Posts Tagged ‘Bobby “Blue” Bland’

An Odd Sorrow Recalled

August 8, 2014

I remember sitting on the green couch in the basement rec room, flanked by my parents, forty years ago tonight. I was twenty, and the three of us rarely watched TV together anymore, but that night, we watched as President Richard Nixon told us and the rest of the world that he would resign the presidency.

(As to why Nixon resigned, folks my age and nearby will likely remember very well the crimes, the cover-ups, the dirty tricks and the secret tapes; if, by chance, you’re younger than that or have amnesia, two books would provide a good start: All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon by Judge John J. Sirica.)

I don’t know how my folks felt about the president’s resignation. I’m pretty sure my mom was a Republican at the time and happily voted for Nixon in both 1968 and 1972. I think my dad was generally a Democrat, and almost certainly voted for Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968. I think that the ultra-liberal leanings of Democratic candidate George McGovern troubled Dad in 1972, but I’m not sure if that resulted in a vote for Nixon or not.

Me? I happily cast my first presidential vote for George McGovern in 1972, wrongly thinking that he might have a chance at winning the election but rightly thinking even as the electoral votes were totaled that night that the iceberg that was Watergate would eventually sink the S.S. Nixon, an opinion that my folks tended to greet with skepticism.

In many other cases, it would have been pleasant to sit on that green couch forty years ago tonight and know that I had been proven right (and would continue to be proven right for the next few years as trials went by and books and then more books came out). But the moment seemed too serious that night forty years ago to indulge in any kind of satisfaction about having been prescient. Instead, there was relief that the saga was coming to an end, there was some disgust at the repetition of old tired justifications for unacceptable actions, and there was an odd sense of sorrow.

I disagreed with almost everything Richard Nixon said and did, and his crimes and those committed by his people in his name were too serious for him to remain in office. I felt no sympathy for the man. But I felt that odd sorrow. Why? I’m still not sure.

Maybe it was for those who were duped by the president and his men for so long, which was most of us in the U.S. Maybe it was for the country having been so preoccupied for two years when other issues remained unattended and unresolved. Maybe it was because there was a thought that it didn’t have to turn out the way it did, that one bad choice in the Nixon camp led to another bad choice and then another and another. (If that thought lingered, it wasn’t for long, as I soon came to the conclusion that very little – for good or ill – happened by accident or without forethought in the Nixon White House.)

Whatever its genesis, there was that small sorrow as I watched the president announce his plans to resign. And when the speech was over, Mom and Dad and I went upstairs and went about whatever we did to fill the remainder of an August evening in 1974, me with that bit of sorrow hanging around for some time.

In retrospect, that evening’s address and the actual resignation of the president the next day was the first of three events in a little more than a year’s time that I think closed the door on the era that we call the Sixties. The other two? At the end of April 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, and the Vietnam War was over. In September 1975, Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress who might have been turned into a radical, was arrested in San Francisco. And we moved on.

And what music from early August 1974 fits the mood that I find myself in while writing this piece? Well, there’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” by Bobby “Blue” Bland. Ostensibly written about the absence of a woman, it can be heard as being about the absence of any cherished thing. As I look back to that evening forty years ago tonight, I think the sorrow I felt was because we’d lost something, even if I couldn’t – and still can’t – put a name on it. And even if the words aren’t quite right, Bland’s record sounds like I remember feeling that night.

In the Billboard Hot 100 released two days after my folks and I watched the president announce his resignation, Bland’s plaint was sitting at No. 100. It would move up to No. 91 and to No. 9 on the R&B chart.

‘Wise Shall Be The Bearers Of Light’

August 30, 2011

The Texas Gal and I are taking some time for ourselves this week; the past few weeks have been busier than normal. Her garden did very well this year, and we’ve been busy picking and canning the result (numerous jars of green beans, of chili base, of stewed tomatoes in both Italian and Mexican seasonings, of pickle relish, of pickles both sweet and dill and of carrots). We also spent time last week preparing for our Second Annual End of Summer Picnic, which came off Sunday with a fine afternoon for all involved and without a raindrop for anyone.

