Posts Tagged ‘Little Richard’

We’ve Done Much But Still Have Much To Do

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 19, 2009

The two events on consecutive days are an opinion writer’s dream.

I’m talking, of course, about the unique juxtaposition of today’s national holiday commemorating the life and contributions of the Rev. Martin Luther King with tomorrow’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. Some editorial writers and columnist may tell that we have achieved our goal and left division behind. Others will tell us we have made a good start. I lean toward the latter view. Still, there is no doubt that there is much to celebrate. After Mr. Obama takes the oath of office, we can all rejoice that we as a nation are so much closer than we were to keeping the promises made in our founding documents.

There is here a reluctance to write much about race relations in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Why? Because I stand on the wrong side of the divide to truly know what the state of those relations is and has been. I can read, I can listen, I can guess. But I can never know. What I have observed in my lifetime makes me hopeful, but when I try to write about the topic, I find myself stumbling around like a blindfolded man in a dark house: I have no assurance that I know what I am doing or where I am headed.

(I recall the tale of another man who stood on the same side of that divide as I do. In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin, who was white, darkened his skin with the help of a doctor and spent six weeks traveling as an African American man through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. For anyone, but especially for those who see the 1950s and 1960s as distant history, if I could suggest one book that might provide a glimpse of what life was like in the segregated southern states in the U.S., it would be Black Like Me.)

As we celebrate and remember today and tomorrow, one of the things that I hope that we all keep in mind is that we have just begun to keep our promises. And those promises were sworn not only to those with darker skin colors but also to those with colder homes, emptier plates, fewer opportunities and far more challenges than most of us in this nation have to deal with. The racial divide still exists, of course, and those on both sides need to continue to keep faith. But the deeper divide, I think, is economic, and that divide – aggravated, no doubt, by the dismal economic news of recent months – leaves far too many of us in want. And I doubt whether those shackled by economic need are truly free.

This is certainly a darker piece than I intended to write. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I do not celebrate the vast progress we have made in the U.S. nor the remarkable achievement of this nation in electing Barack Obama as its president. I am pleased and encouraged both historically and in the moment. There is much yet to be done, and we need to remember that in the days, months and years to come. But we have come a long way, and that is worth celebrating.

Here’s some music to mark these moments:

“Chimes of Freedom” by the Byrds from Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

“A Ray of Hope” by the Rascals from Freedom Suite, 1969

“We Shall Overcome” by Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions-American Land Edition, 2006

“I Want My Freedom” by Marie Queenie Lyons from Soul Forever, 1970

“Freedom Blues” by Little Richard, Reprise 0907, 1970

“We Shall Be Free” by Maria Muldaur, Odetta, Joan Baez & Holly Near from Yes We Can, 2008

Some of these are well known and obvious. Little Richard certainly isn’t among the lesser-known here, but his 1970s releases are. “Freedom Blues” was pulled from The Rill Thing, one of several albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. (A few years ago, Rhino Handmade produced a limited CD reissue of those albums; copies currently run at about $150.)

I don’t know much about Marie Queenie Lyons. Soul Forever is the only album of hers listed at All-Music Guide. The recording comes from a post at My Blog Too. There’s some information about her and her connection to James Brown at Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven.*

Of the albums listed, my favorite is the final one, Yes We Can, on which Maria Muldaur draws together a bunch of friends and a great bunch of politically charged songs that serve as calls to action. One need not agree with the performers’ politics to enjoy the music.

*My Blog Too has been deleted since this piece was posted. Note added November 30, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Green

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 23, 2008

JB the DJ from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ made a couple good points in the comment he left yesterday about my gloomy Earth Day post.

He said, “Actually, it seems to me there’s some cause for optimism on this Earth Day. Despite the best efforts of many to convince us otherwise, more people today seem willing to accept that climate change is real, that fossil fuel is finite, and that we can no longer sit idly by and hope everything will be OK because it things have always worked out before.

“Has it happened in time and will it be enough? Too soon to tell. But it’s definitely happening.”

Those things are true and more even-tempered than were my glum words yesterday. But that was how I felt as I wrote yesterday morning; for whatever reason, I was not in a good state of mind. This morning seems better. And I take some solace in pondering the first sentence JB left here yesterday:

“All we can do is the best we can do.”

