Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Rivers’

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

Sir Douglas, Johnny, Flirtations & Waldo

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 5, 2009

I found some interesting stuff at YouTube this morning:

Here’s a video of a live performance of “Mendocino” by the Sir Douglas Quintet. The viewer who posted it simply said it was from 1970. That’s close, but it’s actually from an episode of Playboy After Dark that was taped January 25, 1969. I had an inkling that it was from PAD just from the visual style, but a few glimpses of Barbi Benton throughout the video and the sight of Hugh Hefner dancing with Barbi in the last seconds clinched it.

(The Quintet also performed “She’s About A Mover” on the show. The rest of the show had Dr. George R. Bach, a psychologist who in 1969 published the book Intimate Enemy: How to Fight Fair In Love and Marriage; actor Michael Caine; actress and singer Meredith MacRae, who would perform “Goin’ Out Of My Head;” actor Greg Mullavey, who was in the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice; comedian Mort Sahl; comedian Sammy Shore; and the Clara Ward Singers, who would perform “Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”)

I couldn’t find any video of Johnny Rivers performing “These Are Not My People,” but here’s Rivers doing a pretty decent version of “Secret Agent Man” on a David Letterman episode that looks to have taken place while Letterman was at NBC years ago. (One note at YouTube says this performance was part of the July 19, 1989 episode on NBC. In the absence of anything else, I’ll accept that.)

Although I can’t post it here, I found an interesting video put together for the Flirtations and their hit, “Nothing But A Heartache.”

And I found a video with a very limited visual but an audio track that has Waldo de los Ríos doing for the Fourth Movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the New World” that he did for Mozart in the single I posted Tuesday. It comes from de los Ríos’ 1970 album, Sinfonias.*

Tomorrow, we’ll either dig into the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1977 or else take a look at another album by Jim Horn. In addition, I’m planning to repost a number of albums, based on some request I’ve gotten. If you have any requests, go ahead and leave them, and I’ll put them on the list. This is something I hope to do periodically. (Due to requests from some performers and/or copyright holders, there are some albums I will not repost.)

*The Waldo de los Ríos video posted here is different from the video originally posted. The visuals are less limited but nevertheless are rather odd. Note added March 16, 2012.

Some Tunes From Forty Years Ago

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 4, 20009

It’s one of those days.

I’ll be back with some videos tomorrow, and Friday, we’ll see what the sunrise brings. There will be words and music, I promise.

In the meantime, here’s some tunes – some certainly familiar, some likely not – from this week in 1969.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 8, 1969)
“The Worst That Could Happen” by the Brooklyn Bridge, Buddah 75 (No. 22)
“Cloud Nine” by Mongo Santamaria, Columbia 44740 (No. 32)
“Mendocino” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Smash 2191 (No. 45)
“These Are Not My People” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial 66360 (No. 64)
“Nothing But A Heartache” by the Flirtations, Deram 85038 (No. 93)
“As The Years Go Passing By” by Albert King, Atlantic 2604 (No. 137)

The Brooklyn Bridge was an eleven-member group that I’ve seen called a “horn band.” There were saxophones and a trumpet in the group, but to me the sound isn’t quite what I’d call a horn band. Maybe I need to listen to the group’s entire first album again, see what I hear. Anyway, lead singer Johnny Maestro had found some earlier success with the Crests (seven Top 40 hits including “Sixteen Candles,” which went to No. 2) before fronting the Brooklyn Bridge. “The Worst That Could Happen” went to No. 3.

I’ve posted a couple of Mongo Santamaria tracks before; I find his combination of hit songs – in this case, from the Temptations – and Latin rhythms fascinating. “Cloud Nine” was his second and – as it turned out – last Top 40 hit; it peaked at No. 32. His earlier hit was a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” which had gone to No. 10 in 1963.

“Mendocino” was the third and last Top 40 hit for the Sir Douglas Quintet. It peaked at No. 27, not as good as the group’s first hit, “She’s About A Mover,” which had gone to No. 13 in 1965, but better than second, “The Rains Came,” which stalled at No. 31 in 1966. The quintet’s moving force, Doug Sahm, went on to a long career as a guitarist, composer, arranger, performer and music historian before passing on in 1999.

