Rainy Day Make-Work

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 19, 2009

It was dreary and rainy the other day, and I looked out our front window at the lawn. It’s probably going to need mowing – which our landlord takes care of – this weekend. And the combination of the weather and the wet grass reminded me of part of the summer of 1971, the first half of which I spent as a member of the lawn-mowing crew at St. Cloud State.

There were days, of course, when it rained, and no mowing would get done. But the maintenance department, without question, could always find something for us to do. I recall spending three days that summer in a second-floor hallway in Stewart Hall, armed with chisels and chipping away at old and worn tile on the floor. It was tedious work, made more tolerable by actually being able to talk to one another. When we were out on the lawnmowers, the only people we could talk to was ourselves. (I wrote not long ago about how I addressed that quandary.)

But there, in the hallway, with only occasional supervision – our boss, busy with other stuff, wandered through every hour or so, just to make sure we were making some progress – we could talk as we chipped away. (The tile had likely been in place since Stewart Hall was built in the late 1940s, and in places it had worn away entirely; finding an edge to pry away the bits of tile near those worn spots was a challenge.) Our topics ranged broadly, but music was one we always came back to. During one of those days in the hallway, I recall one of my co-workers and I exchanging views on Ten Years After: He preferred Ssssh, while I held out for Cricklewood Green.

On another rainy day later in the summer, our crew and a few others were dispatched to the new Education Building, which would open for classes that fall quarter. There, in a large room on the second floor, stood at least three hundred file cabinets, still in their boxes. Our work that day would be to get the cabinets out of the boxes and distribute them to the offices that were their intended destinations. While we unboxed the cabinets, someone from one of the painting crews plugged in his radio – the painters were allowed to listen to music as they worked, as long as it wasn’t too loud – and that made the morning more tolerable. I assume the radio was tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities, but the only thing I recall hearing that morning was Peter Nero’s cover of the “Theme to ‘Summer of ’42’,” a record I welcomed, as I’d recently seen the movie.

As the day wore on and the empty file cabinet boxes piled up on the other side of the room, we might have heard some of these:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 19, 1971)
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721 (No. 6)
“She’s Not Just Another Woman” by The 8th Day, Invictus 9087 (No. 20)
“Funky Nassau (Part One)” by the Beginning Of The End, Alston 4595 (No. 23)
“Get It On” by Chase, Epic 10738 (No. 50)
“Chicago” by Graham Nash, Atlantic 2804 (No. 61)
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 91)

The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! “Treat Her Like A Lady” was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. “Too Late To Turn Back Now,” which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to “Treat Her Like A Lady” on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, “Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)” and “I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,” neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)

The second of these has to have an odd story behind it, but it’s a story I don’t know, and a quick riffle through my reference books this morning has left me uninformed. “She’s Not Just Another Woman” by the group The 8th Day went to No. 11 during the summer of 1971 and eventually went gold for the Invictus label. A slightly longer version of the same recording – an edit of 3:23 as opposed to the 3:04 of the single edit I present here – showed up, also in 1971, as an album track on Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, the debut album of the wonderfully named group 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), released on the Hot Wax label. Hot Wax and Invictus were sister labels, formed in 1969 by the trio of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland when the three left Motown Records. So the same recording, essentially, was credited to two different groups. It might be that the single edit I offer here is a bastard edit, created after the fact by license for packaging purposes, but either way, it’s still an edit of the same track that shows up on Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, giving us, as I said, the same recording credited to two different groups. Very odd.

I don’t know much about the Beginning of the End, which came from Nassau in the Bahamas, or about its hit, which went to No. 15 that summer. I do have a vague memory of hearing the record as I drove around town one evening in my 1961 Falcon, but that’s all. I’m sure there’s information out there, but not through the usual sources. The only thing All-Music Guide has to say is: “One of the very few soul groups from Nassau, the Beginning of the End had one hit in 1971, the scintillating ‘Funky Nassau.’ They [sic] recorded an album of the same name that year, then dropped out of sight.” Obscure or not, the record was pretty good.

“Get It On” by Chase was one of the great and somewhat forgotten records of the early 1970s. Tough vocals and foundation, great horn accents, the escalating tension and the glorious whirling horn runs: What more do you want? Well, a longer career for Bill Chase and his band; Chase and three members of the band were killed in a plane crash near Jackson, Minnesota, in August 1974. What’s left is the group’s one hit, which went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, and the three albums, all of which have been released on CD.

