Posts Tagged ‘Leon Russell’

On to YouTube!

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 11, 2009

Looking for a video of Rolf Harris perfoming “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” I found something that, to me, is astounding. It’s a recording – with no video, but that’s okay – of Harris singing his hit song with the Beatles, most likely in 1963. It’s a little ragged, but the best thing is that the lyrics have been changed to reflect the session. Give it a listen:

Here’s a television performance by Dave Dudley of “Six Days On The Road.” It’s from his appearance on the National Life Grand Old Opry on October 28, 1966.

And to close the video portion of today’s post, here’s George Harrison and Leon Russell performing “Beware of Darkness” at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh:

Bonus Track
In yesterday’s post, I said of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” that there were probably hundreds of songs in which the narrator realizes how good things were at home “but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s.” Frequent commenters Yah Shure and Oldetymer suggested several songs with similar themes, and Oldetymer added that Hazel Dickens’ “West Virginia My Home” might top Bare’s song for twang.

I don’t have a recording of Dickens performing the song on her own, but I have a version she recorded with her frequent partner, Alice Gerard, from the 1976 album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard. And it’s pretty down-home.

When I made my comment, I was actually referring to the guitar figure that opened Bare’s record, but Oldetymer has done a service by reminding me of Dickens and her music, which is very much aligned with the sounds and places from which she, and country music, came. When you listen to Dickens, you’re hearing what a great deal of American music sounded like in 1927 when the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter – made their ways from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, for their first recording sessions, sessions that are said to have been the birthpoint of country music records.

There is, thus, an entirely different aesthetic to the music Dickens has recorded. (She turned seventy-four earlier this month.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sound of the past:

‘Beware Of Maya . . .’

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 9, 2009

As I look back over my musical life, there are hundreds of places, I suppose, where I learned something new or heard something new that changed the way I hear music. One popped to mind this week. I wrote last weekend about the people I spent time with during my first quarters of college, the Doors fans Dave and Mark and the other fellows and gals who hung around with us. In later years, my college life revolved around Atwood, the student center at St. Cloud State, but – with one significant exception – not during that first year.

It was that exception that I remembered this weekend. As school began in the autumn of 1971, Atwood had been remodeled and expanded, with the new sections being home, on the main floor, to an art gallery, meeting rooms, a small theater and a listening lounge. It was the listening lounge that pulled me to Atwood for a fair amount of my daily free time during that year.

The lounge itself was comfy: there were listening stations with easy chairs and sofas, with beanbags and large pillows. And on the end of the lounge was a small room with maybe fifteen turntables and a wide-ranging record library. A would-be lounger would go to the service window, and the student worker in the small room would take a student ID and a music request and would then hand out a set of headphones. The lounger would choose an open listening station and the worker would head off to cue up the record.

All that remained was to plug in the headphones and listen to the music, maybe while studying, writing a letter, or simply relaxing to the tunes. (I think this is correct; it’s been nearly forty years since I thought of the lounge, and some of the details are fuzzy.)

The lounge’s library numbered, I think, about fifty albums. I recall listening to Shawn Phillips, to Bobby Whitlock, to Derek & the Dominos, to Joe Cocker and to Leon Russell. I recall that listening to Leon Russell & The Shelter People sometime in early 1972 answered a question that had been lingering since Christmas. When I listened to The Concert for Bangladesh, which my folks had given me for Christmas, I was puzzled as to why George Harrison let Leon Russell sing one of the verses of “Beware of Darkness.” Not that Leon’s verse was badly done; I was learning to like the Okie’s idiosyncratic delivery.

But in January or February of 1972, when I stopped by the listening lounge and popped on the headphones for a run through Leon Russell & The Shelter People, I learned that the album included Leon’s version of the song. And his taking a verse at the concert the previous summer made more sense to me.

I don’t think the listening lounge lasted very long. I’m not sure if it was in operation during my second year of college, beginning in the fall of 1972, but I don’t think so. And I know for sure that it was gone by the time I came home from Denmark in the spring of 1974. It was a good idea, but I imagine there were reasons it was discontinued. And of course, these days, it would be unnecessary: We all carry our listening lounges with us in the form of mp3 players.

