Posts Tagged ‘Dr. John’

Spiders

May 27, 2022

Originally posted September 15, 2009

Living in an older home, as we’ve done for a year now – ours was built sometime between 1940 and 1948, but we’re not sure of the exact date – there are some things that one has to take as givens. Among those things are bugs and spiders.

Most crawly things don’t bother me too much. Over the years, in Minnesota, I’ve seen crickets inside as well as some beetles, ladybugs and so on. During my years further south, in Missouri, the two older homes I lived in had some roaches in the basement, but that’s almost a given in older homes in that area (as well as in parts further south). I kept each kitchen clean (and a light on overnight where the cat food was), and that pretty well controlled things.

Larger insects can un-nerve me, though. The other week, the Texas Gal and I saw Cubbie Cooper, our youngest cat, tracking something by the dining room wall. It turned out to be a two-inch long beetle with an ugly set of pincers. With a little bit of the “ewwww” factor in play, we dispatched it and then spent a few minutes scoping out corners, looking for more. We saw none.

A bug has to be pretty large to flip my ick switch. Spiders, on the other hand, need do nothing more than exist for me to be unhappy. From the itty-bitty ones that we sometimes scooting across the floor and down the cracks to the two-inch wide creatures that look like a miniature Shelob (I saw one of those in the garage this summer and none, thankfully, in the house), spiders trigger an almost atavistic fear in me.

It’s pretty much the same for the Texas Gal, though, so when an eight-legged creature needs dispatching around here, I’m the one that does it. Now, we’re not infested or anything like that; it’s just that an older home will have its share of uninvited guests. And every so often, I’ll spot a spider making his way across the counter or up a wall. Or the Texas Gal will find one migrating across the floor of the loft while she’s working on a quilt. And the trespasser finds rough justice.

I know, I know. Spiders eat other insects. They’re an important part of the continuum of life. They’re beneficial.

They also give me the creeps. Always have. As I was rinsing a mug the other evening, there was a spider the size of a nickel in the sink. A good-looking one, black with some bright yellow trim on its back. But fashionable or not, it didn’t belong in the sink. The sink is ours. So I got a paper towel, wadded it up, and got rid of the spider. And then I trembled for about five seconds.

A Six-Pack of Spiders
“Spider In My Stew” by Buster Benton, Jewell 842 [1971]
“Black Widow Spider” by Dr. John from Babylon [1969]
“Black Spider Blues” by Johnny Shines from Chicago/The Blues/Today! [1965]
“My Crystal Spider” by Sweetwater from Sweetwater [1968]
“Boris the Spider” by the Who from Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy [1971]
“Mean Red Spider” by Muddy Waters, Aristocrat 1307 [[1948]

This mix is a bit blusier than most of my offerings get. That’s not a problem for me, but I think that some of my readers shy away from the blues for one reason or another. Nevertheless, three of the songs here are rooted deeply in the blues: “Spider In My Stew,” “Black Spider Blues” and “Mean Red Spider.”

The last of those three was one of Muddy Waters’ earlier recordings after he came to Chicago from the Clarksville area of Mississippi. His catalog with Aristocrat starts, as far as I can tell, with No. 1302, a September 1947 recording of “Gypsy Woman” (not the song that the Impressions and Brian Hyland took to the Top 40 in 1961 and 1970, respectively), and Waters’ first real hit was “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” the result of a December 1947 session that became a hit in 1948. “Mean Red Spider” came out of a session that took place nearly a year later, in either October or November 1948, according to the notes in the Muddy Waters Chess box set.

The Johnny Shines track comes from one of the true landmark sets recorded in the mid-1960s, when the first blues boom was beginning to draw a wider audience to the form. Blues historian Sam Charters brought nine different Chicago-based performers or groups into a studio and had each one record four or five tracks. The results were released on a series of LPs titled Chicago/The Blues/Today! The three resulting albums were released on CD in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but All-Music Guide notes that a 1999 box set containing all three albums is sonically superior. As to Johnny Shines, the late performer – he died in 1992 – was known to have been a frequent traveling companion of Robert Johnson, and he continued performing and recording to the end of his life. If one were looking for an introduction to Johnny Shines beyond the tracks on the Charter project, I’d suggest the albums Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop from 1978 or 1969’s Johnny Shines with Big Walter Horton.

