Posts Tagged ‘Dan Fogelberg’

Here & There In Blogword

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 4, 2008

A couple of things to note at blogs in the link list:

At the marvelous blog The “B” Side, Red Kelly continues the remarkable story of the discovery of Lattimore Brown, one of the great but less-heralded R&B singers of the 1960s and 1970s. When you head over to The B Side, make sure you delve back into the beginning of the story, around June 30. That’s when Red told us how Jason Stone, operator of the equally terrific blog Stepfather of Soul, got a note from a nurse at a hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi, telling him that she’d Googled his blog because one of her older patients claimed to be a singer and she was trying to find out who he might be. Turned out he was Lattimore Brown, who was assumed by many to have died sometime during the 1980s. Jason consulted with Red, and Red tells the story from there, a tale that wanders through the world of Southern Soul with some fascinating and startling stops along the way.

It’s everything a music blogger could want: A great story told exceedingly well with marvelous music at its center.

There are a few blogs relatively new to the link list:

Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas tells the tales of two listeners rediscovering vinyl. From the construction of the ultimate sandwich to tales of playing pinball with an Eighties’ icon, the writer at BAIFP seems to find what I have found: While not everything must connect with music, everything can so connect, if one chooses to view and hear the world that way.

Paco Malo, operator of Gold Coast Bluenote, may be a familiar name to readers here, as he’s left several notes to me and to readers in recent months. His own efforts at Gold Coast Bluenote wander between music, film and other outposts of modern pop culture and provide, as good blog posts do, rich grist for the mental mill.

Another blogger who finds multiple connections between music and life is Fusion 45 at the similarly named blog, Fusion45. From a high school crush that to this day brings him a connection to Stevie Nicks to memories of the days in 1973 when folks wandered through his home town of Elmira, New York, en route to Watkins Glen, Fusion 45 brings together memories and music, assessing both lovingly but unsentimentally.

I have a couple of albums in mind for sharing this week, but I didn’t find enough time over the weekend to listen to them as closely as I would like. One of the two will show up later in the week, but for today, well, we haven’t wandered through the junkyard for a while.

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard, 1950-99
“Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

“Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do” by Johnny Bristol from Hang On In There Baby, 1974

“You Did Cut Me” by China Crisis from Flaunt the Imperfection, 1985

“Saved” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2099, 1961

“Morning Will Come” by Spirit from The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, 1970

“Nights Are Lonely” by Emitt Rhodes from Farewell to Paradise, 1973

“Want” by Country Funk from Country Funk, 1970

“Hercules” by Elton John from Honky Chateau, 1972

“Confidence Man” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988

“Centerfield” by John Fogerty, Warner Bros. single 29053, 1985

“Picture Book” by the Kinks from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968

“Fields of Gold” by Sting from Ten Summoner’s Tales, 1995

“When Jesus Left Birmingham” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Book of Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992

“Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” by Country Joe & The Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

A few notes:

I chuckled when “Same Old Lang Syne” popped up. Just last evening, I’d left a note about the song at one of the blogs mentioned above, noting that there is a twinge in my soul whenever I heard the song. I added that I don’t connect with the song any specific individual from my past, so I can only assume that the presence of that twinge means that Dan Fogelberg did his job as writer and performer very well.

After the Johnny Bristol and China Crisis tracks followed Dan Fogelberg, I braced myself for a downer set. The Bristol track is a generally good slice of mid-Seventies soul, although it’s not as good as the title track from the album, which brought Bristol his only hit. China Crisis’ smooth and melancholy “You Did Cut Me” put me in mind of some of Roxy Music’s work ten years earlier.

“Saved” is LaVern Baker’s musical testimony, with a gospel chorus and a big bass drum underlining her tale of how she used to do all that bad stuff but don’t do it no more. Then the saxophone takes a solo, and oh, it sounds sinful and fun. After that, she can sing it all she wants, but the record sounds more sensual than sanctified.

I always thought that when I finally found a good copy of The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus, I’d be so pleased. Well, I wasn’t blown away. My take is that even in 1970, when the listening public was likely a little less discerning than it might be today, it was tough to put together an album that would last. Doing the same thing with a concept album was even tougher.

I recall seeing LPs by Emitt Rhodes in the cutout bins during the mid- to late Seventies. I guess he was supposed by some record company executive to be the next big thing. He wasn’t, although his stuff is listenable if ultimately interchangeable with the work of hundreds of others.

Country Funk isn’t all that countryish or funky, although it makes a better run at the former than the latter, with a sound not that far removed from Buffalo Springfield, at least on “Want.” The track would have been better served had it ended at the 3:00 mark. The disjointed mess that follows might have been funny in 1970, but it just seems self-indulgent now.

