Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Healey Band’

On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

A Landmark In Peril

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 23, 2009

Twice during trips to visit the Texas Gal’s family in the Dallas area, she and I have driven into the heart of downtown Dallas, to a portion of the city whose good days are long gone. There, we’ve visited Park Avenue and the building at 508, where Robert Johnson recorded thirteen tracks over a two-day period in 1937. As well as taking pictures, I’ve stood on the front step, sharing the same space once occupied by both Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton.

The other week, the Texas Gal’s mom and sister sent me a clipping of a story from the Dallas Morning News, detailing the uncertain future of the building at 508 Park Avenue.

(It seems that the links to the images that ran with the story are no longer working. [Nor, for that matter, is the link to the story.] Here’s a photo of the front door of the building that I took on one of our two visits to Park Avenue.)

It would be nice to have the building saved, of course, both for its exterior architecture and for its place in music history. But I’m guessing that won’t happen. In the meantime, here are cover versions of some of the songs Robert Johnson recorded during his two days in Dallas in July of 1937.*

A Six-Pack of 508 Park Avenue
“Stop Breakin’ Down” by the Jeff Healey Band from Cover To Cover [1995]
“Malted Milk” by Eric Clapton from Unplugged [1992]
“Traveling Riverside Blues” by John Hammond from Country Blues [1964]
“Love In Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ [1970]
“Stones In My Passway” by Chris Thomas King from Me, My Guitar and the Blues [1992]
“I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” by Robert Lockwood, Jr. & Carey Bell from Hellhound on My Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson [2000]

*I was too pessimistic, it seems: According to this piece in the January 26, 2012, edition of the Dallas Observer, the building at 508 Park Avenue will be restored and become the site of the Museum of Street Culture. That will include a recording studio on the floor of the building where Robert Johnson and others played, and – according to the January 26, 2012 piece – a memorial of some sort in the corner of that floor where Johnson and other musicians actually sat or stood to record. Note added February 1, 2012

Who Might Rank Among Them?

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2008

I got my new copy of Rolling Stone yesterday, the one that trumpets on its cover the listing inside of the one hundred greatest singers of all time. The cover also bears a picture of Aretha Franklin, who took the top spot on that list of singers.

Now, I love lists of stuff, especially lists relating to music. And Rolling Stone does a lot of them. I could walk across the study and pull from the bookshelf about fifteen editions of the magazine from the last twenty or so years that have a list ranking something in rock ’n’ roll history, whether it’s albums or songs or singles or guitarists or what-have-you. And this list – greatest singers – seems to be a suitable topic.

I haven’t waded my way through the entire one hundred names yet; I’ve read the foreword of the section, looked at the list of the folks who voted and read the entries on the first five singers: Aretha, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. That’s a pretty impressive top five. Maybe not quite as powerful but still impressive were the names of the folks who wrote the short essays about that top five: Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and Jackson Browne. I am looking forward, sometime later today, to sitting down with the magazine and digging into the remaining ninety-five singers on the list.

I suppose I should look ahead and note here which singers rounded out the Top Ten: Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. I could make a number of observations, but I’ll keep still on most of them until I’ve absorbed the entire list. I will make one comment.

The list of voters – made up of musicians, journalists and critics – seems to have been pretty well spread among the generations and sub-genres of rock music. In other words, there was no overloading on any one era or style. And those various voters decided that the ten greatest singers in rock history are seven dead guys and two men and one woman whose greatest work was turned was turned out between thirty and forty years ago. (Some might argue that Dylan’s recent work is among his best; it might be, but still, that hardly dents the point I’m about to make.)

What the Rolling Stone voters are telling us is that not one of the ten greatest singers in rock ’n’ roll history has started his or her career in the years since, oh, 1964 (the year that Redding released his debut album). That’s a remarkable statement, and it’s one for which I don’t seem to have a response. (I’ve been staring at the screen and keyboard for about five minutes trying to find words; they’re not there.)

