Posts Tagged ‘Delbert McClinton’

‘Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears . . .’

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 12, 2009

I wrote the other day about scanning the daily obituaries and on occasion seeing a name that spurs a memory or a thought. It happened again over the weekend while I was browsing news online.

I read in a news account that William Zantzinger, who had died at the age of sixty-nine, was buried Friday, January 10, in Maryland. And as I read, I heard in my head Bob Dylan’s flat early-Sixties voice:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

That’s the opening verse of Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” released in 1964 on The Times They Are A-Changin’. The song tells the 1963 tale of what happened when Carroll, a fifty-one-year-old African-American barmaid, died of a stroke a few hours after Zantzinger, who was twenty-four and white, stuck Carroll with his cane when she displeased him during a charity ball at Baltimore’s Emerson Hotel.

The Los Angeles Times has a good account of the events of that evening, of the trial for manslaughter that followed, and of the rest of Zantzinger’s life. (While writing the song, Dylan dropped the “t” from Zantzinger’s name, possibly for legal reasons.)*

“Hattie Carroll” is not one of Dylan’s songs I know well. I knew it well enough to recognize Zantzinger’s name and recall most of the first verse, but it’s not one I’ve dug into very deeply, not the way I’ve examined songs of his that came along later. Add to that the fact that – to me – The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the Dylan album that is stuck most in the time it was released, and one finds a song that has remained if not anonymous, then at least a little bit hidden.

But “Hattie Carroll” is worth a listen, especially when one considers that there’s probably not a better example of pure folk music – as defined by one very formal standard – in Dylan’s oeuvre. At a time when thousands of pieces of up-to-date information are available to us with flicks of our wrists and clicks of our fingers, it’s worth pondering for a moment that, not all that long ago, as these things are measured, significant or just fascinating events once were defined and remembered in large part through song.

And that’s what Dylan did when he wrote “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Acting as reporter and commentator, Dylan uses his song to tell us the news. One doesn’t have to work too hard to imagine how William Zantzinger felt about being immortalized in song; the Los Angeles Times piece I linked to earlier touches lightly on that. But I do wonder how Hattie Carroll would have felt about it.

I have three recordings of the song in my library: The original recording by Dylan from 1964; the version he performed during the tour of the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975, and a version released by Steve Howe, who is most likely best known for his work as a member of Yes and Asia. The track comes from Portraits of Bob Dylan, a 1999 collection of twelve Dylan tunes performed by Howe with a few other folks.

Howe’s version of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” – the place where we’ll start today’s otherwise random ten songs – has Howe on Spanish, electrical and steel guitars as well as on mandolin and keyboards. Geoff Downes is on keyboards as well, with Anna Palm on violin, Nathalie Manser on cello and Dean Dyson handling the vocal.

Ten (Almost) At Random, 1950-1999
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” by Steve Howe et al. from Portraits of Bob Dylan, 1999

“Big River” by Delbert McClinton from Second Wind, 1978

“How Can You Keep Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)” by Ry Cooder from Into the Purple Valley, 1971

“Shot of Rhythm & Blues” by Arthur Alexander, Dot 16309, 1962

“I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” by the Groop from The Groop, 1969

“If You’ve Got A Daughter” by Sailcat from Motorcycle Mama, 1972

“Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2781, 1971

“Anything” by the Vejetables, Autumn 15, 1965

“Glad I Knew You Well” by Livingston Taylor from Life Is Good, 1988

“I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” by the Glass Bottle, Avco Embassy 4575, 1971

A few notes:

Into the Purple Valley was Ry Cooder’s second solo album, and it settles neatly into a tour of the music of the Dust Bowl era, with Cooder showing his well documented artistry on almost any stringed instrument. In addition, he finds the centers of songs that were more than thirty years old at the time of recording, songs of dislocation, struggle and fear that might not seem so out of place in these disquieting times of our own.

Arthur Alexander was a country-soul artist from Alabama who left behind a fairly substantial collection of singles and LPs recorded between 1960 and his death in 1993. The most frequent mention of his name these days, though, is likely for his recording the original version of “Anna,” which the Beatles covered in their early years. (The Beatles’ cover version was released on an 1964 EP in Britain; in the U.S., it was originally released on Vee Jay’s Introducing the Beatles in 1963 and later on the 1965 Capitol LP release, The Early Beatles.)

There are evidently two groups that were called The Groop in the 1960s. This one is the Los Angeles-based group, not the earlier assembly from Australia that went to England. The L.A.-based Groop is credited with recording two songs that were included in the soundtrack to the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy as well as recording one album. “I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” comes from that 1969 self-titled effort. I looked for Curt Boettcher’s name on the credits; it’s not there, but whoever produced the record listened to a lot of Boettcher’s work, I think. The track offered here sounds a lot like the Association.

