Posts Tagged ‘Mason Proffit’

Saturday Single No. 372

December 28, 2013

I’ve ridden the horse about as far as it can go, but I think ol’ Stewball has one more post in him, and that’s just what I need on this Saturday morning when the cold and sinus ailment that’s been hiding in the corner all week has decided it’s time to take center stage.

I noted yesterday that I’ve heard the modern folk version of “Stewball” – the version first recorded by the Greenbriar Boys in 1961 – numerous times, including the cover by the county rock group Mason Proffit on its 1969 album Wanted.

But I honestly must note that I have paid the Mason Proffit track little attention, as it closes Side One of the vinyl of Wanted, and the track for which the record is most notable, “Two Hangmen,” kicks off Side Two. I do have the CD issue of the album, where the two are adjacent, and if my having given less than full attention to Mason Proffit’s “Stewball” tells me anything, it’s that I need – in these days of mostly hearing single tracks from anywhere played randomly – to reacquaint myself with the entire Wanted album.

That can start with turning my attention to “Stewball,” as recorded by John and Terry Talbot and the rest of Mason Proffit. It’s interesting to note that the songwriting credit on both the vinyl I have and the 2006 CD call the song traditional, still ignoring the contributions of the Greenbriar Boys’ Bob Yellin. Maybe there’s a reason for that, but whatever it might be, we’ll pass it by today and simply note that Mason Proffit’s 1969 cover of “Stewball” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘And A Million Copies Made . . .’

May 28, 2012

It’s Memorial Day here in the United States. It’s a day to remember those who gave all in the service of their country.

And it’s a day to hope that someday, no one will be called to give all ever again.

Mason Proffit’s cover of the late Ed McCurdy’s iconic folk song, “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” was the title track to the group’s third album, released in 1971.

Saturday Single No. 254

September 10, 2011

As the 1990s were drawing to an end, in what now seems like another life, I spent about a year working for a collection agency, first in a Minneapolis suburb and then in a suburb north of St. Paul.

My work, done under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education, was relatively simple: I found people. I’d get an electronic file showing the original information – Social Security number, address, phone number and so on – of a person who had defaulted on a student loan guaranteed by the U.S. government. I’d get a current credit report. My job was to take that information and figure out a current address and telephone number for the borrower and pass that information on to our collectors.

Sometimes, I didn’t have to pass the information along. If the borrower owned property and I could prove it – usually through property assessment records – I could fill out some forms and pass them to another section of our office, and litigation would follow. And a relatively new program allowed us to begin litigation if we could simply prove that the borrower lived in one of five U.S. cities: Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles.

So I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking to folks in those cities and others throughout the U.S. One of our primary sources of information was county offices – either the registrar of deeds office or the voter registration office – and we thirty or so skip-tracers each developed sources across the country, helpful people we’d talked to by chance the first time we called an office and who, after that, didn’t mind helping regularly. I had a legal pad where I scrawled the names of counties and contacts and their direct phone numbers. I never found a good source in either Chicago or Detroit. I did know people in Los Angeles and in Houston and in maybe a hundred other county seats across the country. And I knew someone who could help with Brooklyn.

His name, I think, was Arthur. (It’s been twelve years, and I’m not certain, but “Arthur” is close enough). I never knew his last name, and from the tone of his voice, I’d guess he was in his fifties. Our first conversation would have started something like this:

Arthur: Voter registration, Arthur here.

Me: Voter registration for Brooklyn?

Arthur: Yes, that’s right.

Me: Good. I need some help, Arthur. I’m Greg calling from Blah-de-blah Resources, and I’m trying to find a person I think lives in Brooklyn, so I was wondering if you could confirm a few details for me. Voter registration records are public there, aren’t they?

(At that time, voter registration records across the country were public; I think they still are, but I don’t know for certain.)

Arthur: Yes, they’re public, but people are supposed to come down to the county offices to look at them. We’re not supposed to give that information over the phone.

Me: Well, I’d come down there if I could, Arthur, but I’m in Minnesota, and you’re a little too far away for me to get to during my lunch hour.

