Posts Tagged ‘Delaney & Bonnie & Friends’

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]

Saturday Single No. 116

February 15, 2012

Originally posted February 28, 2009

As February prepares to make its exit, today is my last chance (last chance when it makes any sense, that is) to take a look at songs recorded during our shortest month. A reminder: I have detailed discographical information for maybe five percent of the 34,000 mp3s in my collection, so this isn’t by any means a comprehensive look. But it should be fun.

The earliest identified February recording here is the “Four O’Clock Blues” by the Original Memphis Five, recorded for the Vocalion label in 1923. In February 1925, Trixie Smith, one of the great early blues singers, recorded “You’ve Got To Beat Me To Keep Me” for the Paramount label. Other February recordings in the 1920s include songs by the country-ish Earl Johnson and blues from Blind Lemon Jefferson. The busiest person, according to the evidence I have, was folk singer Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who, in Ashland, Kentucky, in February of 1928 (most likely on the same day or at least consecutive days) recorded “Dry Bones,” “Little Turtle Dove” and “Lost John Dean.”

The 1930s begin here with Robert Wilkins’ “I’ll Go With Her Blues,” recorded for the Brunswick label in 1930, possibly in Memphis. Other artists that show up in the decade in my list are Blind Joe Reynolds, the Kentucky Girls, the Dixon Brothers, Charlie Monroe’s Boys and the Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers, with their performance of “Jesus Throwed Up A Highway For Me,” recorded in Memphis for the Brunswick label in 1930.

I don’t find a lot from the 1940s, but there are records by Joe Turner with the Pete Johnson Allstars, Cousin Joe with Pete Brown’s Brooklyn Blowers, and the Ravens. On February 13, 1947, Hank Williams recorded “Honky Tonkin’” for MGM in radio station WSM’s Studio D in Nashville.

The 1950s bring recordings by Muddy Waters, Little Esther & Mel Walker with the Johnny Otis Orchestra, Nappy Brown, the Cochran Brothers, Little Terry, a work gang from a Texas prison, and “Bad Times” recorded for the Savoy label in February 1958 by Billy Hope & The Bad Men.

In February 1964, Mississippi Fred McDowell recorded fifteen songs near Como, Mississippi, fourteen of them solo and one with his wife, Annie. (These recordings were released with a few from another session as Mississippi Delta Blues on the Arhoolie label.) Other recordings I have from the 1960s include “Soldier Baby of Mine” by the Ronettes, also from 1964; “Who’ll Be The Man” by Tim Hardin (1966); “Two Days ’Til Tomorrow” by the Beau Brummels (1967); four 1968 tracks from the group called the 31st of February, a group that included Duane and Gregg Allman; and some Duane Allman solo tracks from 1969.

In the 1970s, we find a live 1970 performance of “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” by Elvis Presley, a 1970 outtake of “Jesus Is Just Alright” by Shelagh McDonald, and a 1974 performance of “Tutu Jara” by the Mandingo Griots in the African nation of Gambia. But we also have eleven tracks of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends performing on February 22, 1970, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. (I found those recently on a forum I frequent.)

The 1980s bring recordings by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Linda Thompson and Miriam Makeba. I have nothing from the 1990s, and only two known February recordings in the years since. Both are from Bob Dylan, released on his recent Tell Tale Signs collection.

Many of those tracks are intriguing, but the most interesting of the bunch, I think, is the live 1970 performance of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, especially since one of the friends on stage that evening was Eric Clapton. Here’s that night’s version of “Crossroads,” today’s Saturday Single.

“Crossroads” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends at the Fillmore West, February 22, 1970

(Thanks go to KKS at Groovy Fab)

On A Plane From Clear Lake . . .

December 16, 2011

Originally posted February 3, 2009

I’ve wondered for months what to put in this space today. The following essay is taken from The Heart of Rock & Soul, the marvelous 1989 book by Dave Marsh. It accompanies Marsh’s assessment of Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go,” which Marsh ranked as No. 757 in his listing of the 1,001 greatest singles. But Marsh’s piece, as so often happens, is about much more than one song:

The plane stayed in the air . . .

The Big Bopper laughed it off. Scored another hit or two, then changed his name back to J. P. Richardson and became a TV game show host, halfway between Wink Martindale and Monty Hall, with an extensive collection of hairpieces, the most famous weight control problem in the United States, and two weeks a year live in Vegas, doing stand-up and a little old-time rock and roll schtick.

There, he’d occasionally run into Buddy, who quit the tour after the close call in Clear Lake, just refused to get back on the tour bus and waited out the storm in a motel room, got a ride back home and told promoter Irving Felt to stuff it. When the lawsuits were over, he and Maria Elena tried moving back to Lubbock, but it was impossible for a white man and a Puerto Rican woman to be comfortably married in west Texas. They came back to New York and in 1965, split up. Maria Elena kept their three children, and half of Buddy’s increasingly lucrative catalog of copyrights.