The Wilson Pickett recording is one of those that I got in the Philadelphia box set I mentioned the other day. Pulled from the LP Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia, the single went to No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 17 on the pop chart.

The Vejetables’ single comes from the other box set I mentioned the other day, the one that focuses on the music of the San Francisco area from 1965 to 1970. It’s relatively trippy folk rock.

The Glass Bottle’s single is a one-hit wonder by a group from New Jersey, and a wondrous one at that. A sweet artifact from my first autumn in college, the song – produced, oddly enough, by novelty artist Dickie Goodman – went to No. 36 during a three-week stay in the Top 40. I have a sense that the record – as familiar as it is to me – did better than that in Minnesota.

*The Los Angeles Times piece about Zantzinger has since been deleted. Note added November 16, 2011.

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Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

Saturday Single No. 56

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 9, 2008

Jeff at AM, Then FM had an interesting observation this week that got me to thinking about my listening history:

“Someone once wrote that the evolution of a person’s musical tastes was expected to go something like this: You start out in pop, then mature and move on to rock, then further mature and move on to jazz, then further mature and wind up at classical.

“Perhaps that was the record companies’ expectation.

“Perhaps it was an expression of an older generation’s lingering hope that rock would go away.”

Either way, he says, he never fully made the leap from rock to jazz and never made the following leap to classical. He did, however, listen to some jazz fusion for a while and then retreated back to rock.

That intrigued me, for I did much the same thing in what must have been 1980. I was utterly unhappy with what I was hearing from the Top 40 and rock stations in the Twin Cities. Disco, punk and new wave were unwelcome guests for the most part at my internal music party – disco didn’t care about the lyrics, new wave was pretty much laughing at everyone else for being so uncool, and punk tended to spit in the punch bowl – so I turned the radio dial and found a station in Anoka, about twenty miles away, playing jazz fusion. It was mellow, it was certainly well crafted and well performed, and I’d never really listened to it before.

So for about a year, I guess, that’s what came out of the radios in the living room and my car. My first wife didn’t care for the station – she called its offerings “dooty-dooty music” because “it just doesn’t go anywhere!” – and refused to retune the radio in the bedroom. After some time, I tended to agree with her, but I wasn’t hearing much of anything new I truly liked on the station we’d been otherwise listening to, one whose tag line was “the hits of the Sixties, the Seventies and today.” Unhappily, music was becoming less important to me as it became less pleasurable.

Then, one day about the time 1980 turned to 1981, I was listlessly pushing buttons on the radio as I drove from one interview to another. And I heard a strummed twangy guitar followed by horns and then a weary countryish voice calling out, “Givin’ it up for your love, everythang. Givin’ it up for your love, right now!”

My ears perked up and I listened, head bobbing, fingers tapping time on the steering wheel, to the best thang I’d heard in a long time. It was, of course, Delbert McClinton and “Giving It Up For Your Love,” a record that went to No. 8 in early 1981. It remains McClinton’s only Top 40 hit.

After that, I pretty much stopped listening to the station in Anoka and let jazz fusion wander on its own. I sifted through the sands of current pop and rock once more, finding the occasional nugget. A couple of years later, when I was in Missouri for grad school, I picked up a few McClinton albums and enjoyed them. A later lady friend and I dug deep into Bob Dylan and The Band, and from there, I dug into the folk, blues and country traditions that inspired them and the musicians they then inspired, some of whom I’d listened to earlier and some of whom were new to me.

From those explorations stems the bulk of my record, CD and mp3 collections – connections from one musician to another leading to still more connections. Now, I’m sure there were other songs and records back in the early 1980s that helped revitalize my interest in current music. (Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” also in late 1980, comes to mind, as would others if I thought about it.) But the almost electric jolt I got from “Giving It Up For Your Love” remains clear.

That’s why it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Delbert McClinton – “Giving It Up For Your Love” [1980]

A Baker’s Dozen Of Thanks

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 23, 2007

It’s quiet here this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes on some of the songs:

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

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

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

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

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 2

May 11, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2007

Ever try to move a house?

The phone rang early one evening during the summer of 1975, as I was reading in the rec room downstairs, with the Allman Brothers Band keeping me company from the stereo. It was Murl, a graduate student at St. Cloud State who was both a friend and a co-worker on a special crew at the college’s Department of Learning Resources (known in earlier, less pedagogical times as the library).

“I’m over here on the northeast side,” Murl said, giving me an address. “Get your butt over here.”

Not being sure what Murl had in mind, I shrugged and followed directions. A few moments later, I parked my ’61 Falcon – I called it Farley – in front of a small house up on blocks that had a portion of the roof torn off. As I walked toward the house, still puzzled, Murl poked his head up through the empty space where the roof had been. “C’mon up and put on a pair of gloves,” he said.

