Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi Fred McDowell’

Mississippi Fred, Jimi & Jack & Jorma

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 20, 2009

So what does YouTube have for us with at least a tenuous connection to the things we’ve done here recently?

Well, here’s Mississippi Fred McDowell with a typically good performance of “Goin’ Down to the River” on what appears to be a back porch-like set in some television studio somewhere. I’d guess late 1950s to early 1960s on this one, mostly because of the black and white visuals. The song, “Goin’ Down to the River,” was a McDowell original, and it shows up on some albums recorded in the 1960s. The person who posted this at YouTube didn’t leave a lot of information about this clip, and it would be nice to know some more. On the other hand, the music speaks for itself. [A little digging on reposting reveals that the performance likely was on a German television show in 1965. Note added May 12, 2022.]

In the listings for “All Along The Watchtower,” I found this performance by Jimi Hendrix at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. According to Wikipedia, Hendrix performed during the early hours of August 31, 1970, less than three weeks before his death.

Video unavailable

Here’s a clip showing Jack Casaday and Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna performing “Mann’s Fate,” a Kaukonen original that was on Hot Tuna’s first, self-titled album in 1970. The performance came from a PBS show called Folk Guitar that was produced in San Francisco and hosted by a woman named Laura Davis, from what I’ve been able to find out. Based on Casaday’s clothing, I’d place this one in the very early 1970s. [ The performance is from 1969. Note added May 12, 2022.]

And that will do it for today. Still in the plans is a six-pack from a single label, which I think I’ll do tomorrow, and Motown – suggested earlier – sounds like a good choice. We’ll see what sits in the files.

Eight Mostly At Random

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 29, 2009

Like a runaway steamroller that no one wants to challenge – or perhaps more aptly, like the dancing brooms in Fantasia that the apprenticed Mickey Mouse had no idea how to stop – the number of mp3s in the hard drive charged past the 39,000 mark last week, settling last night on 39,156.

So, in the absence of anything more compelling to write about today, I thought I’d take a eight-track walk, mostly random, through the 1960s and 1970s this morning, just to see what we get to listen to. (In this case, “mostly random” means we’ll start off random and I’ll go along with the findings except in the cases of tunes that are less than 1:30 long, that we’ve shared here in the last year, that repeat performers, or that I judge just a little too odd.)

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Shake ’Em On Down, recorded live in New York City, May 11, 1971. The fascinating thing about McDowell, who often gets lumped in with the blues folks who were “rediscovered” during the 1960s and 1970s, was that he never recorded during the first heyday of the country blues back in the 1920s and 1930s. So when blues hunters – I’ve mentioned it before, but you really could do a lot worse than reading Gayle Dean Wardlow’s Chasin’ That Devil Music to find out what it was like to be a blues hunter – when blues hunters found Fred McDowell on his farm in the 1960s, they found a slide guitar artist who was entirely new to the wider, national audience. While the live performances on Shake ’Em On Down are good, I think McDowell’s 1969 album “I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll” (recorded in Jackson, Mississippi) is his best collection.

“Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, Philles 112, 1963. As I wrote almost two years ago: “The Crystals, of course, were one of the girl groups produced by Phil Spector. While ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ is not Spector’s masterpiece – I think that title goes to the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ – it’s still a propulsive, fun and highly charged piece of music. And, as almost always with a Spector production, that’s Hal Blaine on the drums.” And as time slides past, I like the saxophone solo – Steve Douglas, I think – more and more each year.

“Thing In ‘E’” by the Savage Resurrection, Mercury 72778 (1968 release), recorded in Hollywood, 1967. The Savage Resurrection came out of the garage rock scene in California’s East Bay, according to the box set Love Is The Song We Sing. After a stint at San Pablo’s Maple Hall, the five-man band was signed by Mercury and recorded what the box set calls “a strong, punkified, psychedelic rock ’n’ roll album.” But the notes go on to say that the band broke up under the pressure of promoting the album on a cross-country tour. “Thing In ‘E’” was the single pulled from the LP.