Beyond having one of his singles in my collection, I know little about Buster Benton. All-Music Guide tells us that “[d]espite the amputation of parts of both his legs during the course of his career, Chicago guitarist Buster Benton never gave up playing his music — an infectious hybrid of blues and soul that he dubbed at one point ‘disco blues’ (an unfortunate appellation in retrospect, but useful in describing its danceability). In the late ’70s, when blues was at low ebb, Benton’s waxings for Ronn Records were a breath of fresh air.” AMG goes on to note that Benton connected with blues legend Willie Dixon in 1971, and the result was the Dixon-penned hit “Spider In My Stew.” (I’ve seen a date of 1970 for this track, but I’m following AMG’s lead and going with 1971.)

Dr. John’s “Black Widow Spider” comes from Babylon, his second solo album, an effort that I’ve long thought was a little wan when compared to the voodoo-meets-psychedelia whirlwhind that was 1968’s Gris-Gris. Still, the good doctor gets into a groove on “Black Widow Spider” that pulls you through the track, even if the vocals and guitar above the groove aren’t nearly as compelling as anything from the earlier record.

Psychedelia without the voodoo was Sweetwater’s stock in trade, at least on the group’s first album. “My Crystal Spider” fits snugly into that niche, right down to the electronic effects solo in the middle of the track. “My Crystal Spider” isn’t poorly done, but it seems to me that the track – and actually, the entire self-titled album from which it comes – sounds so much like stuff that other San Francisco bands were doing just a little bit better at the time. That doesn’t mean there’s not a place for Sweetwater in 2009’s random rotations; it’s just that the band was not as good as its neighbors were.

AMG says that, according to Pete Townshend, “Boris the Spider” – a John Entwistle tune – was one of the most frequently requested songs at the Who’s concerts. I’m not sure I get the song’s popularity, but that’s okay. I pulled the track from my vinyl of the group’s Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy collection. The song originally came out on the 1966 album A Quick One (titled Happy Jack in the U.S.).

Three Months Of Music!

May 18, 2022

Originally posted August 31, 2009

I added a bit of music to the player this weekend, pulling in some CD and vinyl rips of my own, adding some that were passed on to me by friends, and gathering a few from some blogs and boards. And when I was done tinkering with the tags and loaded the new tunes into the player, I saw that the music in the player now has a running time of 2,501 hours, twenty-four minutes and one second.

That means that if I started playing mp3s right now – at 6:58 a.m. Central Daylight Time on August 31, I wouldn’t have to repeat one until 11:22 a.m. Central Standard Time on December 13.

If I played them in order of running time, I’d start out with a question from the HAL 9000 computer in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?” And I’d finish my listening with a beginning-to-end playing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon from 1973.

If I were to play the mp3s in alphabetical order by title, I’d start out with several songs whose titles include quotation marks, with the first one being “?” from the self-titled 1968 album by the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. After about eleven minutes – and four more tracks whose titles are encased in quotation marks – I’d switch punctuation marks and hear “#1 With a Heartache” by Barbi Benton. Just more than a hundred and four days from now, I’d close my listening with “Zydeco Ya Ya” by the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo from its 1994 album Tools of the Trade.

And if I were to sort the files alphabetically by performer, my first tune would be “Frequent Flyer” by A Camp, a side project started in 1997 by the Cardigans’ Nina Persson and Atomic Swing’s Niclas Frisk and then completed and released in 2001 with additional work from Shudder to Think’s Nathan Larson and Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. My listening would end with “Legs,” the 1984 record from ZZ Top.

But all of those are too monumental to think about, so for this morning’s listening, I’m just going to let the RealPlayer choose six songs, mostly randomly, from the years 1950-1999 (with the caveat that if a song is a little too odd or something that’s been posted here recently, I’ll pass it by). Here goes:

A Random Six-Pack For Monday
“Touch and Gone” by Gary Wright, Warner Bros. 8494 [1978]
“Baby’s Not Home” by Mickey Newbury from I Came To Hear The Music [1974]
“You’re the Boss” by B.B. King and Ruth Brown from Blues Summit [1993]
“How Many More Years” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess 1479 [1951]
“Behind the Mask” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask [1990]
“R U 4 Real” by Dr. John from Desitively Bonnaroo [1974]

Gary Wright’s early 1978 single, “Touch and Gone,” was more up-tempo than the two 1976 singles that had both reached No. 2 in the U.S. – “Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive” – but it had the same sort of synthesizer fills and flourishes that had set those two singles apart from the rest of what we were hearing at the time. Maybe the synth fills were becoming old hat, or maybe listeners didn’t think they worked in an up-tempo setting. Maybe listeners were bored with the one-time member of Spooky Tooth. Or maybe it just wasn’t a very good single. (That last gets my vote.) Whatever the reason, “Touch and Gone” only found its way to No. 73.

