Posts Tagged ‘Billy Preston’

Gazing Out My Window

June 11, 2019

I got to thinking this morning about June 1973, recalling that by the time the month’s second week rolled around, I’d likely settled into my summer routine on the campus of St. Cloud State:

In the mornings, I’d spend four hours wandering around campus with about three other fellows employed by the Learning Resources Center (the library, in the vernacular), lugging cases filled with cleaning supplies and projection lamps. We’d spend about a week in each classroom building, moving from room to room and doing maintenance on projectors, noting as well which pieces of equipment needed more care than we could provide.

In the afternoons, I’d head to the Education Building and be a janitor for four hours, vacuuming, sweeping, washing blackboards and whiteboards, emptying trash and doing all the other things that janitors do.

The two half-time jobs were increasing the balance of my savings account nicely, so that in September I could add my funds to the vastly larger sum my parents were contributing to my college year in Denmark. In June, that September departure still felt a little distant, though I increasingly found myself gazing out my bedroom window during the nighttime hours, wondering what I would find in Denmark and how it would all feel. As it turned out, very little of my nocturnal imaginings came close to the Danish reality.

As I sat at the window during those nighttime reveries, I’d have my clock radio playing low, probably tuned to WLS out of Chicago. As it happens, the collection at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive has a copy of the station’s Solid Rock Music survey released on June 11, 1973, forty-six years ago today. Here’s the top ten there:

“My Love” by Paul McCartney
“Pillow Talk” by Sylvia
“Daniel” by Elton John
“Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group
“I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” by Barry White
“Hocus Pocus” by Focus
“Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” by George Harrison
“Playground In My Mind” by Clint Holmes
“One Of A Kind (Love Affair)” by the Spinners
“Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John

The only one of those I don’t recall hearing as frequently as its position might indicate is the record by Sylvia. And the only one of those I would never want to hear again is the record by Clint Holmes. (I disliked “Playground In My Mind” from the moment I heard it, and I disliked it even more after there had been a self-made disaster in my life involving a girl named Cindy.)

The other eight, I liked, although the yodeling in “Hocus Pocus” had a short shelf life.

I should note the presence of “Right Place, Wrong Time” by the recently departed Dr. John. I loved the record, just as I came to love the bulk of the good doctor’s work through the years. (There were a few albums and tracks over the years that left me wanting, but only a few.) And I was lucky enough to see Dr. John in 1989 as a member of the first iteration of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. So the news of his passing last week was another grief-bearing reminder that time is getting short – short for my generation, yes, but even more so for the generation that preceded us and brought us our music. I won’t write much about him after this, as I’ve read too many tributes in the past few days to separate my thoughts from the things I’ve read, but I’m doing the second-best thing a music lover and writer can do: I’ve put Mac Rebennack’s work on heavy rotation here this week.

Back to WLS’ Solid Rock Music from forty-six years ago today and a few other favorite singles from the time:

No. 16: “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” by New York City
No. 18: “Shambala” by Three Dog Night
No. 27: “Diamond Girl” by Seals & Crofts
No. 31: “Natural High” by Bloodstone

And we’ll close with the record that was at No. 13 on WLS that long-ago week, a record by another now-departed performer who was also on stage with Ringo Starr in 1989. Here’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston.

2,397,000

September 20, 2018

That’s a hefty number, 2,397,000 is. Where’d it come from?

Well this morning, I looked at the number of pages in the Word file for this blog. Since sometime early this year, I’d been stacking new posts on the top of the file, letting it get longer and longer until editing within it started to get a little unweidly.

The file was sitting at 139 pages with a word count of 58,575. It was time to start a new file. Back in the early days of this blog, I was zipping condensed files of albums to share here and at a couple of boards, so when I began writing blog posts, I called the first file “Zipped & Shared No. 1.”

(The zipping and sharing of files ended early in 2010, when WordPress escorted me from its premises for violations of its policies, just as Blogger had done some time earlier. Being out in the cold of Blogworld, as it were, spurred me to open my own domain, as well as to change the way I offered music: embedding or linking to YouTube videos, some of them my own creation. But I continued to title the Word files I used “Zipped & Shared No. XX.”)

Today, I opened a new file, one titled “Zipped & Shared No. 52.” And I wandered back into the folders that hold the first fifty-one similarly named files, wondering if the lengths of each individual file were about the same. They were, averaging something more than 47,000 words each. The vast majority of those counted words were, in fact, text for this blog, but there were some things counted as words that were detritus, stuff that shouldn’t count toward a blog’s word count.

That detritus included notes to myself about this post or that, lists of links to include in posts and the coding for the embedding of videos. So, in a ham-handed bit of statistical division – my statistics instructor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism would have winced – I took that average of 47,000-plus and sliced it down to 47,000.

Then I multiplied 47,000 times 51 – the number of filled Word files – and came up with 2,397,000. And that’s approximately the number of words I’ve written for this blog since early 2007.

