Posts Tagged ‘Etta James’

Birth Of A Sports Fan

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 11, 2009

I mentioned the other day my abiding love of sports. As strong as that affection is, it took a while to develop. While I’d enjoyed watching St. Cloud State football when I was quite young – nine or ten years old – I hadn’t had any great passion for sports at the time. We went as a family to St. Cloud State basketball games – the Huskies had a very good small college team for most of the 1960s – and went occasionally across town to see the local minor league baseball team, the St. Cloud Rox. (And given the history of granite quarrying in the St. Cloud area, that has to be one of the great team nicknames of all time!) I enjoyed all of it, but it wasn’t a focal point of my life.

I’ve never figured out why, but that changed in September 1967. One of the reflections of that change, of my new-found interest in sports and competition, was my request – granted rapidly – to subscribe to Sports Illustrated. The first edition I got showed Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, as the Cardinals were facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The writing was crisp and clear, the photos were remarkable, and the magazine covered a wide variety of sports, including some things that I’d never considered as sport: Dog shows, chess, yachting. I absorbed it all, and it fueled the metamorphosis in me from casual fan to informed fan.

Why write about that metamorphosis today? Because of a confluence of events and anniversaries.

A man named Earsell Mackbee died Monday in Vallejo, California, ten days after being transferred there on a medical plane from a hospital in Minneapolis. Vallejo was where Mackbee grew up, and gravely ill as he was, he wanted to die at home. He got his wish, through the help of friends and the help of his former colleagues in the National Football League.

Mackbee was a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings for five years, from 1965 through 1969. As I was learning about pro football in the fall of 1967 – through Sports Illustrated and through the Minneapolis and St. Cloud evening papers – Mackbee’s name was one that I recognized. Most likely because it was a different name – I knew no kids named Earsell – and also, I would guess, because he played a position that occasionally put him in the spotlight, whether for a lapse that resulted in a big play for the opponent or for a good play that benefitted the Vikings. He wasn’t an anonymous lineman, and one heard his name relatively frequently while watching the Vikings on television.

So Mackbee’s name – he wore jersey No. 46, I think – was one that I knew on a chilly Sunday in November 1967 – forty-two years ago tomorrow – when my dad and I set out from St. Cloud to go see the Vikings play the Detroit Lions. The tickets were ridiculously cheap by today’s standard: Five dollars each. (It’s good to keep inflation in mind, though. An online calculator tells me that what cost five dollars in 1967 would now cost almost thirty-two dollars.) And Dad and I settled into our seats in the front row of the second deck.

The Vikings and the Lions tied that afternoon, 10-10. The Vikings’ only touchdown came when Earsell Mackbee picked up a fumble and returned it fifty-five yards. It was one of two touchdowns he scored during his NFL career.

That game against the Lions and Mackbee’s touchdown have crossed my mind occasionally over the past forty-two years, but the memories came back with a rush two weeks ago, when I saw in the Minneapolis newspaper the news story about Mackbee being flown to California to die. There was a twinge of sorrow, but even stronger – and I think Mackbee would have liked this – was a flash of memory, a vision of the purple-clad Earsell Mackbee carrying the ball into the end zone on a grey November day in 1967.

A Six-Pack from November 1967
“Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
“Stag-O-Lee” by Wilson Pickett
“Tell Mama” by Etta James
“Lady Bird” by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
“Like An Old Time Movie” by Scott McKenzie
“Desiree” by the Left Bank

“Incense & Peppermints,” as I’ve likely said here before, is one of those records that powerfully bring back a time and place: I’m in the gym at South Junior High in St. Cloud during the last few minutes of the lunch period, and the rest of the guys and I are watching the girls dance to the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I imagine I’ve posted the song before, too, but it’s such a good single, at least to these ears, that I can’t help myself. The record peaked at No. 1.

