Posts Tagged ‘Little Feat’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 26, 2007

I was out on the prairie in Minot, North Dakota, for not quite two years, from August 1987 to the end of June 1989. That makes 1988 the only full year I spent there, living in the front end of a duplex on a quiet street not all that far from the state university where I taught.

That summer was the warmest year since the Dustbowl and droughts of the 1930s, with temperatures routinely topping the hundred-degree mark. With the university not in session, I moved my computer from my home – which had no air conditioning – to my university office and wrote there. My weekday routine during most of that summer was a good one: Mornings, I’d edit and revise the previous day’s production, and late afternoons and evenings, I’d go back to the office and write new material, working on a novel with a writing partner in Minnesota and another one that was solely my creation. (The first has never been finished, though work resumed on it during this past year; the second was finished in 1989 but has never been published.)

For some reason, the state of North Dakota allowed its university faculty members to take their salaries over the nine months that school was in session or spread out over only eleven months. That second option meant that at the end of the summer, there would be one month with no income, and for those whose budgeting skills were challenged – and here I raise my hand without hesitation – that meant finding another source of income during that last month of summer. Accordingly, I found myself in the office of a temporary staffing firm, being interviewed by a young woman.

She glanced over my application and smiled brightly. “Now,” she said, “tell me about yourself. What specialized training have you had?”

I thought for a moment. I’d been a public relations writer, a reporter, an editor, and I’d taught all those things at one time or another. I’d also taught the history of journalism. As I finished my mental cataloguing, I chuckled. The young woman looked askance at me, the wattage of her smile dimming a little.

“I’m a journalist,” I said. “Beyond that, I have no specialized training.”

She persevered, still smiling. “What do you do well?”

I smiled back. “I read and write very well.”

Her smile dimmed appreciably, and – as it turned out – she had no place for me to work. Now, reporting is more than just reading and writing, of course. Research and analysis, interviewing techniques, the ability to listen carefully and other skills are essential. But reading and writing are the core skills of a good journalist. And I was being honest.

I wound up spending fifteen days late that summer doing telephone sales, calling individuals in Minot who’d expressed an interest one way or another in joining a health club, trying to sell them memberships. I was pretty good at it, but I was relieved when I walked out of that office for the final time, my pocket holding a check large enough to tide me over until I got the first check of the new academic year from the university.

I continued to make the rounds of the flea markets and the garage sales that summer, scavenging LPs wherever I went. I also made plenty of new purchases in stores around Minot and during a quick trip back to St. Cloud in August. It was during that year that music publications like Rolling Stone and others began to publish pieces about the death of the LP in the face of the popularity of the newly marketed CD. I began to find new LPs a little more difficult to find.

As always, the music I did find helped ease my way through the year, providing solace during a year of massive personal and professional challenges, about which nothing more need be said than that they existed.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988
“Love Me Like a Soldier” by Darden Smith from Darden Smith

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Chimes of Freedom

“Silvio” by Bob Dylan from Down In The Groove

“Trouble in the Fields” by Nanci Griffith from One Fair Summer Evening

“Zimbabwe” by Toni Childs from Union

“I’ll Tell Me Ma” Van Morrison & the Chieftains from Irish Heartbeat

“Never Die Young” by James Taylor, Columbia single 07616

“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles, Columbia single 68533

“To Love Is To Bury” by the Cowboy Junkies from The Trinity Session

“Loving Arms” by Livingston Taylor (with Leah Kunkel), Critique single 2486

“Last Night” by the Traveling Wilburys from The Traveling Wilburys

“Let It Roll” by Little Feat from Let It Roll

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra single 96412

A few notes about some of the recordings and artists:

I’ve shared much of Darden Smith’s early work here. “Love Me Like A Soldier” is from his major label debut, which also includes reworkings of three songs from his first album, Native Soil. This track, I think, is one of the better ones from Darden Smith, which found the Austin-born performer getting some help from such luminaries as Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett.

This version of “Born To Run” is the slowed-down acoustic version that Springsteen performed frequently in the 1980s. In a short story around that time, I described the transition over the years between the two versions like this:

He used to end his concerts with ‘Born to Run,’ guitars and drums and saxophone wailing while the road went by and he and the girl on the cycle roared toward whatever tomorrow would bring them because they knew it had to be better or at least no worse than what they had tonight and the roaring of the cycle that the narrator rode got mixed up with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounded and thundered with a noisy momentum that carried the E Street Band and its Boss and the audience in the arena toward some wonderful finish, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when he toured a few years later, at the end of the shows, when the audience might have been ready to rock but when Bruce and the guys with him were ready to go home, he’d play it slow. Solo, with only a quiet acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and sad, and the crowd was quiet. And it was right to do it like that: We had what we had, even if it wasn’t what we all dreamed of. And none of us were running anymore.

Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove is kind of a ramshackle album, pieced together – or so it seems – from bits and pieces that Dylan found himself with after a series of low-key sessions. It’s an amiable album, but it makes no grand statement – nor any statement at all, actually. Still, it’s a fun album, a mix of originals and covers, and “Silvio” is pretty representative.

Toni Childs and Tracy Chapman were two members of a diverse group of young women who came to prominence in the late 1980s, a group that the observing media carelessly lumped together in the category of New Folkies. Among the others so lumped were Suzanne Vega and the Indigo Girls. Sometimes the category fit well – as it did with Chapman and the Indigo Girls – and sometimes it didn’t, as with Childs. She was a singer-songwriter, but her work was more ornate and opaque, with production techniques being laid over her swirling songs in a way that didn’t happen with the others. Union was Child’s first release, and to my ears, the parable of “Zimbabwe” is its centerpiece. Two more albums followed: House of Hope in 1991 and The Women’s Boat in 1994. All are well worth finding. The same holds true for the larger output of Tracy Chapman, of course, which to my ears is more rooted in folk than is Childs’ work. From her first self-titled release – “Fast Car” was the first single – through her most recent release, 2005’s Where You Live, Chapman has been firm in calling for change, both internally in her listeners’ hearts and externally in the world in which she and her listeners live. The narrator of “Fast Car” is hopeful but realistic, a posture that seems more reasonable than most. And it was a great radio single, too!

“Let It Roll” is the title track from the first Little Feat album recorded when the group reconvened following the death of founder Lowell George. Some fans were offended by the band’s regrouping, but the fact was that George’s involvement in the band’s efforts had diminished more and more during the years he struggled with the difficulties that finally took his life. Let It Roll is a pretty good album by a group that decided to go on doing what it did best: make music.

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A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2

May 18, 2011

Originally posted November 7, 2007

Yesterday, as I listened to Matthews’ Southern Comfort’s version of “Woodstock,” a memory floated in, triggered, I would guess, by the second verse:

“Well, I am going down to Yasgur’s farm
“Going to join in a rock and roll band,
“Goin’ to get back to the land to set my soul free.”

It certainly wasn’t Yasgur’s farm, but in a barn on a farm somewhere north of St. Cloud during the autumn of 1974, I might have had my chance to join a rock and roll band. And I would have turned it down.

The band was made up of friends of one of the gals I hung around with at school. I’ve made reference before to the group of people who congregated every day in the lower level of Atwood, the student union at St. Cloud State, about twenty people who came and went during the day, all part of what we called The Table. Annie was one of those people, and sometime during the latter part of October 1974, she mentioned to the group at large that a band made up of her friends was looking for a keyboard player. From the other side of The Table, Amy and Jackie pointed at me, and Annie raised her eyebrows.

“You play?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Yeah,” I said. “Whether it’s enough for a band, I don’t know.”

“You wanna give it a try?”

I nodded, and late one Thursday afternoon, a week before Halloween, Annie and I drove north of St. Cloud to the farm and climbed to the hayloft of the barn, where the band practiced. I don’t recall their names at all, but the band members were a drummer, two guitar players – both of whom sang – and a bass player. There was a small electric piano off to the side. I sat down and turned it on, then let my fingers ripple the keys, checking the sensitivity of its action.

I only recall a few of the songs we played that afternoon and evening. We did a few country rock things that were fairly simple for me to pick up, some blues, too. One of the guitarists asked if we should try “Lucky Man,” a song by Emerson, Lake & Palmer that had reached the lower level of the charts during the spring of 1971. The other guys looked at me.

“I’ve never played it,” I said. “What are the chords?”

They told me, and off we went. At the end of the vocal, at the point when the synthesizer slides in, I filled in with the electric piano, nodding to myself as my hands and my ears worked together, doing a pretty decent job of faking the Keith Emerson solo that takes over the song as it nears its end.

When we finished, the four guys in the band looked at each other and nodded. The drummer asked me, “Anything you want to do?”

“You guys know ‘Layla?’” I asked.