The country-folk waltz of Mickey Newbury’s “Baby’s Not Home” fits neatly into much of what Newbury did during his long career. (Newbury passed on in 2002.) It’s country, though not nearly so countrified as some of the more lush recordings Newbury released on I Came To Hear The Music as well as on other albums. It’s full of regret, an emotion that seems to run deeply through almost everything of Newbury’s I’ve ever heard. And it’s got a little bit of a surprise ending; Newbury may not have actually used a lot of surprise endings, but for some reason, his doing so here is entirely congruent with my sense of his music and might even been seen as emotionally manipulative. All that aside, “Baby’s Not Here” and the album it came from are good pieces of work. Nevertheless – like much that Newbury did during his life – they got very little notice.

“You’re the Boss,” the sassy duet by B.B. King and Ruth Brown (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and other 1950s R&B hits), is among the highlights of King’s 1993 CD. The song itself has an interesting lineage. It was written by the peerless team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and was first recorded – if I read my sources correctly – as a duet between Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret in 1963 for use in the 1964 film Viva Las Vegas. For whatever reason, the song wasn’t included in the movie and went unreleased for a few years.  The first sign at All-Music Guide of the recording showing up is on a 1971 Presley compilation titled Collector’s Gold, and from the snippet offered there, it sounds as if Elvis and Ann-Margret did a pretty sassy version of the song, too.

There’s nothing that’s gonna wake you up more on a Monday morning than a good tough blues from Howlin’ Wolf, and “How Many More Years” fills the bill.

I’ve dissed Behind the Mask here before, and it’s true that highlights were relatively few on the first album Fleetwood Mac put together after Lindsey Buckingham left the group (with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joining). But to me, Christine McVie’s title tune is one of those highlights, with its haunted sound built atop the always stellar foundation of John McVie’s bass and Mick Fleetwood’s drumming. The wordless male chorus at the end might be a bit too forward in the mix, though.

All-Music Guide doesn’t think much of Dr. John’s Desitively Bonnaroo: “When you latch onto a hit formula, don’t mess with it, and that is just what the doctor ordered with Desitively Bonnaroo. With installment number three of Dr. John’s funky New Orleans-styled rock & roll, trying to strike gold again proved elusive. There wasn’t the big hit single this time around to help boost sales, and the tunes were starting to sound a little too familiar. While not a carbon copy of his previous releases, Desitively Bonnaroo was a disappointment to his fans. Good as it was, it was the end of an era for Dr. John and his type of music.” Well, maybe so, but when the good doctor’s tunes pop up one at a time, as they do on random play, they’re still pretty funky and a whole lot of fun.

I Was Right . . . and I Was Wrong
I said Friday during my discussion of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time” that I knew from looking at a photo of the record label that the 45 ran less than three minutes, a statement I amended when Yah Shure said that the record ran 3:06. It turns out I was right and wrong at the same time. I sent Yah Shure a copy of the 45 label I’d looked at, and I got a note in reply on Saturday:

“The label on my stock copy of ‘Long Long Time’ looks like the scan you’d sent and also states 2:59, but the actual length is 3:06.  For disc jockey purposes, 2:59 would be about right.  Never trust the printed times on 45 labels, though.  Record companies routinely misstated the times in order to get records added to the playlists of those stations that refused to play anything over, say, three minutes.

“In radio, the problem with misstated label times came when it was time to cart the record up for airplay.  Since typical cart lengths for music purposes ran in half-minute increments (2:30, 3:00, 3:30, etc.) trying to fit what was actually a 3:05 45 labeled as “2:55” onto a three-minute cart often became an exercise in cursing out the record label in question, when the ruse wasn’t discovered until after three-plus minutes of production room time had already ticked off of the clock.  That meant having to re-erase the too-short cart, finding a suitable longer one, erasing it, re-cueing the record, and . . . take two.”

‘Missed The Saturday Dance . . .’

January 18, 2019

With my mind on things medical these days (for obvious reasons), I checked the digital shelves for tunes related to doctors. I found, among others, “Dr. Robert” (the Beatles), “Dr. Feelgood” (Aretha Franklin), “Dr. Dancer” (the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver), “Dr. Death” (Marketts), “Dr. Jive” (J.J. Cale), “Dr. Livingston, I Presume” (the Moody Blues), “Dr. Pretty” (Toots Thielemans), and “Dr. Stone” (the Leaves).

