Posts Tagged ‘Muddy Waters’

Using Up One Of His Nine Lives

February 15, 2012

Originally posted March 2, 2009

It was late last evening, and I was doing some final tinkering with a few albums of mp3s I’d found online. Taking a break, I wandered up to the loft, where the Texas Gal was exploring the capabilities of her new laptop.

As I came up the stairs, Cubbie Cooper, our youngest cat – not quite a year old – was playing with something atop one of the bookcases that serve as a banister/wall near the stairway. Without the bookcases and a dresser at right angles to the bookcases, there would simply be a hole in the floor. As I walked past, Cubbie jumped for the dresser, crossing open space. He nearly missed, one leg kicking in mid-air as he righted himself on the dresser.

I picked him up as I walked past. “One of these days, Cubbie,” I said, as I headed to the desk where the Texas Gal sat, “you’re gonna miss and you’re gonna fall onto the stairs.”

I handed him to the Texas Gal as he purred. “He does it all the time,” she said. “Nothing we can do about it but hope that he stays lucky.”

I scratched Cubbie’s ears as we reviewed the schedule for the coming week, then set him on the floor and went back to the study and the mp3s. A few minutes later, I heard a scuffling sound, a thump-rattle and then bump, bump, bump. I turned around in time to see Cubbie walking slowly out of the stairway door, shaking his head.

“What was that?” asked the Texas Gal from the loft.

“Cubbie, I think,” I answered, following the little guy into the dining room. He sat there, looking around as if he weren’t sure where he was. I picked him up and he gave a pitiful “Rowr?” And his nose was bleeding. He had indeed tumbled off the dresser and into the stairwell.

We carried him into the bathroom, cleaned his nose and watched him for a few minutes. He let us touch his face without complaint, which told us he’d not broken any facial bones, and he let us hold open his mouth to check for blood. There was none, though his nose continued to bleed for a few minutes.

We decided that – in the absence of any obvious injury – all we could do was keep an eye on him and check him carefully in the morning. So we settled him in the cat bed, where he hunkered down, still shaking his head a little. By the time we retired for the night, he was dozing, although his cheek was slightly swollen.

This morning, when I headed to the kitchen, Cubbie was right there with Clarence and Oscar, eager for breakfast. His cheek is still a little swollen, but other than that, he seems to be okay. I have no idea how many of his proverbial nine lives he used up in his seven months of life before we got him, but I’m darned sure that one of them was charged to his account last evening.

A Six-Pack of Cats

“This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra from Dirty Boogie  [1998]

“Crosseyed Cat” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again [1977]

“Black Cat” by Magic Carpet from Magic Carpet [1972]

“The Cat Woman” by the Marketts from Batman Theme [1966]

“Cat Fever” by Fanny from Charity Ball [1971]

“Long-Tail Cat” by Gator Creek from Gator Creek [1970]

“This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof” was recorded and released in the middle of the 1990s swing/jump blues revival led in large part by Brian Setzer, one-time member – fittingly enough – of the Stray Cats. Setzer’s swing/jump blues work seems to have aged fairly well, and maybe that’s because Setzer’s work was performed with more of a straight face and with less of a smirk and a wink than that of other swing revival performers (the Cherry Popping Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy come easily to mind).

Muddy Waters’ Hard Again album was one of the last few albums Waters recorded in his long and stellar career. Produced by Johnny Winter, the album was a return to classic form for Waters. All-Music Guide notes: “Waters is not only at the top of his game, but is having the time of his life while he’s at it. The bits of studio chatter that close ‘Mannish Boy’ and open ‘Bus Driver’ show him to be relaxed and obviously excited about the proceedings. Part of this has to be because the record sounds so good. Winter has gone for an extremely bare production style, clearly aiming to capture Waters in conversation with a band in what sounds like a single studio room. This means that sometimes the songs threaten to explode in chaos as two or three musicians begin soloing simultaneously. Such messiness is actually perfect in keeping with the raw nature of this music; you simply couldn’t have it any other way.”

Magic Carpet was a 1970s band that found its niche by using sitar, Indian percussion and gentle folk-rock instrumentation to back folk songs reminiscent of, if nowhere near as good as, Joni Mitchell’s work. Taken one song at a time, amid other and better work, Magic Carpet’s only album is kind of fun. On its own, it becomes repetitive and, frankly, wearisome.

“The Cat Woman” might or might not have been drawn from a musical theme used on the Batman television show. I honestly don’t know if there’s any connection at all, beyond the title, to the character played on the television show by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether. I tend to think not (but I easily could be wrong). The track showed up on the Batman Theme album released by the Marketts in the midst of the Batman craze in 1966.