They shook their heads, but the drummer said, “We can fake the second half, if you want.”

I nodded and laid my hands on the keyboard, playing the opening bars to the second half of the famous song, Jim Gordon’s elegiac piano-led coda. The other guys filtered in, and one of the two guitarists did a pretty fair job with the slide part that rides above the piano. We sounded pretty good for our first time playing together.

By the time we finished, the sun had set, and the gloom outside was winning its battle with the few dim electric lamps in the hayloft. The drummer laid down his sticks as the other guys put up their guitars. I turned the piano off as Annie came up to me, grinning.

“When you said you could play a little,” she said, “I thought you meant you knew a few chords. Good lord, you’re good!” I smiled and nodded.

I got the sense that the guys in the band were looking for a keyboard player to go on the road with them. There was never an overt offer, but I wondered how I might react if there were, and I spent a portion of a sweet evening talking the idea over with a lady friend in the back seat of my 1961 Ford Falcon. Had there been such an offer, the idea would have had its attractions, but I was only a year or so away from my degree, and that would have had to come first. A couple of years later, and my answer might have been different.

It didn’t matter anyway: A traffic accident on Halloween night put me in the hospital for a week and kept me homebound for a month. I never heard any more about the band from Annie or anyone else.

That was probably just as well. Looking back, as unlikely as it might have been, the thought of my traveling the rock and roll highway when I was twenty-one is scary. I’m pretty sure that, had I gone on the road, I’d have ended up in thrall to one drug or another, if not marijuana or heroin or cocaine, then to alcohol, which is only significantly different because it’s legal. And I wouldn’t have lasted long.

We didn’t play the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that evening in the hayloft. We probably should have.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone from Wovoka

“Down The Road” by Little Feat from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

“Song from Half Mountain” by Dan Fogelberg from Souvenirs

“Blinded By Love” by Browning Bryant from Browning Bryant

“My World Begins and Ends With You” by Fallenrock from Watch Out For Fallenrock

“Over Jordan” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers

“Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman from Good Old Boys

“Ballad Of A Thin Man” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before The Flood

“Good Times” by Phoebe Snow from Phoebe Snow

“Just Like Sunshine” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“Fountain of Sorrow” by Jackson Browne from Late For The Sky

“Summer Breeze” by the Main Ingredient from Euphrates River

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

A few notes on some of the songs:

After featuring Redbone’s Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes Monday, it only seemed right to start the random run with the album version of “Come and Get Your Love.” The single version reached No. 5 during an eighteen-week stay on the Billboard pop chart in early 1974.

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was the fourth album for Little Feat, the extraordinarily eclectic group headed by Lowell George. The group’s audible influences included rock, country, blues, R&B and more. All-Music Guide calls the record “the pinnacle of Little Feat as a group” – as opposed to George’s personal peak – and I’m inclined to agree.

Browning Bryant is a name that almost no one knows today, and – to be honest – few knew it in 1974. He was a North Carolina lad, sixteen at the time he recorded “Blinded By Love.” The song was part of an album Bryant recorded for Reprise, with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (who wrote the song) producing. “Blinded By Love” and a few other tracks were recorded in Atlanta, but a good share of the album was recorded in New Orleans, with some help from some of the Meters. (Thanks to Dan Phillips at Home of the Groove for the tune and the information.)

The Talbot Brothers were the co-founders of Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country rock band best recalled for the classic 1969 track “Two Hangmen.” After Proffit and its run of five fine albums, the brothers followed their faith and began recording more overtly Christian music: The Talbot Brothers is the first album along the path that found John Michael Talbot becoming, in the 1980s, the best-selling male performer in the field of contemporary Christian music. Not surprisingly, “Over Jordan,” sounds a lot like Mason Proffit.

As I ran the random search, I had expected a song to pop up from Before the Flood, the live album from the tour that Bob Dylan did with The Band in early 1974. The track that showed up, “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” is a good track, with Garth Hudson’s spooky organ snaking its way around Dylan’s biting vocal. I’d hoped, however, for “Like A Rolling Stone.” The opening to that track on Before the Flood is one of the truly great moments in all of rock music.

As long as we’re talking superlatives, considering the opening lyric to “Fountain of Sorrow,” Jackson Browne’s meditation on love and time lost: “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you.” I shake my head almost every time I hear that line, awed by its simple brilliance.

[Revised significantly since first posting. Note added May 19, 2011.]