Posts Tagged ‘Eric Clapton’

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

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

Already On My Turntable

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 6, 2009

During my youth and early adulthood, it wasn’t often that I’d hear something playing on the radio and be able to say, “I have that record!”

Once I started listening to Top 40 radio in the late summer and early fall of 1969 – before that, I heard Top 40 all over the place but I never really listened – that happened occasionally. It was most frequent, of course, with the Beatles, especially once I made it my first mission in life to collect everything the Beatles had recorded for Capitol and Apple. I’d hear “Come Together” – or, as happened late one night when I woke up after leaving the radio on, the riff-glorious “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – and know, “That’s from Abbey Road. I have that!”

Beyond the Beatles, though, it wasn’t often that I’d hear a song on Top 40 radio that I had on record. If I did – and this held true for a lot of the Beatles’ catalog as well – it was generally records that the radio stations were playing as oldies. I was usually a few years behind in buying music. (I still am, and I know I’ll never catch up, given the musical riches that exist.)

And during my college years, especially after I came back from my year in Denmark, I didn’t listen to a lot of Top 40. At school, in the student union, we’d sometimes plug quarters into the jukebox and hear current singles, but that – and brief bits of driving – were my only exposure to current hits. At home, I listened to radio stations that played deeper tracks, either St. Cloud State’s KVSC or another St. Cloud station, long gone now, its call letters gone for years from my memory. And when I bought music, I was catching up on the catalogs of the Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, Joe Cocker and more, so when I listened to records at home, I’d never hear a song that was getting current radio play.

As time passed and radio stations changed or disappeared, I tuned my radio once more to more popular fare. But my buying habits remained fairly consistent. So I still rarely heard a song on the radio that I had on a record. That’s why I recall a morning in early March 1977 so very clearly. I was about to head to campus for the day (working on that minor in print journalism I mentioned in a recent post). I had the radio on, and as I headed to the desk to turn it off, there came, “Here come those tears again, just when I gettin’ over you . . .”

It was from The Pretender, the first Jackson Browne album I ever bought. And I stopped short, marveling – as I did every time I listened to the album – at how good the song was and marveling, too, at its being released as a single. I listened for a minute or two, then turned off the radio and headed downstairs, pleased with the knowledge that I could hear the song anytime I wanted to.

A Six-Pack of Tears
“Here Come Those Tears Again” by Jackson Brown, Asylum 45397 [1976]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Grover Washington, Jr., from All The King’s Horses [1972]
“96 Tears” by Big Maybelle Smith, Rojac 112 [1967]
“Drown In My Own Tears” by Richie Havens from Richie Havens’ Record [1968]
“River of Tears” by Eric Clapton from Pilgrim [1998]
“Trail of Tears” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers [1974]

“Here Comes Those Tears Again” was Jackson Browne’s second Top 40 single, following “Doctor My Eyes,” which went to No. 8 in 1972. “Tears” spent six weeks in the Top 40 starting in mid-February 1977 and peaked at No. 23. Browne had ten more Top 40 hits from then on, but I don’t know that any of them were better than “Here Come Those Tears Again.” Maybe “Running On Empty,” which came out about a year later. But “Tears,” which was pulled off the album The Pretender, is a great single, helped along by Bonnie Raitt’s work on background vocals and the sweet guitar solo by (surprisingly) John Hall of the band Orleans (who is now, maybe even more surprisingly, a U.S. Congressman from the state of New York).

Some time ago, I shared Roberta Flack’s 1973 version of “No Tears (In The End).” Since then, two other versions have come my way, each released in 1972. I’m not sure which of the two – by Grover Washington, Jr., and by the Friends of Distinction – came first, but they’re both nicely done. Of the two, I prefer Washington’s just a little, but that may come from my fondness for the sound of the saxophone (something I don’t think I’ve addressed specifically here, though it might have been implicit over these last two years). The album the track comes from, All The King’s Horses, does not seem to be available on CD, which is a shame.

Big Maybelle covers ? and the Mysterians? Yeah, blues belter Big Maybelle took on “96 Tears” and earned her final appearance on the R&B charts, though I’m not sure how high the record went.* It was pulled from the album Got a Brand New Bag, a record I would dearly love to hear some day, based on the track listing:

“96 Tears”
“Mellow Yellow”
“That’s Life”
“There Must Be A Word”
“Ellenor Rigby” (sic)
“Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing”
“I Can’t Control Myself”
“Cabaret”
“Black Is Black”
“Coming On Strong”
“The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”
“Turn The World Around The Other Way”

Contemplating Big Maybelle’s takes on some of those titles is like contemplating a – well, I can’t think right now of anything suitably bizarre. “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” undoubtedly the most odd track selection on an oddly programmed album, is a product of the mind of Norman Greenbaum (who reached No. 3 in 1970 with the great “Spirit In The Sky”).

I probably found the Richie Havens track on a blog somewhere; I don’t recall. It’s included on a compilation on the Rhino label called Resume: The Best of Richie Havens. If I’m correct in my conclusions about its origins, the track was originally recorded in 1965 or so and was placed in 1969 on an album called Richie Haven’s Record, which a producer created by adding electric instrumentation to some of Havens’ early acoustic demos without Havens’ input. That LP came out on the Douglas label, a division of Laurie Records. In his autobiography, Havens seems ambivalent about the Douglas album, but he has praise for the Rhino compilation. His performance of Ray Charles’ classic “Drown In My Own Tears” is a good one.