As far as I can tell, the Johnny Rivers track never appeared on an album, but I could be wrong. Written by Joe South (and included on his great 1968 album, Introspect), the song sounds almost Dylan-esque in its lyric and arrangement. I keep hearing echoes of “Positively Fourth Street” and “Like A Rolling Stone” as I listen, and the arrangement owes a little bit, in spots at least, to Blonde on Blonde. Wherever the inspiration came from, it’s a great song and a great single. Few others heard it that way, and the record peaked at No. 55.

The Flirtations had a fairly long and active recording career in the 1960s and 1970s, according to All-Music Guide. A good deal of their success evidently came in England, where I think they were well-favored (or “well-favoured,” as it would have been) among devotees of the genre tagged Northern Soul and wound up on the Deram label. “Nothing But A Heartache” had some success on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at No. 34 in the U.S. and giving the Flirtations their only Top 40 hit.

“As The Years Go Passing By” is a classic blues song, and Albert King – about as good a bluesman as you could find, especially on guitar – does it well. The song is sometimes credited to King, but its listed composer is Deadric Malone. That turns out to be a pseudonym for blues and R&B producer and writer Don Robey, who founded the Peacock record label in Houston, Texas, and later merged it with Memphis-based Duke Records. King’s version of “As The Years Go Passing By” was pulled from his 1967 album Born Under A Bad Sign, which came from various sessions at Stax with Booker T & the MG’s and the Memphis Horns. The single stayed at No. 132 for two weeks, never even cracking the Hot 100.

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 1977, Vol. 2

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 14, 2008

There’s a framed photo on the wall above my computer that shows my dad and his 1952 Ford. He’s standing in front of the cocoa-brown car, one foot raised onto the bumper; behind him, one can see Centennial Hall, the building at St. Cloud State where he had his office.

The trees in the photo look like they’re starting to turn, so it’s autumn. My dad is nattily dressed in his leisure suit, so it was either 1976 or 1977. (For those who don’t know what a leisure suit looked like, here’s a picture; Dad’s was steel blue; mine was cobalt blue.) I’m going to guess the picture was taken in 1977, not long before one of the saddest days of Dad’s life, the day he finally junked his old Ford.

He paid cash for it in 1952. He told me once how much it had been, but I don’t recall what he said, although the total of $450 keeps tickling at my memory. (Fifteen minutes of ’Net digging brought no answers as to what the price might have been.) And for twelve years, that two-door ’52 Customline – Ford’s mid-range model – was our family car. It took us down to Grandpa’s farm four or five times a year, to the Twin Cities for special shopping trips maybe twice a year and on the occasional summer vacation. It was during one of those vacation trips, somewhere in northern Minnesota, when the car’s odometer turned over. Dad slowed the car to a crawl on a country road, and I recall leaning forward from the back seat, watching as 99,999.9 slowly rolled out of sight, replaced by 00,000.0.

There was nothing all that special about the car, except that I think it was the first new car Dad had ever owned. And as it began to get older, I think it was tough for Dad. In 1964, we got another new car, this time the Ford Custom 500 in a color called Chantilly Beige. And Dad’s ’52 was relegated to lesser duties. He still drove it to work each day and used it for weekend trips to the golf course and the city dump. (We had four large oak trees in our yard, and every autumn, we’d rake up bushels of acorns, which we’d get rid of at the dump. We’d burn the leaves in piles back near the alley, as did everybody else. To this day, when I smell burning leaves, I smell autumn on Kilian Boulevard.)

Eventually, the old Ford began to deteriorate, as all of us and all our possessions are fated to do. Rust ate away at the fenders and the headlight casings. The heater worked intermittently. My sister and I both recall riding in wintertime to St. Cloud State with Dad during our first years of college. “Don’t breathe!” he’d joke as we sat in the cold car, heading down Riverside Drive. “Two people breathing in here fogs up the windshield!”

Both my sister and I, within a year or so after we started college, got our own cars and left Dad to drive the ’52 with an unfogged windshield. But more than the heater began to fail. The radio tuner broke; when it did, the AM radio was tuned to WVAL, the country station in nearby Sauk Rapids, so that was okay. Then, the door latch on the passenger side failed. For a time – I’m not sure how long – Dad continued to drive the car to work, holding the passenger door shut by means of a rope tied to the door handle and pulled across the car to the handle on the driver’s side. I’d left home by the time that process started, and when I rode with Dad to the grocery store one day, I just shook my head and held on to the rope, holding the door next to me closed with all my strength. I never rode in the car again.