None of those feel right this morning, so let’s step over to the artists column, where we find, of course, Dr. John. And we’ll stop there.

Here’s the good doctor with an entirely suitable tune for me these days. It’s his cover of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” from Duke Elegant, his tribute to Duke Ellington, released in 2000.

Saturday Single No. 419

November 15, 2014

It’s three degrees outside this morning, decidedly cold for mid-November as we – like friends all across most of the U.S. – cope with the effects of the Polar Vortex. I could go the cheap and easy route – as I did on Facebook a few moments ago – and post a tune by the Three Degrees and then call it a day here. I won’t though. We’ll take a bit more care than that as we look for this week’s Saturday Single.

We’ll tell the RealPlayer to search for the word “cold.” As happens frequently with these types of searches, we’ll have to winnow the results a bit. We lose almost the entire catalog of the San Francisco band Cold Blood. (“We Came Down Here/Cold Blood Smokin’” from the 1976 album Lydia Pense & Cold Blood survives, but it’s unlikely to be today’s selection), and we lose everything on the shelves by Coldplay. We also lose full albums: the 1970 release Cold Fact by the recently rediscovered artist Rodriguez; 1995’s Exit on Coldharbour Lane by A3; the soundtrack to the 2004 film Cold Mountain; and everything but the title track from Gordon Lightfoot’s 1975 album Cold On The Shoulder (and that title track showed up here not quite a year ago, anyway).

That leaves us with maybe 150 or so tracks to tangle with this morning, ranging in time from the promotional 1926 track “I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape” by the Nugrape Twins to the 2014 track “Where The Rivers Run Cold” by the Infamous Stringdusters. And as I scan the cold tale of years, I’m struck by multiple versions of several tunes: In 1928, Bertha Hill recorded “Some Cold Rainy Day” as a parlor blues, and five years later, Curly Weaver did the same tune with guitar (and, as my ears hear it, with some help from his pal Willie McTell and McTell’s wife Kate, who is said to have occasionally recorded under the wonderful name of Ruby Glaze).

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” shows up three times: In a 1949 duet by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer, a 1996 duet by Vanessa Williams and Bobby Caldwell, and a 1966 organ workout by Jimmy Smith. There are three takes on Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” – Williams’ own 1950 original, a 1951 cover by Dinah Washington and a 2002 cover by Norah Jones. Blind Willie Johnson’s eerie 1927 moan “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” finds itself echoed in Corey Harris’ 2003 cover. And Gordon Lightfoot’s 1971 track “10 Degrees And Getting Colder” was covered in 1993 by Nanci Griffith and 1996 by Tony Rice.

Some of the cold covered in those tunes – and the many others turned up in the search – is emotional instead of physical, of course. But that’s okay, and I think we’ll turn this morning to one of those tracks about the chill of the heart: Here’s Dr. John and “Cold Cold Cold” from his 1973 album In The Right Place, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Indigo’

October 29, 2013

Back in August, when I shared “Orange,” the second portion of the series of posts we’re calling Floyd’s Prism, I noted my relief that there were enough songs in my files with “orange” in their titles for me to do a standard six-song post.

And I said in a parenthetical note: “I have my concerns about ‘indigo,’ but we’ll deal with that when we get there.”

Well, we are there. I was right to have concerns. And we’ll deal with them.

A search for “indigo” in the files brings up 209 mp3s, the vast majority of which are tunes by the Indigo Girls. There are a couple of singles from a 1960s folk-rock group called the Indigos. We find Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” scavenged from an album called Ellington’s Indigos.

Then there is “Mood Indigo.” Oddly, I don’t have Ellington’s original version. I have covers of the song by Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra and John Barry (from the soundtrack to the 1984 film The Cotton Club).

And I have a great, N’Awlins-infused version of the Big Band classic from Duke Elegant, Dr. John’s 1999 album celebrating Ellington’s birth a century earlier. That’s all the indigo I got, but it’s pretty damned good.

We’ll do a rare Wednesday post tomorrow, digging around in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971.

Saturday Single No. 343

May 25, 2013

As we sometimes do here, we’re going random today, but only in the 1970s. We’re going to let the RealPlayer bounce around the nearly 20,000 mp3s available from that decade, and – assuming it’s a tune that’s available and not an aesthetic crime – the sixth selection will be today’s featured record. So here we go.

