Posts Tagged ‘J.J. Cale’

A Bit Of A Viral Delay

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 16, 2009

Well, the Texas Gal pulled three records from the mystery box last evening – actually, she pulled five, and I’ve selected the three that looked in the best shape – and it looks like an interesting mix: some classic country, some 1950s (I think) easy listening and a dose of late 1980s anger from Austin, Texas. But I won’t be researching and posting them today.

In fact, I have a sense that I’ve not going to do much of anything today.

The flu/sore throat virus that’s been pestering the Texas Gal since, oh, last weekend decided during the night that it was restless. Being of expansionist tendencies, it moved to new territory and has settled in my muscles and throat. Beyond one absolutely essential errand, I think that once I finish this necessarily brief post, I’ll be doing very little today. Luckily, I have music – and some recorded television – to ease me through the day.

But as I’m always reluctant to leave this space without some little token or two, here are a few suitable tunes for a day like this:

“Sick and Tired” – Johnny Jenkins from Ton Ton Macoute! (1970)

“I’m My Own Doctor” by Debbie Dovale, Roulette 4543 (1964)
(Thanks to Caesar Tjalbo!)

“Call the Doctor” by J. J. Cale from Natually (1971)

“Country Doctor” by Bruce Hornsby from Hot House (1995)

’Til tomorrow, I hope!

Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ Too Big To Exist?

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 12, 2008

“You’d be surprised with the friends you can buy with small change.” – J. J. Cale

I thought it was worth a few sardonic chuckles during the recent presidential campaign when Joe the Plumber (whose name was not really Joe and who wasn’t a licensed plumber anyway, as I understand it) and other folks on one end of the political spectrum were warning us about the dangers of socialism.

At the very moments we were all being warned about how some folks wanted government to take over our economic futures, our government was already taking over our economic futures. Call it loans, equity positions, shares, bailouts, hot fudge sundaes, whatever you want. The federal government’s intrusion into the private sector – is there really a private sector anymore? – is about as huge as it’s ever been.

I’m not an economist. I’m not a historian. I do read a lot and think at least a little. And as I see corporations continue to line up for government help with their designer hats in their hands, I begin to wonder a few things: First, will that assistance do any good in minimizing the effect of the economic crash that appears to be headed our way? Second, will there be similar assistance for the folks whose assets and liabilities total a lot less but whose economic straits are just as severe (in other words, regular folks, however you want to define them)? And third – and this might be the most important question of the three, rhetorical though it is: If an economic entity can be tagged as “too big to be allowed to fail” because of the damage its failure can do, shouldn’t that be a signal that it’s too big to be allowed to exist in the first place?

I’m not sure about any of that, honestly. I’m just throwing questions out. As the autumn has gone on, I – just like anyone else, I imagine – have absorbed the economic news and tried to learn more. For whatever value the observation may have, I find myself nodding in agreement more and more to the thoughts and writings of two specific individuals whose commentary I read regularly: Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek (and now CNN, too)* and Paul Krugman of Princeton University and the New York Times.

Here’s some music that’s somewhat related to the topic at hand:

“Pawnshop Man” by Copperhead [1973]

“Cash on the Barrelhead” by Joe Nichols & Rhonda Vincent [2003]

“Money Talks” by J. J. Cale with Christine Lakeland [1983]

According to the blog Orexis of Death, Copperhead was a band organized by guitarist John Cipollina after he left Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1970. The group “was signed to a major-label record deal by Clive Davis at Columbia and recorded its debut album, Copperhead, released in the spring of 1973. Unfortunately, Davis was fired from Columbia shortly after the album’s release, an action that doomed any developing band that had been signed under his aegis. The album went nowhere, and when Columbia refused to release their [sic] second album, Copperhead folded.” I like the album, especially “Pawnshop Man,” a lot.

The Joe Nichols/Rhonda Vincent track comes from Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers, a 2003 release that’s well worth picking up

The Cale track comes from Cale’s 1983 album, 8.

*In 2010, Zakaria left Newsweek and became the editor-at-large of Time magazine. Note added September 26, 2011.

My Time In Middle-earth

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

‘Where You Been So Long . . .’

