Posts Tagged ‘Dobie Gray’

Echoes Of History

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 13, 2009

On a late winter day many years ago, I wandered up a slight hill and through the gate of the Tower of London, the complex that has served for more than nine hundred years as fortress, residence, bank vault, jail and more. The Tower was the fourth stop of the day for me. I recall being interested, even fascinated in the historic things I was seeing: a Seventeenth Century home, a monument to the 1666 Fire of London, bits and pieces from Roman settlements in the basement of a church. But it was like reading old stories. There were stones and walls and chairs and inscribed dates. Nothing seemed alive.

And then I came to Tower Green, an open space inside the tower walls.  I stopped at a small sign near a plaque in the pavement, and I read:

On this site stood a scaffold on which were executed:
Queen Anne Boleyn 1536
Margaret, Countess of Salisbury 1541
Queen Catherine Howard 1542
Jane Viscountess Rochford 1542
Lady Jane Grey 1554
Robert Devereux Earl of Essex 1601
also near this spot was beheaded Lord Hastings 1483

I looked at the names on that simple sign, a few of which I recognized – the crowned queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and the uncrowned queen Lady Jane Grey – though I knew very little of their stories. And I looked at the shiny metal plaque centered inside a nearby quadrangle of chains.

In even the most average and quiet of lives, I imagine that there are moments when those lives shift, moments that one can look back at and say, “I changed right then.” My life has had more than a few of those moments, and I’ve written about some of them. But only a very few of such moments were more important to me than the few seconds it took for me to read that very plain sign and look at the plaque that marked the site of the scaffold.

“Blood flowed here,” I thought. As I had that thought, history ceased to be simply names and dates in books; it became people, those men and women whose lives had intersected for good or ill – mostly for ill, in that place I was standing – with the lives of those who were greater or at least more powerful.

Since that moment, I have probably read history more frequently than anything else (although I do still enjoy plenty of fiction). For a time, I dug into World War II and the Holocaust. The exploration and the settling of the American West – especially, for some reason, the Mormon migration from Illinois to what became Utah – caught my attention for a while. I’ve dabbled in ancient Egypt and dug into the end of the Romanov dynasty during the Russian Revolution. I find myself drawn, as I was when I was very young, to the American Civil War.

And recently, I’ve been teased by a television series into the idea of examining the very era that triggered my fascination with history. And that statement will launch a side trip:

A couple of weeks ago, the Texas Gal called our our cable and internet provider from her office and asked if it were possible for both our computers – my desktop and her laptop – to run from the same modem, mine via landwire and hers as a wireless. The answer was yes, and the woman on the phone told the Texas Gal that she could disconnect our standard modem immediately. “No, no, no!” said the Texas Gal, explaining that I was using the standard modem, adding that any disconnection should only come after we’d moved the wireless modem to where my computer resides and connected my machine to the wireless modem via the landwire.

Of course, within five minutes, my Internet access went away. I called and was told my wife had ordered the access disconnected. Damn, I thought, I really made her angry about something! When she came home as I was on the phone with our provider, she sighed resignedly and said, “I knew they were going to do that, even though I told them not to, twice.” After a brief conversation, my access was restored, and we made plans to move the wireless modem during the next weekend. The next morning, my access was gone once more for the same nonexistent reason. And when I called to complain and explain, the firm’s representative apologized, reactivated my line and offered us all the premium cable channels free for a year.

Now, back to the original story: That evening, I came across the third-season premiere of The Tudors, the tale of King Henry VIII of England as told by Showtime. And I was fascinated. Often bawdy, often bloody, it seems to be fairly accurate historically, and I’ve been catching up on the first season through our DVD service. And when I finish the current pile of books in my study, I think I’m going to dig a little bit into Tudor England and learn a little more about those unfortunates – and about the people and life around them – whose lives ended so many years ago at that place that changed my life.