So it’s one foot in front of the other, and we end up where we end up. And it’s no doubt true – as I was reminded by some of the news coverage yesterday – that the air and water quality is better here in the U.S. and in many other places than it was on the first Earth Day in 1970. There is much yet to do, so much, in fact, that the prospect of what remains to be done is likely what soured my mood yesterday. But I can see this morning that much has been done.

Here, then, in recognition of the progress that has been made, is a Baker’s Dozen of Green:

“Green Flower Street” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Green Hornet” by Al Hirt, RCA single 8925, 1966

“Bitter Green” by Valdy from Landscapes, 1973

“Greenwood Creek” by the Doobie Brothers from The Doobie Brothers, 1971

“In The Land of Green” by Zager & Evans from In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), 1969

“Green-Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf, Liberty single 56813, 1970

“Green, Yellow, and Red” by Rosanne Cash from King’s Record Shop, 1987

“Green Lane” by The Sun Also Rises from The Sun Also Rises, 1970

“Little Green” by Joni Mitchell from Blue, 1971

“Green Rolling Hills” by Emmylou Harris from Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, 1978

“The Greener Side” by Jackie DeShannon, probably from the Laurel Canyon sessions, 1967

“Green Power” by Little Richard from The King of Rock And Roll, 1971

“Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection, Colossus single 112, 1970

A few notes:

Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly is a jazzy piece of work – of a kind with the latter-day work of Steely Dan around the same time – that takes a look back at American life in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The lens Fagen uses to look at those times, however, is of his own unique grinding, resulting in the same skewed and misshapen observations that came in the best of Steely Dan’s work.

Jazz critics of Al Hirt were wont to complain that he played too many notes too fast in his popular recordings. I’ve always thought that the frenetic pace of “The Green Hornet” – which owes a huge debt, of course, to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” – was his response: “Too many notes, you think? I’ll show you too many notes!”

“Bitter Green” is an early Gordon Lightfoot song – one of his better early compositions – and Valdy is one of Lightfoot’s countrymen, a Canadian whose recordings have gotten little attention over the years anywhere else. I first came across Valdy when I bought one of his records at a garage sale in Minneapolis, and I’ve gotten a few more of his records since. They’re pretty good, if a little bit thinly produced at times.

Sugarloaf released “Green-Eyed Lady” in two versions: the six-minute-plus album version, and the single edit, which went to No. 3 in the autumn of 1970. This version is the edit, and, as I wrote some time earlier, I’m still not sure if I prefer the edit or the long version. Both have their strong points.

The self-titled album by The Sun Also Rises was in a style All-Music Guide calls acid-folk: “The record very much reflects the influence of the foremost exponents of the style, the Incredible String Band, with its wavering harmonies and use of glockenspiel, vibes, dulcimer, kazoo, bells, and other miscellaneous instruments to complement the standard folk guitar.” It was the only album released by the duo of Graham and Anne Hemingway, and it’s very much an artifact of its time.

The Little Richard selection comes from The King of Rock & Roll, one of the three albums that the rock pioneer recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. A 2005 box set, King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings collected the three albums along with outtakes and songs recorded for a fourth album that was never released. For some reason, the box set was limited to 2,500 copies and has become a collector’s item.

Faces & A Whiff Of Strawberries

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 15, 2007

We finished a long-term project over the weekend, the Texas Gal and I: We put together that last of four large bookcases and got the last of our books out of storage and onto the shelves. Some of the boxes of books we opened in the past few weeks have been packed and stored since about the time we moved to St. Cloud five years ago, so we’d pretty much forgotten what was in them. We’ve got some books we didn’t recall at all, and we’ve got some books that are likely going to be making a trip either to the used book store downtown or to Goodwill on the west end.

And some other things popped out of the boxes, too. In one box of old books – packed away during the summer of 1999 when I shifted from one south Minneapolis apartment to another – I found three large photos of my Denmark group from my college days, one from our time there and two from our 1994 reunion. I’ve recently been sorting through keepsakes and papers from that time, looking to put together a scrapbook, and I’ve been wondering for some time where those photos were.

Along with the photos, I found a thin booklet the size of a standard sheet of eight-and-a-half by eleven paper. Its white front shows the 1971-era seal of St. Cloud State and the title The Register. It’s only sixty-two pages thick, and forty-eight of those pages are filled with portraits of some of the students entering St. Cloud State as freshmen that fall, kind of like a senior yearbook in reverse.