Let’s say you asked a fan in 1971: Which of the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is least likely to release an overtly political single? My guess is that most fans would have responded with the name of “Graham Nash.” Not that Nash didn’t care about such things, but on Crosby, Stills & Nash and on Déjà Vu, Nash’s songs were more personal than political: “Marrakesh Express,” “Lady of the Island,” “Teach Your Children, “Our House.” So it was a little surprising when Nash’s solo album, Songs for Beginners, sandwiched its reflections about romance and personal growth (including the luminous “Simple Man”) with two clearly political songs: The opening track, “Military Madness” addresses the issue of the military’s influence on society in a general way (although it begins with a reference to Nash’s birth in Blackpool, England). Conversely, the album’s closing track, “Chicago,” is a more direct political statement, deploring the treatment of Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther party. During Seale’s trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot – charges that developed out of the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – one of Seale’s many outbursts led the judge to order Seale bound and gagged, inspiring Nash’s song. The record went to No. 35.

The Free Movement’s “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” – a good record and a somewhat accurate reflection of the morals and mores of the time as regards fidelity – had been languishing in the bottom section of the Hot 100 for five weeks at this time thirty-eight years ago. The song dropped out of the Hot 100 for two weeks, then re-entered on July 7 and began its long climb that took it eventually to No. 5.

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PG&E, Fats, Stevie Ray & Jimi

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 18, 2009

I found an interesting clip of Pacific Gas & Electric performing a long version of “Are You Ready.” It sounds like a live performance – I miss the background singers – but there’s no sign of an audience, not even any audience sounds at the end of the performance. Still, it’s a decent performance from – according to the video poster – 1970.

Here’s a concert performance of “Walking To New Orleans” from Fats Domino. Based on the few visual clues available, I’d put this in the 1990s, maybe a bit earlier. Does anyone know? From what I can tell on later examination, the performance was in 1985.

I found a clip of Stevie Ray Vaughan doing an instrumental version of “Little Wing” in what appears to be a European open-air venue around, maybe, 1985. He moves into a cover of “Third Stone From The Sun” before the clip ends.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s a YouTube posting with only still pictures. But that’s okay, the audio is Jimi Hendrix’ performance of “Little Wing” (with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums) during the second show at San Francisco’s Winterland on October 12, 1968.

Video deleted.

A while back, I posted a single track from the self-titled 1974 album by Isis, which was kind of a female version of Earth, Wind & Fire. I’ve been thinking about posting the full album, but I’ve learned that it’s now available on CD, which is good news. It’s an import, yeah, with the corresponding price, but still, it’s out there.

Slightly revised on archival posting.

Wandering Around

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 17, 2009

Wandering the upper levels of the cable offerings last evening, I happened upon a boxing match on one of the premium channels. I’ve never watched a lot of boxing, but when I come across it by accident, I sometimes watch for a few minutes. I did so last evening, and I got to thinking about a time when boxing was on network television on a regular basis.

The program I recall was The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, airing Friday evenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or so my memory told me. I didn’t really watch the show, but I sure remembered the theme song. Here’s a long instrumental version of the theme song that’s been used – for some reason – as a background for video of penguins. Here’s the theme – titled “Look Sharp – Be Sharp (Gillette March)” – as recorded in 1954 by the Boston Pops:

So, thinking about The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, I wandered over to Wikipedia, where I read that the show had run on Friday evenings into 1960 on NBC and had then moved to ABC. That made sense: I have vague memories of the show on NBC, but I also remember seeing prime-time boxing on KMSP, which was at the time ABC’s affiliate in the Twin Cities. (Watching shows on KMSP was sometimes an iffy proposition, as the station distinguished itself during the years of roof-top antennas by having the weakest signal of all four commercial stations in the Twin Cities.)

Wandering further into the topic, I checked the 1960-61 prime time TV schedule at Wikipedia and found no listing on ABC for The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Digging around a bit, I learned that ABC moved the show to Saturdays and renamed it Fight of the Week. Having resolved that, I spent some time looking at the prime time television schedules for 1959-60 and 1960-61.

And I found that fascinating, a real memory trip: National Velvet, The Red Skelton Show, Sugarfoot, Hong Kong, 77 Sunset Strip, Law of the Plainsman, Hawaiian Eye and on and on. I don’t recall watching them all, but I remember the titles. Of course, I did see some of those shows. One of my favorites was 77 Sunset Strip, a show about two detectives in Los Angeles that starred, among others, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who went on to star later in the 1960s and 1970s in The F.B.I., and Ed Byrnes, whose hair-combing character, Kookie, inspired the 1959 hit, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” which Byrnes recorded with Connie Stevens. The record went to No. 4. Here are Byrnes and Stevens during an appearance on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show from April 4, 1959 (not American Bandstand, as I originally guessed).

We’ve wandered a little afield here. I’m sure I didn’t see that particular performance, nor did I hear the record until many years later. My interest at the time was the drama – such as it was – on 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 into 1964. Here’s a version of the theme from the show (I think it’s the original, but I’m not at all certain):

“77 Sunset Strip” written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston [1958]

And then, here’s a selection from 1960, which is the year that The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports moved from NBC to ABC:

A Six-Pack from 1960
“New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1003 [Peak: No. 6]
“Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, Decca 31141 [Peak: No. 1 in 1961]
“Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino, Imperial 5675 [Peak: No. 6]
“Theme from ‘The Apartment’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 231 [Peak: No. 10]
“Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2071 [Peak: No. 1]
“Last Date” by Floyd Cramer, RCA 7775 [Peak: No. 2]

Bonus Track
“A Fool In Love” by Ike & Tina Turner, Sue 730 [No. 20]

Well, throw in some Everly Brothers, a Johnny Horton tune, a Frankie Avalon tune, some Dion & The Belmonts, then add Elvis, Percy Faith and Connie Francis, and you’d have a pretty good idea of how 1960 sounded.

When I pulled the first six tracks to share today, I didn’t realize that all of them were Top Ten records. That tells me that radio listening might not have been as bad in 1960 as I tend to think it was. (I certainly don’t remember what pop radio sounded like in 1960; I turned seven that year, and I don’t recall listening to much of anything at all. So anything I know about music in 1960 – except for piano exercises by John W. Schaum – comes from learning about it long after the fact.) On the other hand, the year also provided listeners with “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dining and “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne, all of which went to No. 1. So call it a mixed bag.

Revised slightly on archival posting.

‘Riding With The Wind . . .’

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 16, 2009

To this day, Jimi Hendrix remains an enigma to me. And that’s my fault, I suppose.

There’s no doubt about his prodigious talent; when one talks about great rock guitarists, his name is – and should be – one of the first to be laid on the table. (I’d also include Eric Clapton and Duane Allman among those first named; maybe Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Who else?) But I never got into Hendrix when he was alive. At the time of his death in September 1970, I was still sifting through music that was much more accessible and less challenging: the Beatles, CSN&Y, Chicago.

And I didn’t really dig into Jimi’s music until I began collecting LPs seriously in the late 1980s. Over the years, I’ve gathered seven Hendrix albums, from 1967’s Are You Experienced? through Experience Hendrix, a 1997 two-LP anthology. (I have a couple of things on CD as well.) So I know the music – and I like most of it – but it never really brought along to me that “wow” factor that other listeners have told me about over the years. That doesn’t negate the brilliance of what Hendrix accomplished in a very short time; all it means is that when I put together a playlist of favorites, there are very few Hendrix songs that would show up: “Red House,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Little Wing” are the most likely.

I suppose that I might have heard Hendrix’ version of “All Along the Watchtower” when it was getting a little bit of airplay in 1968 (it went to No. 20 that autumn). I might have heard some Hendrix as I wandered the residence halls at St. Cloud State during my freshman year. But my first verifiable exposure to Hendrix’ work came in the spring of 1972 through a cover version of his song, “Little Wing.” Derek & the Dominos’ version of “Little Wing” was included on Clapton At His Best, a two-LP set that included highlights of the single Blind Faith album, Clapton’s first solo album and Layla.

That first hearing is probably one of the reasons why “Little Wing” remains one of my favorite Hendrix songs. Beyond familiarity, though, it’s a great song: It’s got a strong melody and chord structure, and the lyrics – enigmatic and evocative – are among the best that Hendrix ever put on paper. Here they are as presented on the inside cover of Axis: Bold As Love:

Well, she’s walking through the clouds,
With a circus mind that’s running wild,
Butterflies and Zebras,
And Moonbeams and fairy tales.
That’s all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.

When I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, she says, it’s alright,
Take anything you want from me,
Anything.
Fly on, little wing.