Buddy toured with the Beatles, who spoke of him worshipfully, but after his 1964 album produced by Phil Spector, had no more hits as a performer. As a writer, he remained in demand and in 1972, wrote a show based on the old days on the rock and roll circuit, bringing a lot of his old friends – Guitar Baker, King Curtis, the Crickets, Darlene Love – back to the limelight for the first time in a few years. But Buddy wasn’t in the show; he said he’d lost the desire. John Lennon said it was the best thing he’d seen since the Jerry Lee Lewis tour of Britain in the fifties. Bob Dylan said nothing, but he went three nights running. When it closed on Broadway, the show went on the road and then set up in Vegas, where it ran on the Strip as a revue for fifteen years.

Neither Buddy nor the Bopper ever saw much of Ritchie, though of course he was offered a part in Buddy’s revival show. He was now a 300-pound session guitarist and mostly invisible to the rock and roll world, working jingle dates and living in East L.A., where he was a legend to the few who knew the full story and respected as the best guitar teacher in the community. Offers to make records he greeted with a shrug, though he made one nice duet LP with Carlos Santana.

The couple times Ritchie did albums under his own name, though, the results were half-hearted. He told his daughter that success was one thing, but that record labels messed with your music too much. The only one of his hits that he’d agree to play at all was “C’mon Let’s Go,” because it was just a guitar tune. He refused to even consider playing “La Babma,” which he regarded as a travesty of Mexican folk-culture, or “Donna,” because he hated his own confessions of puppy love weakness. And he never wanted anything to do with touring again.

A Six-Pack for February 3
“The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again [1977]

“Rock N Roll Gypsies” by Jesse Ed Davis from Jesse Davis [1971]

“Only You and Rock and Roll” by Redbone from Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes [1974]

“I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” by the Moody Blues from Seventh Sojourn [1972]

“They Call It Rock & Roll Music” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney [1970]

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit 632 [1961]

Delaney Bramlett: The Keystone

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 30, 2008

Picture a stone wall with an arch in it. The stones that make up wall are smaller – and less important – than those that are actually part of the arch; without the arch stones, the wall would not exist. And in the arch, there’s the stone at the top, the keystone, the piece that holds the arch together. Without the keystone, the other stones in the arch fall and the wall falls.

The man who was the keystone for a huge swath of American music in the 1960s and 1970s died over the weekend. Delaney Bramlett, 69, died Saturday (December 27) in Los Angeles following gall bladder surgery. His wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett, said he’d had “seven hard months” of ill health, according to Reuters.

Why do I call Delaney Bramlett the keystone for any portion of American music, much less a large one? Well, start with the fact that Bramlett, along with his then-wife, Bonnie, formed in the late 1960s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, an amalgamation of musicians that blended rock, soul, blues and gospel into a potent brew.

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide said of the group: “In its toughest, 1969 incarnation – an 11-piece revue – this was southern soul-rock of a scorching expertise. Honing her R&B chops as history’s only white Ikette, powerhouse vocalist Bonnie Bramlett and husband Delaney, an ace picker and country-tinged singer, had the talent and charisma to attract breath-taking sidemen: Leon Russell, Bobby Keys, Carl Radle, Rita Coolidge, Jim Keltner – and, at various times, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.”

(I’d add to that list Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon.)

The records that Delaney & Bonnie – with or without their Friends – released in the late 1960s and early 1970s are vibrant, joyous, sometimes raucous celebrations of the music that Delaney Bramlett grew up listening to in Mississippi. From Home (released on Stax, with Booker T and the MG’s numbered among the Friends) and Accept No Substitute in 1969 through 1972’s D&B Together Delaney and Bonnie’s albums were dependably good and generally well-respected, though the albums were never top sellers. (The duo had one album hit the charts: 1970’s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton, which went to No. 29.)

But it was beyond those records where Delaney Bramlett’s influence lies: It was he, according to the tales, who persuaded Eric Clapton that he could sing well enough to lead a group. Bramlett produced Clapton’s first, self-titled, solo album, released in 1970, with some of the Friends backing Clapton. I’ve read criticisms of the record that say that Clapton sometimes appears overwhelmed by the band. I don’t get that; I think that from the funk of the opening track, “Slunky,” to the extraordinary closer, “Let It Rain,” Eric Clapton is one of the great albums.

It was basically that same cast of musicians – recruited at short notice by Leon Russell – that provided the band for Joe Cocker on the tour documented on Mad Dogs & Englishmen, one of the great live albums. Many of those same players – with a few other Brits added – provided the backing later in 1970 for George Harrison and his sprawling solo album, All Things Must Pass. And the core of that group – Radle, Whitlock and Gordon – then became the Dominos to Clapton’s Derek for the recording of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with Allman joining in.

