Posts Tagged ‘Jim Croce’

From The Kiddie Corner Kid

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 6, 2009

It’s a compound word and can be either an adjective or an adverb. But the actual set of words itself comes in several variations: A quick search this morning at Dictionary.com brought me a number of those variations:

Kitty-corner.
Cater-cornered.
Catty-cornered.
Kitty-cornered.

I suppose there are some variations I’ve missed, but they all mean the same, referring to two things placed diagonally. In our neighborhood on Kilian Boulevard thirty-five or more years ago, it was Rick and I who lived kitty-corner to each other. I’ve written frequently of our escapades and our explorations of music, and he’s stopped by on occasion to comment. When he does so, he calls himself the “kiddie corner kid.”

He stopped by and left a note on my New Year’s Eve post, which included my New Year’s Eve lyric, “Twelve O’Clock High.”

The kiddie corner kid wrote:

“I always thought 12 o’clock high was a Gregory Peck WWII airforce movie. Or was it Gregory Peck in that western where the train comes in at 12 o’clock high? I can’t remember, BUT Gregory seems to be intertwined in all.

“Also I have a friend that could put your words to music, he uses this old pump organ in his basement and has a great way with putting musical notes with musical words. (I just can’t make up my mind.)”

I laughed until my eyes watered, but I imagine others read the note and went “Wha?” So a brief explanation might be in order, even though explanations can water down punch lines.

As to the first paragraph, although I’ve used it sparingly in the blog – maybe twice in two years – my first name is in fact Gregory. And yeah, Twelve O’Clock High was a 1949 Air Force film starring Gregory Peck. It also was a television series that ran for three seasons on the American network ABC in the 1960s. And the western Rick referred to was in fact High Noon, but that starred Gary Cooper, not Gregory Peck. I think Rick knew that.

The first paragraph made me smile. The second dissolved me in laughter. The basement in question was at my house, and there was an old pump organ – one my father had bought from his sister – in the corner. The pedals were a little stiff and the bellows a bit wheezy, but they worked. The labels on the stop knobs were printed in a confusing font that I’d call Olde English if the words had been English. The words were Swedish, I think, although they could have been Latin. Either way, they were unintelligible for kids of fifteen. But it didn’t matter; we’d pull out a few of the stops and noodle around on the organ. And one day, we wrote a song: “Can’t Make Up My Mind.”

The music is a pretty standard three-chord romp with a few dips and stops. The lyric, well, we were fifteen, maybe sixteen. “Can’t Make Up My Mind” is the first lyric I’d ever committed to paper. It’s pretty bad.

“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Rick told me last night. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful.”

Well, we can disagree on that. I told him we did better on our next effort, a little Lightfootesque ditty called “Sunday Afternoon.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was all right.”

But with either of those songs – and the few other bits and pieces of songs we put together in those years – the product matters little. It was the process, the time spent together in common effort, that was the seed of the memories that we both cherish. “It’s funny,” he said, “the things that stick with you. I must have gone upstairs at your place for something, because I remember being on the landing, coming down the basement stairs, and hearing you in the basement, working on the song on that old organ.”

It was a good time, even if it wasn’t good music . . . yet.

A Six-Pack of Good Times
“Let The Good Times Roll” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 2047, 1960

“Old Times, Good Times” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills, 1970

“Good Times” by Shelagh McDonald from Stargazer, 1971

“For The Good Times” by Al Green from I’m Still In Love With You, 1972

“A Good Time Man Like Me Ain’t Got No Business (Singin’ The Blues)” by Jim Croce from Life & Times, 1973

“Good Times” by Chic from Risqué, 1979

A few notes:

Based solely on the catalog, “Let The Good Times Roll” was one of Ray Charles’ last singles for Atlantic before he moved to ABC-Paramount. The record didn’t make the Top 40, and it might not be in the top ten percent of Charles’ records, but a performance from Charles that’s less than stellar is, of course, better than a hell of a lot of music.

I’ve posted the Stephen Stills track at least once before, but it’s so good and happens to fit so well into today’s theme. The hit from Stephen Stills was, of course, “Love The One You’re With,” which went to No. 14 as 1970 slid into 1971. I’ve long thought that Stills should have released “Old Times Good Times,” which has Jimi Hendrix playing lead guitar, as a single. Hendrix had died only months before the album and its first single were released, and the single would have been a fitting memorial. But maybe it was too soon.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never before posted anything from Shelagh McDonald, whose story is one of the most fascinating in rock history. The owner of an achingly lovely voice, McDonald, a Scottish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, had released two albums and was on the edge of stardom in Britain when she simply disappeared in 1971. When her music was released on CD in 2005, piquing interest in her tale, she showed up one day in the offices of the Scottish Daily Mail and told her story. That story and her music – collected on Sanctuary Music’s 2005 complilation, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – are both well worth checking out.*

Al Green and Willie Mitchell in the 1970s: One sound, millions of hearts moved.