Remember the detritus that includes notes to myself? There’s a little bit of that right at the top of each of the last twenty or so Word files. There’s a note reminding me that the width I use when I embed YouTube videos on the blog is 455 whatevers. That’s also where I keep examples of the three characters in the Danish alphabet that we do not have in the English alphabet – ø, æ, and å – in both lower and upper case. I also keep the entire Danish exclamation “Skål!” so I can post it on Facebook after the Minnesota Vikings win.

And there are four notes about blog posts. One of them reminds me that this year, I am rerunning the 2008 series First Friday – looking at the mad year of 1968 – only this time, it’s as First Wednesday. Another note reminds me that I should consider doing a blog post about the musical (and romantic) duo of Cymbal & Clinger. A third offers the Derek & The Dominos track “Keep On Growing” as a subject for one of my covers posts. And a fourth suggests the song “Guantanamera” as a topic for a similar post.

But I keep looking back at that number: 2,397,000. That’s a lot of words, sentences, paragraphs and posts, many of which were not nearly as good as I’d hoped they’d be.

So where do we go with that? There are about a hundred tracks in the RealPlayer with the word “words” in their titles. And after a quick scan of the titles possible for a tune, I’ve settled on “Encouraging Words” by Billy Preston, the title track from his 1970 album.

Some Thoughts On Thanksgiving 2008

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 27, 2008

Well, it’s Thanksgiving, at least here in the United States.

Other places, I imagine it’s an ordinary Thursday, but here, it’s a day when we feast – those of us who can, that is. As we feast, however, we should also consider the lives of others, both near and distant.

From news reports over the past few days, it’s evident that even here in one of the most blessed nations on Earth, there are people who need the help of others to afford even the most basic of Thanksgiving dinners. The Galilean told his disciples, “The poor we have always with us.” He’s still correct two thousand years later, and I often wonder why we in this nation, in this community of nations, aren’t doing more to be proving him wrong.

And I don’t know the answer. I think the answer – if there is one – gets lost in a morass of politics, economics, theology and ethics. And all the wrangling through those topics doesn’t get us one step closer to putting onto the plate of a poor child a meal of beans and sausage, never mind turkey with the trimmings.

I think, however, that more and more frequently in years to come, those of us fortunate to live in basic comfort – a comfort that must seem like unimaginable affluence to many in the world – will learn what it is like to live on the edge of want and need. It might do us some good, as it might instill in us as people a caring awareness of how fragile life and wellness have been for many who have lived on that edge for years, for decades, for centuries.

Many of us already have that caring awareness, that empathy necessary for us to understand the lives of others, an empathy that one would hope would lead to a driving desire to improve the lives of those others. Perhaps, in what appears to be a coming time of constraint and restraint, those who have not yet shown that trait can learn it. And when better times come again – as we all hope they will – perhaps more of us will be able to feast without the aid of others, and those of us so blessed will be able to lead still more of the world to the table to join us.

In the meantime, on this Thanksgiving Day, may your blessings be – as are the Texas Gal’s and mine – too numerous to count.

A Six-Pack of Thanks
“Be Thankful For What You Got” by William DeVaughn from Be Thankful For What You Got, 1974

“I Want To Thank You” by Billy Preston from That’s The Way God Planned It, 1969

“Thank You Lord” by Rick Nelson from Rudy the Fifth, 1971

“Thank You” by Led Zeppelin from Led Zeppelin II, 1969

“I Want To Thank You” by the Staple Singers from Let’s Do It Again, 1975

“Now Be Thankful” by Fairport Convention, Island WIP 6089, 1970

Chart Digging: September 6, 1969

September 6, 2011

I’ve told the story before, how sometime in late August or early September 1969, I went to the basement and took Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the shelf near Dad’s workbench, dusted it off and took it upstairs.

I wanted my KDWB and my WLS (and a little bit of nearby WJON) in my room.

I don’t know the date of that bit of appropriation. But it was right around this time, and a look at the Billboard Top Ten from forty-two years ago today finds a lot of familiar records:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” by Neil Diamond
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones

The only one there that escapes my memory is the Tom Jones tune. I played it on YouTube this morning – as I no doubt have before – and it’s pleasant but it isn’t ingrained in my memories, as are the other nine on that list.

I have no doubt that I’ve looked at that Top Ten – or one from a week so close as to be nearly identical – but I don’t think I’ve ever dug into the deeper parts of the Billboard chart from that week. There are riches there:

Clarence Reid was an R&B singer and songwriter from Georgia who had three records reach the Billboard Hot 100, two in 1969 and one in 1974. (Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles notes that Reid also recorded “X-rated party records” as Blowfly.) During this week in 1969, Reid’s most successful record was sitting at No. 45 on its way up the chart. “Nobody But You Babe” would perch at No. 40 for two weeks. (It would get to No. 7 on the R&B chart, Reid’s best performance on that chart.) Whitburn says that the record – a funky treat – is an answer record to the Isley Brother’s “It’s Your Thing,” which had gone to No. 2 earlier in 1969.