A Six-Pack of Queens
“Black Queen” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills [1970]
“Little Queenie” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!’ [1970]
“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic 10746 [1971]
“Caddo Queen” by Dobie Gray from Drift Away [1973]
“Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, Windfall 532 [1970]
“Gypsy Queen, Part One” by Gypsy from Gypsy [1970]

Note: The fairly plain sign I saw at Tower Green was replaced sometime later with a more detailed sign, further identifying the individuals executed and providing a date as well as a year of execution. And the spelling of one of the names was changed, from “Catherine Howard,” when I saw it, to “Katherine Howard” on the more detailed sign. In recent years, the site of the plain sign and plaque has been marked by a fairly ornate monument. I read in one of the documents linked at the monument page that the temporary scaffold on which those victims died was built at various locations over the years. So it’s still likely that blood flowed nearby, if not exactly at the place where I stood many years ago.

Chart Digging, September 21, 1974

September 20, 2012

I was going to write something this morning about chemistry classes, as I took the subject twice during my college days, but I’m not sure how much there is to write about. I failed basic chemistry during my disastrous – 1.87 GPA – first quarter on campus in 1971 because I never really understood what we were supposed to do. The concept of conducting chemical experiments whose outcomes we already knew in order to write accounts of those same experiments, well, that escaped me entirely. So I quit going to class and, unsurprisingly, failed the course.

I tried again in the fall of 1974, taking a section of the class that met at 4 p.m., which was not a good idea. By that time of the day, my attention span was minimal, and three years of getting by in general education classes had increased neither my interest nor my facility in writing lab reports. A small voice in my head tells me that I was bored with college, but that’s not entirely so: I enjoyed my other three classes that quarter – announcing, broadcast news writing and classical music history, all offered during morning hours – so it must have been chemistry or afternoon or a combination thereof.

Whatever the reason, I rarely attended the class and was certainly heading for another failed course. But I ended up missing a chunk of the quarter after an auto accident and dropped the course. (I took incompletes in the other three courses and ended up with two As and a B.)

So how was I spending those afternoon hours during the fall of 1974, when I should have been playing with chemicals and making notes? Most likely I was sitting at The Table in the student union, sharing tall tales and jokes, sipping coffee and smoking Marlboro Lights. And I was also plugging quarters into the jukebox not far from where I sat. As a result, I recall hearing most of the Billboard Top Ten from September 21, 1974, thirty-eight years ago tomorrow:

“Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” by Barry White
“Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim
“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John
“Nothing From Nothing” by Billy Preston
“I Shot The Sheriff” by Eric Clapton
“Then Came You” by Dionne Warwick & The Spinners
“(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka (with Odia Coates)
“Clap For The Wolfman” by the Guess Who
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” by Stevie Wonder
“Hang On In There Baby” by Johnny Bristol

I recall hearing nine of those tunes that autumn. The only one I seem to have missed is the Bristol, and having sought it out this morning, I wish I’d heard it long ago. On the other hand, I could have lived quite nicely without ever having heard the Anka record, and I never cared that much for “Clap For The Wolfman.” Of the others, there are some good records with two standouts: I still groove gently to the Warwick/Spinners record. And then there’s “I Honestly Love You,” which I consider the one great record in Newton-John’s career. Is it sentimental? Yes. Is it overwrought? Maybe. Is it a record that reflected my life at least once during the years before I got where I am now? Undeniably.

What, though, was lying in the records lower on the chart in Billboard that week?