Chic’s “Good Times” was one of two things: It could have been a call to party now and forever because the world is going to hell and we’re all gonna die. Or it might have been irony, because the times – when it came out – were lots less than good. I don’t know. I likely could dig through some research and make a judgment, but that would be work. So what the hell, let’s dance as the lights fade!

*As it turns out, I had previously posted a track from Shelagh McDonald, but no more than that. I had not previously written about her fascinating story. Note added November 9, 2011.

A Halloween Tale

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2008

The light was dim along the back wall of Little John’s Pub. They faced each other across a table, glasses of dark beer and a pack of cigarettes between them. She drank some beer and then laughed at something he said, peering at him over the top of her glass. Whatever he’d said was unimportant. What mattered during the early evening of October 31, 1974, was the look he saw in her eyes. If it wasn’t yet love, it was something quite close to it.

They were young: He was twenty-one, she was twenty. Still, he’d waited five years to see her eyes regard him like that. He’d been a high school junior, she a sophomore when they’d first met. He’d noticed her right away – she was first-chair violin – during the first orchestra rehearsal of the school year. They became friendly, then friends, but he wanted more. She didn’t, and his devotion – as intense as only a high school junior’s can be – sometimes annoyed her. He eventually had no other choice but to accept her friendship, and when he graduated from high school and went on to college a year before she did, her name went into his internal list of regrets.

After a couple of years of college – and some flirtations whose results came nothing close to what he’d felt for the violinist – he spent a year away. A few months after he returned, a mutual friend reintroduced him to the violinist, whose eyes widened at the change in his appearance; she liked the beard and mustache. And they began to tentatively get to know each other once again.

Little John’s Pub wasn’t crowded that night. Located in a shopping mall about two miles from campus, it wasn’t one of the places where students gathered on Halloween. They’d chosen it partly for that reason; it would be easier to talk at Little John’s than at many other places. And they’d chosen it because in 1974, it was one of the few places in town that served dark beer. She’d never had dark beer and wanted to try it.

She lifted the pitcher and filled her glass, then his. As she did, the jukebox against the wall started up. No one had gone near it, and as the music began – he always noticed music, wherever he was – he thought it odd. The jukebox played two songs and fell silent. He smiled at her, dismissed the phantom of the jukebox, and they continued to talk, maybe of her hopes to study violin in Paris after she graduated, maybe of his thoughts of being a sportscaster.

They’d talked a lot in recent weeks, between classes at the student union, on the telephone and during a quiet Sunday afternoon as they watched a football game in the basement rec room at his home. As the game had worn on, he’d quietly placed his arm around her, gauging her reaction. She’d nestled into his side for the rest of the game. When he took her home that afternoon, they kissed, but it ended awkwardly. “That’s okay,” she said as they laughed. “We’ll learn. We’ve got time.” As he drove home that Sunday, the memory of the kiss and the look he’d seen in her eyes made him happier than he could ever remember.

And, now, as they talked about where they might be in years to come, he saw that same look in her eyes. Even at twenty-one, he knew the odds of their sharing the years were slender. They each had roads in front of them, and no one knew where those roads might turn. But there was a chance, and, as they finished their beers and headed out of the pub for a snack, that was enough.

He looked at her as they stood in the entryway and thought about kissing her, and then again when they got into the car, but he held back. He didn’t want to push things too fast. He’d learned. As they drove off, they found that the earlier mist had thickened into a fog that kept them company as they headed to a truck stop on the east side.

The last thing he remembers from that night is flipping the signal lever down, preparing for a left turn across a highway. He never saw the truck. He survived. She didn’t.

Eventually, he healed physically and emotionally, though the latter took longer than the former. Investigations found no misdeeds, just an accident in the fog. He never was a sportscaster, but he became a writer. The memory of the violinist came along as he fell in love again, several times, and saw those pairings fail. He knew she hadn’t been the love of his life, but it took some time – until midlife – to find the one who was.

Still, we all are made up of those things we cherish, survive and endure, and as each October 31st approaches, he gets a little sad. That’s when he finds his shelter in his Texas Gal’s love. And he never drives after dark on Halloween.

