Archive for the ‘Saturday Single’ Category

Saturday Single No. 148

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 12, 2009.

I never did get to looking at August LP acquisitions in the years after 1989; time and circumstance have made that idea bit outdated. Perhaps when August turns our way again, I’ll recall and then remedy that omission. On the other hand, there may be more vibrant things about which to write when the eighth month comes to call next summer.

And the first September Saturday has slid past without my marking it here. I was – as regulars know – taking a few days off to move my figurative stuff here to WordPress. So I thought we’d just jump over August and see what records came my way in September, starting this week with the years from 1964 through 1989. (Some of these will be among the most enduring records in my collection, as my birthday falls in this month, and my family and friends have generally had a good idea of what I’d like.)

My first album, as I’ve noted here more than once, was Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which showed up on the turntable early one morning in 1964. A year later, Sonny and Cher’s Look At Us occupied the same space. During the summer of 1967, I spent a week at a band camp on the campus of what was then Bemidji State College, nestled among the pines of Northern Minnesota; in September, I received in the mail an LP made up of the various bands’ performances during that week’s culminating concert.

The Beatles’ Revolver, an album I consider either the best or second-best that group ever recorded (it changes places with Abbey Road in my internal rankings), came my way in September 1970. And then we jump to 1974, when I picked up on a September evening the first of the two Duane Allman anthologies.

In 1977, having tentatively entered the workforce, I found a used copy of the Moody Blues’ Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and later that month, I bought from a co-worker three albums: Seals & Crofts’ Greatest Hits, Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits and Michael Johnson There is a Breeze. (The latter was quite possibly the final step toward collecting all the music we had listened to in the lounge during my stay in Denmark four years earlier.)

I found myself from time to time dipping into classical music, sometimes purchasing recordings of pieces I played as part of the St. Cloud Tech High School Orchestra, other times just trying something new. During a shopping trip to the Twin Cities in September 1978, I found a sale on classical recordings; I bought two records, one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 5, and one of Wolfgang Mozart’s Symphonies No. 40 and No. 41. Three years later, in September 1981, I added a collection of George Gershwin pieces to the classical shelf, and then put a copy of the Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager on the main shelf.

For some reason, September in the earlier years isn’t a month jammed with lots of record acquisitions. An accident of timing, I guess. We move forward several years – and several life changes – to 1987, when my birthday brought me Dan Fogelberg’s Nether Lands and the soundtrack to the movie Stand By Me (a record packed with fine music from the latter years of the 1950s). Later that month, I’d add John Wesley Harding, a great album, and Real Live, an okay album, to my growing collection of the works of Bob Dylan.

September of 1988 was a different story. I added thirty-eight LPs to the shelves that month, with the most interesting of them being maybe a clutch of records by the Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa, The Grateful Dead and Workingman’s Dead. The least of those September records? Well, there were a couple of anthologies that might have been half-good, but I’d say that chief among the records that didn’t age well were Luna Sea by Firefall and Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than The Speed Of Night.

A year later, I bought only a few records in September (having binged in July and August). During a trip to visit a lady friend in Kansas, I spent some money in Wichita on a few Gordon Lightfoot albums, one Gram Parsons, a copy of the early Beatles album, Introducing the Beatles on Vee-Jay (an album that’s almost certainly a fake printed long after the fact, as are most supposed copies of the Vee-Jay record these days), a Sly & the Family Stone album and the charity extravaganza, We Are The World. Back in Minnesota, I found the History of Eric Clapton, every track of which I had on other Clapton albums, and Roxy Music’s brilliant Avalon, introducing myself finally to the British band.

And that’s a nice place to stop for a Saturday Single.

“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]

Saturday Single No. 147

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 30, 2009

Note from 2022: I evidently posted about the death of musician Larry Knechtel on this day, but that post is for some reason missing from my Word archives. The files do contain an addendum to the post from later that day:

I posted about Larry Knechtel this morning. And early this afternoon, I got a note from Patti Dahlstrom:

Dearest Family and Friends,

I have just received the sad news today from Art Munson and Artie Wayne that a dear friend of mine, Larry Knechtel, has passed on.  Larry was a legend in pop music, still more than that he was one of the most down-to-earth people and true hearts I have ever known.  I was blessed to have Larry play piano on my 3rd album.  He came into my life when I was deeply heart-broken, as I had lost a great love and my piano player.  He stepped in with compassion and patience and we quickly became good friends. He played piano, bass, harmonica and sang background vocals, as well as producing and arranging my 4th album on which we had a song we wrote together, Changing Minds, which will be included on my CD release here in the UK.

The last time we exchanged emails was on his birthday August 4th.  Leo rules the heart and he had a big one that gave and gave until it finally gave out.  The obits say he played a concert the week before.  It is only fitting that Larry should play until the end. The earth is a sadder venue without him.  He was a great friend whom I treasured.