The direct chain ends there. Bramlett released a series of solo albums in the 1970s and then again in the past eight years. From what I’ve read about the albums from the 1970s – I’ve heard only bits of them – there’s little to recommend them. But I’ve listened to two of the three recent albums, and they’re pretty good.

But for a listener – this listener – the chain of influences that Bramlett started with the Friends goes beyond the albums and musicians listed above. We all explore music in different ways. I wrote in one of the earlier posts on this blog about discovering in 1972 an anthology titled Clapton At His Best. The bulk of the two-record set was pulled from Eric Clapton and from Layla, and that music introduced me to the Friends of Delaney & Bonnie. From there, I connected the dots, finding Delaney & Bonnie, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album, the Allman Brothers Band, the studio geniuses at Muscle Shoals and more, moving on and on along a path of music that continues to this day to entertain, comfort, awe and inspire me. And at the beginning of that path – at the apex of the arch, to get back to the original metaphor – one finds Delaney Bramlett.

And in that conclusion lies one of the fascinating things I’ve learned about myself through writing for nearly two years about the role of music in my life. Had someone asked me in early 2007 to name the most influential pop/rock musicians in my life, I would have answered with utter assurance: the Beatles and Bob Dylan. After all, it was through the Beatles that I discovered rock and pop, and listening to Dylan and his use of language over the years has influenced my writing, both my prose and my lyrics.

But I have to make room on the mountaintop, I think, for Delaney Bramlett. The news of his death – I read it first at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – has touched me more deeply than I would have expected. It’s not entirely surprising when any of the men and women who made the music of my youth pass on. They are entering that age when tasks are finished and learning, for this time around, is accomplished. But losing Delaney Bramlett has affected me as much as did losing George Harrison in 2001. At first, that startled me.

Thinking about it overnight, I’ve come to realize that Delaney Bramlett – through his direct and indirect connections – led me during his life to as much good music as has anyone else. That’s a gift for which I’m very grateful.

A Six-Pack of Delaney Bramlett
“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney, 1970

“Sing My Way Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“You Got To Believe” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from the Vanishing Point soundtrack, 1971

“Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie from D&B Together, 1972

“Brown Paper Bag” by Delaney Bramlett from Sounds From Home, 2000

“Mighty, Mighty Mississippi” by Delaney Bramlett from A New Kind of Blues, 2007

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.

A Baker’s Dozen Of ‘Song’

June 20, 2011

Originally published March 31, 2008

I did some record keeping yesterday as I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament.

(My bracket is still looking not too bad: I got three of the Final Four correct – North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas. I missed on only Memphis. From here on, I have Kansas and UCLA winning on Saturday and Kansas taking the title a week from today. The less said about the NCAA Division I hockey tournament, however, the better. Both St. Cloud State and the University of Minnesota were bounced in the first round. Things aren’t much better in Madison, Wisconsin, where my friend JB blogs; the UW Badgers lost a 3-2 overtime decision Sunday to the hated North Dakota Sioux.)

Anyway, as I said, I did some record keeping, and I learned that since I started this blog in January 2007, I have shared 115 albums, and I learned that twenty-one of those records came from 1970, the most from any one year

I didn’t do any work on the number of songs shared through Baker’s Dozens and so on, but that should be easy to estimate: Sixty-six Baker’s Dozens times thirteen equals 858; I’ve done nine Junkyards, but on only seven of those, I think, was every song shared, so call that 110; I’ve shared sixty-three Saturday Singles* and forty or so songs under the Tuesday Cover label. There were a few other songs shared with no label or plan, so let’s add ten to the total. We get 1,081 songs. (I know there were some repeated songs and at least one double Baker’s Dozen in there, but this is an estimate.) That’s a pretty impressive total.

Continuing my number-crunching this morning, I decided to look at the entire collection of mp3s and see which years command most of my attention. I hadn’t done this since, oh, October, but the general shape of the data didn’t change. If I were to put the numbers in a bar graph, the big bars would be from 1967 through 1973. (Is this a surprise? No.)

Here are the numbers of mp3s from those seven years and from the years immediately preceding and following them:

1966: 609
1967: 1029
1968: 1450
1969: 1680
1970: 1936
1971: 1789
1972: 1531
1973: 1092
1974: 724

A final set of numbers may be of interest. Here’s how the mp3s sort out by decade. (I have a total of nineteen mp3s from the years 1900-1919, so we’ll ignore those.)

1920s: 382
1930s: 412
1940s: 275
1950s: 920
1960s: 6552
1970s: 9384
1980s: 2056
1990s: 2763
2000s: 2645

As I was doing this, I was also casting about for a topic for today’s Baker’s Dozen, and I thought I ought to do something with a musical term. I asked the RealPlayer to sort for the word “music,” and it listed every one of the 25,338 mp3s. So I decided to gather a group of songs with the word “song” in the title.

