Posts Tagged ‘Linda Ronstadt’

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Like A Baseball Bat . . .

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 3, 2009

Every once in a while, as I follow sports, I come across an athlete talking about pulling a hamstring. “It was like being hit with a baseball bat in the back of my thigh” is a description I’ve read – or heard – many times. And I’ve thought two things:

First, that has to be overstatement. And second, even if it is overstatement, it can’t feel good.

Well, I learned late last evening that it’s not overstatement. And no, it doesn’t feel good.

I was helping the Texas Gal bring some things inside the house. As I turned to go up the short staircase that leads into the kitchen, something happened to my right leg. And it did in fact feel like I’d been hit with a baseball bat squarely in the back of my thigh. I grabbed at my thigh as I shouted and fell, my momentum leaving me sprawled on the kitchen floor with the cats backing away in alarm.

After a few minutes, it was obvious I’d done some severe damage, as I couldn’t straighten my leg without a lot of pain. The Texas Gal helped me get some shoes on, and we headed to the emergency room. Two hours later, we were on our way home, stopping at a pharmacy along the way.

The ER doctor told me that I managed somehow to put a good-sized tear in one of the muscles in the back of my thigh. The good news was that the tear came in the middle of the muscle, not where it attaches to the bone at either end. That, I’m sure, would have meant surgery. As it is, I’m on a regimen of pain killers, muscle relaxants and rest.

I can hobble around the house, and my thigh will heal. What with the pain killer, though, the world is in soft focus today, so I’m not going to write much more. We’ll let the following songs tell the tale.

A Six-Pack of Hurt
“Hurt So Bad” by Little Anthony & the Imperials, DCP 1128 [ 1965]

“It’s Gonna Hurt So Bad” by Doucette from Mama Let Him Play [1977]

“Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown…Home Grown [1969]

“The Big Hurt” by the People’s Choice, TSOP 4769 (B-Side) [1975]

“It Hurts To Be In Love” by Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli & Lou Ann Barton from Dreams Come True [1990]

“It Hurts Me To My Heart” by the Soul Children from Genesis [1972]

The Little Anthony track is one of the classics of Brooklyn soul/R&B, with Anthony weeping and wailing above a maelstrom of strings and what sounds like tympani. The group’s fifth Top 40 hit in a string of seven hits that began in 1958, “Hurt So Bad” went to No. 10 in early 1965.

Doucette was a pop rock group from Quebec, Canada, that released a couple of decent albums in the late 1970s. Led by Jerry Doucette, the band is one I’d not heard about until a little bit ago when a fellow blogger mentioned it in an email. I went digging and found a rip of Mama Let Him Play and gave it a listen. To me, it falls into the Pablo Cruise/Little River Band category, with lots of smooth edges and tight harmonies. There are times when I prefer a few more rough edges, yes, but there are also days when Seventies smooth is quite nice.

“Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” came from Linda Ronstadt’s first album, during a time – says All-Music Guide – when Ronstadt began “to abandon the folk leanings of the Stone Poneys for a relaxed country-rock approach.” According to the liner notes for The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years (which gathers her first three albums and some extra tracks on two CDs), Ronstadt and producer Chip Douglas didn’t really find the country sounds Ronstadt was seeking. Nevertheless, she did a good job on “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad,” a Randy Newman tune.

“The Big Hurt” by the People’s Choice was the B-Side to the group’s single, “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” which went to No. 11 in the summer of 1975. Produced by Leon Huff, “The Big Hurt” sounds to me more like Chicago or Memphis than Philadelphia. It’s still good, though.

“It Hurts To Be In Love” is a track from a glorious grouping of three bluesy women singers: Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. The entire Dreams Come True album is worth checking out, as the three women still hew to the roots while displaying some remarkable harmonies, backed by a band led by Dr. John (and including Jimmy Vaughn). Lou Ann Barton’s music has showed up here (and some will be reposted this month), but if anything by either of the other two women has showed up here, it’s been only in passing. That’s likely going to change. (Thanks to azzul for this one!)

The Soul Children have popped up here a couple of times before. A two-man, two-woman vocal group, the Children recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A slow and moody ballad, “It Hurts Me To My Heart,” is pretty representative of the Genesis album, which to my ears was a bit more subdued than the rest of the group’s body of work.

Repost:
Here’s an album that several people have been anxious for me to offer again, Coming Back For More by William Bell. The original post is here.

Coming Back For More by William Bell (1977)

Still Catching Up On The ’90s

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 8, 2008

I got to the CD party way, way late.

As the 1990s dawned, folks all around me were buying CDs of new music as well as replacing their long-suffering LPs (and then selling those LPs at places like Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis). Meanwhile, like a man watching a lake dry up, fearing the drought to come, I was watching the amount of new music available to me diminish seemingly day by day.

I’d seen the first signs of drought when I lived in Minot, North Dakota. Several stores that sold new records when I moved to town in the late summer of 1987 sold only CDs and cassettes by mid-1989, when I loaded another truck and moved back to Minnesota. Other music stores I’d frequented had far less vinyl for sale when I left town than they’d had two years earlier, all except the pawnshop, where the amount of vinyl increased greatly (though I spent little time there, for some reason).

By the time I lived in the Twin Cities, beginning in the autumn of 1991, new vinyl was rare. There might have been more, but I can recall right now only five newly released albums I found on vinyl during the 1990s: Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town, Human Touch and The Ghost of Tom Joad; the box set of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings; and Counting Crows’ Recovering the Satellites. Not being in a position to buy a CD player, I turned to cassettes to keep up on new music.

Radio helped, too. Not Top 40; I’d lost interest in hits sometime during the 1980s, but I listened frequently to Cities 97, a station that I think has a deeper playlist than most available in the Twin Cities. There, I heard some familiar stuff and a lot of new stuff by artists I was interested in learning about. Through radio and cassettes, I kept up with my old favorites and some new friends from the 1980s – Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and a few others – and got pointed toward some new performers: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Waterboys, October Project and the BoDeans come easily to mind.

But cassettes are awkward things, a declaration that will be news to nobody. It’s difficult to cue up a specific song or to skip one. So I didn’t invest in tapes the way I had already invested in vinyl. The result was that I learned a little less about new music during the 1990s than I had in previous decades. Since I got my first CD player in 1998 and then ventured on-line in early 2000, I’ve learned a fair amount about the decade that I spent mostly in Minneapolis. A little more than ten percent of the mp3s in my collection come from the 1990s, so here’s what the decade sounds like when I do a random program:

A Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s

“Sweet Spot” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris from Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, 1999

“Children in Bloom” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites, 1996

“Ghost of Johnny Ray” by Boo Hewerdine from Ignorance, 1992

“Thunder” by Jimmy Witherspoon from Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay, 1993

“Shake That Thang” by Long John Baldry from It Still Ain’t Easy, 1991

“Bordertown” by the Walkabouts from Setting The Woods On Fire, 1994

“Blue Yodel No. 9” by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and John Kahn from Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, 1997

“Do You Like The Way” by Santana featuring Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo from Supernatural, 1999

“Need A Little Help” by Billy Ray Cyrus from Trail of Tears, 1996

“Follow” by Paula Russell from West of Here, 1999

“Skies the Limit” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask, 1990

“Ghel Moma” by the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 4, 1998

“Lives In The Balance” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

A few notes:

The Linda Ronstadt-Emmylou Harris collaboration, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, is a gem. The two had worked together before, of course, most notably during the Trio sessions with Dolly Parton that produced two albums. The result of this collaboration is the sound of two voices and two souls performing in harmony.

Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay is one of the multitude of tribute anthologies that began to pop up in the 1990s. Covay’s catalog of soul and R&B songs is immense and truly great, though I believe he’d be immortal if “Chain of Fools” had been the only thing he ever wrote. And the CD is a delight, featuring some intriguing choices for the vocals, such as Todd Rundgren, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop and others. Witherspoon’s fine performance on “Thunder” was likely one of his last recordings. The Covay tribute was released in 1993 and Witherspoon crossed over in 1997 at the age of 77.

