Posts Tagged ‘Fred Neil’

A December Monday

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 15, 2008

This is one of those mornings when nothing seems to come to mind and other things need my attention: I’ll have to head out sometime today and clear the sidewalk, as we got about four to five inches of snow yesterday. (I went out yesterday afternoon as it was still snowing and cleared the walks once; it seems easier to me to shovel two inches twice than four inches at one time. I might even be right.) I’ll wait to shovel, though, until it gets a bit warmer than –10 F (-23 C), which is what the thermometer reads at the moment.

I also have some household stuff to attend to, and there are several CDs that need to be logged into the files and some other similar tasks. In addition, a couple of writing projects beckon me.

So I think I’ll just call it a draw with my imagination this morning and leave Monday’s readers with a lovely and aptly titled song by the late – and very great – songwriter and singer Fred Neil:

Fred Neil – “December’s Dream”
[Unreleased alternate, likely between 1965 and 1968]

‘I’ve Been Searchin’ For The Dolphins . . .’

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 13, 2008

Al Wilson was a singer I’d never thought much about or looked too deeply into. He had four Top 40 hits, the largest of which, “Show And Tell,” went to No. 1 in the early weeks of 1974 and stayed at the top spot for one week.

That one single was all I ever really knew about Al Wilson, who died April 21 at the age of sixty-eight. As it turned out, I had to learn about “Show And Tell” after the fact: I was overseas the first part of 1974, living in a youth hostel, and no one back home sent us a tape of Wilson’s Show And Tell album. So it wasn’t until I was back in the States in May that I had a chance to hear “Show And Tell” (and a multitude of other songs that had been popular while I was gone but that I’d missed).

I liked “Show And Tell,” but it didn’t strike me any harder than any other R&B single of the time, and I never looked more deeply into Wilson, even during my record-buying spree of the late 1990s; my LP stacks go from Willie & The Bees to Jackie Wilson. Sometime after I got my computer eight years ago, I borrowed a CD from a friend or the library, and “Show And Tell” found its way into the collection. It was the only Al Wilson I had; I knew he’d had a few other hits, but I wasn’t going to go looking.

Then, shortly after Wilson crossed over last month, Jeff at AM, Then FM, told his tale of a crate-digging session that brought him a copy of Searching for the Dolphins, Wilson’s debut album from 1968. Jeff said his copy of the record was in pretty poor shape, with a lot of pops and some skips, but his assessment and the tracks he shared made it seem as if it was a good piece of work. What truly grabbed my attention, though, was that the record had been released on Soul City, the label owned by Johnny Rivers. Then Jeff pointed out the recent release in the United Kingdom of Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More, 1967-71, a CD package that supplements the Dolphins album with eleven of Wilson’s singles on three different labels from 1967 into 1971.

So I went shopping.

It’s a nice package. The Dolphins album is better than I expected, with some interesting covers: “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Poor Side of Town,” “Brother, Where Are You” and “Summer Rain” jumped out of the list at me. The last two were highlights of Rivers’ own 1968 record, Realization (admittedly one of my favorite albums of all time). Also on the album was Wilson’s first Top 40 hit, “The Snake,” a nifty piece of pop soul that went to No. 27 in the autumn of 1968.

The bonus tracks are good, too, but it’s the album that I find fascinating. Partly, it’s the material; I think the songs on the album – eight of its eleven tracks were released as singles – are stronger than the songs added as bonus tracks. I dunno. Maybe I’m hearing something that isn’t there. But Rivers produced the Dolphins album and in 1968, he was in the midst of that tremendous stretch of albums I’ve mentioned here before, albums that if not quite concept albums were pieces that at least had central themes. I’ll have to listen a few more times to the Wilson album as a whole to see if I discern any themes. But there is a unity to the album that I don’t hear in the supplementary singles, even those on Soul City.

One thing I do hear is top-notch musicians behind Wilson, and that’s one of the reasons I tend to seek out Soul City releases when I can: The album had Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon on drums and percussion, Joe Osborne on bass and guitar, James Burton on guitar, Larry Knechtel on keyboards and Jim Horn on flute and recorder.