(That was usually good for a chuckle, and by this time Arthur – like everyone else I ever talked to in a county office – knew why I was calling. Companies with the word “resources” in their names generally called to verify addresses for only one reason.)

Arthur: This person you’re trying to find, she’s got some bad loans or debts, then, I guess.

Me: Well, I can’t tell you why I need to get this information, Arthur, and I think you know that.

(Federal privacy laws forbade me from revealing the borrower’s status as a loan defaulter to anyone except the borrower’s spouse. Arthur understood that, and I’d just told him what he needed to know.)

From there, Arthur would have gone into his computer files and I’d have given him a name and a Social Security number, and when his computer brought up something, I’d ask him to verify that the borrower in question lived on Flatbush Avenue or wherever. And at the end of that first conversation, as I thanked Arthur for his help – whether I got the information I needed or not – I’d ask for a direct phone number for the next time I was stumped. And Arthur, like several other folks around the country, gave that to me.

So Arthur became my door into Brooklyn, and I suppose I talked to him two or three times a week. We’d chat idly while his computer searched for a file: He’d ask how the Minnesota weather was, and I might talk about the blizzard from last week or how the days were getting warmer and this weekend was the fishing opener. I’d ask what was new his way, and he’d tell me about a movie or a play or maybe the boats he saw when he took his lunch outside, down at Battery Park.

We were friends of a very odd sort, Arthur and I, with the kind of connection that sometimes sprouts between folks in distant offices. Talking to Arthur was always pleasant, and it could provide a moment of ease during a day when I was running into barriers elsewhere. And I’d like to think that Arthur enjoyed talking to me, too.

Then, after I’d been at the agency for about a year, I ran into some health problems and left work. Not long after that, I met the Texas Gal and I eventually left the Twin Cities. And those days of tracing student loans are long behind me now. I don’t remember the names of more than two or three of my co-workers. I don’t even remember the name of the company I worked for.

But I do remember Arthur. And I think about him when September rolls around. Why?

Because the offices of the Board of Elections in New York City are located at 32 Broadway, near the tip of Manhattan. That’s about six blocks from the skyscrapers of the World Trade Center that came down in flames and dust ten years ago tomorrow. It’s possible that debris from the two explosions fell on the election offices, and it’s a certainty that those offices were enveloped by the massive clouds of dust created when the two towers collapsed.

And when I remember Arthur in September, I wonder what happened, what he saw, what he thought and felt. Does he still eat lunch down at Battery Park, at the very tip of Manhattan? Maybe he’s retired and eats his lunch in another park. He might have passed on, either on that horrible sunny day or on another day since then. I wonder about all of that, but I’ll likely never know what happened.

All I can do is hope that Arthur survived and that good things are his, always. And maybe that’s enough.

So here’s “Hope” by Mason Proffit from the 1971 album Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Tale Of Shelves And A Saw

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 12, 2008

My dad, along with being an educator, was a craftsman. His undergraduate degree was in industrial arts, which he’d hoped to teach in a high school. Biding his time until there was a teaching position open somewhere near St. Cloud, he returned to the campus of St. Cloud Teachers College – now St. Cloud State University – after he graduated. (Family lore says it was the next day, but I’m not certain.) He took what was expected to be a temporary position and wound up retiring thirty-three years later from St. Cloud State as an assistant professor of learning resources. He never taught industrial arts.

But he put his industrial arts training and experience to good use, doing a lot of the maintenance on our home – painting, minor electrical work, some carpentry and more – when I was a kid and in the years after I was grown. One of his major projects was turning half the basement into a rec room when I was in junior high. Local contractors installed wall studs, electrical outlets and carpet, and Dad took it from there, wrestling paneling into place and nailing it to the studs, measuring and installing a hanging ceiling with its tiles, and all the rest, creating a room that was a haven for my sister and me and our friends during our teen years and later.

Along the way, Dad gathered together an immense collection of tools and equipment, and when we cleared out the place on Kilian after he died, some of it came my way: his Montgomery Wards tool chest – much larger and better stocked than the rudimentary toolbox with which I’ve been making do over the years – and some additional tools, including a power drill, a power sander and an electric sabre saw.

Power tools, for some reason, have always scared me – a lot. I’m not sure why. The only one I’d ever used was a borrowed power drill to install a set of mini-blinds about ten years ago, and even that small drill made me uneasy. I’ve never done a lot of carpentry or other work requiring tools, anyway. During the mid-1980s, I did design and build some simple bookcases, but that’s been about the limit of my work. And I did those jobs with handsaws and hand tools.

This week, as I was installing my well-traveled brick and board bookcase in the study, I realized I was going to put more records on it than ever before, so it would need more support, a column of bricks in the center of the shelves to match the columns at the ends of the shelves. I wandered around town yesterday and managed to find three additional large patio blocks that matched the ones I’d bought almost twenty years ago. (The sales agent at the masonry yard was disappointed I didn’t need more of them; he wanted to clear as many of the antiquated blocks from his storage as he could.) And the guys at the lumberyard gladly cut the additional pieces of wood plank I needed to put on my shelves under the new blocks to extend the blocks’ height so the shelves would accommodate LPs.

But I could not find one piece I required, another foot, as it were: a masonry piece to put on the floor, centered under the first shelf, that would match the height of the two thick masonry pieces that held up the ends of that first shelf. As I left the masonry yard and headed home with three bricks, six wood pieces to put under the bricks and more than six feet of extra wood, I realized that three thicknesses of that extra wood plank would equal the thickness of the two masonry pieces already serving as feet. All I had to do was saw off three pieces of the extra board I got at the lumberyard, and I could stack those pieces for the missing foot.

So after hauling everything inside, I took the extra board down to the rudimentary workbench left by earlier residents of the house, where I’d installed Dad’s toolbox and the other things that had been his. With the measuring tape, I marked off three lengths of five inches, and then I grabbed a saw and got to work. It went slowly, of course. And a third of the way into the first cut, I stopped. In a box on the shelf, I realized, was the sabre saw.

I shuddered a little, thinking of the mayhem a potential mishap could cause. Once I shooed the cats upstairs and closed the door, I got out the sabre saw and plugged it in. Wanting to get a sense of how it felt before I applied it to wood, I tentatively turned it on, then off. And then I got busy. A few minutes later, I had the three pieces of board I needed. I put the saw back in its box and the box back on the shelf, and I swept up the sawdust, honestly trembling a little.

A few hours later, the revamped shelves were up and loaded: three shelves of records topped by a shelf of books. The three inexpertly cut pieces of wood are hidden under the first shelf. I don’t know when I might next have an occasion to use the sabre saw. But now I know I can if I have to.

A Baker’s Dozen of Saws
“The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell from Blue, 1971

“When I Saw You” by the Ronettes, Philles single 133, 1964

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic single 2864, 1972

“I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas & the Papas, Dunhill single 4031, 1966

“I Saw The Light” by Mason Proffit from Bare Back Rider, 1972

“Ride My See-Saw” by the Moody Blues from In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” by the Neon Philharmonic from The Moth Confesses, 1969

“See Saw” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2574, 1968

“Jigsaw Puzzle of Life” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle, 1975

“Junior Saw It Happen” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future, 1968

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls, Bell single 1254 (UK?), 1972

“I Saw It On T.V.” by John Fogerty from Centerfield, 1985

“Crosscut Saw” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967

A few notes:

This is mostly a random selection. The only song I chose was the closer, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” because it seemed appropriate.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was omnipresent during early 1972. Originally recorded for Flack’s First Take album in 1969, the song – written by British folksinger Ewan MacColl – was used as background music in Clint Eastwood’s film Play Misty For Me, which came out in late 1971. After that, Atlantic trimmed about a minute from the track and issued it as a single. The record entered the Top 40 in March and spent six weeks at No. 1, eventually earning Flack and MacColl Grammy awards for, respectively, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Bare Back Rider was the second and final major label release from Mason Proffit, one of the best bands never to make it big. In its review of Bare Back Rider, All-Music Guide notes: “You’d have thought that music this impressive could get a hearing, but Mason Proffit appeared at a time when music fans were more polarized than musicians, not only by music but by politics and culture. Despite the band’s evident affection for traditional country music, their left-wing political stance and status as hippie rock musicians meant they could never be accepted in Nashville. And their music was too overtly country for them to score a pop hit. Thus, they were doomed to appeal only on the country-rock-oriented Los Angeles club scene and to some music critics.”

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” is a nice bit of trippy pop from the Neon Philharmonic, better known for the same album’s “Morning Girl,” a sweet coming-of-age single that went to No. 17 in the spring and summer of 1969. The Neon Philharmonic, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a chamber-sized orchestra of Nashville City Orchestra musicians. Tupper Saussy did the writing and Don Gant handled the vocals. Bonus points for rhyming “restaurant” and “debutante.”

The McGarrigle sisters show up here now and then, and every time they do, especially when it’s a track from 1975’s Kate & Anna McGarrigle, I think back to the first time I read or heard about them, in the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide: “Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, they suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies can be dazzling.” Were/are they that good? Yes.

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls is a cover (from the United Kingdom, I believe; anyone know?) of the Ronettes’ version, which was released as a single on A&M in 1969. The Pearls’ version is not bad, but the echo on the record is a faint whisper of the echo in the Ronettes’ single, which itself was a faint whisper of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that made them famous.

From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.

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.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2007

Well, with today’s Baker’s Dozen, we plug a hole in the trail of years that’s been sitting there for a while. We’ve been back as far as 1967 and forward as far as 1979. (We’ll head further yet in either direction, and I imagine we’ll also begin repeating some years; there are plenty of tunes yet to hear.) The entire time, however, I was aware that I hadn’t touched on one of my favorite years: 1973.

Looking back, some years just stand out, poking their heads high above the others in the field of memory. For me, one of the tallest years in that field is 1973. It started during my second year of college, an academic year in which I began to find myself academically, to understand how to study and how to learn in college, skills that, quite honestly, I’d not needed to be able to succeed in high school. Along about the same time, I began to find friends, kindred spirits gathered around a long table at the student union. And I began to prepare myself for an academic year overseas, my junior year in Fredericia, Denmark, beginning that autumn.

My going to Denmark was almost an accident. A friend had seen an announcement in the college newspaper about an informational meeting concerning the planned year in Denmark. She had a commitment that evening and asked me to go and take notes. I went to the meeting and went to Denmark; she didn’t. I say “almost an accident” because there really are no accidents in our lives. We end up where we are supposed to end up, no matter how crooked the path may have been.

I’d never been away from home before, and I spent many nighttime hours that spring and summer sitting at the window of my room, looking out at the empty intersection below, wondering what I would find. And I was still wondering on the eve of my twentieth birthday as I walked away from Rick and my family and boarded a Finnair jet for Copenhagen with more than a hundred others from St. Cloud State.

So what did I find? Well, that’s a book in itself. In fact, one of the projects that captivates me these days is based on my journal of that academic year. I’m transcribing the daily entries and then writing anything else I recall about the day, and much more happened than I wrote down, both small events and large. (I have many of the letters that I wrote home to my family, and those, too, will become part of the project.) As clichéd as it sounds, I began to find myself, began to figure out how I fit into my skin and how I fit into the universe. And as I learned those things, I changed.

We’re all in the process of changing, in tiny increments from day to day. It’s not often any of us get a chance to assess in one moment the change that has accumulated over a longer period of time. So it turned out that one of the most fascinating moments of the entire eight-and-a-half months I was gone took place at the very end, in May 1974, the day I came home. Back in St. Cloud, looking forward to a home-cooked steak dinner (I don’t believe I’d had a beef steak during the entire time I was gone; horse, yes, I think, but no beef), I lugged my two suitcases upstairs, heading to my room.

I stopped in the doorway. There, on the door and the closet door, were my NFL pennants. The walls were decorated with Sports Illustrated covers featuring the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota North Stars and with sports logos of my own design, for teams that existed only in my imagination. And above the bulletin board, in a place of honor, was a large picture of Secretariat blowing the field away in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

I stared at the room, mine for seventeen years. And the thought that came to mind as I set the suitcases down in the doorway, looking at the things that had been so dear to me less than a year earlier, was “That kid didn’t come home.”