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 6, 2008

I’d seen the record jacket before: A painting of a raccoon sitting contentedly on a stump, front paws holding a walking stick. He wore a fuchsia waistcoat with a striped cravat, and a top hat rested jauntily on his knee. At his feet dozed a hound dog.

As it always had, the jacket caught my attention. (As opposed to the version shown here, the original record jacket had no writing on it, making it much more enigmatic; I could not, sadly, find a good image of that version.) I’m not sure where I was. It might have been Axis, the leather goods and music store in downtown St. Cloud. But wherever I was on that Sunday in March 1973, I knew it was time to buy the record.

In an era known for its extraordinary cover art, the jacket to J. J Cale’s first album, 1971’s Naturally, remains unique, as does Cale’s music, a generally mellow groove of country, blues and folk that slides out of the speakers. It’s an approach that Cale follows to this day, an approach that’s perhaps not worn as well over time as one would like; it can sound repetitious. But in a time when excess volume was a strategy used by many, the self-aware country mellowness of Cale’s first album was a quiet relief and pleasure.

I’d heard some of the album before, of course. A single, “Crazy Mama,” had reached No. 22 on the charts a year earlier, in March 1972. And I’d heard Cale’s slow and bluesy take on “After Midnight” during the hours I’d spent at St. Cloud State’s student radio station. So when I saw Naturally in the used record rack on that Sunday, I took it home. And, as I expected, when I played the entire album, I loved it.

In the years since, Naturally has been one of the albums I’ve frequently turned to when I’ve needed to slow down and shed some of the urgency of life. (There are other albums and artists that do that for me, as well, of course: A few of those artists are Shawn Phillips and Richie Havens, bluegrass and folk singer Kate MacKenzie, alt-country’s Tift Merritt and Ollabelle, a group whose influences wander all over the map; one of its lead singers is Amy Helm, daughter of Levon Helm of The Band.)

So when Cale’s “Crazy Mama” popped up at random on the RealPlayer the other day, I sat back from whatever I was doing and let the music flow through me. As I did, I wondered – as I often do – about cover versions.

It turns out that there are only a few, some of them surprising. Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton included the song on his rootsy 1993 album, Renegade Gentleman. Hurricane Sam, Mac Gayden and the Goshorn Brothers, about all of whom I know very little, have also recorded it. Redbone and Johnny Rivers covered the song in the 1970s, and in 1996, Billy Ray Cyrus included it on his Trail of Tears album.

“Crazy Mama” also showed up in a version by the late Richard Manuel on Whispering Pines: Live at the Gateway 1985, released in 2005. But the version I know best – and like the most – was on High On The Hog, the second album by the 1990s edition of The Band, with original members Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson joined by Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell.

(There is some disagreement about the release date for Naturally, with All-Music Guide listing it as 1971 and various Rolling Stone reference books listing it as 1972. There is no date on the record or its jacket. I’ve gone with 1971.)

J. J. Cale – “Crazy Mama” [1971]

The Band – “Crazy Mama” [1996]

We Write What We Know

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 28, 2007

It was a year ago this week that I got my USB turntable, which means I’ve been involved in this blogging adventure for almost a year now. For about a month after I got the turntable and was happily ripping vinyl to mp3s, I was posting the results only at two bulletin boards I frequent. At the same time, however, I was digging deeper into the music blogs I knew about, and began to think . . .

For a month, I looked carefully at the blogs I visited regularly, trying to figure out if I could find a niche that was uninhabited and assessing how I should present my own commentary. I decided that when I posted full albums, they were going to be almost always out of print or at least hard to get, and when I posted collections of singles, they would mostly be from the years before 1990.

But what was I going to write about? I’ve taught some writing – mostly in the venue of teaching journalism – and I’ve had several friends who have taught college composition and creative writing. And for most of the students involved, the first instruction is to write what you know. And in the context of music, what I knew was what I liked, how the music I liked came to be, and how it was that I came to know about that music in the first place. And that’s what I wrote about, in contexts as varied as the music I listen to.

