Posts Tagged ‘Gayle McCormick’

One Chart Dig: July 10, 1971

July 10, 2015

By the early days of July in 1971, I’d been shifted by my supervisors in St. Cloud State’s maintenance department from mowing grass to an indoor janitorial position, one that would evolve into my partnering with my eventual friend Mike as a wandering floor cleaning team.

Frankly, I was relieved. The big riding lawnmowers scared me, and that left me moving much more slowly than the other members of our crew, a fact noted with increasing displeasure by our supervisor. And trimming around the edges of the lawns with push mowers had its risks: The mowers would frequently shoot small rocks, aluminum cans and other pieces of junk out from underneath, and that was scary.

So even though I felt a little lonely after being part of a crew, and a little limited being assigned to one building – Headley Hall, where the art and industrial art departments were based – I soon fell into a routine of sweeping floors and stairs, washing windows and shining bannister railings. I got to know, at least a little, one of the student potters, chatting with him occasionally as he worked at his wheel. In early August, as I was finishing up my time in Headley, he gave me one of his hand-made mugs; it still sits in my cupboard more than forty years later.

By that time, Mike was working in Headley for a while, filling in while the regular janitors took vacations, and the potter dropped off a mug for Mike as well. When the regular janitors came back from vacation and summer session ended, the janitorial supervisor paired me with Mike as a floor washing team.

We moved from building to building for the rest of August and the first weeks of September, scrubbing floors and hallways, and for one week, we worked nights so we could get to the floors in the college’s administrative offices (from which stemmed the tale of the bat and the rolled-up Playboy magazine, which I told long ago). After the scary roar of the lawnmowers and the isolation of working alone, partnering with Mike was a gift. He was not that much older than I, our senses of humor were similar, and we had plenty of time to chat and laugh as we waited for floors to dry.

So as I thought this morning about the shifts in that summer of 1971 and glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 for July 10 of that year – forty-four years ago today – I noticed a title that would have given me some hope: “Gonna Be Alright Now” by Gayle McCormick. (Even though the record was about a romance instead of life in general, I likely would have found some inspiration in the title/hook, had I ever heard the record. I doubt I ever did.)

McCormick had been the lead singer in Smith, which had a Top Ten hit with a cover of “Baby It’s You” in 1969. By 1971, the group had broken up and McCormick released the first of three solo albums, with “Gonna Be Alright Now” going out as a single. Forty-four years ago today, it sat at No. 97 in its first week in the Hot 100. It would hang around another four weeks and peak at No. 84 (No. 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart).

McCormick would see two other singles from that first album reach the Hot 100: “It’s A Cryin’ Shame” went to No. 44 (No. 9, AC) later in 1971, and “You Really Got A Hold On Me” got to No. 98 in early 1972. A 1975 single, “Coming In, Out Of The Rain,” went to No. 40 on the AC chart.

‘My Love’s Got No Season . . .’

October 16, 2014

As far as I know, the first time I ran into the very good song “Even A Fool Would Let Go” was in February of 1990, when I happened upon a copy of Levon Helm’s self-titled 1982 album in Anoka, Minnesota. The album didn’t entirely impress me – I think it’s one of Levon’s lesser efforts, which is kind of a mystery, given the presence of the Muscle Shoals crew and Steve Cropper and production by Duck Dunn – but the song, the third track on the album, grabbed me:

And as Levon’s version came to my attention in the past few days, I thought I’d dig around a little bit. The song, written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow, was first recorded by Gayle McCormick, the former lead singer for Smith, for her 1974 album One More Hour.

There are more covers beyond Levon’s, of course, although not as many as I thought there would be. But my attention is flagging this morning, and the painters are here. I’ll get back to “Even A Fool Would Let Go” in one of the next few days.

Saturday Single No. 347

June 29, 2013

I thought about writing about the recent passing of Bobby “Blue” Bland this morning, but for as little as I really know about the blues, I know less about Bland’s life and music, except that both deserve my respect and more of my attention. Others can do the man and his life more justice than I can.

And I thought about digging into tunes with the word “storm” in their title, as a way of tying off the events of the last week. But that didn’t arouse my enthusiasm this morning.

So when all else fails, go random.

“Don’t Get So Down On Yourself” is a track on Chris Isaak’s 1998 album Speak Of The Devil. The song is on one hand a matter-of-fact first-person tale of a lover gone away; on the other hand, there are moments during the song when Isaak’s delivery gives hints of the haunting persona that grabbed my ears and imagination the first time I heard “Wicked Game” in 1991. Finally, it’s a not-bad track, but I’m glad it’s a place to start our journey this morning rather than its ending.