I don’t know much about the Walkabouts. I came across “Bordertown” on another blog – I forget which one – and liked it a lot. Having it pop up at random today is a nice stroke of luck, as I’m going to add Setting the Woods on Fire to my short list of CDs to find soon. All-Music Guide says the album is a “sweeping, stately record” that “owes a great deal to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street.” Sounds like a good deal to me.

Mention Billy Ray Cyrus and most folks flash back to 1992 and “Achy Breaky Heart,’ which dominated the country charts and made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. I looked for his Trail of Tears album simply because it includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” which turned out to be a pretty good version. Trail of Tears turned out to be a pretty good and surprisingly rootsy country album, which surprised me.

“Skies the Limits” (which makes no sense as a title to me) is the opening track from the album Fleetwood Mac recorded after replacing Lindsey Buckingham with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Behind the Mask is a pretty uninspired effort with a couple of good tracks on it. Unhappily, neither “Save Me” nor “Freedom” popped up.

Jackson Browne’s 1986 song “Lives in the Balance” was still relevant in 1994 when Richie Havens made it his own on Cuts to the Chase, and it’s still relevant today.

Linda, The Boss & Neil

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 7, 2008

Got lucky this morning. Within a few seconds of sliding around YouTube, I came across a video of Linda Ronstadt singing “Long Long Time” on a 1970 episode – or so the notes say – of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. It’s a good version, dampened only by her dropping the last verse of the song.

So I went looking for “All That Heaven Will Allow.” Here’s a performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from an April 17, 1988, concert in St. Louis, Missouri:

And here’s Neil Young at Farm Aid 2007 with a strong performance of Ian Tyson’s classic song “Four Strong Winds.” (Keep your eyes open for Willie Nelson.)

Enjoy!

A Baker’s Dozen For The Heartstrings

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 6, 2008

Boy, I gotta pay attention to what I write.

I was wandering through the cyberattic last evening, seeing if any of last spring’s posts needed reviewal or brought up something more to write about. And I found a post in which I listed my three favorite singles.

They were “Summer Rain,” a 1967 single by Johnny Rivers, “We” from Shawn Phillips, released in 1972 , and “Long, Long Time,” Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 minor hit. That was on May 24.

Then, less than three weeks ago, I offered up the Association’s “Cherish” as the perfect pop-rock single.

Now, there may be a difference between a favorite single and “perfect” single, but it would be slight. What the comparison between the two posts means is that I’ve been in the process of refining my views, and when reminded of another possibility – or when recalling something I’ve forgotten for a short time – I can modify my views. For some reason, when I was writing the May post headed by “Summer Rain” – sparked by a discussion at a bulletin board – I didn’t think about “Cherish.”

Why? Because I forgot about it. I wrote the bulletin board post that sparked my post here off the top of my head, and the Association record slipped my mind. But as I look at the four songs in question – the three from the May post and “Cherish,” I realize that they all do come from a list I did put together some time ago, a list of songs guaranteed to tug at my heart. They don’t all have memories of young women attached to them, although some of them do. But every one of them – when it pops up on the radio or the RealPlayer – will make me slow down for a moment or two, during which the bartender of my soul serves me a cup of bittersweet wine.

So, after excluding “Cherish,” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” as I posted both here fairly recently, here are the thirteen best songs remaining on that list:

A Baker’s Dozen for the Heartstrings
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by the Supremes & the Temptations, Motown single 1137, 1968

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread, Elektra single 45701, 1970

“Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol single 2846, 1970

“Hey Tomorrow” by Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, 1972

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, MCA single 40280, 1974

“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise single 0686, 1968

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seal & Crofts, Warner Bros. single 7740, 1973

“We” by Shawn Phillips, A&M single 1402, 1972

“All That Heaven Will Allow” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Cobwebs and Dust” by Gordon Lightfoot from If You Could Read My Mind, 1970

“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

A few notes:

Most of these, I acknowledge, are pop or singer-songwriter stuff, pretty mellow tunes for soul-searching in the dark hours, but the opener, well, even when the performers at Motown were baring their souls, they did so with a groove. The opening drums (has to be Benny Benjamin, I think) and then the low horns, followed by the horn chorus, well, all I can still say, forty years after I first heard it, is wow! My reference books are all packed away, or I’d credit the producer. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t sound light enough for a Smokey Robinson session. Maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland, or possibly even Berry Gordy himself. Anyone out there know? Whoever did it, they got it right.*

Bread recorded “It Don’t Matter To Me” twice. The first version, on the group’s first, self-titled album in 1969, sounds flatter than the single version that was released a year later. That’s likely recording technique instead of performance, and my preference for the single instead of the album track is likely based on familiarity, but the single version does seem the better of the two.

I expect a summons from the Taste Police – a term I’ve borrowed from fellow blogger Any Major Dude – regarding the Newton-John selection. Well, I’m guilty! Cuff me and lead me away! Make me listen to Ambrosia and Air Supply! “I Honestly Love You” is a good song (Peter Allen’s work) and a good recording. And I think it’s by far the best thing Newton-John has recorded in a long and indifferent career.

All of these have lyrics designed to make one sigh or worse, but the best lyric here might be “All That Heaven Will Allow,” with Springsteen’s working man taking us through three uses of the title phrase with three different meanings. A neat trick, and the Boss makes us believe it.

Fleetwood Mac should have had a hit with “Sentimental Lady” when Bare Trees came out in 1972. As it turned out, a remake by writer Bob Welch reached No. 8 in 1977, but the original is by far the better version of the song.

*As it happens, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was not produced by any of those luminaries I mentioned, but by Frank Wilson, about whom I know nothing. Note added and post revised slightly July 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Trains

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 7, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Baker’s Dozen From 1974, Vol. 3

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 24, 2008

I tend to read more than one book at a time. No, I don’t have two books in two hands and flip my head back and forth from volume to volume. I mean that I almost always have more than one book in progress and move back and forth between those books, depending on mood and circumstance. Along with The Shield of Time (mentioned the other day), I’m currently reading biographies of Roberto Clemente and Richie Havens and a book titled The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and the Invention of Murder, an account of how a New York murder in 1841 became a public sensation from which – evidently – follow all of the public sensations created by the crimes that fascinate us. Daniel Stashower’s thesis seems to be – I’ve not read far into the book – that the furor and frenzy in Manhattan following the murder of Mary Rogers is the civic predecessor of modern-day public reaction to all the so-called “crimes of the century,” over which our culture hovers like some bloated, moralizing and baleful vulture (my words, not Stashower’s).

As fascinating as that is, the book I’m moving through quicker than any other right now is Boom!, the look back at the Sixties written by former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw. Somewhere along the line, I said that the cultural whirlwind that we call the Sixties began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Brokaw considers the Sixties closed with the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, which is a reasonable stopping place. And his thesis, like that of many who have written before him, is that the Sixties are not really finished; they echo in today’s events and attitudes. (Though Brokaw’s thesis is not new, his book shines as a result of his clear and concise prose as well as the access he had to so many of the participants in the events under consideration.)

Indeed, if one wanted a confirmation that the events of the cultural era we call the Sixties have not gone away, all one needed to do was look at the front page of the Minneapolis StarTribune Saturday and today. The first of those stories noted that Sara Jane Olson of St. Paul had been released from a California prison after serving about six years for crimes committed in 1975 – a bank robbery that included a murder, and an attempt to bomb two police cars. The second story – today’s – reported that California authorities discovered that they had calculated Olson’s sentence incorrectly and she still has about a year to serve.

The link back to the Sixties, of course, is that in those days, Sara Jane Olson was known as Kathleen Soliah and was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical group that abducted heiress Patty Hearst in February of 1974 and committed other crimes both before and after most of its membership was killed when the house in which they took refuge burned down during a shoot-out with the Los Angeles Police Department in May 1974.

After the shootout/fire, Soliah, like Hearst and other members of the group, went back to the San Francisco area for some time. Soliah eventually moved to Minnesota, changed her name, married a doctor and raised a family under the name Sara Jane Olson.

When her identity was discovered as a result of a television show in 1999, I was working for a collection agency and was three years removed from reporting. Still, I was fascinated as I saw television coverage and read newspaper reports about the one-time radical turned doctor’s wife who’d hidden in St. Paul – right across the Mississippi River from my Minneapolis neighborhood – for more than twenty years. The reaction then to her arrest and now to her evidently mistaken and brief release make it clear that the Sixties – at least the Sixties of the SLA – are still with us, proving Brokaw’s thesis to be true in this case and, I am certain, in many more.

When the Symbionese Liberation Army brought itself into the news with its abduction of Patty Hearst, I was in Denmark. As with almost all things that took place in the U.S. during those nine months, it seemed as if I were seeing the kidnapping and all the rest of the news about the SLA through the wrong end of a telescope. Those of us in Fredericia knew things were happening – from the International Herald Tribune, from shared copies of the slender and expensive European editions of Time and Newsweek, and from conversation with our Danish friends, who translated coverage of events from Danish media. But out information was frequently old and sketchy.

By the time we students left Denmark on May 21, we knew there had been a shootout four days earlier but nothing more than that. I don’t think it was one of my first questions, but sometime during the forty-minute drive from the airport to my sister’s home the day I came home, I asked if Patty Hearst had been killed in the shootout. No, I was told. I nodded and went on to think of other things.

And as we think of other things, every once in a while the Sixties pop out of the box in which we try to store them neatly, and we’re reminded that the past is never really gone.

Here are some songs from the year the SLA burst into the headlines for the first time.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 3
“It’s Out Of My Hands” by the Soul Children from Friction

“Willie & The Hand Jive” by Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard

“Another Park, Another Sunday” by the Doobie Brothers, Warner Bros. single 7795

“When It’s Over” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“I’d Be So Happy” by Three Dog Night from Hard Labor

“Even A Fool Would Let Go” by Gayle McCormick from One More Hour

“Just Like This Train” by Joni Mitchell from Court & Spark

“Everything Good To Ya (Ain’t Always Good For Ya)” by B.T. Express from Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)

“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle from Nightbirds

“Keep the Faith” by Mel & Tim from Mel & Tim

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind

“Faithless Love” by Linda Ronstadt from Heart Like A Wheel

“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan & The Band from Before the Flood

A few notes:

461 Ocean Boulevard is regarded, I think, as one of Clapton’s great albums, coming after his drug-wracked retreat following 1970’s Layla. It’s a good album, but I hesitate to say it’s a great album, as there are just a few too many hollow spots. I love “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Please Be With Me” and “Let It Grow,” to name three. Unfortunately, the randomizer selected “Willie & The Hand Jive,” which to me is one of the album’s hollow spots.

Cold Blood, a great late Sixties group from the San Francisco area, was struggling by 1974 – as many acts were – to hold its audience, which to be unhappily honest, had never been that large to begin with. It titled its 1974 album after its lead singer, the attractive Lydia Pense, and then changed its name to Lydia Pense & Cold Blood by 1976. The move didn’t work, and the group faded into obscurity, remembered only by fans and collectors of Bay Area groups until the CD boom in the 1990s. The music’s still good.

Hard Labor was the last Three Dog Night album to reach the Top 20, and is better remembered as the source of two pretty good singles “Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here” and “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”. Overall, the band – especially the singers who had given Three Dog Night its character and identity – sounded tired.

Gayle McCormick had been the lead singer for Smith, the band that reached No. 5 in 1970 with an incendiary version of Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You.” When Smith didn’t reach the charts again, McCormick recorded two pretty good solo albums right away: her self-titled debut in 1971 and Flesh & Blood in 1972. One More Hour came in 1974, and wasn’t quite to the level of the earlier records. This may be the first version of “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” a tune written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow. All-Music Guide lists McCormick’s version as being the earliest in its database, but that’s not entirely persuasive. Even if it is first, it’s far from the best – I’d put my vote to Levon Helm’s 1982 version. Still, McCormick had a good voice, and at least battled the song to a draw, I think.

“Lady Marmalade” is an Allen Toussaint song that Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink brought back to life in the film Moulin Rogue and on the charts, reaching No. 1 for five weeks in 2001. The original version by LaBelle – Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash – came out on Nightbirds in 1974, and a single edit went to No. 1 for a week in 1975. It was so much more fun learning French from the jukebox than it had been in a third-floor classroom.

This was pretty much a random selection – I skipped stuff that had been previously posted – until the last song, when I decided to take over the universe’s work. I think I mentioned this version of “Like A Rolling Stone” when I wrote about stellar pop-rock introductions. This opener isn’t the best – I’d likely give that nod to the original “Layla” still – but it’s one of the few beginnings to a rock performance that left my jaw hanging the first time I heard it. Recorded, I believe, in Los Angeles, the performance provides an extraordinary capstone to the document of Bob Dylan and The Band on stage together.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1969

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 18, 2007

As I began to write this morning, I started the file with the date, as I always do, and as I typed “April 18,” I was sorely tempted to revisit 1975 for this week’s Baker’s Dozen.

Why? Because of this:

“Listen my children and you shall hear
“Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
“Hardly a man is now alive
“Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Of course, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was referring to a different “Seventy-five” – 1775 – when he wrote “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” And because I ran a Baker’s Dozen from 1975 just a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d hit a few other years before I begin repeating, as I am sure I will do at some point. So with the Texas Gal already off to work before providing any guidance, I’m going to choose 1969 and start with one of my favorite recordings of all time. 

There was an old hotel not far from the Mississippi River in downtown St. Cloud when I was growing up, the Grand Central. Historical rumor had it that it had been a stopping place for numerous famous people over the years, including Buffalo Bill Cody (a rumor that I believe was verified by a guest register discovered during the building’s demolition). It may have been a truly grand establishment at one time, but by my first year of college, it was pretty much a flophouse, and its first floor retail spaces were filled with small and generally short-lived shops that sold used records, posters, and equipment and accessories for pharmaceutical recreation.

It was in one of those shops in the spring of 1972, just a few months before the hotel came down and the lot was paved over for a lot for city bus service, that I pawed through a stack of records and found Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 album, in decent shape for a reasonable price. I grabbed it and went off to one of the college dorms, where I dropped in on some friends to share my find.

It’s a good record, with several songs that have become Cocker standards: “Delta Lady,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Dear Landlord” come quickly to mind. But the best cut on the album – I thought on first hearing and still think today, more than thirty years later – is Cocker’s take on John Sebastian’s “Darling, Be Home Soon.” With a feel of gospel-powered celebration, Cocker gives the song a joy that neither Sebastian nor anyone else has ever found in it. It thrilled me, even though I have to confess that at 18, I did not grasp the entire meaning of “the great relief of having you to talk to.”

I do now, and the song remains a favorite of mine and is the starting point for this random Baker’s Dozen from 1969:

“Darling, Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!

“Wild Child” by the Doors from The Soft Parade

“Songs To Aging Children Come” by Joni Mitchell from Clouds

“That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)” by Dusty Springfield, Atlantic single 2637

“Will You Be Staying After Sunday” by the Peppermint Rainbow, Decca single 32410

“Gentle On My Mind” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis

“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4187

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown . . . Home Grown

“Goodbye” by Frank Sinatra from Watertown

“I’m Easy” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs

 “Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2648

“What Are You Trying To Do” by Mother Earth from Make A Joyful Noise

“Dirty Old Man” by Delaney & Bonnie from Accept No Substitutes

I chuckled when the Doors’ “Wild Child” popped up right after “Darling, Be Home Soon.” It’s quite likely that when I took my Joe Cocker album to the dorm that long-ago Friday evening, “Wild Child” – or at least The Soft Parade – was playing on the stereo in my friend’s room; it was one of his favorite albums, and that specific song was to some extent an anthem for our freshman year.

Despite that, I also cringed a little at “Wild Child.” For some time, I’ve believed that the Doors were the most over-rated of all the well-known bands of their time, and much of The Soft Parade, in particular, is difficult to listen to with much pleasure these days.

There are two versions I like of Joni Mitchell’s “Songs to Aging Children Come” – this one, and the one by Tigger Outlaw in the 1969 film Alice’s Restaurant. Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing. Check it out if you get the chance.

The Sinatra tune, “Goodbye,” is from Watertown, a song cycle that’s one of the more idiosyncratic recordings of Sinatra’s long career. The songs on Watertown came from Bob Gaudio – writer of many of the Four Seasons’ hits – and Jake Holmes, the singer-songwriter/folk-rocker who was also the composer of “Dazed & Confused,” which Led Zeppelin appropriated as its own work. The album is, as All-Music Guide notes, Sinatra’s “most explicit attempt at rock-oriented pop.” It’s also a rather depressing piece of work, as the mood throughout is one of unrelieved (and unrelievable) sadness.

Elvis Presley’s version of “Gentle On My Mind” comes from his sessions in Memphis in 1969, which were regarded at the time as some of the best work he’d done in years. That was likely true, but, to me, “Gentle On My Mind” was one of the lesser efforts from those sessions. The best-known songs from those sessions, of course, are the three hits: “In The Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Suspicious Minds.” For my part, the best performance from those sessions is the King’s take on “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.”

“I’m Easy,” the Boz Scaggs tune, comes from his self-titled solo debut, which was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Probably the best-known cut on the album is “Loan Me A Dime,” which features – as do a few other cuts – Duane Allman.

“Dirty Old Man” features the classic line-up behind Delaney and Bonnie: Leon Russell, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner, Rita Coolidge and a few others.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1972

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 28, 2007

Well, I went back to the twelve remaining songs on my list of love songs and rolled the dice this morning. And we start today’s Baker’s Dozen with “We,” Shawn Phillips’ gorgeous anthem from his 1972 album, Faces. (The song was released as a single in 1974*  but didn’t make a dent in the charts; it’s possible that the only place the single got much play at all was in the jukebox of the student union at St. Cloud State, where my friends and I played it nearly every day.)

From there, we’ve got a pretty representative slice of the year with a few rarities. Nick Drake wasn’t nearly as well known then as he is now, some thirty years after his death. And I don’t think Cold Blood – a San Francisco band with a powerhouse singer, Lydia Pense – was very well known at the time, although all their work is worth seeking out. Manassas, as you likely know, is Stephen Stills and his friends.

The version of “Stage Fright” by The Band is from the live Rock of Ages album, different from, but no better or worse than, the 1971 studio version from the Stage Fright album.

Don’t be put off by the fact that “Hvor Går Du Hen?” is a Danish tune. Sebastian has for years been one of the pre-eminent homegrown musicians in Denmark, evolving from a Dylanesque folk-rocker in the early 1970s to a position of high regard for his frequent musicals now. And “Hvor Går Du Hen?” is mostly music, with only three lines of lyrics. Those lines translate roughly into: “Where do you go when you go home? Where do you go when you leave here? Where do you go when you go away?” It’s a lovely piece of work.

(Instead of posting thirteen individual links for the songs, I’ve decided to put all the mp3’s into a zip folder and post just one link.)

“We” by Shawn Phillips from Faces

“I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners, Atlantic single 2904

“Anyway” by Manassas from Manassas

“Who Is He And What Is He To You?” by Bill Withers from Still Bill

“Jazzman” by Pure Prairie League from Bustin’ Out

“Parasite” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon

“I Won’t Be Hangin’ ’Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt

“Hvor Går Du Hen?” by Sebastian from Den Store Flugt (Danish)

“Thinking Of You” by Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth from Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth

“I Just Want To See His Face” by the Rolling Stones from Exile On Main Street

“Lo & Behold” by Cold Blood from First Taste of Sin

“Stage Fright” by The Band from Rock of Ages

“Baby, I’m-A Want You” by Bread from Baby, I’m-A Want You

* As it turns out, the single was actually released in 1972, like the album, but for some reason, it did not show up in the student union jukebox until the autumn of 1974.