The Kinks’ track is far more familiar these days as the background to a camera commercial than as a track from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. The album is worth checking out, although the Kinks’ very British sensibilities have always been a little difficult for this non-Brit to grasp.

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A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3

June 15, 2011

Originally posted March 10, 2008

(The first half of this post was the first thing I ever wrote for a blog, in July 2006, long before Echoes In The Wind was a shadow of a thought. I imagine some who’ve stopped by here have clicked links and read it at Whiteray’s Musings, the long-ignored blog that serves now as a storage depot and place for experiments. To many, I hope it is new. I have done a bit of editing.)

It was the summer of 1972. Republicans were screaming for “Four more years!” of Richard Nixon. The Democrats were marching gingerly in ragged formation toward what they thought was the Revolution.

A bunch of people were arrested at the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a loose end in a fabric of lies. That loose end, when pulled on hard enough by judges and the media (pulled on most strongly, it seems clear, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post), eventually resulted in the resignation of President Nixon two years later; in the creation of numerous laws and policies designed to enhance the ethics of politics and governance; and in a surge of enrollment at schools of journalism all around the country, as young people all over the United States decided it would be fun to become investigative reporters.

And U.S. soldiers were still fighting and dying in Vietnam.

I was eighteen that summer and although I was aware of all of that going on, I can’t say I was horribly involved or worried about any of it. I do recall thinking on June 18, when I saw an item in the newspaper about the arrests at the Watergate, that the trail of dollars and other evidence would likely lead back to persons close to the Oval Office, if not to the president himself, but that may have been youthful revulsion for Richard Nixon driving that conclusion rather than any great insight into politics, finance and crime. (On the other hand, I was right!)

Not even the Vietnam War worried me, at least not personally. Sometime that summer, the president announced that no new draftees would be sent to Vietnam. I imagine that a lot of my contemporaries across the country shook their heads in relief at that news. It really wasn’t a big deal, because it was becoming more and more clear that my cohort – the men born in 1953 – were going to be the first cohort that went untouched by the draft since, well, before World War II. For the first time in more than thirty years, young men born in a specific year would not be drafted.

Of course, the news about no new draftees being sent to ’Nam resonated more loudly, I am certain, with those born in 1952, as many of them – not as many as had been true for those born in years earlier, but enough – were still receiving their “Greetings” letters from the military.

I don’t recall how likely it was for men born in 1952 to be drafted, much less how many of them were sent to Vietnam before the new policy was announced that summer. Those facts didn’t matter to me as anything more than curiosities.

I am reasonably certain that no one born in my birth year of 1953 was ever drafted, although we did get lottery numbers based on our dates of birth. Mine was 354, which meant that the chances of my being called to get a buzz cut and be screamed at for six weeks by a drill sergeant were almost nil. That was good.*

So what did concern me in the summer of 1972? What was I thinking about? What do I recall?

Well, I was worried about dusting Venetian blinds. I worked as a part-time janitor that summer at an elementary school on the campus of St. Cloud State College (now University) in Minnesota. It wasn’t hard work, for the most part, but removing what was likely a year’s accumulation of dust from Venetian blinds was a pain-in-the-ass job that took more than a week, it seems to me. I didn’t mind dusting shelves, dry mopping and mopping floors, washing blackboards and all of that, but dusting those damned blinds was the worst thing I did all summer.

I remember the music, as I always do from almost any portion of my life. That was the summer of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally,” a pop confection that was omnipresent for several months. A listener to AM Top 40 – which I was – would also have heard “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the first hit for Jim Croce, and tunes from Neil Diamond, the Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites, Roberta Flack, Billy Preston and Bill Withers.

And then there was the Looking Glass and its song “Brandy,” about the barmaid in the harbor town. Another pop confection, yes, but one that seems to have aged far better in my mind than many of those records that surrounded it on the radio. And at the odd times that I hear it these days – nearly thirty-six years later – it takes me back. But when I go, I am not wielding the mop or broom, I am not dusting the blinds. I am not wondering if the current object of my affection has a reciprocal interest.

No, I am driving my 1961 Ford Falcon north from St. Cloud on an August day, my best friends with me as we head for a weekend in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Why does all this come to mind today? Did I hear “Brandy” this morning or yesterday? Well, no, but given that the Looking Glass tune is one of the thousands in the RealPlayer, I can hear it any time I want to. (In fact, just because I can do it, I just cued it up: “There’s a port in a western bay . . .”)