The memory of the listening lounge, as I noted above, brought back memories this week of “Beware of Darkness,” which at the time was one of my favorite George Harrison songs. (I still like it, but probably not with the fervor of a college freshman.) I wouldn’t want to call it a strange song, but it is unique, its imagery and message being very much of its time and of its composer. So it’s not surprising that there aren’t very many cover versions. All-Music Guide lists about thirty CDs with recordings of the song on it, and a good share of those, of course, are Harrison’s original version or his (and Russell’s) live version at the Concert for Bangladesh.

The slender list of those who’ve covered the song includes Eric Clapton (at the 2002 Concert for George), Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Marianne Faithful, Joel Harrison, Spock’s Beard and, of course, Leon Russell.

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People [1970]

A Six-Pack Of North

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 14, 2009

Readers from other areas than the United States’ Upper Midwest must sometimes wonder if my clear obsession with weather – especially cold weather and its travails – is mine alone or if I share it with others.

Let me be clear: Nearly all of us here in this northern tier of the U.S. are obsessed with our winter weather. We shudder at the thought of it every autumn, celebrate its leaving in the spring and remember it fondly during the warmest part of summer. And during the actual season of winter, we shiver, we kick clusters of accumulated dirt and ice from the wheel wells of our vehicles, and we cock our ears for the latest wisdom from our local television forecasters: “It’ll be brutally cold tonight here in the metro area, colder still in the outlying areas. Bundle up, and make sure you have your emergency kit in your car if you need to drive. If you don’t need to go, stay home.”

We talk wintertime survival with the folks next to us in line at the hardware store: “A fella could do a lot worse than to have a couple sets of jumper cables in the car, you know,” said one of the parka-wearing customers the other week when I was waiting to pay for my new show shovels. Three similarly clad customers – chilled cheeks and noses glowing red in the store’s fluorescent lights – nodded. Most of us, I think, settle for one set of jumper cables in our vehicles, but the man who advised us was correct: There are worse things that having two sets. You could have none and be stuck in the shopping mall parking lot with a dead battery as the day’s light fades.

Even the national news folks noticed our current cold snap. Our weather was the lead item yesterday on the CBS Evening News. The piece showed pretty accurately the perverse pride we take in surviving and maybe even thriving in brutally cold conditions. Later last evening, during one of those little chat moments that happen during local newscasts, the anchorwoman on another Twin Cities television station told her colleagues that friends of hers had moved to Minnesota from Florida in the past year. She said she’d had a difficult time getting those friends to understand what they’d be facing come this cold season. I got the sense that the truth had startled the newcomers and that the newswoman was taking at least a little satisfaction from her friends’ chilly bewilderment.

From what the weather mavens tell us, tonight and tomorrow will be the coldest in this particular siege. Here in St. Cloud, the temperature will drop to -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius), and with winds coming from the north, the wind chill will range from -36 to -46 Fahrenheit (-37 to -43 Celsius). It doesn’t look as though we’ll be setting any records, though. On February 2, 1996, folks in the little northern town of Tower, Minnesota, kept heading outside every few minutes to check the outdoor temperature, hoping to establish a new state record. They succeeded: The thermometer reading dropped at one point to -60 Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius).

This cold snap won’t bring with it any such extreme, from what I understand. And that’s fine, except for those folks in Embarrass, Minnesota, who would like their record back. As for me, sometime this afternoon, I will head out into the chill wind to run a few errands. I won’t be out long, and I’m not going far. But as I walk from the car to the stores, I’ll hunch my shoulders against the wind and – metaphorically if not literally – look back over my shoulder to see what’s coming at me from the north.

A Six Pack of North
“Girl From The North Country” by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]

“North Star” by Jesse Winchester from Third Down, 110 To Go [1972]

“Northern Sky” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later [1970]

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah [1974]

“North, South, East And West” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

“Theme from Northern Exposure by David Schwartz [1990]

A few notes:

The Cocker/Russell duet, though it gets a little ragged at the end, is one of my favorite highlights from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. I sometimes wonder if Cocker and/or Russell thought for a split-second: “Oh, my god, Bob Dylan’s come to listen to us!”

The Jesse Winchester track comes from the second album Winchester recorded in Canada while he was exiled from the United States for evading the Vietnam-era draft. It’s a pretty good album, if a little bit inferior to his self-titled debut.

Nick Drake wasn’t utterly unknown during his lifetime, but he was a pretty obscure singer/songwriter. Now, in the age of CD re-release, he’s better known than even he might have though possible before his death in 1974. Bryter Later was the second of the three albums he released during his lifetime and is not quite a bleak as the other two records.

Quah was the first solo album by Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane. Since 1974, Kaukonen has released a string of good albums in a style that leans more and more toward Americana, with 2007’s Stars in My Crown being the most recent. (A new album, River of Time, is set for a February 10 release, according to All-Music Guide.)

Peace, In All Its Forms

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 23, 2008

Peace, In All Its Forms
“We Got to Have Peace” by Curtis Mayfield from Roots, 1971

“Peaceful in My Soul” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie, 1972

“Give Peace A Chance” by Joe Cocker (Leon Russell on piano) from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970

“Peace of Mind” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

“Peace Begins Within” by Mylon Lefevre from Mylon, 1970

“I Wish You Peace” by the Eagles from One Of These Nights, 1975

Autumn 1975: Learning New Skills

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 22, 2008

Pondering the autumn of 1975 – a season that seems more brilliant in memory the further it recedes in time – I realized that I expanded what educators call my “skill set” in those months.

Part of that expansion of abilities came from both my last quarter of college coursework before graduation and from my most frequent activity during my spare time, and part came on a wet October Saturday that I spent at home with my parents.

That wet Saturday provided an interesting learning opportunity, yet it left me with skills I’ve had no chance to use. For years, while my grandparents lived on their farm, our family would spend some time on the farm in August, with one of the late-summer chores being the butchering of a good number of chickens to freeze and store for the winter. The price my family paid Grandpa for the chicken was reasonable to him and far less than we would have paid at the butcher shop or at Carl’s Market up on East St. Germain.

After Grandpa and Grandma moved off the farm in 1972, we bought chicken in the store like everyone else. But for some reason in October 1975, Mom and Dad decided that they wanted some fresh chicken to freeze and store for the winter. So early one Saturday, Dad went off to a farm somewhere northeast of St. Cloud and came home with about a dozen chickens, headless and with their feathers removed. (A good thing, that last; from my experiences on the farm, I know well that pulling feathers from a butchered chicken is difficult and messy.) And for most of the rest of the day, Mom, Dad and I stood around the kitchen table, knives in hand, and cleaned chickens, something I’d never done before.

I needn’t go into gory detail. It was messy, of course, and by the time we got through cleaning and cutting up the final chicken, I was pretty good at it. I figure if I had to do it again, I could. But I’ve never had the need since, a fact for which I am grateful.

The other skill that I strengthened that autumn – in class and during my spare time – was writing. Among my classes that fall quarter was one in the history of the documentary film. We spent hours watching documentary films – from Robert Flaherty’s 1922 masterpiece, Nanook of the North – considered by most historians as the first true documentary – through 1971’s The Selling of the Pentagon, a television effort by CBS News. Some of the films were art; I think of Rain, a 1920s film by Joris Ivens (and the fact that these titles and names come back to me unbidden makes me realize again how important that class was to me) that detailed an everyday rainstorm in his hometown of Amsterdam, Holland. Some of them were something darker: The Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl chronicled the 1934 Congress of the German Nazi Party at Nuremberg and was – viewed with knowledge of the tragedy and horror that ensued – a chilling, powerful and dark piece of work.

Not only did we watch films, but we wrote about them. Each student was required during the quarter to submit a certain number – eight, maybe? – of brief critiques of the films we were seeing and one longer critique. The short papers were required to be two to three typed pages, double-spaced, and the longer paper, about ten pages. Not yet being skilled at composing my work at the typewriter, I wrote – actually printed – my critiques on notebook paper. And as I pondered and assessed the films we were seeing, I realized that, although writing was work, it was work I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to move words around into forms and orders that were mine alone.

I remember the first time I realized that: I was writing a critique of Rain, the brief film shot in 1920s Amsterdam, and I was assessing the pacing of the film. I wrote that the film moved through the streets “with a calm urgency, like the rain.” I paused and looked at my words on paper, especially that “calm urgency.” Something about the way those words looked, sounded and read together gripped me tightly. And it was something I had done! I’m sure other writers before – many others – had found that combination of those two words and gone ahead from there. But for the moment, that set of two words was mine.

That was the moment that I began to think of myself as a writer.

And writing took up much of my free time from then on: I wrote short stories, and screenplays. My lyrics – which I’d dabbled in since 1970 – became more focused and more planned. I continued to work on a memoir of a railroad jaunt through northern Scandinavia that I’d shared with a madcap Australian – a manuscript that has rested, ignored (justifiably, I’m sure), in my files for more than thirty years now.

A writer is always learning to write. Every time he or she takes pen or pencil to paper or lays his or her fingers on the keyboard, a writer is learning something. The lesson may not be obvious; the learning is not conscious. But a writer who is serious about his or her craft comes away from every session with his or her skills honed more, even if it’s just a tiny bit. In those days in the autumn of 1975, I was learning a great deal about writing – and about thinking, for one cannot write clearly without thinking clearly – every time I sat down at a table, whether that was in my room or the basement rec room at home, in a coffee shop or restaurant around town, or in my favorite haunt, the snack bar in the basement of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center.

I’ve never cleaned a chicken since that rainy Saturday. But I’ve written almost every day since I discovered that “calm urgency” one evening in the autumn of 1975.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 4
“Fire On The Mountain” by the Marshall Tucker Band, Capricorn 0244 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 18, 1975)

“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230 (No. 81)

“Gone At Last” by Paul Simon & Phoebe Snow, Columbia 10197

“Fight The Power” by the Isley Brothers from The Heat Is On (“Fight The Power, Pt. 1,” T-Neck 2256, was at No. 58)

“That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10172 (No. 50)

“Island Girl” by Elton John, MCA 40461 (No. 36)

“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 (No. 31)

“SOS” by Abba, Atlantic 3265 (No. 24)

“Lady Blue” by Leon Russell, Shelter 40378 (No. 19)

“Fame” by David Bowie, RCA Victor 10320 (No. 12)

“They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” by the Spinners, Atlantic 3284 (No. 9)

“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 (No. 6)

“Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka, Rocket 40460 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The Marshall Tucker Band was far more country-oriented than most of their brethren who recorded for the Capricorn label. “Fire On The Mountain,” which features Charlie Daniels on fiddle, would not be out of place on today’s country radio. Of course, a lot of what passes for country music these days would not have been out of place on rock and pop radio in 1975. Brooks & Dunn, for instance, often sound – instrumentally, at least – like the Rolling Stones gone off to Nashville. Anyway, more than thirty years on, the Marshall Tucker Band is still good listening.

I remember sitting at The Table in Atwood Center sometime during the autumn of 1975 and hearing the first low piano notes of “My Little Town” coming from the jukebox. I liked Paul Simon’s solo work, but it somehow sounded so right to hear his voice blend once more with Art Garfunkel’s (whose solo work was far less accomplished than Simon’s). And I think the song itself is one of Simon’s ignored masterpieces both musically and in the lyrics that detail the stifling atmospheres many of us perceive in our own hometowns as we grow.

I don’t have the Isley’s “Fight the Power, Part 1,” which went as high as No. 4, nor do I recall hearing it that autumn. But the album track from which Part 1 was pulled is too funky and, well, too good in its call to action to leave it out. I imagine the word “bulls**t” was bleeped on the radio.

A few of these singles, to this day, say “autumn of 1975” to me more than do the others. Among the most evocative – taking me back to sunny days on campus at a time when I was probably happier and more secure, both personally and in school, than I had ever been – are Earth, Wind & Fire’s “The Way Of The World” and Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” I love a lot of the rest of EW&F’s catalog, too, but “The Way Of The World” is my favorite. I guess “Dance With Me” is my favorite track by Orleans, too, but then, it has to be: It’s the only one I ever listen to.

Two of the other records here also take me back to a specific place on one specific evening that November: A pal of mine and I hit a series of drinking emporiums one Friday evening and wound up at a place called The Bucket, which was located in a spot that I believe placed it outside of the city limits of both St. Cloud and the nearby small town of Sartell. It was a rough place, and it had recently added to its attractions the diversion of young women disrobing while they danced on a small stage. Hey, we were twenty-two, okay? Anyway, among the songs one of the entertainers selected from the jukebox to accompany her efforts were David Bowie’s “Fame” and Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood.” Thankfully, they don’t pop up often, but when they do, those two tunes put me for just a moment in a Stearns County strip joint.

My Time In Middle-earth

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

A Friday Walk Through The Junkyard

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2008

My to-do list has gotten longer as the week has progressed. Tomorrow is the annual tabletop hockey competition here, and I have much left to accomplish. I do have some interesting albums to rip: I’ve gotten five fairly rare albums in the mail in recent weeks, with another – the Blue Rose album I mentioned Wednesday – on the way.

But time is short today, so instead of trying to rush one of those albums along and botching it, I thought I’d take one of my regular random walks through the junkyard and see what we find from the years 1951-2000.

“Fridgidaire Woman” by Son Seals from Living In The Danger Zone, 1991

“Screamer for Phlyses” by Shawn Phillips from Contribution, 1970

“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco single 6147, 1959

“Sad, Sad Day” by Muddy Waters from King Bee, 1981

“Corrina” by King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar from Official Music, 1970

“Wild Horses” by Leon Russell from Stop All That Jazz, 1974

“Little Girl” by Redbone from Redbone, 1970

“Pleasure” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from The Great Conspiracy, 1968

“Make Love To You” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run, 1976

“The Working Man” by Creedence Clearwater Revival from Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968

“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin, RCA single 14214, 1985

“Let Your Lovelight Shine” by the Buddy Miles Express from Expressway To Your Skull, 1968

“Don’t Make Promises” by the Beau Brummels, Warner Bros. single 7014, 1967

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally, 1970

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione from Feels So Good, 1977

A few notes:

Every three years or so from 1973 through 2000, blues fans could count on a release from Son Seals, an Arkansas-born blues guitarist discovered in a Chicago nightspot by Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. “Frigidaire Woman” comes from Living In The Danger Zone, which, in terms of quality, falls right in the middle of Seals’ nine-album series of works. Seals – who died in 2003 – never made a bad album; his best was most likely Midnight Son from 1976.

I heard “Mack the Knife” the other day as I pulled into the supermarket a parking lot. I waited to leave the car until the song ended, thinking, “I need to get that song into the blog,” and now, the universe has done that for me. The song originated in The Threepenny Opera, a 1928 piece of musical theater by writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The story of Macheath and his murderous ways was eventually translated to film in the 1950s and continues to be presented on occasion as live theater. Darin’s swinging version of the show’s opening number contrasts greatly with the staid and stiff version I heard when I listened to a recording of the opera. Louis Armstrong recorded a similar version of the tune, but it was Darin’s version that was the hit, going to No. 1 for nine weeks in the autumn of 1959. (Darin’s version – as did Armstrong’s before it – name-checks “Miss Lotte Lenya” during the final verses. In the mid- to late Sixties, when I heard the song, I was confused, as I knew Lotte Lenya only as the haggard and unappealing actress who’d played Soviet agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Lotte Lenya had been Kurt Weill’s wife, had acted in various stagings of The Threepenny Opera and had earned a Tony award for one of them, in the mid-1950s.)

King Bee, produced by Johnny Winter, was – from what I can tell – the last album in the long career of Muddy Waters. For the most part, the album is new versions of Waters’ work on the Chess label (including “Sad, Sad Day”), but the album is still a pretty good way to spend some time.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was a Los Angeles-based psychedelic band, and The Great Conspiracy was the group’s second album. Some of the songs on the record stretch out a little into some trippy mid-Sixties noodling and jamming. “Pleasure” isn’t one of those; it’s a fairly concise song that’s typical of second-level psychedelic pop rock. Good for what it is.

Pretty much right from the start, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a great band. The misfortune that John Fogerty and his bandmates had to face was that, at the time, bands that recorded long, trippy songs full of obscure allusions sold lots of records and were taken seriously, while bands that recorded good three-minute singles were relegated to a less-serious room, kind of like eating at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. But listening to CCR’s records today, even the stuff that wasn’t released as singles has aged an awful lot better than the work of a lot of those groups that were taken so seriously four decades ago. (Yeah, CCR stretched out sometimes, as on its version of “Suzy Q.” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” But those are the group’s less successful efforts, I think; the group’s strength was the three-minute single, and CCR did that about as well as anyone ever has. My favorite happens to be “Green River.”)

I think the 1985 collaboration between the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin tends to get lost in the memory of the Eighties as a decade of synths, drum machines and big hair (and the Eighties were all that). But “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” truly cooks. And it’s probably Aretha’s last great record.

I mentioned the other day the breadth of writers from which Three Dog Night got its material. “Heavy Church,” a record I’ve always liked a lot, ever since I got Naturally as a Christmas gift in 1971, was written by Alan O’Day, with whom I had a brief correspondence about “Rock & Roll Heaven” a while back. O’Day’s own version showed up on his 1973 album, Caress Me Pretty Music.

Chuck Mangione had a No. 4 hit in early 1978 with a single edit of “Feels So Good.” This is the nine-minute album version.

‘Tell Tchaikovsky The News . . .’

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 7, 2007

Ah, Leon Russell! Before the beard and mustache, before the long hair and the funky hat and clothes, before he met Joe Cocker and went with him on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, before he became enough of a star that just the sound of his voice, his Oklahoma drawl, brought an ovation at the Concert for Bangla Desh, before all that, Leon Russell was one of the great session men.

His list of credits at All-Music Guide is extraordinary and probably not complete: He was part of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, and he also worked on sessions for Jan & Dean and Chris Montez, for a whole slew of lost groups like the Del-Fi Hotrodders, the Knights, the Eliminators and the Super Stocks. He worked with Pat and Lolly Vegas, Bobby Vee, Gene Clark and the Monkees on his way to working with Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Dave Mason, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Bob Dylan during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. His fame waned a little as the 1980s came, but Leon continues to make music, on his own and with others.

And here he is, during the session days (in 1964, according to the notes), during what appears to be a television appearance, performing a jumping version of “Roll Over, Beethoven.” (I’ve done some minor digging without finding any more information about the clip; does anyone out there know any more?)*

*As readers informed me when an unannotated version of this video was originally posted – and as this replacement version of the video makes clear – the performance is from an episode of the ABC television show Shindig! The episode aired November 18, 1964. Note added June 11, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1971, Vol. 3

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 6, 2008

I know some bloggers plan and write ahead. My friend caithiseach, over at The Great Vinyl Meltdown, has his posts planned for the entire year, if I’m not mistaken, and he likely writes months ahead. I’m sure many other bloggers also have their post topics planned and thus know what they are going to comment on ahead of time. Well, that’s not I.

Given the general structure of the blog, I know what types of posts I’m going to make: albums, generally, on Mondays and Fridays, a cover song on Tuesdays, a Baker’s Dozen (focusing on either a year or a topic) on Wednesdays, a video on Thursdays and a single of interest on Saturdays. If I’m stuck for an album on either Monday or Friday, I’ll substitute with a Baker’s Dozen or a Walk Through the Junkyard (which is a random draw from all my music from the years 1950-2000). So there is that much structure, at least.

But I never know what I am going to write, and most of the time I have no idea of the topic until I put my fingers on the keyboard sometime after the Texas Gal heads off to work, between seven-thirty and eight o’clock. Then I let my fingers loose and see what I think that morning. It has always been thus.

During my best years in newspapering, when I was at Monticello in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then when I was at Eden Prairie during the 1990s, I frequently wrote a column, with the topic ranging from sports to social commentary to politics to life in a small town or an urban area to memoir to whimsy. Both papers were printed on Wednesdays, with the last writing generally needing to be completed around nine o’clock that morning. For most of my time at both papers, I’d sit down to write my column at, oh, eight o’clock on Wednesday morning. And there were times when I had no idea what my column would be about when I put my fingers on the keyboard.

My boss at Monticello didn’t seem perturbed by that, but I think that kind of high-wire writing is something I developed there, and he saw it grow, just as he saw the rest of my skill set grow during my first years as a reporter and writer. By the time I got to Eden Prairie, I was confident in my ability to come up with a readable column pretty much on demand, but I think it took some time for my editor there to trust that. By the time I’d been there a year or so, however, he would often come into my office on Tuesday after looking at the space available in the paper and at the amount of copy we needed to fill that space.

He’d ask, “Got time for a column tomorrow?”

I’d nod. “About 650 words?” I’d ask, that being the length he usually counted on when he did his planning.

He’d nod, and I’d go back to writing, beginning the internal – and generally subconscious – process that would bring me a column topic by the next day. And in the morning, I’d get to the office before seven, finish my late sports writing and then start my column and learn what it was I wanted to say that day.

I generally approach this blog that way, too. Of course, the stakes were higher in the world of weekly newspapers than they are here. If I failed to come up with something at least readable – good storytelling was my aim and eloquence and insight were frosting – then there was a space that would end up being filled with an ad for our own newspaper or something like that. I think that happened once during the nearly ten years I was at those two newspapers.

The consequences of not finding anything to write about here are much less. So, if I fail to come up with something that I think is readable – again, I hope to tell a good story and if I find eloquence and insight, that’s a bonus – I will simply make my excuses and post the music and some commentary about it. (If I’m not writing because of my health – and that has happened and will happen at times – I will simply say so; if I’ve found nothing to say, well, I’ll say that too.)

Now, on to the music:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 3
“You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King from Tapestry

“Questions and Conclusions” by Sweathog from Hallelujah

“Dust Filled Room” by Bill Fay from Time of the Last Persecution

“Let Me Go” by Batdorf & Rodney from Off the Shelf

“Lonesome Mary” by Chilliwack, A&M single 1310

“The Road Shines Bright” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Strikes Again

“On The Last Ride” by Tripsichord Music Box from Tripsichord Music Box

“Anytime” by It’s A Beautiful Day from Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime

“Too Late, But Not Forgotten” by Joy of Cooking from Joy of Cooking

“Eugene Pratt” by Mason Proffit from Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

“Let Your Love Go” by Bread, Elektra single 45711

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People

“1975” by Gene Clark from White Light

A few notes:

Carole King’s Tapestry was, of course, inescapable during the warm months of 1971. It reached No. 1 in the middle of June and stayed there until October. Its songs remain fresh and vital to this day, which is remarkable, considering how familiar even the album tracks have become over the years. It’s one of the truly great albums, and almost certainly in my Top 30 of all time, if I ever take the time to put together a comprehensive list.

“Questions and Conclusions” from Sweathog has the punchy, vibrant sound that made the group’s only hit – the title track from Hallelujah – reach No. 33 in December. The whole album is similar and a pretty good listen, and the sound was a good one for the times – maybe kind of a Steppenwolf Light –and I wonder why Sweathog never had any greater success. The horns at the end of the song work nicely, but are uncredited, as far as I can tell.

The enigmatic “Dust Filled Room” by Bill Fay is of a piece with the bulk of the album it comes from, Time of the Last Persecution. While maybe more of a period piece than something one might listen to often these days, the British folk-rocker’s second album is noteworthy for its brooding tone and apocalyptic stance and for the effective guitar work – sometimes bluesy, sometimes just suitably noisy – by Ray Russell.

By the time Tripsichord Music Box – don’t you just know it was a San Francisco group from the name alone? – released its only album, the group was calling itself simply Tripsichord. But the copy I got used the group’s original name as its title, and I’ve kept the tags that way. It’s not a badly done album. If you’re into the late ’60s hippie vibe, you’ll like it, as I do, at least one track at a time. The whole album at once, well . . . The best summation of the music comes from All-Music Guide: “It isn’t bad, and not too indulgent. It’s just pretty derivative, with the characteristically angular S.F. guitar lines, folk-influenced harmonies, and lyrics hopefully anticipating a new order of sunshine and possibility.”

The Mason Proffit track, “Eugene Pratt,” is an over-earnest anti-war, anti-draft song that nevertheless sounds good. Better known for “Two Hangmen” from the Wanted! album, Mason Proffit is often cited as one of the best bands of its time never to make it big. Any of the five country-rock albums the group released between 1969 and 1973 is a good listen, although the earlier ones are perhaps a shade more inventive.

Gene Clark was the lead vocalist and one of the chief songwriters for the Byrds from 1964 to 1966 and again briefly in 1967, but his greatest contribution to pop music came after that, as one of the founders of country rock. His work with the Gosdin Brothers and with Doug Dillard provides some of the foundations of that branch of rock, and his solo work often followed in that vein. White Light is an album that finds Clark presenting a set of songs that are intense and sometimes surprisingly intimate.