Now, I love the music of the Sixties and the Seventies. Anyone who stops by here knows that, and it’s an understandable passion: That music is the music of my childhood, youth and young adulthood. But those decades are not the sole source of good music by talented artists. And I think the best thing about lists like the one in the current Rolling Stone is that they start discussions. So I’m going to throw out a question and (with luck and some effort from my readers) we’ll start a discussion here. That question:

Who is the best rock (in all its forms) singer to start his or her career, oh, let’s say, after 1970, and where would that person fall among the top ten anointed by Rolling Stone?

Just so you don’t have go back and pick them out, here are the names of those ten singers again:

Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
Elvis Presley
Sam Cooke
John Lennon
Marvin Gaye
Bob Dylan
Otis Redding
Stevie Wonder
James Brown

And to accompany that, we’ll do a random six-pack of tunes from artists who came along after 1970:

“Rain” by Terence Trent D’Arby from Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, 1987. (Debut album)

“Late In My Bed” by Elizabeth Barraclough from Elizabeth Barraclough, 1978. (Debut album)

“That’s What They Say” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988. (Debut album)

“All I Want Is You” by Roxy Music from Country Life, 1974. (Debut album in 1972)

“Fadeaway” by the BoDeans from Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, 1986. (Debut album)

“Roman” by the Church from Heyday, 1986. (Debut album in 1981)

I don’t think that any of the lead singers there will challenge for that Top Ten list, but Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music might belong in the Top Fifty or so. That’s beside the point, though. This was a random selection of songs.

Again, what I do want to know from readers is: Who, from the artists who came along post-1970, could reasonably be considered for that top ten? Lemme know!

Here & There In Blogword

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 4, 2008

A couple of things to note at blogs in the link list:

At the marvelous blog The “B” Side, Red Kelly continues the remarkable story of the discovery of Lattimore Brown, one of the great but less-heralded R&B singers of the 1960s and 1970s. When you head over to The B Side, make sure you delve back into the beginning of the story, around June 30. That’s when Red told us how Jason Stone, operator of the equally terrific blog Stepfather of Soul, got a note from a nurse at a hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi, telling him that she’d Googled his blog because one of her older patients claimed to be a singer and she was trying to find out who he might be. Turned out he was Lattimore Brown, who was assumed by many to have died sometime during the 1980s. Jason consulted with Red, and Red tells the story from there, a tale that wanders through the world of Southern Soul with some fascinating and startling stops along the way.

It’s everything a music blogger could want: A great story told exceedingly well with marvelous music at its center.

There are a few blogs relatively new to the link list:

Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas tells the tales of two listeners rediscovering vinyl. From the construction of the ultimate sandwich to tales of playing pinball with an Eighties’ icon, the writer at BAIFP seems to find what I have found: While not everything must connect with music, everything can so connect, if one chooses to view and hear the world that way.

Paco Malo, operator of Gold Coast Bluenote, may be a familiar name to readers here, as he’s left several notes to me and to readers in recent months. His own efforts at Gold Coast Bluenote wander between music, film and other outposts of modern pop culture and provide, as good blog posts do, rich grist for the mental mill.

Another blogger who finds multiple connections between music and life is Fusion 45 at the similarly named blog, Fusion45. From a high school crush that to this day brings him a connection to Stevie Nicks to memories of the days in 1973 when folks wandered through his home town of Elmira, New York, en route to Watkins Glen, Fusion 45 brings together memories and music, assessing both lovingly but unsentimentally.

I have a couple of albums in mind for sharing this week, but I didn’t find enough time over the weekend to listen to them as closely as I would like. One of the two will show up later in the week, but for today, well, we haven’t wandered through the junkyard for a while.