I wondered sometimes if there was too much of me in my posts, but a comment I received one day from JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, helped me clarify things. JB said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that when he began his blog, he thought that there would be posts so personal that no one save himself would be interested in them. He soon found, he said, that it’s impossible to handicap readers in blogworld: frequently, the posts he thought would be ignored generated traffic and comments, and the posts that he thought would be hot stuff weren’t. He basically told me: Do what you do and let others sort it out.

So I did. And I found myself having more fun than at almost any time in my life.

So, my thanks to JB, and to the other bloggers in my links list, who share their lives and their music in various proportions. With only a few days left in 2007, I’m looking forward to 2008 and to sharing more music. One of my hopes for the year is to get an external hard drive for my music, so I have room to expand and no longer have to go though the process, every six months or so, of deleting about 10,000 MB of music after burning it onto CDs, just to keep a comfortable amount of free space on my internal hard drive.

(One of those humorous laws of human behavior – I forget which one it is – notes that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. I guess that’s true. I guess whiteray’s corollary to that law says: Music always expands to fill the space allotted to it. And thank goodness it does!)

Here are fifteen random stops from the years 1950-1999:

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard
“Traveling Blues” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Think It Over” by Buddy Holly from The Buddy Holly Story, 1959

“ABC” by the Jackson Five, Motown single 1163, 1970

“Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 641, 1970

“Payday” by Mississippi Heat from Handyman, 1999

“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes from Havin’ A Party With Southside Johnny, 1979

“Don’t Take Away My Heaven” by Aaron Neville from The Grand Tour, 1993

“Day is Done” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. single 7279, 1969

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence, 1966

“Another Lonesome Morning” by the Cox Family from Beyond the City, 1995

“Prayer in Open D” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Let Love Carry You Along” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Cocaine” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976

“The Rumor” by The Band from Rock of Ages, 1972

“Nitty Gritty Mississippi” by Jim Dickinson from the Crossroads soundtrack, 1986

A few notes on the songs and the artists:

I’ve mentioned Spencer Bohren here before. He’s good, if not all that well-known, and if you like rootsy music – generally far more rootsy than today’s offering of his work – you’d be doing yourself a huge favor if checked him out. Here’s his website.

Mississippi Heat is a group formed in the Chicago in 1992 with the aim of resurrecting the sounds of 1950s Chicago-style blues. Handyman is the fourth of eight albums the group has issued, and it’s representative of the group’s efforts, which are always listenable and sometimes inspired.

Because of their common place of origin and some common personnel, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will forever be linked in the minds of casual listeners with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. All-Music Guide notes that Johnny and the Jukes are more of a “white R&B horn band in the Memphis Stax Records tradition” than anything like the Boss and his band. Still, the influences are there, especially when Springsteen so frequently provided production assistance and material. The track offered here, for instance, came from the pens of Springsteen and one-time Asbury Juke Steve VanZandt.

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is one of the lesser tracks on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence album, an album put together rapidly in the wake of the radio success of the duo’s single, “The Sound of Silence.” Lesser track or not, it’s still one of my favorite tracks on the album, along with “A Most Peculiar Man” and the lovely “Kathy’s Song.”

The Cox Family hails from Louisiana and has been performing since 1976. In 1990, the group came to the attention of Alison Krauss, who brought the group to Rounder Records, for whom the Cox Family recorded a couple of albums. One of those was Beyond the City, with its combination of neo-folk and progressive bluegrass elements. “Another Lonesome Morning” is pretty representative.

When one hears in these days “Cocaine,” J.J, Cale’s cryptic ode to excess, one realizes how greatly the world has changed in twenty-eight years. A great riff, a great song, yet utterly out of synch with the times, one would think. Oh, the activity is still out there, sure, but we act like we don’t notice, and we don’t sing about it anymore. To steal a line from the late – and mourned – Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 2

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 12, 2007

I’m gonna talk football a little bit today. A while back, I assessed the on-going season of the Minnesota Vikings – a team I’ve rooted for since its inception in 1961 – as pretty dismal. The boys in purple had been thrashed 34-0 by the Green Bay Packers the day before I wrote, an outcome that left many Minnesotans resigned to another season of mediocrity.