A Baker’s Dozen of “Song”
“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, recorded in 1973, released in 1991

“Never Ending Song of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“Song of the Sun” by Robin Scott from Woman From The Warm Grass, 1969

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni single 55265, 1970

“Snake Song” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes, 1978

“Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies from Ghosts That Haunt Me, 1991

“Just A Song” by Dave Mason from Alone Together, 1970

“Harvest Song” by Magic Carpet from Magic Carpet, 1971

“Everybody Knows (The River Song)” by O.V. Wright from If It’s Only For Tonight, 1965

“My Song” by the Moody Blues from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971

“Sing A Song Of Love To Me” by Chris Rea from Auberge, 1991

“Sleep Song” by Graham Nash from Songs for Beginners, 1971

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin from Aretha Live at Fillmore West, 1971

A few notes:

In 1972, Eric Andersen released Blue River, an extraordinary album that put him in position to be among the best of the singer/songwriters of the day, certainly in critical acclaim and possibly – depending on how his next record did – in sales and popularity. That next record, Stages, was nearly complete when the master tapes were lost, along with whatever momentum Andersen’s career had. He regrouped as well as he could, and in 1991, the tapes were found somewhere in Columbia’s storage rooms. Andersen recorded a few new songs and did a little bit of work on the old tapes before releasing Stages: The Lost Album. It’s a great album.

During my European travels, I spent about ten days wandering through northern Scandinavia with an Australian fellow named John. We spent one night in Kemi, a small town in Finland. The next morning, we learned we’d forgotten about a time zone change and had missed the first train back to Sweden. We had a couple hours to kill, so we sat in a café near the railroad station, drinking coffee and listening to the jukebox. At one point, a record came on that sounded familiar, but it took me a moment to place it. I have never heard anything else in my life quite as strange as “Never Ending Song of Love” sung in Finnish.

Robin Scott’s album, Woman From The Warm Grass, was assessed perfectly by All-Music Guide: “Scott’s vocals and songs were earnest and verbose, with the reflective fragile moodiness (and yearning, sometimes florid romanticism) found in many British folk/folk-rock singer/songwriters of the era.” AMG adds, “‘Song of the Sun’ has the poetic wordy gray melancholy very particular to this period of British folk.” Scott’s music isn’t bad, just a little bit of a downer.

I remember hearing on the Minneapolis station Cities 97 that at the time it came out, in 1991, and for maybe a year or so afterward. “Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies was the station’s most requested song. I’m not sure I get it. On the other hand, it’s a catchy song with a great hook, and I’ve found myself humming it as I finish this post.

You want hippie mysticism, sitar and all? Try Magic Carpet’s “Harvest Song.” The song, brief as it is, wears on one, and in general, the album is listenable only in small portions, mostly as a period piece. I’ve seen two dates for the record, 1971 and 1972, but AMG says the former, so I’ll go with that.

Chris Rea’s Auberge is a gloomy album, and “Sing A Song Of Love To Me” doesn’t change that. But no one does gloomy quite as well as Chris Rea.

*Given that a Saturday Single post would occasionally be deleted by the bloghost, the numbering of the Saturday Singles posts was at times out of sequence. At the time this post was originally written, I had shared – based on the archives thus far posted – sixty-four Saturday Singles. Note added June 20, 2011.

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Rip It Up

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 29, 2008

Riches abound at YouTube this morning. I never got further than the first item on my list of things to look for.

I’m not exactly sure when this video was shot, but it seems to have been on the same tour in England that brought about the album Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton. At least, it’s around the same time. Among the Friends mentioned yesterday, I didn’t see Tex Johnson or Rita Coolidge here, but they may be hidden behind speakers or amps. All of the other Friends I mentioned yesterday are here: Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price, Bobby Keys and Eric Clapton. And there are two guests, one very visible and the other, it seems, not seen on the video but mentioned by Delaney at the end. Those guests are George Harrison and Billy Preston.

For me, this is about as good as it gets.

Video deleted.

A Few Notes
In the older essay about the summer of 1972 that I posted the other day, I said that the drafting of young men into the U.S. military ended by 1971. A reader named David, a year younger than I, sent me a pleasant note telling me that the draft was active at least a couple years more and his lottery number was 254. I was confused, as I was certain that the law authorizing the draft had lapsed in 1971. So I took a look at Wikipedia, which reports that the law did lapse but that Congress, after some wrangling, passed a two-year extension. I would imagine that, having gotten No. 354 in the lottery for men born in 1953, I was relieved enough that I paid no attention to what Congress did about the draft. No matter what the reason might have been for my being unaware of the dates, I should have checked them before I posted the essay. Thanks for the heads-up, David!

David, along with reader Yah Shure, also noted that a book about rock history, referred to in my post regarding Alex Taylor, was written by Lillian Roxon, not Ronson. I should note, then, that the quote I posted about James Taylor’s music likely did not come from that book. Taylor’s album, Sweet Baby James, came out in 1970, and Roxon’s book was first published in 1969. So I’m not sure where I read the quote about Taylor’s music, but I read it somewhere. It’s too good a quote for me to have made up!

And then, about yesterday’s post, which touched vaguely on science fiction’s place in leading me to be a writer: Had I known as I wrote on Wednesday morning that Arthur C. Clarke had died the day before, I certainly would have mentioned it. In fact, it might have been an entirely different post. Of the few writers I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Clarke is likely the one I would have tagged as the best, based on his ability to generate a story that grabs one’s attention, is based in the facts of science and is well-written throughout. As a farewell, I thought it would be appropriate to share a couple of lines from one of Clarke’s most famous characters (created with Stanley Kubrick, certainly), the HAL 9000 computer.

“I’m sorry, Dave, but I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”

A Baker’s Dozen From 1970, Vol. 3

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 19, 2008

As books go, they weren’t very impressive. The first, A Sea of Space, was an anthology of fourteen science fiction stories. The authors whose works were included ranged from Ray Bradbury – whom I knew at the time – to William F. Nolan – about whom I learned a little bit later – to Kris Neville, about whom I still know nothing. I bought it some time during 1970 for sixty cents. That was the cover price.

The other book, 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, was one I got during my first summer in the work force. I wrote here once about spending a portion of the summer of 1971 as a janitor at St. Cloud State. During that time, I spent about two weeks working in the building called Riverview, where the English department had its offices. One day, one of the literature professors put a box of paperback books in the hallway; professors, as I learned later, get free books from publishers all the time. I dug in. And somewhere in the middle of the box I found 13 Great Stories, which turned out to be a reprint of a book originally published in 1960.

I’d been reading science fiction for a little more than a year. And some of the names on the cover of 13 Great Stories were familiar to me: Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight, Poul Anderson and Algis Budrys.

As I said, as books go, they weren’t very impressive: A recent anthology of mostly lesser-known writers and an older anthology of more impressive authors’ possibly lesser works. (I’d read much of Arthur C. Clarke’s work by then, and considered the Clarke story included in 13 Great Stories – “Silence, Please!” – to be one of his minor pieces.

But those may have been the most important books I’ve ever owned.

When I was in school – late elementary and junior high – teachers and my parents despaired at my ever learning to write. Oh, I had the vocabulary and knew the English language. It was the mechanics that got to me. Handwriting baffled and frustrated me. I tried and tried to make my letters come out looking like the examples posted above the bulletin boards, but I could never get the shapes right. Add to that the fact that – for some reason – from fourth grade on, we used fountain pens in school, meaning that any hesitation with the pen touching the paper resulted in a blot. My work often resembled a piece of abstract art titled “Study in Black Ink on White.”

And even when using a ballpoint pen, the demands of forming the letter-shapes defeated me before I could even begin to think about content. How could I think about what I was writing when I was unable to master the mechanics of the craft? (My fifth-grade teacher, Roger Lydeen – about whom I will write more on another day – saw the problem and tried to teach me to type, but I was unable to master that at the age of ten.)

So through maybe my sophomore year of high school, I dreaded any assignment that included writing, simply because I could not write cursive script. When I made notes at home – for any purpose, from telling my folks I was over at Rick’s to writing out a hockey schedule for the winter – I printed. And when I was a junior, I believe, I went to my teachers and asked for permission use printing for my work instead of cursive. All of them – having no doubt struggled with reading my work – agreed.

That summer, I bought A Sea of Space, and reading it, I began for the first time to think about writing as something I might want to do. During the first half of my senior year – 1970-71, I began to seriously explore the world of science fiction, reading for content but also looking at least a little bit at technique: How did Clarke structure his stories? What were the constants in the works of Robert Heinlein? How does a writer like Isaac Asimov plan and structure a multi-volume series like his Foundation works? I don’t know if I truly formulated those questions, but those are the things I began to think about at least a little as I read my way through the major works of science fiction from the 1950s and 1960s.

Also that year, I took a class in mass media, and one of our assignments was to write something for the media. Most students wrote stories for newspapers or magazines. As I thought about the assignment, I realized that for the first time in my life, I wanted to write. And I took one of the stories from A Sea of Space, a romantic tale by Robert F. Young titled “One Love Have I,” and I wrote a screenplay.

It wasn’t very good, as I look back, but for a first try, it was okay. I think I got an A. More importantly, I learned I could write. It took me years afterward to figure out that the barrier had been the mechanics and not my brain, but for the first time, I’d thought about writing something and had done it! Poems and lyrics and a few short stories followed over the next few years, and in college, I began to learn to write for a living.