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard, 1950-99
“Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

“Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do” by Johnny Bristol from Hang On In There Baby, 1974

“You Did Cut Me” by China Crisis from Flaunt the Imperfection, 1985

“Saved” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2099, 1961

“Morning Will Come” by Spirit from The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, 1970

“Nights Are Lonely” by Emitt Rhodes from Farewell to Paradise, 1973

“Want” by Country Funk from Country Funk, 1970

“Hercules” by Elton John from Honky Chateau, 1972

“Confidence Man” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988

“Centerfield” by John Fogerty, Warner Bros. single 29053, 1985

“Picture Book” by the Kinks from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968

“Fields of Gold” by Sting from Ten Summoner’s Tales, 1995

“When Jesus Left Birmingham” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Book of Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992

“Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” by Country Joe & The Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

A few notes:

I chuckled when “Same Old Lang Syne” popped up. Just last evening, I’d left a note about the song at one of the blogs mentioned above, noting that there is a twinge in my soul whenever I heard the song. I added that I don’t connect with the song any specific individual from my past, so I can only assume that the presence of that twinge means that Dan Fogelberg did his job as writer and performer very well.

After the Johnny Bristol and China Crisis tracks followed Dan Fogelberg, I braced myself for a downer set. The Bristol track is a generally good slice of mid-Seventies soul, although it’s not as good as the title track from the album, which brought Bristol his only hit. China Crisis’ smooth and melancholy “You Did Cut Me” put me in mind of some of Roxy Music’s work ten years earlier.

“Saved” is LaVern Baker’s musical testimony, with a gospel chorus and a big bass drum underlining her tale of how she used to do all that bad stuff but don’t do it no more. Then the saxophone takes a solo, and oh, it sounds sinful and fun. After that, she can sing it all she wants, but the record sounds more sensual than sanctified.

I always thought that when I finally found a good copy of The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus, I’d be so pleased. Well, I wasn’t blown away. My take is that even in 1970, when the listening public was likely a little less discerning than it might be today, it was tough to put together an album that would last. Doing the same thing with a concept album was even tougher.

I recall seeing LPs by Emitt Rhodes in the cutout bins during the mid- to late Seventies. I guess he was supposed by some record company executive to be the next big thing. He wasn’t, although his stuff is listenable if ultimately interchangeable with the work of hundreds of others.

Country Funk isn’t all that countryish or funky, although it makes a better run at the former than the latter, with a sound not that far removed from Buffalo Springfield, at least on “Want.” The track would have been better served had it ended at the 3:00 mark. The disjointed mess that follows might have been funny in 1970, but it just seems self-indulgent now.

The Kinks’ track is far more familiar these days as the background to a camera commercial than as a track from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. The album is worth checking out, although the Kinks’ very British sensibilities have always been a little difficult for this non-Brit to grasp.

‘I Look At The Floor . . .’

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 26, 2008

Heading out to meet the Texas Gal at the mall yesterday afternoon, I found myself grumbling a little as I waited in a long line of cars to cross one of the city’s major roads. Having spent ten years living in the Twin Cities, I shouldn’t complain about St. Cloud traffic; in the metro area, the evening rush hour begins to clog the roads at about four o’clock and does so until long after six.

Here in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I often joke, we have rush minute, with only a few places in the city subject to much congestion. One of them is the intersection I was at yesterday. Moderately annoyed, I pushed the buttons on the radio, running quickly through a few stations before settling on Cities 97.

And then I heard the unmistakable dissonance of “I Want To Tell You,” a George Harrison-penned track from the Beatles’ classic album, Revolver. The light changed, and I crossed the intersection and then wound my way through the parking lot, all the while tapping my hand on the steering wheel in time to the music.

As I did, I wondered: Why play that particular song? It’s not one that ever gets a lot of airtime. You have to dig pretty deep into the Harrison catalog to end up at “I Want To Tell You.” And just before the DJ told me, I realized that it was just past five o’clock, a time when KTCZ plays several tracks by one artist and frequently digs pretty deep into an artist’s catalog. And it hit me at about the same instant that yesterday’s date was February 25. George Harrison would have turned sixty-five yesterday.

