Posts Tagged ‘Redbone’

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]

Keeping It A Mystery

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 12, 2008

One of the sheer delights of this time of year for me is giving the Texas Gal gifts she truly wants, whether from a brief list, from remembering comments she’s made throughout the year or simply from seeing something somewhere I know she’d like. I much prefer the latter two sources, because then she can truly be surprised.

Sometimes she prods me, asking for hints as to what I’ve found for her. I’m not all that subtle at that; any hints I give will either be too easy to figure out or too opaque to be helpful, so in order to maintain the surprise, I go with opaque:

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

“That depends on how large a loaf you have.”

Or, “What color is it?”

“Light brown, green and red, partly.”

All of which is true, and all of which leaves the Texas Gal less than enlightened about what she’ll find in her packages, which is my goal. You see, to me, the surprise is the one of the main pleasures of gift-giving, for both the giver and the recipient. That’s a lesson I learned through accidental experience.

It was December of 1971, and Christmas was not far off. I’d done my shopping for my family, for Rick and for a gal from school I’d been dating. The evening in question, in fact, might have been the evening when Jeannie and I exchanged gifts, just before she headed home to a small town south of St. Cloud for a couple of weeks. I remember that I’d gone outside to go somewhere, and then turned around and went back into the house to get something I’d forgotten.

And I walked past a doorway and saw my parents busily wrapping Christmas presents in the room. I tried not to look, but the item in Mom’s hands was unmistakable: It was the size of an LP, and it was dull orange. I knew immediately what it was: The Concert for Bangla Desh, the box set of George Harrison’s epic concert of the previous August, released only a week or so earlier. And I think my parents knew that I knew.

And as pleased as I was to receive the box set a couple weeks later on Christmas Eve, I think that my knowing what was in the package somehow diminished the joy of the gift for me and – more importantly – for my parents. The surprise heightens the joy in both directions, I learned that year.

So I think I’ll stick with opaque hints and keep a little mystery in the season.

A Six-Pack from the Billboard Hot 100, December 11, 1971
“Can I Get A Witness” by Lee Michaels (A&M 1303, No. 43)

“White Lies, Blue Eyes” by Bullet (Big Tree 123, No. 49)

“George Jackson” by Bob Dylan (Columbia 45516, No. 56)

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone (Epic 10746, No. 60)

“Get Down” by Curtis Mayfield (Curtom 1966, No. 74)

“Take It Slow (Out In The Country)” by Lighthouse (Evolution 1052, No. 89)

A few notes:

Regarding Lee Michaels, I can’t really say it any better than does All Music Guide:

“One of the most interesting second-division California psychedelic musicians, keyboardist Lee Michaels was one of the most soulful white vocalists of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Between 1968 and 1972, he released half a dozen accomplished albums on A&M that encompassed Baroque psychedelic pop and gritty white, sometimes gospel-ish R&B with equal facility. A capable songwriter, Michaels was blessed with an astonishing upper range, occasionally letting loose some thrilling funky wails. In 1971, he landed a surprise Top Ten single with ‘Do You Know What I Mean,’ one of the best and funkiest AM hits of the early ’70s.”

As much as I liked “Do You Know What I Mean,” I always thought it was a little bit clunky, which was one of its charms. “Can I Get A Witness,” which hit the Top 40 for one week, reaching No. 39, falls for me into the same clunk-funk genre.

Bullet was a duo from England: John Cann handled the vocals and Paul Hammond played the drums. “White Lies, Blue Eyes,” which went as high as No. 28, was their only hit. The record has a pretty cool sound during the verses, but the lightness of the choruses for most of the record seems to me to presage the sound of groups like Pablo Cruise and the Little River Band a few years down the pike. I mean, that’s okay, but it’s not what it could have been; the later choruses, with some pretty good guitar and drum fills, sound a lot better to my ears.

George Jackson, the subject of the Dylan single, was an inmate in a California state prison who became a self-educated leader and political figure during his incarceration. He wound up dead in prison during the summer of 1971 in what some called an assassination, while others seemed to think that his death was simply the unsurprising end of a life of violence and crime. Folk hero or thug? I don’t know, and the page on Jackson at Wikipedia doesn’t really resolve anything. I recall the first time I heard the record: I was sitting at a picnic table somewhere with Rick and a radio one day, and we listened intently, as we did in those days to anything Dylan did. I don’t know if the deejay was asleep at the switch or making a statement, but the radio station didn’t bleep the line, “He wouldn’t take shit from no one,” and Rick and I looked at each other, startled. “Bob Dylan lays it on the line,” said Rick, laughing. In any case, the record – which never made it to an LP back then and, as far as I know, has since been included only on three relatively obscure Dylan CD anthologies – is an audio artifact of the tail end of the odd and bitter time we now call the Sixties. I sometimes wonder if Dylan ever regrets recording and releasing the song, but I figure not: I don’t think – at least as far as his music goes – Dylan has much time for regrets. The version here is called the “Big Band” version; the flipside of the single, which peaked at No. 33 – has a shorter, acoustic version.

Redbone, as I wrote here at least once before, was formed and led by Native American brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, who, before they formed the group, were the writers of the song “Nicky Hoeky.” With its swampy feel, “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” reached No. 21 in early 1972. A couple of years later, Redbone’s brilliant “Come And Get Your Love” went to No. 5, and, as far as oldies radio is concerned, that’s the only Redbone single that seems to matter. It would be a kick to hear “Witch Queen” coming out of the radio speaker some day, but I suppose someone might complain about evil influences.

Curtis Mayfield’s “Get Down” has to be one of the great lost singles. The marketplace has its oddities, I know, but it baffles me how a single could be this good and not reach the Top Ten, much less the Top 40. “Get Down” peaked at No. 69 on the December 18 chart and then fell out of the Hot 100 before 1972 rolled around.