I’m attaching a song I wrote with Artie Wayne when Jim Croce died.  Larry is playing piano on it.  It is appropriate that I send it out in his memory now.  Thank you for everything, Larry.

Patti

“Sending My Good Thoughts” by Patti Dahlstrom from Your Place Or Mine [1975]

Patti gave me her permission to post as well a song on which Larry Knechtel contributed an amazing harmonica solo:

“Lookin’ For Love” by Patti Dahlstrom from Livin’ It Thru [1976]

Saturday Single No. 146

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 22, 2009

Having spent two Saturdays this month looking at acquisitions during Julys past, I now turn my attention to Augusts gone by. This morning, we’ll wander from 1970 into the late 1980s, the years when my vinyl collection grew only a little.

In 1969, a few months before I began to spend most of my evenings listening to Top 40 radio, a song came along that sparked my interest in an unlikely choice of musician. Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” got radio play all over and at all times of the day. Cash’s recording of the Shel Silverstein-penned tune went to No. 2 and spurred me to buy – or pester my folks to buy, more likely – Johnny Cash at San Quentin, which only turned out to be one of the great live albums and the first country LP I ever owned.

The next August, it was back to the world of pop and rock. I picked up Best of Bee Gees and the Beatles’ Hey Jude (marketed some places as The Beatles Again.) In August 1971, as I spent my evenings scrubbing and polishing floors with my pal Mike at St. Cloud State, I picked up Stephen Stills and the original version of Jesus Christ Superstar. And I started college in late September that year.

In 1972, August saw me finishing my Beatles collection. And I find this morning that I misread a line in my database when writing about it earlier this month. I did in fact complete the Beatles collection with the purchase of A Hard Day’s Night. And I did buy a Beatles’ record during my trip to Winnipeg with Rick and Gary. But the record I bought north of the border was Beatles VI. No real harm done, I guess. It’s worth noting, though, that having started at the beginning of May 1970 with one Beatles album – Beatles ’65 – I got the seventeen remaining albums by the Fab Four in only a little more than two years.

The next two years, I added no albums to my small collection in August. In 1975, I found Ringo, almost certainly the best album by the former Beatle, and I received as a gift Joe Cocker’s spectacle of a live album, Mad Dogs & Englishmen. We skip a year and go to 1977, when two LPs came my way: I found in pile of radio station rejects at St. Cloud State an LP that offers an interesting performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and then won a copy of the soundtrack to Star Wars by correctly answering – four times – a trivia question about the soundtrack of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The late 1970s and early 1980s sometimes brought lean seasons for record acquisitions; summers were especially slow, and I have no idea why. Maybe because we spent less time indoors listening to music? I don’t know. But it took another seven years, until 1984, for me to add to my collection in August. One evening that month, I saw the time-travel drama Somewhere In Time on television, and the next day I went out and bought John Barry’s soundtrack for the film. That was in Columbia, Missouri; I learned a few years later, oddly enough, that in the book on which the film is based, Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson, a key scene takes place in Columbia. I spent about two-and-a-half years altogether in Columbia, but I fell in love with no pictures of actresses from the late 1800s or early 1900s, and, sadly, no time travel ensued.

Back in Minnesota by August 1985, I received as a gift Bob Dylan’s Empire Burlesque. I was intrigued by the single “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love),” which ­All Music Guide tells me went to No. 19 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

From then, it’s on to 1988, when I picked up sixteen LPs, about half of them in Minot, North Dakota, and half on a summer visit to St. Cloud. The best of the bunch? Maybe Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks or Santana’s self-titled debut. The worst? Well, none of them were really bad; Dylan’s Shot of Love, is spotty, despite the presence of “Every Grain of Sand” and “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.”

August 1989 found me back in Minnesota, living just north of the Twin Cities. I added twelve LPs to the shelves that month, with another Van Morrison, Beautiful Vision, being the best. The worst? That’s hard to say. Blood, Sweat & Tears’ fourth album, simply titled B, S & T 4, was a little lame. But most folks looking at that month’s list would look askance, I think, at Ray Conniff’s work, and I bought two records by the man with his orchestra and chorus.

One of those Conniff LPs brought back memories of the basement rec room in St. Cloud, with a young whiteray reading comics, maybe, or playing a board game as the mellow music came and went. Ray Conniff’s Invisible Tears was one of the albums on the stereo during those days in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1964, the title track had gone to No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, on its way to becoming today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 145

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 15, 2009

Fifteen years ago, I was covering sports and human interest stories in the affluent Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. From that vantage point, I watched the national media and concert goers descending on upstate New York for Woodstock ’94, a music festival celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original Woodstock festival in 1969. That original festival, as we’ve had slathered on us increasingly thickly during the last week or so, took place forty years ago this weekend (not at Woodstock itself, but on Max Yasgur’s farm outside the small town of Bethel, N.Y.)

During that summer of 1994, always looking for a hook for a story, I asked around among my friends and contacts in the Eden Prairie schools and learned that one of the guidance counselors at the high school had been at the original Woodstock. He told some good tales, many of them familiar: the crowded roads; he and his friends abandoning their car somewhere short of Yasgur’s farm and walking on; the camaraderie among the multitudes at the festival; bathing in a lake; going hungry; his distance from the mammoth stage (which nevertheless didn’t keep him from hearing at least some of the music fairly well); and the utter and absolute mess left behind by the estimated 4000,000 people who were at the festival.

As familiar as they were, they were good tales, and what made them more interesting for my readers in Eden Prairie is that they were told by someone they knew. Connecting my readers to the people around them and to the events in the larger world is, to me, the goal of a community newspaper, whether it’s a weekly or a small daily. If just one reader looked at that story that week and was, first, intrigued by the fact that someone from their community had been at Woodstock and, second, came away from the story knowing a little more about either that community member or what it was like to be at Woodstock, then I did my job.

That’s the only time in my life, I think, I’ve ever written about Woodstock. I suppose I might have crafted a column about the festival in 1979, ten years after, but I don’t think I did. And I guess I’ve not written about it because I don’t have much to say unless I have a hook to hang it on, which is what the Eden Prairie guidance counselor provided in 1994. Over the years, I’ve read a few books about the original 1969 festival, I’ve seen the 1970 documentary film several times (and written about it at least once), and as each anniversary passes, I’ve seen and read memoirs and commentaries about what Woodstock meant to those who were there, about Woodstock as a cultural milestone and all that.

But as aware as I am of what happened on Yasgur’s farm forty years ago, and as intriguing as some of those memoirs and analyses sometimes are, I find myself not particularly interested in writing about those things. And I imagine that might seem odd. Readers might expect that to be an attractive pool for me to wade into. Why won’t I? Because Woodstock – and I mean all things Woodstock: the festival, the music, the generation, the myth – is like a cultural Rorschach test. Each of us will see something different in the happenings forty years ago this weekend, especially those of us who weren’t there.

Me? I see the lawnmower I was pushing around the side yard on the morning of August 18, 1969, the morning that Jimi Hendrix closed the festival. I’d seen news coverage of Woodstock on television over the weekend, and I was pondering what I’d seen, wondering what it had really been like, and wishing I could have been there to find out.

But I was fifteen, and wanting to be somewhere other than mowing the lawn was a pretty frequent state. The fact that it was Woodstock that I had in my mind as my alternate location is the only thing that’s kept that particular August morning present in my memory. So the only thing I truly know about Woodstock is that I thought it would have been more fun than mowing the lawn.

Here’s John Denver with “I Wish I Could Have Been There (Woodstock),” the best song I’ve ever heard about wanting to have been at Woodstock. It’s from his 1970 album Whose Garden Was This, and it’s your Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 144

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 8, 2009

This week, we finish catching up with historical July, checking out the records that found their ways to my home during Julys since 1990. (This will necessarily be an overview, as I began to find my vinyl madness during these years, for a time bringing home more LPs each month – sometimes thirty or more – than could be easily listened to.)

As July of 1990 began, I was living in Conway Springs, Kansas, planning my exit to Columbia, Missouri. I found ten LPs to bring home that month, all but two in Columbia, with the first batch being garnered on a trip there to find a place to live and the latter group coming to me after I’d moved to the city. The best of the month?  Rick Danko’s 1977 self-titled solo debut, by a large margin. The least compelling? Probably Gord’s Gold Volume II, Gordon Lightfoot’s second hits package, on which the Canadian singer-songwriter offers newly recorded – and ultimately lesser – versions of his better-known songs from about 1976 on. One of the songs thusly diminished is the classic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fizgerald.” The record was made essential for Lighfoot completists, however, by the inclusion of a newly released track, “If It Should Please You.”

In 1991, July was a month of transition. I was completing my reporting project for my master’s degree in Columbia and traveled to Minnesota for a high school reunion and to find a place to live come August, as it was time to get back home. On my way in July, I stopped first to visit a friend in Menomonie, Wisconsin. It was my first visit to that university town, and of course, I checked out the record shops, finding a couple of LPs by Bonnie Raitt and a few other things. Once settled back in Minnesota, I added just one more record that month, a dismal outing by singer-songwriter John Dawson Read.

Finally ensconced in 1992 on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis – a place I would stay for seven years, the longest I’ve stayed in one place during my entire adult life* – I began to explore my new neighborhood’s vinyl assets, including Cheapo’s, just five blocks away. I brought home only nine records that first Pleasant July. The best of them was likely Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, a 1967 release I’ve loved for years. Or maybe Sandy Denny’s Sandy. (I should note that one of the LPs I found that month was the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, which many critics and listeners place among the top ten or fifteen albums of all time. I don’t agree.)