Sometime in 1977, Dad accepted the inevitable. He went down to the Ford dealership and got a newer used car, then found a salvage yard to junk the old car. He never talked about it, but I know it had to hurt. And on the wall of the basement rec room, until the day he died, hung the photo of him in his leisure suit and his ’52 Ford in all its rusted glory.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 2
“Home” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff
“Keep On Playin’ That Funky Music” by the Muscle Shoals Horns from Doin’ It To The Bone
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac from Rumours
“The Loneliest of Creatures” by Klaatu from Hope
“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, Arista 0223
“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree 16094
“Cup of Wonder” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood
“Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan from Aja
“Something Better” by Chilliwack from Dreams, Dreams, Dreams
“No More Sad Refrains” by Sandy Denny from Rendezvous
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla 54278
“Hard Times” by Boz Scaggs from Down Two Then Left
“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, RSO 889

A few notes:

Karla Bonoff released a series of very good singer-songwriter albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but she’s perhaps better known as a songwriter. Linda Ronstadt recorded three of Bonoff’s songs – “Lose Again,” “If He’s Ever Near” and “Some to Lay Down Beside Me” – on her 1976 album, Hasten Down the Wind and others over the years. Bonoff’s albums were made with the help of many of the same musicians who worked on Ronstadt’s records and, indeed, on many of the prominent albums recorded in Los Angeles at the time. All of Bonoff’s work is worth checking out.

If 1977 was anyone’s year, it was Fleetwood Mac’s. The new-look Mac – with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on board – saw its second album, Rumours, enter the Top 40 album chart in late February and make its way to No. 1 by the beginning of April. The album would be No. 1 for thirty-one weeks and in the Top 40 for fifty-nine, throwing off four Top Ten singles: “Go Your Own Way” went to No. 10, “Don’t Stop” reached No. 3, “You Make Loving Fun” went to No. 9, and the song listed here, “Dreams,” went to No. 1. Along with being a quick ticket back to 1977, “Dreams” has the added attraction of being a great single, probably the best of the four.

I’d forgotten about Klaatu until Casey, over at The College Crowd Digs Me featured a song by the Canadian group this week. The release of the group’s self-titled album in 1976 spawned rumors that Klaatu was in fact the Beatles reunited. The record and its jacket were examined closely for clues, and Capitol did nothing to tamp down the rumors. When Klaatu turned out to be just Klaatu, the resulting backlash killed any chance the group had. The track here comes from the group’s second album, which wasn’t quite up to the standards of the first but wasn’t bad, either. After three more albums, the group disbanded in 1981.

I’m not all that fond of Jennifer Warnes’ “Right Time of the Night,” but I have to admit it’s got one of the better lines one can find in a song from this era: “Quarter-moon walkin’ through the Milky Way.” My respects to songwriter Pete McCann.

The album Rendezvous was the last work British singer Sandy Denny released before her death in 1978. A little over-produced, the album is not her best work. Even inappropriately framed, however, Denny’s voice and songwriting skills are still evident in “No More Sad Refrains” and other songs from that last album. Those interested are advised to find The North Star Grassman and the Ravens from 1971 or 1973’s Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. For those who want more than that, a good bet is the double CD overview of Denny’s career – including her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay – issued in 2000, which took the title of this track for its own title: No More Sad Refrains.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Trains

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 7, 2008

Almost every night as I went to sleep during my childhood and youth, I’d hear the sound of trains. The tracks sliced through the east side of St. Cloud, with southbound trains heading for the Twin Cities and northbound trains heading for either the nearby passenger terminal or the rail yard across the river on the north side. As the trains neared the intersection with Seventh Street two blocks from our house, the engineers would let loose their horns, and so very often, I’d slide into sleep with the sound of a train and its horn easing my way.

The tracks on the east side back then were part of the Great Northern Railway, built in the late years of the nineteenth century from St. Paul and Duluth across the northern tier of the U.S. to Washington and Oregon. We kids would watch from the schoolyard as the trains roared past, most of the cars bearing the GN logo – a mountain goat standing on a rocky outcrop – and we’d wave as the caboose passed by. More often than not, the railroad men in the caboose would wave back.

(How long has it been since I’ve seen a caboose, much less waved at one? I have no idea, but it’s been years. Their absence isn’t the only change, of course: The railroad, after many mergers, is now called the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Its only business is freight. Amtrak uses the route for its passenger service, which stops here twice a day, heading east to the Twin Cities and Chicago in the early morning and heading west across the plains just after midnight.)

