Posts Tagged ‘Laura Lee’

From Late October, 1967

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 29, 2008

As November nears, football seasons accelerate: High schools here in Minnesota will play section championship games this weekend, winnowing the field in all six enrollment classes from sixteen to eight. College football – both for major universities and small colleges – is at the point where a single bad Saturday can end championship hopes. And the professionals in the National Football League near mid-season, with the outlines of stories beginning to take shape.

And as those things happen, I find myself pondering lessons football has taught me. Taught me as a spectator and a fan, that is; I never played organized football. (With a nod to Will Rogers, neither have some of the teams I’ve followed.) Chief among those lessons, of course, is that teams I follow never win the big game, at least as long as I’m in the vicinity. The football Tigers at St. Cloud Tech, where I went to high school, have had some good years but have never won anything greater than a conference or section title. Similarly, the Huskies at St. Cloud State, where I was an undergrad, have had good seasons but never advanced very far in the playoffs.

Being a Minnesotan, I follow the fortunes of the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers. It’s been forty-one years since the Rampaging Rodents claimed a share of the Big Ten title, and it’s been forty-six years and counting since the U of M’s team played in the Rose Bowl. The team is improved this season – it almost had to be, since the Gophers lost eleven of twelve games last year – and there may yet be hope on the campus, but we will see.

Then there are the Vikings of the NFL, who seem no better than mediocre this season. When I was in high school and college, they seemed destined to win a Super Bowl. They had four chances over an eight-season period and failed four times. Thus, I learned as a young adult that it gets easier to handle disappointment the more practice you get.

There has been a bright spot, at least regarding a team I now follow from a distance: When I was a reporter in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, the high school football staff there – headed by Mike Grant, the son of legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant – was putting a program in place. I left the paper in 1995, and the team won its first state title in 1996. In the last twelve seasons, Eden Prairie’s football team has lost a total of eight games, has won six (I think) state titles and is the two-time defending state champ.

Of course, I’ve watched all that from a distance, which is not quite as satisfying.

All of these thoughts this week reminded me of the first team I paid attention to at close hand: the 1967 edition of St. Cloud Tech’s Tigers.

My sister was a senior at Tech that fall, and many of her friends were on the team, of course. I was in ninth grade at South Junior High – it would be three years until freshmen attended Tech instead of South – but my parents and I went to all of Tech’s home games that season, and at least two games on the road. It was – for eight weeks – a magic season. By the middle of the season, Tech was ranked as the top team in the state by the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. As Tech did not belong to a conference but played an independent schedule, and as there was no state playoff system in place, a high ranking in the newspaper’s weekly coverage was the Tigers’ goal every season.

And with one game remaining – right about this time forty-one years ago – Tech was a victory over South St. Paul from claiming the top spot in the final ranking of the season and the mythical state title that went with that ranking. It was a rainy Friday, and my parents and I stayed home; my sister took an activities bus the eighty or so miles to the game.

Dad and I listened to the game on radio as the rain and the muck slowed the Tigers’ quick-strike passing game. Tech lost 14 to 7 and finished something like ninth in the newspaper’s final rankings. Not long afterward, the football team’s cheerleaders got together and bought a small trophy. They had the plate engraved: “1967: The Best Team Tech Ever Had” and presented it to the captains. I wonder if it’s still in the school’s trophy case.

There is, I know from my experience as one of Tech’s football managers a few years later, no place quite as quiet as a team’s bus on the way home after a tough loss. At least for an hour or so. Then the talk begins, softly at first. And after a while, someone turns on the radio. What would the Tigers have heard on their way home from South St. Paul that sad evening?

Here was the top ten on Twin Cities-based KDWB, pulled from its “Big 6 Plus 30” survey of October 28, 1967:

“To Sir With Love” by Lulu
“The Letter” by the Box Tops
“Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” by the Buckinghams
“How Can I Be Sure” by the Young Rascals
“Never My Love/Requiem For The Masses” by the Association
“The Rain The Park & Other Things” by the Cowsills
“It Must Be Him” by Vikki Carr
“Expressway To Your Heart” by the Soul Survivors
“Let It Out” by the Hombres
“Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood

At No. 20, we find “The Last Waltz” by Engelbert Humperdinck and at No. 30, there’s “San Franciscan Nights” by Eric Burdon & the Animals.”

Shifting to the Billboard listings of that week to round out the top fifty singles (KDWB’s survey ends at No. 36), we find “Lazy Day” by Spanky & Our Gang at No. 40 and “Boogaloo Down Broadway” by the Fantastic Johnny C. at No. 50.

Well, that’s not awful. The Top Ten is a little ballad-heavy with Lulu, the Young Rascals, the Association and Vikki Carr. And I’ve never cared much for the Buckinghams. The Hombres’ single – which peaked in Billboard at No. 12 – was weird but fun. The only other thing that stands out from the Top Ten is the listing of “Never My Love/Requiem For The Masses” as a two-sided single. I’ve never seen the B-side listed before.

A little deeper into that Billboard chart of October 28, 1967, we find a song that reached its peak, rising to No. 68 from No. 70 the week before. It would be in the Hot 100 one more week before falling off. A gritty record, Laura Lee’s “Dirty Man” (Chess 2103) sounds to me more like Memphis than Chicago. Four years later, recording for Hot Wax, Laura Lee would reach the Top 40 for the only time with “Women’s Love Rights.” That’s a good single, but it’s nowhere near as good as “Dirty Man.”

“Dirty Man” by Laura Lee [1967]

The track is available on a few anthologies, but I don’t know how easily those can be found. Check it out here.

Farewell To Seven-Toed Henri

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2008

I was going to write about the autumn of 1971 today, a time that was unexceptional for the most part. It did mark my first quarter of college, and I guess that made it a time of major adjustments. But I’ll write about that some other day.

We lost another cat yesterday.

This summer, shortly after we had to let go of the Texas Gal’s beloved Smudge, one of the Texas Gal’s co-workers said a kitten had found its way to her mother’s place. The kitten ended up with the Texas Gal’s co-worker, who then learned that her husband and son were allergic to cats. For two days, the kitten was alone in their basement while they figured out what to do, and there was talk of letting it loose in a field to fend for itself.

Given that we were in the middle of the difficult (and expensive) process of moving, I was reluctant to bring in a kitten, but I’ll never let a little one be let loose in a field; I can’t imagine anything more terrifying – or more practically lethal – for a small animal. So one evening, the Texas Gal brought home our new little guy, black with some white trim . . . and seven toes on each front foot.

I’m not sure where the name came from, but after some hesitation, the Texas Gal named him Henri Matisse, after the artist. But we pronounced his name “Henry” instead of the French “Ehn-ree.” And we took him to Dr. Tess for his standard kitten care. He had worms, which we expected, and we treated him for that. A few months later, not long after we moved, we had him neutered and had his front claws removed.

Even after treatment for worms, Henri’s digestive problems continued. When we organized the empty boxes we’d thrown off to the side of the basement during the move, we discovered that he hadn’t been using his cat box regularly. We thought his continued digestive problems might be the reason, so we changed his diet, kept an eye on his trips to the basement and gave him a supplement for two weeks.

Nothing really helped his digestion, and once the two-week regimen of the supplement was over, he began to lose weight and he didn’t always seem comfortable. And one evening this week, we discovered that his cat box behavior in the basement hadn’t changed. In some ways, it’s no big deal. We’ve cleaned up worse messes over the years. But the vet said yesterday morning that it was unlikely Henri’s behavior would change, even if we could correct the problem with his digestion. And we knew we couldn’t continue.

Henri went peacefully. And we have another cat-shaped hole in the house. The Texas Gal and I both spent a little bit more time than usual last evening playing with Oscar and talking to Clarence, our two remaining catboys. That helped, at least a little.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 4
“Tell Me Why” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort, Decca 32874 (No. 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 16, 1971)

“Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’” by Peter Nero, Columbia 45399 (No. 91)

“Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers, Stax 0104 (No. 82)

“It’s a Cryin’ Shame” by Gayle McCormick, Dunhill 4288 (No. 60)

“Two Divided By Love” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4289 (No. 55)

“Women’s Love Rights” by Laura Lee, Hot Wax 7105 (No. 37)

“You’ve Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)” by 8th Day, Invictus 9098 (No. 36)

“One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse, Evolution 1048 (No. 32)

“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” by Kris Kristofferson, Monument 8525 (No. 27)

“Stick-Up” by Honey Cone, Hot Wax 7106 (No. 19)

“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 15)

“So Far Away” by Carole King, Ode 66019 (No. 14)

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 12)

A few notes:

The Matthews’ Southern Comfort track is a cover of the Neil Young tune from After the Goldrush album, which came out in 1970. Southern Comfort was headed by Ian Matthews, who had been a founding member of Britain’s Fairport Convention. Matthews’ career is a fascinating series of stops, starts and sudden left turns, but his music has always been listenable and sometimes inspired.

One evening during the summer of 1971, after a day of unpacking file cabinets in the new Education Building at St. Cloud State, I wandered off to the theater and took in The Summer of ’42. The movie touched me, with its tale of a young man’s beginning to grow up, of his crush on the older woman played by the luminescent Jennifer O’Neill (looking impossibly young from where I sit now) and of the tragedy and confusion of wartime. I was also blown away by Michel Legrand’s Academy Award-winning score, which was sweet and sad and over-the-top – all of the things that we are at sixteen. I never looked for the soundtrack LP; I’m not sure why. But when Peter Nero had a hit with the main theme later in the year (the single went to No. 22), I was pleased to hear the song coming out of my radio.

Gayle McCormick was the lead singer for Smith, the group that had a No. 5 hit in the autumn of 1969 with a cover of “Baby It’s You.” “It’s A Cryin’ Shame” was a pretty good single from her first solo album – she recorded two others in the early 1970s, and after that, I lose track of her – but it didn’t do very well. Nor did her follow-ups. She never cracked the Top 40 as a solo artist.

This selection includes three more good singles (several showed up in previous Baker’s Dozen selections) from Hot Wax and Invictus, the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown. The singles weren’t as successful on the pop chart as they were good. “Women’s Love Rights” peaked at No. 36, and “You’ve Got To Crawl” topped out at No. 28, but the Honey Cone single nearly got into the Top Ten, stalling at No. 11. (It spent two weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart.)

This version of Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” originally linked with this post was from the album. Since then, I was able to find a video with the fairly rare single edit. Either way, once I saw the title in the Hot 100 for this week in 1971, I had to post the song, even in the wrong version. It’s just too good to ignore.

The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” was a pretty grim and tough song, talking about the perfidy surrounding all of us, wherever we go. Some folks saw it as a political allegory, and the theme of betrayal makes that at least a little bit plausible, given the realities of 1971. Whatever the message, the record had a great groove.

Edited and rewritten slightly on August 6, 2013.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3

June 15, 2011

Originally posted March 10, 2008

(The first half of this post was the first thing I ever wrote for a blog, in July 2006, long before Echoes In The Wind was a shadow of a thought. I imagine some who’ve stopped by here have clicked links and read it at Whiteray’s Musings, the long-ignored blog that serves now as a storage depot and place for experiments. To many, I hope it is new. I have done a bit of editing.)

It was the summer of 1972. Republicans were screaming for “Four more years!” of Richard Nixon. The Democrats were marching gingerly in ragged formation toward what they thought was the Revolution.

A bunch of people were arrested at the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a loose end in a fabric of lies. That loose end, when pulled on hard enough by judges and the media (pulled on most strongly, it seems clear, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post), eventually resulted in the resignation of President Nixon two years later; in the creation of numerous laws and policies designed to enhance the ethics of politics and governance; and in a surge of enrollment at schools of journalism all around the country, as young people all over the United States decided it would be fun to become investigative reporters.

And U.S. soldiers were still fighting and dying in Vietnam.

I was eighteen that summer and although I was aware of all of that going on, I can’t say I was horribly involved or worried about any of it. I do recall thinking on June 18, when I saw an item in the newspaper about the arrests at the Watergate, that the trail of dollars and other evidence would likely lead back to persons close to the Oval Office, if not to the president himself, but that may have been youthful revulsion for Richard Nixon driving that conclusion rather than any great insight into politics, finance and crime. (On the other hand, I was right!)

Not even the Vietnam War worried me, at least not personally. Sometime that summer, the president announced that no new draftees would be sent to Vietnam. I imagine that a lot of my contemporaries across the country shook their heads in relief at that news. It really wasn’t a big deal, because it was becoming more and more clear that my cohort – the men born in 1953 – were going to be the first cohort that went untouched by the draft since, well, before World War II. For the first time in more than thirty years, young men born in a specific year would not be drafted.

Of course, the news about no new draftees being sent to ’Nam resonated more loudly, I am certain, with those born in 1952, as many of them – not as many as had been true for those born in years earlier, but enough – were still receiving their “Greetings” letters from the military.

I don’t recall how likely it was for men born in 1952 to be drafted, much less how many of them were sent to Vietnam before the new policy was announced that summer. Those facts didn’t matter to me as anything more than curiosities.

I am reasonably certain that no one born in my birth year of 1953 was ever drafted, although we did get lottery numbers based on our dates of birth. Mine was 354, which meant that the chances of my being called to get a buzz cut and be screamed at for six weeks by a drill sergeant were almost nil. That was good.*

So what did concern me in the summer of 1972? What was I thinking about? What do I recall?

Well, I was worried about dusting Venetian blinds. I worked as a part-time janitor that summer at an elementary school on the campus of St. Cloud State College (now University) in Minnesota. It wasn’t hard work, for the most part, but removing what was likely a year’s accumulation of dust from Venetian blinds was a pain-in-the-ass job that took more than a week, it seems to me. I didn’t mind dusting shelves, dry mopping and mopping floors, washing blackboards and all of that, but dusting those damned blinds was the worst thing I did all summer.

I remember the music, as I always do from almost any portion of my life. That was the summer of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally,” a pop confection that was omnipresent for several months. A listener to AM Top 40 – which I was – would also have heard “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the first hit for Jim Croce, and tunes from Neil Diamond, the Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites, Roberta Flack, Billy Preston and Bill Withers.

And then there was the Looking Glass and its song “Brandy,” about the barmaid in the harbor town. Another pop confection, yes, but one that seems to have aged far better in my mind than many of those records that surrounded it on the radio. And at the odd times that I hear it these days – nearly thirty-six years later – it takes me back. But when I go, I am not wielding the mop or broom, I am not dusting the blinds. I am not wondering if the current object of my affection has a reciprocal interest.

No, I am driving my 1961 Ford Falcon north from St. Cloud on an August day, my best friends with me as we head for a weekend in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Why does all this come to mind today? Did I hear “Brandy” this morning or yesterday? Well, no, but given that the Looking Glass tune is one of the thousands in the RealPlayer, I can hear it any time I want to. (In fact, just because I can do it, I just cued it up: “There’s a port in a western bay . . .”)

No, the summer of 1972 and the music on the road to Winnipeg came to mind because of something I found in my file cabinet yesterday. It’s a record of the times that Rick and Gary and I purchased gasoline on our trek, noting the miles driven, the mileage my old Falcon got, and – most astoundingly – the cost of the gas for our four-day, 860-mile trip.

(The RealPlayer just switched from “Brandy” to “The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, which is a lovely song, but dated ten years earlier than our trip to Winnipeg. And while I dithered about what to say about that, the music moved on to Bob Dylan’s performance of “Blowin’ In The Wind” at the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh. As always, music so commands my attention that I find it takes away the concentration I need to write. So I turned the jukebox off as Bob was asking “How many roads . . .”)

So how much did it cost us to drive from St. Cloud to Winnipeg and back in 1972? Well, we bought 44.3 gallons of gas during our four-day excursion . . . and we paid $17.20. In other words, about thirty-nine cents a gallon.

And that, more than anything else about that summer, tells me how long ago it really was. Yes, the school where I dusted the blinds has been closed, the building remodeled about twenty years ago to house programs in electrical engineering and such-like. Yes, Jim Croce’s been dead for more than thirty years. Yes, my 1961 Falcon has been rusting, abandoned, in the junkyard of a friend’s parents since 1977 (and in fact that friend himself has passed on). And no, I do not remember with whom I was besotted that summer of “Brandy.”

All of those things underline in bold ink the fact that it has been thirty-six years since Rick, Gary and I drove north to adventure and beer and hangovers. (The drinking age in Canada was eighteen as opposed to Minnesota’s twenty-one; we drank Molson’s Canadian and Old Vienna.)

But the boldest ink, it seems to me, comes from that handwritten document I found in my files: Gasoline at thirty-nine cents a gallon!

And no, I don’t remember how much we paid for the beer.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3
“Brandy” by the Looking Glass, Epic single 10874

“Pearl’s Goodtime Blues” by Eric Andersen from Blue River

“Too Late to Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists single 50910

“To The Morning” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free

“Dark Dance” by Robin Williamson from Myrrh

“My Impersonal Life” by Blue Rose, Epic single 10811

“Her Picture Matches Mine” by Laura Lee from Women’s Love Rights

“Rock and Roll Lullaby” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter single 12344

“Go All The Way” by the Raspberries, Capitol single 3348

“Stand Back” by the Allman Brothers Band from Eat A Peach

“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics from Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

“Roundabout” by Yes, Atlantic single 2854

“From The Beginning” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Cotillion single 44158

A few notes:

Eric Andersen, as I think I’ve noted before, was one of those singer-songwriters cursed in the 1960s and 1970s with the tag of “The New Dylan.” No good ever came of a record company or a critic placing that burden on a performer. Andersen was good, though, and – to my mind – for a few years came closer than anyone else to living up to that mantle. Blue River is probably his best album.

“Too Late To Turn Back Now,” a No. 2 hit, continues a good helping of great radio singles in this mostly random collection. With four Top 40 hits and two in the Top Ten – 1971’s “Treat Her Like A Lady” went to No. 3 – the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose never sounded sweeter than when coming from the car radio on a warm summer evening. (The other great radio singles here, to my ears, are “Brandy,” “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” “Go All The Way,” “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and “Roundabout.”)

How does one begin to describe or assess the music of Robin Williamson? One of the founders of the quirky 1960s folk group, the Incredible String Band, Williamson has resolutely followed his muse. That group’s pastoral British folk had its own odd edge, and that continues in Williamson’s solo work. All-Music Guide notes that Myrrh, Williamson’s first album after the dissolution of the ISB, retains that group’s “odd instrumentation and serpentine melodicism.” “Dark Dance” may be a little less accessible than the rest of the album, but only a little. The entire album will delight fans of the combination of folky and quirky.

I don’t know much about Blue Rose. The group is not – obviously – the women’s bluegrass super group of the same name that was also recording in 1972. “My Impersonal Life,” was written by Terry Furlong, who was lead guitarist for the Grass Roots. Three Dog Night also recorded the tune in 1971. The Blue Rose version was included on a well-known 1972 Columbia sampler called The Music People, which is where I found it. I’m keeping an eye out for Blue Rose’s self-titled album, which I think I’d like if it’s all as good as “My Impersonal Life.”

Laura Lee was one of the artists recorded by Hot Wax records, the label created in 1968 by Eddie Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland when the writing/production trio left Motown Records. (Some of her labelmates were Honey Cone, Freda Payne and the Flaming Ember.) Her single, “Women’s Love Rights,” barely reached the Top 40, hitting No. 36 in the autumn of 1971. Still, it’s a good single, and the album of the same title is also good, well worth checking out.

For all their success at album rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer remains, technically, a One-Hit Wonder. Of course, the group’s aim was never singles, so that’s not really fair. But “From The Beginning” is a great single. It’s not a driving-around-town-with-nothing-better-to-do single but more of a “Man, that’s strange and good” single for those times when you roll over in bed at two in the morning after leaving the radio on. (Something that surprised me as I dug into the charts was that, for all its airplay, ELP’s “Lucky Man” [Cotillion 44106, according to one source] did not make the Top 40.)

*After this entry was posted, a reader named David, a year younger than I, noted that he was assigned a draft number. It turns out, according to Wikipedia, that Congress did extend the draft for two more years in 1971. Note added June 18, 2011.