Mama Lion was a blues rock band that released two albums during the early years of the decade although the band is more likely remembered today for the identity of its lead singer. She was one Lynn Carey, Penthouse magazine’s Pet of the Month in December 1972, and she was depicted suckling a lion cub on the inside cover of the group first album, 1972’s Preserve Wildlife. The track we land on to start this morning’s trek is “Griffins” from the group’s second album, 1973’s Give It Everything I’ve Got. “With griffins as my saviors,” sings Carey over a Zepp-like backing, “I fly through burning skies. I need your love no longer . . .” Carey’s bio at Wikipedia suggests that there was more to her than physical beauty and that greater exploration of her later solo career could be rewarding, but that’s something for another day. This morning, we’ll leave Carey and the other members of Mama Lion to their griffins and move on.

Despite my respect for her and her music, Ellen McIlwaine has been mentioned only a few times in this space during the past six years. A talented slide guitarist and an expressive singer, she’s recorded regularly but not frequently over the years, starting when she formed Fear Itself, a psychedelic blues rock band that released a self-titled album in 1969. Her solo career began in 1972 with Honky Tonk Angel, which is where we find her haunting take on Traffic’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” our second stop this morning. McIlwaine’s most recently listed credit is Mystic Bridge from 2006, on which she steps into Eastern-tinged jazz. Marking that for more exploration as well, we head on.

About five years and maybe a thousand posts ago, I wrote about the New York Rock Ensemble and its 1970 album, Roll On. It was, I noted, the first album of straight-ahead rock recorded by the group that had started business as New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, which on its first two albums had played “rock music on classical instruments and classical music on rock instruments.” Roll On, I noted, got wildly mixed reviews, with the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide offering the best, calling it a “tremendous rock & roll album,” and adding that “the band plays with good taste and fire.” We land on “Running Down the Highway,” which Rolling Stone said was one of the “top-notch” songs on the album. I have to concur this morning, but we can’t stay.

Valdy is a Canadian folk rock musician who came to my attention in the mid-1990s through a flea market find of his Family Gathering album, a 1974 effort. According to Wikipedia, he’s a well-regarded and honored Canadian institution, and I have to respect that. But his work – and I have a few of his numerous albums on the mp3 shelves – leaves me unimpressed. It’s probably me and not him. In any case, our wanderings today bring us to “Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm” from Valdy’s 1972 album Country Man: “And I’ll say Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm, that’s not the way things oughta be. And I’ll say Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm excuse me, I’m on the outside being free.” Underwhelmed again, we head to the next tune.

When A&M Records was beginning to promote Joe Cocker’s live Mad Dogs & Englishmen, studio versions of “The Letter” and of “Space Captain” were recorded in Los Angeles for a single release. In short order, the single was revised to offer the live versions of both tunes from the Mad Dogs album. The original single, with the studio versions of the tunes, was credited to Joe Cocker with Leon Russell and the Shelter People, with “the Shelter People” being the name Russell gave to the backing musicians he brought together for his second solo album, some of whom were part of the Mad Dogs tour. I wonder this morning if membership in the Shelter People wasn’t somewhat flexible and if folks who were on the Mad Dogs tour but not on Russell’s album also took part in the studio sessions for “The Letter” and “Space Captain.” (I’m pretty sure that’s the case.) And I wonder how the single was credited after the studio versions were replaced by the live versions. All of this comes up because our fifth stop of the morning is the studio version of “Space Captain” from those early 1970 sessions in Los Angeles. It’s a decent take on the song but it lacks the power – and the long-time familiarity – of the live take from Mad Dogs. (The tale of the single as related here is not quite accurate, but the information available as I wrote was at best confusing. See the note from reader Yah Shure – and my response – below.)

And we land at last on a track from one of the albums that I tend to take for granted by an artist I tend as well to take for granted. “Somebody Changed the Lock” is a slightly naughty track from Dr. John’s Gumbo, a 1972 album of New Orleans R&B from the good doctor. As the one original tune on the album, it fits right in nestled next to classic tunes “Iko Iko,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Tiptina” and “Stack-a-Lee.” Sometimes our Saturday morning random jaunts come up a little bit short, landing on tracks that are okay but no more than that. This morning, the random universe has served us well by giving us “Somebody Changed the Lock” by Dr. John for our Saturday Single.

‘It Must Have Been The Wrong Time . . .’

April 11, 2013

Her name was Bonnie. I can still see her on a springtime day of memory, laughing with her blonde hair blowing in a light breeze as she and her co-workers made their ways from St. Cloud State’s Centennial Hall toward the student union for a coffee break. I thought she was lovely. And I remember wondering, as I watched her walk between the two buildings on that springtime day in 1973, if I’d ever find a way to talk to her again.

There was a divide, you see. I was a college student, a sophomore at the time. She worked in the cataloging department in Centennial Hall, the college’s learning resources center (earlier known as the library). Now, she wasn’t that much older than I was, maybe a year, if I recall correctly. After I met her, I’d prevailed on my dad to tap his sources in the college’s bureaucracy to find out her age for me. And if she’d been a student, that one year likely would have meant very little. But she wasn’t a student; she was a member of the working adult world, and in my young eyes – I was nineteen – that made a large difference.

For one thing, it made it more difficult to find a way to have a casual conversation. Except for rare occasion, the only time I ever saw Bonnie was when she was in the company of her co-workers heading out for lunch or coffee. The cataloging office was in one of the back rooms on Centennial’s first floor; it wasn’t a place where a student could wander through casually, hoping to strike up a conversation with the blonde girl whose desk was near the back of the room.

Yes, I knew where her desk was. The walls that separated the cataloging office from the audio-visual equipment storage room – part of the equipment distribution office where I worked ten hours a week – were only temporary barriers with regular gaps about a half-inch wide. Every once in a while, as I pulled a projector from the shelves or wrestled a portable screen out of its storage space, I’d see a flash of blonde hair through the gap nearest Bonnie’s desk. And whenever my duties took me into the storage room, I looked for a glimpse of blonde hair. I didn’t sit there waiting for those glimpses; that would have been difficult to arrange, not to mention a little creepy. But as I hauled equipment in and out of the storage room, I’d glance over at the wall and think about how to approach the young woman whose desk was on the other side.

As I indicated earlier, we had talked once, briefly. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I remember meeting Bonnie near the card catalog and talking for a few minutes. I remember that something I said made her laugh. And I remember that her laughter and her smile delighted me. Being unattached and in a nearly year-long stretch with no dates at all, I was interested.

There was, however, that gap, that gulf between the student world and the worker world. Maybe the importance of that gap was only in my head. Maybe if I’d been braver and more resourceful, more foolhardy and less timid, I could have approached her and found that she’d have welcomed my attention.

I actually think that might have been the case. Fourteen years later, in 1987, I was working for St. Cloud State’s public relations office and I was researching a piece on the advising services the College of Business offered to small businesses in St. Cloud. One of those businesses was a small grocery store just around the corner from my folks’ house on Kilian Boulevard, a store where over the years I’d bought candy and toys and pop and cigarettes and Playboy magazines.

I was finishing an interview with Norb, the store’s owner, when the door opened and the attached bell rang. We both looked up as a mid-thirties blonde woman came into the store. I recognized her immediately.

“Hi, Bonnie,” Norb said as she grabbed something from the shelf and brought it to the counter. Smiling, she greeted Norb and then looked at me. I could see her searching her memory just as clearly as I could see the wedding ring on her finger.

I told her who I was and that I’d worked in Centennial as a student. She nodded. “I remember you,” she said.

“For pleasant reasons, I hope,” I said. “I had a crush on you.”

She nodded. “I know,” she said. “You never said anything.”

“I was too shy, I guess.”

She got her change from Norb and picked up her bag. “You should have said something, you know,” she told me as she headed for the door. “Or done something.” And as she left, she gave me that smile I’d first seen fourteen years earlier.

Well, maybe. I’ve long thought that as we go through our lives, we get what we need when we need it, and over the years, I’ve come to believe that the barrier I perceived between Bonnie and me served a purpose. At the time of our first conversation, when I was intrigued by her laughter and her smile, I’d been accepted to go to Denmark the following academic year but I had not yet committed myself to go, either financially or emotionally. Had that barrier not blocked me and had I begun a romance with Bonnie, would I have been able to leave that behind to go to Denmark? I don’t know, and I’m glad, forty years later, that I didn’t have to face the dilemma. Because, as things played out, I ended up – then and now – in the right place.

And here’s Doctor John, whose “Right Place Wrong Time” was at No. 82 in the Billboard Hot 100 forty years ago this week.

Caught Unawares By The Chill

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 21, 2008

The weatherfolk on television and radio tell us that this isn’t the real beginning of winter’s cold creep. The temperatures this weekend, they say, will reach into the mid-thirties. But today is a chill preview of what will eventually come and stay with us for a while.