A little further down, we find the Cascades. The group from San Diego is likely best known for its early 1963 hit, “Rhythm of the Rain,” which went to No. 3. In the six years since, the Cascades had placed five records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, with the best-performing of those being “The Last Leaf,” which went to No. 60 in the spring of 1963. As September 1969 began, the group’s lightweight “Maybe The Rain Will Fall” was at No. 63. It would get to No. 61 before falling off the chart; it was the last single by the group to make the chart.

Most folks who know Billy Preston’s gospel anthem “That’s The Way God Planned It” know the live version from 1971’s Concert For Bangla Desh. Few, I imagine, have heard the studio version, which was the title track to Preston’s only album released on the Apple label. The track was actually listed on the album as “That’s The Way God Planned It (Parts 1 & 2),” and I’m assuming it was Part 1 that was released as the single. (As it happens, that wasn’t the case. See the note from reader and pal Yah Shure at the bottom.) Forty-two years ago this week, that single – which I like a lot – was at No. 65, falling from its peak position of No. 62. (The single would be rereleased in the summer of 1972, after the album The Concert For Bangla Desh and the accompanying film came out, but it would only go to No. 65.) It’s worth noting that the bulk of Preston’s Apple album was produced by George Harrison, and Harrison, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ginger Baker were among the musicians backing Preston.

In 1969, José Feliciano was still trying to replicate the success he’d had with his cover of the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which had gone to No. 3 the year before. “Hi-Heel Sneakers” had reached No. 25 in the autumn of 1968, but several singles after that failed to get any higher than No. 50. In early September 1969, Feliciano’s “Rain” (not the Beatles’ tune) was sitting at No. 76. A sweet but feathery record, “Rain” would go no higher. Its flipside, a Latinized version of the Lennon-McCartney tune “She’s A Woman,” went to No. 103. Feliciano continued to release singles into 1975, but none of them went any higher than No. 83. (In the late 1990s, Feliciano’s 1970 version of “Feliz Navidad” would go to No. 70; it continues to get holiday airplay to this day.)

From 1957’s “Be Careful With A Fool” (No. 95) through 1989’s collaboration with U2, “When Love Comes To Town” (No. 68), B.B. King put forty-seven records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. And starting with 1951’s “3 O’Clock Blues” (No. 1 for five weeks) and ending with 1985’s “Into The Night” (No. 15), he put sixty-eight records into the R&B Top 40. There’s not much to say in this limited space after that, except to note that in early September 1969, his “Get Off My Back Woman” was sitting at No. 100. A bluesy joy, the record would peak at No. 74 on the pop chart and at No. 32 on the R&B chart.

Just about two years before he reached No. 6 with “Do You Know What I Mean,” Lee Michaels showed up on the chart for the first time with a record that had a somewhat similar sound as his future hit. The Los Angeles native’s “Heighty Hi” was at No. 114 in its first week in the Bubbling Under section forty-two years ago this week; it would climb a little bit more in the next four weeks, peaking at No. 106. From where I listen, it could easily have done a lot better.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973, Vol. 3

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2008

The first time I saw Billy Preston, he performed in an open-air concert at Selke Field on St. Cloud’s East Side. Selke’s stone walls date from the 1930s and enclose an entire city block. Until not too many years ago, about a third of the space was used for a football field and a surrounding running track. The rest of the area was open space for whatever uses the university might have.

And on a Saturday afternoon in May 1973, its use was as a home for the day for the legendary keyboard player and singer. I recall that my parents had no problem with my going to the concert – I was nineteen. I’m sure, however, that they had some concerns about my companion for the day. Let’s call her Sunny. She was twenty-six, divorced with two kids, in fragile recovery from an addition to at least one illegal substance, and was paying her way through college and feeding her children by dancing in a strip joint.

I’d met Sunny at The Table at school, and I have to give my folks credit: Mom and Dad never really said anything as I spent a few months seeing Sunny at school and then spending a fair amount of time at her apartment during evenings and weekends. My memory tells me that Sunny might even have come over to our home for dinner at least once, an encounter that would have shown my parents that she was actually pretty self-effacing, quiet with a sweet smile and a nice laugh and not at all the rough woman that they might have feared meeting, given only a description.

But I could tell all through the spring that my folks had their concerns, and looking back, that was reasonable. Between Sunny and me lay vast gaps in age and experience, gaps that scared me a little bit, to be honest, as I spent time with her and got closer to her during the spring and early summer.

We never were lovers. I would have happily accepted that role had it been offered, but I didn’t push for it. During the time that we spent hanging around her home or various drinking establishments, there were a few other men who came and went. Several times when I left Sunny’s home in the evening, there were men there who clearly would not be leaving until morning. Did that bother me? Yes, but given my utter inexperience in that aspect of life, it also brought me a sense of quiet relief. I never pushed for more.

I was happy spending time with her and her friends – they were a wide-ranging and fascinating group of people – and also spending time with her kids. I’ll call them Luke and Bethy, and they were eight and six, respectively. We went on picnics, played mini-golf once, I think, and the four of us – augmented more than once by one or more of Sunny’s lady friends and very rarely by one of the men she knew – would go shopping, ending the outing with a stop at a burger joint.

She was good to her kids, tried to be a good mom, from what I knew about the mom biz when I was nineteen, and she seemed – looking back – to be doing well at walking the slender bridge of recovery. I only recall one time when I truly questioned her judgment: In May, the four of us drove to St. Paul with tickets to see the Doobie Brothers. Along the way, we picked up a man she knew, a stop I’d not been told about, but that was okay. At the show, however, Sunny and her guy went dancing in the open space in front of the stage, leaving her two children sitting in the front row, scared and overwhelmed by the crowd and the spectacle and the sounds booming from the ten-foot-tall speaker not all that far away. For most of the concert, I sat between the kids, an arm around each one, very angry.

The academic year ended, and I stayed on campus for the summer, working half-time as a janitor and half-time for Learning Resources. I saw Sunny a few times early in the summer, as I got ready for my time in Denmark. Later, in August of 1973, she was one of those who arranged a surprise going-away party for me at the Grand Mantel, our favorite place for drinks. She sent me off with a kiss.

The night I got home from Denmark, in late May, 1974, I went down to the Grand Mantel to meet Sam, who’d left a note on my car to that effect a day or two earlier. He couldn’t make it that evening, it turned out, but I called him and we arranged to meet the next day on campus. While we were talking, I asked him quickly about some of our mutual friends. All seemed fine until I asked, “And Sunny – how’s she doing?”

There was a silence. “That,” said Sam, “is a sad situation.” He paused before telling me more. She’d gone back to drugs and dropped out of school. He thought the county had taken the kids away from her. And he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think she was in St. Cloud anymore.

One of the next few days, I drove past the apartment where Sunny and her kids had lived when I left town. It was empty. I never saw her again.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 3

We’ll start with a song that Sunny and I danced to during that May 1973 concert, and then go on to a song that often makes me think of her. And we’ll go random from there.

“Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston, A&M single 1411

“Too Late For Prayin’” by Gordon Lightfoot from Sundown

“I’m Just A Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like A Man)” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette

“Mind Games” by John Lennon, Apple single 1868

“Page 43” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon

“Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones, Brussels, Belgium, October 17

“Final Theme” by Bob Dylan from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

“Clever Girl” by Tower of Power from Tower of Power

“You Got To Reap Just What You Sow” by Joy of Cooking from Same Old Song And Dance (unreleased)

“Let It Ride” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Mercury single 73457

“If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from Be What You Are

“Together” by El Chicano from El Chicano

A few notes:

The Hall & Oates tune is one of the great tracks from an album that I think gets ignored when talk turns to great records. The album was released in 1973, and “She’s Gone” went out as a single for the first time in 1974, but neither the album nor the single went anywhere until 1976, when they both reached the charts. But both the album and the single soon became afterthoughts to the duo’s more current work at the time. “She’s Gone” survives in the Oldies rotation, but Abandoned Luncheonette deserves a better fate than it got.

The year of 1973 falls smack-dab in the middle of John Lennon’s so-called “Lost Weekend.” His albums might have been fuzzily thought out at the time – Mind Games especially has always seemed erratic – but he could still find great singles inside himself. And the title track to that erratic album was one of them.

Among the various combination of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, the duo of Crosby and Nash produced some of the best music. Graham Nash/David Crosby was the best of the albums the duo recorded, and “Page 43,” Crosby’s brief and sweet exploration of the purpose of life, is the best track on the album: “ . . . and you should have a sip of it, else you’ll find . . . it’s passed you by.”

It’s difficult to pull individual track from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon without pulling the music entirely out of context. “Money,” which opened Side Two of the original vinyl, worked. “Time” from Side One, and “Us and Them,” from Side Two, worked a little less well. But “The Great Gig In The Sky,” which closed Side One, somehow manages here to stand on its own. If I have my Pink Floyd lore correct, Clare Torry provides the swooping vocals.

I don’t often offer soundboard recordings/bootlegs here. The Muddy Waters recording with the Rolling Stones the other day was an exception. So, too, is the Rolling Stones’ version of “Tumbling Dice” today. Supposedly recorded for a live album, the Brussels show gives a good look at the Stones when they were truly “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World,” and to me, it’s a reminder of how they sounded when I saw them in Denmark thirteen days before they played this show in Brussels.

Of the final four groups in today’s list, the only one you seem have a chance of hearing on Oldies radio is Bachman-Turner Overdrive and its seven Top 40 hits, and that’s too bad. Joy of Cooking, as readers know, is one of my favorite forgotten groups of those years when the Sixties blended into the Seventies, but the group never hit the Top 40. The Staples Singers had eight Top 40 hits between 1971 and 1975, including two No. 1 songs (“I’ll Take You There” in 1972 and “Let’s Do It Again” in 1975), but I don’t recall the last time I heard them on any of the Oldies stations I listen to. The same holds true for El Chicano, which wasn’t nearly as successful reaching the charts as BTO or the Staples but still did have two Top 40 hits, including the sweet “Tell Her She’s Lovely” (No. 40 for one week!) in 1973.

Another Walk Through The Junkyard

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 18, 2008

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning (it will pass), and I am behind on household chores, so I’m not really going to write anything. But I thought I’d take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard (pre-2000) and see what we find. I’ll sort the songs by running time, and then start with the best song I see at about the midpoint of the collection, and we’ll go random from there.

“I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters from Fathers & Sons, 1969

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles from Beatles For Sale, 1964

“Not My Way Home” by Nanci Griffith from The Dust Bowl Symphony, 1999

“I’m Her Daddy” by Bill Withers from Just As I Am, 1971

“Feels Like” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

“Little Girl” by Billy Preston from Encouraging Words, 1970

“Quiet About It” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester, 1970

“The Woo Woo Train” by the Valentines, Rama single 196, 1956

“The Spa” by John Barry from the soundtrack to Thunderball, 1965

“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2430, 1967

“Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Bell single 705, 1968

“High, Low and In Between” by Townes Van Zandt from High, Low and In Between, 1972

“If (I Could Be With You)” by Lavelle White, Duke single 198, 1958

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!, 1965

“The River” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free, 1972

A few notes:

Fathers & Sons was a Chess Records project that brought together Muddy Waters and piano player Otis Spann with three members of the Butterfield Blues Band: leader Paul Butterfield, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Sam Lay. Also sitting was Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MGs, while drummer Buddy Miles played on one of the live tracks that made up the final album. Such mergings of talent and generations don’t always work out, of course, which makes Fathers & Sons that much more of a treasure. It’s one of the great albums of Waters’ long career, and a milestone for the other musicians, as well.

“I’ll Follow the Sun” is listed here as being from Beatles For Sale, and that is where it’s found these days in the CD racks. But I’ll always hear it as part of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol created during the group’s early years by trimming a few songs off a British release and adding some singles that weren’t on albums in the U.K.

The Dust Bowl Symphony was Nanci Griffith’s attempt to recast some of her more memorable songs as a suite, with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t always work, and most of the songs on the album are likely better heard in their original settings. (“Not My Way Home” was originally released on 1997’s Blues Roses From the Moons.) One track that works, and is worth seeking out, is “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith recast as a duet with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

The Valentines were one of those groups that sprang up on street corners all through New York City during the mid-1950s. According to Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, “The Woo Woo Train” was composed and arranged by the group in the recording studio’s men’s room the morning of the recording session. I think it’s a great track; I especially love the raucous sax solo.

Come June 1, it will be forty years since “Angel of the Morning” entered the Top 40. It’s still a gorgeous song – written by Chip Taylor – and a great record, and it’s certainly one of the most enduring of all one-hit wonders.

The bluesy R&B grit of “If (I Could Be With You)” is, to my mind, of a kind with most of the recordings coming from Texas-based Duke records in the late 1950s. (The label was also the home of legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.) Lavelle got her first success with the self-penned “If,” which she recorded while she was in her late 20s, if the date of 1958 is accurate (and it seems to be). White is still recording, and since 1994, has released three albums, two of them on the Antone’s label. The most recent of those is 2003’s Into the Mystic.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan!

May 24, 2011

Whenever a pop culture icon reaches an age of, oh, fifty or greater that ends with a zero, the mass media finds itself cluttered for a few days with rethought biographies, appreciations, and assessments of said icon’s influence on our popular culture. The zero rule has held true again in the past few weeks regarding Bob Dylan, who turns seventy today: I’ve seen numerous magazine pieces and book reviews in the past weeks re-examining the life, music and impact of the Bard of Hibbing, and I expect that if I watch one of the national newscasts tonight – I generally watch CBS – I’ll see a piece that looks at all of those things and adds to it a commentary on the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

(I should note that there was not long ago a similar appreciation and assessment of a pop culture icon for a birthday that did not end in zero: In June of 2006, Paul McCartney was, quite appropriately, thus feted and assessed as he turned sixty-four.)

I’ve written and presented at this blog over the years a fair amount of my own assessments and appreciations of Mr. Dylan’s work. I think it’s almost enough to say this morning that Bob Dylan’s music is one of the foundations on which my own life in music comfortably rests. He wasn’t the first artist whose music captivated me – those honors, such as they might be, go to Al Hirt, John Barry and the Beatles, with Dylan coming along shortly thereafter. But, as he did for the culture at large, it was Dylan who taught me that the music I listened to – and the music I wrote – could be lyrically and topically challenging.

(That lyrical liberation brought with it its own burden, one that has been hefted by creative people around the world, many of them better at their crafts than I: It’s all too easy for writers to lapse into Dylanese while crafting lyrics, with the resulting product coming off more as pale imitation than influenced creation. That can happen, of course, with any artist and in the context of any art-form. I’ve discarded many a lyric because it comes off as faux Dylan or stale Springsteen, and I assume – as an example – that many screen writers have reread their works in progress and mourned the presence of limp Scorsese.)

So, rather than assess, analyze or rehash Bob Dylan’s career and influence here this morning, I thought I’d just stack up a set of six cover versions of his work that I enjoy or admire. My favorite among the cover versions of Dylan’s tunes is not listed among them; I’ve written before about Eric Clapton’s bluesy reconstruction of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” during the 1992 celebration of Dylan’s career. But the cover versions that follow rank high on my list.

The album Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan was released by the House of Blues in 1999, pairing a selection of twelve Dylan tunes with performers steeped in the blues, rock or R&B traditions. Among the performers and tunes paired on Tangled Up In Blues were Taj Mahal with “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” Leon Russell with “Watching the River Flow,” Mavis Staples with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and R.L. Burnside with “Everything Is Broken.” But one of my favorite tracks on the CD is “Ballad of a Thin Man” as interpreted by James Solberg. Solberg, whose band spent much of the 1990s backing bluesman Luther Allison, delivers a biting performance, instrumentally and vocally, of Dylan’s long-ago shredding – if legend is to be believed – of a New York Times reporter.

Covers of “Blowin’ In The Wind” are not scarce, of course. I’m not going to even try to estimate how many there might have been, but four of them reached the Billboard Hot 100 (or bubbled under): Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963, Stan Getz in 1964, Stevie Wonder in 1966 and the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969. The version that soul performer O.V. Wright released in early 1970 wound up as the B-Side to a tune titled “Love The Way You Love,” which made neither the Billboard Hot 100 nor the magazine’s R&B Top 40. I found Wright’s version of the Dylan tune on a 2010 collection on the Ace label titled How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan.

Maria Muldaur has moved in and out of public view for years, often performing in a folk-roots vein since growing up – according to All-Music Guide – in New York’s Greenwich Village and then joining, in the mid-1960s, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Likely best-known for her 1974 hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” she’s released in recent years a series of bluesy, rootsy albums, one of which was the 2006 CD Heart Of Mine (Love Songs Of Bob Dylan). That’s where I found her very good cover of “Buckets of Rain” from Dylan’s 1975 classic album Blood on the Tracks.

Of all of the folks who’ve covered a Dylan tune, one of the least likely names I’ve come across is that of Julie London, the late 1950s and early 1960s chanteuse. Described by AMG as a “sultry, smoky-voiced master of understatement,” London shone on titles like “Cry Me A River,” “September In The Rain” and “Black Coffee.” That’s why her turn on “Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo)” seems at first thought to be a mismatch and at second thought to be surreal. But the understatement that AMG cites makes the tune work for London. At least it works for me. The track comes from London’s 1969 album Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, on which she also takes on – among other things – the title tune (which was a No. 4 hit for the Ohio Express; London’s version, released in 1968, bubbled under at No. 125) and the venerable “Louie Louie.”

Odd pairings are, it seems, easy to find when one is digging into covers of Bob Dylan tunes. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” remains one of Dylan’s most cryptic and most bitter songs, a seeming stream-of-consciousness epic that timed out at 7:33 on his 1965 masterpiece, Bringing It All Back Home. So seeing the tune listed with a running time of 3:49 on an album by R&B master and one-time gospel prodigy Billy Preston can bring all sorts of cognitive dissonance to the fore. But through either the song’s durability or Preston’s skill and talent, the cover version works (and I’d vote for a combination of the attributes of the song and the singer). The track comes from Preston’s 1973 album, Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music.

And I’ve saved one of my personal favorites for the last spot. During the first iteration of this blog, I wrote about the three albums released in the 1960s by Bobby Jameson. (Those posts have now been archived and are available here.) The first Jameson album I posted was 1969’s Working!, and after I wrote about it, Bobby got in touch with me. During those first few months of our friendship, he offered me a track from those 1969 sessions that had been pulled from the album and had never been widely heard. Even after a few years, I find Bobby’s take on Dylan’s “To Ramona” to be world-weary, almost desolate and utterly lovely:

A Baker’s Dozen Of Thanks

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 23, 2007

It’s quiet here this morning.

There’s no noise from the parking lot outside, where most morning, the college kids and younger adults who make up a good portion of the folks in our apartment complex start the public portions of their days with laughter, the sounds of auto engines rumbling and the more frequent sounds of the heavy low bass of rap or hip-hop. In fact, more than half of the parking spaces are empty, evidence of Thanksgivings spent elsewhere.