Fanny, of course, was one of the first all-female bands. “Cat Fever” is from Charity Ball, the second of the group’s three albums, and rocks pretty well.

Readers may recall that not long ago, I posted a so-so version of “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Gator Creek, a group whose lead singer was a young Kenny Loggins. “Long-Tail Cat” comes from the same album and is interesting because it’s an early version of a song that would end up a few years later on 1972’s Loggins & Messina. The arrangements are about the same, though the Gator Creek version is more robust and Loggins’ vocal performance is better on the latter version.

Edited slightly on July 8, 2013.

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On A Plane From Clear Lake . . .

December 16, 2011

Originally posted February 3, 2009

I’ve wondered for months what to put in this space today. The following essay is taken from The Heart of Rock & Soul, the marvelous 1989 book by Dave Marsh. It accompanies Marsh’s assessment of Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go,” which Marsh ranked as No. 757 in his listing of the 1,001 greatest singles. But Marsh’s piece, as so often happens, is about much more than one song:

The plane stayed in the air . . .

The Big Bopper laughed it off. Scored another hit or two, then changed his name back to J. P. Richardson and became a TV game show host, halfway between Wink Martindale and Monty Hall, with an extensive collection of hairpieces, the most famous weight control problem in the United States, and two weeks a year live in Vegas, doing stand-up and a little old-time rock and roll schtick.

There, he’d occasionally run into Buddy, who quit the tour after the close call in Clear Lake, just refused to get back on the tour bus and waited out the storm in a motel room, got a ride back home and told promoter Irving Felt to stuff it. When the lawsuits were over, he and Maria Elena tried moving back to Lubbock, but it was impossible for a white man and a Puerto Rican woman to be comfortably married in west Texas. They came back to New York and in 1965, split up. Maria Elena kept their three children, and half of Buddy’s increasingly lucrative catalog of copyrights.

Buddy toured with the Beatles, who spoke of him worshipfully, but after his 1964 album produced by Phil Spector, had no more hits as a performer. As a writer, he remained in demand and in 1972, wrote a show based on the old days on the rock and roll circuit, bringing a lot of his old friends – Guitar Baker, King Curtis, the Crickets, Darlene Love – back to the limelight for the first time in a few years. But Buddy wasn’t in the show; he said he’d lost the desire. John Lennon said it was the best thing he’d seen since the Jerry Lee Lewis tour of Britain in the fifties. Bob Dylan said nothing, but he went three nights running. When it closed on Broadway, the show went on the road and then set up in Vegas, where it ran on the Strip as a revue for fifteen years.

Neither Buddy nor the Bopper ever saw much of Ritchie, though of course he was offered a part in Buddy’s revival show. He was now a 300-pound session guitarist and mostly invisible to the rock and roll world, working jingle dates and living in East L.A., where he was a legend to the few who knew the full story and respected as the best guitar teacher in the community. Offers to make records he greeted with a shrug, though he made one nice duet LP with Carlos Santana.

The couple times Ritchie did albums under his own name, though, the results were half-hearted. He told his daughter that success was one thing, but that record labels messed with your music too much. The only one of his hits that he’d agree to play at all was “C’mon Let’s Go,” because it was just a guitar tune. He refused to even consider playing “La Babma,” which he regarded as a travesty of Mexican folk-culture, or “Donna,” because he hated his own confessions of puppy love weakness. And he never wanted anything to do with touring again.

A Six-Pack for February 3
“The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again [1977]

“Rock N Roll Gypsies” by Jesse Ed Davis from Jesse Davis [1971]

“Only You and Rock and Roll” by Redbone from Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes [1974]

“I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” by the Moody Blues from Seventh Sojourn [1972]

“They Call It Rock & Roll Music” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney [1970]

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit 632 [1961]

Written While The Newspaper Dries

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 13, 2008

I never had a paper route when I was a kid. I knew a few kids who did, but I was never really attracted by the idea, especially the thought of slogging through the snow in the drifts of a Minnesota winter to deliver the papers or else to collect subscription money.

As I think of it, that must have been a tough part of the job: A kid maybe eleven or twelve years old working his (or sometimes her) way through the neighborhood, collecting money. I imagine there was a lot of “I’ll pay you next time,” and all that. And who among us would these days allow our child to wander through the neighborhood in the evening carrying cash? Maybe mom and dad drove the carriers around when I was a kid, but I kind of doubt it.

Ah well. There is, I guess, a bit of romantic nostalgia in the idea of a bike-riding paperboy, flipping newspapers onto front steps. But these days, it seems, paper routes are the province of adults. I suppose there might be young folk who deliver papers in the neighborhoods; I don’t know. On the edge of the city where we live – a strip of apartments and two houses hemmed in by the railroad tracks, a mobile home park and some commercial establishments – newspaper delivery is auto-based. A vehicle pulls up, the carrier pops out and goes far enough up the sidewalk toward the residence to flip the newspaper onto the front step.