When I turned on the computer this morning, my little WeatherBug told me enough: The temperature outside was 3 Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius). Most mornings, I’m able to stay inside and sip a cup of coffee while the outside world stretches and limbers its muscles. This morning, I was due at the doctor’s office (they drew blood for tests in advance of my annual physical next week; no biggie) at 7:50. So I bundled up and headed across town, then stopped on my way home at Tom’s Barbershop and the grocery store.

This is Minnesota. I’ve lived here most of my life, and it’s going to be cold. I know that. But it seems like every year that first blast of Arctic air catches us by surprise and we do a double take when we look at the temperature reading on that first frigid morning. It doesn’t take us more than a couple of days to readjust, and by the time January brings with it temperatures that can slide to -30 F or colder, we’re almost blasé.

But that first frozen day, like today, still seems to catch us unawares.

A Six-Pack of Cold
“Cold, Cold, Cold” by Dr. John from In The Right Place, 1973

“Cold Lady” by Humble Pie from Town and Country, 1969

“Cold Winter’s Day” by the BoDeans from Go Slow Down, 1993

“Until I’m Dead and Cold” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds, 1970

“Cold Missouri Waters” by Cry Cry Cry from Cry Cry Cry, 1998

“It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present, 1983

A few notes:

Some years ago, I read in one of the many books of album reviews I’ve scanned that the first two Humble Pie albums – As Safe as Yesterday Is and Town and Country – had an ambience not unlike that of The Band’s first albums. Being an easy sell, I wandered down to the record store and dug through the used albums in the “H” bin. Having brought the two albums home and listened to them, I wasn’t altogether certain that the review was right. But the albums were pretty good, and I hung on to them. Of the two, I think Town and Country is the better album, and “Cold Lady” is one of its better tracks.

For a long time, the only thing I knew about the BoDeans was that they came from Wisconsin (Waukesha, not far west of Milwaukee) and that they sang “Good Things,” a live version of which got an incredible amount of airplay in the early 1990s on Cities 97 in the Twin Cities. Over the past eight years or so – late, but at least I got there – I’ve explored the band’s catalog, and I quite like it. “Cold Winter’s Day” is a pretty good track.

Speaking of having to catch up, the Moody Blues somehow released an album in 1983 that I missed entirely at the time. I think a lot of people did. The Present is not one of the group’s better albums, and listeners seemed to know that. Its predecessor, Long Distance Voyager, was No. 1 for three weeks during a twenty-three-week stay in the Top 40, and its successor, The Other Side of Life, went to No. 9 during its twenty-two weeks in the Top 40. The Present was in the chart for only six weeks and went to No. 26. “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” is the most memorable song on the album.

Cry Cry Cry was a one-shot release by a trio of contemporary folk artists: Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell. It’s quite a nice album.

Some Voices Suggested By Readers

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 20, 2008

I thought that this morning, I’d head to YouTube and find some clips from a few of the many names readers suggested yesterday that might belong in the top ten list of the best singers of the rock era.

The first one I came across was one of my favorites, Maria McKee, in a 1990 live performance of “Show Me Heaven” – from the film Days of Thunder – on Top of the Pops. (The ending is a little truncated.)

Video deleted.

Then, here’s a powerful live performance of “Why” by Annie Lennox during the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of Arista Records. The celebration took place April 10, 2000, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California.

Here’s an intriguing clip: Elvis Costello, accompanying himself on a ukulele, performing “The Scarlet Tide,” which he and T-Bone Burnett wrote for the soundtrack of Cold Mountain. The performance took place on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson but I’m not sure of the date. Maybe 2003?

Here’s Christina Aguilera covering Etta James’ “At Last” live in London in November 2003:

And we’ll close with Mavis Staples – with Dr. John on the piano – performing “I’ll Take You There” as the closer on a 1988 episode of Sunday Night.

An interesting mix, I think. Enjoy!

Interconnected, For Better Or Worse

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 1, 2008

Sometimes, if I really stop and think about it, the interconnectedness of the world astounds me. With cell phones, PDAs, email, instant messaging and all the other ways we communicate with each other, one never needs to be out of touch. Well, there are places in the world with limited access to cell networks and so on, but they are increasingly rare.

And that increasing connectedness will change us – has already begun to do so – in ways that we cannot possible anticipate. (I recall a long-ago magazine piece about the slipperiness of predictions; it pointed out that pundits in New York City predicted in the 1880s, given the city’s reliance on horses, that the streets of the city would be several feet deep in manure by the middle of the twentieth century. You never know.)