I went inside and up the narrow stairway, noting that there wasn’t much to the house: a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a small bedroom downstairs and a cramped attic, now about half of it open to the sky.

“We’re taking the top four feet off of it,” Murl said. I waited. He grinned.

“Why?” I finally asked, and he explained.

The house and its property had been purchased – if I remember correctly – by the city, and the house was set to be demolished. Murl and his brothers thought that the house – in pretty good shape and only about fifty years old – might be a good storage building out on their parents’ farm in the western part of the state

So Murl and his brothers bought the house and scouted a route from St. Cloud out to the farm near Chokio, not all that far from the South Dakota border. Murl said they’d worked out a route that used only county and township roads because using state or federal highways would require permit fees that they’d rather avoid. But, due to overhead wires along those county and township roads, the top four feet of the house had to come off. A few days earlier, Murl and his brothers had sawn through the main supports of the roof and taken part of the roof off, and now Murl was pulling the remainder of the roof down to that four-foot point. That left the chimney.

I spent that evening and the next working with Murl in that attic, pulling down the chimney and rigging a cable down the center of the open space that would guide low overhead wires across the house as it moved across the state. A day or so later, the house was jacked and placed on a truck bed.

And of course, having been involved in preparing the house for the move, there was no way I was going to miss the actual move. I got to Murl’s house about five o’clock that morning, and he and I drove to the house site and clambered into the truck cab. His brothers got into a pickup truck and pulled ahead of us, and we set out.

We drove at no more than thirty, maybe thirty-five miles an hour, weaving our way west through central Minnesota, sipping black coffee and eating an occasional sandwich from the lunch we’d packed. The brothers had a carefully mapped route and a list of locations of all the overhead wires that we’d have to lift to get the house under them. Using a T-shaped tool made of two-by-fours, we gingerly lifted power lines and telephone lines, easing the truck and its cargo all the way to Chokio.

We got to Murl’s folks’ farm about six that evening, and just as we got the house off the truck and onto blocks, the rains came, soaking us all as we scrambled across the barnyard to the house. An hour or so later, Murl and I got back into the truck and drove – at standard speed, this time – the 110 or so miles back to St. Cloud. We got home late, dirty, wet and tired, but we were young, and the next morning, we reported back to our summer tasks at the college.

Murl’s gone now. Cancer took him a little more than three years ago. During one of my last visits with him, about a month before he died, he mentioned with a laugh our moving the house that day. “We might have made it more work than it should have been,” he said.

Maybe, I said.

He grinned and said the last words I ever heard him speak. “It sure was a lot of fun, though, wasn’t it?”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975

“Diamonds & Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust

“Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” by the Allman Brothers Band from Win, Lose or Draw

“Now and Then” by Gordon Lightfoot from Cold on the Shoulder

“Wheels” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel

“Between the Lines” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines

“Love Comes Through My Door” by Homestead & Wolfe from Our Times

“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” by Steely Dan from Katy Lied

“Two More Bottles Of Wine” by Delbert McClinton from Victim of Life’s Circumstances

“Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac from Fleetwood Mac

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War, United Artists single 629

“Solitaire” by the Carpenters, A&M single 1721

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks

“December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by the Four Seasons, Warner Bros. single 8168

A few notes on some of the songs:

The song “Diamonds and Rust” might be the best thing Joan Baez ever recorded. Its layered spooky and echoing sound mimics the way memories lay on top of each other and come to the surface one by one, as Baez coolly dissects her long relationship with Bob Dylan: “Yes, I loved you dearly, and if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid.”

The Allman Brothers Band track is an okay piece, taken from an album that itself was just okay. “Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” is pleasant listening, as is Win, Lose or Draw, but for a band with such a tremendous past, this was a disappointing present.

The Janis Ian track is a pretty good one. It’s the title track of her comeback album, which found her thrust into the spotlight for the first time since she was a prodigy back in 1967. The best song on the album, to my mind, is “At Seventeen,” which reached No. 3 during the summer of 1975.

Homestead & Wolfe’s Our Times was a remarkable one-shot, featuring good songs, great lead vocals and harmony and the backing work of some of the best studio players in the Los Angeles area. “Love Comes Through My Door” was pretty representative of the record, whose tale is told here.

I’ve long thought that “Why Can’t We Be Friends” was one of the silliest songs ever laid onto a record. War did some very good stuff around this time, but this song gives me a headache.

Conversely, I’ve thought since Blood on the Tracks came out that “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was one of Bob Dylan’s best and most-ignored songs. From the sprightly harmonica introduction through the fadeout, Dylan accepts without distress or irony that the woman he’s addressing will entrance him and inevitably leave him. Bonus points to Bobby for rhyming “Honolula” and “Ashtabula.”