No, the summer of 1972 and the music on the road to Winnipeg came to mind because of something I found in my file cabinet yesterday. It’s a record of the times that Rick and Gary and I purchased gasoline on our trek, noting the miles driven, the mileage my old Falcon got, and – most astoundingly – the cost of the gas for our four-day, 860-mile trip.

(The RealPlayer just switched from “Brandy” to “The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, which is a lovely song, but dated ten years earlier than our trip to Winnipeg. And while I dithered about what to say about that, the music moved on to Bob Dylan’s performance of “Blowin’ In The Wind” at the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh. As always, music so commands my attention that I find it takes away the concentration I need to write. So I turned the jukebox off as Bob was asking “How many roads . . .”)

So how much did it cost us to drive from St. Cloud to Winnipeg and back in 1972? Well, we bought 44.3 gallons of gas during our four-day excursion . . . and we paid $17.20. In other words, about thirty-nine cents a gallon.

And that, more than anything else about that summer, tells me how long ago it really was. Yes, the school where I dusted the blinds has been closed, the building remodeled about twenty years ago to house programs in electrical engineering and such-like. Yes, Jim Croce’s been dead for more than thirty years. Yes, my 1961 Falcon has been rusting, abandoned, in the junkyard of a friend’s parents since 1977 (and in fact that friend himself has passed on). And no, I do not remember with whom I was besotted that summer of “Brandy.”

All of those things underline in bold ink the fact that it has been thirty-six years since Rick, Gary and I drove north to adventure and beer and hangovers. (The drinking age in Canada was eighteen as opposed to Minnesota’s twenty-one; we drank Molson’s Canadian and Old Vienna.)

But the boldest ink, it seems to me, comes from that handwritten document I found in my files: Gasoline at thirty-nine cents a gallon!

And no, I don’t remember how much we paid for the beer.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3
“Brandy” by the Looking Glass, Epic single 10874

“Pearl’s Goodtime Blues” by Eric Andersen from Blue River

“Too Late to Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists single 50910

“To The Morning” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free

“Dark Dance” by Robin Williamson from Myrrh

“My Impersonal Life” by Blue Rose, Epic single 10811

“Her Picture Matches Mine” by Laura Lee from Women’s Love Rights

“Rock and Roll Lullaby” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter single 12344

“Go All The Way” by the Raspberries, Capitol single 3348

“Stand Back” by the Allman Brothers Band from Eat A Peach

“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics from Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

“Roundabout” by Yes, Atlantic single 2854

“From The Beginning” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Cotillion single 44158

A few notes:

Eric Andersen, as I think I’ve noted before, was one of those singer-songwriters cursed in the 1960s and 1970s with the tag of “The New Dylan.” No good ever came of a record company or a critic placing that burden on a performer. Andersen was good, though, and – to my mind – for a few years came closer than anyone else to living up to that mantle. Blue River is probably his best album.

“Too Late To Turn Back Now,” a No. 2 hit, continues a good helping of great radio singles in this mostly random collection. With four Top 40 hits and two in the Top Ten – 1971’s “Treat Her Like A Lady” went to No. 3 – the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose never sounded sweeter than when coming from the car radio on a warm summer evening. (The other great radio singles here, to my ears, are “Brandy,” “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” “Go All The Way,” “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and “Roundabout.”)

How does one begin to describe or assess the music of Robin Williamson? One of the founders of the quirky 1960s folk group, the Incredible String Band, Williamson has resolutely followed his muse. That group’s pastoral British folk had its own odd edge, and that continues in Williamson’s solo work. All-Music Guide notes that Myrrh, Williamson’s first album after the dissolution of the ISB, retains that group’s “odd instrumentation and serpentine melodicism.” “Dark Dance” may be a little less accessible than the rest of the album, but only a little. The entire album will delight fans of the combination of folky and quirky.

I don’t know much about Blue Rose. The group is not – obviously – the women’s bluegrass super group of the same name that was also recording in 1972. “My Impersonal Life,” was written by Terry Furlong, who was lead guitarist for the Grass Roots. Three Dog Night also recorded the tune in 1971. The Blue Rose version was included on a well-known 1972 Columbia sampler called The Music People, which is where I found it. I’m keeping an eye out for Blue Rose’s self-titled album, which I think I’d like if it’s all as good as “My Impersonal Life.”

Laura Lee was one of the artists recorded by Hot Wax records, the label created in 1968 by Eddie Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland when the writing/production trio left Motown Records. (Some of her labelmates were Honey Cone, Freda Payne and the Flaming Ember.) Her single, “Women’s Love Rights,” barely reached the Top 40, hitting No. 36 in the autumn of 1971. Still, it’s a good single, and the album of the same title is also good, well worth checking out.