But the busyness of the past few weeks has left us a little drained, so we’re going to ease back on the throttle a little bit this week as she takes a few days off from work. There are plenty of tomatoes ripening in paper bags and yet on the vine; we’ll need to do something with them, but otherwise, we’ll sleep late, relax, maybe take a drive to an antique shop or two and maybe a dinner out.

Included in that is my writing briefer posts here than has been my custom over the years. I know that a few recent posts have been slender, but that reflected how busy things have been. We’ll let this week’s pickings be a little slight, too, as we slide through what is – culturally, at least – the last week of summer. My regular verbosity will return – as inspiration warrants – in about a week.

This morning, I’m pondering the last days of August 1983, the time when I was settling into my new surroundings in Columbia, Missouri, and preparing for a two-year stint in graduate school. I recall the night before fall semester began, sometime during the last days of August. I was anxious about how things would go in my classes and in my part-time work as an assistant editor at the Columbia Missourian (and in my social life, too, as I was living alone again). The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism has a long and bright history, and I wondered if I could measure up. So the evening before classes began, I drove into downtown Columbia and wandered around the portion of the campus near the journalism school and the Francis Quadrangle.

Along the way, I passed under the arch that connects Walter Williams Hall to Neff Hall and saw the inscription above the arch: “Wise Shall Be The Bearers Of Light”.

Wise? I thought. Wise? Me?

Still shaking my head at the thought of my being the holder of wisdom in any way, I got into my car and drove back home. Whatever happened in the next two years was going to happen, and I would have a lot of smart people around me. Maybe some of them would have some wisdom to share with me, and – long shot that it was – maybe some of the things I would share would come off to them as wise.

I imagine the radio was on in the car as I drove home that evening pondering wisdom. I have no idea what I heard, but I’m certain it wasn’t “Wise Man’s Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, a tune recorded in Memphis in 1952.

A Dose Of Voodoo From 1962

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 15, 2008

Some of the folks from Bookcrossing, our book club, stopped by last evening for a soup dinner. The five of us filled ourselves on a Mexican rice and beef soup and a cabbage/potato/sausage soup – both creations by the Texas Gal – as well as an assortment of chips, dips and so on. And we talked for a couple hours about books and other stuff.

As happens when we all get together at someone’s home, our visitors scanned our bookshelves. It’s a cliché – one based in some truth, I suppose – that one can get to know a person by a close examination of his or her books. Given the mélange of titles on our shelves, I would guess that the only things that can be deduced about the Texas Gal and me is that we’re interested in a wide range of topics, both fiction and nonfiction, and that we dearly love books. (Both true, of course.)

But as our friends scanned our shelves, I noticed a title that I thought might be of some interest, so I pulled from the shelves and handed to them Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, a 1961 volume by Mary Nash, reprinted in 1962 by the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.

How many folks out there remember the Weekly Reader? I was surprised this morning to learn that it still exists. According to Wikipedia, the Reader was acquired in 2007 by The Reader’s Digest Association and continues publication. Wikipedia notes that the first edition of the Weekly Reader, for fourth-graders, came out in 1928, and by 1959, there were editions for kindergarten through grade six.

Wikipedia describes it thus: “The editions cover curriculum themes in the younger grades and news-based, current events and curriculum themed-issues in the older grades.” I recall seeing the Reader regularly during my days at Lincoln Elementary. I enjoyed it, I think, but then, I’ve always enjoyed reading almost anything.

And that includes the books I got through the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I probably still have ten I got through the club, some of which I remember quite well. One of those is Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. The Mrs. Coverlet of the title is the housekeeper for the three young Malcolm children, and the reader learns that in an earlier title, while their father – evidently widowed – was out of the country on business, Mrs. Coverlet was also called away. Instead of staying with a neighbor as instructed, the children stayed in their own home, with some mild adventure ensuing.

In Magicians, the sequel, the Malcolms’ father is still away, and, after young Molly Malcolm secretly enters Mrs. Coverlet in a recipe contest, the housekeeper is offered a chance to compete in the contest finals in New York City. Determined that her charges be better supervised during her absence, Mrs. Coverlet arranges for spinster Eva Penalty to move into the Malcolm home.