Paul Simon wrote, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance.” I’m not sure about everybody, but it’s true for me, and I imagine for a lot of the kids who grew up within earshot of the tracks on the east side. The Texas Gal and I live about a block from those same tracks, and trains provide a frequent, and pleasant, background sound. (When we’re watching television with the sliding door open, the sound coming across the little meadow can drown out the television; those are moments I’m grateful for the ability to pause the television.)

It’s a little less noisy these days, though: Trains coming through here are no longer allowed to blow their horns. Late last year, the two crossings nearest our home were reconstructed to provide greater safety, and the stretch of tracks through St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids (a smaller city adjacent to St. Cloud on the north) was proclaimed a “no horn” zone. That’s too bad, in a way. The horns could be intrusive, but they were also a part of the background of life here on the east side. Just moments ago, as I was writing this, I heard a faint train horn, maybe from over on the north side, and I realized I’ve missed the sound.

What is it about the sound of a train, with or without its horn? I can’t answer for others, but to me, it’s the sound of exploration and adventure, the sound of another place calling me onward. I’m sublimely happy with where I am in all ways. But when a train comes by, the clatter of its wheels on the track calls me to come away.

I’ve done a very little bit of train travel in the U.S., mostly between St. Cloud and Minot when I was teaching in the North Dakota city twenty years ago. During my nine months in Europe while I was in college, I had a rail pass for two months and logged about 11,000 miles of train travel, from Denmark south as far as Rome and north as far as Narvik, Norway, the farthest point north one could travel on the rail lines in Europe. I suppose it’s the echo of those long-ago adventures I hear when the wheels clatter on the rails.

A Baker’s Dozen of Trains
“Mystery Train” by The Band from Moondog Matinee, 1973

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614, 1961

“Glendale Train” by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage from New Riders Of The Purple Sage, 1971

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250, 1968

“Long Black Train” by Josh Turner from Long Black Train, 2003

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. single 22685, 1989

“Southbound Train” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby, 1973

“When The Train Comes” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Time Run Like A Freight Train” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, 1973/1991

“Last Train To Memphis” by Johnny Rivers from Last Train To Memphis, 1998

“The Blue Train” by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt from Trio II, 1999

“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International single 3524, 1973

“Trains” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

A few notes:

Moondog Matinee was The Band’s salute to vintage rock & roll and R&B. At the time, many listeners perceived it as a stopgap record, but to my mind, it’s a document of where some of The Band’s myriad influences lie. Some of the tracks on the album work better than others, it’s true, and “Mystery Train” might be the best of them all.

I don’t often share songs recorded after 1999, but Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” is so good I have to make an exception. Turner’s deep country voice and the moody backing track make the song sound as if it’s always been around and Turner discovered it in some back-road adventure.

Back in 1989, long after I’d written off Rod Stewart, he came along with “Downtown Train,” his stellar reading of the Tom Waits tune. There’s a nice version of the song by Everything But The Girl on its 1998 album Acoustic, but the Stewart version, I think, is the definitive one.

A while back, I shared “Page 43” from the Graham Nash/David Crosby album. “Southbound Train” is one of the two other superlative tracks from that album (“Immigration Man” is the other.) As I think I said then, of all the sub-combinations to come out of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young conglomeration, the pairing of Nash and Crosby might have been the best.

The Eric Andersen track was supposed to be on his Stages album, recorded in 1973. As I’ve related here before, CBS lost the tapes. Andersen re-recorded the song – and several others from Stages – for 1975’s Be True To You. After the Stages tapes were re-discovered in 1989, the album – with some additional songs – was released in 1991. As good as the 1975 version of “Time Run Like A Freight Train” was – and it is a good one – this version, the original, is much better.

This list is far less random than these usually are. As well as trimming out a few songs that were released after 1999, I skipped over four or five from the 1950s. (Trains were clearly a staple topic of country music then.) I’m glad I did, otherwise “Love Train” might not have made the list. Propulsive, joyous and very much of its time, “Love Train” is a great single.

I’ve read some critics of Al Stewart say that he over-reaches when he takes on history. Maybe, but sometimes he succeeds greatly. “Trains” is one his successes, taking the listener from schoolboy days in post-World War II England to 1990s commuter travel on the American East Coast, with stops along the way at the trenched front of World War I and the haunted rail spurs that brought innocents to their deaths in World War II’s occupied Poland.