“In the Long Run” by Curtis Blandon, Wand 11241, 1971. Blandon, notes All-Music Guide, was born and raised in Alabama, leaving the south in the early 1960s to make music in New York City. After a few years of scuffling, Blandon went into the military for two years, after which came a few more years of scuffling from label to label. Eventually, says AMG, Blandon signed with Wand and went to Chicago for some recording sessions produced by Gene Chandler. “In The Long Run” was a product of those sessions and received some local regard but failed to take off nationally. (AMG says those sessions began in 1972, but I’ve seen several other sources that put a date of 1971 on the record, so there’s an error somewhere. I’m leaving it tagged as 1971.) AMG calls it “[a] buoyant, up-tempo soul tune notable for its regal brass arrangement and Blandon’s searing vocals.” I found the track on a British anthology called Deep Beats: Essential 60’s Northern Soul, Vol. 2, sitting sealed in the cheap seats at the Electric Fetus here in St. Cloud.

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni 55265 (from Elton John), 1970. Just the first few notes of the opening riff of “Your Song” is enough to put me back in the multi-purpose room at St. Cloud Tech, the one-time cold lunch room where the authorities installed a jukebox in the autumn of 1970, just as my senior year began. (It was, as I’ve written before, a decision that I think those authorities regretted very soon.) For me, Elton John’s first hit single – with all the romantic notions one could want supplied by Bernie Taupin’s occasionally awkward lyric – is indelibly tied to the memory of a cute sophomore with short blonde hair. While my efforts, alas, did not succeed in turning the young lady’s head, Elton’s single spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 8, and opening the floodgates: Through 1999, Elton John had fifty-eight more Top 40 hits, twenty-seven of them in the Top 10, with nine of them going to No. 1. (This is the version from the Elton John album, which may differ considerably from the single.)

“Santa Claus Retreat” by Hot Tuna from Hoppkorv, 1976. Hot Tuna was the rootsy offshoot from Jefferson Airplane crafted by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady that eventually became a full-time project, touring and releasing albums regularly into the 1990s (with archival and occasional new live releases since then). Hoppkorv, says AMG, marked a shift in the band’s approach, with more covers of vintage material – tunes by Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry – and fewer of Kaukonen’s originals. “Santa Claus Retreat,” however, is one of Kaukonen’s originals, a growling effort that fits without straining into the mid-1970s rock aesthetic.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Columbia 44644, 1968. I’ve always thought that this record is the one amazing anomaly in the Top 40 career of Puckett, who had six Top 40 hits – five of them in the Top 10 – in the less than two years between December 1967 and September 1969. On “Over You,” which rose to No. 7, Puckett shows some vocal finesse. Now, I love the hits “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” “Young Girl” and “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” but I think we can all agree that if there were a career achievement award for the best cluster of four leather-lunged performances by a single artist, those four records would win Puckett the title. They’re great radio hits, but they are utterly unsubtle. (And then there’s the creepiness of “Young Girl” by today’s standards, but I’m not sure it’s fair to apply current attitudes to vintage material.) “Over You,” however, has moments when Puckett seems almost thoughtful in his reading of the lyric. The record spent ten weeks in the Top 40 during the autumn of 1968, peaking at No. 7.

“Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain from Mountain Live – The Road Goes Ever On, 1972. In the autumn of 1972, I was still bewildered by the immense variety of music I was going to have to learn about if I ever wanted to be as well-informed about rock and all its relatives as were the folks around the campus radio station. So when my folks let me order five or six LPs from our record club as a birthday present, I stretched out a bit. One of the records I ordered – and I’m not sure why I chose it – was Mountain’s live album. I wasn’t too impressed with the three selections on the first side – “Long Red,” “Waiting To Take You Away” and “Crossroader” – but I found myself falling deeply into the seventeen-minute version of “Nantucket Sleighride,” the title tune from the group’s second album a year earlier. Over the years, as I’ve gone back to the track – on vinyl and now on CD and mp3 – I wonder now and then if I’ll find myself tired of it, but I always enjoy it. (And I guess, as I look at the record jacket this morning, that the Tolkienish drawing and the Elvish runes on the album cover certainly piqued my interest in the album back in 1972.)