By the summer of 1993, I was in the middle of my years at the Eden Prairie newspaper, and the vinyl was beginning to crowd the books off my shelves. The records I got that July were good but not superb, with the best being maybe Emmylou Harris’ Evangeline. A Taste of Honey’s 1978 self-titled disco fest was likely the least compelling.

The pace had accelerated by the time July 1994 came through, with twenty-six records coming home with me that month, the vast majority of them from Cheapo’s, which was still – I believe – just five blocks away. (Sometime during my last years on Pleasant Avenue, Cheapo’s took over what had been a Best Buy store on West Lake Street, moving about ten blocks further from my home. I didn’t let that stop me.) The best of July 1994? Either Buffalo Springfield or Buffalo Springfield Again, although I do have an odd affection for the Fine Young Cannibals’ The Raw & The Cooked. The least interesting? Likely Cat Stevens’ Buddha and the Chocolate Box.

The summer of 1995 found me preoccupied with switching jobs, leaving my suburban reporting job and taking on the position of editor at a weekly based in downtown Minneapolis. Although I loved working downtown, neither the job nor the weekly were right for me, and the decision to make the move was, frankly, one of the worst I’ve made in my life. In any event, I bought only two records during July that year: One was Bob Dylan’s Uplugged. I was relieved to find the album on vinyl, as Dylan’s two preceding albums, World Gone Wrong and his third greatest hits package, were not released on vinyl; they were [at that time] the first – and, I think, only – Bob Dylan albums so distributed. The other LP was Wendy Waldman’s Gypsy Symphony, a decent singer-songwriter record.

By July 1996, I’d left the weekly paper downtown and was beginning a little more than two years of scuffling and temp jobs. Eleven records came home with me that month. The best? Maybe The Beatles Live at the BBC or maybe Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3 [Rare and Unreleased] 1961-1991.** There really was no worst; all the records I got that month were pretty good; the least significant was likely an Atlantic R&B anthology titled Super Hits.

July 1997 found twenty-two new records on my shelves. The best was likely Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, although Little Richard’s The Rill Thing is pretty darned good, too. The most odd? An instrumental album by Benedict Silberman titled Traditional Jewish Memories. My sister had owned a copy of it when we were young, and it brought back fond memories. Ringo Starr’s traditional pop excursion, Sentimental Journey, was a little strange, too.

By 1998, vinyl madness was at its peak. Forty-eight newly found records came to my shelves that July. The best? Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain or maybe Don’t Leave Me Here, an anthology of country blues from the late 1920s and early 1930s. The most disappointing? Love, the 1966 psychedelic workout by the group of the same name. Over-rated.

By July of 1999, I was packing to leave Pleasant Avenue for Bossen Terrace, a location further south in Minneapolis. I brought home only thirteen LPs that month. Tops on that list might have Smokey Robinson’s Being With You. The least compelling? The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Rick Wakeman. Also over-rated.

In my new location, I found new record shops to frequent and new neighborhoods in which to find garage sales. The seventh month of 2000 found twenty-two new LPs on the shelf. The best was likely Aretha Franklin’s This Girl’s In Love With You, and the least worthy was probably Juice Newton’s Greatest Hits.  I moved to the suburbs in June 2001 and then to St. Cloud in the autumn of 2002, and my record buying became much less frequent: Five July albums in 2001, with Asylum Choir II by Leon Russell and Marc Benno being the best. (I’ve generally looked past anthologies for the “best of the month” choices here, but I should note that July 2001 was when I picked up the Beatles’ One, which would certainly be in the running for the title of best anthology of all time.)

I bought some vinyl online in July 2002, and the Texas Gal would surprise me with the occasional LP or set. The month saw thirteen new LPs, most of them very good. The best was either Cold Blood’s First Taste of Sin or Mississippi Fred McDowell’s I do not play no rock ’n’ roll. As I was being very choosy, and as the Texas Gal knows my tastes very well, there was nothing from that month that was a disappointment.

And with the exception of a Loggins & Messina LP and one from Three Dog Night, both in 2004, that’s it for all the Julys past. So what do I pull out of this wealth of madness today?

Well, since I’ve shared the Rick Danko solo album here, and since I don’t see a lot listed here that’s not widely available, I can make an idiosyncratic choice. (As if I never do that, anyway.)

So here’s “Visions” from Cold Blood’s 1972 album, First Taste of Sin, today’s Saturday Single.

*That statement about the Pleasant Avenue apartment being the place I lived for the longest time in my adult life no longer holds up. I was there for a little more than seven years (1992-1999); the Texas Gal and I lived in the house on the East Side of St. Cloud from September 2008 to February 2018, not quite nine-and-a-half years.

**I continued to acquire Dylan’s work on vinyl into the 2000s. The last album of his that I obtained on vinyl was 2001’s Love & Theft. Since then I have acquired a nearly complete collection of Dylan’s work on CD.

Saturday Single No. 142

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 25, 2009

I’ve gone to two high school reunions since walking out the doors of St. Cloud Tech in 1971: The ten-year and the twenty-year. Both came in two parts, with a get-together over beer on a Friday evening and more formal dinner followed by a dance on Saturday evening. I was underwhelmed at the first reunion in 1981; there weren’t a lot of folks I wanted to see – high school had been a generally solitary time – and my then-wife didn’t want to be there, anyway. The twenty-year reunion in 1991 was more fun for a few reasons: We gathered together with the Class of ’71 from St. Cloud Apollo – our senior year had been its first year of existence, and we’d all been together at Tech for two years before that – for both evenings instead of just the first. I was single, and it seemed we’d all grown up a little more (or perhaps it was I who had matured). Still, I didn’t stay in touch with anyone. The reunion was fun, as I said, but that was all.

I’ve never been back to a high school reunion since. Will I go when we mark forty years in 2011? I’m not sure, but I doubt it. Nor have I ever been to a true college reunion; given the size of St. Cloud State at the time I graduated – about 12,000 students – a true class reunion is unlikely. Reunions generally fall to groups that had common majors, and I’ve pretty much ignored those, too.

But there are two reunions I will never miss, as long as I am healthy enough to get there: a get-together of those who worked for the Monticello Times during the more than thirty years my friend and mentor DQ was the editor and then publisher of the paper, and a gathering of the more than one hundred friends with whom I spent my junior year, the 1973-74 college year, in Fredericia, Denmark.

I knew from emails sent out this spring that DQ and his wife, who currently live in Portland, Oregon, would be in Minnesota during July, and that plans were taking shape for a picnic get-together. I also knew that this spring was the thirty-fifth anniversary of my return to Minnesota from Denmark; we’d gathered in 1994, 1999 and 2004, so I was certain we’d gather again this summer.

I worried a fair amount that both gatherings would be scheduled the same day, and I would have to choose one of the two. Or – depending on location – I could split my time between the two, satisfying no one, including myself.

Happily, the two events were set on Saturdays two weeks apart. On July 11, the Texas Gal and I drove the thirty miles to Monticello and spent several hours with the newspaper’s alumni. I know most of them by name, but I worked with only about a third of them, as I left the newspaper in 1983 and then Monticello in 1987. But there still are bonds: Through our boss and friend, DQ; through our experiences in living in and reporting on the same small town; and through our love of newspapering. Most of the newsfolk from the Times have moved on over the years to other facets of the communications field, but at heart, we’re all still reporters, as we realize when we get together.

As satisfying as that gathering was, it’s today’s reunion that I’ll probably find more moving: The Denmark folk will gather for a picnic in the Twin Cities suburb of Ramsey this afternoon. I would guess that about half of the hundred or so who remain – some have passed on during these thirty-five years – will be there. Many of them live elsewhere and likely won’t be present. But almost all will be accounted for: Since our string of reunions began in 1994, we’ve learned the whereabouts or the fates of all but four of those who were together in Fredericia.

We’ll take over the lawn of one of our gals, share a potluck picnic and plenty of beer. (I’ll likely contribute a six-pack of a pretty good red ale from St. Paul’s Summit brewery.) There will be laughter, as we tell and hear once more the tales of our times together (with some of the tales having become taller over the years). There may be a few tears for the friends we’ve lost, one of them as recently as last November.

My dad once told me, when I asked why he got together annually with his Army buddies, that when one shares a unique and intense experience with a small group of people, as he did with his Army Air Corps unit during World War II, bonds form that outlast time. I can’t think of a better definition for the time I spent in Denmark than “a unique and intense experience with a small group of people.” So this afternoon, we’ll share that again, as we share the news of our lives, lives that have been built on the foundations of what we learned about the world and about ourselves so long ago.

I’ve long said that my time in Denmark was the most important time in my life, and that my years at the Monticello Times were the second-most important. I no longer believe that. The most important time of my life is now, these days and years that I share with my Texas Gal. But those times – and the people I shared them with – helped create who I am today. So here’s a song for all of those who shared those early years with me, both in Fredericia and in Monticello, today’s Saturday Single.

“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Planet Waves [1974]

Saturday Single No. 141

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 18, 2009

I’m a newsman, a reporter. I always have been and always will be. I haven’t made my living in that trade for more than ten years now, but still, I am one. I didn’t have much of an audience for the hand-printed newspapers I put together when I was twelve or so, but even then I was a newsman (or newskid, if you will). As someone whose life is tied to the news – and that will always be the case, even if I never work another minute in the industry – there are those who have influenced me on my path.

Chief among those is DQ, my first real-world editor at the Monticello Times. DQ taught me almost everything I know about newspapering in a small town. Explicitly, through his instruction, and implicitly, through his behavior and demeanor, he showed me how to be what I eventually realized I’d always wanted to be: a reporter.