Exactly midway down the chart was a record that had poked its head into the lower reaches of the Top 40 three weeks earlier, spending two weeks at No. 37. The Rubettes were a pop rock sextet from London who put nine singles into the U.K. Top 40 between 1974 and 1977. Their “Sugar Baby Love,” a marvelous pop-rock confection that I don’t ever recall hearing (and that I might have thoroughly disdained at the time), went to No. 1 in the U.K. and was sitting at No. 50 thirty-eight years ago this week:

Earlier in 1974, the Righteous Brothers “Rock and Roll Heaven” (a record that once resulted in my having an exchange of emails with co-writer Alan O’Day) had gone to No. 3. In September, “Give It To The People” – the title track of the Brothers’ new album – was climbing the charts, having reached No. 52 by the third week of the month on its way to No. 20. The duo pulled one more hit single in late 1974 from the album – “Dream On,” which went to No. 32 – and then were gone from the charts for almost sixteen years. In 1990, a reissue of their 1965 hit “Unchained Melody” went to No. 13 as a result of its use in the film Ghost, and a newly recorded version of “Unchained Melody” went to No. 19.*

A research paper or perhaps a dissertation might lie in the future of anyone who wants to dig into the origins of the phrase “party hearty” (often misstated as “party hardy”). Whitburn’s Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits lists “Party Hearty,” a great instrumental by sax player Oliver Sain, as going to No. 16 in 1976. (In the pop chart, the record bubbled under at No. 103 as the B-Side of a two-sided single.) I also have found references to the group Atlantic Starr having used the phrase “party hearty” although I cannot figure out this morning on which record that happened. Why does it matter? Because when I listened to “Do It, Fluid” by the Blackbyrds, I was struck by the use of “party hearty” in the opening verse of the lyric, and that puts the phrase securely in the late summer of 1974. Are there earlier uses of the phrase? Quite possibly, and I would not be at all surprised to find that some student of pop culture has already researched the origins of the phrase. In any case, “Do It, Fluid” was sitting at No. 76 during the third week of September thirty-eight years ago, on its way to No. 69 (No. 23, R&B). In February of 1975, the Blackbyrds would hit the Top Ten on both charts when “Walking In Rhythm” went to No. 6 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart.

I don’t remember the Hudson Brothers, nor do I know anything about them beyond what Whitburn tells me: They were a pop vocal trio from Portland, Oregon, and they hosted their own television variety show during the summer of 1974. They also hosted a kids’ television show. Oh, and member Bill Hudson was married to Goldie Hawn; their daughter is actress Kate Hudson. The Hudson Brothers had six records in or near the Hot 100 between 1972 and 1976. The best performing of those – “So You Are A Star” – was sitting at No. 86 during this week in 1974, on its way to No. 21. As far as I know, I’d never heard the record until this week, and my first thought – reinforced by my second, third and fourth thoughts – was that it’s a record that owes an amazingly large debt to the Beatles around the time of Magical Mystery Tour. (If “So You Are A Star” hadn’t predated the 1978 spoof The Rutles by four years, I’d have said that’s where the Hudson Brothers’ debt lies. Maybe Eric Idle was listening.)

During mid-July, when I dug into a Billboard Hot 100 from 1971, I mentioned the group the New Birth: “Sorting out the history of the Nite-Liters, a group started in Louisville, Kentucky, by Harvey Fuqua and Tony Churchill, is a little confusing. Joel Whitburn says in Top Pop Singles that the project evolved to include seventeen people in three groups: the vocal groups Love, Peace & Happiness and the New Birth as well as the band still called the Nite-Liters. All of that was yet to come during mid-July 1971, when the Nite-Liters’ ‘K-Jee’ was sitting at No. 92.” Much of that “yet to come” had come to pass by September of 1974 when “I Wash My Hands Of The Whole Damn Deal (Part 1)” was bubbling under at No. 104. The single, the eighth to reach the Hot 100 for the combination of the Nite-Liters and the New Birth, would go to No. 88.

Mention Dobie Gray and the mind hears the smooth R&B of “The In Crowd” from 1965 or “Drift Away” from 1973. Or maybe the mind recalls the sweet and sad “Loving Arms,” also from 1973. But as summer was turning to autumn in 1974, Gray’s “Watch Out For Lucy” showed a different side of the performer as it bubbled under at No. 107. I’m not sure that Gray’s effort to rip it up worked all that well. Radio program directors evidently thought the same: The record was gone from the chart a week later.