‘You May Be High . . .’

May 22, 2019

When the Rolling Stones recorded “You Got To Move” and released it on Sticky Fingers in 1971 (with the title offered as “You Gotta Move”), they credited the song to Fred McDowell, a Tennessee-based farmer and blues singer who’d somehow been given the name of Mississippi Fred McDowell. It was not an unreasonable decision, as McDowell had recorded the tune in 1965 for his second album on the Arhoolie label, which was released a year later and listed him as the song’s writer.

Here’s that version by McDowell:

(It’s worth noting that McDowell was an anomaly in the blues revival of the late 1950s and the 1960s: He’d never recorded before, while many of the blues artists celebrated during that revival had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Whether that made McDowell’s previously unrecorded music more “authentic” – as I’ve seen written in at least a couple of places – is for others to judge. It was certainly new to listeners, and, despite McDowell’s frequent use of an electric guitar, clearly linked to the Delta tradition.)

But McDowell did not write the song. Second Hand Songs lists the song as “traditional,” noting four recordings that predate McDowell’s 1965 recording. (McDowell’s 1965 recording is not listed at all; his 1969 live version with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers is listed, another reminder that as useful as the website is, it’s not complete.)

Those four earlier listed recordings came from the Willing Four in 1944, the Two Gospel Keys (Emma Daniels and Mother Sally Jones) in 1947, Elder Charles Beck & His Religion In Rhythm in 1949, and Blind Gary Davis with Sonny Terry in 1953. One can assume two things, I think: There were other recordings as well before McDowell recorded his 1965 version, and the song no doubt predates the Willing Four’s version. By how much, who knows?

And I’m going to make a third assumption: That crediting the song’s creation to McDowell on his 1966 album was an error by someone at Arhoolie. McDowell would certainly have known that he’d learned the song elsewhere, and everything I’ve read about McDowell tells me that he was an unassuming, almost humble man. I have my doubts that he’d have claimed the song as his.

(At Second Hand Songs, “You Got To Move” is called “traditional,” and on the CD version I have of Sticky Fingers, it’s credited to McDowell and Davis. I don’t know what credits there are on more recent versions of the CD or the LP.)

McDowell recorded the song at least a couple more times: The previously mentioned 1969 recording with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers for an album titled Amazing Grace, and in a 1971 performance in New York City that was released as a live album two years later.

There are, of course, other covers out there, some by artists I know and others by artists unfamiliar to me: The Party Boys, Mike Cooper & Ian A. Anderson, Mick Taylor, Herman Alexander, the Radiators, Corey Harris, Jorma Kaukonen, Townes Van Zandt, Cassandra Wilson, Aerosmith, and Koerner, Ray & Glover are just some of them.

Most of those are faithful to the Delta sound of McDowell’s version; some of them reach back to what I assume are the song’s Gospel origins; and some are hybrids. Here’s one of the latter, the version offered by Sista Monica Parker on her 2008 album Sweet Inspirations.

Saturday Single No. 590

May 12, 2018

It started as one of those Facebook queries/challenges. A friend asked me to take ten days and display the jackets of ten favorite albums. I bit. And most of those ten would be familiar to anyone who’s read this blog regularly:

Honey In The Horn by Al Hirt (1963)
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Glenn Yarbrough (1967)
Abbey Road by the Beatles (1969)
The Band by The Band (1969)
Second Contribution by Shawn Phillips (1970)
Den Store Flugt by Sebastian (1972)
Comes A Time by Neil Young (1978)
Tunnel Of Love by Bruce Springsteen (1987)
Evidence by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith (1989)
Riding On The Blinds by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen (1994)

Now, that’s not necessarily my list of the best ten albums; those are favorites, and I made sure that the list of ten included albums from the Eighties and Nineties. And then, just for fun, I kept going, up to twenty, then thirty, and then beyond. This morning, I put up a posting of a favorite album for the forty-eighth time: Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970).

Is it my forty-eighth favorite album? Probably not. I think it likely would rank higher if I were actually trying to rank them. But all I’m doing is trying to share with my friends at Facebook albums that I love, offered in no particular order. So once in a while I throw in a curveball, just to remind folks that my musical universe is vast and strange. That’s how The Best of the Red Army Choir (2002) came to be listed on Day 31. (None of my 316 Facebook friends gave it a “like.”)

And I took a look this morning at the growing list – forty-eight albums long now – and wondered if I’d written about all of them. Most of them, I could say “yes” without digging into the blog’s archives. But I wondered about one of them: Mississippi Fred McDowell’s 1969 album, I Do No Play No Rock ’n’ Roll. It turns out I’ve mentioned McDowell and the album three or four times, but pretty much always in passing (though I have featured a track or two).

McDowell was found and first recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. He was living and working as a farmer near Como, Mississippi (though he still called Rossville, Tennessee, his home). He’s been styled as a Delta blues musician, but Wikipedia notes that “McDowell may be considered the first north hill country blues artist to achieve widespread recognition for his work. Musicians from the hill country – an area parallel to and east of the Delta region – produced a version of the blues somewhat closer in structure to its African roots. It often eschews chord change for the hypnotic effect of the droning single-chord vamp. McDowell’s records offer glimpses of the style’s origins.”

McDowell began recording commercially (though he continued farming), and in 1969, recorded I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll for the Capitol label, using electric guitar on a record for the first time. (Wikipedia notes that along the way, McDowell gave tips on slide guitar to Bonnie Raitt and notes as well that McDowell was pretty pleased with what the Rolling Stones did with his song “You Got To Move” on their Sticky Fingers album.)

My introduction to Mississippi Fred McDowell probably came in the studios of KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State sometime during my freshman year, almost certainly early in 1972. I seem to remember being in the tiny room that served as our lounge with music coming in from Studio B, but I suppose could have been at home, whiling time away in my room with my new clock radio tuned to KVSC. Wherever it was, the first sounds of the first track on I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll caught my attention: a few plucks on a guitar string and then a weathered voice saying, “My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell . . .”

And after a little bit of talk, which includes the line that became the title of the album, McDowell moves into Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” I’d never heard anything like it before. And it would be nice if I could say I immediately became a blues fan, buying and listening to McDowell’s records and those of his contemporaries and predecessors and followers.

I didn’t, of course. I was still learning about rock and its various branches and styles. I began to catch up to the blues during the late 1980s and 1990s. Mississippi Fred McDowell popped up on a few anthologies, and in 2002, as I was creating my LP database, I noticed his name again and remembered that moment in early 1972. The Texas Gal and I were living in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, with no easy day-to-day access to a decent record shop, so I went online, and in a few days the mail carrier brought me my vinyl copy of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

I don’t listen to it often, but it is a favorite (if that makes sense), and when I was pondering the other morning which album cover to post at Facebook, McDowell’s album came to mind, and I thought I should follow up here. So here’s some talk from Mississippi Fred McDowell and his take on “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” all of it the first track of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I Am A Schoolboy, Too . . .’

September 3, 2013

It’s the day after Labor Day, and here in St. Cloud, as in most of Minnesota – and most of the U.S., I imagine – the school buses roll. Teachers plan lessons and welcome new students. Students scan schedules and consider – sometimes covertly and sometimes not – who’s changed the most over what now seems to have been a brief summer.

And a new nine-month school year starts.

I could go several ways here. I thought about digging into the memory banks for a first-day-of-school story, but I’m not sure there are any left untold. So I went looking for a record about the first day of school. I didn’t find one that specific, but as I scanned the list of records the RealPlayer provided about “school,” I realized that I’ve never written about one of the great songs in the blues catalog.

It first showed up as “Good Morning School Girl” by John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy. He wrote and recorded the song for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937.

From there, the song moved on (with varying punctuation, the addition of the word “little” and mixed use of “schoolgirl” or “school girl”). The first cover version noted at Second Hand Songs – a site that’s not always complete but comes pretty close – is by Leroy Dallas & His Guitar in 1948, followed by Smokey Hogg in 1949 and L.C. Green in 1952. I should perhaps know those names, but I don’t. The version I found by Hogg at YouTube this morning is pretty good.

When we get to 1958, we see some familiar names beginning to pop up: Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Junior Wells, the Grateful Dead, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Geoff Muldaur recorded the song through the 1970s.

In 1964, we also find the Yardbirds, but their record is not the same song. Wikipedia explains: “In 1961, Don Level and Bob Love, as the R&B duo ‘Don and Bob,’ recorded a different version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ for Argo Records, a Chess subsidiary. Although it uses the phrase ‘good morning little schoolgirl’, the song has different chord changes and lyrics, including references to popular dance styles of the time. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton later covered this version of ‘Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl’ for their second UK single in 1964.”

My friend Larry, who hangs his hat at the great blog 16 Funky Corners, disputes this in a note below, saying that both the Yardbirds and Don & Bob singles are the Williamson song. It’s close, and I’ll acknowledge inspiration,  but I agree with Wikipedia. They are different songs. The clincher to me is the lack of the “I am a schoolboy, too.”

Muddy Waters recorded the song for his 1964 album Folk Singer, and his version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” is striking for its acoustic approach, rather than Waters’ usual electric arrangement. (That holds true for the entire album, of course, an early version of the “unplugged” phenomenon.)

A few years later, Mississippi Fred McDowell included “Good Morning Little School Girl” on one of my favorite blues albums, his 1969 effort I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

A few covers are listed in the 1980s, and in 1993, another great version of the tune came, unsurprisingly, from Van Morrison, who tackled “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” on his album Too Long In Exile.

(I haven’t decided: Is it creepy or just an adjustment when Waters and Morrison – and likely others who’ve recorded the song – sing “I once was a schoolboy, too,” and make the song’s narrator older than the schoolgirl to whom he’s singing?)

We skip a few more years and a few more covers and move on to 2011, when Rory Block gender-flipped the song’s lyrics for her 2011 album, Shake ’Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love Block’s work, and I think her version is my favorite, challenged by only Morrison’s and McDowell’s itself (acknowledging that there are many, many versions of the song I have not yet heard).

A Baker’s Dozen Of Rivers

April 24, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2007

Well, it happened again. An LP I had selected for the day turned out to have too many pops and scratches for me to want to share the entire thing. And that’s disappointing. The record was Through the Eyes of a Horn, a solo album by Jim Horn from 1972. It’s a fun record, on Leon Russell’s Shelter label with lots of familiar names on the credits.

A few of the tracks are clean enough for me to convert them to mp3s and put them in the player, so they may show up in a future Baker’s Dozen or two. And I’m likely to pull one of the tracks for something special this week.

But abandoning the LP as a full rip left me without a plan again, changing horses in mid-stream, as it were. And I thought about Tower of Power, of course, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream).” So I checked. I only have five songs with the word “stream” in their titles. So I thought about rivers, and my mind wandered as the final tracks of the Jim Horn album played through, and I thought about the Mississippi River, which has been a near-constant presence in my life.

I was born on its banks (in a hospital, not – unfortunately for my credentials as a bluesman – in a little shack). I grew up no more than three blocks from it, crossing it nearly daily through my childhood and college years. And my first job was at a newspaper whose offices were separated from the river by only a park and a street. The vast majority of my life has been lived within a few miles of the Mississippi. And now, since returning to St. Cloud about five years ago, I’m again within a mile of the river that’s called the Father of Waters.

When I was a kid, I never realized that the Mississippi was important or noteworthy. At least not until one day when I was crossing it on my bicycle, most likely heading to the library. As I neared the end of the bridge, a car with New York license plates passed me, and once off of the bridge, the driver took the first right and pulled over and parked. Four people – a mom, a dad and two kids – got out of the car and walked rapidly, almost trotting, back to the bridge and the river, cameras at the ready. I realized that what was an everyday occurrence for me – crossing the Mississippi – could be a major event for others, and I guess I began to give the big river a little more respect.