Bread’s self-titled 1969 album hints at the treasures to come. “Move Over” might not be the best track on the album, but I’m not certain, as Bread is not an album to which I’ve devoted much listening time. The group’s cascade of hits – thirteen records in the Billboard Hot 100, with six in the Top Ten – began the next year, in 1970, and the albums that start with that year’s On The Waters are where I’ve spent my time. (Yes, “It Don’t Matter To Me” from Bread was a hit, but that happened a couple of years later and with – I think – a new version of the tune.) So the James Griffin-penned “Move Over,” with its half-fuzz chords and its garage rock keyboard solo, is only a step toward both Bread’s eventual success and wherever we’ll get this morning.

“She grew up with the children of the stars/in the Hollywood hills and the boulevard . . .” Shawn Mullins’ “Lullaby” was omnipresent on whatever radio station I was listening to in 1998 (probably Minneapolis’ Cities 97) with its matter-of-fact yet affectionate portrayal of a girl lost. “Lullaby” is not a record I’ve spent a lot of time with, although the album it came from, Soul’s Core, was one of my relatively early CD purchases (one of the first two hundred in a collection that now numbers more than 1,100). Time spent or not, “Lullaby” is a track that’s insinuated itself into my head, which is okay. There are worse things to hear internally than “Everything’s gonna be all right . . .”

Our fourth stop of the morning is “Grey Line Tour,” a track from Gayle McCormick’s second solo album, 1972’s Flesh & Blood. McCormick, who came to attention as lead singer for the band Smith – the group’s cover of “Baby It’s You” hit No. 5 in 1969 – could certainly grab hold of a song, and she does so here, leading her backing band through a romp that sounds absolutely both like 1972 and a slightly tougher Joy of Cooking. That’s a sound I like a lot, and I wish I knew more about the track, but not even the record jacket tells me who wrote the tune; beyond McCormick’s name, the only names I recognize on the jacket are those of Chuck Findley, who played trumpet and trombone, and Ike Turner, who’s given a special thank you as the owner of Bolic Sounds, where the album was recorded.

Caravan, says All Music Guide, “was one of the more formidable progressive rock acts to come out of England in the 1960s, though they were never much more than a very successful cult band at home, and, apart from a brief moment in 1975, barely a cult band anywhere else in the world.” For a brief while during my vinyl madness of the 1990s, I was looking hard for stuff by Caravan; I found an anthology and I found In the Land of Grey and Pink, about which I’d read good things. It was a good album, and this morning’s jaunt stops on the album’s side-long epic “Nine Feet Underground.” Like most prog rock these days, it works better for me as something playing in the background than as something I’ll actively listen to. Maybe that’s my ADD, but whatever it is, I’m not going to listen to all twenty-two minutes this morning before moving on our sixth and final stop.

How to describe the 1970s group Mandrill? Back to AMG: “One of funk’s most progressive outfits . . . [its] jam-heavy brand of funk was liberally infused with Latin, Caribbean, and jazz influences, plus blues, psychedelia, African music, and straight-up rock.” Fair enough, and the track we land on this morning is “Mini-Suite For Duke,” a shape-changing and tone-shifting piece from the 1974 album Mandrilland. Mellow enough at one moment to be something from Franck Pourcel and then turning funky enough for Bootsy Collins, the track brings our trek to a nice close.

What then, do we choose? Well, since the moment McCormick’s “Grey Line Tour” popped up on the RealPlayer, I’ve been leaning that direction. My only question was whether a video of the tune would be allowed on YouTube. Happily, it was, and Gayle McCormick’s “Grey Line Tour” is today’s Saturday Single.

Farewell To Seven-Toed Henri

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2008

I was going to write about the autumn of 1971 today, a time that was unexceptional for the most part. It did mark my first quarter of college, and I guess that made it a time of major adjustments. But I’ll write about that some other day.

We lost another cat yesterday.

This summer, shortly after we had to let go of the Texas Gal’s beloved Smudge, one of the Texas Gal’s co-workers said a kitten had found its way to her mother’s place. The kitten ended up with the Texas Gal’s co-worker, who then learned that her husband and son were allergic to cats. For two days, the kitten was alone in their basement while they figured out what to do, and there was talk of letting it loose in a field to fend for itself.

Given that we were in the middle of the difficult (and expensive) process of moving, I was reluctant to bring in a kitten, but I’ll never let a little one be let loose in a field; I can’t imagine anything more terrifying – or more practically lethal – for a small animal. So one evening, the Texas Gal brought home our new little guy, black with some white trim . . . and seven toes on each front foot.

I’m not sure where the name came from, but after some hesitation, the Texas Gal named him Henri Matisse, after the artist. But we pronounced his name “Henry” instead of the French “Ehn-ree.” And we took him to Dr. Tess for his standard kitten care. He had worms, which we expected, and we treated him for that. A few months later, not long after we moved, we had him neutered and had his front claws removed.

Even after treatment for worms, Henri’s digestive problems continued. When we organized the empty boxes we’d thrown off to the side of the basement during the move, we discovered that he hadn’t been using his cat box regularly. We thought his continued digestive problems might be the reason, so we changed his diet, kept an eye on his trips to the basement and gave him a supplement for two weeks.

Nothing really helped his digestion, and once the two-week regimen of the supplement was over, he began to lose weight and he didn’t always seem comfortable. And one evening this week, we discovered that his cat box behavior in the basement hadn’t changed. In some ways, it’s no big deal. We’ve cleaned up worse messes over the years. But the vet said yesterday morning that it was unlikely Henri’s behavior would change, even if we could correct the problem with his digestion. And we knew we couldn’t continue.

Henri went peacefully. And we have another cat-shaped hole in the house. The Texas Gal and I both spent a little bit more time than usual last evening playing with Oscar and talking to Clarence, our two remaining catboys. That helped, at least a little.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 4
“Tell Me Why” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort, Decca 32874 (No. 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 16, 1971)

“Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’” by Peter Nero, Columbia 45399 (No. 91)

“Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers, Stax 0104 (No. 82)

“It’s a Cryin’ Shame” by Gayle McCormick, Dunhill 4288 (No. 60)

“Two Divided By Love” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4289 (No. 55)

“Women’s Love Rights” by Laura Lee, Hot Wax 7105 (No. 37)

“You’ve Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)” by 8th Day, Invictus 9098 (No. 36)

“One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse, Evolution 1048 (No. 32)

“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” by Kris Kristofferson, Monument 8525 (No. 27)

“Stick-Up” by Honey Cone, Hot Wax 7106 (No. 19)

“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 15)

“So Far Away” by Carole King, Ode 66019 (No. 14)

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 12)

A few notes:

The Matthews’ Southern Comfort track is a cover of the Neil Young tune from After the Goldrush album, which came out in 1970. Southern Comfort was headed by Ian Matthews, who had been a founding member of Britain’s Fairport Convention. Matthews’ career is a fascinating series of stops, starts and sudden left turns, but his music has always been listenable and sometimes inspired.

One evening during the summer of 1971, after a day of unpacking file cabinets in the new Education Building at St. Cloud State, I wandered off to the theater and took in The Summer of ’42. The movie touched me, with its tale of a young man’s beginning to grow up, of his crush on the older woman played by the luminescent Jennifer O’Neill (looking impossibly young from where I sit now) and of the tragedy and confusion of wartime. I was also blown away by Michel Legrand’s Academy Award-winning score, which was sweet and sad and over-the-top – all of the things that we are at sixteen. I never looked for the soundtrack LP; I’m not sure why. But when Peter Nero had a hit with the main theme later in the year (the single went to No. 22), I was pleased to hear the song coming out of my radio.

Gayle McCormick was the lead singer for Smith, the group that had a No. 5 hit in the autumn of 1969 with a cover of “Baby It’s You.” “It’s A Cryin’ Shame” was a pretty good single from her first solo album – she recorded two others in the early 1970s, and after that, I lose track of her – but it didn’t do very well. Nor did her follow-ups. She never cracked the Top 40 as a solo artist.

This selection includes three more good singles (several showed up in previous Baker’s Dozen selections) from Hot Wax and Invictus, the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown. The singles weren’t as successful on the pop chart as they were good. “Women’s Love Rights” peaked at No. 36, and “You’ve Got To Crawl” topped out at No. 28, but the Honey Cone single nearly got into the Top Ten, stalling at No. 11. (It spent two weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart.)

This version of Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” originally linked with this post was from the album. Since then, I was able to find a video with the fairly rare single edit. Either way, once I saw the title in the Hot 100 for this week in 1971, I had to post the song, even in the wrong version. It’s just too good to ignore.

The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” was a pretty grim and tough song, talking about the perfidy surrounding all of us, wherever we go. Some folks saw it as a political allegory, and the theme of betrayal makes that at least a little bit plausible, given the realities of 1971. Whatever the message, the record had a great groove.

Edited and rewritten slightly on August 6, 2013.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1974, Vol. 3

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle from Nightbirds

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

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

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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