a quartet from Houston, Texas, whose psychedelic garage-rocker “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” had peaked at No. 14 in March and was sliding its way back down the chart. Latter-day explorers into the music of 1969 might expect to find the record to be a slice of sunshine pop based on the group’s cutesy name. Nah. “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” rocks pretty well.

The Doors’ “Wishful, Sinful” is an intriguing listen from this distance, maybe better today than I recall it being. The follow-up to “Touch Me,” which had reached No. 3 in February 1969, “Wishful, Sinful” just missed the Top 40, sitting at No. 44 for two weeks. The next week it was at No. 45 and then it tumbled out of sight. I don’t know that I heard it during the spring of 1969; I recall it more clearly from my first year of college, when one of my friends played the Doors’ The Soft Parade at least daily in his dorm room.

Every once in a while, as the Grass Roots’ songs came out of the radio speakers, I’d wonder: Who are those guys? Even if I’d had the resources – and the inclination – to dig, it would have been hard to know, says All-Music Guide, “because there were at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs identified as being by ‘the Grass Roots.’” You can read at AMG the tangled history of P.F. Sloan, Steve Barri, the Bedouins, the 13th Floor and other musicians that fell in and out of the tale of the Grass Roots. What’s left behind is some of the best pop-rock of the Top 40 era, fourteen Top 40 hits from “Where Were You When I Needed You” (No. 28 in 1966) to “The Runaway” (No. 39 in 1972). The highest charting Grass Roots’ single was “Midnight Confession,” which went to No. 5 in 1968. “The River Is Wide,” which is one of my favorites, was one of the less-successful singles, only reaching No. 31.

I don’t know a lot about “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” by the Ronettes. In the notes to Back to Mono, the 1991 Phil Spector box set, the single is listed as being recorded in February 1969. That’s the last mention of the Ronettes and the last month covered by the box set. (Two singles come after “You Came . . .” in the set: “Black Pearl” and “Love Is All I Have To Give” by Sonny Charles & the Checkmates, but they, too, are listed only as being recorded in February.) The April 26 chart was the fourth and final time that the record was listed in the “Bubbling Under the Hot 100,” and I’m wondering two things: Were the sessions that created the record the last time that Spector worked with the Ronettes? And was this the last appearance of the Ronettes on a Billboard chart? (I would guess caithiseach has the answers, if he’ll be kind enough to share.)*

*I still do not know if this was the last time the Ronettes worked with Phil Spector, but I do know that, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” was in fact the final chart appearance for the Ronettes. Note added June 20, 2012.

Saturday Single No. 127

June 20, 2012

I spent a couple evenings this week watching – on DVD – the first three episodes of Mad Men, the drama about a top-tier advertising agency in New York in the late 1950s. The show began its run on cable network AMC two years ago; I’ve always intended to watch it, but never managed to even remember to program the DVR to record the show.

In some ways, though, I think that being able to watch episodes in clusters, rather than a week at a time, is better. The experience, the drama, the focus on the character’s lives is more concentrated. Anyway, I found the first three episodes fascinating and can hardly wait until the second disc of the show arrives in the mail.

Part of that enjoyment and anticipation is for the drama itself. The main characters are interesting, from the somewhat mysterious ad exec Dan Draper, who seems to be the hub of the show, through his various co-workers, some of whom are seemingly destined to be very bad news, to Draper’s family and neighbors on their tree-lined suburban street. One anticipates all sorts of possible story lines. And the writing is generally sharp and sometimes witty. I haven’t yet heard a line that makes me gape at the screen in admiration for the writer, but the quality of the scripts pretty much promises me that I will.

But what makes Mad Men so interesting to me is the details, the peripheral things that become so crucial in producing a period piece: the scene-setting, costuming, art decoration and set decoration: From the clothing to the cars, from the martini-lubricated dinners in the best restaurants to the cigarettes that fill the air everywhere, from the hi-fi cabinet at the end of Draper’s couch to the jarring sight of a polio-crippled boy lurching through a living room with his crutches and braces, Mad Men gets it right and shows a world of urban gloss and suburban certainty.