Reviews were decidedly mixed in 1998 when Eric Clapton released Pilgrim. “My Father’s Eyes,” though never officially released as a single, went to No. 16 as an album track. But I think a lot of critics and Clapton fans thought the album was a little lightweight. That was my reaction; there were lots of “nice” tracks on the record but nothing that had much substance. I still look askance at most of the CD, just more than ten years later. But I’ve come to like “River of Tears.”

The Talbot Brothers were the moving force behind the band Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country-rock band that released a clutch of albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The best of those, but not by much, was likely Wanted!) “Trail of Tears,” a beautiful track, comes from the brothers’ first album after the break-up of Mason Proffitt. That album was either called The Talbot Brothers or Reborn. I’ve seen pictures of record jackets with both titles. Either way, the musicianship is sparkling and the content reflects the brothers’ shift to overtly Christian themes. In the years ahead, the Talbots would be a prime force in what has come to be called Contemporary Christian Music.

*Big Maybelle’s cover of “96 Tears” went to No. 23 on the R&B Chart. Note added March 16, 2012.

A Landmark In Peril

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 23, 2009

Twice during trips to visit the Texas Gal’s family in the Dallas area, she and I have driven into the heart of downtown Dallas, to a portion of the city whose good days are long gone. There, we’ve visited Park Avenue and the building at 508, where Robert Johnson recorded thirteen tracks over a two-day period in 1937. As well as taking pictures, I’ve stood on the front step, sharing the same space once occupied by both Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton.

The other week, the Texas Gal’s mom and sister sent me a clipping of a story from the Dallas Morning News, detailing the uncertain future of the building at 508 Park Avenue.

(It seems that the links to the images that ran with the story are no longer working. [Nor, for that matter, is the link to the story.] Here’s a photo of the front door of the building that I took on one of our two visits to Park Avenue.)

It would be nice to have the building saved, of course, both for its exterior architecture and for its place in music history. But I’m guessing that won’t happen. In the meantime, here are cover versions of some of the songs Robert Johnson recorded during his two days in Dallas in July of 1937.*

A Six-Pack of 508 Park Avenue
“Stop Breakin’ Down” by the Jeff Healey Band from Cover To Cover [1995]
“Malted Milk” by Eric Clapton from Unplugged [1992]
“Traveling Riverside Blues” by John Hammond from Country Blues [1964]
“Love In Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ [1970]
“Stones In My Passway” by Chris Thomas King from Me, My Guitar and the Blues [1992]
“I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” by Robert Lockwood, Jr. & Carey Bell from Hellhound on My Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson [2000]

*I was too pessimistic, it seems: According to this piece in the January 26, 2012, edition of the Dallas Observer, the building at 508 Park Avenue will be restored and become the site of the Museum of Street Culture. That will include a recording studio on the floor of the building where Robert Johnson and others played, and – according to the January 26, 2012 piece – a memorial of some sort in the corner of that floor where Johnson and other musicians actually sat or stood to record. Note added February 1, 2012

Saturday Singles Nos. 85 & 86

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 9, 2008

So the Olympic games began in China yesterday, at eight p.m. local time on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the millennium. I’m not feeling particularly Olympiccy, to coin a bad word. I imagine I’ll watch some of the proceedings in the next few weeks, but I won’t be as invested in the games as I have been some other years.

I don’t think my lack of interest has anything to do with any of the political considerations that surround this edition of the Olympic games. I do admit to wondering since the games were awarded to China if the Chinese government and the international Olympic movement would eventually come to regret their partnership. I’m not predicting anything dire, just thinking to myself that societies that try to maintain tight control are finding it increasingly difficult to do so, especially when the entire world is looking into their windows, so to speak.

I guess I haven’t really watched the summer Olympic games with much joy since, oh, the Munich games of 1972. That date provides a dividing line in a number of ways: By 1976 and the Montreal games, I was deep into my college studies, even during summertime, and the games that followed that – Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984 and all the rest since – found me even more entrenched in adult concerns. The Munich games were the last ones that found me unencumbered by adult responsibilities.

Any thought of the Munich games also carries with it a sense of sorrow, too, and that certainly colors my attitude toward the quadrennial games that came after.

I also find these days that I tend to watch the winter Olympics more closely. There are more sports that interest me, a good number of the athletes usually come from Minnesota, and the winter games don’t yet seem to be the overblown spectacle that the summer games have become.

And while I have – since 1972 – no striking memories of the Olympic games themselves, yesterday’s beginnings in China reminded me of something. In 1984, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, and the route of the ceremonial Olympic torch – making its way from Olympia, Greece, to Los Angeles – followed Interstate 70 across the state from St. Louis to Kansas City, right through Columbia. I was going to graduate school and working at a newspaper, and I recall wondering idly if I should head out to the north edge of town to see the torch as it went past.

I didn’t. If I recall correctly, the torch made its way along the north edge of Columbia sometime shortly after sunrise, about 7 a.m. I didn’t bother to get up and drive across town to see it. And that evening when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the torch being carried past the crowds along the highway, I regretted staying home. I looked at the photo and thought, “Well, that was a once in a lifetime thing. I should have gone.”

Fast-forward twelve years to the summer of 1996. The summer games that year were in Atlanta, and again, I’d paid little attention to the gathering momentum as the games approached.

But one Saturday morning, I opened the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and saw that the Olympic torch would be making its way through Minneapolis that evening. Its route would bring it along Thirty-Sixth Street South, three houses away from my apartment building.