All three children are stifled by the dour Miss Penalty, none more than the youngest, six-year-old Toad. Some time earlier, having found a comic book of horror stories, Toad had clipped a coupon and sent off for a book of magic spells. With Miss Penalty running the house rigidly, Toad devises what is basically a voodoo doll and confines Miss Penalty to her bed for the remainder of Mrs. Coverlet’s absence. Mishaps ensue, but things turn out well, of course. Scanning the book this morning, I remember enjoying the story. When I pulled the book off the shelf to show it to our friends last evening, however, one thing popped into my head:

How would parents react these days to a novel for children based on the ideas of magic spells and voodoo dolls? I would guess that there would be an effort to ban Weekly Reader and its book club from the classroom.

As far as I recall, no one blinked back in 1962.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962, Vol. 2
“Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2162 (No. 120, “bubbling under” the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 13, 1962)

“409” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 4777 (No. 76)

“Leah” by Roy Orbison, Monument 467 (No. 74)

“Stormy Monday Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke 355 (No. 54)

“Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54065 (No. 32)

“Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 849 (No. 24)

“I Left My Heart In San Francisco” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 42332 (No. 23)

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” by Carole King, Dimension 2000 (No. 22)

“Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1022 (No. 13)

“If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. 5296 (No. 10)

“Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s, Stax 127 (No. 6)

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole, Capitol 4804 (No. 3)

“Sherry” by the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay 456 (No.1)

A few notes:

“Up On The Roof” was the third Top Ten hit for the Drifters (“There Goes My Baby” in 1959 and “Save The Last Dance For Me” in 1960 were the first two), but the first since Ben E. King left the group and was replaced by Rudy Lewis. “Up On The Roof” eventually went to No. 5.

Roy Orbison’s “Leah” is an odd record. With its other-worldly sound, I’m surprised it got into the charts at all. It’s simply spooky, and the fact that it went to No. 35 still startles me. I mean, I like it, but I wouldn’t have thought the record marketable.

While Bobby “Blue” Bland never had a major hit, “Stormy Monday Blues” was released in the middle of a period when his records were at least reaching the Top 40. “Turn On Your Love Light” had gone to No. 28 in January of 1962, and the double-sided single, “Call On Me/That’s The Way Love Is” would reach Nos. 22 and 33, respectively, in early 1963. “Stormy Monday Blues,” while a good record, wasn’t quite as good as those. “That’s The Way Love Is” is a great record, and I think it’s nearly forgotten. (“Stormy Monday Blues” is tagged as a 1961 record because that was the session date, but it was in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.)

Chubby Checker’s “Popeye the Hitchhiker” was another attempt to launch a dance craze, with the dance in question, I believe, based on extending one’s thumb and cocking one’s arm, as if hitching a ride. (Sadly, there seem to be no examples of the dance on YouTube.) “Popeye,” which went to No. 10, was the B-side to “Limbo Rock,” which I shared here in August.

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” was a pretty slight record, but it fit right in during 1962 and got as high as No. 22 on the charts. The artist, Carole King, showed up on the charts nine years later, of course, with “It’s Too Late” and was a presence on the charts into the 1980s.

I’ve always loved “Ramblin’ Rose” for some reason. It’s a pretty song, and of course, Nat King Cole had a great voice. This certainly wasn’t his best performance – that would have come on one or more of his jazz/R&B sides, but something about the song grabbed the nine-year-old whiteray in a way that none of the other records in this Baker’s Dozen ever has.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2007

Not long after I rose this morning, at about seven o’clock, someone in Clichy, France, a city of about 60,000 on the northwest edge of Paris, clicked on this blog. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon in Clichy, so it might have been someone just finishing lunch. I’ll never know.

But when that unknown resident of France clicked on the blog, it turned the counter here to 50,000. And I’d like to thank him or her as well as all of you who stop by here. I started the blog on a whim, creating a place to share music I love, and I am gratified that so many people out there – from Clichy, France, and Klagenfurt, Austria, to Yamagata, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan, and on to Warwick, Rhode Island. and Madison, Wisconsin – seem to enjoy the same music I do and seem to enjoy reading my tales.

I’d like to thank all of you who stop by. Obviously, I know who only a very few of you are, but that’s fine. It really is enough to know that the music I love and the tales I tell are circling the world.