The Texas Gal is taking advantage of the opportunity a rare vacation day presents: She’s sleeping in past her normal rising time of 6:30. It’s 7:47, and I’ve shut the bedroom door so that our two rampaging catboys – Clarence and Oscar – leave her alone. They’ll no doubt come through here, demanding attention, while I write.

We had a pleasant day yesterday: dinner with my family at my sister’s home in a Twin Cities suburb, and then we spent the evening with friends Sean and Stephanie at their new apartment on the west end of St. Cloud.

I had planned to rip an album this morning, Dobie Gray’s Drift Away from 1973, but I think I will leave that for Monday and move Monday’s planned share – Color Him In, a 1967 album by Bobby Jameson – for a week from today. Instead, though, I thought I’d offer a Baker’s Dozen in the spirit of yesterday’s holiday.

And no, I’m not going to go all rhapsodic about Thanksgiving and the things I am grateful for. Just let it suffice to say that I have a great deal for which to be grateful, starting, of course, with the Texas Gal and her love for me and extending throughout the various aspects of my life – my friends, my critters and all the rest – to those folks who stop by Echoes In The Wind to listen to the music that moves me.

A Baker’s Dozen of Thanks
“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic single 10555, 1970

“Thanks for the Pepperoni” by George Harrison and friends from Apple Jam, All Things Must Pass, 1970

“Thank You Lord” by Rick Nelson from Rudy the Fifth, 1971

“Now Be Thankful” by Fairport Convention, Island WIP single 6809, 1970

“I Wanna Thank You Baby” by Delbert McClinton from Plain From The Heart, 1981

“Thanks To You” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Be Thankful For What You Got” by William DeVaughn, Roxbury single 0236, 1974

“Thank You” by King Floyd from Think About It, 1973

“Thank You Mr. Poobah” by the Butterfield Blues Band from Paul Butterfield Blues Band, 1965

“I Want To Thank You” by Billy Preston from That’s The Way God Planned It, 1969

“Thanks For Saving My Life” by Billy Paul, Philadelphia International 3538, 1974

“Thank You Girl” by the Beatles, Vee-Jay single 587, 1964

“Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot from Shadows, 1982

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Thanks For The Pepperoni” was one of the five tracks on the third LP of All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s first solo album. That LP, titled Apple Jam, was made up of five long jam sessions recorded by Harrison and his friends during the recording of the album. Listened to as a whole, the jams could become tedious. Taken one at a time, they’re fun to listen to, for the most part. There are no specific credits for tracks, so one has to listen and guess. Guitarists on the album sessions were Harrison, Clapton and Dave Mason; bass players were Klaus Voorman and Carl Radle; on drums were Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon and Alan White; and playing keyboards were Gary Wright, Bobby Whitlock, Billy Preston and Gary Brooker. Which of those actually played on “Thanks For The Pepperoni” is left to speculation, informed supposition and wild guesses.

Rudy the Fifth was a pretty good country rock album from Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band. Made up for the most part of originals – “Thank You Lord” is one of them – the album also featured covers of Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Just Like A Woman” and of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” Although fairly obscure today, it’s an album worth seeking out. (It’s available from various on-line retailers at a two-few with the album Rick Sings Nelson.)

William DeVaughn was a one-hit wonder who, according to All-Music Guide, “was working for the government when he paid $900 for a recording session at Philadelphia’s Omega Sound Inc. (basically a ‘vanity record’ operation).” The session, which was backed by MFSB’s main rhythm section, so impressed Omega’s vice-president Frank Fioravanti, that he shopped “Be Thankful For What You Got” to various labels, finally getting it released on Roxbury. The song went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and to No. 4 on the Billboard Top 40. (DeVaughn had R&B hits with “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” and “Figures Can’t Calculate” but never hit the Top 40 pop chart again.)

I’ve listed “Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot here before but it’s too lovely a song to leave out of this selection.

Some Lasting Concert Memories

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 22, 2007

Some time ago, I set down a few words about the concerts I used to go to at St. Cloud State, starting when I was in high school and continuing through my college years. I came to the judgment that the Chicago concert in the spring of 1970 was the best I’d ever heard there.

That got me to thinking about sorting through memories of all the pop and rock concerts I’d ever attended and deciding on one best show. Kind of a tough task, as I was certain I’d forget a show or two here or there. And I might. But the best shows do tend to stand out, even after – in many cases – more than thirty years.

Now, I’ve never been one to go to a lot of concerts. Compared to some of my contemporaries, I hardly went to concerts at all. I knew people in college who hit the Twin Cities for shows nearly every weekend and then doubled that rate during the summers. That left me wondering how they kept track of them: To me, memory is a large part of the concert experience, the ability to sit back and re-experience, as it were, a moment that moved you but that may have taken place years before.

And that got me to thinking. Which moments stand out for me? When I look back at the concerts I’ve been to, what do I recall most clearly?