I was there that evening, in a large crowd of my neighbors, watching and applauding with them as a local volunteer carried the torch down the middle of the street. I don’t recall any wellspring of emotion. I just watched the runner carry the torch, and then I went to the neighborhood coffee house with a few people. But as I wrote to a close friend in the next few days, “What I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime event turned out not to be so, and that amazes me a little. How often do any of us get a second chance at something so rare?”

Here are two songs that were on the charts at those times, songs that remind me of those summers, one from 1984 when I let the torch pass unnoticed and one from 1996 when I took advantage of my second chance.

Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face” (Chrysalis 42786) peaked at No. 4 in 1984 and was at No. 11 on August 4 as the Los Angeles games were halfway done. And twelve years later, Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” (Reprise 17621) was featured in the soundtrack to the film Phenomenon and peaked at No. 5. It was at No. 6 on August 3, 1996, as the Atlanta games were less than a week from their closing ceremonies.

And those songs are today’s Saturday Singles.

Billy Idol – “Eyes Without A Face” [1984]

Eric Clapton – “Change the World” [1996]

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.

We’re Moving!

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2008

Well, it’s begun: Two bookshelves have been emptied into about eight boxes, stacked in the living room. Twenty or so empty boxes clutter the kitchen and the entryway. And the catboys – who distrust any alteration of their environment – are a little upset, stopping by occasionally to complain to the Texas Gal or me that they don’t like change.

We’ve moving!

The owner of the apartment complex where we’ve lived for almost six years was looking for tenants for a house he also owns and offered it to us. We looked at the place a couple of times, asked a few questions and got satisfactory answers. And we took into consideration two things: First, we have badly outgrown our two-bedroom apartment both for storage and with stuff we use everyday. (That happens when collections are of things that are bulky, as are books, records, CDs and fabric. Were we both stamp collectors, we might not be so crowded. But we’re not, so . . .) Second, the house offers at least two-and-a-half times the space we now have with only a small increase in rent.

There was a third consideration: We like our neighborhood here on the East Side. I grew up no more than six blocks from the apartment, and the Texas Gal likes the area, too. Luckily, the house in question is on a wooded lot adjacent to the apartment complex, no more than thirty yards away. It’s close enough that were we younger, we’d likely just haul stuff over ourselves when the time comes, recruiting friends to help with the heavy lifting. But being where we’re at chronologically, we’re going to hire movers to do the hauling come September 1.

We will, however, do the packing. That will also, we’ve decided, include some winnowing. You know how it is: Stuff accumulates for no other reason than its own existence. Greeting cards from several years pile up in a basket; magazines you intend to really read someday huddle on the coffee table; and all those recipes and coupons to restaurants you want to try sometime create a fire hazard by the toaster. So we’ll be sifting as we pack, separating the chaff of almost six years’ living from the grain we’ll move.

It was easier back in 1976, when I made my first move, from my parents’ home to the drafty house on the North Side. I moved a twin bed and a dresser, a writing table and a chair and some bricks and boards (the bricks salvaged from a pile created when Murl and I knocked down the chimney of the house we moved). I moved some books – about forty, I’d guess, not nearly as many as the Texas Gal and I have now – my clothes and various other items necessary for day-to-day living. I was done in just a few trips of my Ford Falcon and with one trip (I think) by Murl’s truck, to move the bed and the dresser.

This will be the twentieth time I’ve loaded up my stuff and moved. (It’s my twenty-first move, but I doubt I did much loading during the shift from Riverside Drive to Kilian Boulevard here in St. Cloud when I was three.) The Texas Gal has moved a few times, too. There’s one thing that makes this impending move different: When we moved from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud in late 2002, we’d been sharing living quarters for a little more than a year, and the things we used for daily life – from the couch to the can opener, the fan to the frying pan we used for Sunday bacon – had either been hers or mine. So many things like that have become “ours” in these nearly six years here. Even as I survey the incredible amount of stuff that needs to be packed, there is comfort in that.

And here are some songs from the year of that first, so very easy, move:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 3
“Outward Bound” by Wishbone Ash from New England

“Out of Control” by the Flying Burrito Brothers from Airborne

“Lost Without Your Love” by Bread, Elektra single 45365

“Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too” by Taj Mahal from Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too

“Innocent Times” by Eric Clapton from No Reason to Cry

“Race of the Computers” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It

“Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Warner Bros. single 8252

“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles, Capitol single 4274

“Pyramid (Of Love And Friends)” by El Chicano from Pyramid, 1976

“Smokin’” by Boston from Boston

“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 4369

“Turn the Beat Around” by Vickie Sue Robinson, RCA single 10562

“More, More, More” by the Andrea True Connection, Buddah single 515

A few notes:

Classifications are tricky things, but Wishbone Ash in the Seventies was considered hard rock, and the group rocked pretty well, by standards of the time. It’s true that Wishbone Ash on occasion allowed its folk inclinations to temper its rock, and that shows on New England, but the album also rocks nicely in spots, too. Listening to the group today, though – after thirty-some years of increasing toughness, roughness and incivility in music – Wishbone Ash sounds a lot less tough than it used to.

“Lost Without Your Love” was the title song to Bread’s last album, a reunion album released in 1977. (The album was the group’s first since 1972.) While this single’s hook didn’t sink in quite as deeply as those of earlier hits — I think of “If,” “It Don’t Matter To Me” and “Baby I’m-A Want You” in particular – it was still a nice piece of popcraft. “Lost Without Your Love” entered the Top 40 in the first week of December and peaked at No. 9 in early 1977. It was Bread’s twelfth Top 40 hit and the group’s fifth to reach the Top Ten. (“Make It With You,” the group’s first hit, was its only single to reach No. 1.)