For all their success at album rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer remains, technically, a One-Hit Wonder. Of course, the group’s aim was never singles, so that’s not really fair. But “From The Beginning” is a great single. It’s not a driving-around-town-with-nothing-better-to-do single but more of a “Man, that’s strange and good” single for those times when you roll over in bed at two in the morning after leaving the radio on. (Something that surprised me as I dug into the charts was that, for all its airplay, ELP’s “Lucky Man” [Cotillion 44106, according to one source] did not make the Top 40.)

*After this entry was posted, a reader named David, a year younger than I, noted that he was assigned a draft number. It turns out, according to Wikipedia, that Congress did extend the draft for two more years in 1971. Note added June 18, 2011.

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.

Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007

May 27, 2011

Originally posted December 17, 2007

There’s a bar in downtown St. Cloud located in the basement level of an old bank building, one of those lovely red buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries built of what I think is red granite, with the turret standing guard high above the intersection. The building hasn’t been a bank for many years, since maybe the late 1960s, and other businesses have come and gone on its main floor over the years since.

But the lower level has been a bar for more than thirty-five years though its name has changed several times. In the early 1970s, the bar was called the Grand Mantel after a truly impressive fireplace and mantel inside. It was a quiet place, three or four dimly lighted rooms with maybe twenty-five tables, a candle on each one. For a number of years, my companions from The Table and I made the Grand Mantel our home for weekend recreation and for our celebrations of the ending of academic quarters. On the Friday of finals week, we’d gather in the late afternoon or early evening and each toss $10 or $15 onto the table, and then we’d drink until the money was gone. (One could imbibe a substantial amount for $10 or $15 thirty-five years ago.)

In the back of the bar, separated from the front rooms by two doors and a passage, was a larger room with a small stage that hosted live music at least Fridays and Saturdays and perhaps more frequently than that. I’m not sure how wide-ranging the roster of performers was, but I do recall that the favorites of both the bar’s owners and its clientele was a duo called Curto and Newmann. (I am not sure of the spelling of “Curto.”)* The two were very much in the vein of Loggins & Messina and other singer-songwriter-ish performers of the era, and the back room was packed on nights the two of them performed.

For years, when I heard Dan Fogelberg’s work, I thought of that back room at the Grand Mantel and the nights when the forty or so chairs would be filled with attentive listeners. It seemed to me that whenever I heard Fogelberg’s music, I was being called to listen closely in case I might miss something, just as I had felt about the music I heard on those evenings when I sat in the back room at the Grand Mantel.

This all comes to mind today, of course, because Dan Fogelberg died yesterday at his home in Maine, three years after announcing that he had advanced prostate cancer. That announcement came a year after Fogelberg released his last album, Full Circle, in 2003.

As a listener, I lost track of Fogelberg in the 1990s, as I didn’t have a CD player and his albums no longer came out on vinyl. And anyway, I’d not been impressed with Exiles, the 1987 album that was the most recent work I had. Nor had I been much taken with its predecessor, High Country Snows. So I focused on collecting the singer’s pre-1985 output, getting good vinyl copies of the eight LP’s Fogelberg had released between 1972 and 1984.

And what I heard, I generally liked. I sometimes thought the lyrics were over-wrought and over-written – just a few grades too intense – but the music was always listenable and sometimes excellent. And now and then, Fogelberg came up with a gem: “Part of the Plan” from 1975 brought reassurance to a whole generation of post-Watergate undergraduates that there was some kind of meaning to the jumble of life. “Longer,” five years later, was beautiful and became a standard that I imagine wedding DJs began to dread. And “Same Old Lang Syne” helped listeners rehearse and prepare for those awkward moments when we, too, might meet someone we lost and whom we missed in a setting as mundane as a supermarket.

And in those songs and others, as over-written as they sometimes were, Fogelberg on occasion found a turn of phrase so delicate and complex that I was left shaking my head in wonder. My favorite of those comes from 1982’s “Run For The Roses,” which says in its chorus, “It’s the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance . . .”

How good was Dan Fogelberg? Good enough to me that when I winnow out mp3s from my hard drive – which I have to do every six months or so – his work is never among the music being considered for relegation to the discs that sit next to the computer. I enjoy his early works, and I still consider 1982’s The Innocent Age to be one of the sonically most beautiful albums ever. The eloquence of that album’s music still thrills me.