Note
After thinking about it for a few years, it’s likely that  our adventure moving the house took place during the summer of 1976 instead of  the summer of 1975. That year’s difference, however, would alter neither the friendship  Murl and I shared nor the fun we had moving the house, whenever we did it. And  the tunes from 1975, the year our friendship blossomed, are still great. Note added May 11, 2011.

Welcome To The Roadhouse

April 26, 2011

Originally posted July 20, 2007

It’s the roadhouse of dreams.

Where is it? It’s nowhere and it’s everywhere, depending on the season and the memories and hopes of those sitting inside.

If you look out the window during the baking summer, you might see the flat fields and arrow-straight roads of the Delta, the humid air vibrating like a steel guitar string. The melancholy of autumn might find you near a lake in the North Woods, with the maniac cry of the loon joined by the honks of the geese leaving you behind as they head home. In winter, the roadhouse – probably named Times Gone, but we’ll see – welcomes you in from the gloom and grit of some city’s aging industrial neighborhood. Maybe it’s Gary, Indiana, or someplace on Ohio’s Lake Erie shore. The spring? Well, I think we’re in the mountains of Wyoming, or at least a place where spring comes late, making its days all the more precious and the roadhouse itself brighter inside than the windows and the lights can account for.

This is no slick place with light-colored wood finished to the texture of silk. The wood here is dark – except in those places where the varnish has been worn away – and you can feel the grain through the stain. It’s honest wood with rough-edged comfort. You know that when you slide into one of the booths on the far side of the room. And you know it even more when you lay your hands on the bar, nodding as your fingers read the nicks and dents in the bar top like a blind man reads a good story.

The bar stools are just that: bar stools, not chairs on long legs. They’ve all been reupholstered at one time or another, but always with the same red leather and brass nails. Hook your feet on the timeworn rungs if you have to anchor yourself, and don’t lean back because all you’ll find is empty air. That’s okay, though. It’s always better to lean forward, elbows on the bar, especially if you’re lost in thought, lost in memories or just lost.

In the center of the place is a dance floor, not large but big enough, with a stage off to the left end. We’ll come back there later.

On the right end of the dance floor, as you step inside the place – it seems that Times Gone is the right name for the place – is a pool table under a shaded light fixture, and on the wall, two pinball machines set back-to-back. These are pinball machines, not computers on legs. They’re old, but they still work, and they still give out that satisfying, solid “thwack!” when you win a free game. Some days – or nights, for that matter – there’s not a lot of sounds better than that one.

Just the other side of the pinball machines is a jukebox, a real mechanical jukebox with records in it. It’s packed with songs from before 1980 – a few after that time, but just a few. There’s lots of R&B from the Fifties and the Sixties, and one or two Al Green songs for the slow dances. You’ll find some rock, mostly the blues-based stuff. There are a few country records, some to dance to and some to cry along with. There’s also a little bit of pop, mostly because it brings smiles to the folks in the crowd, some for the memory and some for the irony.

And there’s the blues. From Chicago and the Delta. From Texas, Los Angeles and the Piedmont. You come into Times Gone with the blues, and we can find the right song for you. In fact, the day always starts with the blues, a fact we hope isn’t matched by life. Every morning at eleven, as Times Gone opens its door, the jukebox plays Muddy Water’s 1948 single “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” That’s not a comment on life; we just like the song.

There are a couple other songs you’ll hear every day. At five in the afternoon, the jukebox plays “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors. And just before we close the doors sometime in the early morning, Ringo Starr and his three friends bid us “Goodnight.”

We don’t rely entirely on the jukebox, as well stocked as it is. Remember the dance floor and the stage? Weekend nights, we’ve got live music. I suppose that Muddy and his old rival, Howlin’ Wolf, stop by now and then, since this is the roadhouse of dreams. And Brother Ray and Aretha must come by here too, every once in a while. But a lot of the time, the stage belongs to Delbert McClinton, a roadhouse singer if ever there was one. He’s got some records in the jukebox, to be sure, but there’s nothing like hearing him in person. The way he takes over the stage and holds the attention of the crowd on the floor, he could own the place.

It sure would be nice if somebody, somewhere, did.

Delbert McClinton – Second Wind [1978]

Have A Little Delbert!

April 26, 2011

Originally posted July 19, 2007

I found this wandering around YouTube and thought I’d serve up a little appetizer for tomorrow, when – if all goes well – I’ll be posting Delbert McClinton’s Second Wind, an album he recorded on Capricorn in 1978, with help from the crew at Muscle Shoals.

So, to whet your appetite, here’s Delbert’s performance on Austin City Limits of his hit from the winter of 1980-81, “Giving It Up For Your Love.”*

*It’s a 1983 performance, I believe. [Note added April 26, 2011.]