In that summer before I began college, however, I came across 13 Great Stories and learned something else. As soon as I got home that day, after finding the book in the box, I sat down and dug in, reading the first story, “The War Is Over” by Algis Budrys. It was okay, and I moved on to the second story, “The Light” by Poul Anderson. It’s not long, about twelve pages.

And I got to the end of the story and put the book down. I sat there, on the couch in the basement rec room, stunned. I looked back through the story, looking for clues that Anderson had laid down to support his magnificent surprise ending. They were there. I re-read the story, and still I marveled at the ending, which even years later I think is one of the greatest endings to a short story ever.

I’m not going to relate the ending here. I don’t know if the story is still in print or not. If I learn that it’s not, I may open a separate blog and post the entire story there. I will say that I’ve read a lot of fiction since then – this was almost thirty-seven years ago – and I have yet to read another work of fiction that left me so stunned and amazed, or so eager to try to make my own way through the thickets of writing and lay a strong ending into the hands of another reader. And the slender volume, 13 Great Stories went onto my shelf in my early science fiction collection, next to A Sea of Space.

When I moved from my parents’ home to the cold house on the North Side, my father asked me if I was certain I wanted to move all my books. “Your books are your friends,” he said to me. “You care for them and keep them safe. But not everyone feels that way about books. It’s something you need to think about.”

As it turned out, I took most of my books with me, and no harm came to them. My library – science fiction, history, film studies and more – grew and moved with me for years. Then, in the mid- to late 1990s, things got tough. I had some bad luck and I made some poor decisions, and I spent a few years scuffling to get by. And one Saturday, I took several boxes of books – including all of my science fiction collection – to a shop I knew, and I sold them in order to get enough money to pay rent. I didn’t weep as I sold my old friends, but I came close.

I’ve made no attempt to rebuild the collection in the years since, though I likely could. Most of the works are readily available, and I think occasionally about finding them. But about a year ago, I guess, those two volumes of short stories came to mind, and I began to dig online. It took a while to find them, but now they sit here on my table, A Sea of Space and 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, friends come home at last.

And here’s some music from the year I met the first of those friends.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 3
“Power to Love” by Jimi Hendrix from Band of Gypsys

“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” by the Allman Brothers Band from Idlewild South

“Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton

“25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago, Columbia single 45194

“All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison from All Things Must Pass

“Groupy Girl” by Tony Joe White from Tony Joe

“For Yasgur’s Farm” by Mountain from Climbing!

“I Looked Away” by Derek & the Dominoes from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

“Ship of Fools” by the Doors from Morrison Hotel

“Spindrifter” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from What About Me?

“Sittin’ On Top of the World” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Sessions

“Go Back Home” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Sign on the Window” by Bob Dylan from New Morning

A few notes:

The Band of Gypsys album is one I mentioned the other day when writing about Buddy Miles. It was recorded, as I said then, “at the Fillmore East in New York on the night 1969 turned into 1970.” Jimi Hendrix’ catalog of projects completed during his lifetime is so slender – given that he died young – that all of it might be considered essential. But if I were limited to one record, Band of Gypsys is the one I’d choose.

The Delaney & Bonnie & Friends album from which “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” comes is a great record. Without actually making a list, I’d guess that it would rank as one of the ten greatest live albums in rock. The “Friends” for that tour, along with Eric Clapton, were Dave Mason, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, percussionist Tex Johnson and Rita Coolidge.

I never listened to a lot of Mountain back then, through I liked the long version of “Nantucket Sleighride” on the live album. I pulled “For Yasgur’s Farm” from a best-of CD, and it’s a pretty good tune. (Not to insult anyone, but I suppose some readers might not know that Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, N.Y., was the site of the Woodstock festival.)

I go back and forth on the Doors. Some of their singles still sound good, but others sound, well, dismal. And the same holds true for their albums, both track-by-track and record-by-record. Of all their albums, I think Morrison Hotel holds up best these days. And if “Ship of Fools” isn’t the best track on the record – I think “Roadhouse Blues” or “Indian Summer” gets that nod – it’s at least a good one.

“Spindrifter” a sweet piece, is basically the work of the late Nicky Hopkins, a highly regarded keyboard player who joined Quicksilver in the studio for a good portion of What About Me? As All-Music Guide notes: “For almost two decades, [Hopkins] was the most in-demand session pianist in rock,” working for, among many others, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the Jeff Beck Group, the Jefferson Airplane and the Steve Miller Band.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moving

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2007

Although many people in the U.S. and the rest of the world that observes Christmas are now at their destinations, I’d wager that nearly as many are still in motion, heading toward their holiday celebrations with that odd mixture of anticipation, anxiety and exasperation that holiday travel brings.

When I was a kid, our holiday traveling was simple: driving about a hundred and thirty miles from St. Cloud to my grandfather’s farm near the small southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton. Some years, we’d go down to the farm a week or so before Christmas, and then – during my teen years and later – we’d head down on Christmas Eve.

Either way, we marked Christmas Eve with a dinner of creamed lutefisk over potatoes. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish, one that tends to put off those not raised in the Nordic tradition. It begins with dried whitefish that is then rehydrated in solutions of first, cold water; second, water and lye; and third, cold water again. The rehydrated fish is then baked, flaked and stirred into a cream sauce and served over potatoes. The aroma of lutefisk baking is pungent and distinctive; it is also for me the scent of Christmas Eve at Lamberton. If I ever smell it again, I will in an instant be in that farmhouse two miles outside of town where I spent my first eighteen Christmases.

Looking back, although the times we went to the farm in the days before Christmas were fun – there was always something to explore out in the barnyard, and trips into town with Grandpa almost always resulted in a treat of some kind – my memory tends to settle on those years when we made the three-hour trek to Lamberton on Christmas Eve itself. Each of the small cities on our route had its holiday decorations up, brightening the way through town, and along the way – in the cities and out on the farms that we saw across the snowy fields – houses, other buildings and trees were strung with brightly colored lights.

As we drove through the gathering dark of the late December afternoon, we listened – as did nearly all Minnesotans, as I’ve mentioned before – to WCCO, the Minneapolis radio station. With our headlights slicing through the dimness ahead, we’d hear the announcer note, on a regular basis, that military radar had once again observed the presence of a high-flying object setting out from the North Pole. By the mid-1960s, my sister and I no longer believed in a flesh and blood Santa Claus, but I think that we both smiled every year when we heard the radio bulletin. It was part of our Christmas Eve.

And so was movement. We drove through the late afternoon, heading toward lutefisk and then a church service, then gifts, and the next day, a large family dinner. Christmas itself meant resting in a familiar place, but Christmas Eve meant moving, whether it was the motion of a fictional Santa Claus from the North Pole or the motion of the mid-1960s auto carrying me and my sister toward our place of Christmas rest.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moving
“Diamond on the Move” by Pete Rugolo from Music From Richard Diamond, 1959

“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” by Little Milton from We’re Gonna Make It, 1965

“She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe single 8308, 1965

“Move to Japan” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

“I’m Movin’ On” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Train Keep On Movin’” by the 5th Dimension from the Up, Up and Away sessions, 1966 & 1967

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from D & B Together, 1972

“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples from We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007

“She Moves On’ by Paul Simon from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1989

“You Got To Move” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from One Foot in the Groove, 1997

“Moving” by Howlin’ Wolf from The Back Door Wolf, 1973

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380, 1978

“Something In The Way She Moves” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort from Second Spring, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Diamond on the Move” is from an album of music from a late 1950s television show. Richard Diamond, Private Detective was on first CBS and then NBC during the years 1957 to 1960, following a stint on radio from 1949 to 1953. I don’t recall ever seeing the show, but I came across a rip of music from the soundtrack some time ago and thought it was kind of cool.

The Sir Douglas Quintet was the vaguely British-sounding name that producer Huey Meaux gave to Doug Sahm and his band in 1965 in order to compete with the vast number of hits coming into the U.S. from England during what was called the British Invasion. There was nothing of the Mersey River in the work of Texans Sahm and his band; their river was the San Antonio. But the song went to No. 13 and musical polymath Sahm had a long career until his death in 1999.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” comes from one of 2007’s greatest albums, Mavis Staples’ extraordinary tribute to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, We’ll Never Turn Back. With help from the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – called in the 1960s the SNCC Freedom Singers – as well as from South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and roots musician extraordinaire Ry Cooder, Staples’ album is both a joy and a moving historical document. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an adaptation of the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which some sources list as traditional but that other sources credit to the Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t normally post things recorded so recently, but this is too marvelous to pass by.

The Howling Wolf track comes from The Back Door Wolf, the last album the massive bluesman recorded before his death in 1976.

‘The Act You’ve Known For All These Years . . .’

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 1, 2007

It was forty years ago today . . .

In the late 1980s, I spent twenty months on staff at St. Cloud State University, working as the news editor in the university’s public information office and teaching one course a quarter in the mass communications department.

My teaching office for some of that time – where I spent two afternoons a week, grading papers, preparing lectures and conferring with students – was a space created by installing a temporary wall – not quite to ceiling height – across a portion of a large room that had once been the university’s business office. On the other side of that partition was the office of the student-run radio station, KVSC-FM, and on occasion, I took part in conversations with the station’s general manager and staff.