The two songs the jukebox played on its own on that misty night? Here they are:

“Time In A Bottle” by Jim Croce, ABC 11405 [1973]

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seals & Crofts, Warner Bros. 7740 [1973]

Edited slightly on archival posting.

A Baker’s Dozen For The Heartstrings

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 6, 2008

Boy, I gotta pay attention to what I write.

I was wandering through the cyberattic last evening, seeing if any of last spring’s posts needed reviewal or brought up something more to write about. And I found a post in which I listed my three favorite singles.

They were “Summer Rain,” a 1967 single by Johnny Rivers, “We” from Shawn Phillips, released in 1972 , and “Long, Long Time,” Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 minor hit. That was on May 24.

Then, less than three weeks ago, I offered up the Association’s “Cherish” as the perfect pop-rock single.

Now, there may be a difference between a favorite single and “perfect” single, but it would be slight. What the comparison between the two posts means is that I’ve been in the process of refining my views, and when reminded of another possibility – or when recalling something I’ve forgotten for a short time – I can modify my views. For some reason, when I was writing the May post headed by “Summer Rain” – sparked by a discussion at a bulletin board – I didn’t think about “Cherish.”

Why? Because I forgot about it. I wrote the bulletin board post that sparked my post here off the top of my head, and the Association record slipped my mind. But as I look at the four songs in question – the three from the May post and “Cherish,” I realize that they all do come from a list I did put together some time ago, a list of songs guaranteed to tug at my heart. They don’t all have memories of young women attached to them, although some of them do. But every one of them – when it pops up on the radio or the RealPlayer – will make me slow down for a moment or two, during which the bartender of my soul serves me a cup of bittersweet wine.

So, after excluding “Cherish,” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” as I posted both here fairly recently, here are the thirteen best songs remaining on that list:

A Baker’s Dozen for the Heartstrings
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by the Supremes & the Temptations, Motown single 1137, 1968

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread, Elektra single 45701, 1970

“Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol single 2846, 1970

“Hey Tomorrow” by Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, 1972

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, MCA single 40280, 1974

“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise single 0686, 1968

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seal & Crofts, Warner Bros. single 7740, 1973

“We” by Shawn Phillips, A&M single 1402, 1972

“All That Heaven Will Allow” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Cobwebs and Dust” by Gordon Lightfoot from If You Could Read My Mind, 1970

“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

A few notes:

Most of these, I acknowledge, are pop or singer-songwriter stuff, pretty mellow tunes for soul-searching in the dark hours, but the opener, well, even when the performers at Motown were baring their souls, they did so with a groove. The opening drums (has to be Benny Benjamin, I think) and then the low horns, followed by the horn chorus, well, all I can still say, forty years after I first heard it, is wow! My reference books are all packed away, or I’d credit the producer. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t sound light enough for a Smokey Robinson session. Maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland, or possibly even Berry Gordy himself. Anyone out there know? Whoever did it, they got it right.*

Bread recorded “It Don’t Matter To Me” twice. The first version, on the group’s first, self-titled album in 1969, sounds flatter than the single version that was released a year later. That’s likely recording technique instead of performance, and my preference for the single instead of the album track is likely based on familiarity, but the single version does seem the better of the two.

I expect a summons from the Taste Police – a term I’ve borrowed from fellow blogger Any Major Dude – regarding the Newton-John selection. Well, I’m guilty! Cuff me and lead me away! Make me listen to Ambrosia and Air Supply! “I Honestly Love You” is a good song (Peter Allen’s work) and a good recording. And I think it’s by far the best thing Newton-John has recorded in a long and indifferent career.

All of these have lyrics designed to make one sigh or worse, but the best lyric here might be “All That Heaven Will Allow,” with Springsteen’s working man taking us through three uses of the title phrase with three different meanings. A neat trick, and the Boss makes us believe it.

Fleetwood Mac should have had a hit with “Sentimental Lady” when Bare Trees came out in 1972. As it turned out, a remake by writer Bob Welch reached No. 8 in 1977, but the original is by far the better version of the song.

*As it happens, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was not produced by any of those luminaries I mentioned, but by Frank Wilson, about whom I know nothing. Note added and post revised slightly July 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2007

Well, with today’s Baker’s Dozen, we plug a hole in the trail of years that’s been sitting there for a while. We’ve been back as far as 1967 and forward as far as 1979. (We’ll head further yet in either direction, and I imagine we’ll also begin repeating some years; there are plenty of tunes yet to hear.) The entire time, however, I was aware that I hadn’t touched on one of my favorite years: 1973.