And I find it fascinating, on three levels. First, the writer and viewer in me anticipate that neither that gloss nor that certainty will run very deep: I expect shiny surfaces to crack and unexamined beliefs to wither as the first season runs on.

Then, the historian that I am nods at references to events and pop culture, to mentions of new products and long-gone institutions. (I wonder how many viewers knew what an Automat was?) The show’s website says the show begins in 1960, and the entry for the show at Wikipedia says the first episode is set in March of that year. There is talk around the ad agency – but so far no action – of working for Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign. Right Guard show up as the first aerosol spray deodorant, and in the very first episode, Draper is struggling to advertise cigarettes in light of a federal ruling that advertising can no longer say cigarettes have health benefits.

And finally, inside me, the boy who once was stares at the world he once lived in: The mix of stylish tail-finned late model cars and the boxy post-war models that had once seemed so stylish themselves. The snippets of television sound – familiar voices, both dramatic and commercial – one hears occasionally in the background. The casual and unthinking sexism, racism and other types of discrimination. And seemingly a thousand small details, like using an opener on a can of beer. All of it added up to make those three hours this week a visit to that other world, a world that was already beginning to change, mostly in ways that we here – nearly fifty years later – will approve.

As I watched, there came both a sense of foreboding and an odd, almost yearning, sense of something that was not quite grief; call it melancholy. The foreboding was for the characters on the screen, for the writing had done its job: I care about them and wonder what lies in store. The sense of melancholy was, I think, because that world on the screen, the world of tailfins and television shows, of braces and bottle openers, was the world around me when I became self-aware. We all live in different worlds as we age, sequential but different as the years pass. And much of the world of Mad Men is the first world I lived in, and I recall it only a little. Seeing it onscreen this week in its full and foolish glory was like opening a long-lost scrapbook in which I keep those memories.

That scrapbook is not entirely benign: Some of those memories I’d just as soon not have. Others are more pleasant to recall, gentle dispatches from a world that went away long ago.

I’ve been listening to a lot of late 1950s Sinatra this week, and I thought I might find something there, perhaps “Willow, Weep For Me.” But I looked a bit deeper into the digital files and found a Dinah Washington recording from 1959 for today’s Saturday Single.

This Bitter Earth

This bitter earth:
What fruit it bears.
What good is love
That no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose,
What good am I?
Heaven only knows.

This bitter Earth:
Can it be so cold?
Today you’re young,
Too soon you’re old
But while a voice
Within me cries,
I’m sure someone
May answer my call,
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all.

“This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington, New York City, 1959 (Mercury 71635)

Revised slightly on archival posting.

William, Friends Of Distinction & Hugh

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 23, 2009

I thought it might be slim pickings at YouTube for this week’s posts, quite likely because the posts have been slender as well. But I found a few interesting things.

Here’s what looks to be a relatively recent performance by William Bell of “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Seeing the “Soulsville” emblazoned on the drum makes me wonder if the performance didn’t come from a Stax tribute or something like that in Memphis.

I couldn’t find any video of Hugh Masekela performing “Grazing in the Grass,” but here’s the Friends of Distinction during a 1970 television performance. In the spring of 1969, eight months after Masekela’s instrumental version of the song went to No. 1. The Friends’ vocal version got as high as No. 3.

Video deleted.

Here’s a nice find: Hugh Masekela and his band performing “Coal Train (Stimela)” at the Artists Against Apartheid’s June 28, 1986, Freedom Beat festival at London’s Clapham Common.

Tomorrow – and I promise! – we’ll do an unplayed records grab bag. I’ll have the Texas Gal pull some LPs at random from the unplayed stacks and we’ll pull a selection from five of those and take a listen to a track from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus. And we’ll see what we can learn.