The Wilson Pickett record is one of multiple versions of a song that’s been sliding around America for more than a hundred years, titled as “Stagger Lee,” “Stag-O-Lee,” “Stacker Lee” and more. (The two earliest versions I have were recorded in 1927: “Billy Lyons & Stack O’Lee” by Furry Lewis and “Stackalee” by Frank Hutchinson.) Pickett’s version, which went to No. 22, is pretty good, but it’s difficult for any R&B performer to top the 1959 version by Lloyd Price. (There seems to be some confusion about the exact title of Pickett’s recording: the Billboard chart and All-Music Guide have the title as “Stagger Lee,” while Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has it as “Stag-O-Lee.” I’ve gone with Whitburn.

Etta James’ “Tell Mama” came out of sessions that took place in Muscle Shoals in 1967 and 1968. Those sessions provided James with her last two Top 40 hits: “Tell Mama” went to No. 23, and the Otis Redding-penned “Security” went to No. 35 in the spring of 1968. “Tell Mama” is a hard-hitting piece of Southern soul, and the entire Tell Mama album is worth a listen or two. (The album was released a few years ago in a remastered version with ten additional tracks from the sessions.)

“Lady Bird” is one of those odd and evocative singles that Lee Hazelwood wrote and produced for Nancy Sinatra, sometimes – as in this case – singing on the record as well. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear one of those Hazelwood-produced records, it’s like being for a few moments in a mildly alternate universe: Things are just a little off-kilter but they still seem to all somehow make sense. It’s an interesting place to be for a short time. The record went to No. 20.

When a singer’s previous record was “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” what the heck do you do for a follow-up? In the case of Scott McKenzie, you go back into the studio with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and record another one of Phillips’ songs. “Like An Old Time Movie” was the result, and it’s not a bad single. It’s got a decent lyric although McKenzie oversings it at points. It got to No. 24, and, as McKenzie’s second hit, it’s the only thing keeping him from being a One-Hit Wonder, as he never got into the Top 40 again.

“Desiree” was another attempt by the Left Bank to replicate the success of the group’s 1966 hit, “Walk Away Renee.” It’s not bad, but the vocals sound thin at times, especially given the busy backing they have to contend with. The record was newly listed in the November 11, 1967, Billboard as one of the songs bubbling under the Hot 100. By the next week, it was gone.

(I think these are all the single versions and I’ve tagged them as such, but I’m frankly not sure: Some of these might be album tracks. Whichever they are, the single versions were all in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending November 11, 1967.)

On The Map, No. 1

October 21, 2020

So, last Saturday, I wrote about England Dan & John Ford Coley’s 1971 single “New Jersey,” only to have long-time reader and friend Yah Shure remind me that I’d written about the record before (a post that spurred him to share the early work of the duo with me).

I went back into the archives and found – as I expected – he was correct: A little more than four years ago, I’d written pretty much the exact same piece, even down to mentioning that the introduction to the single sounded a lot like Joe Cocker’s cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Well, as I said at the end of the more recent piece about “New Jersey,” it’s not a very memorable record. Neither, it seems, are some of my posts, even to me.

But the record’s title got me thinking, as I sometimes do, about records with geographical names in their titles: Nations, states, counties, cities and towns. And I wondered how many such titles are on the digital shelves. There are many, no doubt, and I thought I’d dig into that this morning in an entirely unsystematic way.

I have a hunch, perhaps wrongly, that the city of Memphis has more title mentions than any other place among the files in the collection here. A quick count this morning finds a total of ninety-three tracks with “Memphis” in their titles. There are some duplicates, I know; for one, I saw two copies of Mott the Hoople’s “All The Way From Memphis,” one from my own digging and one that I got courtesy of the Half-Hearted Dude.

(The last time I counted the Memphis tunes in the files, for a post almost ten years ago, the total was about fifty, so I’ve been working on it.)

The Memphis tunes cross a broad swath of time. Among those that have been tagged with the appropriate dates – the vast majority have; I am still working on some anthologies – the files range from Bessie Smith’s “Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town,” which she recorded in 1926, to Melissa Etheridge’s cover of “Memphis Train” which was released in 2016.

