Posts Tagged ‘Kingston Trio’

‘You’re Never Too Old To Change The World . . .’

January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger passed away yesterday. His story is well told in today’s edition of the New York Times (and told in great detail at Wikipedia), and I thought that instead of trying (and failing) to tell the whole story this morning, I’d just share a few moments of Seeger’s musical life and heritage.

Seeger was a founding member of the Weavers, the early 1950s folk group that had a No. 1 hit with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and was blacklisted for its liberal leanings during the 1950s Red Scare. This is the Weavers’ 1950 recording of “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” written by Seeger and fellow Weaver Lee Hayes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Seeger was considered by many to be a dangerous man. As Wikipedia relates, “In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government. Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled. In February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.”

Seeger’s songs and music were without doubt popular and important far beyond the reach of radio and pop music. Still, in the 1960s, a few of his songs provided hits. “If I Had A Hammer” was a hit for both Trini Lopez (No. 3, 1963) and Peter, Paul & Mary (No. 10, 1962). (It’s likely, for what it may matter, that Lopez’ version of the song is the first Pete Seeger song I ever heard, as a copy of Lopez’ single came home with my sister one day in one of those record store grab bags of ten singles for a dollar. I still have the single, with “Unchain My Heart” on the flipside.) The Byrds (No. 1, 1965) and Judy Collins (No. 69, 1969) reached the charts with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” And “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was a hit for the Kingston Trio (No. 21, 1962) and Johnny Rivers (No. 26, 1965), while a version by guitarist Wes Montgomery bubbled under the chart (No. 119, 1969).

Perhaps the greatest attention Seeger got in the 1960s was when he was scheduled to perform his Vietnam allegory, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” on the CBS television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, in September 1967. Wikipedia notes, “Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers’ Brothers show in the following January.” Here’s that January 1968 performance:

This morning, after I heard the news of Seeger’s passing, I dug around at YouTube for something different to post at Facebook. I came across a mini-documentary detailing how Seeger came to recite Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” for the 2012 collection Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. It’s a piece that tells as much about Seeger as it does about the recording he was invited to make. I was especially moved at the end of the piece when one of the Rivertown Kids, the Seeger-organized choir of young people involved in the recording, seemed to sum up Seeger’s life about as well as can be done: “You’re never too old the change the world.”

‘Black’

December 11, 2013

As we continue Floyd’s Prism and look for six good tracks with the word “black” in their titles, we have lots of material to work with, as a search through the more than 72,000 mp3s on the digital shelves brings up a total of 665 results. There is, however, the normal winnowing that takes place.

Whole albums (except the occasional title track) must go, including three albums titled Black & White, one each from Tony Joe White (1969), the Pointer Sisters (1981) and the BoDeans (1991). We also lose, among others, Black Cadillac by Rosanne Cash (2006), Black Cat Oil by Delta Moon (2012), Black Eyed Man by the Cowboy Junkies (1992), Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971), Long Black Train by Josh Turner (2003), Long Black Veil by the Chieftans (1995), Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin (1972), and the soundtracks to the films Black Swan, Black Snake Moan and The Black Dahlia.

Three singles on the Black & White label are cast aside, two by T-Bone Walker and one by Ivie Anderson & Her All Stars. Single tracks from two albums titled Black & Blue go by the wayside; the albums came from Lou Rawls in 1963 and the Rolling Stones in 1976. I have two tracks that Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull recorded in the 1920s for the Black Patti label; those are set aside. One track each from Ruby Andrews’ 1972 album Black Ruby and XTC’s 1980 effort Black Sea miss the cut, too. One of my favorite Danish tracks, “Mød Mig I Mørket” (which translates to “Meet Me In The Dark”) came from Malurt’s 1982 release Black-out, so that goes away, too. And we lose the great “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters on the Black Swan label.

Groups and performers must be winnowed as well. We lose, among others, the Black Crowes, Black Heat, the Black Keys, Black Uhuru, Blackburn & Snow, the Blackbyrds, Margaret Johnson & The Black & Blue Trio (who recorded “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” in 1926), Otis Blackwell and Willie “61” Blackwell, eight of whose 1941 sides for Bluebird showed up in the box set When The Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues (Rare Cuts 1926-1941).

But we have plenty of records left.

We start with a guide to a cool wardrobe in the summer of 1957, when “Black Slacks” from Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones went to No. 17:

Black slacks. I’m the cat’s pajamas.
I always run around with crazy little mamas.

Well, all the girls look when I go by.
It’s what I wear that makes ’em sigh.

Black slacks: I wear a red bow tie.
Black slacks: They say “Me, oh my.”