About “Wade In The Water”
My thanks to Yah Shure for taking time to dig into the differing versions of Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade in the Water.” He left his conclusions in the comments to yesterday’s post. He first said:

“I timed my 45 of ‘Wade In The Water.’ The time listed on the label is 3:05, but the actual run time is 3:16. I don’t believe that it’s simply an early fade of the album version, but I’ll have to dive again to compare the two.”

After investigation, Yah Shure reported:

“Upon further review, the single version of ‘Wade In The Water’ is not an early fade. It contains four seconds’ worth of material that is not on the album/CD version!

“Aside from minor speed variations, both versions are identical up until 2:58 into the recording. At that point, each version utilizes different takes from the recording session. There’s a little piano trill on the 45 that is not on the LP, along with other differences in the piano and brass. This difference lasts only four seconds. Then, at 3:02, both versions once again become identical. The 45 begins its fade at 3:03, and is out completely at 3:16. The LP/CD track finally fades out completely at about 3:47.

“Mix differences such as these are not all that rare between single and album versions. Although they may seem quite minor, they demonstrate the lengths record producers went to in order to get a hit on the radio.”

(That means that one of the two versions I have is evidently the CD/LP track, with the other of them an edit that was given a fade ten seconds earlier. I never know what to do when I come across this stuff. Do I delete the one that’s the anomaly? If it pops up again, will I recall the information Yah Shure sent along? Good questions for which I have no answers.)

The Plumbers Are Here!

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 22, 2009

The best laid plans and all that . . .

As I mentioned yesterday, I had planned to pull tracks from six of the records in the unplayed stacks for today’s post. But yesterday afternoon, our landlord called: He’d scheduled the long-awaited work on our water pipes.

So this morning, the cats are sequestered upstairs and the plumbers are pulling down pipes in the basement. We have plenty of bottled water in the fridge. I have my thermos of coffee in the study, and I am – as is my tendency – pretty well distracted.

The morning’s events, did, however, remind me of my one attempt to work with plumbing and similar fixtures. Sometime during the late 1970s, the float and attached mechanism in our toilet tank quit working. Even a relative novice like me could see that it needed to be replaced. Assuming that my ability to diagnose conferred upon me an equal ability to repair, I stopped by the local plumbing store and told the clerk what I’d seen.

He agreed with my diagnosis and showed me some options for replacement of the worn-out parts. I bought the package of stuff that fell into the midrange, and on Saturday morning, carried my minimally stocked toolbox into the bathroom, turned off the water and proceeded to take the offending pieces of equipment out.

And I then realized that to install their replacements, I needed a wrench larger than anything I had in my possession. The lady of the house was watching my progress from out in the corridor, and I could tell from the look on her face that she’d come to the same realization I had: I needed help. “What are we gonna do?” she asked.

I told her what I planned, and she nodded. Then I did what every I’d guess nearly every young homeowner does the first time one of his handyman projects exceeds his grasp: I called Dad. I’m not sure what he was doing on that long-ago Saturday, but without hesitation, he gathered his tools – including the large adjustable wrench – and drove the thirty miles from St. Cloud to Monticello. About twenty minutes after his arrival, the toilet was reassembled and working.

George the Plumber tells me that he and his assistant will finish the work sometime late this afternoon. Water will flow once more. So here’s a selection of songs that fit today’s events:

A Six-Pack of Water and Plumbers
“Wade In The Water” by Ramsey Lewis, Cadet 5541, 1966
“Hot Water” by the Ides of March from Midnight Oil, 1973
“No Water In The Well” by Wishbone Ash from Locked In, 1976
“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell, Stax 116, 1962
“You Left The Water Running” by Maurice & Mac, Checker 1197, 1968
“The Plumber” by the Ovations from Sweet Thing, 1973