So I’ve realized in recent years that the river flows through my life just as it does through St. Cloud. And I long to see it in its wide and muddy glory in places much closer to the Gulf of Mexico than here. That will happen. The Texas Gal and I still plan to tour western Tennessee and Mississippi, but it won’t be this year. I can wait, and the river will wait for me.

But what should I do about music this morning, after such fluvial thoughts? Well, I thought I’d shift my normal pattern again and begin this week with a Baker’s Dozen of Rivers:

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon from the Working Girl soundtrack, 1988

“Okolona River Bottom Band” by Bobbie Gentry, Capitol single 2044, 1967

“Many Rivers To Cross” by Joe Cocker from Sheffield Steel, 1982

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind, 1974

“River” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly, 1973

“River Theme” by Bob Dylan from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack, 1973

“If The River Was Whiskey” by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Newport Folk Festival, 1964

“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Be True To You, 1975

“Down By The River” by Buddy Miles from Buddy Miles Live, 1971

“Song From Platte River” by Brewer & Shipley from Tarkio, 1970

“Don’t Cross The River” by America from Homecoming, 1973

“Underground River” by Ellen McIlwaine from We The People, 1973

“Going To The River” by Fats Domino, Imperial single 5231, 1953

A few notes about some of the songs:

“Let the River Run,” which has a nice gospelly groove, won Carly Simon an Oscar for Best Song. Hearing it always reminds me that when I wanted to buy the album in early 1989, it took a special order and five weeks. I realized then, if I hadn’t already, that the LP was being swept away by the CD.

“Many Rivers To Cross” is some of the fruit of one of Joe Cocker’s many comebacks, this one coming when he went into a studio in the Bahamas with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and their pals. He came out with a record with lots of captivating tropical grooves. The record also had some fine vocals, and this is one of the best.

Fred McDowell was actually from Tennessee, not Mississippi, but someone gave him the name when he was discovered in the late 1950s, and he didn’t complain. McDowell was a rarity in the country blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s in that he’d never been recorded before, unlike many of his contemporaries who had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s before sliding back into anonymity. As a result, his performances on record and at venues like the Newport Folk Festival came off as fresh rather than as a recreation of long-ago efforts.

Eric Andersen’s Be True To You was posted here in the very early days of the blog. It’s a lovely folky album, and “Moonchild River Song,” the album’s opening track, is one of its best songs.

Ellen McIlwaine is a little-known slide guitarist and blues singer who’s been recording well-regarded albums at sporadic intervals for years. We the People, the 1973 album from which “Underground River” comes, might be her best effort, but all of her work, from 1971’s Honky Tonk Angel to 2007’s Mystic Bridge is worth seeking out.

Our closer is a lesser-known side by one of the earliest of rock ’n’ rollers, Fats Domino. Recorded in January 1953 – eight months before I made my riverside entrance – “Going To The River” still rocks, albeit in Fats’ own style of smiling in the face of all disasters.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967

April 20, 2011

Originally posted May 11, 2007

Every once in a while, some of the music bloggers whose work I read – and I read far more than the few that are linked here – talk about the influences on their music listening. And among the chief influences for many of us, it seems, are older siblings. They brought records home and played them, and we younger sibs heard the music on a regular basis. We may not have always liked it, but eventually, that music – and I’ve read this on many a blog – becomes part of the soundtrack of the younger sib’s life and is cherished as such.

The Texas Gal says she can easily trace some of her preferences to her older sisters, who are ten and five years older than she. And I can trace some of mine to my sister, who is three years older than I. It wasn’t that she bought a lot of music. I don’t think listening to records was ever as large a part of my sister’s life as it became in mine. I do recall her on occasion in the early to mid-1960s spending a relative pittance for a grab bag of ten or so 45s; you usually got one or two hits and lot of misses in those bags.

(All the 45s in the house of our youth eventually came to me, and I think those grab bags were the sources of my copies of Lesley Gore’s  “It’s My Party,” Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” and a few other well-known songs. On the other hand, one of those grab bags also provided “You’d Better Keep Runnin’” by Frank Gari. Who? Exactly.)

It was my sister’s albums, however, that became part of my soundtrack. Again, she didn’t have a lot of them, but I heard those she did have as she played them and then when I played them during my senior year of high school and my first year of college. That next summer, she got married and took her records away with her. I’ve found most of them over the years since, on vinyl mostly, and now a few on CD: Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, Judy Collins’ Wildflowers, Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat, a unique record titled Traditional Jewish Memories and more. The one record I’ve missed from her collection and have not been able to find is John Denver’s Whose Garden Was This, but only this week, an on-line friend provided me with the album in mp3 format, so I at least have the music.*

But the two records of my sister’s that I likely played most often were two by Glenn Yarbrough, given to her by a boyfriend. They were The Lonely Things, which is a collection of Rod McKuen songs, and For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, a 1967 album on which Yarbrough covers current folk and folk-rock tunes. I have a CD of the latter album, and I love it still. But it does remind me of the first time that I recall my life colliding with adult realities.

My sister spent a portion of the summer of 1968 studying in France. About midway through her absence, that boyfriend stopped by and took me out for a Coke. As we sat, he told me that when my sister came home, he would not be in town. He and a buddy had joined the Army, and he asked me to inform my sister of that when she came home from France. I was not quite fifteen, and here was this young man – whom I liked very much – entrusting me with such an important task, such an unhappy message. I don’t recall when I told my sister, or how I told her, but I imagine I did it quite artlessly.

(Within a year, the boyfriend came home from Vietnam badly wounded, and his role as my sister’s boyfriend ended sometime after that. His buddy died in Vietnam, one of fourteen men from St. Cloud to die there. Sometime in this past year, I saw in our local paper that the former boyfriend had passed away. I called my sister and told her; she was glad I did.)

Anyway, today’s Baker’s Dozen is from 1967, and it starts with “Crucifixion,” the closer to one of those Glen Yarbrough records, a song that always makes me think of a message delivered in 1968.

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Cannonball Adderly, Capitol single 5798

“Shake ’Em On Down” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Mama Says I’m Crazy

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Buckinghams, Columbia single 44182

“People Are Strange” by the Doors from Strange Days

“To Sir With Love” by Lulu, Epic single 10187

“Red Balloon” by Tim Hardin from Tim Hardin 2

“Smokestack Lightning” by John Hammond from I Can Tell

“Rollin’ & Tumblin’” by Canned Heat from Canned Heat

“Sit Down I Think I Love You” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Lonely Man” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330

“This Wheel’s On Fire” by Bob Dylan & The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Statesboro Blues” by the Youngbloods from The Youngbloods

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Crucifixion” was written by Phil Ochs, one of the leading talents of the protest-song era in the early 1960s. Supposedly a parable of assassination, it’s a frightening tale that asks, of course: Do we ever really learn anything? I fear I know what the answer is. Ochs’ version, on his Pleasures of the Harbor album, is good, but probably because of familiarity, I prefer Yarbrough’s take.

It struck me as funny that both hit versions of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” popped up on the RealPlayer. At least it shows that it truly is a random selection.

Mississippi Fred McDowell – who actually was from Tennessee, and who knows how that happened? – was one of the rarities of the blues boom of the early 1960s: a performer of traditional music who had not been recorded during the 1920s and 1930s. His stuff was new and vibrant when he was discovered working on his farm in the 1960s. He was also a rarity in that he at times played electric guitar, a fact that severely displeased some blues purists.

John Hammond is actually John Hammond, Jr., the son of the legendary talent scout and executive for Columbia Records. Hammond’s album I Can Tell was recorded at Muscle Shoals with the backing of the famed sessions musicians there. Also lending a hand on the record – though not necessarily on “Smokestack Lightning” – were Duane Allman and Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of The Band.

Spencer Wiggins was a Memphis native who recorded a series of powerful deep soul singles during the 1960s but never got the hit – and the attention – he deserved. Much of his work is available on CD and is well worth seeking out.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

*I was in error here. There was a fairly good copy of Whose Garden Was This sitting in the stacks as I wrote, but I either didn’t check the stacks or it was misfiled. In any event, it was nice to get the digital files without having to go through the minor drudgery of ripping the album myself. [Note added April 20, 2011.]