Later in 1957, the quartet from Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed “Black Slacks” with another single of fashion advice, “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox,” but that one only went to No. 42, and – reading between the lines in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – ABC-Paramount dropped the group. Bennett & The Sparkletones got one more shot, on the Paris label, but “Boys Do Cry” bubbled under at No. 125 in September 1959.

I took a stab at the history of the song “Long Black Veil” in 2009 (in a Saturday post that has yet to show up at our archival site), but I have sixteen versions of the song on the digital shelves, so it was almost inevitable that one of them would show up today. I’ve settled on the album track the Kingston Trio released on The New Frontier in late 1962. The album went to No. 16, but as good as that sounds, it was only the second of the trio’s twelve charting albums between 1958 and 1962 to miss the Top Ten. The trio’s time was passing, notes Bruce Eder of All Music Guide: “The Kingston Trio’s 14th album for Capitol Records appeared at a time when folk music was changing around them in ways that no one could have predicted just a couple of years earlier. Bob Dylan had not yet charted a record, but he was at Columbia Records and he was writing serious, topical, angry songs that would soon start getting attention; and a rival folk group called Peter, Paul & Mary was starting to make headway with the public doing songs that had a political and philosophical edge.”

Nor could I ignore “Baby’s In Black” by the Beatles. The track came to my sister and me as part of Beatles ’65, an album cobbled together by Capitol by taking some U.K. non-album singles and B-sides, one track from A Hard Day’s Night and several tracks from the British release Beatles For Sale. While my CD collection and the mp3’s digital tags reflect the track’s origins as an album track on Beatles For Sale, my memory will always have it as part of Beatles ’65, especially since I know there is a 1964 picture somewhere in our family archive – as yet still unfound – of me wearing my Beatle wig and plugging my ears with our copy of Beatles ’65 propped in my lap. Beyond that, “Baby’s In Black” remains a good early Beatles track.

There’s not a lot of information out there – at least readily available information – about soul singer Billy Thompson. He had no hits in the Billboard Hot 100 or on the R&B chart. The bare bones are there at Discogs.com: He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, and he “went to the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, where he majored in musical composition, and arranging.” That’s it. That, and the 1965 single “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye/Black Eyed Girl” on the Wand label, which is the only thing I can find listed at Soulful Kinda Music, which is pretty comprehensive. I’ve never heard “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but if that Wand single is the only record Thompson made then “Black Eyed Girl” is a hell of a resume by itself.

As regular readers have no doubt realized over the years, I love pretty much anything ever recorded by Big Maybelle Smith. From her work on King Records in the 1940s through her time at Savoy in the 1950s and at Rojac in the 1960s, I find something to like in almost anything she did. And among my favorites are the quirkily selected covers found on Got A Brand New Bag from 1967. Among them is “Black Is Black,” which Los Bravos took to No. 4 in 1966. That was a great single, but Big Maybelle’s take on “Black Is Black” is, to my ears, just as good.

And we’ll close today with one of the most evocative songs of 1990: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. According to Myles’ YouTube channel, the record was originally released in Canada in 1989 and then hit the U.S. in 1990. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says “Black Velvet” entered the Hot 100 during the first week of January that year; in March, the record was No. 1 for two weeks and topped the Album Rocks Track chart for two weeks as well. In addition, Myles’ performance earned her the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist.

Grab Bag No. 1

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2008

One of the annual events during my days at Lincoln Elementary School (1958-65) was the school carnival, presented each autumn as – I think – a fund-raiser for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). The one-evening carnival took place in the gymnasium, with games lining the sides of the gym.

There was the Duck Pond, where hundreds of plastic ducks bobbed in a tank of water; a child would select one duck, and an inscription on the bottom of the duck determined the prize he or she had won. At the fishing pond, little would-be anglers hoisted cane poles with lines and (very safe, probably rubber) hooks over the sides of a covered booth (generally covered with white bed sheets decorated with poster paint, if my memory is accurate), and moms and dads inside the booth would place a small basket holding a prize onto the hook and then tug the line. The little angler would then haul in his or her reward.

At the far end of the gym, on the elevated stage, was the cakewalk. The numerals 1 through 10 were arranged on a circle on the stage floor, and ten entrants claimed a number at the start of the contest. One of the moms would then drop a needle onto a record, and as the music played, the contestants walked through the numbers, in a circle. After a short time, the music stopped, and a number was drawn from a bag. The contestant now standing on that number won a cake, made by some mom in her kitchen and brought proudly to the school for the carnival.