When The Radio Station Cleaned House

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 21, 2008

One Monday in the spring of 1991, I came out of a colleague’s office and headed toward the stairs, going back to my own office at Stephens College, a women’s college in Columbia, Missouri, where I was teaching journalism. Along the way, I passed the studios of KWWC-FM, the student-run radio station.

In the hallway in front of the studios was a table with a box on it. The box was full of LPs, and a sign on the front of the box said “Free.” I took a quick look, found what looked like an interesting album by Doug Sahm – Border Wave, credited to the Sir Douglas Quintet – and left the rest of the records for the students. Scanning the jacket, I went up the stairs and back to my office, where I prepared for my next class.

After lunch, I wandered downstairs again, partly to chat with my colleague but also partly to see how many of the LPs remained in the box. I wondered how many of the students who went past the box during the day would be interested in the LPs. Most of the women who attended Stephens, I surmised, had CD players. There might not be a great demand for records. As much as I would like people to appreciate vinyl, I realized that the students’ disinterest could be a good thing for me.

And the box did not seem to have been disturbed since that morning. I sifted through it, grabbed a few more records, including three Johnny Rivers albums and stuff by Keith Carradine, Felix Cavaliere, Kate Taylor and Jackie DeShannon. I also grabbed several albums of what looked like instrumental jazz. Still, I left quite a few things in the box.

A few days passed. I must have gone shopping at one of the few stores in Columbia that still carried new vinyl, for among the items listed on the log for those days are Sinead O’Connor’s I Do No Want What I Haven’t Got and the Traveling Wilburys’ second album.

On Friday, my colleague popped his head into my office on the main floor. “That box of records?” he said. I nodded. “No one else is interested, and I saw you looking. If you want, you may as well grab the whole thing.”

Well. No one ever goes ignored offering me a box of records. I took the box home that evening – I was renting a house from the college no more than a block from my office – and began sorting through it. Gary U.S. Bonds’ On The Line was in there. A live album by King Curtis. Some Laura Nyro and Rick Nelson and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Some people I didn’t know, and a lot more instrumental jazz. I spent a pleasant weekend listening and cataloging records.

About a month later, my colleague stopped in my office again, a box of records in his hands. “We’ve just about finished pulling old stuff from the shelves,” he said, “and you can have these, too.”

I thanked him and, when he had left, sifted through the box. Most of it was more jazz, but there were a couple of records by the Sutherland Brothers, an Ides of March and a Jake Holmes. There was also a record called The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around by the Balkan Rhythm Band. All together, I estimate that I got about sixty to seventy records from the campus radio station that spring

By the time I moved back to Minnesota that summer, I still I had not finished listening to them all. Eventually, I got through them, keeping about half of them. I gave a number of the jazz albums – lots of fusion, which has never grabbed me – to my friend Rob, and I sold a few of those and a few other things at Cheapo’s when I moved to south Minneapolis in early 1992.

I did keep the Balkan Rhythm Band’s record, and maybe someday, just for hoots, I’ll share it here. But today, I’m sharing perhaps the best record I got during that springtime haul: Road by Johnny Rivers. Recorded mostly in Nashville in 1974 – “Sitting in Limbo” and “Breath” were recorded in Muscle Shoals with the help of its famed rhythm section – the album is a sweet slice of music, very much a product of its time.

I would be wrong, I guess, if I classified Road or any of Rivers’ work in the singer-songwriter genre, though that’s the vibe that comes through. Rivers rarely wrote; only one of the songs on Road comes from his pen: “Artists and Poets,” which he co-wrote with Michael Georgiades.

But Rivers’ greatest gift, it seems, was that during those years from, say, 1966 through 1974, he was able to find and record songs that so well fit his persona and his worldview that he made them his own. However you want to catalog it, its fine stuff. (And yes, that’s Linda Ronstadt providing backing vocals on several tracks along the way.)

Track listing:
Lights On The Highway
Wait a Minute
Geronimo’s Cadillac
I Like Your Music
Sitting In Limbo
Six Days On The Road
See You Then
A Good Love Is Like A Good Song
Artists and Poets
Breath

Johnny Rivers – Road [1974]

Note: I’m sharing a vinyl rip I found online instead of my own rip, as it has fewer flaws. My thanks to the original uploader, The World Is Only One.