And here are some songs from the year that kid left:

“Prairie Lullaby” by Michael Nesmith from Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

“All The Way From Memphis” by Mott the Hoople from Mott

“Your Turn To Cry” by Bettye LaVette from Child of the Seventies

“Six O’Clock” by Ringo Starr from Ringo

“Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band on the Run

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions

“California On My Mind” by Tony Joe White from Home Made Ice Cream

“We Are People” by Oasis from Oasis

“The Wall Song” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“Better Find Jesus” by Mason Proffit from Rockfish Crossing

“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road, Kama Sutra single 569

“Junkman” by Danny O’Keefe from Breezy Stories

“The Hard Way Every Time” by Jim Croce from I Got A Name

Some notes about some of the songs:

“Prairie Lullaby” was the closer to Mike Nesmith’s Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, a stellar country-rock album that’s largely forgotten these days. Nesmith, of course, was one of the Monkees, no doubt the most talented of the four, and the country-rock tone of this 1973 record fits in nicely with most of the work he did after leaving the TV-inspired group.

“All The Way From Memphis” was the crunchy and soaring opener to Mott, Mott the Hoople’s follow-up to All The Young Dudes the year before. As All-Music Guide notes, glam never sounded as much like rock as it did on Mott.

The juxtaposition of two songs by ex-Beatles amused me. The albums they came from, arguably two of the three or four best post-breakup albums by any of the Beatles, were released in December. “Six O’Clock,” from Ringo’s best solo album, was written by McCartney, who plays piano and synthesizer on the song – and adds backing vocals with his wife, Linda – while long-time Beatle pal Klaus Voorman plays bass.

The Oasis of “We Are People” is a one-shot project by Detroit-area musicians Joel Siegel and Sherry Fox, who – along with Richard Hovey – went to San Francisco and managed to talk their ways into the studio where David Crosby was recording his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Stunned and intrigued by the trio’s music, the amused Crosby helped the trio land a contract with Atlantic, but the resulting album never got released. Siegel and Fox recorded Oasis in 1973, but that went nowhere, if it even was released. I’m not certain, as one has to read between the lines in the various accounts of the trio’s experiences. (The trio’s entire output – the Atlantic album, Oasis and various other projects, were finally released in 1993 on Retrospective Dreams, a two-CD set that was, for some reason, limited to only a thousand copies.)

Danny O’Keefe is better known for his 1972 hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” but his Breezy Stories album benefited from assistance from such luminaries as Dr. John, Donny Hathaway, David Bromberg and Cissy Houston, to name the best-known. It was a pretty good piece of pop rock/singer-songwriter work, pretty representative of its time.

‘That Don’t Bother Me . . . At All’

August 11, 2010

During my scuffling days in the late 1990s, I twice went without a car for fairly lengthy stretches of time. It wasn’t as bad as it might sound; living in south Minneapolis, I could take the bus downtown to work; I could ride my bicycle to the grocery store on weekends unless the weather was truly raw; and one of the other members of Jake’s band came through Minneapolis on his way to practice, so I generally was able to get to Jake’s each week.

There were, however, some things that were a little tougher to accomplish.

One spring Saturday afternoon, I sat down in my easy chair with a sandwich and leaned over to turn on the television, probably to watch a baseball game. The television, which I’d bought used a couple of years earlier, made a popping noise. I got up to look at the back of the set: I could see little sparks dancing inside, and smoke was starting to seep out. I pulled the plug from the wall, and in a brief time, the sparks quit dancing and the smoke dissipated. There’d be no fire in the apartment today. But I knew I wasn’t going to be watching the game, at least not on that set. I finished my sandwich, hauled the dead TV outside to the dumpster and assessed my options.