The fact that I wanted – and had always wanted – to be a reporter surprised me. Writing – one of the essential portions of reporting – had always been a chore: Until I got a typewriter and mastered it, my thoughts moved far too fast for my horrid handwriting to keep pace. And even with more and more modern tools, there still are days when writing is hard work. Add to that the tasks of first, going out and talking to strangers to learn what they know and think and second, finding a way to tell all of that to an audience, and reporting is a craft that can be complex and scary. And I’ve wondered from time to time where that impulse arose: Who or what in my youth made me – despite my dread of writing and my uneasiness as having to face strangers throughout the process – want to be a reporter?

I think I got my answer last evening, and that answer – as delayed as its realization might have been – was ultimately as unsurprising as the sunrise. My inspiration was Walter Cronkite, the grand man of television news who died yesterday at the age of ninety-two. From World War II through the Iranian hostage crisis of the later 1970s and early 1980s, Cronkite was first and foremost a reporter, even during the nineteen years when he was the anchor for the CBS Evening News.

That was evident last evening in many of the clips that CNN showed as it covered Cronkite’s death. Among the many on-air moments of his life that were shown last evening, we saw him discussing Vietnam with President John F. Kennedy in the backyard at (one assumes) the Kennedy retreat at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and talking about the D-Day invasion with retired general and one-time President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a jeep on the beaches of Normandy, France. We saw him at his anchor desk explaining the intricacies of the Watergate affair in late 1973, delving into a story that did not, at that time in its development, lend itself well to the visual medium that is television news. And we saw perhaps the two most famous moments of Cronkite’s long career: his exultation and relief in July 1969 when the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle found a safe landing spot on the moon and his controlled shock and grief in November 1963 as he told his viewers of Kennedy’s death in Dallas.

As I watched those clips – all of which I’d seen before and some of which I’d seen at the moment of broadcast – I realized that from the time I began to watch television news (and that was at a very young age, perhaps when I was ten), I always by choice watched CBS and Cronkite. (Cronkite was followed on CBS, of course, by Dan Rather, who was himself succeeded by Katie Couric. I don’t think much of Couric, but I still watch CBS; brand loyalty dies hard.) I realized as well that it was Cronkite who – without my ever coming close to realizing this before – gave me a model of what a newsman should be: As he reported and presented the news, he was calm, well-spoken (which means he also wrote well), courteous but persistent, interested in just about everything, and a good story-teller.

Cronkite’s passing is truly the end of an era, as has been said many times by many people on CNN and elsewhere in the brief hours since his death. I’ll let others deal with the historical implications and with the contrast of the news environment of, say, 1969 to that of 2009. My reaction is far more personal, and it’s far more intense than I would have expected.

I don’t know that I ever had heroes, even when I was a kid. I don’t think I ever thought of anyone as someone who could do no wrong, which is to me the definition of a hero. Over the years, however, from the time I was very young through my college years (and probably beyond), I did have role models, folks whose best attributes and actions seemed to me worthy of emulation: A couple of them were teachers, for the way they guided me and encouraged me; I’ve written once about Roger Lydeen and I may write about others in the future. Musically, as I’ve also said before, there were Al Hirt, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. As a sports fan, I looked up to Jim Marshall of the Minnesota Vikings. And, as I noted above, I realized last evening – with some surprise and some tears – that Walter Cronkite was on that list as well.

I would imagine that Walter Cronkite shows up on a lot of folks’ similar lists, especially among those of us who consider ourselves newsmen and -women.

And here’s a song whose content has no relation to my topic but whose title fits. “I Got The News” by Steely Dan from Aja, is today’s Saturday Single:

Saturday Single No. 140

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 11, 2009

I was going to say that there was a knock on the door last evening about 5:40, but there wasn’t. Just as I entered our small front porch to turn on our outside light, I saw our company for the evening coming up the steps. So before they even had a chance to knock, I opened the door and admitted our guests, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and his Mrs., visiting St. Cloud from Madison, Wisconsin.

The idea for the visit popped up sometime in the early months of the year, when it became apparent that a cousin of the Mrs. would be playing in a golf tournament in Blaine, Minnesota (a megasuburb north of the Twin Cities) during the second week in July. Given that, jb emailed me or left me a message on Facebook, or maybe both, and we two couples began planning.

But in a larger sense, the preparation for last night’s meeting in real life began just more than three years ago when I first came across the world of music blogging. I’d simply been looking for more information about a 1965 LP and happened to find a Google link to a blog whose owner had ripped and uploaded the record as mp3s. I happily downloaded, all the while thinking “People do this stuff?”