5.) In the spring of 1972, Elton John basked in the applause as his concert at St. Cloud State neared the two-hour point. Sitting at his piano after one of his quieter ballads, he raised his hands, thanked the crowd and mopped his brow. “We’re gonna have some fun now,” he said, leaving me and my date wondering what we’d been having up to then. He stood up and kicked the bench away from the piano. “I love this song,” he said. Then he bent over the keyboard and ripped into a kick-ass rendition of “Take Me To The Pilot.”

4.) All night long in the summer of 1974, the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had traded off being the center of attention, fading into the background as each of the others sang lead on the group’s songs or performed material from solo albums, taking turns adding guitar solos to the performances and generally being very well-controlled. Near the end of the show, all four strapped on electric guitars to perform “Ohio.” As they headed into a long jam, the four of them formed a box on stage, all facing each other, backs to the rest of us in the arena. And it was like a switch was flipped: Suddenly it was the four of them – David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young – and the rest of us could just as well have not been there, as they traded lick after lick for what seemed like a very long time, embracing themselves and their music and giving the 17,000 of us in the audience the privilege of listening in.

3.) The Rolling Stones performed in a small arena when they played Århus, Denmark, in October 1973, doing two shows in a space that, in memory, seems no larger than maybe four basketball courts. I saw the second show with my Danish brother, Ejvind, and we had the best seats I’ve ever had for a concert: fifth row up, no more than sixty feet from the stage. The two images that stay with me from the show are of perspiration: Sax player Bobby Keys, already having shed water during the first show and dripping under the lights as he tore through his solo during the second show’s opener, “Brown Sugar,” and Mick Jagger mopping sweat from his brow midway through the show as he danced through the middle section of “Midnight Rambler.”

2.) In July of 1989, Ringo Starr brought his first All-Starr band to St. Paul’s Harriet Island for an outdoor show. About 20,000 folks came out to see the ex-Beatle, who’d brought along with him folks like Levon Helm and Rick Danko from The Band; Dr. John; Joe Walsh; Billy Preston; Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons from the E Street Band; session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner; and his own drummer son Zak. There were a number of wonderful moments: Helm and Danko teaming up to perform The Band’s classic song, “The Weight,” and Ringo closing the show as Billy Shears doing “With A Little Help From My Friends” were just two. But the best moment for me came during “Yellow Submarine.” During one of the choruses, Clemons leaned into his microphone and contributed the antiphonal spoken word portions that on the record were done, I think, by John Lennon. As he did so, he beckoned to the crowd to join him. And we did: “So we sailed (So we sailed) . . . into the sun (into the sun) . . . ’til we found (’til we found) . . . the sea of green (the sea of green.)” And so on. But at the end of the chorus, Clemons was silent after “yellow submarine,” leaving the 20,000 of us in the audience to replicate in unison Lennon’s manic “A-ha!”

1.) The best single moment I’ve ever had at a concert took place in September 2002, when the Texas Gal scored tickets for us to see Paul McCartney at the Xcel Center in St. Paul. It started as a good concert and then began to turn magical when McCartney encouraged our ovation for John Lennon before he performed “Here Today,” his tribute to John from Tug of War. He followed that by picking up a ukulele for a performance of George Harrison’s “Something,” which was lovely. And then, as the applause died down, there came from the speakers the sound of an airliner revving up. “Ohmigod, yes!” I hollered as McCartney and his sidemen (who were remarkably good) leaped into “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” quite likely my favorite Beatles’ song of all time. I couldn’t stop grinning, and the memory still makes me grin. I think it will for a long, long time.

So what do I share for a post about my best concert moments? Well, logic would call for McCartney’s Back In The U.S., a two-disc collection recorded during that 2002 tour. Two things helped me decide against it. First, it’s still in print, still easily available. Second, quite a few of the performances on it aren’t as good as the ones we heard in St. Paul that night. Although I enjoy the CD, I don’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would when I got it.

But the 1990 release Ringo Starr And His All-Starr Band, now, that’s a different story! I was surprised to find that it’s out of print here in the U.S. (Used copies are easily available online.) And, to my ears, it provides an accurate and very enjoyable listen, with the performances – recorded during the tour finale at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles – being faithful to the sound of the show I saw during the tour’s early weeks. The only disappointments are the absences – for clearance reasons, I assume – of the Lennon-McCartney tunes, “Yellow Submarine” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Live albums can be a crapshoot, of course. Many of them – and some of these are legendary – have so many studio overdubs added to repair concert deficiencies that they might as well be studio albums. I don’t think that’s the case here. At least, I’ve never read anything about it, as I have in the cases of other prominent rockers and their live albums. It’s a fun album to listen to on its own, and as an audio souvenir of a hot evening in July 1989, it really can’t be beat. (A-ha!)

Here’s the track listing:
It Don’t Come Easy
The No-No Song
Iko Iko
The Weight
Shine Silently
Honey Don’t
You’re Sixteen
Quarter To Three
Raining In My Heart
Will It Go Round In Circles
Life In The Fast Lane
Photograph

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band [1990]