No Reason To Cry was an album that saw Eric Clapton surround himself with lots of prominent friends: Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Billy Preston, Ronnie Wood, Jesse Ed Davis, Carl Radle, Georgie Fame and more. Sometimes it sounds more like an album by The Band than it does one by Clapton, which doesn’t bother me too much. Dylan takes a vocal turn on his own song, “Sign Language.” The lead vocal on “Innocent Times” came from Marcy Levy, who co-wrote the song with Clapton.

I’m certain there’s a story behind Apple Capitol Records releasing the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” as a single in 1976, six years after the band’s last release and seven years after the four Beatles last recorded together. But I don’t know what the story is. Anyone out there? The single went to No. 7 that summer. (That wasn’t the Beatles’ last Top Ten hit, though; “Free As A Bird,” the “reunion” single that some thought ghoulish, went to No. 6 during the winter of 1995-96.)*

El Chicano was one of the numerous Latin rock groups that popped up in the early 1970s after the ascendance of Santana. The group hung around longer than most of its contemporaries, recording either seven or eight albums (All-Music Guide’s listing is unclear) between 1970 and 1976. The single here came from the 1975 album, Pyramid, which was the group’s last album for a major label.

“Night Moves” might be the greatest single ever written and recorded about growing up in the age of rock ’n’ roll. If it’s not the greatest, it’s pretty darn close to the top. Nominations, anyone? The song’s best line – “Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closin’ in.” – is probably not the line I’d have chosen thirty-two years ago.

*As was pointed out by, I believe, reader and pal Yah Shure shortly after this entry was originally posted, the release of “Got To Get You Into My Life” as a single was related to Capitol’s release of the two-LP anthology, Rock ’N’ Roll Music, which itself went to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Note added July 18, 2011.

‘Down By The Highway Side’

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 27, 2008

When one thinks of cover songs, I’m not sure that recordings of blues songs written long ago are what come to mind. One generally thinks of cover songs in the context of being able to compare the cover versions to a relatively recent original. And in the case of many of the classic blues songs, the original can be hard to determine, if not lost to history.

There are, of course, some blues songs that we can trace back to a writer: There are the twenty-nine songs written by Robert Johnson. Charlie Patton, who was born about twenty years earlier than Johnson, no doubt wrote many more blues songs than that during his lifetime. (The box set titled Complete Recordings, 1929-1934, available in numerous places, gathers in more than ninety recordings, many of which, if not all, are credited to Patton. That’s a set that’s high on my wish list.) In between the two – born eleven years after Patton and nine years before Johnson – came Son House, creator during his recording days of many songs as well.

I’m being imprecise about the work of Patton and House, I know. Their work came a few years earlier and their catalogs are larger than Johnson’s. The very slenderness of Johnson’s recorded catalog – twenty-nine songs, forty-two recordings – makes it easy to deal with. (My music collection includes Johnson’s complete recordings, but neither Patton’s nor House’s.)

In addition, there is a difficulty in crediting writers of blues songs – especially those songs created in, say, the first half of the twentieth century. Improvising singers would borrow a line from here, a figure of speech from there and a snippet of dialogue from another place: Did that make a new song? In the folk, early country and early blues tradition, it did. A new legal copyright? These days, likely not. (It’s interesting to realize that what those early blues singers were doing was similar to what today’s studio masters do when they sample other recordings for their own uses.) Johnson, no doubt, did the same; I’m not a blues historian, but I know that themes and ideas and language similar to those in Johnson’s works have been found in earlier works, as was common in the blues tradition. So how can the copyrights be Johnson’s and now belong to his heirs? I dunno. That’s a question for lawyers. On an artistic level, Johnson’s blues are clearly distinct from those that came before in their dark vision and their lyrical complexity (not to mention musical virtuosity).

(Again, I’m not a blues scholar; I know the history of the music fairly well for an amateur, I think, and I’m more or less just wandering through this thicket without notes. If I overstate or understate or ignore something, let me know.)

Anyway, acknowledging that to some degree or another, Patton, House and Johnson built their own songs on those that had come before, I think they’d still have to be considered three of the six most important blues writers ever. (The other three? Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie McTell – the first pretty much a contemporary of Patton, House and Johnson, with McTell coming along a little later – and Willie Dixon, who wrote an astounding number of blues songs for Chess Records during the 1950s and 1960s. Where’s W.C. Handy? Seventh, eighth, ninth – I don’t know.)

So it’s not hard at all to find covers of the songs written by Patton, House and Johnson, as many of those songs have become central to how we hear the blues today. That’s been true even when the original writer got no credit; for years, early blues songs were credited as “traditional” at best. Performers and producers often took writing credit for the songs, too. That practice has generally ended, mostly as a result of the two separate eras of increased awareness of the blues, in the 1960s and since 1991, although one can still find the occasional record or CD label that fails to credit Johnson, House, Patton or another early blues artist for the writing of a song that’s historically known to belong to one of them.

One performer who’s never been anything but accurate in crediting his influences and sources has been Eric Clapton. Throughout his career, he’s cited Johnson’s work as one of the touchstones of his own work. And in 2004, Clapton released an album he said he’d wanted to release for some time: Me and Mr. Johnson, a fourteen-song collection of Johnson’s blues. Later that year came another treat for those of us who are fans of both Clapton and Johnson: Sessions for Robert J, an eleven-song CD accompanied by a DVD that chronicled the four sessions that created the CD.

One of those sessions took place during June 2004 in a dark room of a decaying building at 508 Park Avenue in downtown Dallas, Texas. According to records long thought lost but that had come to light in recent years, that room was almost certainly the same one in which Robert Johnson had recorded in June 1937. Clapton and Doyle Bramhall II ran through five of Johnson’s songs as the light faded.

The Texas Gal and I spent Christmas 2004 with her family near Dallas. That morning, one of her gifts to me was Sessions for Robert J. After dinner that day, she and I drove into downtown Dallas and picked our way through the streets to Park Avenue. I walked up to the front door of 508 Park Avenue, now gated and locked. Without success, I tried to imagine how Park Avenue would have looked when Robert Johnson went through that doorway, a doorway that Eric Clapton would pass through in 2004, sixty-seven years later.*

Here’s the original “Me and the Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson, recorded June 20, 1937 at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas and released as Vocalion 4108, and a cover, “Me and the Devil Blues” by Eric Clapton with Doyle Bramhall II, recorded June 3, 2004, at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas and released on Sessions for Robert J.

Robert Johnson – “Me and the Devil Blues” [1937]

Eric Clapton – “Me and the Devil Blues” [2004]

*In the interest of full disclosure, the photo of 508 Park Avenue was taken on our second visit to the site in the spring of 2007. When this post was first published, a reader noted that Google’s street view of that address showed a different building. It did, indeed, but Google’s location was wrong and has since been corrected. Note added June 29, 2011.

Hang A Basket! Have A Parade!

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 30, 2008

It’s May Day.*

No one’s leaving May Baskets at my door, I am certain, nor is anyone in the apartment complex dancing around the Maypole. A look at Wikipedia confirms my hunch that those are traditional English and Northern European activities, quite likely tied to pre-Christian fertility rites. I remember learning about them – May Baskets and Maypoles, not the fertility rites – in elementary school. It strikes me as I write that we learned very little about the celebrations of most other cultures, and that tells me how insular our culture was during those times (the late 1950s and the first half of the 1960s). We celebrated Anglo-Saxon traditions and – for the most part – ignored others.

I vaguely remember making May Baskets as an art project one year early in my school days. We used little blunt-ended scissors to cut construction paper into the appropriate shapes, and then we glued those pieces together with that white paste that someone in the classroom always insisted was good to eat.

May Day is also celebrated as an international workers’ holiday, and that brings back other memories. During the years of my childhood and youth, we’d see television footage every May Day of the parade in Moscow. The Soviet Union’s workers and soldiers would march, accompanied by tanks and missiles. They’d pass through Red Square, where old men in uniforms and ill-fitting suits – the leaders of the Soviet Union – stood atop Lenin’s Tomb to review them. I remember seeing bits and pieces of the parades on television in shades of gray; once color television became the norm, the parade turned into a celebration in a sea of red. Whether the spectacle was in gray or in red, though, we were taught that it should have frightened us.

Do the believers who remain still march through Red Square? I don’t know. For that matter, does anyone dance around a Maypole anywhere? Again, I have no idea. But to mark May Day, here’s a selection of songs – mostly random; I clicked past a few from earlier years – that have in common the predominant color from those May Day parades.

A Baker’s Dozen of Red
“Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie from Wet Willie II, 1972

“Red Box” by Simply Red from Picture Book, 1985

“The Red Plains” by Bruce Hornsby & The Range from The Way It Is, 1986

“Red Rooster” by Howlin’ Wolf, alternate mix from The London Sessions, 1970

“Red Telephone” by Love from Forever Changes, 1967

“Red Cross Store” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from [Lots More] Blues, Rags and Hollers, 1964

“Red Shoes” by Chris Rea from Auberge, 1991

“Red House” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from Are You Experienced (U.S. version), 1967

“Red Dirt Boogie, Brother,” by Jesse Ed Davis from Ululu, 1972

“Red Flowers” by Martin & Neil from Tear Down The Walls, 1964

“Bottle of Red Wine” by Eric Clapton from Eric Clapton, 1970

“Red’s Song” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass, 1995

“99 Red Balloons” by Nena, Epic single 04108, 1984

A few notes:

The band Wet Willie sometimes gets overlooked when talk turns to southern rock of the Seventies. The group had three Top 40 hits – the best, “Keep On Smilin’,” went to No. 20 in 1974 – and released a series of pretty good albums between 1971 and 1979. The best of those was likely The Wetter the Better, in 1976, but all are worth finding. My thanks to TC at Groovy Fab, whose posts reminded me. (TC also has a great blog: TC’s Old & New Music Review.)

Simply Red’s Picture Book was the group’s debut, and I’m not sure the group ever released a better album. With two Top 40 hits (“Holding Back The Years” went to No. 1, and “Money’s Too Tight To Mention” reached No. 28), the album itself reached the Top 40 with its mix of melodic ballads and grittier numbers.

“Red Telephone” comes from the quirky and beautiful Forever Changes, quite likely the pinnacle of the L.A. group Love. Led by Arthur Lee, the group released three great albums – Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes in 1966 and 1967, becoming a favorite of critics and other musicians in the rapidly changing Southern California music scene. The band soldiered on until 1974 but never regained the odd magic it had during those first years.

The late Jesse Ed Davis wasn’t much of a singer, as one listen to “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” tells you, but he was a hell of a guitar player. The list of his credits includes session work for artists ranging from John Lee Hooker and Booker T. Jones to Buffy Ste. Marie, Brewer & Shipley, John Lennon and Tracy Nelson. And when it came time to record his own albums – his self-titled 1971 debut, 1972’s Ululu and Keep Me Comin’ in 1973 – he had a wide range of friends and associates to help out. The credits for Ululu list Dr. John, Duck Dunn, Jim Keltner, Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, Clydie King, Venetta Fields, Merry Clayton and more.

The folk duo Martin & Neil of “Red Flowers” was Vince Martin and the late Fred Neil, the latter, of course, better known as the writer of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which was a No. 6 hit for Nilsson in 1969. Neil’s own recordings are worth digging into. Tear Down The Walls was his only record with Martin, and within a year, Neil would release his first solo album, Bleecker & MacDougal. That would be followed by his best work, Sessions, in 1967. Later releases were a bit haphazard but interesting in their own ways.

Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” is the English version of the international hit “99 Luftballoons,” which was recorded in German. Although German is not my favorite non-English language for music – French and Danish rate rather higher – I tend to like the original of Nena’s song more than I do the translated version. I guess it’s a tendency to seek the original and beware the copy.

*Clearly, I was a day ahead of myself. It was not May Day, it was the last day of April. As I explained in a later post. I somehow misdated one of my earlier posts. Well, things happen. Note added June 24, 2011.

Belated Wishes To Mr. Whitlock

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 25, 2008

A note came through here last week from my friend, Mitch, an English teacher and sometime rock ’n’ roll writer in Alabama who’s hobnobbed over the years with many of the best Southern rockers. He reminded me that March 18 was the sixtieth birthday of a musician we both hold in high regard: Bobby Whitlock.

I was preoccupied, so I missed it. But let this be my birthday greeting to Bobby.

In the early days of this blog – soon after I got the USB turntable – I ripped to mp3s and posted all four of Whitlock’s solo albums from the 1970s, work from the years just after he’d been a member of Derek & the Dominos.

As I’ve indicated elsewhere, I think Whitlock’s part of the Derek & the Dominos story tends to get lost in the stories of the two guitar legends – Eric Clapton and Duane Allman – who were in on the project. And as I thought about Whitlock’s birthday, I wondered about cover versions of his songs, in particular, the songs that were on Layla. One of those – the album’s closer, “Thorn Tree in the Garden” – was his alone, and he co-wrote with Clapton five of the other songs on the album: “I Looked Away,” “Keep On Growing,” “Anyday,” “Tell the Truth” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.”

So, let’s take a look. First of all, Whitlock released his own versions of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” and the five co-written songs on Other Assorted Love Songs, a 2003 album he recorded with Kim Carmel, but those aren’t cover versions (although it’s an album I would love to hear).

“Thorn Tree in the Garden,” or at least a song of the same name, was also recorded by Lisa Alibrandi on her 2005 album, The Guitar in the Corner. That’s the only other listing at All-Music Guide for “Thorn Tree.”

All-Music Guide lists one artist I can be sure of who has covered “I Looked Away.” (Fixation had a song of the same title on a self-titled album in 2000, but AMG lists no writer for that recording, so it’s quite possibly a different song.) Mike Nesmith included the Clapton/Whitlock song on the 1971 album, Nevada Fighter, credited to Mike Nesmith & the First National Band.

“Keep On Growing” has an interesting list: Sheryl Crow recorded the song for the 1995 soundtrack to Boys on the Side. Since then, her version has been included on both versions of the 1996 EP If It Makes You Happy, on the soundtrack for Arctic Tale in 2007 and on her two-disc British release, Hits and Rarities. A few lesser-known names show up on the list – Wes Loper, Annie McLoon and Moodras (though Loper and Moodras may have recorded a different song of the same title; again, those versions are listed without a writer credit) – as well as Genya Ravan, who did a nice version of “Keep On Growing” on her 1973 album, They Love Me They Love Me Not.

A lengthy list of performers – about forty – is credited by AMG as having recorded a song titled “Anyday,” but almost none of those recordings are listed as being the Clapton/Whitlock song. Many of those recordings, too, are listed without writer credit, so the only cover I can be sure of is a version by the Derek Trucks Band on the live album from the 2007 version of Clapton’s own Crossroads Guitar Festival.

A similar scarcity holds for “Tell the Truth.” Many recordings listed again have no writer credit, so it’s hard to be sure. But the Clapton/Whitlock song is listed as having been recorded by Tom Lepson, a blues organist who released the song with his band the Lazy Boys on 1995’s Live and Dirty.

As to “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” the brief list includes the Allman Brothers Band (from a live 2004 recording), Buckwheat Zydeco, Chuck Crane and Steve Wynn (founder of the L.A. group, the Dream Syndicate).

While I was writing this, I was all set to share either the Sheryl Crow or Genya Ravan version of “Keep On Growing.” As I did the research for the preceding paragraph, however, I realized that I own the vinyl of Buckwheat Zydeco’s Taking It Home, for which Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural and his pals recorded “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.” That was too interesting to pass up, so I ripped the track, and re-discovered that Stanley and the boys had some help in the studio from a guitarist named Eric Clapton. So that made the decision easier.

Buckwheat Zydeco with Eric Clapton – “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” [1988]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1974, Vol. 3

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 24, 2008

I tend to read more than one book at a time. No, I don’t have two books in two hands and flip my head back and forth from volume to volume. I mean that I almost always have more than one book in progress and move back and forth between those books, depending on mood and circumstance. Along with The Shield of Time (mentioned the other day), I’m currently reading biographies of Roberto Clemente and Richie Havens and a book titled The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and the Invention of Murder, an account of how a New York murder in 1841 became a public sensation from which – evidently – follow all of the public sensations created by the crimes that fascinate us. Daniel Stashower’s thesis seems to be – I’ve not read far into the book – that the furor and frenzy in Manhattan following the murder of Mary Rogers is the civic predecessor of modern-day public reaction to all the so-called “crimes of the century,” over which our culture hovers like some bloated, moralizing and baleful vulture (my words, not Stashower’s).

As fascinating as that is, the book I’m moving through quicker than any other right now is Boom!, the look back at the Sixties written by former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw. Somewhere along the line, I said that the cultural whirlwind that we call the Sixties began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Brokaw considers the Sixties closed with the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, which is a reasonable stopping place. And his thesis, like that of many who have written before him, is that the Sixties are not really finished; they echo in today’s events and attitudes. (Though Brokaw’s thesis is not new, his book shines as a result of his clear and concise prose as well as the access he had to so many of the participants in the events under consideration.)

Indeed, if one wanted a confirmation that the events of the cultural era we call the Sixties have not gone away, all one needed to do was look at the front page of the Minneapolis StarTribune Saturday and today. The first of those stories noted that Sara Jane Olson of St. Paul had been released from a California prison after serving about six years for crimes committed in 1975 – a bank robbery that included a murder, and an attempt to bomb two police cars. The second story – today’s – reported that California authorities discovered that they had calculated Olson’s sentence incorrectly and she still has about a year to serve.

The link back to the Sixties, of course, is that in those days, Sara Jane Olson was known as Kathleen Soliah and was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical group that abducted heiress Patty Hearst in February of 1974 and committed other crimes both before and after most of its membership was killed when the house in which they took refuge burned down during a shoot-out with the Los Angeles Police Department in May 1974.

After the shootout/fire, Soliah, like Hearst and other members of the group, went back to the San Francisco area for some time. Soliah eventually moved to Minnesota, changed her name, married a doctor and raised a family under the name Sara Jane Olson.

When her identity was discovered as a result of a television show in 1999, I was working for a collection agency and was three years removed from reporting. Still, I was fascinated as I saw television coverage and read newspaper reports about the one-time radical turned doctor’s wife who’d hidden in St. Paul – right across the Mississippi River from my Minneapolis neighborhood – for more than twenty years. The reaction then to her arrest and now to her evidently mistaken and brief release make it clear that the Sixties – at least the Sixties of the SLA – are still with us, proving Brokaw’s thesis to be true in this case and, I am certain, in many more.

When the Symbionese Liberation Army brought itself into the news with its abduction of Patty Hearst, I was in Denmark. As with almost all things that took place in the U.S. during those nine months, it seemed as if I were seeing the kidnapping and all the rest of the news about the SLA through the wrong end of a telescope. Those of us in Fredericia knew things were happening – from the International Herald Tribune, from shared copies of the slender and expensive European editions of Time and Newsweek, and from conversation with our Danish friends, who translated coverage of events from Danish media. But out information was frequently old and sketchy.

By the time we students left Denmark on May 21, we knew there had been a shootout four days earlier but nothing more than that. I don’t think it was one of my first questions, but sometime during the forty-minute drive from the airport to my sister’s home the day I came home, I asked if Patty Hearst had been killed in the shootout. No, I was told. I nodded and went on to think of other things.

And as we think of other things, every once in a while the Sixties pop out of the box in which we try to store them neatly, and we’re reminded that the past is never really gone.

Here are some songs from the year the SLA burst into the headlines for the first time.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 3
“It’s Out Of My Hands” by the Soul Children from Friction

“Willie & The Hand Jive” by Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard

“Another Park, Another Sunday” by the Doobie Brothers, Warner Bros. single 7795

“When It’s Over” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“I’d Be So Happy” by Three Dog Night from Hard Labor

“Even A Fool Would Let Go” by Gayle McCormick from One More Hour

“Just Like This Train” by Joni Mitchell from Court & Spark

“Everything Good To Ya (Ain’t Always Good For Ya)” by B.T. Express from Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)

“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle from Nightbirds

“Keep the Faith” by Mel & Tim from Mel & Tim

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind

“Faithless Love” by Linda Ronstadt from Heart Like A Wheel

“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan & The Band from Before the Flood

A few notes:

461 Ocean Boulevard is regarded, I think, as one of Clapton’s great albums, coming after his drug-wracked retreat following 1970’s Layla. It’s a good album, but I hesitate to say it’s a great album, as there are just a few too many hollow spots. I love “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Please Be With Me” and “Let It Grow,” to name three. Unfortunately, the randomizer selected “Willie & The Hand Jive,” which to me is one of the album’s hollow spots.

Cold Blood, a great late Sixties group from the San Francisco area, was struggling by 1974 – as many acts were – to hold its audience, which to be unhappily honest, had never been that large to begin with. It titled its 1974 album after its lead singer, the attractive Lydia Pense, and then changed its name to Lydia Pense & Cold Blood by 1976. The move didn’t work, and the group faded into obscurity, remembered only by fans and collectors of Bay Area groups until the CD boom in the 1990s. The music’s still good.