I’m not sure if schools do carnivals anymore; I figure some still have them as a fund-raising activity. But I think it would be the rare public school in the U.S. that would award home-made cakes as a prize. I dunno. Maybe I’m wrong. But the public health (and liability) risks would be enormous, I think, especially considering the vast increase in the types of food allergies and the huge numbers of kids with those allergies in recent years.

The cakewalk was never my favorite game. I know I’ve forgotten what some of the games were; it seems to me the carnival had about ten booths along the sides of the gym, but I remember the grab bag. Simple stuff, of course. You’d thrust your hand into a box filled with little striped bags, each holding a simple prize, and you’d grab one. The prizes were generally little toys and game that were most likely forgotten, lost, discarded or broken in a very short time. But that didn’t diminish the fun.

I resurrected the grab bag this week. I wrote in August about finding in a closet a boxful of 45s I’d more or less forgotten I had. Since settling into the new place, I’ve glanced occasionally at that box, sitting on the floor near the closet door, and I’ve wondered how to integrate those old obscure singles – the vast majority of them are from the years 1958 through 1970, I imagine, and I recognize very few of the titles – into the music shared here.

This week, I thought of the grab bag, and I had the Texas Gal come into the study and pull three singles – any three, I told her – from the box. Good or bad, scratched or not (with the exception of a record truly hacked and unlistenable), I’d listen to them, rip them, do a little research and offer them here. If I remember at all how I got them, I’ll add that, too.

So here’s Grab Bag No. 1

“Molly Dee” by the Kingston Trio (Capitol Custom JB-2782)

“Haul Away” by the Kingston trio (Capitol Custom JB-2783)

(Most likely from 1958, maybe 1959)

The Kingston Trio is described in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll as “a clean-cut, more commercial alternative to the left-tinged folksingers of the late ’50s.” The trio had a No. 1 hit in late 1958 with “Tom Dooley,” a reworking of a traditional folk song from the 1860s. And when the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – now known as the March of Dimes Foundation – needed to rebrand itself in the late 1950s, it turned to the Kingston Trio.

Eh?

Some history: The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was established in 1938, to combat the disease poliomyelitis, also called polio. According to Wikipedia:

“Poliomyelitis was one of the most dreaded illnesses of the 20th century, and had killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Ron Gilreath therefore founded the March of Dimes as the ‘National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis’ on January 3, 1938, during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself was paralyzed with what at the time was believed to be polio, though it now seems this diagnosis might have been mistaken. The original purpose of the Foundation was to raise money for polio research and to care for those suffering from the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a newspaper appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (10 cents) to fight polio.”

(Wikipedia also notes that the “March of Dimes” got its name from entertainer Eddy Cantor, who used that title because of its similarity to the then-popular The March of Time newsreels. I also learned that Roosvelt’s connection to the March of Dimes was one of the factors behind his portrait’s being placed on the U.S. dime after his death in 1945. Another factor was that through 1945, the front of the dime showed an allegorical portrait of Liberty; no earlier president’s portrait would need to be replaced to put FDR’s portrait on the dime.)

The National Foundation’s March of Dimes was successful: By 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk had discovered an immunization for polio that was safe and effective. The goal of the March of Dimes had been achieved, and the National Foundation reorganized, deciding, Wikipedia says, “in 1958 to use its charitable infrastructure to serve mothers and babies with a new mission: to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality.”

Among the ways the foundation chose to promote its reorganization was to release a record by the Kingston Trio. On the Capitol Custom label – the trio recorded for Capitol Records – the record shows the logo of the National Foundation with the inscription above proclaiming “The New March of Dimes.” (The actual logo has the word “New” outlined with a small box rather than italicized, which to me is an odd bit of design. I italicized the word in the sentence above to show the effect I assume was intended by placing the word in the box.)

Beyond that, on both sides of the record, the legend on the lower part of the label, above the song title, says: “The Kingston Trio sings for the New March of Dimes. (Their italics, not mine.)

So how good is the record?

It’s standard Kingston Trio fare, I guess. Both songs were pulled from the trio’s 1959 album Here We Go Again! and have nautical themes; “Molly Dee” is a sailor’s girl far away, and “Haul Away” tells the tale of a rough voyage. Oddly, on the 45, “Haul Away” is credited to the pen of trio member Dave Guard, but in the album listing at All-Music Guide, it’s listed as a traditional song. Almost as interesting is the fact that “Molly Dee” was written by John Stewart, who would replace Guard in the trio in 1961. (Another oddity is that each side of the record was assigned its own catalog number: “Molly Dee” is Capitol Custom JB-2782, and “Haul Away” is JB-2783.)*

Red Johnson – “I’d Rain All Over You / Anything But Me” (Hep 2939, 1966)

I’m pretty sure this was a record I got from Leo Rau, the guy who lived across the alley from us when I was a kid who operated – among other things – a chain of juke boxes. As related here some time ago, on occasional Mr. Rau would hand me a box full of 45s. This is one of those that didn’t get used as a target for my BB gun.

It’s pretty basic country: A couple of songs from a lovelorn narrator backed by basic instrumentation that includes some twangy guitar, lap steel (I think) and a bit of fiddle. Johnson wrote “I’d Rain All Over You” with Ann Wordelman and wrote “Anything But Me” with Bud Auge. The record is pleasant listening for those who appreciate mid-sixties country (and I do like both sides as a bit of history) but the more interesting part was the record label. The 45 was released by Hep, a label based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As I ripped the record, I could only assume that it was from the mid-1960s. That was based on the sound of the music, the cartoonish hepcat used as a logo (I have to get a scanner!) and my supposition, bolstered by Hep’s being a Minnesota label, that this was a record I got from Leo Rau.

Googling “Hep 2939” and “Red Johnson” got me little but listings of the record for sale. (It appears to run for about $15 in very good condition; mine would grade out as at least that well.) So I Googled “Red Johnson” along with “Rain All Over You” and I found Red’s website.

It turns out that Red was a northern Minnesota boy, graduated from Detroit Lakes High School. (Detroit Lakes is about two-hundred miles northwest of Minneapolis, about forty-five miles from North Dakota.)

On his site, Red writes:“In 1964, along with Bud Auge, I wrote and recorded ‘There’s A Grand Ol Opry Show Playing Somewhere’ on a small label (Hep) I was part owner of, and the song was picked up by Capitol Records and eventually ended up in The World Of Country Music album Capitol released. About the same time Dave Dudley[,] who is a friend of mine, released a song called ‘Six Days On The Road’” and he and I and Bud Auge . . . wrote a song called ‘Taxi Cab Driver’ and Dave recorded it in his “Six Days” album [Songs About the Working Man] for Mercury Records.”

And on another page, listing current CDs available, “I’d Rain All Over You” was listed as one of the songs on Red’s The Local Entertainer CD. I had the right Red Johnson, but I still didn’t have a release year for the single. So I emailed him.

This morning, Red answered: “I keep getting pleasant surprises and you are one of them. Those songs were recorded in 1966 at Columbia Studios, Nashville, and produced by Buddy Killen of Tree International, now Sony. Two other songs were done at that session. They were ‘Hidden Feelings’ and ‘Big Brave Me.’ Lloyd Green played steel. A guy by the name of Earl Sinks did harmony, and I can’t really remember who else was in the session. It was the follow-up session to my ‘There’s a Grand Ol Opry Show Playing Somewhere,’ [that] I had on Capitol Records in ’64.”

He added, “Please keep in touch.” I most likely will.

The Impalas – “Sandy Went Away / Oh, What A Fool” (Cub 9033, 1959)

This single, I believe, was one of those that my sister brought home from the record store in one of those – how appropriate! – grab bags. You’d lay down maybe eighty-nine cents and get ten singles packed into a plastic bag. None of them were hits, at least not big hits, but some of the records might have come from well-known performers, or maybe one-hit wonders. And the records in the grab bags were evidence of recording sessions gone awry for one reason or another.

The Impalas were a doo-wop group from Brooklyn – one of the few interracial doo-wop groups, according to All-Music Guide – that had a hit in 1958 with “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” It was actually a pretty decent record, assuming that the mp3 I have of it – from an anthology – is a recording of the original single. But what appears to be an Impalas’ follow-up (“Sorry” was Cub 9022, the record in question today, “Sandy Went Away/Oh, What A Fool,” was Cub 9033) isn’t such a great record.

On the Impala’s hit, the lead vocalist’s pitch was uncertain at a few moments, but the doo-wop arrangement obscured that to a degree. On the ballad “Sandy Went Away,” there’s no doo-wop, only some choral parts going “ahhhh” in the background, and that can’t hide a horribly out-of-tune lead vocal. “Oh, What A Fool” has a livelier backing but still, the lead vocalist’s pitch is off the mark. (There’s little information out there about the Impalas; my guess is that after the hit, there were personnel changes, and the Impalas who sang “Sorry” aren’t on this shabby little record.)

So, that’s Grab Bag No. 1: Two decent records and one flop. I’m not sure how frequently it will appear, but the Grab Bag will be back.

*Those numbers were not catalog numbers, as I assumed. In a comment left at the post, reader and friend Yah Shure said, “Capitol Custom did not always assign release numbers. On your Kingston Trio record, the printed numbers are simply the matrix numbers, hence the different numbers listed for each side.”