Posts Tagged ‘Gypsy’

Echoes Of History

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 13, 2009

On a late winter day many years ago, I wandered up a slight hill and through the gate of the Tower of London, the complex that has served for more than nine hundred years as fortress, residence, bank vault, jail and more. The Tower was the fourth stop of the day for me. I recall being interested, even fascinated in the historic things I was seeing: a Seventeenth Century home, a monument to the 1666 Fire of London, bits and pieces from Roman settlements in the basement of a church. But it was like reading old stories. There were stones and walls and chairs and inscribed dates. Nothing seemed alive.

And then I came to Tower Green, an open space inside the tower walls.  I stopped at a small sign near a plaque in the pavement, and I read:

On this site stood a scaffold on which were executed:
Queen Anne Boleyn 1536
Margaret, Countess of Salisbury 1541
Queen Catherine Howard 1542
Jane Viscountess Rochford 1542
Lady Jane Grey 1554
Robert Devereux Earl of Essex 1601
also near this spot was beheaded Lord Hastings 1483

I looked at the names on that simple sign, a few of which I recognized – the crowned queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and the uncrowned queen Lady Jane Grey – though I knew very little of their stories. And I looked at the shiny metal plaque centered inside a nearby quadrangle of chains.

In even the most average and quiet of lives, I imagine that there are moments when those lives shift, moments that one can look back at and say, “I changed right then.” My life has had more than a few of those moments, and I’ve written about some of them. But only a very few of such moments were more important to me than the few seconds it took for me to read that very plain sign and look at the plaque that marked the site of the scaffold.

“Blood flowed here,” I thought. As I had that thought, history ceased to be simply names and dates in books; it became people, those men and women whose lives had intersected for good or ill – mostly for ill, in that place I was standing – with the lives of those who were greater or at least more powerful.

Since that moment, I have probably read history more frequently than anything else (although I do still enjoy plenty of fiction). For a time, I dug into World War II and the Holocaust. The exploration and the settling of the American West – especially, for some reason, the Mormon migration from Illinois to what became Utah – caught my attention for a while. I’ve dabbled in ancient Egypt and dug into the end of the Romanov dynasty during the Russian Revolution. I find myself drawn, as I was when I was very young, to the American Civil War.

And recently, I’ve been teased by a television series into the idea of examining the very era that triggered my fascination with history. And that statement will launch a side trip:

A couple of weeks ago, the Texas Gal called our our cable and internet provider from her office and asked if it were possible for both our computers – my desktop and her laptop – to run from the same modem, mine via landwire and hers as a wireless. The answer was yes, and the woman on the phone told the Texas Gal that she could disconnect our standard modem immediately. “No, no, no!” said the Texas Gal, explaining that I was using the standard modem, adding that any disconnection should only come after we’d moved the wireless modem to where my computer resides and connected my machine to the wireless modem via the landwire.

Of course, within five minutes, my Internet access went away. I called and was told my wife had ordered the access disconnected. Damn, I thought, I really made her angry about something! When she came home as I was on the phone with our provider, she sighed resignedly and said, “I knew they were going to do that, even though I told them not to, twice.” After a brief conversation, my access was restored, and we made plans to move the wireless modem during the next weekend. The next morning, my access was gone once more for the same nonexistent reason. And when I called to complain and explain, the firm’s representative apologized, reactivated my line and offered us all the premium cable channels free for a year.

Now, back to the original story: That evening, I came across the third-season premiere of The Tudors, the tale of King Henry VIII of England as told by Showtime. And I was fascinated. Often bawdy, often bloody, it seems to be fairly accurate historically, and I’ve been catching up on the first season through our DVD service. And when I finish the current pile of books in my study, I think I’m going to dig a little bit into Tudor England and learn a little more about those unfortunates – and about the people and life around them – whose lives ended so many years ago at that place that changed my life.

A Six-Pack of Queens
“Black Queen” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills [1970]
“Little Queenie” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!’ [1970]
“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic 10746 [1971]
“Caddo Queen” by Dobie Gray from Drift Away [1973]
“Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, Windfall 532 [1970]
“Gypsy Queen, Part One” by Gypsy from Gypsy [1970]

Note: The fairly plain sign I saw at Tower Green was replaced sometime later with a more detailed sign, further identifying the individuals executed and providing a date as well as a year of execution. And the spelling of one of the names was changed, from “Catherine Howard,” when I saw it, to “Katherine Howard” on the more detailed sign. In recent years, the site of the plain sign and plaque has been marked by a fairly ornate monument. I read in one of the documents linked at the monument page that the temporary scaffold on which those victims died was built at various locations over the years. So it’s still likely that blood flowed nearby, if not exactly at the place where I stood many years ago.

Saturday Single No. 492

April 16, 2016

The Top Ten at the Twin Cities’ KDWB fifty years ago today was studded with records that were familiar to the kids around me at the time and have since become familiar to anyone who cares at all about mid-century Top 40 (or anyone, for that matter, who listened to the radio during Mrs. Villalta’s art classes at St. Cloud’s South Junior High School):

“(You’re My) Soul & Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers
“Bang Bang” by Cher
“California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & The Papas
“Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful
“19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones
“Nowhere Man” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Ssgt. Barry Sadler
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by B.J. Thomas & The Triumphs
“Time Won’t Let Me” by the Outsiders
“These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra

And looking further down the station’s “Fabulous 40 Confidential” from fifty years ago today, there are only three records that stick out as unfamiliar, two of which were debuting on the survey that week. Sitting at No. 33 in its first week in the survey was a country ditty called “Tippy Toeing” by three siblings from Arkansas who recorded as the Harden Trio. It would peak on KDWB at No. 23 in four weeks; nationally, it went to No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100, their only record to reach the pop chart. (The record went to No. 2 on the country chart, and the trio had two other records hit the country Top 40 in the next year.)

Parked at No. 40, and also in its first appearance on KDWB’s survey that long-ago week, was a drum-heavy cover of Bo Diddley’s “Mona” by a Twin Cities group called T.C. Atlantic. According to, the group put out at least seven singles and a live album from 1965 through about 1969. The record, which I think I would have dug in art class, peaked on KDWB at No. 30 in early May. It never got to the Billboard chart.

The third record unfamiliar to me in that April 16, 1966, survey is the Underbeats’ version of “The Book of Love” that was a little bit doo-wop and a little bit subdued garage rock. It was sitting at No. 12 in its fifth week on the survey, and it would go no higher. Like the T.C. Atlantic single, “Book of Love” would get no national notice.

But the Underbeats, well, they would get their shot at national attention four years later after revamping their style considerably and becoming the band Gypsy. I told the tale long ago, and over the past several weeks, as I’ve ferried the Texas Gal to and from work, among the music coming from the CD player in the car has been most of the early 1970s work from Gypsy, both the group’s self-titled album from 1970 and its 1971 follow-up, In The Garden.

And one of the tracks I’ve enjoyed most could easily have fit into our Long Form series here. I was reminded of it one evening this winter when I was driving home after a meeting at church. “Man,” I thought as I crossed the Mississippi River and headed down Kilian Boulevard, “that sounds like Gypsy.” I memorized a few of the lyrics in case I needed them, and almost as soon as I got into the house, I checked the playlist on WXYG. It was indeed Gypsy.

Tying all those threads together this morning – the Underbeats’ appearance in the KDWB “Fabulous 40 Confidential” from fifty years ago today, the presence of Gypsy in the car CD player in recent weeks, and a long track heard in that same vehicle on a cold evening sometime in the past few months – makes for an untidy piece of work, I suppose.

But I don’t care. The music hits my sweet spot, temporally and emotionally, and that’s why “As Far As You Can See (As Much As You Can Feel),” the longest track from Gypsy’s 1971 album In The Garden, is today’s Saturday Single.

Otis, Neil & Gypsy

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 9, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s a clip of Otis Redding performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” during the 1966 Stax-Volt European Tour. (The individual who posted the clip asked the question: “Did he cover the song from the Rolling Stones or did they cover it from him?” The correct answer, of course, is that the Stones wrote it and recorded it and Otis didn’t just cover it. He took it right away from them. But then, he did that with a lot of songs.)

Here’s one of the better performances of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that I passed by on Tuesday: Neil Young at the 1992 concert celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Bob Dylan’s first album.

Video deleted.

I was hoping to find something by Gypsy, whose self-titled debut album I reposted this week. What showed up is a video that uses the album’s opening track, “Gypsy Queen, Part 1,” behind a collection of archival film and photos showing the group during 1970 or so. The quality and coherence of some of the visuals is questionable, but it’s still a pretty cool package.

And here are a few more reposts:

New Routes by Lulu [1970]
Original post here.

Melody Fair by Lulu [1970]
Original post here.

Ambergris by Ambergris [1970]
Original post here.

With Friends and Neighbors by Alex Taylor [1971]
Original post here.

‘If You See Saint Annie . . .’

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 7, 2009

The RealPlayer was chugging along on random last evening as I caught up on several editions of Rolling Stone, laughing ruefully at Matt Taibbi’s tales of greed on Wall Street and wondering if I should take Taylor Swift seriously, when a very soft version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” began to play. I put the magazine down and checked out the music.

(A little later, when I got back to my reading, I was still laughing at Taibbi’s work but decided to pass on Taylor Swift, a decision helped by her rather lame performance the evening before during a country music awards show. But that’s just me, and I’m neither the correct age nor the correct gender to be part of Ms. Swift’s target audience. From what I’ve read, it sounds as if Ms. Swift has her head on pretty straight, and I admire that, even if I don’t invest myself in her music.)

Anyway, when I got to the RealPlayer, the music turned out to be an album track from a very obscure group called West, a late 1960s group that – from what I read at All-Music Guide – had a hard time deciding on a musical identity. Shimmering folk-rock, sweet sunshine pop and a few other hard-to-describe styles crowded together in the grooves of West’s records, the website indicated. I listened to a few more tracks by the group and decided it wasn’t interesting enough to dig into actively. But it was inoffensive enough to be good background music, so I didn’t delete it. (And I have no idea where I found it. I’m guessing it came to me sometime in late 2006, during the first weeks after I discovered music blogs, a time when I was trying to be the Download King of the Universe.)

Hearing the song did remind me, though, of the late winter and early spring of 1972. As I mentioned once before, I think, I’d bought my first Bob Dylan album during that late winter, shelling out a little bit of cash for the newly released Greatest Hits, Volume II. Among the Dylan personas that I discovered there was the surrealist wordsmith who crafted “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” The emerging writer inside me fell in love with that stuff, and I spent hours listening to those two songs – I loved the entire album, but those two tracks especially – over and over.

As I went about my days, I’d ponder their lyrical construction and find myself murmuring lines under my breath. It’s quite likely that some of my fellow students at St. Cloud State thought me a little odd as I walked along, muttering, “I cannot move; my fingers are all in a knot,” with my head bobbing as if I were hearing voices. (And I was, of course, hearing a voice: Dylan’s.) My own lyrics changed, becoming more surreal and sprinkled with obscure references.

It would be nice to say that I continued to explore Dylan’s work at the time. But I didn’t. I was still catching up on all the pop and rock music I’d missed during earlier years, and the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell/Delaney Bramlett/Bobby Whitlock/Eric Clapton axis of sounds was beginning to fascinate me. I still listened to Top 40, and in all those places, I found so much to explore that – with a few exceptions like Blood on the Tracks – Dylan didn’t come close to the center of my musical universe again for years. (When he did, in 1987, it was in a flood, as – with the help of a lady friend – I put together a complete collection of Dylan on the Columbia, Asylum and Island labels by the summer of 1990.)

But through those years, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has remained a favorite of mine, one that often pops into my head with its jangly piano intro. There are more than a hundred CDs in the market with a version of the song, according to AMG, and there are others that list the song under a variation of the title. (As an example, Judy Collins called it simply “Tom Thumb’s Blues” on her In My Life album in 1966). Some of the performers listed as having recorded the song are: Jaime Brockett, Dave’s True Story, Bryan Ferry, the Grateful Dead, Robyn Hitchcock, Jimmy LaFave, Gordon Lightfoot, Barry McGuire, Medicine Head, Linda Ronstadt, Nina Simone, the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Sting Cheese Incident, the Walking Wounded, Jennifer Warnes and Neil Young.

Here’s the version by West that started this post, a recent version by Dylan contemporary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and a live version by Dylan and The Band recorded in Liverpool in 1966. (I’ve posted that last version once before; that post is here.)

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by West from West [1968]

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott from the soundtrack to I’m Not There [2007]
(Thanks to Jeff at AM then FM for this one.)

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan & The Band, Liverpool, England, May 14, 1966

Gypsy, Part One, by Gypsy (1970)
Gypsy, Part Two by Gypsy (1970)
In The Garden by Gypsy (1971)
Original post here.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

Packing, Greetings & Gypsy

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2008

As I look around my office/study/cave, I come to the realization this morning that this place is beginning to look like a liquor and beer warehouse.

I learned many moves ago that the best thing to use for moving records and books is lots of liquor boxes. So far, I’ve filled about thirty of them in this room alone, and I’ve barely started on the main record shelves. I’ve packed away all but the most essential music reference books, and I’ve packed all of my country, blues, classical and soundtrack LPs, as well as all the anthologies and all the LPs of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band. (Complete sets that they are, those three collections get their own shelf.)

I have remaining on the shelves all the rock, pop rock, soul, R&B and anything else that comes between Joan Baez and Warren Zevon (I got the A’s boxed up yesterday.) I figure I’ll need another fifty boxes for the records that are left. Just thinking about it this morning makes me weary. But soon after I get this post up, I’ll wander down to the neighborhood liquor store and harvest as many boxes as I can, and I’ll do the same tomorrow. They know me pretty well by now.

Receiving Greetings
One of the most interesting things about doing a music blog is getting the occasional note from someone whose music is posted here. I’ve had a few of those over the past eighteen months.

The two most obvious are Bobby Jameson and Patti Dahlstrom. Then there was Alan O’Day, with whom I had an email conversation about “Rock & Roll Heaven,” which he co-wrote. But I’ve also heard from a few others. One was Dave Thomson, who played bass and guitar with Blue Rose and wrote several of the songs on that band’s 1972 self-titled album. Another was Peter Welker, who played horns on Cold Blood’s 1973 album, Thriller! And most recently, I got a nice note from Dorian Rudnytsky, a member of the New York Rock Ensemble, who thanked me for my comments on his band’s 1970 album, Roll Over. Hearing from folks whose music I enjoy is all kinds of cool.

Gypsy: Unlock the Gates (1973)
I finally got around this week to ripping the fourth album by the 1970s group Gypsy, the sometimes-fascinating band that evolved from the Underbeats, one of the most popular mid-Sixties bands in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

By the time Unlock the Gates came out in 1973, Gypsy’s moment was passing rapidly. The group’s first two albums – 1970’s double LP Gypsy and 1971’s In the Garden – had been released on the Metromedia label, a label that in retrospect didn’t have the marketing clout to take advantage of the band’s unique sound. Later in 1972, the band moved to RCA for Antithesis, and a year later, Unlock the Gates also came out on RCA. (The Metromedia label closed up shop in 1974, but one can question its effectiveness as a label even from its start in 1969; the biggest-selling artist in the label’s brief history was Bobby Sherman.)

That said, the record was still pretty good. There are flashes of the distinctive sound – layered guitars and organ, with close vocal harmonies – that made the group’s 1970 debut so remarkable.

I have some reservations: The use of strings as a sweetener in some of the tracks – “One Step Away” and “Unlock the Gates” are examples – is a bit disconcerting. And using the horn section from Chicago – Walter Parazaider, James Pankow and Lee Loughnane – on four of the record’s ten tracks was a risky idea but one that turned out well. The risk was that the horns – and all three players were outstanding musicians – would overshadow the band, but that didn’t happen, as I hear it. “Need You Baby and “Is That News?” work best of the tracks with horns, and “Bad Whore (The Machine)” does too, although the cacophonic ending is just a little too weird. The only track with horns that doesn’t seem to work is “Toin It,” but I don’t think that’s the horns.

Overall, there’s some nice stuff here. I particularly like “Don’t Get Mad (Get Even),” “Precious One” and “Unlock the Gates” (despite the softening by the strings). In general, though, the material here isn’t as strong as the songs on the first two Gypsy albums, but it’s not bad. (It’s better, I think, than the material on Antithesis.) And the musicianship is solid, as was always the case with Gypsy.

Is That News?
Make Peace with Jesus
One Step Away
Bad Whore (The Machine)
Unlock the Gates
Toin It
Need You Baby
Smooth Operator
Don’t Get Mad (Get Even)
Precious One

Gypsy – Unlock the Gates [1973]

Have Some More Gypsy!

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 14, 2008

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Gypsy, the band from Minnesota that started in the mid-1960s as the Underbeats and then went to Los Angeles, changed its name and got a recording contract. With that post, I shared two of the group’s albums, the two-LP debut, Gypsy, and the follow-up, In The Garden.

Since then, I’ve had sitting in my pile of LPs two other albums by Gypsy: Antithesis from 1972 and Unlock the Gates from 1973. I finally got around to recording and ripping the first of those this morning. I have to admit that I don’t know it as well as I know the first two albums, but Antithesis seems of a type – lots of early 1970s guitar, with the organ sometimes providing a base and at least once being in the foreground. Add one piano ballad, and you’ve got what almost adds up to a formula, as the approach that was so fresh on Gypsy doesn’t sound quite as new three years later. That’s especially true since the material – all original, with guitarist Enrico Rosenbaum getting the bulk of the writing credits – isn’t quite as strong as the material on the earlier albums.

Still, the group was made up of fine musicians, and there’s plenty of good playing on the record. This was the first of two albums the group recorded for RCA (a third, from 1978, would be credited to the James Walsh Gypsy Band) after two on the smaller Metromedia label. As I noted last February, the first album earned good reviews and some FM airplay around the country, but promotion was spotty and there were a lot of groups recording and trying to be the next big thing. As a result, Gypsy never quite broke through, although the group’s debut remains – to my ears, anyway – a classic album.

Antithesis isn’t quite that good, and – if anything – the competition for radio play and sales had gotten tougher as radio formats began to get tighter (though still nowhere near as constricted as they are today) and the sheer volume of music in the marketplace continued to grow. From what I can tell, RCA didn’t release a single from Antithesis, although the songs were generally shorter and more concise than most of the tracks on the first two albums were. Nevertheless, some tracks from Antithesis – “Day After Day,” “Young Gypsy,” “So Many Promises” and the title track – did get some airplay, according to a site that tracks Gypsy’s history.

All in all, Antithesis is a good effort. Nothing on the record comes close to the best moments of the first two albums – “Gypsy Queens, Parts 1 and 2” from the debut and “As Far As You Can See (As Much As You Can Feel)” from In The Garden – but it’s still a good listen.

Day After Day
The Creeper
Facing Time
Lean On Me
Young Gypsy
Don’t Bother Me
Travelin’ Minnesota Blues
So Many Promises
Antithesis (Keep Your Faith)
Edgar (Don’t Hoover Over Me)

Gypsy – Antithesis [1972]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 2

April 22, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2007

Every once in a while during the years this blog generally deals with – and I haven’t bothered to sit down and calculate how frequently this actually happened, so that generality will have to do – a song/record came along with an opening that was utterly electric.

I’m sure others had the experience, too: The first time you heard it, you stopped whatever it was you were doing and stared, thinking to yourself, “What in the world is that and how did they do that?” Then, if you’re like me, you went to the turntable and lifted the needle and started the song over again. Or, in at least one case long ago, I rewound the tape and started it again (the awkwardness of which taught me why tape was never going to replace vinyl; it was too painstaking to cue up one specific song). These days, of course, you don’t have to do anything but push the “back” button on the CD or mp3 player.

But no matter how you get back to them, there are songs that announce themselves with such force and vitality that they bring a moment of stunned silence and require a second playing immediately.

That experience came to mind this morning because of the presence on today’s Baker’s Dozen of “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” from Derek & the Dominos’ classic album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. The first time I heard the Eric Clapton-Bobby Whitlock tune was not, for good or ill, in its original context. I wrote in an earlier post about buying the 1972 compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, a compilation that led me to some of my favorite musicians. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” leads off the last side of that two-record set, and I recall jerking my head up as I heard the churning A-minor to G-major riff, followed by the surge of Whitlock’s organ and the wailing guitar lead.

That certainly wasn’t the first time a song announced itself with such power, but it’s a first listening I recall more clearly than most, and the song and the recording remain a favorite of mine to this day.

There is, of course, another song on Layla that announces itself with anthemic ferocity, but I don’t recall the first time I heard the album’s title song. Most likely it was soon after the album’s release in 1970, when “Layla,” the song, was released as a single but went nowhere. Certainly by the time the single was re-released two years later, it was a familiar piece of music, but familiarity didn’t – and still doesn’t – make the opening any less gripping.

A few others come to mind as well. Not all of them are on the same level as “Layla” or “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” but then, very few songs are. But some of the songs with, to me, memorable introductions are:

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the Bob Dylan tune that comes from his classic Blonde on Blonde album. For some reason, the European edition of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits included this wonderful cut (I never did bother to figure out what recording from the American edition was left off the European version), and when it rolled around on my tape player one evening in Denmark, I sat straight up at the harmonica announcing itself over a rolling accompaniment.

“Question” by the Moody Blues. I love the madly strummed guitars, punctuated as they are by the thrusts of mellotron (I assume) and horns.*

“She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” by Shawn Phillips. Unlike its title, this song – which opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution – proves that less is more. Phillips opens the song almost a capella, with only the distant rumble of (I think) tympani providing an accent. The sound of his voice is so distant as he begins to sing that the ear strains to hear and at the same time, the listener – this listener, anyway – marvels at his audacity in opening an album so quietly. (The song is, I imagine, colloquially known as “Woman.”)

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr has an opening figure that would sound like a fanfare – and almost a clichéd one at that – if it were performed by horns of any sort. On piano, it’s an effective and ear-catching entry to a nicely written and produced piece of popcraft (and it has one hell of a saxophone solo, too, performed by Bobby Keys, who at times seems to spell his last name “Keyes”).

I would guess that at least twenty songs by the Rolling Stones belong in this list. “Satisfaction” would likely be the earliest, although it’s never really grabbed me the way other songs listed here do. “Brown Sugar” starts with a bang, as does (appropriately) “Start Me Up.” For my nickel, though, the most gripping introduction to a Stones’ song comes from the chiming guitar that starts “Gimme Shelter.” Sly, spooky and from another world, the slowly layered introduction is perfect for a song about how the world has begun to fall apart around us and we’ve noticed it far too late.

Well, that’s five in addition to the two from Layla, and that’s likely enough for the day. I imagine that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of two or three others I should have listed instead. But that’s one of the joys of writing about music: Two lists on the same topic compiled at separate moments can be utterly different.

And I’d like to know, what are the intros that grab you? Leave a comment, if you would. And enjoy today’s Baker’s Dozen, our second exploration of the year 1970.

“Old Times, Good Times,” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Factory Band” by Ides of March from Vehicle

“Poor Boy” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later

“Feelin’ Alright” by Lulu from New Routes

“Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen

“You and Me” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Rick Nelson from Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour 1969)

“Sweet Peace Within” by Mylon Lefvre and Broken Heart from Mylon

“That’s A Touch I Like” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester

“Gypsy Queen, Part Two” by Gypsy from Gypsy

“Baby, Take Me In Your Arms” by Jefferson, Janus single 106

“Country Road” by Merry Clayton from Gimme Shelter

Some notes on some of the songs:

“Old Times Good Times” might have showed up on an earlier Baker’s Dozen, but it’s too good a song to click past. It’s from Stills’ first – and best – solo album, and Jimi Hendrix provided the guitar part.

According to All But Forgotten Oldies, Jefferson was the pseudonym for British-born pop star Geoff Turton. Prior to going solo, Turton had been the lead singer for the Rocking Berries, a 1960s British pop group. “Baby Take Me In Your Arms” reached No. 23 in the U.S.

Mylon Lefevre, whose “Sweet Peace Within” shows up here, began his musical career with his family’s Southern Gospel group at the age of 12. His work on Mylon with Broken Heart is among the best of his career although one can make an argument that 1973’s On The Road To Freedom – with British rocker Alvin Lee and a supporting cast of stellar sidemen – was better. Nevertheless, “Sweet Peace Within” is a very nice listen from a performer whose work seems to be forgotten these days.

Merry Clayton’s Gimme Shelter album is legendary, as is her scarifying background vocal on the Rolling Stones’ single of the same name. “Country Road,” written by James Taylor, is the album’s opening song and sets the stage for a spectacular solo debut.

*The mellontron/horns are only on the album version of “Question.” The single version, which I almost certainly heard first, has only strummed guitars and a bit of percussion leading to the vocal.  Note added April 22, 2011.

The Sound Of The Gypsy Queen

April 16, 2011

Originally posted February 8, 2007

“Warr-ning! Warr-ning!” And the drums tumble in, followed by riffing guitars, and then the vocals resume: “Reason escapes me . . . “

So came the sound from the speakers in a Musicland record store in St. Cloud one evening in 1970, haunting and powerful and unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was the sound of Gypsy and “Gypsy Queen, Pt. 1,” the first single of the band’s self-titled debut album. I recall my best buddy and I looking across the store from the record bins where we were, seeing the distinctive cover with its hippie-ish gypsy queen.

We liked the music, and we loved the cover. But it was a double album, and we didn’t like the price. Besides, I had only recently made my way to rock and current pop, and I had a lot of catch-up buying to do. If I bought anything at all that evening, it was almost certainly something by the Beatles, as I was trying to absorb as quickly as I could the years of pop and rock history that my peers had experienced over the past six or so years.

So as the music on Side One of the record rolled, through both parts of “Gypsy Queen,” through “Man of Reason,” “Dream If You Can,” and “Late December,” Rick and I nodded in time to the music, which was as stirring and as inviting as almost any music I’ve ever heard.

And what made it all the more appealing was that the band, Gypsy, was from our own area, the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Gypsy’s story began with a Twin Cities band called the Underbeats, who had a large following in the area and, between 1964 and 1968, had as well as couple of regional singles, released on labels like Garrett and the legendary SOMA, according to a history of the group at . Come 1968, the Underbeats decided to move to California and take a shot at the main stage. They played some club dates, and one night at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip, they got lucky, which is always as important as being good, which the Underbeats were. notes that at the time, “Chicago Transit Authority was the house band at the Whiskey A Go-Go. They had just released their first Columbia record. Looking for a replacement, Whiskey owner Elmer Valentine walked down the street to catch The Underbeats performing at Gazzarri’s. Valentine liked what he saw and offered them the prestigious house band slot at the Whiskey.”

The group performed at the Whiskey for about eight months, playing every night to an audience packed with musicians and decision-makers in the music industry. Advised during that time that the band’s name was dated, the Underbeats conferred and became, at one member’s suggestion, Gypsy. At the same time, recording offers began to take shape, and the band eventually narrowed the field to Atlantic and Metromedia. The band members chose Metromedia, thinking, according to the website account, that they might get lost among other groups at a label as large as Atlantic and that the band would get more attention from a smaller label like Metromedia.

The album was recorded at Devonshire Studios, with all cuts done live, according to notes, with the only outside musicians on the album being string arrangements by Jimmie Haskell on six cuts and some percussion work by Preston Epps, whose single, “Bongo Rock,” had reached the charts in 1959. Although originally planned as a single disc, the band’s work in the studio was prolific enough and good enough that the band and its manager were able to persuade Metromedia to fund a double album, with the budget reaching $45,000, which was pretty good money in 1970.

With the album out, the band toured that summer of 1970, playing both Fillmores, East and West, as well as Winterland in San Francisco and the Atlanta Pop Festival, where Gypsy joined Jimi Hendrix, Mountain and the Allman Brothers Band, among others, to entertain a crowd of about 400,000 people.

But with the record out, the band learned that, despite their hope, the Metromedia label, in band member James Walsh’s words, “didn’t really have the clout to bring the record home when it started to happen.”

There was some airplay of the one single released from the album, “Gypsy Queen, Pt. 1,” b/w “Dead & Gone.” I recall hearing the single numerous times on Twin Cities stations, especially on KQRS, one of the stations with less-rigid programming than those that played Top 40.

The band recorded a second record for Metromedia in 1971, “In The Garden,” and it made the Billboard charts despite, according to, its lack of a hit single. The band moved to RCA for a pair of albums in 1972 and 1973, and in 1978, Walsh put together the James Walsh Gypsy Band for an RCA release. Walsh has also brought some of the original members of the group together with some new musicians for at least two performances in recent years at the Taste of Minnesota festival in St. Paul.

Gypsy, as fondly remembered as it is, and as prized as the group’s records have become to collectors, never quite became the next big thing. That’s no doubt painful and frustrating to those who were there, but it’s also a familiar story in the music business, I would guess. As in any endeavor where fame is one of sought-after outcomes, there are far more that don’t reach the pinnacle than there are those who do. To have fallen short while making the wonderful and sometimes haunting music that Gypsy made was no disgrace.

As for me, I eventually learned all I could absorb about the Beatles and collected all of their albums by the summer of 1972. I also bought stuff by the Rolling Stones, CSNY, the Moody Blues, Mountain, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band and many more artists and groups over the next few years. But for some reason, I forgot about Gypsy and that double album with the striking artwork on it. Finally, in May of 1993, I found it in a used record store in Minneapolis and took it home.

And as the record spun, I closed my eyes and listened once more to that striking first cut: “Warr-ning! Warr-ning!” And just like they had some twenty-three years earlier, the drums tumbled in, and then the guitars, and then, “Reason escapes me . . .”


“Gypsy Queen, Pt. 1” by Gypsy [1970]

“Gypsy Queen, Pt. 2” by Gypsy [1970]

Gypsy – Self-titled [1970]

Gypsy – In the Garden [1971]

Another One About Tomorrow

September 16, 2010

Those who stop by regularly have probably already figured out that this week is not going as I hoped it would. Whatever the weather has been this week, I’ve been under it. And about all I can say today is that I hope to do a post tomorrow that is more substantial than this.

Given that, here’s a tune with a suitable title, though the lyrics may not quite fit. But it’s a fine tune, nevertheless, from a Minnesota band – one I’ve written about before – that should have made it big:

I’ll be back soon, and I hope it’s tomorrow.

Saturday Single No. 182

April 24, 2010

It’s a rainy day. The windows of my study are streaked with the passage of water obeying the law of gravity. In the dining room, the morning newspaper is spread on the table in order to dry a few places that got soaked as it waited for me on the front step.

It’s not raining hard, but it’s supposed to continue for most of the day, and that’s changed our plans. We likely won’t be getting into the garden today.

We spent an hour the other evening staking off our territory for this summer in the community plot and then putting up a short chicken wire fence. It’s still too early to do too much, but the Texas Gal had planned to plant a few seeds this weekend: peas, radishes and maybe cucumbers.

Last weekend, we got a start on the flower beds around the house, putting in some coleus and some petunias, planting some cosmos and marigold seeds and installing a swatch of ground cover called red nancy. It’s been warm most of the week, but there was one morning when temperature hovered near freezing, and the red nancy looks a little bedraggled.

The Texas Gal is anxious to get into the garden and to get the rest of our summer hopes planted: We’ll do tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, broccoli and maybe eggplant, some from seeds and some from plants we set in. Given Minnesota’s northern location, I’ll be reluctant to set any plants in the ground until the middle of May at the very earliest, but I think the Texas Gal may veto that and move earlier than I would.

Even she agrees, however, that the folks from the apartment building next door who put tomato plants into their garden plot this week are on the wrong side of the caution and risk dichotomy. I shrugged. It’s their garden, I thought. Last year, the same folks planted in early May, and I thought they were lucky not to lose anything to a late frost. This year, they’re two weeks earlier than last year, and I think they’ll be very fortunate to come through the next three weeks with their plants intact.

Of course, for all of us, it’s a hobby. Losing a cluster of plants to a late frost would be a disappointment, not the disaster that it might easily have been for our forebears. Having moved our plot to a sunnier location this year, all we’re hoping for is a few more tomatoes and peppers and other vegetables than we had last year. Our lives or livelihoods don’t depend on the success of our garden this year. And – hopes aside – that’s probably a good thing.

So here’s a song whose title, at least, matches up with all of that: From In The Garden [1971], here’s Gypsy with “Here (In the Garden), Parts 1 & 2,” your Saturday Single:

The album is long out-of-print and evidently quite rare on CD. You can find some copies of it here or at GEMM.