Posts Tagged ‘Jimmie Spheeris’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1984

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 19, 2007

Well, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984 here in Minnesota.

Oh, not George Orwell’s 1984, although I could chatter politics for some time and I do have my societal concerns. No, the 1984 I have in mind is Les Steckel’s 1984.

“Les Who?” I hear many of you mutter out there in the cyberworld. ”What record did he release? Did it make the Top 40?”

I’ve mentioned at times my passion for spectator sports. I follow most of the major sports fairly closely, with the exception of professional basketball. I watch a little of that, but not nearly with the regularity or interest with which I follow baseball, football and hockey. Of them all, my favorite sport and team – as measured by the emotional impact of the team’s performance – is professional football and the Minnesota Vikings. And as we sit just past the middle of September, with the autumnal equinox four days away, the NFL season is two games old, and it feels like 1984.

That was the year that Les Steckel took over for the retired Bud Grant as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and promptly led the Vikings to a 3-13 record. It wasn’t the worst season in the team’s history; in 1962, the team’s second season, was a hair worse at 2-11-1. And the uninspiring performance of the team in its first two games this season and the seeming disconnect from reality of the coaching staff (insisting on starting a second-year quarterback who is clearly not capable, right now, of playing that key position well enough to win) leaves me feeling like it’s 1984 all over again. I may be wrong, and I’d like to be wrong. But I think it’s going to be a long season here in the land of longboats and horns.

Luckily for me, in 1984, I was unable to see the vast majority of the Vikings’ games, as I was in graduate school in Missouri. That means that I watched the St. Louis Cardinals (still a few years from their flight to the Arizona desert), who were 9-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 8-8. The only Vikings game I saw all season was their 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay in early November when I was visiting some friends in northwestern Iowa.

Other than the Vikings’ performance, 1984 was a pretty good year. Grad school was fun and challenging, and I had a good nucleus of friends with whom to spend the free time I had. Nothing particularly stands out about the year, which is good, in retrospect. It was a quiet time. One thing I do recall is my stunned admiration in January when Apple announced the introduction of the Macintosh with a legendary commercial during the Super Bowl.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from a quiet year:

“Valotte” by Julian Lennon, Atlantic single 89609

“Countdown to Love” by Greg Phillinganes from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Crow Jane” by Sonny Terry from Whoopin’

“Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Columbia single 04715

“Jungle Sweep” by Jimmie Spheeris from Spheeris

“Daddy Said” by Nanci Griffith from Once In A Very Blue Moon

“We Belong” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 42826

“On the Wings of a Nightingale” by the Everly Brothers, Mercury single 880213

“Bobby Jean” by Bruce Springsteen from Born in the U.S.A.

“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan from Real Live

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141

“If This Is It” by Huey Lewis & the News, Chrysalis single 4283

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Julian Lennon single isn’t much of a record to me, even though it reached No. 9 on the charts; I preferred his “Much Too Late For Goodbye,” which went to No. 5 early in 1985. As far as Julian himself goes, I tend to agree with the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which notes that the younger Lennon should be “commended for daring even to whisper after the echo of his formidable father.”

At the time Streets of Fire came out, I was writing occasional movie reviews for the Columbia Missourian, and I gave the film a pretty good review, based partly on the film itself and partly on the music. I looked at the movie a few years ago, and it has not aged well; it seems silly now. But the music is still pretty good, if maybe not to everyone’s taste. The Greg Phillinganes track, “Countdown to Love,” is a sprightly doo-woppy piece, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” was one of two bombastic Jim Steinman productions used in the movie, kind of a Great Wall of Sound production that featured, among others, Roy Bittan of the E Street Band on piano. Overblown, yes, but fun.

“Jungle Sweep” is from the album that Jimmie Spheeris completed work on hours before he was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 1984. It was released by Sony in 2000 but was pulled back by the company shortly after that.

The Everly Brothers’ track was the single from their album EB ’84, a pretty good reunion album. The single was written and produced by Paul McCartney.

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Jimmie’s Dragon Still Dances

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 21, 2007

If you own a Jimmie Spheeris CD, you’re in a very exclusive club.