Even before the CD arrived in the mail, the song I wanted to hear most was the first track, “The Dolphins,” a Fred Neil composition about isolation found in retreat from the world’s care and anguish. (The album is neatly bracketed with “The Dolphins” at the start and the closer of “Brother, Where Are You,” which examines the isolation of those who do not retreat.)

I’d heard “The Dolphins” a number of times, having versions by Linda Ronstadt, Gale Garnett & the Gentle Reign, Dion, Richie Havens, It’s A Beautiful Day and studio and live versions from composer Fred Neil. Of those, I prefer Neil’s stoic original although Havens’ version has its moments as well.

Others who have covered “The Dolphins” include Billy Bragg, Tim Buckley, Cyrus Faryar (his entry at All-Music Guide intrigues me; I will have to dig a little), Dave Graney, Beth Orton, Eddi Reader, Gove Scrivenor and the Soul Bossa Trio. There are no doubt others who have covered the song as well, but these were just the most obvious.

The best place to start remains with the original. So here are Neil’s version from his 1967 album Fred Neil and Wilson’s version from Searching For The Dolphins a year later. (Both recordings were released as singles, Neil’s as Capitol 5786 and Wilson’s as Soul City 771.)

Fred Neil – “The Dolphins” [1967]

Al Wilson – “The Dolphins” [1968]

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone

May 20, 2011

Originally posted November 14, 2007

Everyone – more than once in their working lives, I imagine – has had a job assignment during which they look at their co-workers and ask, “Why are we doing this?”

And the answer comes back, “Because the boss wants it done.”

My first brush with that sort of assignment came mid-way through college, during the spring and summer of 1973. I’d been working at the St. Cloud State library – called the Learning Resources Center – since the fall before. I generally worked in the equipment distribution center on the first floor, but during breaks, I was often handed special assignments.

On the first Monday of spring break, my dad – the Assistant Dean of Learning Resources – assigned one of those special tasks to me and another student, a project on which we would spend our time for a week and a half. Dad showed us a reel-to reel videotape recorder (the height of technology in 1973). In particular, he pointed out the two-inch yellow letters that said “LRS,” letters that had been spray-painted on the recorder in the library’s receiving room and which stood for “Learning Resources Services.”

Dad handed us boxes of spray paint, nine cans of black and nine of white, and we each got two stencils – one of a rectangle about five inches wide and a little more than two inches high, and the other of the letters “LRS” about an inch high. Our job, he told us, was to go out on to the campus and systematically find every piece of equipment that belonged to Learning Resources: video recorders, television monitors, film projectors, slide projectors, tape recorders, record players, wheeled carts and more. On every piece of equipment we found, we were to paint a black rectangle over the two-inch yellow letters and then, when the black paint had dried, paint in white on the rectangle the smaller “LRS” in white.

We stared at him, probably with the look of people who have been smacked in the foreheads with billy clubs. As I processed the idea of what we had been assigned to do, two things came to mind. First, I had no idea how many pieces of audio-visual equipment there were on campus, but it was a lot. (Actually, it was about 17,000, as I learned two years later when my friend Murl and I headed up a campus-wide inventory during the summer we moved the house.) Second, as the scope of the project set in, the question “Why?” came to mind.

Dad had anticipated the realization and the question. He suggested we start with Stewart Hall, one of the main classroom buildings on campus, and then he said, “There is a lot of stuff out there, but you should be able to get to it all during the summer.”

I nodded, still a little stunned. “But why?” I finally asked.

He hesitated, chewed his cheek a little. “Because the dean wants it done,” he finally said. “So you’d better head to Stewart Hall.”

At home that evening, Dad told me that the dean had never liked the yellow color used to mark Learning Resources’ equipment, a hue in use for the three years the department had been in its new building. And, Dad said, the dean – a long-time family friend – had never cared for the font used for the stencil for those two-inch high letters. “He thinks the letters look ugly,” Dad said, shaking his head a little.

I offered the opinion that a black five-inch by two-inch box with smaller white letters would look pretty ugly, too, and Dad nodded. “Sometimes,” he told me, “you just do what the boss wants you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense.”