I could afford another TV, as life was pretty good at the time: I was working at a job that paid fairly well, considering my basic needs (thirty bucks a week at Cheapo’s, as long-time readers might expect, was a basic need along with groceries, cat food, toothpaste and the like). I’d have to buy the TV on a credit card, but I could pay the monthly bill that resulted. And there was a major discount retail store about eight blocks away that would certainly have at least one television I would find both suitable and affordable. The only problem was transport. I was going to get a car fairly soon, buying the older of my dad’s two vehicles for a far-more-than-reasonable price. That was a couple of weeks away, though, and I wanted a television sooner than that. But how would I get it home from the store?

And I thought of the guys down the hall. We weren’t close friends, but I would run into the two college guys several times a week in the hallways. They’d been in my apartment for beverages once – my record collection fascinated them – and I in theirs a couple of times. They knew I didn’t have a vehicle, and they’d told me that anytime I needed a ride somewhere, just knock on their door. And I looked at my empty TV stand and decided it was time to do just that.

Forty minutes later, the three of us were hauling a boxed television up to my third-floor apartment. We got it in without either of the two cats heading out the door, and we sat for a few moments sipping cold drinks, catching our breaths. Then one of the two guys waved at my record collection and said to the other, “He’d probably know what that song was.” The other fellow nodded, and they told me that the previous evening, listening to a radio station they’d come on by accident, they’d heard a strange but very absorbing song. “It sounded a little like a country song, but it wasn’t a country station,” one of the guys said. “It was like a classic rock station.”

“And the chorus was about two hangmen,” said the other guy. “It was kind of creepy.”

I held up a hand and went to the shelves, and in moments I’d pulled out the album Wanted! Mason Proffitt. I cued up the first track on side two, and the sound of two guitars picking through an introduction came out of the speakers. They listened, and then the narrator began the story:

As I rode into Tombstone on my horse – his name was Mack –
I saw what I’ll relate to you going on behind my back.
It seems the folks were up in arms; a man now had to die
For believin’ things that didn’t fit the laws they’d set aside.

“That’s it,” said one of the guys as I handed him the album jacket. They pored over the notes inside for a few moments as the song continued, and a few minutes later, when group founders John and Terry Talbot and the rest of Mason Proffit got to the chorus, the two college guys raised their heads and stared at the stereo:

And now we’re two hangmen hangin’ from a tree.
That don’t bother me . . .
At all.

The chorus went on and on, over and over, above a busy and increasingly loud and dissonant background of voices singing and talking, with some strings sneaking in during the final minute to sweeten the deal. When the song was over, the two guys finished their drinks, one saying to the other, “Man, we have to see if we can find that on CD.” I thanked them again for their help and they headed down the hall toward their apartment.

I let the record play on as I got busy unpacking the new television. And as I did, I thought about “Two Hangmen,” which is undoubtedly the centerpiece of that first album by Mason Proffit. It seemed like anytime anyone heard it for the first time – and I’d included it several times in mixtapes for younger friends who had no memory of 1969 – the song stunned them. I’d heard friends in radio say that anytime they aired the song, the phone lines went crazy with listeners calling in to find out what the hell that song was.

Beyond being a great record, “Two Hangmen” – released as a single on the small Happy Tiger label to no chart success at all, as far as I can find – and the rest of that debut album seemingly served as an announcement by the Talbot brothers et al. that their band was ready to go. With a combination of rock and country that made the band, according to All-Music Guide, “among the first to combine the energy and instrumentation of rock with the subject matter and twang of country,” Mason Proffit released Wanted! Mason Proffitt in 1969. Musically and lyrically, it was a polished and compelling effort. But the album went nowhere, not even reaching the lower portions of the Billboard 200.

Its follow-up, Movin’ Toward Happiness, did get to No. 177 in 1971, and a third album, Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream, went to No. 186 in 1972. While neither of those two records had anything quite as arresting as “Two Hangmen,” they were good records as well. The problem for Mason Proffit, it seemed, was their labels: The first two records were released on the small Happy Tiger label, which was in existence from 1969 to 1971 with what seems an odd roster of talent, according to Wikipedia: Mason Proffit; the group Them; country guitarist Red Rhodes; Priscilla Paris (one-third of the Paris Sisters, who went to No. 5 in 1961 with “I Love How You Love Me”); singer-songwriter Paul Kelly; the Anita Kerr Singers; and an aging Count Basie. After two albums on Happy Tiger, Mason Proffit’s third album came out on another small label, Ampex, which was in existence from 1970 to about 1973.