And when I finished gathering in the mp3s, I began to click links, wandering – as one does – from one blog to the next. And about five clicks in, I happened upon a blog that was very different from the ones I’d been seeing. Here was a guy writing about music and how it intersected his life, about how single records spoke to him, sometimes after more than thirty years, and about how his life had spoken back to those records.

Once I mastered the navigation, I bookmarked the blog, and then clicked back to the beginning of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. And over the next few days, I read every entry on that blog from the beginning, nodding knowingly at the tales from the intersection of life and music and thinking to myself, “Geez, I could do this. Maybe not this well, but I could do this.”

And not long after I got my USB turntable and began to share music I’d ripped, I stopped by jb’s blog and left a comment about something he’d posted and then invited him to stop by Echoes In The Wind. He did, leaving a complimentary comment, and from that first set of comments grew a chain of comments and emails in the digital world that led to our meeting in the corporeal world last evening.

We sat for a while, sipping beverages and just chatting as dinner baked, and then over dinner (one of the Texas Gal’s better recipes, a Texmex dish called King Ranch Casserole), continued to get to know each other, telling tales and laughing.

But jb and I, we both realized during the course of the evening (and we both had suspected this beforehand), already knew each other pretty well. Both of us write a lot about our lives on our blogs, and having read each other’s blog for the past two-plus years, we each already knew a lot about the other’s history and how he felt about a wide range of topics, music prime among them.

“There are forty million music blogs out there,” jb said last night as we sat in my study and talked about beer, blogging and life, “but very few of them do what we do.” We use our lives, he said, as a starting point to talk about the music that moves us, and there are very few blog writers who do that.

That fit in with something I’d realized the other evening when Rob stopped by for a few beers: as we talked, I told him that I sometimes feel as if I’m writing my autobiography, one post at a time. He nodded. “That’s exactly what you’re doing,” he said. “I’m surprised it took you this long to figure it out.”

And jb agreed with Rob’s assessment (though he didn’t express the same surprise at the slowness of my recognition): We are both writing our memoirs as we blog, able to hang those memoirs on the hook of music because music has been such a crucial portion of our lives.

Along with the blogging, however, has come something unexpected for both of us: Connecting with others out there. “We heard so much,” jb said, “that the ’Net and blogging was going to leave us all in our little rooms, disconnected from one another.” The truth, he said, and his experience parallels mine, is that he’s found more connections – with other bloggers, with the musicians he writes about and with readers – than he’d ever imagined.

The evening progressed: We shared stories and sipped beer. (He’d brought along samples of five Wisconsin beers and one from Michigan; I’d supplied three local brews and one from a West Coast brewery.) And all evening, it felt like the Texas Gal and I were entertaining old friends whom we’d known for years, even though they’d physically crossed our threshold for the first time last evening.

As the evening ended, we all four decided that the First Joint Minnesota/Wisconsin Music Blog Summit & Beer Spree, as jb dubbed it, had been a success. And we decided that the Texas Gal and I will visit Madison sometime soon.

Early during the evening, I had jb reach up into the unplayed LPs and pull one out, planning on using its fourth track as today’s share. Unhappily, I learned this morning that the album Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2 has too much surface noise for me to be comfortable sharing her rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” So I went back to the spot where jb had grabbed the album and pulled out the next record. And here’s today’s Saturday Single:

“Woman” by Pure Prairie League from Pure Prairie League [1972]

Saturday Single No. 139

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 4, 2009.

I’m pretty much taking Independence Day off, but here’s a little nugget. Some of the lyrics in the verses are a bit dated, but the chorus lays it out:

I got my duty: rock and roll
Now everybody, everybody, everyone’s gotta be free!

Here’s “Freedom Blues” by Little Richard from the 1970 album The Rill Thing. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 138

February 11, 2019

Last Saturday, we looked at the June log of record purchases up through 1989, when I was about to leave Minot, North Dakota, after two years. The following June found me living in a small town about thirty miles outside of Wichita, Kansas, which turned out to be a city that did have, I discovered, some good used record stores.

And there were lots of garage sales.

The haul in June 1990 included LPs by the Average White Band, Long John Baldry, Phil Collins, Eric Carmen, Burton Cummings, Neil Diamond, Leon & Mary Russell, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Vassar Clements, Edith Piaf, Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, Sandy Denny, the Dream Academy, Levon Helm and Roxy Music. There were also some compilations and a few soundtracks made up of pop rock performance (American Gigolo was one of them). The best of the haul was likely Helm’s American Son album, although Sandy Denny’s Like An Old Fashioned Waltz is a treat, too.

And there was one major purchase. While at a garage sale somewhere southwest of Wichita, I bought a small record cabinet for $10 and got as well the seven classical albums and a few other things that were in the cabinet. I don’t have a lot of classical – at least not in comparison to other genres – but this haul included some very nice stuff: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished), and a record that included orchestral versions of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances.