Of course, given the song’s quality, cover versions of “Little Wing” abound. All-Music Guide lists more than 300 CDs with a recording of the song. Maybe fifty of those include Hendrix’ version and another fifty include Derek & the Dominos version (or versions by Clapton), but that leaves a hefty number of cover versions by other performers. I can’t provide my customary rundown of some of the more interesting names on the AMG list, as the site is being balky this morning.

But here are a few of the cover versions of “Little Wing” I’ve come across over the years.

“Little Wing” by the Corrs from Unplugged [1999]

“Little Wing” by Sanne Salomonsen from In A New York Minute [1998]

“Little Wing” by Toots Thielemans & The London Metropolitan Orchestra from In From the Storm: Music of Jimi Hendrix [1995]

The most familiar name there is no doubt that of the Corrs’, the Irish group that dances a line between Celtic folk and pop.

Salomonsen is a Danish performer who records in both Danish and English. The album, In A New York Minute, was a project that brought Salomonsen together with Danish-American jazz pianist Chris Minh Doky and his quartet for a series of largely improvised sessions. In addition, Doky brought along some friends and colleagues, including among them American alto saxophonist David Sanborn, American trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker and his brother, saxophonist Michael Brecker, American blues, jazz and rock guitarist Robben Ford and legendary Belgian guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans. The album, which is out of print and quite pricey even used, is well worth a listen. “Little Wing” is one of the better performances.

As I was digging around for information about Salomonsen’s album last evening, I came across that reference to Thielemans, whom I’ve seen called many time the world’s greatest classical harmonica player. And then I found a reference to Thielemans’ own cover of “Little Wing,” which I’d never heard. I managed to find a copy, and I think the album from which it comes – which also includes performances by Buddy Miles, Taj Mahal and other folks – is going to end up on my want list.

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

Saturday Single No. 136

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 13, 2009

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the record that is today’s Saturday Single.

I used to think I knew: I was certain that the first time I heard Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” was in 1970 while I was in one of the traps at the local gun club, the semi-buried shelters where I spent four days each summer for three years.

I know I heard “Are You Ready?” while toiling at the trap shoot that year. I brought my radio every day, just like most of the other fellows who worked as “setters,” sitting in the dirty trap pits and placing targets on the whirring machines so they could be thrown into the air and then blown apart by shotgun blasts. I have a clear memory of the Pacific Gas & Electric tune coming from the speakers during one of the slow times, after one group of shooters was done and before the shooters in the next group had taken their places.

That gave me time to close my eyes and listen to the up-tempo record, to hear the background singers and the trippy guitar solo. Looking back over the years, as I’ve thought about the song, I’ve been certain that the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” was in that little pit, enduring the dust and grime and isolation for the sake of fifteen dollars a day (which was pretty good cash for a sixteen-year-old kid in 1970).

But that’s probably not the case. As I dug into the record’s history this week, I noticed that “Are You Ready?” entered the Billboard Top 40 on June 13, 1970, thirty-nine years ago next week. A week earlier, thirty-nine years ago today, it sat at No. 43 in the Billboard Hot 100. As much as I was listening to Top 40 at the time, I most likely heard the PG&E record around the beginning of June as it approached the Top 40, certainly by the middle of June, when it was climbing to its peak at No. 14.

And the state trap shoot – the only event I ever worked out at the gun club – would have taken place no earlier than July. So I likely would have heard “Are You Ready?” on my radio at home or in the car before then, and I’m not sure why that particular hearing of that particular record sticks in my mind. I mean, it was a good radio record, but then, so were a lot of tunes at that time. Just to cherry-pick a few from the Top 40 of thirty-nine years ago today:

No. 5: “Love On A Two-Way Street” by the Moments
No. 7: “Make Me Smile” by Chicago
No. 12: “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
No. 18: “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
No. 20: “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations
No. 25: “Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade
No. 34: “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin

Some of the other records surrounding these are a little lame, in retrospect – the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Going, Billy?” limps considerably, as an example – but at the time, I found Top 40 radio speaking to me in every portion of my life. And one of my favorites at the time was, in fact, “Are You Ready?” So whatever the reason, something about that moment, that playing of the record, stuck in my mind.