So for that spring break and then for twenty hours a week that summer, my colleague and I – augmented once the summer sessions started with a few other workers – worked our way across campus, poking our heads into classrooms, rummaging through closets in departmental offices and asking secretaries to let us into faculty offices, seeking out and painting over those yellow letters wherever we could find them. It wasn’t awful work, except when we had to work in smaller closets and the paint fumes got a bit thick. And the fellow I was working with – whose name has disappeared in the fog of years – was pleasant enough, a music fan like me, so we passed a lot of the time with good conversation.

One day during spring break, we decided to head to a local drive-in to grab some burgers for lunch and then head to his place, as he had an album he wanted me to hear. So as we ate, he cued up a song, and I heard one of the best things I’d heard in a long time, by a duo that was completely new to me. It was Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone,” off of their album, Abandoned Luncheonette. I loved it.

“A friend of mine told me about it,” my co-worker told me, “and it took me a long time to find the record. It’s pretty obscure.”

That wouldn’t be the case for long. In 1974, “She’s Gone” was released as a single and only reached No. 60, but in 1976, a re-released “She’s Gone” would go to No. 7, and Abandoned Luncheonette would find its way to No. 33 on the album chart, launching Hall & Oates’ long stay in the spotlight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973

“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Real Real Gone” by Van Morrison from Enlightenment, 1990

“Goin’ Gone” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“My Baby’s Gone” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, Juneteenth Festival, Houston, Texas, June 19, 1979

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” by Arlo Guthrie from Precious Friend, 1982

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66133, 1965

“Gone Again” by Fred Neil from Bleecker & MacDougal, 1965

“Going, Going, Gone” by Bob Dylan from Planet Waves, 1974

“Now You’re Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs, 1969

“After the Love Is Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 11033, 1979

“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” by Chilliwack. Millennium single 11813, 1981

“Too Soon Gone” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

A few notes on some of the songs:

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone” may be the best song on this list. The eerie and foreboding piece was David Crosby’s reaction to the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy.

My, but Lou Ann Barton can sing. And with Stevie Ray Vaughan helping, her 1979 rendition of “My Baby’s Gone” becomes downright incendiary. Three years later, Barton headed to Muscle Shoals to record her first album, one of only five she’s released, including a 1990 CD recorded with Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli. Any of them are worth seeking out.

Fred Neil was one of the more gifted songwriters and performers in the Greenwich Village scene during the early to mid-1960s, but his greatest claim to fame is the authorship of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” used as a theme in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. Never a prolific artist, Neil retreated to Florida in the late 1960s and released only a live album in 1971 after that. He died of cancer in 2001. All-Music Guide calls the album Bleeker & MacDougal “one of the best efforts from the era in which folk was just beginning its transition to folk-rock.”

“Going, Going, Gone” is one of the better moments from Dylan’s Planet Waves album, the first release that had Dylan backed by The Band. (The double album The Basement Tapes, compiled from recordings done during the mid-1960s in Woodstock, New York, would come out in 1975.) Planet Waves is a muted album, showing none of the fiery interplay that listeners anticipated in a record released just ahead of Dylan’s 1974 tour with The Band, his first tour in some years. (The fiery interplay showed itself on the tour, as a listen to Before the Floor will bear out.)

Jericho was the first album released in the 1990s after Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson reconstituted the band with some new players. The abject “Too Soon Gone,” written by Jules Shear and Stan Szelest, is almost certainly a meditation on the 1989 suicide of original member Richard Manuel.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1965

April 25, 2011

Originally posted July 11, 2007

A quick look at the list of songs from 1965 that are on the RealPlayer puts me back in seventh grade art class at South Junior High. It was, I think, the first hour of the school day, and our teacher, Mrs. Villalta, allowed us to play the radio quietly on those days when we were actually working on art projects.

I sat at the table in the very front of the room, reserved for the folks whose last names begin with letters from the start of the alphabet. My table companions were Mark and Bernie on my right – strangers who had attended elementary school elsewhere in the city – and Brad on my left, another stranger, as he was a newcomer to town. But at least Brad rode the same bus as I did; he and his mom and brother lived in the mobile home park up the street from where I lived. It was Brad who would be my companion for the rest of the year in my pursuit of all things related to James Bond.

So we sat there at the front table, the four of us, none particularly gifted in art although Brad’s papier-mâché kangaroo was pretty good; it was one of the art works selected for display on a night when parents visited. But we were lucky in that we were closest to the radio and could thus hear everything, even the softer songs.