Looking back, however, I can guess that today’s connectedness would have changed one major part of my life, and not for the better. During the college year I spent in Fredericia, Denmark, I was separated for the first time in my life from my family and friends. Had I been able to use email, cell phones, texting and all the other tools of today’s communications, my time away would have been immeasurably different, and – I think – a lot less valuable to me.

I was in touch with friends and family throughout the year, of course, writing and receiving frequent letters and cards. But that contact was very limited. It took a week for a letter to make its way from Denmark to Minnesota and another week for a reply to arrive, which gives one a lot of time to think – or worry, if so inclined – between statements. And trans-Atlantic telephone calls were expensive. I called Minnesota from Denmark twice: On Christmas Day and then in April, when I returned to Fredericia after being on the road for a month.

And I think the distance created by being out of touch was good for me. If I’d had access to today’s numerous means of communication, I think I might have held tightly to my friends at home and not been as adventurous as I was. I don’t know. Perhaps not. But I think that one of the central facts of my time away was that it was time away in all ways, and I’d guess that holds true for all of us who were in Denmark that year. We’re a fairly tight group, even thirty-five years later, with all the changes that life brings. Reunions are regular and well attended. I’m not at all sure that we’d feel as connected as we have to each other over the years if we’d carried our friends from home in our pockets.

On a less important scale, one of the fascinating things about being away was losing track of popular culture. Events, catch phrases, fads and especially music had come and gone while we were gone. Friends sent many of us tapes that we shared in our lounge, so we heard some of what was popular, both Top 40 and albums. But there have been numerous times over the years – and I think this likely happened to all of us – when I’d hear a song for the first time and learn it had been popular during the time I was away.

Here’s a selection from the Billboard Top 40 during the week of September 29, 1973. A few of these had hit the Top 40 before I left, but the vast majority of them were records I had to catch up on later (in some cases, years later).

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 4
“Redneck Friend” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 11023 (No. 99 as of Sept. 29, 1973))

“Make Me Twice The Man” by New York City, Chelsea 0025 (No. 96)

“This Time It’s Real” by Tower of Power, Warner Bros. 7733 (No. 74)

“Jesse” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic 2982 (No. 68)

“I Can’t Stand The Rain” by Ann Peebles, Hi 2248 (No. 64)

“Such A Night” by Dr. John, Atco 6937 (No. 56)

“Nutbush City Limits” by Ike & Tina Turner, United Artists 298 (No. 50)

“In The Midnight Hour” by Cross Country, Atco 6934 (No. 31)

“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson, Monument 8571 (No. 23)

“Yes We Can Can” by the Pointer Sisters, Blue Thumb 229 (No. 16)

“Brother Louie” by Stories, Kama Sutra 577 (No. 11)

“My Maria” by B.W. Stevenson, RCA Victor 0030 (No. 9)

“We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk, Capitol 3660 (No. 1)

A few notes:

Jackson Browne was perhaps the quintessential singer/songwriter of the 1970s, so “Redneck Friend,” one of the few real rockers Browne ever recorded, was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t get much radio play – never made the Top 40 – but it’s a great mood-changer when heard in the context of Browne’s 1973 album, For Everyman.

I don’t ever recall hearing New York City’s “Make Me Twice The Man” before this morning, when I rummaged through the stacks and found the album. Despite the group’s name, it’s a nice piece of Philly soul, and you can hear the imprint of Thom Bell (the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners) in every groove. New York City had reached No. 17 in the spring of 1973 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now.”

I still love “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” especially the first few seconds. Ann Peebles has spent her career trying to record something else this good. She’s done well, but she’s never reached the same heights as she did here.

Another single I don’t recall hearing was Cross Country’s version of “In The Midnight Hour,” which is different enough to deserve a hearing (if ultimately nowhere as good as Wilson Pickett’s version). Leonard at Redtelephone66, the blog where I found Cross Country’s album, said when he posted the record that Cross Country was a group formed by three of the four members of the Tokens in 1971. The single reached No. 30 during a four-week stay in the Top 40.

Stories’ single “Brother Louie” was quite the sensation in 1973, with its tale of an interracial romance. The fact that it was pretty good listening, too, sometimes got lost in the brouhaha.

If I had to pick the best of these, I’d likely go with “Yes We Can Can,” the Pointer Sisters’ single written by Allen Toussaint or maybe B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria,” which was possibly the rootsiest record of 1973.