But I thought something a little more might be in order for that unknown resident of France. No, I’m not going to lapse into French here. (Years ago, my high school French served me fairly well during five days in Paris. Well, it did except for the time in a restaurant when the waiter asked if we wanted dessert and I told him we were going to die. Nous sommes fini, I told him, saying, “We are finished,” instead of the appropriate “We have finished.” His eyes got quite wide for a moment.) Rather, I thought I would find my favorite song in French – of the maybe fifty I have – as a start to a Baker’s Dozen. I hope my unknown visitor from Clichy likes the song as much as I do.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

“Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf, recorded in Paris November 10.

“Bye Bye Johnny” by Chuck Berry, Chess single 1754

“Late Last Night” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2171

“Ruby Baby” by Ronnie Hawkins, Roulette single 4249

“Sleepless Nights” by the Everly Brothers from It’s Everly Time

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport

“Lonesome Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker single 956

“The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein from The Magnificent Seven soundtrack

“Close To You” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke single 322

“Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1003

“Greenfields” by the Brothers Four, Columbia single 41571

“Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1762

“North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41782

With a very few exceptions, I tend to dislike most of the music that ruled the Top 40 charts during the early 1960s, and the list here reflects that. Of the thirteen acts in the above list, only two – as far as I can tell; I may have missed something — reached the Top 40 during 1960: The Brothers Four’s version of “Greenfields” was No. 2 for four weeks in the spring, and Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4 in the autumn.

A few comments about some of the songs:

The Edith Piaf performance was evidently released several times not long after it was recorded, and my uncertain reading of Ebay’s French site indicates that the EP releases came about in 1961. But the notes for Éternelle, the Piaf compilation I have, say the song was recorded in 1960, so we’ll call it a 1960 song.

Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Ruby Baby” may be backed by at least some of the Hawks who went on to become The Band. The time is right, generally, and I swear I hear Richard Manuel’s voice among the background singers.

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” comes from the July 1960 appearance by Muddy Waters and his band at the Newport Jazz Festival. A four-minute performance of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” was so well received that after the song ended, Muddy and the band went back into it, creating the version heard here. Most blues fans think that Waters’ performance at Newport – available on a remastered CD – was among the finest of his long career.

For those of my vintage, who recall when there were commercials for cigarettes on television, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for The Magnificent Seven conjures visions of rugged cowboys herding cattle through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The song was for much of the 1960s used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes, and its genesis as the stirring theme of an iconic western movie was, alas, lost. From what I can tell, the theme wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. although there was a single released in the United Kingdom.

“North to Alaska” was one of the historical songs that Johnny Horton seemed to specialize in. He’d reached No. 1 for six weeks a year earlier with “The Battle of New Orleans.” (“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”) And in the spring of 1960, his song “Sink the Bismarck,” inspired by – but not formally connected with – the identically titled film, went to No. 3.

A Baker’s Dozen from the 1950s

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 1, 2007

I’ve got a nice piece coming up for you tomorrow – a 1974 solo album by Toni Brown, one of the founders of the Berkeley-based Joy Of Cooking that Brown fronted with Teri Garthwaite in the early 1970s. But it’s not quite ready yet (and I need to be run a few errands this morning in advance of the snowstorm that’s supposed to set in before noon today), so I thought I’d throw out another random list.

This one, however, will be decade-specific: A baker’s dozen from the 1950s:

“Cat Called Domino” by Roy Orbison, unreleased Sun recording, 1956.

“Pearlee Blues” by Furry Lewis from Furry Lewis Blues, 1959.

“Somebody In My Home” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess 1668, 1957.

“Playin’ Myself The Blues” by Cecil Gant, Decca 48231, 1950.

“I Don’t Know” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker 864, 1957.

“Joliet Blues” by Johnny Shines, Chess 1443, 1950.

“Don’t Happen No More” by Young Jessie, Modern 1002, 1956.

“Lost Lover Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke session, 1955.

“Bird Dog” by the Everly Brothers, Cadence 1350, 1958.

“Can’t We Be Friends” by Frank Sinatra from In The Wee Small Hours, 1955.

“That’s All Right” by Elvis Presley, Sun 209, 1954.

“Prisoner’s Song” by Warren Storm, Nasco 6015, 1958.

“Shake, Rattle & Roll” by Big Joe Turner, Atlantic 1026, 1954.

Hope you enjoy these, and we’ll head into 1970s singer-songwriter territory tomorrow!