Actually, if you own any recordings by Jimmie Spheeris – vinyl, cassette or CD – you’re in a pretty exclusive club. Spheeris is one of those performers from the late 1960s and early 1970s who didn’t sell a lot of records but whose listeners were certain that his recordings were bound to last forever. I hesitate to say the Jimmie lovers reached a cult-like status, but I think it’s fair to say that although Spheeris might not have reached a lot of people with his music, he connected on a very deep level with those he did reach.

How obscure is he? Well, I’d guess I’m very well acquainted with the world of pop and rock from the years 1966 through 1975, and I’d never heard of him, at least not until I was rummaging through the used records at a south Minneapolis music store in 1999. I came across The Original Tap Dancing Kid, with a photo of Spheeris on the front cover that made the record just scream “California post-hippie singer-songwriter vibe inside!”

That vibe happens to be one of my larger weaknesses, so I grabbed the record for $2.95, went home and found my judgment to be correct: California post-hippie singer-songwriter! But I liked it, so I logged it and put it in the stacks. Over the next few years, I gathered in three other Spheeris LPs: Isle of View, The Dragon Is Dancing and Ports Of The Heart. I liked them all, but I listen to a lot of obscure music, so I didn’t think about Jimmie Spheeris too often.

Lots of people do. One of the things the Internet has done, of course, is make it possible for people to connect with like-minded people all over the world. Sometimes, that’s not a good thing, as we occasionally hear and read about in the news. Most of the time, it’s pretty cool. And for followers of Jimmie Spheeris, I gather it’s way way cool. As have other groups, the Jimmies, as I shall call them – and I’m not making fun of them in any way, just observing; after all, I happen to be a Phillipian, one of the followers of Shawn Phillips – the Jimmies found each other in chat rooms and on websites, most importantly on the very impressive fan website devoted to Jimmie and his works at http://www.jimmiespheeris.com/

Spheeris – born Nov. 5, 1949 – released his first album, Isle of View, on Columbia in 1971. All-Music Guide makes the judgment I was reluctant to make, noting that the record “made him the subject of a rabid cult following.” His 1973 release of The Original Tap Dancing Kid boosted his fan base. He released The Dragon Is Dancing in 1975 and Ports Of The Heart in 1976. And that was it for a long time. Finally, in 1984, Spheeris went back into the studio and recorded an album known simply as Spheeris. Sadly, he was killed by a dunk driver on July 4, 1984, just hours after finishing work on the record.

Fan demand – made more intense, I surmise, by their gathering on the ’Net – persuaded Sony to authorize CD releases of Spheeris’ works, with his four albums of the 1970s joined by Spheeris from 1984 and a live recording of a 1976 concert in Willimantic, Connecticut.  Isle of View was released on the Rain label in 1997, which also released The Dragon Is Dancing in 1998, An Evening With Jimmie Spheeris (the live album) in 1999, and The Original Tap Dancing Kid, Ports Of The Heart and Spheeris in 2000. Just as suddenly, however, Sony withdrew its permission, and the CDs went out of print.

The CDs are prime collectors items, with Isle Of View being listed by more than one merchant at the music clearinghouse, www.gemm.com, for more than $300. The others are listed there at prices that range from just more than $20 to more than $75. The prices quoted at Amazon run in about the same range.

If our culture measures the intrinsic value of things by the prices we put on them, then Spheeris’ music is considered extraordinary stuff. There’s no doubt that it’s good, both musically and lyrically. His four albums from the 1970s are pleasures (I have no way to judge 1984’s Spheeris or the live recording). Would I pay even $30 for one of his CDs? Probably not, but then I might do that – likely will sometime soon – for a Shawn Phillips CD. It all goes back to finding the music that moves you and figuring out what its value is. And the fans of Spheeris have spoken loudly.

Actually, Shawn Phillips is not a bad comparison. As I ripped The Dragon Is Dancing this morning, there were moments when Spheeris’ work seemed of a piece with Phillips’ – odd misty melodies topped with poetic and sometimes cryptic lyrics adding up to a lush romanticism that one almost never hears anymore.

I selected The Dragon Is Dancing almost at random from the four LPs. It’s got a few more pops and cracks than the vinyl I normally post here, but it’s listenable enough to at least give you a taste of Jimmie Spheeris’ music.

A note: At those places where one track led directly into the next with no silence, I combined those tracks. As a result, an album that has twelve songs listed ends up having only seven tracks.

Jimmie Spheeris – The Dragon Is Dancing [1975]

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!