Posts Tagged ‘Etta James’

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

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Disorder In The Center

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 8, 2008

On the far wall, the big shelves wait for the LPs, all of which are still in boxes that form Mount Vinyl in the middle of the living room. On the near wall, the electronics are all hooked up: computer, USB turntable, television, telephone, CD player with futuristic speakers and wireless headphones.

But in the center of the room that we call my study: Oh disorder!

Somehow, two of the large fans we used in the apartment – it was on the southwest corner of the building with no shade, and the air conditioner, a wall unit, was horribly unsuited to cool anything but the living room – two of those fans have wandered into this room. We shouldn’t need them any longer except in a Saharan heat wave, as the house has central air and is shaded by about twenty large trees, most of them oak.

Along with the fans, as I scan the pile of miscellaneous stuff that has migrated here in the past six days, I can see a small plastic table, about ten feet of coaxial cable the cable guy didn’t need, a box of board games (Up Words, several versions of Monopoly, two versions of Risk, the Settlers of Catan – our favorite – and more), a book bag, two belts, a blue three-ring binder (with no paper in it), two trays with bottles of prescription medicine from the past six years, two folders of lyrics and verse dating back to 1970, another folder filled with special editions of Sports Illustrated dating back to 1979 and a partially inflated Hutch brand football called The Gripper with a facsimile signature from Roger Staubach.

And that’s just the stuff I can see in a glance before I get to the boxes of books. It looks like a random junkyard to me.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard (1950-1999), Vol. 6
“Come Together” by the Beatles from Abbey Road, 1969

“Friar’s Point” by Susan Tedeschi from Just Won’t Burn, 1998

“Two Faced Man” by Gary Wright from Footprint, 1971

“The Madman And The Angel” by Drnwyn from Gypsies In The Mist, 1978

“Blind Willy” by Herbie Mann from Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, 1970

“I’m A Drifter” by Martin & Neil from Tear Down The Walls, 1964

“Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41339, 1959

“Golf Girl” by Caravan from In The Land of Grey and Pink, 1971

“The Road” by Chicago from Chicago, 1970

“Sit and Wonder” by Dave Mason and Cass Elliot from Dave Mason & Cass Elliot, 1971

“I’m Not Living Here” by Sagittarius from Present Tense, 1967

“Four Walls” by Eddie Holman from I Love You, 1970

“Seven Day Fool” by Etta James, Argo single 5402, 1961

A few notes:

Susan Tedeschi is an excellent blues guitarist and singer who has made a string of fine albums, starting with Just Won’t Burn. “Friar’s Point” is a tour through blues country: Friars Point itself is a small Mississippi town right on the Mississippi River in Delta Country. Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” mentioned the small town: “I got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee/But my Friars Point rider, now, hops all over me.” The town is also famous as the home of the park bench where a young Muddy Waters is said to have seen and heard Johnson play guitar. Intimidated, the tale goes, Waters quietly walked away. Tedeschi’s song name-checks Johnson, Irma Thomas, B.B. King, Magic Sam and Waters himself as it takes us from the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans, Memphis and Chicago. The town’s name is “Friars Point,” with no apostrophe; Tedeschi’s song is titled, according to All-Music Guide and other sources, “Friar’s Point.” Why? I have no idea. Nor do I have any information about the surprise ending of the mp3; I got the file from a friend and don’t have access to the original CD this morning.

There’s not a lot of information out there about Drnwyn, at least not that I’ve found. A note at the blog Jezus Rocks classifies the group as Christian Folk/Psychedelic/Rock, and I guess that fits as well as anything, although it sounds more like 1969 than 1978 to me. I found the album online in my early days of haunting music blogs, but I do not recall where. The same note at Jezus Rocks tells of a 2006 CD reissue, but copies of that seem scarce, based on a quick look.

The Herbie Mann track is from an LP I ripped and posted here almost a year and a half ago. Amazingly, the link for the album is still good. You can find the original post here.

The Neil of Martin & Neil was the late Fred Neil, reclusive singer and writer of, among others, “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “The Dolphins.” Martin was Vince Martin, and the two men’s talents – augmented by some work on bass by Felix Pappalardi and on harmonica by John Sebastian – made for a good album.

“The Road” is the second track from the album now known as Chicago II, the one with the silver cover that was called simply Chicago when it was released in 1970 and then again years later when it was released on CD.

Etta Was Singing But Few Were Listening

May 11, 2011

Originally posted October 1, 2007

What was everybody listening to in 1978?

The top singles of the year, according to Cash Box, were:

“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees
“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees
“Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb
“Kiss You All Over” by Exile
“Three Times A Lady” by the Commodores
“Hot Child In The City” by Nick Gilder
“Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey
“Emotion” by Samantha Sang
“You’re The One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
“Miss You” by the Rolling Stones

Not an inspiring bunch, is it? The two Bee Gee’s hits – especially “Stayin’ Alive” – have aged far better than I thought they would. “Miss You” still slinks along nicely, and Nick Gilder’s only hit still has an odd appeal. The other six, well, they kinda suck, don’t they? (And the Travolta/Newton-John hit still annoys the grammarian in me with its egregious error. It should be: “You’re The One Who I Want,” but I admit that would have been more difficult to sing.)

Were the albums any better in 1978?

Saturday Night Fever soundtrack by the Bee Gees et al.
The Stranger by Billy Joel
Grease soundtrack by various artists
Some Girls by the Rolling Stones
Double Vision by Foreigner
Running On Empty by Jackson Browne
Point Of Know Return by Kansas
Slowhand by Eric Clapton
Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
Natural High by the Commodores

Well, that’s a little better. Grease never did much for me, and I generally left arena rock alone, so the Foreigner and Kansas entries leave me cold, too, but the rest of it’s not bad. I always thought the Commodores were a better singles group than an album act, but that’s a minor point. The rest of it is pretty good.

And between the two lists, we get a pretty good idea of what American radios and stereos were playing in 1978, when disco and its sequins were gliding onto the dance floor, utterly oblivious to the irony of new wave (while punk was glowering in through the window, making up its mind that it was glad to be outside).

It was a time of transition on the airwaves and in the studios, and the losers, it seems to me, were not so much the traditional rockers – Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac and the rest – as those who performed traditional R&B. The highest-ranking traditional R&B record I find on the Cash Box list of the top hundred singles of the year is “The Closer I Get To You” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway at No. 31. The O’Jays pop in at No. 43 with “Use Ta Be My Girl,” and then it’s “Dance With Me” by Peter Brown with Betty Wright at No. 55.

Maybe I’m missing some, but even if I overlook one or two, the conclusion would be the same: Very few in the general audience were listening to traditional R&B in 1978. That’s not a surprising conclusion, by any means, and I don’t expect anyone to be stunned by it. My point is that if very few people in 1978 were listening to traditional R&B, then very few people that year were listening to Etta James. And that’s truly too bad.

About ten years removed from her astounding album Tell Mama, recorded in 1968 at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, James went to work in Hollywood with famed producer Jerry Wexler and the cream of Southern California’s studio musicians:

Jeff Porcaro on drums; Chuck Rainey on bass; Larry Carlton on rhythm guitar; Cornell Dupree on lead guitar; Brian Ray on slide guitar; Richard Tee and Keith Johnson on keyboards; Tom Roady on other percussion; Plas Johnson and Jim Horn on saxophone; and a background chorus led by Alexander Hamilton that included the great Merry Clayton.

Deep In The Night came out on Warner Bros. in 1978, and, relatively speaking, nobody heard it. The last of James’ nine Top 40 hits had been ten years earlier, from the Tell Mama sessions, and despite the crack crew, no one was listening.

All-Music Guide says: “Originally released . . . to scant acclaim in 1978, this Jerry Wexler-produced masterpiece finds James in astounding voice with a batch of great material to apply her massive interpretive powers to. The band, including the cream of the late-’70s Los Angeles session hot-shots . . . lays it down soulful and simple and the result is a modern-day R&B classic. Highlights abound throughout, but special attention must be turned to James’ takes on ‘Only Women Bleed’ and the Eagles’ ‘Take It to the Limit.’”

The two songs AMG singles out are likely the highlights of the ten tracks on the album, although I thought that “Lovesick Blues” and the title track, “Deep In The Night,” worked very well, too. The album – truly a good one from start to finish – ends with a reworking of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” James’ 1968 classic album track from Tell Mama, this time titled “Blind Girl” for some reason. It’s just too bad no one seemed to be listening.

(A quick check at GEMM finds the album widely available on vinyl; copies of the out-of-print CD listed there are more rare and are priced between about $24 to about $58. A link through AMG shows a couple of copies of the CD available for about $40 each.)

Tracks:
Laying Beside You
Piece Of My Heart
Only Women Bleed
Take It To The Limit
Deep In The Night
Lovesick Blues
Strange Man
Sugar On The Floor
Sweet Touch Of Love
Blind Girl

Etta James – Deep In The Night [1978]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1968, Vol. 2

May 4, 2011

Originally posted August 8, 2007

We didn’t take a lot of vacation trips when I was a kid.

Oh, Dad had vacations from his work at St. Cloud State, but we rarely traveled. We might spend a few days at a rental cabin on a lake somewhere north of St. Cloud. Frequently, August found my mother, my sister and I spending two weeks – with Dad coming down for the second week – at Grandpa’s farm in southwestern Minnesota, picking and freezing corn and green beans, canning tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables and butchering chickens.

We did make one major trip, however, in the late summer of 1968. My sister had spent eight weeks studying in France that summer and was scheduled to fly into Philadelphia on her return. My mom’s sister and her family lived in Reading, Pennsylvania, not far at all from Philly, so about a week before my sister’s return, Mom and Dad and I hopped into that same Ford Custom and headed southeast through Wisconsin.

We drove through Wisconsin Dells, with its souvenir shops and snack stands and its gaudy signs advertising boat tours and duck rides and treats, my head turning this way and that as we drove the city’s main street. (The city remains much the same, based on a 2006 visit; the only difference is that water parks abound on the city’s outskirts, along the I-94 route that I’m not sure existed in 1968.)