I realize that there is some ambivalence about Fogleberg’s work, that he was categorized among cynics early on as a Sensitive Seventies Singer-Songwriter. Well, so what? It was a time of quiet conversation in song, when tunes talked to each other and to their listeners in quiet places like the Grand Mantel and a hundred thousand living rooms and dorm rooms. And Fogelberg was far better than most at giving us some of those songs.

Here’s a selection – somewhat random – from Fogelberg’s first seven albums. As always, bit rates will vary.

“Part of the Plan” from Souvenirs, 1974

“More Than Ever” from Home Free, 1972

“Nexus” from The Innocent Age, 1982

“Stars” from Home Free, 1972

“Intimidation” with Tim Weisberg from Twin Sons of Different Mothers, 1978

“Illinois” from Souvenirs, 1974

“Gypsy Wind” from Phoenix, 1980

“As The Raven Flies” from Souvenirs, 1974

“Heart Hotels” from Phoenix, 1980

“The Power of Gold” with Tim Weisberg from Twin Sons of Different Mothers, 1978

“In The Passage” from The Innocent Age, 1982

“Nether Lands” from Nether Lands, 1977

“Innocent Age” from The Innocent Age, 1982

*I originally spelled Curto’s last name as “Curdo,” and I had “Newmann” without its final “n,”  but I’ve corrected those misspellings based on the pleasant comment left here by Pat Curto. Note added November 8, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2

May 18, 2011

Originally posted November 7, 2007

Yesterday, as I listened to Matthews’ Southern Comfort’s version of “Woodstock,” a memory floated in, triggered, I would guess, by the second verse:

“Well, I am going down to Yasgur’s farm
“Going to join in a rock and roll band,
“Goin’ to get back to the land to set my soul free.”

It certainly wasn’t Yasgur’s farm, but in a barn on a farm somewhere north of St. Cloud during the autumn of 1974, I might have had my chance to join a rock and roll band. And I would have turned it down.

The band was made up of friends of one of the gals I hung around with at school. I’ve made reference before to the group of people who congregated every day in the lower level of Atwood, the student union at St. Cloud State, about twenty people who came and went during the day, all part of what we called The Table. Annie was one of those people, and sometime during the latter part of October 1974, she mentioned to the group at large that a band made up of her friends was looking for a keyboard player. From the other side of The Table, Amy and Jackie pointed at me, and Annie raised her eyebrows.

“You play?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Yeah,” I said. “Whether it’s enough for a band, I don’t know.”

“You wanna give it a try?”

I nodded, and late one Thursday afternoon, a week before Halloween, Annie and I drove north of St. Cloud to the farm and climbed to the hayloft of the barn, where the band practiced. I don’t recall their names at all, but the band members were a drummer, two guitar players – both of whom sang – and a bass player. There was a small electric piano off to the side. I sat down and turned it on, then let my fingers ripple the keys, checking the sensitivity of its action.

I only recall a few of the songs we played that afternoon and evening. We did a few country rock things that were fairly simple for me to pick up, some blues, too. One of the guitarists asked if we should try “Lucky Man,” a song by Emerson, Lake & Palmer that had reached the lower level of the charts during the spring of 1971. The other guys looked at me.

“I’ve never played it,” I said. “What are the chords?”

They told me, and off we went. At the end of the vocal, at the point when the synthesizer slides in, I filled in with the electric piano, nodding to myself as my hands and my ears worked together, doing a pretty decent job of faking the Keith Emerson solo that takes over the song as it nears its end.

When we finished, the four guys in the band looked at each other and nodded. The drummer asked me, “Anything you want to do?”

“You guys know ‘Layla?’” I asked.

They shook their heads, but the drummer said, “We can fake the second half, if you want.”

I nodded and laid my hands on the keyboard, playing the opening bars to the second half of the famous song, Jim Gordon’s elegiac piano-led coda. The other guys filtered in, and one of the two guitarists did a pretty fair job with the slide part that rides above the piano. We sounded pretty good for our first time playing together.

By the time we finished, the sun had set, and the gloom outside was winning its battle with the few dim electric lamps in the hayloft. The drummer laid down his sticks as the other guys put up their guitars. I turned the piano off as Annie came up to me, grinning.

“When you said you could play a little,” she said, “I thought you meant you knew a few chords. Good lord, you’re good!” I smiled and nodded.

I got the sense that the guys in the band were looking for a keyboard player to go on the road with them. There was never an overt offer, but I wondered how I might react if there were, and I spent a portion of a sweet evening talking the idea over with a lady friend in the back seat of my 1961 Ford Falcon. Had there been such an offer, the idea would have had its attractions, but I was only a year or so away from my degree, and that would have had to come first. A couple of years later, and my answer might have been different.