*Those final entries in the Righteous Brothers’ discography mean that “Unchained Melody” has reached the Billboard Hot 100 ten times, and I think that’s more than any other song. (Can someone confirm or deny that? Are you out there, Yah Shure?) Along with the three chart entries by the Righteous Brothers, Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Hits lists charting versions by Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, Roy Hamilton, June Valli (all 1955), Vito & The Salutations (1963), the Sweet Inspirations (1968), and Heart (1981). Gerry Granahan, the founder of Caprice Records, had a version of the song bubble under the Hot 100 (1961), and Elvis Presley and LeAnn Rimes (1977 and 1996, respectively) are credited with “classic” versions of the song that did not chart. In addition, the Presley and Rimes versions, along with a cover by Ronnie McDowell (1991), reached the country Top 40, and the versions by Hamilton, Hibbler and the Righteous Brothers – the original 1965 single – reached the R&B Top 40. I’d probably also find a few entries in the Adult Contemporary listings, but that volume is still on my wish list.)

There’s ‘Brown Sugar’! Answer The Phone!

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 26, 2007

Well, I joined the ranks of the connected over the weekend. I got a cell phone.

It’s not like I resisted or anything. I spend most of my time at home, and the Texas Gal and I didn’t see the need of my having a cell phone. If I needed one for the rare times I went out of town during a weekend, I’d take hers.

But her contract with her carrier expired a month or so ago, and we thought we should check out the options. So we went to Crossroads, the largest – and oldest – of the St. Cloud malls, Saturday afternoon. And I came away with a sleek little silver thing that not only lets me talk to people, but of course lets me do all those things that so many people have been doing for so long that it’s no longer news: it takes pictures, and it sends them and text messages, and it connects to the Internet so I can read news and sports, and it shows video on its very small screen . . . all of that stuff.

Actually, there is one surprise on the phone that I think will come in handy. If I am not mistaken – and I may very well be – I can see the NFL Network on the phone. As our local cable company has not yet come to an agreement with the NFL Network, my tiny phone screen is the only place I can see those games carried on that network (unless I go to a sports bar, of course). I can see myself peering at my tiny screen in the last week of the NFL season, watching to see if New England can finish the season 16-0. (I’m not sure yet whether I want the Patriots to do so or not.)

I know I’m late getting connected. I was late getting a CD player, too, not having one until sometime right around the end of 1998. (It was actually a Christmas gift from my sister and her family, who gave it to me so I could listen to the new box set from The Band, which they gave me at the same time.)

But there it sits on my desk, the little Samsung appliance. I’ve entered a number of my friends’ and relatives’ phone numbers into it. I changed the place on the welcome screen that used to have my carrier’s name; it now reads “whiteray.” I downloaded a ringtone: the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” (That may change to Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright,” as—sadly – “Layla” does not seem to be available, at least not through my carrier.) And I changed the screensaver from the generic one to a shot of Stonehenge. Now all I need to do is make a phone call. (My first one will likely be to customer service to make sure that my name and not the Texas Gal’s appears on other people’s Caller ID when I make a call.)

As for music today, I’m offering an album I promised last week: Dobie Gray’s Drift Away from 1973.

The title song was a hit, of course, reaching No. 5 during its fifteen weeks on the chart in the spring of that year. It was the second Top 40 hit for Gray, whose “The ‘In’ Crowd” went to No. 13 in 1965. Six years after “Drift Away,” his single “You Can Do It” barely touched the Top 40, getting to No. 37 and dropping off the charts after a two-week stay.

Drift Away is a pretty sweet album, recorded in Nashville and produced by Mentor Williams, who wrote the title track and is a brother of singer/songwriter Paul Williams. (One of Mentor Williams’ other productions, Tom Jans’ self-titled solo debut, was featured here in February.) Williams surrounds Gray’s raspy voice with a smooth setting, letting the vocals nestle in nicely.