And there are sometimes multiple versions of the same song. I found, for example, six versions of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” one by the Grateful Dead, one by Cat Power and four of them – different takes all – by Bob Dylan. There are also six versions of “Back To Memphis,” two of them by The Band, one by The Band with the Cate Brothers, one by Levon Helm of The Band, and versions by Rory Block and Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” shows up five times: Berry’s version is kept company by versions by Billy Strange, Sandy Bull, Al Caiola, and Tiny Tim with The Band. (Don’t ask.)

So, do I have a favorite Memphis song? Yes, I do. It’s by Etta James, from her 2003 album, Let’s Roll. Here’s “Wayward Saints Of Memphis.”

Saturday Single No. 673

January 11, 2020

I’ve got a bunch of music stored on my phone, stuff that I put there a year ago so the phone could be my mp3 player while I was in the hospital, and every once in a while, as I take a rest, I lay the phone near the pillow and let the music lull me to sleep.

Except not all of the tunes on the phone are lulling. The other day I was roused when Long John Baldry began graveling his way through “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield,” the Randy Newman tune Baldry covered on his 1971 album It Ain’t Easy.

I wrote briefly about the song in 2008, quoting the assessment of Newman’s original recording of the song found at All-Music Guide:

A sinewy ballad built around a fine bottleneck guitar riff, “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” is a love song, basically, but the slightly demented lyric content is what gives it the edge.

Slightly demented? Well, yeah. Take a read:

Let’s burn down the cornfield,
Let’s burn down the cornfield,
And we can listen to it burn.

You hide behind the oak tree,
You hide behind the oak tree,
Stay out of danger ’till I return.

Oh, it’s so good on a cold night
To have a fire burnin’ warm and bright.

You hide behind the oak tree,
You hide behind the oak tree,
Stay out of danger ’till I return.

Let’s burn down the cornfield,
Let’s burn down the cornfield,
And I’ll make love to you while it’s burning.

At the time, more than eleven years ago, I had access to two covers of the song, those by Baldry and by Alex Taylor, and I noted that I planned to soon rip to mp3s Etta James’ version of the tune from her 1974 album Come A Little Closer.

Well, I must have done that, because James’ version of the song is now in the RealPlayer stacks, as are additional versions by Lou Rawls, Sam Samudio and the Walkabouts. There are others out there, but we’re not going to look any further afield this morning. Instead, we’re just going to make Etta James’ take on “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield” today’s Saturday Single.

Exploring The Date

August 22, 2018

So, what do we know about August 22?

Well, the basics, first: It’s the 234th day of the year, with 131 remaining.

And just as it does with every other day of the year, Wikipedia offers a list of events that have occurred over the years on August 22. Here are a few:

The Battle of Bosworth Field in England in 1485, which marked, with the death of Richard III, the end of the House of York and of the Plantagenet dynasty and, with the claiming of the crown by Henry Tudor, the beginnings of the House of Tudor. Richard’s famous (if likely fictional) cry “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” comes from William Shakespeare’s account of the battle in his play Richard III. According to Wikipedia, British scholars have likely found – finally – the true site of the battle, located near the town of Market Bosworth in the county of Leicestershire. The newly researched site was found as a result of a 2005-2009 project and is actually not far from the previously assumed site of the battle. The battle most recently popped into the news in 2012, when historians discovered the grave of Richard III under a parking lot in the city of Leicester. His body was reburied in March 2015 in Leicester Cathedral.

Jacob Barsimson arrived in 1654 at New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony now known as New York City. He was the first known Jewish immigrant to American. He’d been sent there by leaders of the Jewish community in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to determine if Jewish immigration to North America was feasible. Following the fall of a Dutch colony in Brazil, twenty-three Dutch Jews arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654 and established the first Jewish settlement in what would become the United States.

Automobiles made the news twice on August 22, 1902. The Cadillac Motor Company was formed out of the remains of the Henry Ford Company. (That company was Ford’s second short-lived firm; his third attempt, the Ford Motor Company, was formed in June 1903 and exists today.) And President Theodore Roosevelt became the first president of the United States to make a public appearance in an automobile. Sadly, Wikipedia does not identify which brand of auto Roosevelt rode in.

In 1941, German troops began the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Wikipedia says that the siege, which lasted nearly 900 days, “caused extreme famine in the Leningrad region through disruption of utilities, water, energy and food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 soldiers and civilians and the evacuation of 1,400,000 more (mainly women and children), many of whom died during evacuation due to starvation and bombardment. Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery alone in Leningrad holds half a million civilian victims of the siege.” It was, says Wikipedia, the most lethal siege in history.

Let’s lighten it up a bit. On this date in 1989, Nolan Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson to become the first major league pitcher to record 5,000 strikeouts.

Sticking with baseball, on this date in 2007, the Texas Rangers set a one-game major league scoring record when they defeated the Baltimore Orioles 30 to 3.

And finally, let’s talk about music. Among tracks recorded on August 22 over the years, we find “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” by Count Basie & His Orchestra in 1938, “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” by the King Cole Trio in 1946, “The $64,000 Question” by Bobby Tuggle in 1955, and in 1967, Etta James laid down three tracks in Muscle Shoals, Alabama: “Steal Away,” “Don’t Lose Your Good Thing,” and “Just A Little Bit.”

All three tracks would be released on James’ 1968 album Tell Mama. Here’s “Just A Little Bit.”

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)

Six At Random

June 5, 2015

I’m gonna fire up the iPod and let it do the work this morning. Many of the 2,000 or so tunes in the device are familiar, but sometimes the familiar tends to get ignored around here. So off we go:

First up is “Be Easy” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, a 2007 joint that, like most of Jones’ catalog, sounds as if it could have come out of Memphis forty years earlier. The track comes from 100 Days, 100 Nights, Jones’ third release and the first one I ever heard. Six of her albums with the Dap-Kings are on the shelves here along with a couple of one-off recordings. One of those one-offs, a cover of the First Edition’s 1967 hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” caught the ear of my pal Schultz when he was here a few weeks ago, and he spent a few moments jotting down the titles of Jones’ CDs for future reference.

Then we jump back in time to 1971, when Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” went to No. 40. When this one popped up on the car radio a couple of years ago, I wrote, “I was once again bemused by the ‘Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more’ couplet. I also considered – not for the first time – about how unacceptable the reference to ‘dykes and fairies’ would be today. Social change happens glacially, but it does happen.” Even with those considerations, it’s still a pretty good record.

And we do get some Memphis R&B: “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from 1973. The slightly funky and sometimes propulsive record went to No. 9, one of three Top Ten hits for the singers, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. I didn’t really get the Staple Singers back then – too much other stuff crowding my ears, I guess – but they’re well-represented these days on both the vinyl and digital files, and “If You’re Ready” is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

From there, we head into the mid-1990s and find a cover of Billie Holliday’s version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance (With You)” as performed by the late Etta James. The track comes from James’ 1994 album Mystery Lady – Songs of Billie Holiday. I can’t find any fault with the song selection, with the classic pop arrangements on the album, or with James’ performances, but there’s something about the entire project that leaves me a little cold. It’s a little odd: It’s like the parts are all fine but just don’t fit together. “I Don’t Stand . . .” is probably the best track on the album, and it’s nice and all, but ultimately kind of empty. That one may not stay on the iPod too much longer.

Somewhere along the line, I came across a huge pile of work by the late Lee Hazlewood, ranging from the early 1960s all the way to 2006, a year before his death. One of the more idiosyncratic folks in the pop music world, Hazlewood kind of fascinates me. And this morning, we get Hazlewood and Ann-Margret gender-flipping and covering Waylon Jennings’ No. 2 country hit from 1968 with “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” from the 1969 album The Cowboy & The Lady. Despite my affection for Hazlewood’s work, the limp performance by Ann-Margret means that this is another track that’s likely not going to remain long in the iPod. Linda Ronstadt’s superior version from the same year is already in the device, and that one should be the only one I need.