It didn’t matter anyway: A traffic accident on Halloween night put me in the hospital for a week and kept me homebound for a month. I never heard any more about the band from Annie or anyone else.

That was probably just as well. Looking back, as unlikely as it might have been, the thought of my traveling the rock and roll highway when I was twenty-one is scary. I’m pretty sure that, had I gone on the road, I’d have ended up in thrall to one drug or another, if not marijuana or heroin or cocaine, then to alcohol, which is only significantly different because it’s legal. And I wouldn’t have lasted long.

We didn’t play the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that evening in the hayloft. We probably should have.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone from Wovoka

“Down The Road” by Little Feat from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

“Song from Half Mountain” by Dan Fogelberg from Souvenirs

“Blinded By Love” by Browning Bryant from Browning Bryant

“My World Begins and Ends With You” by Fallenrock from Watch Out For Fallenrock

“Over Jordan” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers

“Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman from Good Old Boys

“Ballad Of A Thin Man” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before The Flood

“Good Times” by Phoebe Snow from Phoebe Snow

“Just Like Sunshine” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“Fountain of Sorrow” by Jackson Browne from Late For The Sky

“Summer Breeze” by the Main Ingredient from Euphrates River

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah

A few notes on some of the songs:

After featuring Redbone’s Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes Monday, it only seemed right to start the random run with the album version of “Come and Get Your Love.” The single version reached No. 5 during an eighteen-week stay on the Billboard pop chart in early 1974.

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was the fourth album for Little Feat, the extraordinarily eclectic group headed by Lowell George. The group’s audible influences included rock, country, blues, R&B and more. All-Music Guide calls the record “the pinnacle of Little Feat as a group” – as opposed to George’s personal peak – and I’m inclined to agree.

Browning Bryant is a name that almost no one knows today, and – to be honest – few knew it in 1974. He was a North Carolina lad, sixteen at the time he recorded “Blinded By Love.” The song was part of an album Bryant recorded for Reprise, with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (who wrote the song) producing. “Blinded By Love” and a few other tracks were recorded in Atlanta, but a good share of the album was recorded in New Orleans, with some help from some of the Meters. (Thanks to Dan Phillips at Home of the Groove for the tune and the information.)

The Talbot Brothers were the co-founders of Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country rock band best recalled for the classic 1969 track “Two Hangmen.” After Proffit and its run of five fine albums, the brothers followed their faith and began recording more overtly Christian music: The Talbot Brothers is the first album along the path that found John Michael Talbot becoming, in the 1980s, the best-selling male performer in the field of contemporary Christian music. Not surprisingly, “Over Jordan,” sounds a lot like Mason Proffit.

As I ran the random search, I had expected a song to pop up from Before the Flood, the live album from the tour that Bob Dylan did with The Band in early 1974. The track that showed up, “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” is a good track, with Garth Hudson’s spooky organ snaking its way around Dylan’s biting vocal. I’d hoped, however, for “Like A Rolling Stone.” The opening to that track on Before the Flood is one of the truly great moments in all of rock music.

As long as we’re talking superlatives, considering the opening lyric to “Fountain of Sorrow,” Jackson Browne’s meditation on love and time lost: “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you.” I shake my head almost every time I hear that line, awed by its simple brilliance.

[Revised significantly since first posting. Note added May 19, 2011.]

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1981

April 30, 2011

Originally posted July 31, 2007

One of the over-used epigrams of the 1960s was the quotation from Plato: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” It seemed hip at the time to envision the structure of society crumbling when faced with the works of the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Rolling Stones (among many, many others). One wonders how the denizens of Woodstock Nation – or Altamont Nation, for those with a darker, more cynical bent – would have fared had the “walls of the city” truly been shaken.

It’s an interesting idea: Had the late 1960s actually been an era of revolution, how would the followers of tie-dyed fashion, the children of the suburbs, have fared in the new society following a true revolution? Probably pretty poorly, I would imagine. The new leaders, those deemed sufficiently pure ideologically, would most likely have found the vast majority of the so-called revolutionaries to be dilettantes at best, bent on changing their personal circumstances rather than the societal structure that gave them generally comfortable lives. I have the mental image of thousands of young people banished to bleak farms in the countryside, undergoing education and orientation to revolutionary ideals as they grow strawberries and potatoes. “This ain’t what I signed up for,” I can hear one or another say. “I just wanted to drop out and find a chick in San Francisco!”