Looking back, some years just stand out, poking their heads high above the others in the field of memory. For me, one of the tallest years in that field is 1973. It started during my second year of college, an academic year in which I began to find myself academically, to understand how to study and how to learn in college, skills that, quite honestly, I’d not needed to be able to succeed in high school. Along about the same time, I began to find friends, kindred spirits gathered around a long table at the student union. And I began to prepare myself for an academic year overseas, my junior year in Fredericia, Denmark, beginning that autumn.

My going to Denmark was almost an accident. A friend had seen an announcement in the college newspaper about an informational meeting concerning the planned year in Denmark. She had a commitment that evening and asked me to go and take notes. I went to the meeting and went to Denmark; she didn’t. I say “almost an accident” because there really are no accidents in our lives. We end up where we are supposed to end up, no matter how crooked the path may have been.

I’d never been away from home before, and I spent many nighttime hours that spring and summer sitting at the window of my room, looking out at the empty intersection below, wondering what I would find. And I was still wondering on the eve of my twentieth birthday as I walked away from Rick and my family and boarded a Finnair jet for Copenhagen with more than a hundred others from St. Cloud State.

So what did I find? Well, that’s a book in itself. In fact, one of the projects that captivates me these days is based on my journal of that academic year. I’m transcribing the daily entries and then writing anything else I recall about the day, and much more happened than I wrote down, both small events and large. (I have many of the letters that I wrote home to my family, and those, too, will become part of the project.) As clichéd as it sounds, I began to find myself, began to figure out how I fit into my skin and how I fit into the universe. And as I learned those things, I changed.

We’re all in the process of changing, in tiny increments from day to day. It’s not often any of us get a chance to assess in one moment the change that has accumulated over a longer period of time. So it turned out that one of the most fascinating moments of the entire eight-and-a-half months I was gone took place at the very end, in May 1974, the day I came home. Back in St. Cloud, looking forward to a home-cooked steak dinner (I don’t believe I’d had a beef steak during the entire time I was gone; horse, yes, I think, but no beef), I lugged my two suitcases upstairs, heading to my room.

I stopped in the doorway. There, on the door and the closet door, were my NFL pennants. The walls were decorated with Sports Illustrated covers featuring the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota North Stars and with sports logos of my own design, for teams that existed only in my imagination. And above the bulletin board, in a place of honor, was a large picture of Secretariat blowing the field away in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

I stared at the room, mine for seventeen years. And the thought that came to mind as I set the suitcases down in the doorway, looking at the things that had been so dear to me less than a year earlier, was “That kid didn’t come home.”

And here are some songs from the year that kid left:

“Prairie Lullaby” by Michael Nesmith from Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

“All The Way From Memphis” by Mott the Hoople from Mott

“Your Turn To Cry” by Bettye LaVette from Child of the Seventies

“Six O’Clock” by Ringo Starr from Ringo

“Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band on the Run

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions

“California On My Mind” by Tony Joe White from Home Made Ice Cream

“We Are People” by Oasis from Oasis

“The Wall Song” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“Better Find Jesus” by Mason Proffit from Rockfish Crossing

“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road, Kama Sutra single 569

“Junkman” by Danny O’Keefe from Breezy Stories

“The Hard Way Every Time” by Jim Croce from I Got A Name

Some notes about some of the songs:

“Prairie Lullaby” was the closer to Mike Nesmith’s Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, a stellar country-rock album that’s largely forgotten these days. Nesmith, of course, was one of the Monkees, no doubt the most talented of the four, and the country-rock tone of this 1973 record fits in nicely with most of the work he did after leaving the TV-inspired group.

“All The Way From Memphis” was the crunchy and soaring opener to Mott, Mott the Hoople’s follow-up to All The Young Dudes the year before. As All-Music Guide notes, glam never sounded as much like rock as it did on Mott.

The juxtaposition of two songs by ex-Beatles amused me. The albums they came from, arguably two of the three or four best post-breakup albums by any of the Beatles, were released in December. “Six O’Clock,” from Ringo’s best solo album, was written by McCartney, who plays piano and synthesizer on the song – and adds backing vocals with his wife, Linda – while long-time Beatle pal Klaus Voorman plays bass.

The Oasis of “We Are People” is a one-shot project by Detroit-area musicians Joel Siegel and Sherry Fox, who – along with Richard Hovey – went to San Francisco and managed to talk their ways into the studio where David Crosby was recording his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Stunned and intrigued by the trio’s music, the amused Crosby helped the trio land a contract with Atlantic, but the resulting album never got released. Siegel and Fox recorded Oasis in 1973, but that went nowhere, if it even was released. I’m not certain, as one has to read between the lines in the various accounts of the trio’s experiences. (The trio’s entire output – the Atlantic album, Oasis and various other projects, were finally released in 1993 on Retrospective Dreams, a two-CD set that was, for some reason, limited to only a thousand copies.)