We made our way along turnpikes through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In a hotel room in Morton’s Grove, we watched on television as the Democratic Party selected its vice-presidential candidate in downtown Chicago – just a few miles distant – while outside the convention hall, police clubbed and savaged protesters in what was later categorized as a “police riot.”

Among the stops as we made our way to Reading were Notre Dame University and its Golden Dome in Indiana; Blue Hole and Mystery Hill in Ohio (the first a pond said to be too deep to measure and the second one of those places where gravity is said to be skewed and water and other things run uphill); the birthplaces of Thomas Edison in Ohio and President James Buchanan in western Pennsylvania.

We toured for a few hours the Civil War battlefield at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and spent half a day at the battlefield at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The ebb and flow of the 1862 battle at Antietam was too complex for me to grasp it as we drove from site to site there, but the next day, at Gettysburg, I stood on Cemetery Ridge and looked west to where, in 1863, the Confederate lines had been and from where Gen. George Pickett’s men had marched in the charge that has since been named for him.

The air had that odd stillness that seems to descend on every battlefield. It’s a quiet that seems to touch every place where too many men have fallen in defense of one ideal or another. And it weighed heavily at Gettysburg, especially at that point where Pickett’s Charge broke on the Union line, the Confederate soldiers having come nearly a mile through a storm of cannon shells and rifle balls.

That stillness, that weight of history, had gathered at some of the other places we saw on that trip, whether en route, in Pennsylvania, or on our way back to Minnesota. Few places were as somber or as haunting as Gettysburg, though. With my cousins, we visited Valley Forge near Philadelphia and then toured the historic sites in the city: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross house, Benjamin Franklin’s grave. A couple of days later, with my sister safely returned, the four of us left Reading and went to Washington, D.C., for a day.

We toured the White House and wandered freely through the Capitol building (something that is sadly unthinkable today, I would guess), saw our nation’s founding documents at the National Archives and some of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums. But the most sobering moments had been late in the afternoon the day before at Arlington National Cemetery, another place where that silence descends, most notably at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, assassinated less than five years earlier.

From Washington, we drove west, heading across the midsections of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. We visited friends and saw sites related to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and then toured several places related to author Mark Twain in the touristy but congenial small town of Hannibal, Missouri. From there, we headed north toward home.

It was a lot to absorb for a teenage boy, even one as tuned to history as I was. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a copy of Bruce Catton’s short history of the Civil War and dug into that when we got home. (Catton’s longer works are still on my list of things to read, as is Shelby Foote’s history of the conflict.) And as I read, I sorted through the places we’d seen, things I’d learned on that long trip. I guess, almost forty years later, I’m still sorting.

And when Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” popped up while I was compiling a random selection of songs from 1968, I was at first amused. Then it seemed appropriate to hear “We’ve all gone to look for America.” That’s what we were doing in the late summer of 1968, I guess – looking for America – and I think that’s what many of us are still doing today.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

A Baker’s Dozen From 1968

“My Days Are Numbered” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Child is Father to the Man

“I Am A Pilgrim” by the Byrds from Sweetheart of the Rodeo

“Roll With It” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future

“Handbags & Gladrags” by Love Affair from Everlasting Love Affair

“Rocky Raccoon” by the Beatles from The Beatles

“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Jerry Butler from The Soul Goes On

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters from Electric Mud

“Good Feelin’” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from For Children of All Ages

“America” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends

“Through An Old Storybook by Sweetwater from Sweetwater

“I Got You Babe” by Etta James from the Tell Mama sessions

“Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” by Dionne Warwick, Scepter single 12216

“The Weight” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action

A few notes on some of the songs:

In Friday’s post on horn bands, I mentioned Blood, Sweat & Tears’ debut album, Child is Father to the Man. “My Days Are Numbered” is one of the better tracks on the album and, to my mind, gives a good example of Al Kooper’s hopes for the band before some of the other band members jettisoned him.

The Love Affair’s version of “Handbags & Gladrags” is not the best version out there of that great song; I like Chris Farlowe’s take on the song, and Rod Stewart’s version might be definitive. But the little-remembered Love Affair at least battled the song to a draw.

Electric Mud was Chess Records’ attempt to make Muddy Waters more current, putting the venerable bluesman together with what All-Music Guide calls “Hendrix-inspired psychedelic blues arrangements.” The record sold fairly well, but Waters didn’t like it, and the results are more of a curio than anything substantial today. (Chess did the same thing in 1968 with Howlin’ Wolf, and the results were, if anything, less good.)

Sweetwater was an odd band that featured flute, congas and cello as well as the traditional trappings of a rock band, and its music reflects that, with results ranging from remarkable to “What in the hell were they thinking?” Sweetwater was the group’s debut album, but in 1969 – during which the band was the first group to take the stage at Woodstock – lead singer Nansi Nevins was injured in a car crash and required years of physical therapy. The group recorded two albums without her and then faded away until 1997, when Nevins and some of the other original members reunited.