So when I began collecting vinyl in the late 1980s, one of the songs I wanted to find was Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” But I couldn’t find the record as I remembered it. On the group’s album – also titled Are You Ready? – the track began with a long, slow and overly dramatic introduction: “There’s rumors of war . . . men dying and women crying . . .” Eventually, the track kicked into the up-tempo song I remembered, and that was fine. But it wasn’t what I remembered from the radio.

During the late 1980s and on into the 1990s, I looked on occasion for the original. I checked out stacks of 45s at used record shops, and I grabbed every anthology I found that listed “Are You Ready?” as one of its tracks. Same thing, every time: the long version with a running time of 5:49.

Now, it’s not like finding the original “Are You Ready?” was all-consuming. It was a search that popped up now and then, and the popups came less and less frequently as time went on. A couple of weeks ago, however, caithiseach and I were talking about long-sought records, and I mentioned “Are You Ready?” and its two versions. He said he thought he had the short version, the one that got radio play, on a 45. So he brought it over the other day, and – to the dismay of both of us – it turned out to be the long version.

Casting about to determine if the short version had ever been released commercially or if it had been distributed only to radio stations, we looked on Ebay. I’d looked there at other times, but one never knows. And there we found a listing for a white-label Columbia single of “Are You Ready?” with a running time of 2:40. The price wasn’t much – $5.99 plus shipping – but there are times when patience is in short supply.

“You know who might have that?” I asked caithiseach.

He nodded. “Yah Shure,” he said.

So we sent a note to our pal Yah Shure, explaining our quest of the moment. That evening, an mp3 rip of the short version of “Are You Ready?” arrived via email.

Yah Shure wrote: “Oh yeah… ‘Are You Ready?’  That one ranked right up there with People’s ‘I Love You’ in terms of getting a much l-o-n-g-e-r 45 than what was played on the radio, with an equally s-l-o-w-w-w-w and seemingly endless intro to boot.”

He confirmed our suspicions that the DJ 45 was, in 1970, the only source of the radio edit. His copy, he said, came from “the long-out-of-print 1996 Dick Bartley Presents Collector’s Essentials: The ’70s CD on Varèse Sarabande.  This is the same CD that contained the single version of ‘One Fine Morning’ . . . It also included the DJ 45 edit of ‘Beach Baby’ by First Class, as well as the edited side of the short/long ‘Radar Love’ DJ 45.  Oh, and the 45 version of Potliquor’s ‘Cheer,’ too.  No wonder this CD now commands $30-plus on the used market.”

I may have to save my shekels and look for that CD eventually. For now, though, I’m thankful to Yah Shure for the mp3. And here’s how “Are You Ready?” sounded coming out of the radio speakers in 1970, today’s Saturday Single:

Revised slightly on archival posting.

A Radio Tale

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 12, 2009

It’s one of two things: Either I have the worst summer cold on record (okay, it would technically be a late spring cold), or something in our yard has developed a new and extremely allergenic pollen. Whichever it is I have been sneezing and sniffling for the last couple of days, and my head feels as if someone has stuffed wet rags inside it.

I don’t much care which of the two is the truth (or if in fact, the truth is a third option I’ve not considered). I just want it to stop. For one thing, it makes it hard to think. And if I can’t think, I can’t write, at least not without more of a struggle than usual. So I’m going to take the easy way out today. Yah Shure, caithiseach and I had a tri-cornered round of correspondence this week, sharing a few tunes and our thoughts on those tunes. Along the way, Yah Shure provided me with a single edit of one of my favorite 1970 records, an edit I’d likely not heard in thirty years.

That will show up here tomorrow as a Saturday Single.

He also tossed our way an interesting single from his years as a DJ at St. Cloud’s WJON, the radio station just down Lincoln Avenue from our place. That single’s tale begins, loosely, with memories from his time at WMMR, a student radio station at the University of Minnesota that had much the same purpose as did KVSC at St. Cloud State. I’ll let Yah Shure tell the tale from there.

My music director predecessor at the U’s WMMR was in town last weekend.  Of course, we had to dig out some of the Wimmer goodies from the late ’60s and beyond.  He mentioned a song I’d missed, which was the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest winner, “Ding-A-Dong” by Teach-In.  I downloaded it for a listen, and having discovered that the act was from the Netherlands, I countered with another Dutch tune he’d never heard.  And so begins the story:

“Late At Night” by Maywood had been a number one hit in the Netherlands in July of 1980 on EMI Records.  It took its dear, sweet time before finally washing ashore here, via the tiny L.A.-based Cream label.  To the best of my knowledge, Cream Records never had a hit, although the group Snail put out a decent album and single.  The label’s logo resembled a collision between a “got milk?” ad gone awry and the Sherwin-Williams logo.  Yes, it’s that awful.  Have a look.

