Originally posted November 7, 2007
Yesterday, as I listened to Matthews’ Southern Comfort’s version of “Woodstock,” a memory floated in, triggered, I would guess, by the second verse:
“Well, I am going down to Yasgur’s farm
“Going to join in a rock and roll band,
“Goin’ to get back to the land to set my soul free.”
It certainly wasn’t Yasgur’s farm, but in a barn on a farm somewhere north of St. Cloud during the autumn of 1974, I might have had my chance to join a rock and roll band. And I would have turned it down.
The band was made up of friends of one of the gals I hung around with at school. I’ve made reference before to the group of people who congregated every day in the lower level of Atwood, the student union at St. Cloud State, about twenty people who came and went during the day, all part of what we called The Table. Annie was one of those people, and sometime during the latter part of October 1974, she mentioned to the group at large that a band made up of her friends was looking for a keyboard player. From the other side of The Table, Amy and Jackie pointed at me, and Annie raised her eyebrows.
“You play?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Yeah,” I said. “Whether it’s enough for a band, I don’t know.”
“You wanna give it a try?”
I nodded, and late one Thursday afternoon, a week before Halloween, Annie and I drove north of St. Cloud to the farm and climbed to the hayloft of the barn, where the band practiced. I don’t recall their names at all, but the band members were a drummer, two guitar players – both of whom sang – and a bass player. There was a small electric piano off to the side. I sat down and turned it on, then let my fingers ripple the keys, checking the sensitivity of its action.
I only recall a few of the songs we played that afternoon and evening. We did a few country rock things that were fairly simple for me to pick up, some blues, too. One of the guitarists asked if we should try “Lucky Man,” a song by Emerson, Lake & Palmer that had reached the lower level of the charts during the spring of 1971. The other guys looked at me.
“I’ve never played it,” I said. “What are the chords?”
They told me, and off we went. At the end of the vocal, at the point when the synthesizer slides in, I filled in with the electric piano, nodding to myself as my hands and my ears worked together, doing a pretty decent job of faking the Keith Emerson solo that takes over the song as it nears its end.
When we finished, the four guys in the band looked at each other and nodded. The drummer asked me, “Anything you want to do?”
“You guys know ‘Layla?’” I asked.
They shook their heads, but the drummer said, “We can fake the second half, if you want.”
I nodded and laid my hands on the keyboard, playing the opening bars to the second half of the famous song, Jim Gordon’s elegiac piano-led coda. The other guys filtered in, and one of the two guitarists did a pretty fair job with the slide part that rides above the piano. We sounded pretty good for our first time playing together.
By the time we finished, the sun had set, and the gloom outside was winning its battle with the few dim electric lamps in the hayloft. The drummer laid down his sticks as the other guys put up their guitars. I turned the piano off as Annie came up to me, grinning.
“When you said you could play a little,” she said, “I thought you meant you knew a few chords. Good lord, you’re good!” I smiled and nodded.
I got the sense that the guys in the band were looking for a keyboard player to go on the road with them. There was never an overt offer, but I wondered how I might react if there were, and I spent a portion of a sweet evening talking the idea over with a lady friend in the back seat of my 1961 Ford Falcon. Had there been such an offer, the idea would have had its attractions, but I was only a year or so away from my degree, and that would have had to come first. A couple of years later, and my answer might have been different.
It didn’t matter anyway: A traffic accident on Halloween night put me in the hospital for a week and kept me homebound for a month. I never heard any more about the band from Annie or anyone else.
That was probably just as well. Looking back, as unlikely as it might have been, the thought of my traveling the rock and roll highway when I was twenty-one is scary. I’m pretty sure that, had I gone on the road, I’d have ended up in thrall to one drug or another, if not marijuana or heroin or cocaine, then to alcohol, which is only significantly different because it’s legal. And I wouldn’t have lasted long.
We didn’t play the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that evening in the hayloft. We probably should have.
A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone from Wovoka
“Down The Road” by Little Feat from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
“Song from Half Mountain” by Dan Fogelberg from Souvenirs
“Blinded By Love” by Browning Bryant from Browning Bryant
“My World Begins and Ends With You” by Fallenrock from Watch Out For Fallenrock
“Over Jordan” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers
“Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman from Good Old Boys
“Ballad Of A Thin Man” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before The Flood
“Good Times” by Phoebe Snow from Phoebe Snow
“Just Like Sunshine” by Cold Blood from Lydia
“Fountain of Sorrow” by Jackson Browne from Late For The Sky
“Summer Breeze” by the Main Ingredient from Euphrates River
“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah
A few notes on some of the songs:
After featuring Redbone’s Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes Monday, it only seemed right to start the random run with the album version of “Come and Get Your Love.” The single version reached No. 5 during an eighteen-week stay on the Billboard pop chart in early 1974.
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was the fourth album for Little Feat, the extraordinarily eclectic group headed by Lowell George. The group’s audible influences included rock, country, blues, R&B and more. All-Music Guide calls the record “the pinnacle of Little Feat as a group” – as opposed to George’s personal peak – and I’m inclined to agree.
Browning Bryant is a name that almost no one knows today, and – to be honest – few knew it in 1974. He was a North Carolina lad, sixteen at the time he recorded “Blinded By Love.” The song was part of an album Bryant recorded for Reprise, with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (who wrote the song) producing. “Blinded By Love” and a few other tracks were recorded in Atlanta, but a good share of the album was recorded in New Orleans, with some help from some of the Meters. (Thanks to Dan Phillips at Home of the Groove for the tune and the information.)
The Talbot Brothers were the co-founders of Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country rock band best recalled for the classic 1969 track “Two Hangmen.” After Proffit and its run of five fine albums, the brothers followed their faith and began recording more overtly Christian music: The Talbot Brothers is the first album along the path that found John Michael Talbot becoming, in the 1980s, the best-selling male performer in the field of contemporary Christian music. Not surprisingly, “Over Jordan,” sounds a lot like Mason Proffit.
As I ran the random search, I had expected a song to pop up from Before the Flood, the live album from the tour that Bob Dylan did with The Band in early 1974. The track that showed up, “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” is a good track, with Garth Hudson’s spooky organ snaking its way around Dylan’s biting vocal. I’d hoped, however, for “Like A Rolling Stone.” The opening to that track on Before the Flood is one of the truly great moments in all of rock music.
As long as we’re talking superlatives, considering the opening lyric to “Fountain of Sorrow,” Jackson Browne’s meditation on love and time lost: “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you.” I shake my head almost every time I hear that line, awed by its simple brilliance.
[Revised significantly since first posting. Note added May 19, 2011.]