First Friday: January 1968

June 1, 2011

Originally posted January 4, 2008

(This is the first of what I plan to be monthly posts this year, a series called “First Friday,” looking at that long-ago year of 1968, with an accompanying album from 1968. It would be really cool if the albums end up being posted in their anniversary month, but I doubt that will happen, as I’m not that organized. The albums featured, I hope, won’t be the usual suspects but they won’t be utterly obscure, either, so the series will at times include, no doubt, albums that are in print on CD, which is something I generally try to avoid.)

Looking at the list Wikipedia presents of events that took place in January 1968, one wonders if the year started with a sense of foreboding. Probably not.

We have the advantage of hindsight, of course, so – to take one example – when we see in a list of events the notation, “January 5 – Prague Spring: Alexander Dubček is elected leader of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia,” we know that the Prague Spring, the easing of social and political repression in that small corner of Eastern Europe, was doomed. We remember the news footage from August showing Soviet tanks in Prague and in other cities. We recall the reports of students and other protestors shot or arrested as a new and much more repressive government took over, one whose approach continued for another twenty-one years, until the Communists in Prague fell in the series of mostly peaceful revolutions of 1989-90.

If there was no sense of foreboding, of tense anticipation as the year’s events began to spin out in January, there is now, forty years later, when one reads the list. It reminds me of something film director Alfred Hitchcock said once. He described a scene in which a woman comes in off the street, climbs a staircase and finds a dead body. The best way to show the scene, he said, is not to follow the woman and show her finding the body, but to show the body in its place and show the woman entering the building. Then, Hitchcock said, keep the camera on the street. The audience knows what the woman will find, and the anticipation of her discovery will heighten the tension and horror.

So when one reads the list of the events of January 1968, it’s like watching the first moments of that scene, like we’re watching the world enter the building of 1968. We know the building is full of bodies.

On January 23, North Korea seizes the U.S. ship The Pueblo, claiming that the ship violated its territorial waters, with more than eighty U.S. sailors and officers taken prisoner. The crew was moved twice to POW camps during the ensuing months, and – crewmen said after their release in December – was systematically starved and tortured. That treatment was said to have worsened, Wikipedia notes, when the North Koreans realized that the sailors were flipping the camera off during the taking of propaganda photos.

On January 30, the Tet (or New Year’s) offensive, an attack by the People’s Army of [North] Vietnam and Viet Cong guerillas, began in Vietnam. As I wrote in an earlier post, Americans had been assured time and again by military and political leaders that the opposition was were no longer strong enough to mount major operations. Oops! During the Tet offensive, some of the fighting took place on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in the city that was then called Saigon.

It was not an auspicious start to the new year. There were, of course, some more pleasant events during the month. The NBC network aired the premiere of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Johnny Cash recorded his live album, At Folsom Prison. In Super Bowl III on January 12, the New York Jets, in what has been described as one of the two most important professional football games ever played (the 1958 NFL title game is the other), defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7.

And when one listened to the radio, one heard, among others:

“Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” by the Foundations
“Bottle of Wine” by the Fireballs
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” by Boyce & Hart
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Monterey” by Eric Burdon & the Animals
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“Some Velvet Morning” by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood
“Sunday Mornin’” by Spanky & Our Gang

For this initial First Friday post, I decided to start the year with an album that ranks high on my list of albums all-time, not just in 1968: Realization by Johnny Rivers.

While the album’s single, “Summer Rain” is well-known – it went to No. 14 during the winter of 1968-69 – and is a great song, it’s quite likely not the best track on the album. The entire album is full of sparkling performances, but if I had to select three that stand above the rest, I’d go with “Look To Your Soul,” written by James Hendricks (who also wrote “Summer Rain”), “Brother, Where Are You,” written by Oscar Brown, and Rivers’ own composition, “Going Back to Big Sur.”

It’s difficult, though, to separate out those tracks, as the entire album is truly great. Among the eye-openers are three covers: The album’s first track, “Hey Joe,” credited here to William M. Roberts and Rivers; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” released only a year earlier by Procol Harum; and Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”

Personnel on the record included Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, James Burton on guitar, James Hendricks on rhythm guitar, Joe Osborn on guitar and bass and Marty Paitch in charge of the strings and the horns. Rivers produced the album.

As so many of the songs on the album blend into the next song, I’ve ripped the album as two long mp3s, one for Side One and the other for Side Two, representing how the album sounded on vinyl.

Tracks, Side One:
Hey Joe
Look To Your Soul
The Way We Live
Summer Rain
Whiter Shade of Pale

Tracks, Side Two:
Brother, Where Are You
Something Strange
What’s The Difference
Going Back To Big Sur
Positively 4th Street

Johnny Rivers – Realization [1968]

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone

May 20, 2011

Originally posted November 14, 2007

Everyone – more than once in their working lives, I imagine – has had a job assignment during which they look at their co-workers and ask, “Why are we doing this?”

And the answer comes back, “Because the boss wants it done.”

My first brush with that sort of assignment came mid-way through college, during the spring and summer of 1973. I’d been working at the St. Cloud State library – called the Learning Resources Center – since the fall before. I generally worked in the equipment distribution center on the first floor, but during breaks, I was often handed special assignments.

On the first Monday of spring break, my dad – the Assistant Dean of Learning Resources – assigned one of those special tasks to me and another student, a project on which we would spend our time for a week and a half. Dad showed us a reel-to reel videotape recorder (the height of technology in 1973). In particular, he pointed out the two-inch yellow letters that said “LRS,” letters that had been spray-painted on the recorder in the library’s receiving room and which stood for “Learning Resources Services.”

Dad handed us boxes of spray paint, nine cans of black and nine of white, and we each got two stencils – one of a rectangle about five inches wide and a little more than two inches high, and the other of the letters “LRS” about an inch high. Our job, he told us, was to go out on to the campus and systematically find every piece of equipment that belonged to Learning Resources: video recorders, television monitors, film projectors, slide projectors, tape recorders, record players, wheeled carts and more. On every piece of equipment we found, we were to paint a black rectangle over the two-inch yellow letters and then, when the black paint had dried, paint in white on the rectangle the smaller “LRS” in white.

We stared at him, probably with the look of people who have been smacked in the foreheads with billy clubs. As I processed the idea of what we had been assigned to do, two things came to mind. First, I had no idea how many pieces of audio-visual equipment there were on campus, but it was a lot. (Actually, it was about 17,000, as I learned two years later when my friend Murl and I headed up a campus-wide inventory during the summer we moved the house.) Second, as the scope of the project set in, the question “Why?” came to mind.

Dad had anticipated the realization and the question. He suggested we start with Stewart Hall, one of the main classroom buildings on campus, and then he said, “There is a lot of stuff out there, but you should be able to get to it all during the summer.”

I nodded, still a little stunned. “But why?” I finally asked.

He hesitated, chewed his cheek a little. “Because the dean wants it done,” he finally said. “So you’d better head to Stewart Hall.”

At home that evening, Dad told me that the dean had never liked the yellow color used to mark Learning Resources’ equipment, a hue in use for the three years the department had been in its new building. And, Dad said, the dean – a long-time family friend – had never cared for the font used for the stencil for those two-inch high letters. “He thinks the letters look ugly,” Dad said, shaking his head a little.

I offered the opinion that a black five-inch by two-inch box with smaller white letters would look pretty ugly, too, and Dad nodded. “Sometimes,” he told me, “you just do what the boss wants you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense.”

So for that spring break and then for twenty hours a week that summer, my colleague and I – augmented once the summer sessions started with a few other workers – worked our way across campus, poking our heads into classrooms, rummaging through closets in departmental offices and asking secretaries to let us into faculty offices, seeking out and painting over those yellow letters wherever we could find them. It wasn’t awful work, except when we had to work in smaller closets and the paint fumes got a bit thick. And the fellow I was working with – whose name has disappeared in the fog of years – was pleasant enough, a music fan like me, so we passed a lot of the time with good conversation.

One day during spring break, we decided to head to a local drive-in to grab some burgers for lunch and then head to his place, as he had an album he wanted me to hear. So as we ate, he cued up a song, and I heard one of the best things I’d heard in a long time, by a duo that was completely new to me. It was Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone,” off of their album, Abandoned Luncheonette. I loved it.

“A friend of mine told me about it,” my co-worker told me, “and it took me a long time to find the record. It’s pretty obscure.”