Cream Records logo

Maywood consisted of two sisters from Harlingen: Alie and Edith de Vries (aka Alice May and Caren Wood) and their sound was right up ABBA Avenue.  The “Late At Night” single arrived at WJON on March 30, 1981, and the then-chief announcer promptly tossed it into the reject pile.

You-know-who regularly trolled the vinyl graveyard, and that “An EMI-Holland Recording” notation on the bottom of the Cream label warranted an immediate audition.  I thought the record was perfect for WJON, where all things ABBA and Boney M had worked wonders for several years.  But those days had been under a different PD/MD, who knew the market well.  I did manage to play “Late At Night” once on WJON as part of a special show, along with a handful of other new releases with a bit of a retro feel that were not headed for the regular playlist.  It turned out to be my swan song to St. Cloud, as I departed for Oklahoma City a few days later.

Needless to say, Cream Records couldn’t deliver the goods.  Even if WJON had added the record, it would have almost certainly been for naught.  As I’d learned during my days at Heilicher Brothers, the independent distributors rarely took chances on new, unproven labels.  They’d been stiffed too many times in the past when it came to getting credit for unsold returns from such fly-by-night outfits, so they wouldn’t even consider buying any product.  That, in turn, meant no stock in the stores, and no sales meant no airplay.  What a shame.  “Late At Night” was a great record and catchy as hell.  Most of Maywood’s EMI output is no longer in print.

And here’s the record: “Late At Night” by Maywood, Cream 8142 [1981]

The studio version of “Late At Night” is blocked in the U.S. by YouTube, but here’s Maywood performing the song on Dutch television:

(I’m not sure if I need to, but I’ll note for anyone who needs it that PD/MD is, I believe, radio shorthand for Program Director/Music Director.)

On to YouTube!

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 11, 2009

Looking for a video of Rolf Harris perfoming “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” I found something that, to me, is astounding. It’s a recording – with no video, but that’s okay – of Harris singing his hit song with the Beatles, most likely in 1963. It’s a little ragged, but the best thing is that the lyrics have been changed to reflect the session. Give it a listen:

Here’s a television performance by Dave Dudley of “Six Days On The Road.” It’s from his appearance on the National Life Grand Old Opry on October 28, 1966.

And to close the video portion of today’s post, here’s George Harrison and Leon Russell performing “Beware of Darkness” at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh:

Bonus Track
In yesterday’s post, I said of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” that there were probably hundreds of songs in which the narrator realizes how good things were at home “but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s.” Frequent commenters Yah Shure and Oldetymer suggested several songs with similar themes, and Oldetymer added that Hazel Dickens’ “West Virginia My Home” might top Bare’s song for twang.

I don’t have a recording of Dickens performing the song on her own, but I have a version she recorded with her frequent partner, Alice Gerard, from the 1976 album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard. And it’s pretty down-home.

When I made my comment, I was actually referring to the guitar figure that opened Bare’s record, but Oldetymer has done a service by reminding me of Dickens and her music, which is very much aligned with the sounds and places from which she, and country music, came. When you listen to Dickens, you’re hearing what a great deal of American music sounded like in 1927 when the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter – made their ways from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, for their first recording sessions, sessions that are said to have been the birthpoint of country music records.

There is, thus, an entirely different aesthetic to the music Dickens has recorded. (She turned seventy-four earlier this month.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sound of the past:

Summer Enrichment

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 10, 2009

Summertime in the early and mid-1960s wasn’t just for fun. There was school, too. Every summer, from the time I was six until I was, oh, fourteen, I went to summer school to learn about stuff I didn’t get a chance to learn about during the school year.

Sometimes that was okay, as those things went. I remember taking Spanish for a couple of summers. (The only thing that has stayed with me is “Hola, Paco! Que tal?” I think that translates loosely into “How goes it, Joe?” and is a fairly useless bit of knowledge.) I took a class in World War II history and a couple of drama workshops. Those came during the last few years of summer school, when I was in junior high school. My first summer school experiences came on the campus at St. Cloud State.