Hard Labor was the last Three Dog Night album to reach the Top 20, and is better remembered as the source of two pretty good singles “Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here” and “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”. Overall, the band – especially the singers who had given Three Dog Night its character and identity – sounded tired.

Gayle McCormick had been the lead singer for Smith, the band that reached No. 5 in 1970 with an incendiary version of Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You.” When Smith didn’t reach the charts again, McCormick recorded two pretty good solo albums right away: her self-titled debut in 1971 and Flesh & Blood in 1972. One More Hour came in 1974, and wasn’t quite to the level of the earlier records. This may be the first version of “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” a tune written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow. All-Music Guide lists McCormick’s version as being the earliest in its database, but that’s not entirely persuasive. Even if it is first, it’s far from the best – I’d put my vote to Levon Helm’s 1982 version. Still, McCormick had a good voice, and at least battled the song to a draw, I think.

“Lady Marmalade” is an Allen Toussaint song that Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink brought back to life in the film Moulin Rogue and on the charts, reaching No. 1 for five weeks in 2001. The original version by LaBelle – Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash – came out on Nightbirds in 1974, and a single edit went to No. 1 for a week in 1975. It was so much more fun learning French from the jukebox than it had been in a third-floor classroom.

This was pretty much a random selection – I skipped stuff that had been previously posted – until the last song, when I decided to take over the universe’s work. I think I mentioned this version of “Like A Rolling Stone” when I wrote about stellar pop-rock introductions. This opener isn’t the best – I’d likely give that nod to the original “Layla” still – but it’s one of the few beginnings to a rock performance that left my jaw hanging the first time I heard it. Recorded, I believe, in Los Angeles, the performance provides an extraordinary capstone to the document of Bob Dylan and The Band on stage together.

Havens & Clapton On The Reading Table

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 22, 2008

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with two autobiographies: Richie Havens’ They Can’t Hide Us Anymore (1999, written with Steve Dawidowitz) and Eric Clapton’s Clapton: The Autobiography (2007). One is pretty good and one is fascinating.

Of the two, I’ve been working on the Havens book a little longer, and it seems to be taking me a little more effort to get into it. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m not as familiar with the outlines of Havens’ story as I am with Clapton’s. Or maybe it’s because Havens seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on the years in the early 1960s when he was scuffling around New York City’s Greenwich Village. At times, I find that fascinating and find the book hard to put down; other times, the tales seem to drag on, and I find it hard to turn the page. It could be that the book is too much a listing of people met and events lived through and not enough an assessment of how those things affected the person in the middle. I don’t get a sense of how Richie Havens felt about the things he recalls.

That’s not the case with the Clapton: I find the pages flipping by at an amazing rate, and the overwhelming sense I get is one of melancholy. Clapton, looking back at his life, is brutally honest, and he’s careful to take responsibility for the turnings in his life, many of which were accompanied by vast quantities of drugs and alcohol. Writing from the hard-won perspective of recovery, the famed guitarist is nothing so much as saddened by the way he treated the people around him, the way he approached his music and the way he lived his life for so many years.

I’ve read about half the book so far, and one of the passages I find most affecting was when he recalled the circumstances of his participation in the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, organized by his good friend, George Harrison. Clapton – deeply addicted to heroin at the time – agreed to come to New York to practice and play as long as a consistent supply of the drug could be secured for him.

When he arrived in New York, the drugs were waiting for him in his room. “I tried some, but nothing happened,” he writes. “It turned out that what they had scored for me was street-cut, with a very low amount of actual heroin in it and cut with something nasty, like strychnine, so that it was about a tenth as strong as what I was used to.”

The result was Clapton’s going through withdrawal and missing the rehearsals for the epic concert. Some medication at the last moment, Clapton says, allowed him to feel well enough to make the sound check. “[A]lthough I have a vague memory of this and then of playing the show, the truth is I wasn’t really there, and I feel ashamed. No matter how I’ve tried to rationalize it to myself over the years, I let a lot of people down that night, most of all myself. I’ve seen the concert only once on film, but if I ever want a reminder of what I might be missing from the ‘good old days,’ this would be the film to watch.”

There is, reading the Clapton memoir, the sense of a train wreck waiting to happen, most likely because so much of his story is so well known: The virtuosity, the addictions, the romances, the tragedies. But it’s well written, and there’s a very distinct voice telling the story. One of the things that amuses me is Clapton’s occasional use of British slang without any attempt to explain it. Maybe such explanations aren’t needed; maybe there’s no mystery in those usages that catch my eye. But I chuckle when I see them, as when Clapton wrote without explanation about the workman whose culinary preference was “bangers and mash” (that’s sausages and mashed potatoes to we non-Brits).

Reading Clapton this morning got me to wondering about what cover versions of songs he might have released. There is, of course, the entire catalog of traditional blues written by others long gone, especially Robert Johnson. That’s not quite what I have in mind for cover versions, though, so I dug a little deeper into Clapton’s catalog. And in 1989, he released one of the niftier – and shorter – performances of his career on Journeyman, a brief exploration of the song “Hound Dog.” Clapton’s performance of the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller composition owes very little to Elvis Presley and at least a little bit (in terms of pace, not intensity) to Big Mama Thornton, whose recording (Peacock 1612) held the top spot on the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks in 1953.

As I don’t think I’ve ever shared Big Mama’s version, here it is along with Clapton’s cover.

Big Mama Thornton – “Hound Dog” [1953]

Eric Clapton – “Hound Dog” [1989]