One afternoon, I was typing lecture notes when I heard the program director called over the barrier, “Hey, we’ve got a question for you.” I left my typewriter and ducked into the other side of the office. It turned out the station was planning its twentieth anniversary and was discussing how to start the morning programming on that anniversary day: What song should they play?

“Easy,” I said. “Play the opening cut to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Blank stares. Finally, the program director asked, “Why?”

“What’s the opening line?” I prompted him.

“‘It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play,’” he recited, and his face, and those of the others in the office, broke out into smiles as he did so.

I don’t recall if he and the others took my advice for the day’s opening song, but my friendship with the station’s general manager – a professional rather than a student – and with the station’s staff was one of the joys of the remaining months of my time at St. Cloud State. That July, I accepted a teaching position at North Dakota’s Minot State University and headed out of St. Cloud for a two-year stint on the prairie.

This comes to mind now because today – June 1 – is the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an event greeted with glowing reviews, joyous rapture among the burgeoning hippie population and probably a few miracles. Or so I’ve read. I was fourteen at the time and missed it all. In fact, a year or so later, as some friends and I played a board game, my stereo was playing Herb Alpert’s instrumental version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” John and Jerry sang along, and I remember thinking, “There are words to that song?” As I’ve said before, I was utterly unhip at the time.

Since that day forty years ago – it was a Thursday, if anyone cares – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has more often than not been anointed as the best album in the history of rock & roll. Even the most recent list by Rolling Stone magazine to tackle the topic, [published in] the December 11, 2003, edition that listed “The 500 greatest albums of all time,” placed Sgt. Pepper at the top of the list.

Boy, I hate to spoil a party.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good album, actually a great album. It probably belongs somewhere in the top fifty of all time. But as I’ve listened to Sgt. Pepper over the years, it’s sounded more and more mannered and self-conscious, more and more like a collection of diverse songs held together by a very thin thread, and not that much like the concept album it’s been dressed up to be all these years. You want a concept album, put Dark Side of the Moon into the CD player. (Of course, one could point out that without the concept of the concept album, which Sgt. Pepper quite possibly created, there is no Dark Side of the Moon.)

There’s no doubt that Sgt. Pepper was a remarkable achievement, sonically astounding, especially given the limitations of recording technology at the time. But the best of all time? I don’t think it was even the best Beatles’ album. I’d put the trio of Rubber Soul, Revolver and Abbey Road ahead of it (and if forced to pick the Beatles’ best, I’d likely go with Abbey Road, which also happens to be my favorite).

And that conclusion got me to thinking. When anyone – a critic, a fellow musician, a blogger like me – sets about to select his or her list of the best albums in rock history, how can that person set aside likes and dislikes and focus on critical selection rather than personal selection. It’s difficult to do so, and not nearly as much fun. But if one doesn’t ask either “What’s truly the best?” or “Which do I like best?” and stick to one question or the other, then one is comparing the proverbial apples and oranges and winds up with fruit salad.

Listening to as much music as I do, however, I would hope that even a listing of my favorites would be pretty good on the critical level, too. In such a listing, there would be holes. I am not a fan of hip-hop, rap or metal, though I recognize the place those genres have in history. Nor was I much interested in punk or new wave when those two genres rolled around at the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s. So I’m calling this my favorites rather than a “greatest” list. (If it were a “greatest” list I’d have to find room for the Clash and London Calling and for Prince and Sign ‘O’ The Times. I recognize the quality of both but am not truly fond of either.)

So, with that lengthy introduction, here are my thirteen favorite albums, culled from a list of about sixty that I put together over the past few days. The only rules were: one album per performer/group, and no compilations.

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks

Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street

The Band: The Band

Beatles: Abbey Road

Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees

Johnny Rivers: Realization

Bruce Springsteen: Tunnel of Love

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

Moody Blues: Question of Balance

Carole King: Tapestry

Danko, Fjeld, Andersen: Ridin’ On The Blinds

Bonnie Raitt: Nick of Time

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: Motel Shot

Yes, the vast majority of them come from the years 1967-1976, which means either that I’m an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy or those were the best ten years for rock music or both. I imagine if I compiled a similar list in a year, or even in three months, it might be different. This is today’s version of that list.

When I started this, I was hoping that the album I’m sharing today would make the list. It did, but just barely. Motel Shot is an acoustic joy, an informally recorded album from Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, with the friends including Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Keltner, Dave Mason, Leon Russell and more. It’s a delight, and it’s almost impossible to find on CD. Thanks to Mitch Lopate for making it possible.

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – Motel Shot [1971]

Track listing:
Where The Soul Never Dies
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Rock Of Ages
Long Road Ahead
Faded Love
Talkin’ About Jesus
Come On In My Kitchen
Don’t Deceive Me (Please Don’t Go)
Never Ending Song Of Love
Sing My Way Home
Going Down The Road Feeling Bad
Lonesome And A Long Way From Home