The book has pictures of about 860 incoming students out of a freshman class that I’d estimate had about 2,700 students in it (the total enrollment of St. Cloud State at the time was about 11,000). So, about a third of the new students had filled out information sheets and sent them in along with their photos sometime during the summer. (I’ve never known whether The Register was a moneymaking venture or a public service; there are forewords by leaders of one fraternity and one sorority and a few ads. Whatever it was, I think it existed for only one year.) And paging through those forty-eight pages of portraits – most of them senior year pictures from high school – is a time trip.

In the book, I see the faces of people with whom I spent many hours laughing and partying but whom I haven’t thought of for years. I see the faces of at least a few young women with whom I fell in and out of love. I also see the faces of some people who I still see and talk to regularly – one of them, like me, a veteran of that first St. Cloud State program in Denmark.

And memories rolled in as I paged through the book. As they did, they carried a soundtrack, of course:

One sunny Saturday, my pals Rick (a new Rick, not the one who lived across the street) and Dave and I sat on a concrete wall in front of the food services building, waiting to board a bus to a football game; a nearby radio provided the sound of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

A couple of weeks later, Rick, Dave and I – accompanied by a group of girls we’d recently met – wandered past a pick-up game on one of the outdoor basketball courts near the dorms. The introduction to Rod Stewart’s ”Maggie May” comes from speakers in a nearby window.

Several of those girls lived in an overflow housing area on the upper floors of Carol Hall, a one-time private home, and whenever I visited anyone there, I was almost certain to hear, from one room or another, the strains of Carole King’s Tapestry album, sounds that even now can pull me back in time. (I was also almost certain, during a visit to the upper floors of Carol Hall, to smell strawberry incense, and to this day, the scent of strawberries also sends me back to the autumn of 1971.)

During the springtime of 1972, the girl I was dating (yes, her picture is in the book) would visit me at my part-time maintenance job. I spent ten hours a week cleaning and being available on the second floor of the old library, where the art department’s weaving classes had been moved. The cleaning took very little time, so Mary and I spent quite a few hours talking quietly at the far end of the building from the weavers, almost always to the sounds of Donovan’s greatest hits. The weavers’ favorite for some reason was “Mellow Yellow,” which I cannot hear without envisioning Mary’s smile as well as the phalanx of looms on the far end of the room.

This is not rare, I assume. I’m sure that every person whose youth was formed by music – whether that be music from the Beatles, the Clash, Nirvana or anyone else – has those vivid flashes of memory tied to certain tunes. It seems to me I’ve read somewhere that sound is the second-most likely sense to trigger memory. (The first, if I recall correctly, is smell, which makes sense; as I said above, one whiff of strawberries . . .) So it’s not surprising that the music of our youth – the years when we were deciding, in effect, who we would be – is the music that stays with us.

Today’s album is The Rill Thing, Little Richard’s comeback attempt from the summer of 1971. It’s not one that I ever heard when it came out, although I recall hearing the single “Freedom Blues” a couple of times when it was released a year earlier. It’s interesting for a couple of points:

First, most of the album, if not all – sources aren’t clear on this – was recorded at Muscle Shoals with the famed crew there: Roger Hawkins on drums, David Hood on bass and Barry Beckett on keyboards (with numerous folks on guitar, from what I can tell).

Second, this was the second part of Little Richard’s most conscious effort at a 1970s comeback. The Rill Thing came out on Reprise, as did The King Of Rock & Roll in 1971 and The Second Coming in 1972. Of the three, The Rill Thing is probably the best. Along with “Freedom Blues,” to me the best tracks are “Greenwood, Mississippi” and his idiosyncratic take on the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” (which was included here in a Baker’s Dozen from 1971 a while back).

This is a reformatting and re-upping of a post I found somewhere else, offered because it’s a better rip than I could have gotten from my vinyl. My thanks to the original poster, somewhere out there in blogland.

Tracks:
Freedom Blues
Greenwood, Mississippi
Two-Time Loser
Dew Drop Inn
Somebody Saw You
Spreadin’ Natta, What’s the Matter?
The Rill Thing
Lovesick Blues
I Saw Her Standing There

Little Richard – The Rill Thing [1971]

A Double Baker’s Dozen From 1971

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 6, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Volcano” by The Band from Cahoots.

“Lullaby” by Leo Kottke from Mudlark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let Your Love Go” by Bread from Manna.

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

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