We subscribe to the Minneapolis-based Star-Tribune, and I usually scan the headlines while my coffee is brewing and the Texas Gal is preparing to leave for the day. Up until today, on wet days, the newspaper was in at least one plastic bag, sometimes two, so it’s always been dry. There must have been a substitute carrier today, one who didn’t think too clearly at the moment of delivery: It would seem to be pretty easy to figure out that if one throws a newspaper onto a wet step as a mist is falling, the newspaper is going to get wet.

Again, ah well. The newspaper wasn’t destroyed, although the front section was pretty wet. It’s currently spread out on the dining room table, and I imagine by the time I complete this post, it will be dry enough to read.

A Six-Pack of News
“Good News” by the Waterboys from Dream Harder [1993]

“No News Is Good News” by Tony Joe White from Homemade Ice Cream [1973]

 “Headline News” by Edwin Starr, Ric-Tic 114 [1966]

“Bad News Ain’t No News at All” by Redbone from Potlatch [1970]

“Herbert Harper’s Free Press News” by Muddy Waters from Electric Mud [1968]

“Bad News”  by Stoneground from Stoneground [1971]

A few notes:

I’ve shared a few things from the Waterboys before. No matter what sound the group presents – and its core sound shifted over the years – there was always a bit (sometimes a good bit) of Celtic poetry and mysticism in its music. The group is always worth a listen, from 1983 self-titled debut to 2007’s live-in-the-studio Book of Lightning.

Tony Joe White is best-known, perhaps, for his 1969 single “Polk Salad Annie,” which went to No. 8, or maybe as the writer of the luminous “Rainy Night in Georgia.” On his own, he released a string of albums based securely in the swamps of Louisiana. Homemade Ice Cream isn’t the best of them – that would probably be The Train I’m On from 1972 – but it’s a good one.

The Muddy Waters track is from the odd psychedelic album that Chess Records forced on the blues giant in the late 1960s. (The label did the same thing to Water’s label-mate and rival, Howlin’ Wolf). While the experiment was ultimately judged a failure (for its lack of sales, I imagine), there is something fascinating about the clash of cultures in the tracks on Electric Mud.

Stoneground came out of San Francisco with a large roster of musicians, which – according to All-Music Guide – made its albums varied and fascinating. I only have the first, self-titled effort from 1971, and it’s an album I enjoy a lot. The band, evidently reformed, has a website.

The Ronettes, Muddy Waters & Aretha

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 26, 2008

Did some YouTubing and found a not-so-great video of the Ronettes’ “You Baby,” but I did find a pretty good video from 1965 of the gals on Shindig, peforming what I think is their best song of all (and one of the great singles in rock & roll history), “Be My Baby.”

This intrigues me because the backing obviously isn’t the same as on the record; does that mean it was the Shindogs playing and Ronnie Bennett was singing live? Then why don’t the other two girls have microphones? Anyone know how this all went down?

I dipped into the Muddy Waters stuff and found this performance of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” It was evidently televised, based on the bug in the upper right corner of the screen, and from the clothing and Waters’ appearance, I’d guess it was sometime in the Seventies. It’s a pretty good look at Waters.

Video deleted

And here’s Aretha Franklin doing “Baby, I Love You” in a clip that appears to have come from a television show about 1967, when the song was on the charts.

Video deleted

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

A Friday Walk Through The Junkyard

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2008

My to-do list has gotten longer as the week has progressed. Tomorrow is the annual tabletop hockey competition here, and I have much left to accomplish. I do have some interesting albums to rip: I’ve gotten five fairly rare albums in the mail in recent weeks, with another – the Blue Rose album I mentioned Wednesday – on the way.

But time is short today, so instead of trying to rush one of those albums along and botching it, I thought I’d take one of my regular random walks through the junkyard and see what we find from the years 1951-2000.

“Fridgidaire Woman” by Son Seals from Living In The Danger Zone, 1991

“Screamer for Phlyses” by Shawn Phillips from Contribution, 1970

“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco single 6147, 1959

“Sad, Sad Day” by Muddy Waters from King Bee, 1981

“Corrina” by King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar from Official Music, 1970

“Wild Horses” by Leon Russell from Stop All That Jazz, 1974

“Little Girl” by Redbone from Redbone, 1970

“Pleasure” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from The Great Conspiracy, 1968

“Make Love To You” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run, 1976

“The Working Man” by Creedence Clearwater Revival from Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968

“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin, RCA single 14214, 1985

“Let Your Lovelight Shine” by the Buddy Miles Express from Expressway To Your Skull, 1968

“Don’t Make Promises” by the Beau Brummels, Warner Bros. single 7014, 1967

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally, 1970

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione from Feels So Good, 1977

A few notes:

Every three years or so from 1973 through 2000, blues fans could count on a release from Son Seals, an Arkansas-born blues guitarist discovered in a Chicago nightspot by Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. “Frigidaire Woman” comes from Living In The Danger Zone, which, in terms of quality, falls right in the middle of Seals’ nine-album series of works. Seals – who died in 2003 – never made a bad album; his best was most likely Midnight Son from 1976.