I don’t store in my memory a lot of performers’ birthdays. Only two, actually. Harrison’s and Ringo Starr’s (July 7). I know John Lennon was born in October (October 9, but I had to look), and I never can remember when Paul McCartney was born except I know it’s in spring (June 18). And once we’re past the Beatles, the only similar thing I know is that Bob Dylan has a springtime birthday, too (May 24). Beyond that, I’ve never paid attention to birth dates in the music world. (Well, I remember that Louis Armstrong was supposedly born on July 4, 1900.) Does it mean anything that I know two Beatle birthdays and come close on the other two, as well as on Dylan’s? Nothing more, I guess, than that the Beatles and Dylan are important to me and once were so important that I absorbed nearly any detail I could.

I do remember one of Harrison’s birthdays, however, the day he turned twenty-nine, in 1972. At the time, at KVSC, the St. Cloud State radio station, the late night DJ could play full album sides for a couple of hours, from eleven p.m. to one a.m., interrupted only by three-minute news updates at about the forty-minute and eighty-minute mark – in other words, at the points where full albums would end. On February 25, 1972, I was the newsman. I have long since forgotten the DJ’s name, but I recall he was a fan of Iron Butterfly, and he intended to fill his two hours that evening with that group’s music, including two versions of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” one from the studio and the other from a live album.

When I heard his plans, I blinked. And then I pointed out that the first hour of the show was the last hour of Harrison’s birthday. He thought for a second and then agreed that the first hour could be Harrison’s. Once midnight hit, though, it was time for the Butterfly. So he played the first two sides of All Things Must Pass and I did my three-minute newscast. Then he played the third side of the Harrison album, followed by the second side of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, with the members of Iron Butterfly noodling around on the title tune for seventeen minutes. I delivered my second – and final – newscast of the night.

As one might expect, I did no reporting during those hours; I simply pulled off the AP teletype the stories that I thought most interesting. Given my quirky sense of humor, I’m sure both newscasts were at least a little odd. I do recall the DJ laughing at one of the items in my second newscast of the evening. As he chuckled, I got my coat and headed out the door, leaving him to his laughter and his Iron Butterfly.

I thought of all of that in the few moments that I heard the end of “I Want To Tell You” yesterday afternoon. Following that came the thought that I should find a good cover of a Harrison tune for today. So this morning, I began sorting tunes on the RealPlayer. There were plenty to choose from – about sixty covers of Harrison songs, I would guess.

And I decided to take a look at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Besides the various versions from Harrison himself – with the Beatles and as a solo performer – I have three versions of the song, and one of those is McCartney and Eric Clapton teaming up for a performance during the Concert for George in 2002.

According to All-Music Guide, the song has not been covered a great deal. The site lists just about ninety CDs that include the song, and about a third of those are performances by the Beatles and by Harrison. Some interesting names – some familiar, some not – do pop up among the others: The Assembled Multitude (shared here about a year ago), the Brazilian Tropical Orchestra, the Drowners, Peter Frampton, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Kenny Lattimore, Martin Luther “M.L.” McCoy (in the 2007 film Across the Universe), the Munich Symphonic Sound Orchestra, Phish, Kenny Rankin, Todd Rundgren, Toto, Joe Sachse, Rick Wakeman and many more.

As usual, I’ve heard some of those and have not heard many more. But the name I pulled out of the list this morning was that of the Jeff Healey Band. Healey came to prominence in 1988 with the release of See The Light, an impressive debut. The band gained attention, as well, from the fact that Healey is blind and plays his Fender Stratocaster on his lap instead of standing up. In 1990, the group released its second album, Hell to Pay, which, if not quite as impressive, was still considered a solid effort. And it’s on Hell to Pay that Healey and his mates delivered a good version of Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Jeff Healey Band – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” [1990]