And we close with one of my favorite melancholy tracks, “Scudder’s Lane,” by the New Jersey band From Good Homes. Found on the group’s 1993 album, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!, the song tells a tale familiar and yet unique. I’ve posted the lyrics here before, but they’re worth another look:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees
and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

What Was At No. 41?

April 19, 2012

In the absence of anything else within my expertise to write about today, and in the interest of getting to chores less interesting but more vital than this blog, I thought I’d take today’s date – 4/19 – and use that to find a few records to write about. We’ll change that date to No. 41 and go find out what tunes lay just outside the Billboard Top 40 on a few years in and around our sweet spot. We’ll start with 1962.

In the third week of April 1962, Etta James and her cheeky “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” held down the No. 41 spot on the pop chart. With its pop-styled arrangement, its gospel chorus background and James’ bluesy vocals, the record is a little bit of a mish-mash. But James is in fine voice, making it worth a listener’s time. The record peaked at No. 37 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart.

Three years later, a sweet slice of Chess R&B was in spot No. 41, as Billy Stewart’s “I Do Love You” was heading up the chart to No. 26 on the pop chart and No. 6 on the R&B chart. Stewart, who passed on early at the age of thirty-two, had only one other record go higher in the pop chart: “Sitting In The Park” went to No. 24 (No. 4 R&B) later in 1965. In 1969, Chess released “I Do Love You” in 1969, but it went only to No. 94 the second time around. (Somehow, as Yah Shure points out below, I managed as I looked over Billy Stewart’s entry in Top Pop Singles to read right past his biggest hit of all, the No. 10 “Summertime” from 1966. Thanks for the catch, Yah Shure!)

Memphis R&B was sitting in spot No. 41 three years later, as Sam & Dave’s classic “Thank You” was just under the Top 40 during the third week in April 1968. The record had peaked earlier at No. 9, giving the duo of Sam Moore and Dave Prater their second Top Ten hit; “Soul Man” had gone to No. 2 during the autumn of 1967. On the R&B chart, “Thank You” went to No. 4 and was the last of seven Top Ten hits for Sam & Dave on the R&B chart.

Okay. I’m going to let Wikipedia describe the No. 41 record as of April 19, 1971: “‘The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley’ is a 1971 spoken word recording with vocals by Terry Nelson and music by pick-up group C-Company . . .  The song is set to the tune of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It offers a heroic description of Lieutenant William Calley, who in March 1971 was convicted of murdering Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968.” The record, which turns my stomach in its approval of Calley and his actions, went to No. 37 on the pop charts and, says Wikipedia, No. 49 on the country chart. (The story of the My Lai Massacre is here.)

When we get to 1974, it’s time for some Philadelphia-style soul with the Spinners, whose “Mighty Love, Pt. 1” was holding down the No. 41 spot as the calendar moved toward the final third of April. The record had earlier peaked at No. 20, the seventh of an eventual seventeen Top 40 hits for the Spinners. (They had thirty-five records in or near the Hot 100.) “Mighty Love, Pt. 1” spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart; the Spinners wound up with thirty-four records in the R&B Top 40, with six of those going to No. 1.

And then, we find the Starz rocking it with “Cherry Baby” at No. 41 during April 1977. The band, formed in New York, had eight singles in or near the Hot 100 between 1975 – when the band was called the Fallen Angels – and 1979, but the very catchy “Cherry Baby” was the only record by the band to ever climb into the Top 40, where it peaked at No. 33.

A Legend Gone
I should note today the passing of Dick Clark, the man who for years brought rock ’n’ roll into our living rooms. Other bloggers will no doubt pay tribute to the man better than I can: I rarely watched American Bandstand or any of the other shows with which he was connected, so I have no memories to tap. I have only respect, so I will let others tell the tales and simply provide a closing video as a farewell to the man. It’s a clip from Bandstand with Link Wray performing “Rawhide,” likely from early 1959, when “Rawhide” was in the charts.

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.