Danny O’Keefe is better known for his 1972 hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” but his Breezy Stories album benefited from assistance from such luminaries as Dr. John, Donny Hathaway, David Bromberg and Cissy Houston, to name the best-known. It was a pretty good piece of pop rock/singer-songwriter work, pretty representative of its time.

Wondering What We Missed

April 20, 2011

Originally posted May 14, 2007

In one of the last Baker’s Dozens I posted here, the final song was “Rock & Roll Heaven” by the Righteous Brothers, the 1974 hit cataloging at least some of those rock and pop performers who died untimely deaths. Even when it came out, I noted that a few names were missing. At the time, simply because her death had been recent, I pondered the absence of Mama Cass Elliot: Didn’t such a stellar band at least need a back-up singer? I wondered at the time whether she’d been blackballed from the heavenly band due to her ignominious end: choking on a ham sandwich. (Turns out that the sandwich story was false; she simply had a heart attack.)

Another name that was missing, of course, was Buddy Holly. Perhaps songwriters Alan O’Day (he of the 1977 hit “Undercover Angel,” I assume) and John Stevenson thought that Buddy had already gotten enough ink from Don McLean’s “American Pie” about three years earlier. Or did they just forget about him? Dunno. Same question comes to mind about Duane Allman and King Curtis.

Anyway, it’s kind of fun, if pointless, to look at the performers whom O’Day and Stevenson did mention in their song and think about what might have been, or at least consider how much we lost: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding, Jim Croce and Bobby Darin.

And I know this is heresy in many quarters, but it seems to me – as I look at that list and think about the music those unfortunates recorded before they crossed over – that the greatest loss among them to popular culture was Jim Croce, whose first album from 1972 is linked below. I can hear the screams already. But in terms of overall songwriting and performing craft, I think that Croce would have continued to thrive for decades, not always on the top of the charts, of course, but as long-lived troubadour-type presence. Part of my thinking might stem from the fact that Croce’s end came to him in a plane crash, something utterly out of his control, while Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison fell almost entirely through their own follies.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not unsympathetic to the burden of dependencies, nor am I unaware of the pressures that came with stardom during that era (pressures that have only increased, I would guess). But the demons that felled those three – Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison – were so much a part of their times and their personal choices that I wonder how anyone could have been surprised when they died. (The same goes, a few years later, for Elvis. Was anyone truly startled when the King left the building?)

And while I believe that Croce still had a lot to say and to sing about, there’s a sense in me – from reading, from listening and from my gut – that Jim Morrison, certainly, didn’t have a lot left to say to us. I’m not so certain that was the case with Hendrix and Joplin, but the shifting landscape of popular music would have – in a very few years – made it more and more difficult for the latter two performers to have their voices heard and their visions attended to.

(I’m not dealing all that much here with the losses of Redding and Darin. Off the top of my head, I think the loss of Redding in his place crash was the second-most grievous. He’d evidently found a new voice, as evidenced by the posthumous success of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” and I imagine that as R&B evolved as it did over the next ten years, Redding would have been changing right along with it. Darin was a chameleon, shifting from traditional pop to swing to novelty to crooning to – finally, a few years before the heart problems that took him – country rock and pop. I love “Mack the Knife,” but, despite Kevin Spacey’s adoring biopic, Darin is a lesser light here.)

I have no doubt that had he survived, Jimi Hendrix would have continued to do extraordinary and revolutionary things on guitar. I’d place him at the top of any list of guitarists in the rock era. But his audience would have splintered: some to R&B, then funk, and on down the road to hip-hop, others toward what critic Dave Marsh called “the long cold winter of arena rock” and to heavy metal. And I think the same splintering, although in other directions, would have happened to Janis’ audience, too, as the Seventies rolled on.

But Jim Croce remains intriguing. A singer-songwriter with some grit and swagger, he would have evolved and adapted, I think – as would have Redding – and remained vital. Maybe Croce would have ended up embracing country music. After all, some of his story songs were only a few production elements away from it. And I can see him in today’s splintered and digitized music world, playing a role not so different from the one Bob Dylan plays today: that of the grizzled elder, reminding those around him that it wasn’t always so simple back then. But then again, it doesn’t have to be so complicated, either.

Damn, I wish we could have seen it.

Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim [1972]