By the time of June 1991, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, for the second time, working on a project that would complete my master’s degree and having dinner a couple of times a week in a Lebanese restaurant. I was a little too busy interviewing folks and writing to do much bargain hunting. But I found records by Steve Winwood, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin and the genius of Chess Records, Willie Dixon. None of those finds really stand out, although the best of them is likely Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints.

I was still settling into my apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis – where I would stay for seven years – when June rolled around in 1992. I hadn’t yet become a super-regular at Cheapo’s, just five blocks away, so I would guess the few albums I got that month came from garage sales. I found LPs by Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Phil Ochs, Joe South, the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, Don Henley, Little Feat, Van Morrison, the Platters and Bob Seger. I also found a copy in very good condition of a 1983 reissue of Phil Spector’s Christmas album from 1963. The best of the bunch? Probably Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Van Morrison’s Hard Nose the Highway was probably the least impressive.

Oddly enough, in June of 1993, I bought no records. I somewhat made up for that lapse the next year when I brought home eighteen LPs in June. The best? Probably Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room or Rick Nelson’s Garden Party. The worst? Either Bawdy Songs Goes To College by Oscar Brand & Dave Sear (1955), or Bawdy Barracks Ballads by the Four Sergeants (1958). (I’d forgotten about those two LPs until this morning; I may have to pull them out soon to see if they qualify for an extended Jukebox Trainwreck.)

No LPs in June 1995. A year later, ten albums came home, including work by Judy Collins, Mike Post, Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, Foreigner and Blood, Sweat & Tears. To me, the best is an idiosyncratic choice of Denver’s Whose Garden Was This? while the least valuable was Riperton’s Love Lives Forever.

More than twenty LPs came home with me in June 1997. My favorites were the two Bobby Whitlock albums, his self-titled release and Raw Velvet, both from 1972. I also liked Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Peter Gabriel’s So. I regret spending even a little bit of money at a garage sale for three albums by Renaissance. By the next June, in 1998, I was deep into my routine of thrice-weekly visits to Cheapo’s, and I brought home forty-nine albums. The best of them? Easily the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono, but I have great affection as well for Stephen Stills’ Manassas, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Richie Havens’ Mixed Bag and the live collection, The Fillmore: The Last Days. The least of them? Most likely Ronnie Spector’s Siren, Joe Cocker’s Civilized Man and a record of Russian folk by singer Channa Bucherskaia.

By June 1999, I was preparing to move further south in Minneapolis, but that didn’t stop my visits to Cheapo’s. I would just have to find more boxes for the move, as I brought home seventy-three LPs that month. The best were probably two self-titled albums, Tom Jans and The Wild Tchoupitoulas. Much of the month’s haul was a little obscure or at least items from deeper in groups’ and artists’ catalogs than I’d dug before. I was also looking for hits collections by groups and artists I’d ignored before, so the weakest album of the month was likely the greatest hits collection from the Classics IV. (I’m not sure that five records in the Top 40 are enough to make a hits collection viable; one of those hits – “What Am I Crying For?” – isn’t even included on the LP.)

And when I moved away from Cheapo’s (and not coincidentally got my first CD player about the same time), the pace of record buying diminished greatly. I bought five records in June 2000: LPs by Head East, Lou Ann Barton, Cris Williamson, Laura Nyro and Pablo Cruise. The Lou Ann Barton album, Forbidden Tones, is a 1980s mess, so the best of that bunch is likely Head East’s Flat As A Pancake (a favorite of the Texas Gal, whom I’d met earlier that year).

I hit a few garage sales and thrift stores in June 2001, as well as buying a few records online: I got Smith’s Minus-Plus and two Gayle McCormick solo albums for the Texas Gal, a couple of Frank Sinatra 1950s LPs, and some work by Aretha Franklin, Delbert McClinton, Tony Joe White, Mary Hopkin and Johnny Rivers. Nothing really stands out, though if I’m in the right mood, the Sinatras are nice. A year later, I bought a couple of boxes of records at garage sales and came home with twenty-six LPs. The best were likely Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key Of Life and Delaney & Bonnie’s Home. The least interesting were Today – My Way by Nancy Wilson and the Chad Mitchell Trio’s Typical American Boys.

Another box at a garage sale in June 2003 brought me records by Al Hirt, Al Martino, Doc Severinsen, the Stanley Brothers and a 1976 self-titled album by a lesbian duo called Jade & Sarsaparilla. I also got the Undisputed Truth’s self-titled 1971 debut, which was the best in the box. And my last June acquisitions came two years ago, with records by blues/folk artist Mike Auldridge, Neil Diamond, Spanky & Our Gang and – from my pal Mitch – an early album by Duane & Gregg Allman (on which Gregg’s name is misspelled).

Many of the albums mentioned here are records I’ve already shared. Of those I have not, my favorite is likely Sandy Denny’s 1973 album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. So here’s Track Four, which turns out to be “Friends” today’s Saturday Single.