That wouldn’t be the case for long. In 1974, “She’s Gone” was released as a single and only reached No. 60, but in 1976, a re-released “She’s Gone” would go to No. 7, and Abandoned Luncheonette would find its way to No. 33 on the album chart, launching Hall & Oates’ long stay in the spotlight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973

“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Real Real Gone” by Van Morrison from Enlightenment, 1990

“Goin’ Gone” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“My Baby’s Gone” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, Juneteenth Festival, Houston, Texas, June 19, 1979

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” by Arlo Guthrie from Precious Friend, 1982

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66133, 1965

“Gone Again” by Fred Neil from Bleecker & MacDougal, 1965

“Going, Going, Gone” by Bob Dylan from Planet Waves, 1974

“Now You’re Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs, 1969

“After the Love Is Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 11033, 1979

“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” by Chilliwack. Millennium single 11813, 1981

“Too Soon Gone” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

A few notes on some of the songs:

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone” may be the best song on this list. The eerie and foreboding piece was David Crosby’s reaction to the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy.

My, but Lou Ann Barton can sing. And with Stevie Ray Vaughan helping, her 1979 rendition of “My Baby’s Gone” becomes downright incendiary. Three years later, Barton headed to Muscle Shoals to record her first album, one of only five she’s released, including a 1990 CD recorded with Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli. Any of them are worth seeking out.

Fred Neil was one of the more gifted songwriters and performers in the Greenwich Village scene during the early to mid-1960s, but his greatest claim to fame is the authorship of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” used as a theme in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. Never a prolific artist, Neil retreated to Florida in the late 1960s and released only a live album in 1971 after that. He died of cancer in 2001. All-Music Guide calls the album Bleeker & MacDougal “one of the best efforts from the era in which folk was just beginning its transition to folk-rock.”

“Going, Going, Gone” is one of the better moments from Dylan’s Planet Waves album, the first release that had Dylan backed by The Band. (The double album The Basement Tapes, compiled from recordings done during the mid-1960s in Woodstock, New York, would come out in 1975.) Planet Waves is a muted album, showing none of the fiery interplay that listeners anticipated in a record released just ahead of Dylan’s 1974 tour with The Band, his first tour in some years. (The fiery interplay showed itself on the tour, as a listen to Before the Floor will bear out.)

Jericho was the first album released in the 1990s after Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson reconstituted the band with some new players. The abject “Too Soon Gone,” written by Jules Shear and Stan Szelest, is almost certainly a meditation on the 1989 suicide of original member Richard Manuel.

Deletions & Johnny Rivers

May 18, 2011

Originally posted November 2, 2007

I have no tales to tell today. Well, I have them, but I don’t have time to tell them, as some family business will pull me away from the keyboard very shortly.

In the meantime, I guess I should mention that I’ve noticed that four recently uploaded albums have been deleted from Zshare. I’ve gotten no notice of any complaints. Two of the four albums have never been released on CD. One is available now as part of a limited box set. And the fourth may be available, but on such a limited basis that it could just as well be out of print.

In my recent wanderings through music blogs, I’ve recently noticed a fair number of deletions being reported by bloggers. A year ago, when I began to look closely at music blogs as I contemplated starting my own, the same thing was happening, and a few of my early uploads were deleted from Rapidshare. I imagine the same thing is happening again, with evidently wider targets, instigated by someone who has too much time on his or her hands.

Anyway, my listening in the past few weeks has included Johnny Rivers’ Changes, the 1966 album that to my ears kicked off his great run of albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From Changes through 1971’s Home Grown, Rivers tapped into the sense of the era and – using a host of top L.A. session talents – put out some remarkable work. To me, the peak was 1968’s Realization, but Rewind (1967) and Slim Slo Slider (1970) are also great listens. So, too, is The Road, from 1974, which – although separated from the others by a few lesser records – has a similar sensibility to those records from 1966 through 1971.

So here’s Johnny Rivers’ 1966 album, Changes (Imperial LP- 12334), which as far as I can tell, has been released on CD only as part of a two-fer (with Johnny Rivers in Action!), available as an import here in the U.S.

(My thanks to the original uploader, Freemusic07. Come Monday, I plan to get back to my pile to vinyl and offer some rips from my library in the next few weeks.)

Track Listing
By the Time I Get To Phoenix
A Taste Of Honey
Days Of Wine and Roses
California Dreamin’
Do You Wanna Dance?
Cast Your Fate To the Wind
Poor Side Of Town
If I Were a Carpenter
Softly As I Leave You
The Shadow Of Your Smile
Strangers In The Night
Getting Ready For Tomorrow

Johnny Rivers – Changes [1966]