I heard “Mack the Knife” the other day as I pulled into the supermarket a parking lot. I waited to leave the car until the song ended, thinking, “I need to get that song into the blog,” and now, the universe has done that for me. The song originated in The Threepenny Opera, a 1928 piece of musical theater by writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The story of Macheath and his murderous ways was eventually translated to film in the 1950s and continues to be presented on occasion as live theater. Darin’s swinging version of the show’s opening number contrasts greatly with the staid and stiff version I heard when I listened to a recording of the opera. Louis Armstrong recorded a similar version of the tune, but it was Darin’s version that was the hit, going to No. 1 for nine weeks in the autumn of 1959. (Darin’s version – as did Armstrong’s before it – name-checks “Miss Lotte Lenya” during the final verses. In the mid- to late Sixties, when I heard the song, I was confused, as I knew Lotte Lenya only as the haggard and unappealing actress who’d played Soviet agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Lotte Lenya had been Kurt Weill’s wife, had acted in various stagings of The Threepenny Opera and had earned a Tony award for one of them, in the mid-1950s.)

King Bee, produced by Johnny Winter, was – from what I can tell – the last album in the long career of Muddy Waters. For the most part, the album is new versions of Waters’ work on the Chess label (including “Sad, Sad Day”), but the album is still a pretty good way to spend some time.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was a Los Angeles-based psychedelic band, and The Great Conspiracy was the group’s second album. Some of the songs on the record stretch out a little into some trippy mid-Sixties noodling and jamming. “Pleasure” isn’t one of those; it’s a fairly concise song that’s typical of second-level psychedelic pop rock. Good for what it is.

Pretty much right from the start, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a great band. The misfortune that John Fogerty and his bandmates had to face was that, at the time, bands that recorded long, trippy songs full of obscure allusions sold lots of records and were taken seriously, while bands that recorded good three-minute singles were relegated to a less-serious room, kind of like eating at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. But listening to CCR’s records today, even the stuff that wasn’t released as singles has aged an awful lot better than the work of a lot of those groups that were taken so seriously four decades ago. (Yeah, CCR stretched out sometimes, as on its version of “Suzy Q.” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” But those are the group’s less successful efforts, I think; the group’s strength was the three-minute single, and CCR did that about as well as anyone ever has. My favorite happens to be “Green River.”)

I think the 1985 collaboration between the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin tends to get lost in the memory of the Eighties as a decade of synths, drum machines and big hair (and the Eighties were all that). But “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” truly cooks. And it’s probably Aretha’s last great record.

I mentioned the other day the breadth of writers from which Three Dog Night got its material. “Heavy Church,” a record I’ve always liked a lot, ever since I got Naturally as a Christmas gift in 1971, was written by Alan O’Day, with whom I had a brief correspondence about “Rock & Roll Heaven” a while back. O’Day’s own version showed up on his 1973 album, Caress Me Pretty Music.

Chuck Mangione had a No. 4 hit in early 1978 with a single edit of “Feels So Good.” This is the nine-minute album version.

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.

It’s Time For A New Barbershop

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 11, 2009

I need a haircut this morning. Generally, the Texas Gal takes care of that over the weekends, but for some reason – simple inattention comes to mind – we didn’t get it done. So this morning, after I finish posting I’ll head out to the barbershop.

The barbershop won’t – it appears – be the one I used to go to when I was a kid. Last time I went past the old bank building across the street from the Lutheran church, the sign was still hanging there: “Laumeyer’s Barber Shop.” That was maybe a month ago, so I assume the shop was still operating. But when I called the number I found online this morning, the phone was disconnected. I checked the phone book and got the same number, and then called directory assistance. There’s no current listing.

It’s been a little more than thirty years since I last got my hair cut at Laumeyer’s, just before I left St. Cloud for Monticello. And Laumeyer’s was the location for my first professional haircut, when I was thirteen, just before entering ninth grade.

Up to then, my dad had cut my hair. I’d sit on a metal stool in the back porch/sewing room, and he’d use the black electric clippers that he’d had since before my memories began. He’d try gamely not to dig the clippers’ corners into my scalp, but it would happen. As years went on and boys’ hair became longer, he tried to adapt. I no longer wore my hair trimmed down to a basic-training-worthy quarter-inch. It was a bit longer, especially in the front, where my natural widow’s peak resulted in a three-inch long wave of hair poking its way forward, like the prow of a ship sailing through my forehead, or else, when my hair got longer, like a brown wave breaking over the prow of that very same ship.

That wasn’t very stylish, a fact that even Dad realized as the summer of 1967, the one between eighth and ninth grades, approached its end. One Saturday he pulled me aside shortly after I got up and told me I had an appointment for a haircut at Laumeyer’s that afternoon. He gave me, oh, maybe $1 or $1.50 to cover the cost. That afternoon, I rode my 1965 Schwinn Typhoon – the very same one that still resides in my garage – down Wilson Avenue and across East St. Germain to a small building not far from the railroad tracks. With my bike locked to a sign in front of the building, I walked into a barbershop for the first time.

I walked out an hour later with my hair trimmed almost all around, except in front where Duane had managed to fashion the summer’s growth into what looked like Beatle bangs across my forehead. Never mind that the Beatles by this time had moved on to far more hirsute appearances; it was better than my hair being a living sculpture of “The Voyage of the S.S. Dork.”

My hair’s style continued to evolve over the next ten years, as I made Laumeyer’s a regular stop. My hair got longer, and as it did, Jim and Duane and Ron – I didn’t see the need to cleave to just one barber – trimmed it and advised me on where to part it and how to take care of it.

As I sat in the barber’s chair for brief times through high school and into college, I heard conversations with other customers that implied years of acquaintance, an awareness that all of the three barbers had about their clients that included not just preferred hairstyle but also a small town knowledge of other preferences and of their lives:

“How’s your boy like the Army?”

“You still drivin’ that Chevy, then?”

“That first year of college, that first year away, yeah, that can be tough for them.”

“My wife’s aunt had that last year, but the docs say they got all of it.”

“He had Budweiser and Old Style on ice, an’ I walk up to him and says, ‘Where’s the Cold Spring?’ An’ he laughed and laughed.”

“I heard from one of the guys over there that they may cut back to two shifts. That’s gonna be tough for a lotta fellas.”

The guys cutting my hair asked about school, and what my college plans were, but no matter how important those things were to me, they didn’t seem to fit into the adult universe of conversation. I was sitting in the big barber chair, but it still felt as if I were dining at the kids’ table.

I was gone the one year during college and came back with hair longer than ever and with a beard and mustache as well, and they laughed at my stories as I laughed at theirs. As myth tells us and as most men learn, there is more to a barbershop than haircuts. They are home to, among other things, tales of other places, whether those other places be offices, factory floors, far-off jungles of war, or similarly distant taverns and museums. I’d had a glimpse of that before I left, and now that I had tales to tell of life elsewhere, I felt more a part of the brotherhood of the barbershop than I ever had before.

I remained in that brotherhood for the remaining few years I had left in St. Cloud. While I was gone, from 1977 into 2002, I had numerous barbers care for my hair, shaved and regrew the beard several times (not the mustache; that’s been a permanent part of my look since December 1973). At times my hair was fairly short, and other times, it wasn’t: For about four years, I had a ponytail that reached to the middle of my back. And I was never really in one place long enough to find that barbershop camaraderie again.

These days, I have my hair trimmed to the scalp, but I still have a beard and mustache that need trimming. After I finish here, I guess I’ll drive by Laumeyer’s just to make sure it’s closed, and then drive around the corner to Tom’s, a barbershop on Wilson that’s been there since I was a little stomper. Tom doesn’t take appointments; He said I’d get in pretty quick “as long as there isn’t six guys waitin’.”

Going to a new barbershop at the age of fifty-four feels oddly like going to a new school at the age of fourteen. So we’ll start with an appropriate tune and take a walk through the junkyard from there.

A Monday Walk Through The Junkyard
“Hair” by the Cowsills, MGM single 14026, 1969

“Let Me In” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time, 1973

“Wait A Million Years” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4198, 1969

“Someday Baby” by Muddy Waters with the Rolling Stones, Checkerboard, Chicago, November 1981

“Trains Don’t Run From Nashville” by Kate Campbell from Songs from the Levee, 1995

“Miracle” by the Moody Blues from Sur La Mer, 1988

“Country Pie” by Bob Dylan from Nashville Skyline, 1969

“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White, Monument single 1104, 1969

“The Assassination” by the Dixie Nightingales, Chalice single 102, 1965

“Monument” by Gene Parsons from Kindling, 1973

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Jeff Healey from Hell To Pay, 1990

“Candy Man Blues” by Ten Wheel Drive with Genya Ravan from Construction No. 1, 1969

“Not Another Night” by the Sapphire Thinkers from From Within, 1969

“Fragile” by Nanci Griffith from Flyer, 1994

“Cloud 9” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine, 1988

A few notes:

“Hair” is of course the title song from the musical that so scandalized folks starting with its premiere in 1967 and then its move to Broadway a year later. Drugs, sex, profanity, irreverence and naked people on stage! Nevertheless, the composers and writers – James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot – came up with numerous songs that became anthems for the age (as well as hits for various performers). “Hair” is the most humorous and even perhaps vaudevillian; other songs that became hits, all in 1969, were “Easy To Be Hard” (Three Dog Night), “Good Morning, Starshine” (Oliver), and most notably, I guess, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” (5th Dimension).

The Bonnie Raitt track comes from the album of hers that is likely my favorite. With notables like Lowell George of Litte Feat, Taj Mahal, Milt Holland, Earl Palmer and others taking part, the record continues to be a great listen and was likely the high point of Raitt’s career until Nick of Time in 1989.

I’m not sure where I got the soundboard recording of Muddy Waters with the Stones. The sound is a little thick at times, but it’s a pretty good performance, especially considering that Muddy was ailing at the time; he would be dead in less than two years.

“Polk Salad Annie” was no doubt among the first deep southern numbers I ever heard coming out of my radio speaker in 1969. I loved it then and I love it today: “Chomp, chomp-chomp!”

“The Assassination” is a harrowing and pretty take on the killing of President John Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963. As it played, I wondered – as I did the first time I heard it – who had the guts to create it and who would listen to it more than once, anyway? The Dixie Nightingales were a long-time Southern Gospel group that in the early 1960s signed with Memphis’ Stax Records. Chalice was evidently a Stax subsidiary label.

Sapphire Thinkers was a California band that recorded the one album, From Within. Chocoreve, where I evidently found the rip, is a blog that’s a great source for late 1960s obscurities, among other things. The writer there noted that the album is “likable and strong enough to hold your attention for repeat plays. Elements from disparate sources are brought in – Curt Boettcher sunshine pop, Bay Area teen [T]op 40 psych like Neighb’rhood Childr’n, Sunset Strip organ/fuzz/flute a la Strawberry Alarm Clock – yet the end result is consistent and convincing, with plenty of strength in the songwriting and arrangements, and no major weaknesses.” Thanks, Chocoreve.

Another Walk Through The Junkyard

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 18, 2008

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning (it will pass), and I am behind on household chores, so I’m not really going to write anything. But I thought I’d take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard (pre-2000) and see what we find. I’ll sort the songs by running time, and then start with the best song I see at about the midpoint of the collection, and we’ll go random from there.

“I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters from Fathers & Sons, 1969

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles from Beatles For Sale, 1964

“Not My Way Home” by Nanci Griffith from The Dust Bowl Symphony, 1999

“I’m Her Daddy” by Bill Withers from Just As I Am, 1971

“Feels Like” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

“Little Girl” by Billy Preston from Encouraging Words, 1970

“Quiet About It” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester, 1970

“The Woo Woo Train” by the Valentines, Rama single 196, 1956

“The Spa” by John Barry from the soundtrack to Thunderball, 1965

“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2430, 1967

“Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Bell single 705, 1968

“High, Low and In Between” by Townes Van Zandt from High, Low and In Between, 1972

“If (I Could Be With You)” by Lavelle White, Duke single 198, 1958

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!, 1965

“The River” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free, 1972

A few notes:

Fathers & Sons was a Chess Records project that brought together Muddy Waters and piano player Otis Spann with three members of the Butterfield Blues Band: leader Paul Butterfield, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Sam Lay. Also sitting was Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MGs, while drummer Buddy Miles played on one of the live tracks that made up the final album. Such mergings of talent and generations don’t always work out, of course, which makes Fathers & Sons that much more of a treasure. It’s one of the great albums of Waters’ long career, and a milestone for the other musicians, as well.

“I’ll Follow the Sun” is listed here as being from Beatles For Sale, and that is where it’s found these days in the CD racks. But I’ll always hear it as part of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol created during the group’s early years by trimming a few songs off a British release and adding some singles that weren’t on albums in the U.K.

The Dust Bowl Symphony was Nanci Griffith’s attempt to recast some of her more memorable songs as a suite, with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t always work, and most of the songs on the album are likely better heard in their original settings. (“Not My Way Home” was originally released on 1997’s Blues Roses From the Moons.) One track that works, and is worth seeking out, is “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith recast as a duet with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

The Valentines were one of those groups that sprang up on street corners all through New York City during the mid-1950s. According to Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, “The Woo Woo Train” was composed and arranged by the group in the recording studio’s men’s room the morning of the recording session. I think it’s a great track; I especially love the raucous sax solo.

Come June 1, it will be forty years since “Angel of the Morning” entered the Top 40. It’s still a gorgeous song – written by Chip Taylor – and a great record, and it’s certainly one of the most enduring of all one-hit wonders.

The bluesy R&B grit of “If (I Could Be With You)” is, to my mind, of a kind with most of the recordings coming from Texas-based Duke records in the late 1950s. (The label was also the home of legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.) Lavelle got her first success with the self-penned “If,” which she recorded while she was in her late 20s, if the date of 1958 is accurate (and it seems to be). White is still recording, and since 1994, has released three albums, two of them on the Antone’s label. The most recent of those is 2003’s Into the Mystic.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1963

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 21, 2007

(When I wrote earlier this month about “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and then about the fortunes this season of my favorite football teams, I inadvertently triggered a series of other posts on November in the Northland. Readers got autumnal takes from Jeff at AM, Then FM, from JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and then from Perplexio at Pieces of Perplexio π. And now it’s my turn again to write about this chill month, but this time, I’m writing about a November day that, come tomorrow, will be forty-four years gone.)

Blank stares. That’s the thing I remember most about November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was killed.

I was ten and in fifth grade that November, and for some reason, I’d had lunch at school that Friday. I usually walked the five blocks home for lunch, but Mom must have been away from home that day for some reason, a church women’s event or something like that. So I was in the classroom as lunchtime was ending and Mr. Lydeen came into the room with an odd look on his face.

He told us the news from Dallas, and we stared at him. I think some of the girls cried. And we spent the rest of the day milling around the room, gathering in small groups, the ten or so fifth-graders and ten or so sixth-graders of our combination classroom. We boys talked darkly of what should be done to the culprit, were he found. We were angry. And sad. And confused.

At recess, we bundled up and went out onto the asphalt and concrete playground, but all we did was huddle around Mr. Lydeen, our backs to the northwest wind. I don’t recall what we said, but I think we were all looking for reassurance, for explanation. Mr. Lydeen had neither for us; I remember seeing him stare across the playground and past the railroad tracks, looking at something beyond the reach of his gaze. The blank look on his face made me – and the other kids, too, I think – uneasy.

Mom was listening to the old brown radio on the kitchen counter when I got home from school that day – a rarity, as the radio was generally on only in the morning as we prepared for the day. And it stayed on through dinnertime, bringing us news bulletins from Dallas and Washington and long lists of weekend events cancelled or postponed. Not much was said at the table, as I recall, and I saw that same blank look on my parents’ faces that I had seen on Mr. Lydeen’s face that afternoon.

That evening, I sought solace in my box of comic books and MAD magazines. By chance, the first magazine I pulled out of the box had a parody of a musical film, one of MAD’s specialties. But the parody poked gentle fun at the president and his cabinet, and if it seemed wrong to laugh that evening – as it did – it seemed especially wrong to laugh at that. I threw the magazine back into the box and went in search of my dad, who was doing something at his workbench in the basement.

I watched him for a few minutes as he worked on something he had clamped in the vise, and then I just asked, “Why?”

He turned to me and shook his head and said he didn’t know. And I realized for the first time that the people I looked to for explanations – my parents and my teacher – were unable to understand and explain everything. That was a scary thought, and – being slightly precocious – I pondered its implications for a few days as we watched the unfolding events on television with the rest of the nation.

Sometime in the late 1990s, about five years before Dad died, I was up in St. Cloud for a weekend, and he and I were drinking beers on the back porch. For some reason, I asked him what he remembered of that day. He’d been at work at the college (not yet a university), and he remembered young women crying and young men talking intensely in small groups. And, he said, he remembered not being able to give them any answers at a time when they so needed them.

I nodded and sipped my beer. I thought of the cascade of events that followed John Kennedy’s death, the twelve or so years that we now call the Sixties: The civil rights movement and the concurrent violence, the long anguish in Vietnam, the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots and police riots, the National Guard and the police opening fire and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State. I thought about draft cards, protest marches and paranoia and about the distrust and anger between black and white, between young and old, between government and governed.

And I looked at my dad and said, “Yeah, John Kennedy’s death is when it all started.”

Dad was a veteran of World War II, part of the generation that came to adulthood during the Great Depression. His generation, after it won its war, came home and lived through a hard-earned era of prosperity that will likely never be matched anywhere in the world ever again, a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees. From that perspective, my father looked back at November of 1963 and then he looked at me.

“No,” he said, “that’s when it all ended.”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1963
“Do Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” by the Crystals, Philles single 112

“Green, Green” by the New Christy Minstrels, Columbia single 42805

“Avalon Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt from Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings

“So Glad I’m Living” by Muddy Waters, Chess session, Chicago, June 6

“Corinna, Corrina” by Bob Dylan from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

“When You Walk In The Room” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty single 55645

“Rocky Road” by Peter, Paul & Mary from In The Wind

“Time Is On My Side” by Kai Winding & the Enchanters, Verve single 10307

“Cry Baby” by Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters, United Artists single 629

“Night Theme” by Al Hirt from Honey In The Horn

“I Woke Up This Mornin’ With My Mind Set On Freedom” by the SNCC Freedom Singers from We Shall Overcome

“Magic Star” by Margie Singleton, Mercury single 72079

“Judy’s Turn To Cry” by Leslie Gore, Mercury single 72143

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Crystals, of course, were one of the girl groups produced by Phil Spector. While “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” 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.

The original Christy Minstrels were a blackface group formed by Edwin Pearce Christy in Buffalo, New York, in 1843. The New Christy Minstrels, formed by Randy Sparks in 1961, was made up of generally clean-cut young people singing folk music – and new songs that sounded like folk – in a pleasant, slightly bland manner. They had three Top 40 hits in 1963 and 1964, with “Green, Green” being the most successful, reaching No. 14. Among the members of the group throughout the years have been Kim Carnes, Kenny Rogers and Barry McGuire of “Eve of Destruction” fame. (Wikipedia says the group was active as of March 2007, with Sparks and McGuire among those involved.)

Mississippi John Hurt was an anomaly during the blues revival of the early 1960s, when dozens of rural Southern performers who’d recorded tracks in the 1920s and 1930s were rediscovered and brought into studios and concert halls again. Hurt was not truly a blues artists; there are some elements of blues in his music, but he’d be better described as a folk artist – or songster, as the term was in the 1920s – with his gently syncopated songs drawn mostly from sources other than blues.  Several of the tunes on Avalon Blues were songs that Hurt had recorded during his first recording sessions, for the Okeh label in 1928.

The Searchers had a mild hit with “When You Walk In The Room,” reaching No. 35 in 1964, but the song came from the pen of Jackie DeShannon, a composer and performer who hit the Top 40 herself with “What The World Needs Now Is Love” in 1965 (No. 7) and with “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” in 1969 (No. 4). Her 1968 album Laurel Canyon is a classic of L.A.-based pop rock (with one of its attractions for me being a killer version of “The Weight.”)

This recording of “Time Is On My Side” by Kai Winding, a Danish trombonist and composer, turns out to be the original recording of the song, which was written for Winding by famed song-writer Jerry Ragovoy (writing as Norman Meade). The background vocals are provided by the Enchanters, who only turned out to be Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. The song was later covered, of course, by numerous artists including New Orleans’ Irma Thomas and the Rolling Stones. “Time Is On My Side” didn’t reach the Top 40, but Winding did have a hit in 1963: His version of “More,” otherwise known as the theme to the film Mondo Cane, reached No. 8 on the charts in the late summer of that year.

“Cry Baby” was another Jerry Ragovoy composition, this one written with Bert Berns. Most likely better known today as the second track on Janis Joplin’s final album, Pearl, the song has been recorded by numerous other artists, including P.J. Proby, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings and Natalie Cole. The version here by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters (again!) went to No. 4 in the autumn of 1963.

The SNCC Freedom Singers were part of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the prime movers in the civil rights struggle in the American South during the 1960s. The founder of the Freedom Singers was Bernice Johnson, later Bernice Reagon, who went on to form the vocal group Sweet Honey In The Rock in the 1970s.. “I Woke Up This Mornin’ With My Mind Set On Freedom” comes from the group’s only album, released on the Mercury label in 1963.

Until I came across “Magic Star (Tel-Star)” by Margie Singleton in the last year or so, I never knew there were words to “Telstar,” the instrumental by the Tornadoes that went to No. 1 in 1962. Singleton’s record didn’t make the Billboard charts, but she hit the Top 56 at WQAM in Miami during the week of February 2, 1963, as this chart indicates. I’m assuming, without being sure, that this is the same Margie Singleton who recorded four country albums for four different labels, starting in 1965.

As always, bit rates will vary.

Some housekeeping
Those who downloaded Monday’s album know by now that the single version of “Midnight Wind” had several seconds cut off the end. I don’t know if I cut those seconds off myself while tinkering with the mp3 or whether I just didn’t pay enough attention after I found it. Either way, I apologize, and I’ll try to find a good version, although my source for the mp3 seems to have disappeared.

Edited slightly after archival posting.