The band’s chance to move up came in 1972 when Warner Bros. signed the band and released the group’s fourth album, Rockfish Crossing. But the record failed to make the charts, and despite the band’s touring with the Grateful Dead, the group’s fifth album, Bareback Rider, only got to No. 198 on the Billboard 200. That’s when Mason Proffit called it a day.

The Talbot brothers moved toward Christian pop and released the countryish album The Talbot Brothers in 1974; in years to come, John Michael Talbot became one of the best-selling artists in the Contemporary Christian genre, leaving country rock behind him and leaving for the fans of obscure artists one great song:

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 29
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted! [1969]
“Overture from ‘Tommy’” by the Assembled Multitude, Atlantic 2737 [1970]
“Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts, Warner Bros. 7606 [1972]
“Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band from Marshall Tucker Band [1973]
“Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Shakedown [1981]
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen from The Future [1992]

The Assembled Multitude was a collection of studio musicians assembled in Philadelphia by producer Tom Sellers. The group recorded an album of mostly covers – “Ohio,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “MacArthur Park” and “Woodstock” among them – and was likely surprised to find itself with a hit. The group’s cover of the overture to Tommy, the rock opera by the Who, went to No. 16 in the late summer of 1970. I love the French horns.

I’m not sure exactly when Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” was actually released, but it seems that in most markets – according to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive – it got its airplay in the autumn of 1972. (A survey from KLZ-FM in Denver – evidently an album-rock station more than anything—lists the song as a “Featured” record in the third week of July; I don’t know if the jocks there were playing the single or the album track, but I’m inclined to guess the latter.) The point of that is that because of the lyric, I tend to think of “Summer Breeze” as a record from the summer of 1972, not the autumn. (I doubt that I’m alone in that seasonal displacement.) But autumn it was, with the record reaching the Billboard Top 40 on October 21 and peaking at No. 6 for two weeks in late November and early December. Still, the record’s sound – melody, lyrics and that brilliant instrumental hook that frames the verses – was a perfect summation of how good domestic life could be in a summer with the right person.

Even though it’s often lumped in with the southern rock bands of the early 1970s, the Marshall Tucker Band wasn’t quite, to my ears, southern rock. I always thought the band had more country leanings than anything else, and the occasional imaginative instrumentation – like the flute that opens “Can’t You See” – set the band apart from its brethren at Capricorn Records. And that makes “Can’t You See” a great country song, albeit one done by a group that could rock out when the material required it. The version I’m linking to here is the album track from the group’s self-titled 1973 debut; the edit released as a single by Capricorn went to No. 75 in the early autumn of 1977.

The bluesy rock of the Lamont Cranston Band has delighted music fans in the Upper Midwest – and perhaps elsewhere; I’m not sure – since the mid-1970s. And the band continues on: This weekend finds the Lamont Cranston Band with three gigs in Duluth, Minnesota, working the Bayfront Blues Festival on Friday afternoon and closing Grandma’s Sports Garden both Friday and Saturday night. Down here in St. Cloud, the boogie of the “Upper Mississippi Shakedown” continues to be the anthem of the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League (a league for college players). And there was no way I could leave it out of the Ultimate Jukebox.

With the gently swinging, string-sawing melody and arrangement of “Closing Time,” Leonard Cohen found a perfect musical setting for the acerbic cynicism of his lyrics: The song reads like a surreal tale from a tavern we hope we never find because there would be nothing but disbelief and disappointment for us throughout the evening. And if we truly belong in Cohen’s universe – for this tune and, I tend to think, for many of his others, as well – we’d all be disappointed if we weren’t disappointed by the end of the evening. Still, “Closing Time” is an infectious piece of music and lyrics that grabs hold with a quick touch on the drums and that first sweep of the bow across the strings.

(Attribution added since post was first published.)