One of those was Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey,” a record that my sister happened to own and that I thus knew. Otherwise, on those days the radio played, I was in mostly foreign territory, at least until repetition made even previously unknown music incredibly familiar. Among the songs we heard were the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul,” the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud,” the Beatles’ “Michelle,” the Beau Brummels’ “Laugh Laugh,” and two songs by Roger Miller: “King of the Road” and “England Swings.”

Very little of it was stuff I listened to at home. Oh, I owned the Sonny & Cher album with “I Got You Babe” on it, and I had a Herman’s Hermits album that I’d gotten for my birthday. In addition, my sister and I shared custody of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol Records assembled by slicing a few tracks off of the group’s albums as they were released in the United Kingdom and then adding some EP and 45 tracks, creating a mish-mash of songs. My sister owned a few albums that I heard on occasion, as well.

So I was hearing a small amount pop and rock music at home, along with the Al Hirt and Herb Alpert instrumentals and the John Barry film scores I routinely listened to. I’m not sure I was all that fond of the rock and pop I heard as I fumbled my way through my art projects, but I do recall a moment one day when the four of us at the front table were concentrating on our art but also happened to hear Roger Miller’s whistling introduction to one of his hits. And we all sang along with Roger under our breath: “England swings like a pendulum do, bobbies on bicycles two by two . . .”

We all stopped – our singing and our work on our projects both – and stared at each other for a moment. Our laughter was loud enough to draw a look from Mrs. Villalta. And then we turned back to our art projects, our heads bobbing in time to Roger Miller’s music.

I was disappointed that “England Swings” didn’t come up on today’s random Baker’s Dozen from 1965.

“Paradise” by the Ronettes, unreleased, Gold Star Studios, Los Angeles, October

“She Belongs To Me” by Bob Dylan from Bringing It All Back Home

“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 354

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!

“I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, Atco single 6359

“I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits, MGM single 13367

“Midnight Special” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial special 66087

“She’s Better Than You” by James Carr, Goldwax single 119

“Stop! In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes, Motown single 1074

“It Only Costs A Dime” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5628

“See See Rider” by the Chambers Brothers at the Newport Folk Festival

“Mountain of Love” by Billy Stewart, Chess single 1948

“Sweet Mama” by Fred Neil, unreleased alternate take (Bleecker & MacDougal sessions)

Some notes on some of the songs:

I’m not sure why the Ronettes’ “Paradise” went unreleased. It’s a classic of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound genre. Perhaps with the advent of the Beatles and other bands of the various waves of the British Invasion, Spector decided to cut his losses. He did release the Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get For Loving You?” as a single in 1965, but it failed to make the Top 40. To my ears, “Paradise” is a better song and record.

“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” was evidently the first single released by the Los Angeles band the Seeds. Listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits as a “psychedelic” band, the group’s sound here is more that of the garage than of an expanding cosmic consciousness. The Seeds would hit the lower level of the charts – No. 36 – with “Pushin’ Too Hard” in 1966.

Mercy!, the source of the Don Covay track “I’ll Be Satisfied,” was Covay’s first album, pushed out rapidly by Atlantic Records after the success of the single “Mercy, Mercy” on the charts. Credited to Don Covay & the Goodtimers, the single reached No. 35 on the pop chart. Even though the rest of the album was at least as good as the single had been, nothing else clicked, and Covay’s next pop chart success wouldn’t come until 1973, when “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In” reached No. 29. (Lack of pop chart success, of course, does not necessarily correlate with lack of quality; those in search of some good 1960s R&B could do lots worse than to check out Covay’s body of work.)

The late Sonny Bono learned his studio craft, of course, assisting Phil Spector, and when it came time for him to put what he’d learned to use on the records he made with Cher, Bono showed that he’d learned well. It’s not quite the Wall of Sound, but the production behind the vocals fills the empty spaces nicely. And Bono (as did Spector) had great taste in drummers: Listen to the fills throughout the record but especially near the end. According to the album credits, that’s either Frank Capp, Earl Palmer or Hal Blaine. But my money’s on Blaine.

Fred Neil is better known as the composer of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which was recorded by Harry Nilsson for his 1968 album Aerial Ballet. Nilsson then re-recorded the song for the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy.