Posts Tagged ‘Leo Kottke’

Keeping Track: The LP Log

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 12, 2009

Some time during the past year, I mentioned for the first time that I’ve kept track of when I’ve acquired my LPs and that I have a log for them that goes back to 1964. A few people asked me to write about the log, and I don’t think there’s a better time to do so than on Vinyl Record Day.

I remember when I thought for the first time that I should keep track of when I got my records: It was during the summer of 1970, when I bought my copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After I played the record, I thought to myself that I needed to find a way to keep track. So I pulled the out the plain white sleeve and wrote in pen at the very top (on the side margin actually, which is at the top when the sleeve is turned sideways) “June 1970.”

Then I went to the box where my sister and I kept our rock and pop records and did the same for the six of those records that were mine: Sonny & Cher’s Look At Us; Beatles ’65; Herman’s Hermits’ On Tour; the 5th Dimension’s Age of Aquarius; the Beatles’ Let It Be; and Chicago’s silver album from 1970.

Details stick with me: To mark my records on that first day, I used a red pen that happened to be sitting near the stereo in the basement rec room. It was a pen labeled “Property of the State of Minnesota” and no doubt came home from the college in my dad’s pocket one day. I used that same pen for about three years, I think, then switched to blue or black ink, whatever was handy.

For some reason, I only jotted down the month and year I’d gotten the records. And I only marked the rock, pop and soul records. I owned others, kept in a separate cabinet: Records by Al Hirt and the Tijuana Brass, some soundtracks and similar music, and some odd things. I didn’t pull those out and write months and years on them. It didn’t seem important at the time.

“Stardust” by Al Hirt from That Honey Horn Sound [1965]

“Carmen” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass from Herb Alpert’s Ninth [1967]

If I’d wanted to record the actual dates when I’d acquired those first six rock, pop and R&B records, I could have dated four of them with precision. The only two albums for which I would not have known a date were those by the 5th Dimension and by Chicago. But those acquisitions were recent enough on that summer day that I knew the months. As to the others: I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965. [Actually, it was most likely Christmas 1964, just about the time the record was released. Note added January 23, 2014.]  I bought Let It Be on the day it was released, May 18, 1970. I got the Herman’s Hermits and Sonny & Cher albums from my sister for my birthday and for Christmas in 1965; I liked the records okay, but Sonny & Cher and Herman’s Hermits weren’t, you know, Al Hirt and Herb Alpert.

“It’s Gonna Rain” by Sonny & Cher from Look At Us [1965]

“Don’t Try To Hurt Me” by Herman’s Hermits from On Tour [1965]

As it turned out, marking those seven records with that red pen on that afternoon began a journey that finds me today with a database that has information about 2,893 LPs. Like all things concerning my record collection, it’s not something I planned to do. I just kept on keeping track when I purchased or received records, from that summer afternoon in 1970 onward.

I look back now at my early acquisitions and I’m reminded of my own case of Beatlemania, a malady that came upon me in 1970. (That was six years later than the rest of America, and I’ve been running behind ever since. Well, not really, but it sometimes feels like that.) I decided sometime during the summer of 1970 that I was going to acquire all eighteen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple by the time my pal Rick started his senior year of high school in September 1972. (I didn’t know that I’d set myself an impossible task: There were only seventeen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple at the time; A Hard Day’s Night was released on United Artists, but never mind.)

So I look at the log for 1970, 1971 and 1972, and I see many Beatles albums: In the last few months of 1970, I bought Hey Jude on a shopping trip to the Twin Cities, I got Revolver for my birthday and a buddy in school gave me his slightly used copy of Magical Mystery Tour, and on and on. By the time Rick and I – with our friend, Gary – headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in August 1972, I had one Beatles record to go to complete the collection. I bought A Hard Day’s Night in Winnipeg, less than a month before Rick began his senior year.

(That was not quite so, as I misread lines in the database, an error that I noted in a later post; I bought Beatles VI in Winnipeg and completed my collection with the purchase not long afterward of A Hard Day’s Night.)

If I got records as gifts, I also jotted on the sleeve or on the jacket (oh, the record jackets I’ve written on over the years!) the name of the person who gave me the record. That’s why, when it actually came time to create a database of my records, I could include a “From” column. Probably the oddest notation in that column is my note for Rubber Soul. One morning in January 1972, I got to talking about music with the guy next to me in Math 121. I mentioned my Beatles quest, and he asked if I had Rubber Soul. I didn’t. The next day, he brought me his slightly used copy of Rubber Soul. The day after that, evidently, he dropped Math 121, because I never saw him again. I think his name was Jerry, so on the record and in the database, the notation reads “Jerry in math class (?)”

Another album that I had to guess about came from a discard pile at KVSC, St. Cloud State’s student-run radio station. I took it home and I played it once, I know, and I must not have been impressed, for I put it in the cabinet with my soundtracks and other non-rock stuff. That’s where I found it sometime during the 1990s, when I cleaned out the last of my records and junk from the house on Kilian Boulevard. While I was compiling the database, I came to that one record, Mark Turnbull’s Portrait of the Young Artist, and found that there was no date written on it. I do, however, remember claiming it from the discard pile. And I know that once the 1971-72 academic year ended, I spent almost no time at the radio station. So I got the record sometime between December 1971 and May 1972. I called it February 1972.

Around the same time, in early 1972, I happened upon two albums that led me down roads of exploration, and by looking at the entries in the log, one can see the number of artists and types of music I was listening to grow and grow. One of those albums was the compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, and the other was an album titled Joe Cocker!

“Family Circles (Portrait of the Young Artist)” by Mark Turnbull from Portrait of the Young Artist [1968]

“Darling Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker! [1969]

With Mr. Turnbull’s album being one of the rare exceptions, I continued to record the month of acquisition for my records. When it came time years later to enter their dates into the database, all I had to work with was the month. So I used the first of the month, called it an estimated date and put the entry in italics: August 1, 1972. If I knew the exact date because of Christmas or a birthday or some other reason, I used regular type. That vagueness became unnecessary for records I got after September 13, 1974. Before heading out to a party that evening (who knows why I remember some of this stuff!), I went downtown, most likely to the shop called Axis, and bought a new copy of Duane Allman: An Anthology, and for some reason, I wrote down the exact date, as I would do from then on.

Sometimes I’ve missed. When I was entering all of this data into the computer in early 2002 – a task that took me about ten days, working on it about six hours a day – I found a few other records besides the Mark Turnbull album for which I had no date. Those I had to estimate, looking for a price tag if I bought it used (which would tell me where I bought it, and thus give me a timeframe based on when I frequented that store) or relying on my memory if I bought it new. I may be in error on some of those.

And remember the Al Hirt and Tijuana Brass records, along with the other stuff that predated my rock and pop days? When it came time to enter those, I had to do some estimating, too. One of them, I could date exactly: I got Hirt’s Honey in the Horn for my eleventh birthday. The others, well, I did the best I could.

And I would guess, looking at the database today, that I have exact dates for at least ninety percent of the records in the collection. And when I run through the database chronologically, the dates in italics become more and more rare and begin to stand out in that column as the years roll by. One of those later dates is for a copy – still sealed – of Harry Chapin’s last album, Sequel, purchased sometime during the autumn of 1990 at a record store in a mall on the west edge of Columbia, Missouri. (I kid you not; I remember this stuff.) I won’t open the record, but the songs on Sequel were re-released in 1987 on an album called Remember When the Music. I gave Sequel an estimated date of October 1, 1990.

Not far from Sequel in the log is the self-titled 1977 album by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, which I bought a few weeks later at that same store in the west side mall.

“I Miss America” by Harry Chapin from Remember When the Music [1987]
(Originally released on Sequel [1980])

“Someone To Lay Down Beside Me” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff [1977]

One of the things I did when I compiled the database in 2002 was to look at information in the albums’ notes. I made a note when the album included guest performances or other stars joining in. When I made an entry for a compilation, I put the names of the most prominent artists in the notes column. I also kept track of some sidemen and studio musicians, like the folks who played with Delaney & Bonnie (and Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton and George Harrison) and the Swampers from Muscle Shoals. As I’ve mentioned before, when I shop, I look for those names and a few others in album credits, and when I find those names, I generally take the album home.

One of those albums, one that I found at Cheapo’s in Minneapolis in 2003, raises a question: Who is Lori Jacobs? The liner notes to her 1973 album, Free, tell us that she “lives in Michigan and performs nightly at the Ann Arbor Road House. She used to be a teacher and she used to be married.” And then the notes talk about how her songs “tell the story of a newly-awakened [sic] lady, her loves and sorrows.”

What the notes don’t tell us is how a woman whose credits seem to be that she performs nightly in a lounge in Ann Arbor, Michigan, managed to record her album with the Swampers at Muscle Shoals. They’re all there: Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. Joining in the fun were Clayton Ivey, Harrison Calloway and Harvey Thompson, who worked at Rick Hall’s FAME studios after Beckett et al. went on their own. Rick Ruskin, a pretty well-known guitarist from Michigan, joins in. And among the folks who came out to sing background on one of Jacobs’ songs were Clydie King and Venetta Fields. Who is this woman?

Jacobs, of course, was one only one of the many musicians who made pilgrimages to the studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Muscle Shoals. Not many were as seemingly obscure as Jacobs, but my notes point out another singer-songwriter who worked with the Swampers but who’s also spent some time in the shadows.

“Free” by Lori Jacobs from Free [1973]

“Come On Down” by Wendy Waldman from Gypsy Symphony [1974]

(I have a sealed copy of Free which I plan to break open and rip to mp3s one of these days. When I do, I’ll share the entire album here. This mp3 came from the copy I bought in 2003, which has some severe scratches.)

I spend more time these days wandering through the database looking for errors than I do keeping the log up to date. I just don’t buy a lot of LPs anymore. There are only two places to get good-quality records in St. Cloud, and the stock in those stores doesn’t turn over often enough for me to spend much time digging through the records. When I do go through the bins, I’ll grab something if I recognize it from my want list and it’s fairly rare. I also go to garage sales on a regular basis; that’s how I found Chipmunk Rock, from which I shared “Whip It” a while back.

And of course, I use the database frequently for posts here, running through each month’s acquisitions down the years. Once I do that for all twelve months, I’ll have to be a lot more creative when it comes to finding posts for Saturdays.

Digging through the database for this post has reminded me of records I have that I’ve not listened to for a while. Like the Sonny & Cher album, which likely hasn’t been played since, oh, 1968. And Mark Turnbull’s album, which probably hasn’t been played since 1972.

And there are treasures in even the most recent entries. One of the few records I acquired during 2008 was Leo Kottke’s Circle ’Round the Sun, a gift from Mitch Lopate, whose name has popped up here occasionally. There are also treasures less sublime.

“Long Way Up The River” by Leo Kottke from Circle ’Round the Sun [1970]

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by the Chipmunks from Chipmunk Rock [1982]

(All mp3s for this post were ripped from vinyl, so there are some bits of noise now and then.)

Leo, The Muppets & Brownsville Station

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 19, 2009

It’s time for a trek through YouTube again.

Looking back to yesterday’s post of Leo Kottke’s Mudlark, I found a clip of Kottke performing a sweet version of “The Arms of Mary” on an episode of Austin City Limits. From what I’ve been able to track down, the show was taped in August 1992 for an airdate in 1993.

And here’s Kottke performing “Deep River Blues” for a taping of Sessions at West 54th in December 1997.

In Tuesday’s post, I mentioned the Muppets as one of the groups credited with covering Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” I found the clip, from an episode of The Muppet Show that was recorded between November 22 and 24, 1977. According to Muppet Wiki: “Two of the verses to ‘For What It’s Worth’ were rewritten in order to transform the popular anti-war song song into an anthem against hunting, but no one has ever been officially credited for these additional lyrics.” Muppet Wiki also notes that the audio of the sketch was included on a Muppets record released in 1978, but that on a 1994 release, the interruptions by the hunters were edited out.

And to close, here’s a clip from the January 29, 1974, episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert with Brownsville Station performing “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” and “Barefootin’.”

Tomorrow, I think we’re going to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the middle of February 1977. As I write this, I’m not at all sure what we’ll find, so it could be an adventure.

Tapping The Green Couch Memories

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 18, 2009

I’ve mentioned at odd times here some of the records that my older sister owned during the late 1960s and early 1970s, records that I think I played at least as frequently as she did on the stereo in the basement rec room.

As I’ve noted, her small collection shaped at least a portion of my listening habits: Call it an anteroom to the auditorium, a small place that contained artists and records that weren’t – at the time – among things I would have bought for myself. But as I played those records during the four or so years between the time the rec room was completed and the time my sister got married and moved away, my tastes were stretched, and I began to view the entire spectrum of music as a buffet table from which I could pick and choose.

I’d always been a little idiosyncratic in my tastes, at least as far as my peers were concerned. From my collection of Al Hirt records and soundtracks in the middle of the 1960s to my utter loyalty to the Beatles during the time at the end of that decade when they fell apart as a group, I’d always been marching on the offbeat. And my sister’s records offered me another set of performers and styles to explore.

One of those performers was Leo Kottke. I think my sister saw him in concert sometime in 1971, the year when I finished high school and started college. Within a week or so, she’d bought two Leo Kottke albums, Mudlark and Circle ’Round The Sun. Both of those albums became part of the soundtrack to my first year in college, as I spent numerous evenings lounging on the green couch on one side of the rec room, listening to music unlike anything I was hearing on any radio station. When my sister took her small stash of records with her en route to married life, she left small but significant gaps in my listening. Over the years, I’ve found many of those records on LP and, in the past few years, a few on CD.

My thought here is to post and share over the next few months most of those albums that my sister owned, albums that helped shape my listening habits. Call them Green Couch Memories. (I’ve already shared one of those albums, John Denver’s Whose Garden Was This? I may share that again as this no doubt sporadic series moves along.) Some of the music in these forthcoming posts will be ripped from CDs; others will be from vinyl. Some of the rips will be files I’ve gotten from friends, while others will be my rips.

We’ll start with the first Leo Kottke record I remember hearing: Mudlark, released in 1971. This was the Kottke’s fourth release and his first on a major label, Capitol. (The earlier releases were 12-String Blues in 1969, Circle ’Round the Sun in 1970 and 6 and 12 String Guitar in 1971.) It’s also, I believe, the first to have bass and drums on some of the tracks.

(When I wrote about Kottke and my search for Mudlark and Circle ’Round The Sun last summer, within days, two regular readers of my blog emailed me and offered copies of the two albums. So my thanks to Mitch and Bob. In a world where I planned and scheduled things better, today’s rip of Mudlark would come from the copy Bob sent me, but that’s one of those things I’ve not gotten around to, so I’m sharing a copy of the record that I found at a forum. I may make time in the next few days to rip the LP, which would result in a slightly higher bitrate for the mp3s, but we’ll see.)

Musicians on the record are:

Kottke on guitars and vocals; Wayne Moss, Roy Estrada, Larry Taylor and Pat Smith on bass; Kenneth Buttrey and Paul Lagos on drums, and John Harris and Jeffrey Kaplan on piano. On “Monkey Lust,” the Juke Box Phantom is listed as “guest vocalist extraordinare.” The album was recorded at Cinderella Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, and was produced by Denny Bruce and Michael Sunday.

Tracks:
Cripple Creek
Eight Miles High
June Bug
The Ice Miner
Bumblebee
Stealing
Monkey Lust
Poor Boy
Lullaby
Machine #2
Hear The Wind Howl
Bourée
Room 8
Standing In My Shoes

Leo Kottke – Mudlark [1971]

Kottke, Goodman, Buchanan & Goodman

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 21, 2008

After Tuesday’s post of Leo Kottke’s two versions of “Eight Miles High,” my friend Mitch in Alabama let loose the hounds of email, shipping me a couple of Kottke albums and a link to a video. The albums will likely show up here in the future, but here’s the video of Leo Kottke, probably in 1974, performing “Last Steam Engine Train” and “Stealing.” (The video unhappily ends in mid-song, but still, the finger-picking is incredible.)

After that, I decided the world could always use more Dickie Goodman, so I dug around YouTube myself. Goodman’s silliness doesn’t lend itself to videos, so there’s nothing to see, but no matter. Here’s “Mr. Jaws” from 1975, when the record went to No. 4. (There’s a little noise in the recording, but it’s still listenable.)*

And here’s the record that started it all, “Flying Saucer, Parts 1 & 2,” from 1956. Buchanan and Goodman were working out the kinks with this one; the references to the records themselves are awkward. But it was a start. The record went to No. 3.

*The “Mr. Jaws” video originally posted had no visuals; the replacement video found during archival posting obviously does. Video replaced and note added August 3, 2011.

‘Stranger Than Known . . .’

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 19, 2008

Considering the Byrds’ great anthem, “Eight Miles High,” takes one in a number of directions.

The song was written by Byrds Gene Clark, David Crosby and Jim (now Roger) McGuinn, with credit at the time – 1965 – going to Clark for the lyrics and Crosby and McGuinn for the music (with Crosby taking credit for one line of the lyrics). That’s according to Wikipedia, which notes that since Clark’s death, McGuinn has claimed credit for the song’s concept as well as some of the lyrics.

Authorship aside, when the song was recorded and released, the Byrds insisted that it was about the group’s trip to England in 1965. And the surreal lyrics were an approximation of a travelogue from a strange and distant land. Clark said the title was a reference to the altitude of the airplane that brought the Byrds to England.

But as has been noted many times in many places, including Wikipedia, commercial air traffic flies at about 35,000 feet, or closer to seven miles high. To which Clark retorted, as I read somewhere long ago: “Eight Miles High” sounded better.

Well, it does. But even if the reference to literal altitude was a starting point, Clark and the rest of the Byrds cannot have been unaware of the winking reference to a different type of high. It may not have been the original source of the phrase, but the drug reference was almost certainly one of the reasons the song was written, recorded and loved. It’s pretty tame stuff as we sit here in the first decade of the next century, but forty years ago, even a winking reference like “Eight Miles High” was enough to get one’s record banned from airplay, and there were some stations that did not air the record for just that reason.

And the record only went to No. 14. Two of the group’s singles to that point had reached No. 1: “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).” Sandwiched between those two on the group’s Top 40 chart is “All I Really Want To Do,” which barely made the chart, edging to No. 40 for one week. And after “Eight Miles High,” the group got only three more singles into the Top 40: “Mr. Spaceman” at No. 36, “So You Want To Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star” at No. 29 and “My Back Pages” at No. 30.

So one can read – based simply on the charts – that “Eight Miles High” was the end of the Byrds as a strong chart presence. Now, there were personality conflicts and personnel changes galore in the group, and those were no doubt part of the reason the group’s presence in the Top 40 changed. How much influence should be laid to each bit of truth is one of the unknowns forty years later. I’m sure the surviving Byrds have something to say about it, and maybe I’ll read their accounts of those times eventually.

One other connection popped into my head as I listened to “Eight Miles High” last evening: Just as Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone” provided the name for a group of scuffling London-based blues players, so did “Eight Miles High” – in legend, at least—provide inspiration for another collection of musicians. I’ve read a number of times that the phrase “In places small faces unbound” inspired Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Jimmy Winston and Kenney Jones to name their group Small Faces.*

Wikipedia, on the other hand, says, “the group took their name from a remark by a female friend of Marriot’s, who noted that the band members all had ‘small faces’. The name stuck in part because of the mod slang usage of the word ‘face’ to mean a popular, trendsetting individual.” If that’s the case, then we have here another instance of the truth being decidedly less intesting than the legend. In matters of rock & roll, I guess it’s entirely up to each individual to decide whether to hold to the truth or embrace the legend.

(The mention of the Small Faces almost always cues in my brain their hit, “Itchykoo Park,” which went to No. 16 in the U.S. in early 1968. The record contains one of the more insistent earworms in my life: “It’s all too beautiful” repeated again and again. Then, of course, there’s the “What did you do there?” followed by the exultant “I got high!” And we’re back to pharmaceutical references again.)

Whether “Eight Miles High” was originally meant to refer to drugs or to travel is a question that likely will no longer be answered; again, legend will trump fact no matter what anyone says. It’s an odd song in its construction, of course, with the Byrds’ version being influenced by the music of India as well as – according to McGuinn – by John Coltrane’s saxophone work. Those unique qualities may be why there aren’t a lot of cover versions of the song.

According to All-Music Guide, there are currently eighty-seven CDs available that have a recording of “Eight Miles High.” More than half of those recordings are by the Byrds, usually the original version but sometimes the much longer (16:07) version that showed up on the 1970 album Untitled.

Among those who’ve covered “Eight Miles High,” there are some interesting names: Crowded House, the Folkswingers (whose album was posted here recently), the Floorjivers, Les Fradkin, Golden Earring, Joe Goldmark, Rufus Harley, Hüsker Dü, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, R.E.M., Roxy Music, the Leathercoated Minds, the Magic Mushroom Band, Shockabilly, Dave Stewart, the Ventures, and various individual members of the Byrds.

I’ve heard a few of those versions, and – as is par for this course – have never heard at all of some of the performers and groups in that list. The first cover I heard of “Eight Miles High,” however, remains one of my favorites. It was on one of the few albums my sister owned that I have not yet been able to replace on either LP or CD: Leo Kottke’s Mudlark, released in 1971. (In the past twenty years, I’ve never seen a copy of the LP in any used record store; the CD is available online fairly easily, and I’ll no doubt go that route soon.) The rip of the song I’m offering here is one I found at the Groovy Fab forum about a year ago.

I’m also providing a rip of Kottke performing “Eight Miles High” live in December 1968 at the No Exit coffeehouse, which was located in the basement of the student union of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. The performance was recorded by Alan Peterman, who offers “Eight Miles High” and six other songs from the performance at his own website. (Despite the low bitrate, it’s worth a listen.)

Leo Kottke – “Eight Miles High” [Mudlark, 1971)

Leo Kottke – “Eight Miles High” [Live at the No Exit, 1968)

*I may have read that tale about the Small Faces’ moniker somewhere, but it’s demonstrably false, and I should have known that, as the Small Faces predate the Byrds’ tune. The “small faces” reference was instead a nod to the British group. Note added August 3, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 9, 2008

A year or so back, I wrote about my first working summer, the summer I ended up cleaning and waxing floors with Mike and learning, along the way, to use one of those rotary floor scrubbers and polishers.

I saw a fellow using one of them somewhere the other day – I’ve wracked my brain and cannot remember where – and it brought me back to that summer. It also reminded me of a day in the autumn of 1983, not long after I’d started graduate school.

At the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, there is a covered walkway between Neff Hall and the building that houses the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper written by students and edited by teachers and graduate students. As I came through the walkway one autumn morning, I saw one of the maintenance men, an older fellow whose name I sadly do not recall, using a floor polisher with streams of students walking past him.

Sympathizing, I said to him, as the flow of students clogged, “Kind of hard to hit all the spots with all this traffic, isn’t it?”

He thought I was being critical. He stopped the machine and spun the handles toward me. “You wanna give it a try?”

I thought about trying to explain what I had meant and decided that wouldn’t work. So I shrugged and handed him my briefcase. I grabbed the handles, reminded myself – after twelve years – what it would feel like. I glanced over at the janitor, who was looking at me with a gleam of anticipation in his eye.

I squeezed the handles, and the polisher pulled me slightly to the right. I adjusted the weight, and – it came back to me in an instant – began polishing the floor right next to where he’d been working. Push forward slightly and go one way, pull back a little and go the other way.

The janitor smiled wryly and chewed his cheek. “You’ve done that before,” he said.

I nodded. “That’s one of the ways I got through my undergraduate years,” I told him.

I stopped the machine and took my briefcase, and he resumed polishing the floor. I spent another fifteen months taking classes at Mizzou, and every time I saw him from then on, he shot me a wink and a smile.

And here’s some of the music that I might have heard that evening when I was doing janitorial duties in my own home.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2
“Love Is The Law” by the Suburbs from Love Is The Law

“Easy Money” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man

“Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, Harvest single 5195

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA single 52316

“Rings” by Leo Kottke from Time Step

“Murder By Numbers” by the Police from Synchronicity

“Oh, What A Night” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart in 17 Places

“Finally Found A Home” by Huey Lewis & The News from Sports

“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners from Too-Rye-Ay

“On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. single 04594, from the film, Eddie And The Cruisers

“Man of Peace” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Poison Arrow” by ABC, Mercury single 810340

“True” by Spandau Ballet, Chrysalis single 42720

I’ll admit to not knowing a lot of these at the time they came out. I retreated from pop and rock as the Seventies moved into the Eighties, bored for the most part with what I was hearing and thus not keeping up with things as New Wave and Punk wandered into the room. In many ways, I’m in the same circumstance with a lot of the music from that time as I was in 1969, when I began to catch up with the years previous to then. But I have a few thoughts:

I’m still not impressed with Duran Duran. I wasn’t back then, when they were on MTV a lot (those were the years when MTV played music videos almost all the time), and I’m not now. They’re an inescapable part of the Eighties, though, in the same way that, oh, Alice Cooper was in the Seventies. (And I know I’ve offended two sets of fans there. Sorry.)

I’m not sure if one can lump the Suburbs and ABC into the same category, but the songs by those groups here are propulsive and fun (and that last adjective is odd when one considers the topic of ABC’s “Poison Arrow”). Another one of these songs that can be described the same way but is less consciously “New Wave” – if that really means anything – is “Come On, Eileen,” which in its single edit went to No. 1 in early 1983.

I guess “Easy Money” is the place on An Innocent Man where Billy Joel makes his nod toward Stax/Volt or something similar. I don’t know if it works in the context of the album, but hearing the song on its own, well, it just sounds like a mismatch. (The review of the album by Steven Thomas Erlewine at All-Music Guide also gauges the song as a Stax/Volt tribute. Erlewine makes the point that although the bulk of the album is an homage to pre-Beatles pop, Stax/Volt showed up after that time, putting “Easy Money” out of place on the album.)

“Rings” by Leo Kottke is a remake of the 1971 hit by Cymarron, and Kottke comes off pretty well. I almost lost my coffee laughing when I heard Leo sing, “Got Mel Blanc on the radio” instead of “Got James Taylor on the stereo.”

“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Brown Beaver Band is the best non-Springsteen Springsteen ever.

On The Oblivion Label . . .

May 23, 2011

Originally posted December 3, 2007

In the early 1970s, one of the verities of an academic year at St. Cloud State was a concert by Leo Kottke.

The guitar virtuoso had spent some time as a student in St. Cloud – according to local lore, lore confirmed by the liner notes to his 1971 album, Mudlark – and returned to the St. Cloud campus regularly for several years after his recording career got underway.

There are few guitarists, I would guess, who have a sound as distinctive as Kottke’s, and it’s a sound that’s remained consistent for more than thirty years. Cue up one of his albums – whether on LP or on CD – and the sound of Kottke and his twelve-string guitar is instantly recognizable. The first time I heard it was, I think, on Mudlark, Kottke’s major label debut, an album that my sister owned and took with her when she left home. In the years since I’ve been collecting vinyl seriously, I’ve never seen another copy. (The album is out on CD, remastered in 2005, I believe, and I may have to go that route.)

At about the same time as I was listening to Mudlark, Kottke played St. Cloud State in early 1972 as half of one of the more odd double-bills I’ve ever seen. Kottke was the second act of the night, following an hour-long performance by comic George Carlin, whose act climaxed with his current “hit” from his Class Clown album, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” (For some reason, I can still recite those seven words in order, even not having heard the routine for years. By my count, two of them are no strangers to broadcast these days, leaving five still verboten.)

Following the rowdiness of Carlin’s act with an hour of acoustic music was a tough job, but Kottke quieted the crowd and pulled us in. Much of the performance was pulled from Mudlark and from the 1972 release Greenhouse. Some of the songs, however, came from Kottke’s earlier recordings: 1969’s mostly live 12 String Blues; his first studio album, Circle ’Round The Sun, a 1970 recording which had for the most part the same songs; and 6- and 12-String Guitar, released in 1971 on fellow virtuoso John Fahey’s Takoma label.

The Takoma album – which I have on vinyl – is available on CD, but the first two are not. Of the two, the more rare is the first, 12 String Blues, which was released on the Oblivion label, a label name that’s evidently Kottke’s witticism, according to a piece by Bruce Muckala at a Kottke fan site. I have neither of the first two in my vinyl collection (along with Mudlark, my sister took away her copy of Circle ’Round The Sun, and I assume she still has it) but I was pleased to run across a rip of 12 String Blues not all that long ago at Grown So Ugly, a blog well worth visiting regularly.*

Except for three instrumentals, as Muckala notes, the album was recorded live at the Scholar Coffeehouse, a well-known locale for folk musicians near the University of Minnesota. At the time Kottke performed there, the coffeehouse was located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. During one of its earlier incarnations, the Scholar had been located in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis on the East Bank and was the site of some of the earliest performances by a young Bob Dylan.

Tracks:
If Momma Knew
So Cold In China
Furry Jane
Circle ’Round The Sun
Sweet Louise
The Prodigal Grave
Easter And The Sargasso Sea
Sunrise
Living In The Country
Sail Away Ladies
The Last Steam Engine Train
You Left Me Standing
Mary Mary

Leo Kottke – 12 String Blues [1969]

*Happily, in the years since this was posted, friends have presented me with vinyl copies of both Circle ’Round The Sun and Mudlark. [Note added May 23, 2011.]

A Six-Pack of Sleep

April 26, 2011

For some reason, I woke up early this morning. Very early.

I usually sleep – with the help of my nightly Ambien – until the alarm rings, generally sometime around 6:30 or so. But this morning, I woke up before that. I rolled over and looked at the clock: 4:11. For a moment, I wondered what roused me, listened for the sounds of a cat in trouble or up to no good. Nothing. So I rolled over, rearranged my pillows and went back to sleep.

I woke up again. The clock read 4:39. One of the cats – Little Gus – was lying against my leg, but that shouldn’t have been enough to rouse me. I listened again and still heard no sounds of feline mischief. I tossed one of the covers to the side and rolled over the other way and closed my eyes again.

And I woke up once more, seemingly for no particular reason. I lay there for a few moments, annoyed, and then opened my eyes and checked the time: 5:11. Accepting the inevitable, I got up and started my day. Fortified by some coffee and whole-grain toaster pastries, I put together a lunch for the Texas Gal, checked some stuff online and realized that while my body was up and moving, my brain was still slumbering. So a more creative post will have to wait until Thursday. Instead, here is a selection of songs about sleep.

“I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles from Revolver [1966]

“She Never Sleeps Beside Me” by Zager & Evans from Zager & Evans [1970]

“Sleep Walk” by Leo Kottke from Guitar Music [1981]

“The Devil Never Sleeps” by Iron & Wine from The Shepherd’s Dog [2007]

“She Sleeps Alone” by Pat Shannon, Warner Bros. 7210 [1968]

“Two Sleepy People” by Crystal Gayle & Willie Nelson from Crystal Gayle Sings The Heart & Soul Of Hoagy Carmichael [2004]

I was hoping a Beatles song would show up this morning. Before I decided on the word “sleep” as my search word, I considered using “tired.” I know I’ve used it before, so I went the other direction. Had I gone with “tired,” though, I figure that “I’m So Tired” from the White Album would have had a good chance of popping up. And that would have worked. But “I’m Only Sleeping” from Revolver is just as good a track, and it’s presented in this video in beautiful mono.

The All-Music Guide review of Zager & Evans’ self-titled album – the duo’s follow-up to In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) – is scathing: “This project gives record labels an excuse as to why important artists don’t get multiple album deals – there’s nothing remotely sounding like a hit, in fact, this is just a horrendous collection of bad songs by Rick Evans who takes all the blame for the words and music.” And that’s an accurate assessment. (And why I keep the album in the RealPlayer is a question I cannot answer.) As it happens, “She Never Sleeps Beside Me” is probably the best thing on the album, but still, click at your own risk.

“Sleep Walk” is Leo Kottke’s take on the tune that Santo & Johnny – a guitar duo from Brooklyn – took to No. 1 in 1959. It’s a tune that’s been covered over and over but with only two versions making the pop chart. In 1982, jazz guitarist Larry Carlton released a version of the tune that went to No. 74. Kottke’s version, from his 1981 album, Guitar Work, is just a little too somnolent for me. Of course, that could be just me, just this morning.

The group Iron & Wine is basically Sam Beam, who’s released a series of increasingly good albums since 2002. His first efforts were pretty quiet affairs, but The Shepherd Dog from 2007 is different. AMG notes that “Beam surrounds himself with a large cast of musicians, and they blanket the songs with a wide array of instrumentation, everything from accordions to Hammond organ, piano to backward guitars, vibraphone to bass harmonica.” “The Devil Never Sleeps” is one of the tracks that benefits the most from the new approach, with its barrelhouse piano and chugging rhythm.

I was pleased that Pat Shannon’s “She Sleeps Alone” popped up in my random exploration this morning. I’m not sure where I found the track, which seems to be the B-Side to his single “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy.” But it’s a nifty, if melancholy, slice of late 1960s pop. Shannon had released some singles in the late 1950s in what AMG calls “a country-pop” vein. Neither those singles nor “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy” hit the charts; a 1970 release titled “Back To Dreamin’ Again” got to No. 103.

With its clarity of tone and accuracy of pitch, Crystal Gayle’s voice is a wonder. A fixture on the country chart between 1970 and 1988 (a total of forty-five hits, eighteen of them reaching No. 1), Gayle grabbed my attention a few years ago when I heard her work with Tom Waits on the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 film, One From The Heart. One of her more recent efforts is the 2004 collection of Hoagy Carmichael tunes on which “Two Sleepy People” is found. It’s good stuff.

A Double Baker’s Dozen From 1971

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 6, 2007

There’s a new fellow in Texas Gal’s office, and as kind of a “Welcome to the Funny Patch” gift, she asked me to put together a CD of songs that originated during the 1971-72 academic year, which was his senior year of high school. So I did, and I was pretty amazed at the quality of the music available from the period. Of course, since that time frame was my first year of college, and I seem to have focused a lot of my collecting – many people do likewise, I am sure – on the years of my youth, the sheer volume of stuff available should not have surprised me.

(A quick check on RealPlayer shows that there are 856 songs from 1971 and 720 songs from 1972 in the collection here.)

And Steve’s CD ended up with a pretty good list of songs from those months:

1. “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
2. “One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse
3. “Imagine” by John Lennon
4. “Life Is A Carnival” by The Band
5. “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes
6. “Two Divided By Love” by the Grass Roots
7. “Clean-Up Woman” by Betty Wright
8. “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
9. “Levon” by Elton John
10. “Precious and Few” by Climax
11. “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young
12. “Doctor My Eyes” by Jackson Browne
13. “Taxi” by Harry Chapin
14. “Suavecito” by Malo
15. “Diary” by Bread
16. “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers
17. “Conquistador” by Procol Harum
18. “Too Late To Turn Back Now” by Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
19. “Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones

Texas Gal said he liked it a lot and that he was amused and pleased by the ringer I hid at the end: “Geek in the Pink,” by Jason Mraz, hidden there because he said he’d liked the song when he heard a contestant perform it on American Idol last week.

And I thought, as I am fighting a cold and don’t have the energy to rip an LP today, I’d present a random double baker’s dozen from 1971. (The only rule was to have no more than one cut from any one album, and I did skip one cut from the Mimi Farina-Tom Jans album I posted Monday.) It was a fun year musically for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy the tunes!

“Volcano” by The Band from Cahoots.

“Lullaby” by Leo Kottke from Mudlark.

“Down My Dream” by Joy of Cooking from Joy of Cooking.

“Ecology Song” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills 2.

“It Ain’t Easy” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy.

“A Case Of You” by Joni Mitchell from Blue.

“Don’t Cry My Lady Love” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from Quicksilver.

“Nobody” by the Doobie Brothers from The Doobie Brothers.

“Rock Me On The Water” by Brewer & Shipley from Shake Off The Demon.

“Sweet Emily” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People

“Vigilante Man” by Ry Cooder from Into The Purple Valley

“I Saw Her Standing There” by Little Richard fromThe Rill Thing.

“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King from Live In Cook County Jail.

“January Song” by Lindisfarne from Fog On The Tyne.

“Hats Off (To The Stranger)” by Lighthouse from One Fine Morning.

“Levon” by Elton John from Madman Across The Water.

“Let Me Be The One” by Paul Williams from Just An Old Fashioned Love Song.

“Down In The Flood” by Bob Dylan from Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.

“Soul of Sadness” by Mother Earth from Bring Me Home.

“Pick Up A Gun” by Ralph McTell from You Well Meaning Brought Me Here.

“A Song For You” by Donny Hathaway from Donny Hathaway.

“That’s All Right” by Lightnin’ Slim from High & Low Down.

“Let Your Love Go” by Bread from Manna.

“Freedom Is Beyond The Door” by Candi Staton from Stand By Your Man.

“Younger Men Grow Older” by Richie Havens from Alarm Clock.

Eighties Music Hasn’t Changed, So I Must Have

September 30, 2010

As happens to – I think – every music lover during one era or another, while I was living through the first years of the 1980s, I didn’t have much use for the music of the times. That’s not news to those who’ve been reading this blog for a while; I’ve written before about how I felt about the music of the 1980s at the time that decade was unspooling.

What interests me now, though, is how I’ve come to appreciate more of that music these days than I ever thought I would. I grant that I’m still not accustomed to tunes from those years showing up in the playlists of the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to, but that’s a simple matter of disbelief at the march of time; it’s not an aesthetic comment on the music that’s new to that playlist.

There’s no doubt, though, that I quit listening regularly to pop music during several stretches of the 1980s, and that was especially true during the first few years of that decade. As I more and more disliked what I heard when I listened to Top 40 and other popular radio formats, my radio at home was frequently tuned to a jazz station, and I dabbled in country music at the time, too. I also listened to a lot of classical music, and I dug into the Big Band music of my parents’ youth. None of those satisfied me in the end, and I was a musical nomad for a while.

The funny thing is, I look at the records that were hits in the 1980s – either the lists of No. 1 songs week by week or the list of the biggest hits of the decade – and they don’t seem so awful now. Some of them, in fact, seem pretty palatable. There’s still a lot of piffle, but when wasn’t there piffle? The Sixties and Seventies each had their shares of bad singles rising to the top, and some of those bad singles – “bad” in the aesthetic sense – are among the records I still enjoy from those formative years of mine. (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” is a prime example: It’s at the same time an awful song and a great record if you were a listener then; but it’s not necessarily what I would want the aliens from Altair to hear first as they approached our blue planet. What would my choice be? I have no idea this morning.)

One thing is certain: The music I dissed between twenty and thirty years ago hasn’t changed. So if I like more of that music today than I did then, the change must have come from me. And, having thought about this at least a little, I think my reaction to the tunes of the time was more than anything else a reaction to the times. Politically, culturally, a lot of things changed in the years just before and just after 1980, with the changes adding up to one of those shifts in the zeitgeist that take place in our culture every twenty or thirty years or so.

And since one of the things that pop culture does well is to reflect that zeitgeist back to us through the mass media (though they become less mass year by year, a topic we might explore here another day), the music I was listening to and finding wanting was showing me – imperfectly, to be sure – the larger culture surrounding pop culture. I didn’t like what I saw, and in the first instance of old-fogyism that I can recall in my life – certainly not my last – I gave a “hrmmph” and turned my back on almost all pop music to find a more comforting current form of musical sustenance. I never did find it, which isn’t a surprise, as what I was looking for was 1970 or 1975 or something very much like that. And those years and their times were gone.

I think this is not a unique tale. Though the details – and the specific times – may differ, I think the first adult instance of noticing the world changing greatly around us is a universal experience. Sometimes we swim as hard as we can against the current, and sometimes we float and bob along. Some of us, I suppose, have boats and ride through the changes without much effort at all, and some very few of us – to stretch the metaphor to its elastic capacity – sit on the shore and watch the river flow and thus never move away from, oh, 1972 or whenever.

That last reaction – inaction, if you will – was never an option. Even though I felt more comfortable with those earlier times, and as much as I love memoir and memory, I still – as a reporter, as a writer, as a reader, as a person – had to be in the present. So I eventually made my peace with the fact that the times had shifted. Some of that peace was easier found when I went to graduate school; a university environment encourages exploration and acceptance of new ideas, and I found that to be true in the lesser matters of pop culture as well as the larger matters of social policy and all the other things that make the world run.

And being drawn back to pop culture and pop music — I still didn’t like everything I heard, but I was at least listening again – brought me to one of the best records included in this long project of the Ultimate Jukebox. I imagine that if I took the agonizing time to rank all 228 songs in the UJ – and I won’t do that; I have better things to invest my hours in – this record by the Cars from the late summer and early autumn of 1984 would fall securely in my Top Twenty, if not higher.

“Drive” was written and performed by the late Benjamin Orr of the Cars, and it spent the last two weeks of September and the first week of October 1984 at No. 3. It was also No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for three weeks.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 36
“Down in the Alley” by Elvis Presley from Spinout [1966]
“Back in the U.S.S.R.” by the Beatles from The Beatles [1968]
“Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal from De Ole Folks at Home [1969]
“Eight Miles High” by Leo Kottke from Mudlark [1971]
“Lady Marmalade” by LaBelle, Epic 50048 [1975]
“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City [1984]

The various movie soundtracks that Elvis Presley found himself entangled in during the 1960s weren’t often well-received when they came out, and they’re not often highly regarded today. Some Elvis fanatics – and I am not one of those – might find more in those releases than others, but generally, there aren’t many great Presley performances among those albums. There are, however, a couple of tracks from the soundtrack to Spinout that grab my ears. The first – and I’ve gone back and forth over the years on its value – is his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” I’ve finally settled on the view that it’s a good performance. But as good as the Dylan cover is, Presley’s take on “Down In The Alley” is the best track on the Spinout album. The tune was originally written and recorded by the Clovers in the mid-1950s, and I assume the record made some dent in the R&B chart, but I don’t know for certain. (I’m also uncertain about the year the Clovers’ version was released; I’ve seen both 1956 and 1957 at various sources.) The only release from Spinout that I can find on the Billboard Hot 100 is the title tune to the movie, which peaked at No. 40 in November of 1966, but from where I listen, “Down In The Alley” should have been a hit.

When listing my favorite singles for a post a couple of years ago – and I think all but one of those I listed have found their way into this project; a Rolling Stones track that I listed in that post as an honorable mention did not make the cut – I said that if the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” had ever been released as a single, there would be no doubt about my favorite single of all time. I’m not sure that’s honestly the case – it would be tough to knock “Cherish” out of the top spot – but “Back in the U.S.S.R.” would be in the top five, I think. (The other three? “We” by Shawn Phillips, “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt.) And hearing the song live at a Paul McCartney concert in 2002 remains one of the highlights of my musical life. (As for the video I’ve linked to, it’s labeled as a 1970s promo video. I have my doubts about that; for what it matters, a lot of the visuals seem to have been shot in the Netherlands. The other interesting thing about the video is that the audio is a different mix than is on the album, with a slightly different introduction, for one. And the song ends on its own. What I mean is that the sound of the airplane takes the record to its fade out without the opening guitar part to “Dear Prudence” overlapping. I’d never heard that before. Anyone out there know anything about any of it?)

I tend to forget that I saw Taj Mahal in concert once. He performed a Sunday afternoon show in St. Cloud’s new municipal arena in the spring of 1972, I think. (It might have been a year later.) The place was crowded, hot and uncomfortable. I knew very little of the man’s music at the time; in fact, I think “Fishin’ Blues” was the only song I recognized all afternoon. I know a bit more about the man and his music now, having collected several of his LPs and CDs. But he remains an enigma to me, maybe because he moves from place to place musically, always exploring and never settling down to one genre although All-Music Guide notes that “while he dabbled in many different genres, he never strayed too far from his laid-back country blues foundation.” As much as I’ve dug into the man’s work, I may need to dig more. Beyond that, one thing comes to mind: “Fishin’ Blues” was written by early 20th century songster Henry Thomas (a fact that Taj Mahal has always acknowledged; the writing credits on De Ole Folks At Home list Thomas and a J. Williams, whose identity is a mystery to me). Thus, “Fishin’ Blues” is the second song in the Ultimate Jukebox that came at least partly from Thomas’ pen. As I mentioned a while back, the flute riff that opens Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” is pretty much the same as the quills riff that opened Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues.”

Leo Kottke once likened his voice to the sound of “geese farts on a muggy day.” Never having heard the latter, I can only guess that he was wrong, as I like Kottke’s voice. I especially like it on his cover of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” on his Mudlark album. Along with his brilliant guitar work, Kottke’s vocal brings something to the surreal song that the Byrds’ swirling psychedelic single doesn’t deliver. On the other hand, my preference for Kottke’s version simply might stem from the fact that when my sister brought Mudlark home, it was probably the first time I’d ever heard the song. And I still prefer the cover to the admittedly brilliant original.

So what do we get from LaBelle’s No 1 hit? Beyond, that is, a lesson in French that college boys of all generations since 1975 have hoped to be able to put to use? We get a sly and funky piece of R&B that sounds as good today as it did thirty-five years ago when it spent a week at No. 1 on both the Top 40 and the R&B charts. “Lady Marmalade” still slinks, bumps, grinds and rocks.