There was, at the time, an elementary school on campus, the Campus Laboratory School, which the School of Education used to help train teachers. Like the public schools, the Lab School’s academic year ended in spring, but the college had classes year-round. So in order to have elementary students for the college education students to teach, the Campus Lab ran summer school programs. And I was one of the laboratory subjects for a couple of summers very early during my elementary school days. I remember very little of the subjects we covered during those eight week-sessions. But I remember the oddness of being in a different school, with different types of furnishings than we had at Lincoln Elementary (which reflected, though I did not know this, a different and more experimental approach to education than was used in the public schools). The Campus Lab School seemed like an alien environment, fascinating but unsettling as well.

I also recall a portion of two summers spent in classes at Washington Elementary, on the city’s south side. These particular summer gatherings were called “enrichment” programs and took place, I think, during the summers after fourth and fifth grades, in 1963 and 1964. Just a few kids from each of the city’s elementary schools – those judged to have the most academic potential – were pulled into the program each summer. (Not being certain of current educational lingo, I imagine we’d be called “gifted” these days.) During one of those two summers, our class studied the state of Alaska: its history, culture, geography, the whole works. Among our projects during the summer was to build – with flexible wood strips for the frame, covered with white paper – an igloo.

There is, in one of the boxes of stuff I’ve carried with me over the years, a newspaper clipping with a picture of that summer school class posing by its igloo. There, at the right end of the front row, with brutally short hair and a pair of new black-rimmed glasses, is a little whiteray.

Fourth Grade Summer Enrichment Class at Washington Elementary, St. Cloud, Summer 1963.

The kids around me from St. Cloud’s other schools were still no more than friendly strangers, but a couple of years ago, I looked at the picture for the first time in years, and I realized that almost all of those kids were the ones that populated my classes in high school, in the college prep program. We were our grade’s version, God help us, of the best and the brightest. That doesn’t alter the fact that I looked like a dork.

As I said, I think that was in either 1963 or 1964. So here are some tunes from early June in the first of those two years.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963)
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72119 (No. 2)
“Come And Get These Memories” by Martha & the Vandellas, Gordy 7014 (No. 32)
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” by Rolf Harris, Epic 9596 (No. 58)
“Six Days On The Road” by Dave Dudley, Golden Wing 3020 (No. 75)
“Detroit City” by Bobby Bare, RCA 8183 (No. 87)
“Needles and Pins” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty 55563 (No. 114)

One of these six was omnipresent enough for me to remember hearing it frequently, though I was not a pop-radio listener, and another of them was quirky enough for me to recall it. The single that was everywhere was, of course, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which had spent the previous two weeks at No. 1. (Oddly enough, the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart.) How omnipresent was it? Well, my sister rarely bought current singles. When seventeen-year-old Lesley Gore’s first single hit, however, my sister went out and got herself a copy of it. But it wasn’t just our house: The record had such an amazingly simple and effective hook – “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” – that it couldn’t help but insinuate itself into the broader grown-up culture that existed parallel to teen culture of the time. To put it more simply, even adults knew the record, and that was a rare thing at that time.

The other of these six that I recall hearing was the silly “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Aussie Rolf Harris. Being nine and unaware of Aussie usage, however, I struggled with the meaning of the title. Why did the singer want himself tied down? Like a kangaroo? As catchy as the song was, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just didn’t understand the song (and that was certainly not the last time that’s happened over the years). Harris’ record eventually climbed into the Top 40 and stayed there for nine weeks, peaking at No. 3. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, and that makes me wonder when the AC chart started. I’d always thought it was far more recent than that. (Someone out there knows the answer, I’m sure.)

“Come And Get These Memories” was the first hit for Martha Reeves and her girls, who ended up having twelve records reach the Top 40 between 1963 and 1967. During the second week of June, “Memories” was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 29 a week earlier. The record was well-done but sounded pretty much the same as a lot of girl group records, to my ears. That would change for Martha and the Vandellas with their next hit, as “Heat Wave” exploded out of the speakers and into the Top Ten in August.

I’ve shared Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” here before, but it was a year and a half ago, and that’s an eternity in blogtime. At that time, I decided that Dudley’s hit was likely the most influential record ever recorded in Minnesota, and nothing I’ve heard or read since then has changed that view. The record spent just four weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 32, but it went to No. 2 on the country chart and – as I noted in the earlier post – was the granddaddy of a whole lot of songs about truckers and their rigs. (Does that mean that without “Six Days,” there might have been no “Convoy” in 1975? I tend to think so.)

Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” which is about as country as they came in 1963, is another song that falls neatly into a genre. I imagine you could call it the “Wizard of Oz” or “There’s No Place Like Home” genre. In Bare’s song, it’s the story of the boy who left home for better things in the city and found out, sadly, that home is better. There are, I imagine, hundreds of such songs (nominations, anyone?), but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s. The song, written by Mel Tillis, was first titled “I Wanna Go Home,” and was a No. 18 hit on the country chart for Billy Grammer in early 1963. Bare’s retitled version went to No. 6 on the country chart and peaked at No. 16 on the pop chart.

“Needles and Pins” is far better known as a record by the Searchers (No. 13 in the spring of 1964), but Jackie DeShannon was – according to Wikipedia – the first to record the song, written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono. DeShannon’s version peaked at No. 84, but Wikipedia notes that it reached the top of the charts in English Canada, going to No. 1 on the chart issued by Toronto radio station CHUM. While the Searchers might have had the hit (as did Tom Petty with Stevie Nicks in 1986), I’ve always liked DeShannon’s version a little bit more, with its very obvious Wall of Sound influence.

Revised slightly and picture added March 30, 2015.

‘Beware Of Maya . . .’

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 9, 2009

As I look back over my musical life, there are hundreds of places, I suppose, where I learned something new or heard something new that changed the way I hear music. One popped to mind this week. I wrote last weekend about the people I spent time with during my first quarters of college, the Doors fans Dave and Mark and the other fellows and gals who hung around with us. In later years, my college life revolved around Atwood, the student center at St. Cloud State, but – with one significant exception – not during that first year.

It was that exception that I remembered this weekend. As school began in the autumn of 1971, Atwood had been remodeled and expanded, with the new sections being home, on the main floor, to an art gallery, meeting rooms, a small theater and a listening lounge. It was the listening lounge that pulled me to Atwood for a fair amount of my daily free time during that year.

The lounge itself was comfy: there were listening stations with easy chairs and sofas, with beanbags and large pillows. And on the end of the lounge was a small room with maybe fifteen turntables and a wide-ranging record library. A would-be lounger would go to the service window, and the student worker in the small room would take a student ID and a music request and would then hand out a set of headphones. The lounger would choose an open listening station and the worker would head off to cue up the record.

All that remained was to plug in the headphones and listen to the music, maybe while studying, writing a letter, or simply relaxing to the tunes. (I think this is correct; it’s been nearly forty years since I thought of the lounge, and some of the details are fuzzy.)

The lounge’s library numbered, I think, about fifty albums. I recall listening to Shawn Phillips, to Bobby Whitlock, to Derek & the Dominos, to Joe Cocker and to Leon Russell. I recall that listening to Leon Russell & The Shelter People sometime in early 1972 answered a question that had been lingering since Christmas. When I listened to The Concert for Bangladesh, which my folks had given me for Christmas, I was puzzled as to why George Harrison let Leon Russell sing one of the verses of “Beware of Darkness.” Not that Leon’s verse was badly done; I was learning to like the Okie’s idiosyncratic delivery.

But in January or February of 1972, when I stopped by the listening lounge and popped on the headphones for a run through Leon Russell & The Shelter People, I learned that the album included Leon’s version of the song. And his taking a verse at the concert the previous summer made more sense to me.

I don’t think the listening lounge lasted very long. I’m not sure if it was in operation during my second year of college, beginning in the fall of 1972, but I don’t think so. And I know for sure that it was gone by the time I came home from Denmark in the spring of 1974. It was a good idea, but I imagine there were reasons it was discontinued. And of course, these days, it would be unnecessary: We all carry our listening lounges with us in the form of mp3 players.

The memory of the listening lounge, as I noted above, brought back memories this week of “Beware of Darkness,” which at the time was one of my favorite George Harrison songs. (I still like it, but probably not with the fervor of a college freshman.) I wouldn’t want to call it a strange song, but it is unique, its imagery and message being very much of its time and of its composer. So it’s not surprising that there aren’t very many cover versions. All-Music Guide lists about thirty CDs with recordings of the song on it, and a good share of those, of course, are Harrison’s original version or his (and Russell’s) live version at the Concert for Bangladesh.

The slender list of those who’ve covered the song includes Eric Clapton (at the 2002 Concert for George), Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Marianne Faithful, Joel Harrison, Spock’s Beard and, of course, Leon Russell.

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People [1970]