While not nearly as good as the Mayfield single, Lighthouse’s “Take It Slow (Out In The Country)” is a pretty good listen, too. The follow-up to Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning,” which reached No. 24 earlier in the autumn of 1971, “Take It Slow (Out In The Country)” got as high as No. 64 in January of 1972 and was certainly better than a lot of singles that had more success. I know, I know: It’s the marketplace, but sometimes the listener is wrong.

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.

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.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2

May 18, 2011

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.]

Another Goodbye

May 18, 2011

Originally posted November 5, 2007

Kind of a tough weekend here on the East Side.

Well, we knew it was coming, but it happened faster that we expected. Simmons, the thirteen-year-old cat that I brought with me when the Texas Gal and I merged households, is gone.

He’d been losing weight and walking a bit gingerly for a while, so we’d taken him to our regular veterinarian a week ago, where blood tests showed an over-active thyroid. That explained his incessant appetite and the weight loss. We started him on some medication and kept a close eye on him. One of the things the vet told us was that thyroid conditions often mask kidney problems in cats.

But Simmons – named when I got him in 1994 for my all-time favorite baseball player, Al Simmons – seemed fine, at least until Saturday afternoon. I noticed then that he was lying a little awkwardly under my computer desk, a new place for him. I petted him and he purred, and I thought, well, cats change their places. That evening, though, he didn’t come right away to the living room when the Texas Gal and I sat there, and when he did come into the room, he lay under one of the tables, again looking as if he were a little uncomfortable.

I went to pull him out from under the table, and as I held him under his front legs and pulled, he yowled. Stunned, we carefully lifted him and put him on the couch, and while I was getting ready for a trip to the emergency veterinarian’s office, the Texas Gal tried to lift him from the couch. And he yowled again. When we got to the vet’s office, though, he acted like the laid-back cat he’d been for thirteen years. No screams, no panting, just a little nervous twitching and a lot of purring.

Stumped, we brought him back home. And Sunday morning, the Texas Gal woke me, saying she couldn’t find him. We searched and finally located him behind the couch. After we got him out, we watched him walk gingerly across the floor. The Texas Gal once worked for a vet in Texas, and she said that Simmons’ gait was similar to that of cats she’d seen with kidney problems. Whether it was that or another difficulty, it was clear that Simmons was no longer comfortable. So we took deep breaths and took him back to the emergency vet.

And we held Simmons as the vet tended to him and the light went out of his big brown eyes.

It’s been not just a tough weekend but a tough few months, as regular readers here will recall. Since the beginning of July, we’ve lost two rats and a cat, a sequence that other animal lovers will recognize as almost overwhelming. I think a kind of numbness sets in after a while, something that I hope can fade now. We’ve still got other furry friends, including seventeen-week-old Oscar, a kitten who was one of my birthday gifts in September. And we know that saying goodbye is part of the bargain you make when you bring pets into your lives.

But it is hard. When we got home yesterday afternoon, we settled into our Sunday routines as well as we could, the Texas Gal working on a quilt and me watching the Vikings. But there was a cat-shaped hole in our home. The Texas Gal said later that when she thought of Simmy during the day, she kept thinking about “Cat’s In The Cradle,” Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit. “I know the song doesn’t really fit,” she said, “but that’s what comes to mind.”

Harry Chapin – Cat’s In The Cradle (1974)

Before all that happened, my plan was to rip one of my records for today. I decided this morning to stick with that plan and offer something new (actually something old that’s not been available). After a few false starts, I settled on a 1974 release from Redbone, an album titled Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes.

Redbone was formed and led by Native American brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, who, before they formed the group, were the writers of the song “Nicky Hoeky.” Redbone is best known for its two Top 40 hits: “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” reached No. 21 in 1972, and “Come And Get Your Love” reached No. 5 in 1974. Both of those hits had a swampy feel to them, as did much of the music on Redbone’s albums, especially Potlatch and Redbone, both from 1970.

“Witch Queen” came from the 1972 album Message from a Drum and “Come And Get Your Love” came from 1974’s Wovoka, and those two albums have much the same sound. (All four of those albums are worth seeking out, though it appears that Message From A Drum is not available on CD. The other three of those albums have at least been released on CD and seem to be available through standard online sources. All-Music Guide lists two other 1970s albums by Redbone: Already Here from 1972 and Cycles from 1978; I know nothing about either of them except that neither of them is listed as having been released on CD.)

That swampy and slightly spooky feel holds true for much of Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes, especially the tracks “One More Time,” “Cookin’ With D’Redbone” and the oddly titled “Moon When Four Eclipse.” There are a few tracks – “Suzi Girl,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” and the title track most notably – that seem to me like missteps, with swirling strings and unimaginative beats echoing the proto-disco hits that were becoming more and more prevalent in 1974.

One note that may be of interest: The album’s credits list Bonnie Bramlett, Merry Clayton and Clydie King as background singers. Though their contributions seem to be spread throughout the album, they are most prominent on the track “Blood Sweat and Tears.” I’m not sure whose voice it is swooping and soaring in the background there (Clayton would be my guess), but it’s one of the record’s most thrilling moments.

(This is a rip from vinyl, so there are a few pops here and there.)

Track listing:
One More Time
Suzi Girl
Only You and Rock and Roll
Blood Sweat and Tears
Cookin’ With D’Redbone
(Beaded Dreams Through) Turquoise Eyes
Beautiful Illusion
Interstate Highway 101
I’ll Never Stop Loving You
Moon When Four Eclipses

Redbone – Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes [1974]

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!