It’s hard to say how close America was to an actual revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One can read the histories and memoirs of the era – Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage comes to mind – and not get a real sense. Despite the forty-year-old regrets on the far left end of the political spectrum and the still-potent rage that resides on the far right, it seems to me that the political upheaval of the times flared out without having much impact. (The civil rights and women’s movements, on the other hand, changed American life immensely, but those are other topics for perhaps other days.)

The real revolution, when it came along, was cultural, and it was in Plato’s “mode of the music.” I’ve seen a number of reviews, analyses and think-pieces in magazines and newspapers over the past couple of years – sorry, but I don’t have specific citations – that indicate that once more an American music form has become the world’s predominant music. Those pieces note that in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, rock ’n’ roll became the world’s music (though rock was recycled for a time through British sensibilities) and the same thing has happened in the last twenty years with hip-hop.

Now, I’m not anything like an expert on hip-hop and its stylistic cousins. I like some of it, have some in the collection, but it’s not my music. I do note its importance, though. And these thoughts about modes changing and the quaking walls of the city came about today because of the last track that came up while I was compiling my random list of thirteen songs from 1981.

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was one of those tracks that changed the music universe and continue to echo into the world at large. In his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul, Dave Marsh puts the track at No. 179 and calls it “the Birth of the Nation” of hip-hop. He also notes, “play this first masterpiece of hip-hop at the crushing volume at which it was intended to be heard and s**t will start shakin’ you never imagined had any wobble in it.”

Marsh goes on to say that “hardly anybody outside the New York City area has ever even heard the damn thing.” That may have been true in 1989, when copyright difficulties – arising from the multitude of clips taken from other performers’ tracks – got in the way of Grandmaster Flash and his colleagues. But if nothing else has, the advent of the ’Net in the [eighteen] years since Marsh wrote has spread “The Adventures . . .” and other, similar, compiled tracks worldwide. So, if one accepts the idea that hip-hop has in the last [twenty-six] years become the soundtrack to the world, the last track on today’s Baker’s Dozen is what the real revolution sounded like when it began.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1981
“Old Photographs” by Jim Capaldi from Let The Thunder Cry

“I Can’t Stand It” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1060

“Fire On The Bayou” by the Neville Brothers from Fiyo On The Bayou

“The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age

“Carry On” by J. J. Cale from Shades

“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks from Belladonna

“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, EMI America single 8079

“Waiting On A Friend” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You

“Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton, Capitol single 4997

“Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Shakedown

“I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)” by Lulu, Alfa single 7006

“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 02536

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Sugar Hill single 577

A few comments on some of the other tracks:

Jim Capaldi’s “Old Photographs” is a beautiful song, tinged with regret the way most memoirs should be. But it’s a long way from the sometimes edgy work Capaldi and his mates in Traffic did once upon a time.

Just like Harry Chapin – whose song “Sequel” showed up here the other week – Dan Fogelberg is a polarizing musician: One either finds his work compelling or finds it overblown. In general, I like it, though I did think that his double album The Innocent Age flirted with lyrical pomposity. Even so, it was musically gorgeous.

If the Gary U.S. Bonds track sounds like Bruce Springsteen, well, there’s a reason. Springsteen and Miami Steve Van Zandt produced the track and a good portion of the album it came from, Dedication. Springsteen’s admiration for Bonds, and his love of Bonds’ early 1960s recordings of “Quarter to Three” and “New Orleans,” is no secret, of course.

I was glad to see “Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band make the random list. St. Cloud has a baseball team in a regional summer college league, the River Bats, and hearing the Cranston track while sipping a cold beverage and taking in the early evening sights of a small baseball park is a fine experience, indeed!

A Baker’s Dozen From 1980

April 26, 2011

Originally posted July 18, 2007

When the year 1980 comes along as I’m thinking about music, my train of thought is an express, heading to only one destination.

It was a Monday, December 8 was. It was the second Monday of the month, which meant that I spent the bulk of the evening at Monticello City Hall, listening to the city council debate whatever issues were on its agenda. It sounds deadly dull, but I actually enjoyed covering city government; the ebb and flow of politics and policies over a nearly six-year period gave me insight as to how a city grows.

I don’t recall any of the topics on the agenda, but the meeting was over fairly early. I’d guess it was around 9:30 when the gavel fell and I walked out of the building into the chilly night, headed for my car and my home about two miles out of town. The woman who was then my wife was there, probably involved in some craft project, and there was a football game on television, Miami and New England.

And so I was seated in my easy chair, probably dipping into a bowl of popcorn, when Howard Cosell interrupted the game.

“This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said. “An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot five times in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival.”

I stared at the screen, football forgotten. I recall trying to wrap my head around the weight Cosell’s words carried, not quite grasping it, the news too stunning and too fresh for comprehension or sorrow. Not long after the game ended, the result unnoticed, we retired for the night, and I lay there, still shocked. “Do you think it will be on Nightline?” she asked me.

“I can’t imagine they’d cover anything else.”

“Then go watch it. He was yours.”

I went to the living room. In a short marriage in which both of us so often got so many things so wrong about each other, that was one that she got right about me, and I am still grateful. I watched as Ted Koppel and his reporters and guests sorted through what was known and what was supposed. Then they began the first of thousands of assessments of what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us.

That’s a topic worthy of several volumes – what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us – and not all of the answers can be put into words. The next day was a busy one at work, as Tuesdays always were, but I managed to get home for thirty minutes for lunch. One of the Twin Cities classic rock stations, KQRS, was playing the Beatles’ catalog alphabetically, and as I ate my sandwich, I heard “In My Life.”

As I listened, I finally understood how those folks a few years older than I had felt during the summer of 1977 when they got the news that Elvis had died. Bent over my dining room table, I wept for John; for Yoko, Sean and Julian; for John’s three bandmates; and I wept for all of us who loved the man through his music.

Here’s a random Baker’s Dozen from 1980:

“Sequel” by Harry Chapin, Boardwalk single 5700

“Middle Man” by Boz Scaggs from Middle Man

“Boulevard” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out

“Gaucho” by Steely Dan from Gaucho

“Crush On You” by Bruce Springsteen from The River

“Saving Grace” by Bob Dylan from Saved

“Wildwood Boys” by Jim Keach from The Long Riders soundtrack

“The Last To Know” by Dan Fogelberg from Phoenix

“Every Night” by Richie Havens from Connections

“High Walls” by Levon Helm from The Legend Of Jesse James

“Woman” by John Lennon, Geffen single 49644

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 2464

“Cocaine” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1039

A few notes on some of the songs:

For many people, there is no middle ground when it comes to Harry Chapin: They either love him and his works, or detest him. “Taxi,” especially, seems to draw either scorn or rapture. If it were better known, I’d imagine the same response would apply to “Sequel,” in which, backed by almost the same music as eight years earlier, Harry returns to San Francisco and has “eight hours to kill before the show.” We know where he goes, and of course, he takes a taxi, and he tells us (almost) all about it. Overblown? Yes. Beloved? Yes, that, too. Chapin was a storyteller, and one of the ancillary regrets I have about his death in 1981 is that we never got to hear the end of the tale, which I can only assume he would have called “Finale.”

Jackson Browne’s Hold Out has aged better than I thought it would. Coming after his first four studio albums and the live triumph of Running On Empty, it seemed slight and lightweight – especially in its lyrics; the music was pretty well done – when it came out in 1980. Now, twenty-seven years later, most of the album fares better. But “Boulevard,” which seemed to be the slightest song on the record in 1980, still sounds trite.

Springsteen’s “Crush On You” is one of the most direct and powerful songs from The River, an album stacked with direct and powerful tunes that are balanced by a few of the loveliest ballads the Boss has ever done. I’m not sure being so direct with the object of one’s passion would work in real life, but Bruce and the boys are strong enough here to make the listener think it might.

“Saving Grace” comes from Saved, the second of Bob Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums. It was also the least successful musically, if not commercially, of the three. It’s an album that I would guess that few Dylan fans listen to very often; the Bard of Hibbing is one of my favorite performers and I don’t think I’ve played the record more than twice, maybe. But even mediocre Dylan can hold some interest in performance, and the lyrics have one of two turns of phrase that show that he put some work into it.

I chuckled when songs from both the soundtrack to The Long Riders – a film that told the story of Jesse James – and the LP The Legend of Jesse James popped up during the random play. It was evidently a good year for the original James Gang, 1980 was. Of the two albums, I prefer The Long Riders. Even though the vocal on “Wildwood Boys” is by Jim Keach, the song, and the soundtrack, belong to Ry Cooder, who wrote much of the original material and arranged the rest, some of it traditional, some of it written for the film. The LP The Legend of Jesse James, which I can only call a country-rock opera, is a not-awful attempt to tell the same story through song that Walter Hill told on the screen. The main roles are sung by Levon Helm, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Charlie Daniels; other prominent names on the record include Albert Lee and Jesse Ed Davis on guitar and Bernie Leadon on banjo. Written and produced by Paul Kennerly, the record sounds good in concept but unhappily doesn’t seem to pull together to be as compelling as one would like it to be.