Something unforeseen has happened since then. The Vikings have won four games in a row and now have a 7-6 record. Tavaris Jackson, the young quarterback whom I dismissed as being too raw and maybe not being good enough for the pro game is beginning to look like a decent quarterback. I’m even beginning to think that the second-year coach, Brad Childress, might have had an idea of what he was doing all along.

It generally doesn’t take an awful lot for those of us who follow the Vikings to poke our heads out of our burrows with a sense of optimism. I’m being cautious, though, which only makes sense when one is a Vikings fan. After all, the Vikings share the record for the most Super Bowls lost, four, with the Denver Broncos, but the Broncos also have two Super Bowl victories to their credit. And we fans remember the two times we had great teams that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl: in 1975 through a blown call and in 1998 through what I still think was poor coaching. Then add 2000, when a fairly good Vikings team lost what appeared to be a winnable playoff game through what looked to fans like simple disinterest.*

So I’m being careful, at least a little bit, this time. During the successes of the past month, I’ve spend a fair amount of time trying to decide whether the improvement I see in the Vikings is real or whether it’s a confluence of luck and schedule, making the seeming resurgence one of the cosmic jokes that the football gods sometimes play.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know one thing that makes me nervous: People around the National Football League are starting to take the Vikings seriously. Peter King at Sports Illustrated put the Vikings into the seventh slot in his top fifteen this week. I heard someone say on television this week that the Vikings are the kind of team that no other team would want to play in the playoffs right now. And NBC has decided that the game between the Vikings and the Washington Redskins is significant enough to be the Sunday evening game on Dec. 23.

I’d rather no one noticed that the Vikings seem to be turning into a pretty good team. I’d prefer that the Vikes continue to sneak up on people. But visibility and relevance are nice worries to have, as it seemed just a month ago that the last weeks of the season would mean nothing at all here in the Northland. And, given the pleasant anxiety I and the rest of the Purple Faithful are beginning to feel, it seemed only right to share a Baker’s Dozen from 1976, which marked the last time the Vikings went to the Super Bowl.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 2
“You Take My Heart Away” by DeEtta Little & Nelson Pigford from the soundtrack to Rocky

“Jeans On” by David Dundas, Chrysalis single 2094

“Lord Grenville” by Al Stewart from Year of the Cat

“Long May You Run” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run

“Ride Me High” by J. J. Cale from Troubadour

“Show Me The Way” by Peter Frampton from Frampton Comes Alive

“Life Is What You Make It” by Side Effect from What You Need

“Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash” by Ian Thomas from Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash

“Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, RCA single 10827

“Rocky Mountain Music” by Eddie Rabbitt, Elektra single 45315

“Dance the Body Music” by Osibisa from Ojah Awake

“Sheldon Church Yard” by Larry Jon Wilson from Let Me Sing My Song to You

“Tuscumbian Lover” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

“You Take My Heart Away” was used as source music in Rocky. During a love scene between Adrian and Rocky in his apartment, this is the song that’s playing on the radio. It was released as a single (United Artists 941) but didn’t make the Top 40. I think it’s a nice track, but then, I’ve long thought that Bill Conti’s soundtrack to Rocky was one of the better soundtracks ever written.

“Jeans On” is a nice little bit of fluff that provided David Dundas with his only hit. The record reached No. 17 after moving into the Top 40 in late November 1976. I recall hearing it that winter, my first winter on my own, as I lived in an old house without central heat on the north side of St. Cloud. For that reason and no other, the sound of Dundas’ voice gives me chills.

Finding both Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” and Dr. Buzzard’s “Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” in this random list is entirely appropriate. The first of the two went to No. 6 in the spring and was the first of three Top 40 hits for Frampton in 1976. The Dr. Buzzard track hit the Top 40 in December and reached No. 27 in early 1977. A juxtaposition of the two gives one a pretty good idea of the range of sounds on radio that year, as disco was beginning to dance its way into the mainstream.

The title of the Ian Thomas track might need some explanation, though some of this can be inferred from the lyric. The title comes from a phrase used by Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), a singer, comedian and actor whose career began in vaudeville and continued through numerous radio and television shows and movies. Durante invariably closed his radio and television performances with the phrase, “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” He never explained who Mrs. Calabash was, and – having seen Durante on some television shows as a young child – I always thought that was kind of neat and maybe even poignant.

Several of the artists in today’s random selection are pretty obscure. Side Effect was an L.A.-based group that has a lot in common with Earth, Wind & Fire; Osibisa was a group from Ghana that mixed African and Caribbean influences into a fun sound; Larry Jon Wilson was a gritty southern singer-songwriter; and Pete Carr was, among other things, a member of the Hour Glass, Duane and Gregg Allman’s early band, and a well-known session guitarist.

*To that sad litany, Vikings fans can now add the fate of the 2009 team, when an ill-timed penalty for having twelve players in the huddle followed by the interception of an ill-advised pass by quarterback Brett Favre denied the Vikings a chance at a field goal that would have almost certainly put them in the Super Bowl. Note added May 25, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1981

April 30, 2011

Originally posted July 31, 2007

One of the over-used epigrams of the 1960s was the quotation from Plato: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” It seemed hip at the time to envision the structure of society crumbling when faced with the works of the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Rolling Stones (among many, many others). One wonders how the denizens of Woodstock Nation – or Altamont Nation, for those with a darker, more cynical bent – would have fared had the “walls of the city” truly been shaken.

It’s an interesting idea: Had the late 1960s actually been an era of revolution, how would the followers of tie-dyed fashion, the children of the suburbs, have fared in the new society following a true revolution? Probably pretty poorly, I would imagine. The new leaders, those deemed sufficiently pure ideologically, would most likely have found the vast majority of the so-called revolutionaries to be dilettantes at best, bent on changing their personal circumstances rather than the societal structure that gave them generally comfortable lives. I have the mental image of thousands of young people banished to bleak farms in the countryside, undergoing education and orientation to revolutionary ideals as they grow strawberries and potatoes. “This ain’t what I signed up for,” I can hear one or another say. “I just wanted to drop out and find a chick in San Francisco!”

It’s hard to say how close America was to an actual revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One can read the histories and memoirs of the era – Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage comes to mind – and not get a real sense. Despite the forty-year-old regrets on the far left end of the political spectrum and the still-potent rage that resides on the far right, it seems to me that the political upheaval of the times flared out without having much impact. (The civil rights and women’s movements, on the other hand, changed American life immensely, but those are other topics for perhaps other days.)

The real revolution, when it came along, was cultural, and it was in Plato’s “mode of the music.” I’ve seen a number of reviews, analyses and think-pieces in magazines and newspapers over the past couple of years – sorry, but I don’t have specific citations – that indicate that once more an American music form has become the world’s predominant music. Those pieces note that in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, rock ’n’ roll became the world’s music (though rock was recycled for a time through British sensibilities) and the same thing has happened in the last twenty years with hip-hop.

Now, I’m not anything like an expert on hip-hop and its stylistic cousins. I like some of it, have some in the collection, but it’s not my music. I do note its importance, though. And these thoughts about modes changing and the quaking walls of the city came about today because of the last track that came up while I was compiling my random list of thirteen songs from 1981.

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was one of those tracks that changed the music universe and continue to echo into the world at large. In his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul, Dave Marsh puts the track at No. 179 and calls it “the Birth of the Nation” of hip-hop. He also notes, “play this first masterpiece of hip-hop at the crushing volume at which it was intended to be heard and s**t will start shakin’ you never imagined had any wobble in it.”

Marsh goes on to say that “hardly anybody outside the New York City area has ever even heard the damn thing.” That may have been true in 1989, when copyright difficulties – arising from the multitude of clips taken from other performers’ tracks – got in the way of Grandmaster Flash and his colleagues. But if nothing else has, the advent of the ’Net in the [eighteen] years since Marsh wrote has spread “The Adventures . . .” and other, similar, compiled tracks worldwide. So, if one accepts the idea that hip-hop has in the last [twenty-six] years become the soundtrack to the world, the last track on today’s Baker’s Dozen is what the real revolution sounded like when it began.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1981
“Old Photographs” by Jim Capaldi from Let The Thunder Cry

“I Can’t Stand It” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1060

“Fire On The Bayou” by the Neville Brothers from Fiyo On The Bayou

“The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age

“Carry On” by J. J. Cale from Shades

“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks from Belladonna

“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, EMI America single 8079

“Waiting On A Friend” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You

“Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton, Capitol single 4997

“Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Shakedown

“I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)” by Lulu, Alfa single 7006

“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 02536

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Sugar Hill single 577

A few comments on some of the other tracks:

Jim Capaldi’s “Old Photographs” is a beautiful song, tinged with regret the way most memoirs should be. But it’s a long way from the sometimes edgy work Capaldi and his mates in Traffic did once upon a time.

Just like Harry Chapin – whose song “Sequel” showed up here the other week – Dan Fogelberg is a polarizing musician: One either finds his work compelling or finds it overblown. In general, I like it, though I did think that his double album The Innocent Age flirted with lyrical pomposity. Even so, it was musically gorgeous.

If the Gary U.S. Bonds track sounds like Bruce Springsteen, well, there’s a reason. Springsteen and Miami Steve Van Zandt produced the track and a good portion of the album it came from, Dedication. Springsteen’s admiration for Bonds, and his love of Bonds’ early 1960s recordings of “Quarter to Three” and “New Orleans,” is no secret, of course.

I was glad to see “Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band make the random list. St. Cloud has a baseball team in a regional summer college league, the River Bats, and hearing the Cranston track while sipping a cold beverage and taking in the early evening sights of a small baseball park is a fine experience, indeed!

A Baker’s Dozen from 1979

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 14, 2007

When I think back on it, 1979 is another one of those years that kind of blurs around the edges. I was living in Monticello, working at the newspaper there. I was telling stories, finding news, paying bills and building a life. The fact that the life I was building came undone a few years later doesn’t negate the effort or the time invested, or the results at the time.

It was a pretty good time, as I loved what I was doing. But it was a time that – looking back – is indistinct, as if I’m trying to view it through thick glass. A couple of things, work- and news-related, do stand out. Monticello is home to one of the two nuclear power plants in Minnesota, and when one of the two reactors at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant had a partial meltdown that spring, we were presented with our lead story for the next week: How did it happen? Could it happen to the plant here? How does the safety record of the company in Pennsylvania compare to that of the company here? Does the accident make people here more uneasy about nuclear power? And so on.

It was a hard issue to deal with, one that requires a reporter not only to understand a complex technology but also to be able to explain it to his readers in a way that’s easy to read and understand. There’s a thin reporting line between being technically obtuse and condescendingly simple, and that was one of the times when that line was difficult to find. But it was fun.

Fun? It was fun reporting on an accident that – had things gone only a little bit differently in Pennsylvania – could easily have killed or hurt a lot of people?

Well, yeah. Reporting can be an odd business, and I suppose the people who get into it might be – many of them, anyway – a little odd as well. There is a rush that comes along with a big story. Now, I was far removed from Pennsylvania, but it was still a kick to go out and gather and collate and present information about those major events and how they affected those of us in our area. There was a little extra adrenaline rush that week as I and the other members of our small news staff put together several stories about Three Mile Island for the next week’s edition.

That adrenaline rush is a hard thing to explain, except to another reporter/news junkie, and then it needs no explaining. When big things happen, when we cover major stuff, we reporters operate in kind of a duality. In the spring of 1990, when I was editing two weekly newspapers in rural Kansas, a string of tornadoes ripped through our coverage area one night. The next day, I drove from town to town, farm to farm, interviewing people about their fears during the night and seeing their grief in the daylight. I was kind, I was gentle, and the larger part of me, as I recorded their losses and their tears, grieved with them; they were my neighbors. But there was that part of me – and every reporter knows this portion – that was thinking, as I aimed the camera or asked the next question, “Man, what a great story!”

That adrenaline rush was there as I reported and wrote about nuclear power in the spring of 1979, and it was there later that year as truckers around the state, fed up with rising fuel prices, threatened a strike. Our photographer and I, trying to find more truckers to talk to, found ourselves in the midst of a convoy heading down a freeway toward a truckers’ meeting, a meeting at which it was made clear – with many angry faces and a few threats – that we were not welcome. We left, and later that day, as I filled my car at one of the local stations, I sympathized with the truckers. After all, I was paying 79 cents a gallon for gas, and at the time, that was a high price.

It’s not often that the life of a small town intersects with larger events that capture the attention of a state, a nation, the world. Reporters always look for those connections, for they make it easier to tell the stories of all our lives. Reporters, after all, are storytellers

And here are some songs from that year, 1979, when the stories that I told included nuclear power gone wrong and anger on truckers’ faces.

“Sign on the Window” by Jennifer Warnes from Shot Through The Heart

“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman, RSO single 917

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan from Slow Train Coming

“Rise” by Herb Alpert from Rise

“Look Out” by Albert King from Live Wire: Blues Power

“Run for Home” by Lindisfarne from Back and Fourth

“Last Train To London” by Electric Light Orchestra from Discovery

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into the Music

“Half the Way” by Crystal Gayle, Columbia single 11087

“That’s All Right Mama” by Rick Nelson, unreleased remix from Memphis sessions

“Need Your Love So Bad” by the Allman Brothers Band from Enlightened Rogues

“Don’t Cry Sister” by J. J. Cale from 5

A few notes about the songs:

Jennifer Warnes “Sign on the Window” is to my mind one of the finest interpretations of a Bob Dylan song available. The single from Shot Through The Heart was “I Know A Heartache When I See One,” which hit No. 19 on the Top 40 chart and the Top Ten on the country charts. The album didn’t sell well, despite the hot single and strong performances on other cuts, and, according to All-Music Guide, Warnes didn’t release any new material until Famous Blue Raincoat, an album of Leonard Cohen songs, came out in 1987. That was also the year, of course, when Warnes and Bill Medley had a No. 1 hit with “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the film Dirty Dancing.

“Stumblin’ In” was a piece of fluff from Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman that completed the destruction of Quatro’s credibility as a rocker, a process that had begun when she took the role of Leather Tuscadero on the ABC comedy Happy Days two years earlier. I’m not sure how much of a rocker she actually was, although some of her stuff seemed to have some nice crunchy power chords. Anyway, fluff can be successful, and “Stumblin’ In” reached No. 4 early in 1979.

“Gotta Serve Somebody” is what happened when Bob Dylan got religion and believed once again in his songs as agents of change. From the first of Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums (the others were Saved and Shot of Love), “Gotta Serve Somebody” – and the entire Slow Train Coming album, for that matter – also shows what happens when a performer works with a strong cast. In this case, Dylan went to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, brought along Mark Knopfler, bassist Tim Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, and used Barry Beckett on keyboards and the Muscle Shoals Horns.

Herb Alpert’s Rise came out of sessions that were originally intended to present the trumpeter in a disco context. Those sessions did not work – a fact for which I, for one, am grateful – and Alpert turned to other work. The edited version of “Rise” was No. 1 for two weeks that August.

Probably the least-known group or performer on today’s list is Lindisfarne, a British folk-rock group that had several well-regarded albums in the first half of the Seventies. Back and Fourth was the group’s first album on Atco, after time spent at other labels, notably Elektra. It’s a not-bad album, but it doesn’t have quite the British character that informed the group’s earlier albums, especially Fog On The Tyne and Nicely Out Of Tune. AMG says “Run For Home” is “Springsteen-like” and received some FM airplay in the U.S. likely because of that. I don’t recall hearing it back then, but I like the song.

A Baker’s Dozen For Stu

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2007

In my comments about debb johnson and its self-titled album Monday, I mentioned my college friend Stu. Over the years, I’d lost track of him, having last seen him in 1989 and otherwise not having spoken to him since, oh, 1976. I was teaching at a university in North Dakota in 1989, and I visited him and his wife, Nancy, while back in Minnesota during a quarter break.

Last week, when I found the album debb johnson in the stacks, I Googled him and found what looked like a good email address. I shot off a short note and got busy with preparing the album for posting, as well as preparing for my annual hockey day with my trio of friends. (A short note about that: Schultz won for the third year in a row, although I did get one of my teams into the semifinals!) And when I finished posting the album yesterday, I thought about Stu and the email, and I realized that with the generic subject heading of “Hello,” it likely had been caught by his Spam filter.

So I Googled again and came up with a phone number for his office. And he and I spent a delightful twenty minutes or so on the phone, catching up a little bit with news of children, parents and of thirty-one years of living. I explained how he’d come to mind, and he was pleased that his brother-in-law’s music is available again (as limited as the venue might be). I asked if he knew when the album was recorded. He wasn’t sure, but he agreed that my estimate of 1970 was probably pretty accurate. We promised to stay in touch, a promise I intend to keep.

It was wonderful to talk to him. There was no awkwardness, as there sometimes can be when old friends talk for the first time in years. And I thought that to mark that conversation – and what I hope will be a true renewal of a friendship that mattered a great deal to me when I was a much younger man and still does so today – I’d pull this week’s baker’s dozen from the year of 1976, when both of us graduated from St. Cloud State University:

“Beautiful Noise” by Neil Diamond from Beautiful Noise.

“The Final Bell” by Bill Conti from the soundtrack to Rocky.

“Homeward Bound” by Paul Simon & George Harrison on Saturday Night Live, November 20.

“Northbound Bus” by the Flying Burrito Brothers from Airborne.

“The Woman That Got Away” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour.

“Satisfied ’N’ Tickled Too” by Taj Mahal from Satisfied ’N’ Tickled Too.

“12/8 Blues (All The Same)” by the Stills/Young Band from Long May You Run.

“Sand In Your Shoes” by Al Stewart from Year Of The Cat.

“How Deep It Goes” by Heart from Dreamboat Annie.

“Forever Young” by Joan Baez from From Every Stage.

“Come On In My Kitchen” by David Bromberg from How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Til?

“You Can Have My Soul” by Carolyn Franklin from If You Want Me.

“Right Before Your Eyes” by Ian Thomas from Goodnight Mrs. Calabash.

Through The Junkyard Again

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 23, 2007

As I didn’t get a new album posted today, and I wanted to do something, even at this late hour – it’s 11:09 p.m. as I write – I thought I’d so another walk through the junkyard, putting up a list of twenty-five songs selected by using RealPlayer’s random function:

“Heaven/Where True Love Goes” by Yusuf from An Other Cup, 2006.

“In The Beginning” by the Moody Blues from On The Threshold Of A Dream, 1969.

“I Must Be In Love” by the Rutles from The Rutles, 1978.

“Till I See You Again” by Derek & The Dominos from unreleased sessions, 1971.

“Our Very Own” by Nanci Griffith & Keith Carradine from Hearts In Mind, 2005.

“Sugar Blues” by Al Hirt from Cotton Candy, 1962.

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” by Hot Tuna from Splashdown, WQIV-FM, New York
City, 1975.

“Muleskinner Blues” by Tony Rice from Cold On The Shoulder, 1984.

“Big River” by Johnny Cash, Sun single 283, 1957.

“Bound For Glory” by Phil Ochs from All the News That’s Fit To Sing, 1964.

“The Hunter” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Norah Jones, WFUV broadcast, New York City, 2002.

“Crossroader” by Mountain from Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On, 1972.

“When The Battle Is Over” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark, 1970.

“Let Me Do It To You” by J. J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976.

“Miranda” by Fleetwood Mac from Say You Will, 2003.

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Jesse Fuller, live at Newport Folk Festival, 1964.

“Legend In His Time” by Kate Wolf & the Wildwood Flower from Back Roads, 1976.

“Why” by Fleetwood Mac from Mystery To Me, 1973.

“You Got Some Inspiration” by Boz Scaggs from Middle Man, 1980.

“Allt Jag Behöver” by Lisa Nilsson from Himlen Runt Hörnet (Swedish), 1992.

“Something You Can’t Buy” by Rick Nelson from Intakes, 1977.

“Mary & The Soldier” by Lucy Kaplansky from Flesh and Bone, 1996.

“Travelin’ Blues” by Loggins & Messina from Full Sail, 1973.

“Strong Feeling” by Joe Haywood, Front Page single 1000, about 1969.

Once again, nothing from before 1960, and pretty light on R&B. But it gives another pretty good idea of what about ninety minutes of listening brings me.