I have two versions of the Ramsey Lewis track. In these days of reissues and bonus tracks, I’m not sure that either of the two – one runs 3:36 and the other about 3:46 – is the original Cadet single. I’m posting the track that runs 3:36. (Yah Shure? You got this one covered?) Either way, it’s a delightful track that went to No. 19 in the summer of 1966.*

As I clicked from track to track with the word “water” in their titles, I didn’t expect much from either the Ides of March or Wishbone Ash. Both surprised me pleasantly. “Hot Water” turned out to be a mid-tempo rocker that owes maybe a little bit to Bachman-Turner Overdrive; it doesn’t sound a bit like a track from the same band that did the horn-heavy “Vehicle” three years earlier. “No Water In The Well” is much more melodic and atmospheric than the usual work by Wishbone Ash (although that’s true of about half the tracks on Locked In), and the group pulls the song off with more delicacy than I would have anticipated.

The William Bell and Maurice & Mac tracks have been anointed classic soul singles long after the fact and in spite of chart performance. Bell’s single was hardly noticed when it came out: It went only to No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100. But that was a better fate than the one that fell to “You Left The Water Running.” The Checker single didn’t even enter either the Billboard Hot 100 or the magazine’s R&B chart. Writer Dave Marsh notes in The Heart of Rock & Soul that the single did spend three weeks in the lower portions of the Cash Box R&B chart. (Thanks to Caesar Tjalbo for the Maurice & Mac track.)**

I know nothing about the Ovations. All-Music Guide says: “Despite having only one Top Ten R&B hit, the Ovations were a superb Southern soul trio. The original group featured Louis Williams and made some great ballads that were sung so vividly and produced in such raw fashion that they never reached the wider soul market. Though they reached the R&B charts twice during the late ’60s (with ‘It’s Wonderful to Be in Love’ and ‘Me and My Imagination’), the group eventually disbanded. By 1971, a new trio had resurfaced, with former Nightingales Rochester Neal, Bill Davis, and Quincy Billops, Jr. A remake of Sam Cooke’s ‘Having a Party’ in 1973 gave them their lone Top Ten R&B hit.”

Sweet Thing, from which “The Plumber” comes, was recorded in the late 1970s, according to a note at AMG, but I’ve got three tracks from the album (without having any idea where I found them), and I’ve seen a 1973 date for them. Anyone know anything?

*Yah Shure did in fact come through. His assessment of the versions of “Wade In The Water” is at the bottom of the post here. The version in the original post was not the single; the linked video is. Note added July 1, 2013.

 

** Caesar Tjalbo is still online, but there have been no new posts there for almost two years. Note added June 20, 2012.

Look To Tomorrow

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 21, 2009

I’m a little subpar this morning, so there won’t be a post today, folks. I will be back tomorrow, when I think we’ll dip into the unplayed LP stacks and see what treasures (or dross) linger there. (In doing so, we’ll satisfy our curiosity and the request of the Kiddie Corner Kid for some music by the Willmar Boys’ Chorus.)

Until then, here’s another tune I like from a CD I recently featured. And no, the title is not prophetic, one hopes.

“Tomorrow Never Comes” by Big Head Todd & the Monsters from Sister Sweetly [1993]

About Heartsfield
I got a pleasant note the other day from Heartsfield, the country-rock band whose 1970s music I featured a while back. The band is still going strong and all of its early CDs are in print and available, as are newer albums and some other treasures. You can stop by the band’s website or go see the group’s MySpace page.

‘If We Don’t Understand It . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 20, 2009

I don’t often comment here on public affairs. Not all folks who love music the way my readers and I do will agree when it comes to politics or current events, and I want to keep this a place where the only conflicts come from differing views on, say, the White Album.

But two comments in separate reports aired on the CBS Evening News Saturday and Sunday caught my ear, and I thought both were worth mentioning:

First came a piece aired Saturday by Jeff Glor, looking at why “Canada is the only industrialized nation in the world without a single bank failure in the current economic downturn.” Glor talked to, among others, Ed Clark, the chief executive officer of the Toronto Dominion bank. Glor and Clark talked about subprime mortgages and the related topic of toxic mortgage-backed securities, which Glor described as “risky loans that were chopped up and resold in countless different ways.”

Many banks, Glor said, “gobbled up the now virtually worthless investments. Ed Clark got out four years ago saying they were just too complex.”

Clark told Glor: “As soon as you see that complexity, you say, ‘How can I possibly think I actually can guess whether this will work or not?’ And as soon as I hear that, I say, ‘Get out of it.’”

Then on Sunday, CBS’ Sheila MacVicar filed a piece on the only financial institution in Iceland that did not lose money for its customers during the near-collapse of that nation’s banking system. The company, Audur Capital, happens to have been founded by two women, which is where MacVicar found her hook for the story. MacVicar asked Audur’s Halla Tomasdattir – one of the two founders, one assumes, though she was not identified as such – and others whether our current economic woes might have been avoided if more women had been involved in finance.

MacVicar reports that the answer is “maybe,” bringing in research involving the impact on trading results of high testosterone levels among male traders as well as research looking at the performances of offices with more women in them than is generally the case. All of that is interesting, but I think MacVicar glossed over a key point that she herself mentioned early in her report.

While showing Tomasdattir in a meeting with two men and another woman – the other woman being, one assumes, the other founder of Audur – MacVicar says in a voice-over that the firm was founded on the principle of “If we don’t understand it, we’re not buying it.”

So, to recap:

Toronto banker Ed Clark says “As soon as you see that complexity, you say, ‘How can I possibly think I actually can guess whether this will work or not?’ And as soon as I hear that, I say, ‘Get out of it.’”

And the founding principle of Iceland’s only financial institution not to lose money for its customers is: “If we don’t understand it, we’re not buying it.”

Sounds like common sense to me. Too bad there wasn’t more of that around.

And Now, To Some Music
Thankfully, I understand music well enough that I can buy it. And I do so frequently.

I celebrated my increasing mobility Saturday by walking into the Electric Fetus with only the barest hint of a limp and heading to the portion of the used CD stand that holds the new arrivals. And there, waiting for me, were two sweet finds: Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind from 1997 and Honky Château, the 1972 album by Elton John. Both fall under the category of albums I already have on vinyl that I wanted to duplicate on CD.

Eventually, I imagine, I’m going to try to collect the entire works – mainstream releases, anyway – of Bob Dylan on CD. I have, I believe, every official LP release of his stuff, and I’m well on the way to gathering in his work on CD. The Time Out Of Mind album was a pleasant surprise. I knew it was out there, but I’d never looked for it, given its relatively recent release date. (I got the album on vinyl when it was released; its availability on vinyl was a relief to me, as had been the vinyl release in 1995 of MTV Unplugged because two earlier releases in the mid-1990s – World Gone Wrong and Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 – had not been released on LP.)

As for Honky Château, it’s one of John’s few full albums that I enjoy, and it seemed a reasonable addition to the stacks, where Madman Across the Water already resided. We also have a couple of John’s hits packages on CD, and – with the possible addition of Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection – that will likely suffice.

There aren’t a lot of groups or acts that compel me to assemble a complete set: That pretty much comes down to Dylan, the Beatles and The Band. The vinyl work was completed on all three of those long ago, and the CD collections are under way. In fact, the first CD I bought for myself was one by The Band.

For Christmas 1998, my sister and her family gave me my first CD player, an Aiwa portable, along with Across The Great Divide, a three-CD box set of highlights from The Band’s career.

And one of the first purchases I made on CD was The Band’s High On The Hog, the second album of new material released by the 1990s version of the group. (I already had Jericho, the first 1990s release, on cassette, so I thought the CD could wait a bit.)

I recall wandering through the aisles of a Best Buy store in the southern Minneapolis suburb of Richfield one Saturday morning in February of 1999.( I’m not sure why I ended up at a Best Buy several miles from my home instead of the nearby Cheapo’s.) But in short order, I found the right spot in the CD aisles. And I found myself put off a great deal by the cover art for High On The Hog. Looking at it now, it’s not all that bad, but at the time, I thought it was a grotesque cover design. Still, it was The Band, so I pulled the CD from the shelf, paid for it and headed home for a listen.

How was it? Overall, it wasn’t as good as Jericho had been. Once again, the group relied almost entirely on covers for material, but in general, those covers worked well with the ensemble-style voices and with the genial Americana-inflected arrangements. The two songs with writing credits that include the group are “The High Price of Love,” credited to Stan Szelest, Jules Shear and The Band, and “Ramble Jungle,” a loose jam that is credited to Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, bassist Rob Leon, Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and blues legend Champion Jack Dupree, who does a guest spot.

Neither of those tracks is among the CD’s highlights. Those would be the group’s versions of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” as well as “Where I Should Always Be,” a song written by Blondie Chaplin, who adds guitar to another track on the CD, “I Must Love You Too Much.”

As on Jericho, Richard Manuel makes a posthumous appearance, this time in a performance of “She Knows” recorded with the now-deceased Rick Danko and Garth Hudson in 1986 at New York City’s Lone Star Cafe in January 1986. The inclusion of “Country Boy” on Jericho was a nice touch, but to my ears, “She Knows” adds very little to High On The Hog.

Still, it’s a pretty good album. The playing, as was almost always the case with The Band, is stellar, with the three new members – drummer Ciarlante, guitarist Weider and keyboard player Richard Bell – having settled well into an ensemble with original members Helm, Hudson and Danko.

Tracks
Stand Up
Back To Memphis
Where I Should Always Be
Free Your Mind
Forever Young
The High Price Of Love
Crazy Mama
I Must Love You Too Much
She Knows
Ramble Jungle

High On The Hog by The Band [1996]

Reposts
Rick Danko [1977]
Original post here.

Danko/Fjeld/Anderson by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen [1991]
and
Ridin’ On The Blinds by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen [1994]
Original post here.

Saturday Singles Nos. 124, 125 & 126

June 1, 2012

Originally posted April 18, 2009

Last week, as I began to look at the records I’ve purchased in April over the years, we got as far as 1989, when I was beginning to pack up after two years of teaching at Minot State University. A year later, in April of 1990, I moved from Minnesota to a Kansas hamlet, where a lady friend waited. I bought no records in April of 1990, and in July of that year, I moved from that small town in Kansas to Columbia, Missouri, to teach once more.

In the spring of 1991, the staff at the student radio station at Stephens College finished cleaning off its shelves. I’d gotten quite a few records in March; my April haul that month was minimal. I brought home some Jake Holmes, some Ides of March, a couple albums by the Sutherland Brothers and the Balkan Rhythm Band’s album The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around! I got a Barbra Streisand album at a garage sale and went to one of Columbia’s downtown emporiums to get the new Ryko release – on translucent green vinyl – of Ringo Starr’s first tour in 1989 with his All-Starr Band.

In August of 1991, it was back to Minnesota and to journalism, as I took a job in Eden Prairie, one of the Twin Cities’ southwestern suburbs, and I found an apartment in a northwestern suburb, leaving me with a twenty-mile commute through some of the thickest traffic in the Twin Cities. I liked my job, but I didn’t care for much else that was going on, and – and I find this remarkable – I didn’t buy a record from the end of July 1991, just before I left Columbia, until April of 1992, when I moved to Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, five blocks from Cheapo’s.

In the first days of that April, a garage sale brought me a local gospel album by the Greater Sabathani Baptist Church Mass Choir, and later that week, on my first visit to Cheapo’s, I picked up Bruce Springsteen’s pair of new releases, Lucky Town and Human Touch. As the month wore on, I found Jesse Winchester, Dobie Gray’s Drift Away and Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Dancer With Bruised Knees. In retrospect, that month’s purchases seem tentative. By the time April danced around again, I’d added more than a hundred and seven LPs to the stacks. (More likely to the growing collection of crates on the floor of my small apartment, as the big shelves themselves were beginning to be filled.)

Looking at the LP log this morning, I see a pattern I’d never noticed before, one for which I have no explanation. In the early 1990s, I bought lots of records during summer, fall and winter, and then – even living so close to Cheapo’s – my purchases tailed off in spring. The only reason I can think of is that, as a reporter whose work was tied closely to goings-on in the schools, spring was a busier season than the others. But April 1993 found me bringing home only three LPs: one by Billy Ocean, one by Sade and one by James Taylor. In April 1994, it was one album each by the Crystals, Boz Scaggs and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. In April 1995, it was one Eric Clapton album and one by Minnie Riperton. In April 1996, the month when I left journalism and began a two-and-a-half-year period of scuffling, I got LPs by Ringo Starr, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Hurricane Smith.

Cheapo’s moved eight blocks further away. My car died. I used my 1965 Schwinn to get around the neighborhood, and I rode Metro buses to get to my long-term temp jobs downtown. And I began to get real serious about buying records, as music seemed like the only thing at the time that was helping me maintain my equilibrium. Eleven LPs in April of 1997, starting with The Best of Delaney & Bonnie and ending with the O’Jays’ Collectors Items. April of 1998 brought me twenty-five LPs: The first was Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone collection, the last was Cris Williamson’s Blue Rider, and the most interesting was likely Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns: The Imperial Sides 1960-61.

In April 1999, during the last spring I was within biking distance of Cheapo’s, I brought home fifty-seven records. The first was Cold Blood’s Thriller! The last was Jim Horn’s Neon Nights. And the most interesting? Probably Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, the 1987 LP that followed in the path of the Nonesuch Explorer series, delving – for three more albums on vinyl and CD – into the odd, dissonant and compelling choral music of Bulgaria.

Fifty-seven records in one April. I don’t know if that’s a record for an entire month. I imagine we’ll find out as we go through the log month-by-month. I do know that come the next April, in early 2000, I was no longer in the workforce, I was seven miles further from Cheapo’s (though there were used record stores near where I lived, just none nearly as good), and, having gone online and digital, I was thinking a lot about CDs.

I bought two records in April 2000: the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing (to replace a damaged copy I’d had for years) and an anthology titled Guys With Soul Are The Greatest. In April 2001, I bought a sealed copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Live In New York City. And in 2002, I brought home an anthology of blues artists who recorded for Atlantic Records in the 1950 and 1960s.

By this time, the Texas Gal and I were in the ’burbs, planning our retreat to St. Cloud, and the majority of my record-shopping was done online. In April 2003, I got Eric Burdon Declares “War” and Johnny Jenkins’ marvelous Ton Ton Macoute!, some of which is laid on instrumental tracks that were intended for a Duane Allman solo album. By the time we got to St. Cloud, even online purchases were infrequent, and most of my vinyl hunting came at the occasional garage sale. April 2004 brought me two Steve Forbert LPs at a garage sale, and April 2007 brought me Shawn Phillips’ Collaboration (such a quiet album that I’ve never found a worthwhile vinyl copy although I’ve purchased maybe ten of them) and Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. And last April, in a store I’d not seen before, tucked into a strip mall behind Red Lobster, I found R.B. Greaves and Very Extremely Dangerous by Muscle Shoals guitar stalwart Eddie Hinton.

Given such a mishmash of possibilities, I’ve decided to share three songs this morning. So, from vinyl ranging from near-pristine to well-used, here are your Saturday Singles:

“Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” by R.B. Greaves from R.B. Greaves [1969]

“Karlov’s Gankino” by the Balkan Rhythm Band from The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around! [1983]

“Down Along The Cove” by Johnny Jenkins (with Duane Allman et al.) from Ton Ton Macoute! [1970]