Some of the standout tracks – aside from the classic title track – are the gently rocking “L.A. Lady,” the regretful “We Had It All,” “Lay Back,” with its slightly funky sound that’s reminiscent to me, if only at moments, of a Stevie Wonder tune, and “Caddo Queen,” a slightly swampy track with a touch of hoedown.

(My vinyl copy of the record was too rough on the title track, so I substituted an mp3 I’ve had for a while. The remaining tracks offered here are ripped from the vinyl, so there will be an occasional bit of noise.)

Drift Away
The Time I Love You The Most
L.A. Lady
We Had It All
Now That I’m Without You
Rockin’ Chair
Lay Back
City Stars
Sweet Lovin’ Woman
Caddo Queen
Eddie’s Song

Dobie Gray – Drift Away [1973]

Saturday Single No. 198

August 21, 2010

Every once in a while, when I begin to write a post for this blog, I’ll open the lengthy Word file, type in the day’s date and then stare blankly at the blinking cursor, waiting for an idea to settle on me.

On most days, I have a topic in mind when I sit down to write. Yesterday’s post highlighting the most recent installment of the Ultimate Jukebox, for example, had as its main focus the challenges of exploring rap and hip-hop, and that topic had been pretty well set in my head for some time. Exactly what I was going to say about those challenges, though, was another story. Having the topic, however, I could start off and let the thoughts flow, cleaning them up later.

Other regular features here, like the “Chart Digging” series and my explorations of cover songs, have boundaries and implied guidelines, which makes it relatively easy to start writing. Once again, I can set sail with words and, if necessary, correct the navigation after a bit.

But something as open-ended as the Saturday Single – when I can write about anything I want as long as I eventually tie that piece somehow to one piece of music – can be daunting. And when I began this morning, I looked at the white space under today’s date and stopped. Then I looked at the clutter on my desk and typed:

“There is a pile of CDs on my desk waiting to be logged.”

And that’s as far as I got. I turned the pile of CDs so I could read their titles, and decided that a list of my most recent acquisitions didn’t seem all that thrilling. The most interesting thing about any of those CDs is disappointment. Through a music club, I got a collection of Elmore James’ 1950s recordings for the Meteor and Flair labels; the CD is part of the Blues Kingpins series on Virgin, and the tunes are fine. But the basic session information – locations, dates, catalog numbers – wasn’t specifically listed, which is something one would expect in a historical anthology. I combed through the accompanying booklet and was able to piece together the session locations and most of the months when the sessions took place, and I found catalog numbers at a discography website I use frequently. But that stuff should have been clearly listed in the booklet, and I’m annoyed enough that I likely won’t get any more CDs in the series.

So I thought about that annoyance as I stared at the blinking cursor. And sitting there with my hands behind my head reminded me of times during my reporting career, moments when I would look at the blank screen or – in days long gone – the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter, trying to decide what came next. Sometimes instead of staring at the screen, I’d stare out the window, if I had one. I was doing so one day in the late 1980s while I was working for the public relations office at St. Cloud State, trying to find a lead sentence, or a transition, or maybe a relatively clever way to make honors handed out to accounting students more interesting to the general public. My boss poked his head into my office. “Taking a break, eh?”

I don’t recall what I said to him, but it reminded me of something I read about Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. Schulz was talking about his work, and he said something to the effect that when he heard people in the outer office say something to his staff about only needing a minute of Schulz’s time, he’d grab his drawing pencil and turn to his drawing board. The visitors, Schulz said, would inevitably say something about how busy he looked and would leave soon. That done, Schulz said he’d put down the pencil and return to what he called the hardest part of his job: looking out the window and thinking.

The view outside my study window this morning is damp and gray, and now that we’ve arrived at gray, this has gone on long enough. So here’s my favorite song by Dobie Gray, “Loving Arms” (MCA 40100, 1973), and it’s today’s Saturday Single: